§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £5,243,605, 125 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, 1901, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Post Office Services, the Expenses of Post Office Savings Banks, and Government Annuities and Insurances, and the Collection of the Post Office Revenue."
§ * SIR HENRY FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
You have put from the Chair, Sir, one of the largest Votes which has come before us in the course of the current session, and I am anxious with reference to that Vote to raise a question which I may say at once has nothing whatever to do with any recent change in the post Office. The question is a general one, which I have tried to bring forward for the last three sessions. On two occasions the operation of the closure brought the debate upon the Vote to a close, and on the third the Vote was reached so late at night that I did not think the moment an opportune one for discussing the subject. This, however, is a question on which, rightly or wrongly, I have entertained very strong views for some time, and I propose now to bring it as shortly as I can before Parliament. The point I wish to raise is that, in view of the administration and expenditure of this large sum of money, the representation of the Post Office in the House of Commons is unsatisfactory—I might almost go the length of saying unconstitutional. I must at once disclaim any personal consideration in the matter, and I am sure that my right hon. friend the Secretary to the Treasury will accept my statement that there is nothing of a personal character with reference to this matter. There are only two Members of this House who have ever been charged with the duty so ably discharged for the past few years by my right hon. friend. It would be difficult to speak in too high terms of the manner in which he has represented the Post Office in this House. I wish to make the question a purely impersonal one, and I think I can fairly claim to do so, seeing that I am the only other Member of this House who has been in the position now occupied by my right hon. friend. Let us look at the history of this matter. Since 1866, when the Postmaster General was empowered to sit 126 in the House of Commons, down to the recent vacancy, there have been eleven Postmasters General, of whom nine have been Members of the House of Commons; and two of the House of Lords. And as bearing somewhat on the assumption which seems to obtain that the Postmaster Generalship is a subordinate position, I may point out that of the nine Members of the House of Commons four have been members of the Cabinet, and it is a fact that for a long succession of years Cabinet rank was attached to the office of Postmaster General. In the two cases in which the Postmaster General has not been a Member of this House it has devolved upon the Secretary of the Treasury to represent him here. I may say at once, to prevent any misconception, that this is not a necessary consequence. I remember that in 1886 it was an open question as to the representation of the Post Office in the House of Commons, and that duty was not imposed upon me except with my full consent and at the request of the then Postmaster General, Lord Wolverton. There is therefore no necessary connection between the two offices. Now,, why do I object to the Secretary of the Treasury—and I am not speaking of any individual—representing the Post Office in this House? I object because the result is an endeavour to discharge the duties of two incompatible offices. The Secretary of the Treasury, as representing the Treasury, is, in Mr. Gladstone's phrase, "one of the guardians, of the public purse." That is his business, and he has no administrative duties, whatever to discharge. He has to look after the expenditure of public money and to promote public economy. The Postmaster General, on the other hand, is the head of a great administrative Department. He raises a revenue which this; year cannot be, I think, much short of £17,000,000; he spends in the administration of his Department nearly £13,000,000, and he has a staff of 160,000 employees under his control. His Department affects all classes of the community. He is administering a revenue which is. constantly growing, and every class of the community is affected by that increasing revenue, by the administration of the Post Office, by the desire for efficiency, and by the general demands of public convenience. Therefore the Post Office is not a mere revenue Department 127 for extracting so much money from the taxpayer. It is not, and I should be sorry to see it put, on a level with the Inland Revenue, the Excise, or the Customs, which are properly controlled by the Treasury, and the duty of which is to get as much money into the Imperial Exchequer as possible from taxes. But as far as the Post Office is concerned, the sole duty of the Treasury is to see that the expenditure is kept within proper limits. The Post Office is a great administration, and it is the duty of the Postmaster General, subject to the control which the Treasury exercises with reference to public expenditure, to make his Department as effective, as convenient to the public, and as generally advantageous as he possibly can. Then, the Post Office is a Department which has special responsibilities to the House of Commons. I cannot conceive of any Department in which the House has not merely a greater right to interfere, but a greater capacity to interfere, than in reference to the carrying on of this huge commercial enterprise, full of details of universal importance, with which the House of Commons is pre-eminently qualified to deal. If that be so, and I do not think anyone will dispute it, there is a special responsibility of the Department to the House of Commons, because that body is the representative of public opinion. My point is that when the Postmaster General has a seat in the House the control of the House is effective, and when the Department is not represented by a Minister in this House then the control is defective and inoperative. How are other Departments represented in the House? The Home Office, the Colonial Office, and the India Office each are represented by a Secretary of State in this House; the Navy has three representatives; the Board of Trade usually has two—I am aware there is only one at present—and the Army has also two representatives at present in this House. Hon. Members will remember a very strong discussion in this House, in the course of which objection was taken to the Under Secretary for the Home Department being in the House of Lords, with the result that Lord Rosebery resigned his appointment, and ever since the Home Office has had two representatives in this House. The Local Government Board, too, has two representatives in this House, and the 128 Board of Agriculture one. The five Secretaries of State are, every one, either in the House or represented by an Under Secretary familiar with the Department, working in it and knowing all about it; and some Departments have more than one representative—some have three, who are not merely the mouthpieces of the Chief Secretary, who is elsewhere. The advantage of that is that the House of Commons is brought into touch with the Department, and there is no other way of bringing the House into touch with it than by the presence in the House of Commons of the head of the Department of a responsible representative. No man who has sat in the House of Commons for ten years can be ignorant of the fact that there is a tone in the House; that there are occasions in the House when, in dealing with Votes and administrative questions, a Minister is required who, with his finger on the pulse of the House, can sweep away the red tape limits and deal with the questions at once on broad general public grounds. The Secretary of the Treasury will ask, "Why cannot I do that?" I will tell him why. Because he is not familiar with the daily working of the Department, and because he must represent it without responsibility as regards the officials. He represents the Postmaster General. With regard to all the other Departments, the representative in this House has great responsibility put upon him in answering questions; the right hon. Gentleman is under no such responsibility. Other Under Secretaries are responsible to the Secretary of State for the manner in which they answer, and we know that all questions are submitted to the heads of the Departments before the answers are given; with regard to the Post Office this is not the position.
§ THE FINANCIAL SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Mr. HANBURY, Preston)
When I undertook the representation of the Post Office in the House of Commons, the first rule I laid down was that I would take no answer from a permanent official, and that all answers should be seen and approved of by the Postmaster General. And I also reserved to myself full discretion to alter the answers if I saw any necessity so to do.
§ * SIR HENRY FOWLER
The right hon. Gentleman has by his explanation greatly strengthened my argument. Not 129 being in the Department, or familiar with it, my right hon. friend reserves to himself full discretion to alter, if he thinks it necessary, the answers of that Department. But I will give the right hon. Gentleman another reason. With all his herculean strength he is physically incapable of discharging the two offices. The office of the Secretary of the Treasury was always regarded as a most arduous one, and the Secretary of the Treasury as the hardest worked officer in the Government. And if my right hon. friend does his duty, as I know he does, to the Treasury, it is absolutely impossible for him to do his duty to the Post Office. A statement which appeared in a Government organ, which I suppose was inspired, says that the position of the Secretary to the Treasury is due to the fact that he is a controlling Department: that he controls the Post Office. I have already indicated my doubts as to the justification for that control, but I go a step further, and say that that control entirely depends upon the capacity of the Postmaster General. A strong Postmaster General would not allow himself to be controlled by the Secretary of the Treasury. But if there is this control in the Treasury, what happens when the Postmaster General sits in this House? Does the Secretary to the Treasury control the answers of such a Postmaster General? I should like to see the present Secretary of the Treasury or any past Secretary control some of the Postmaster Generals I have known. Let me give an illustration with regard to a Department that I know something of—the Local Government Board. For the last few years every President of the Local Government Board has justly groaned at the action of the Treasury with regard to staff and organisation of staff; public opinion in the House of Commons became strong in my time, and stronger in the time of my successor, and a Committee sat and largely increased the staff of the Local Government Board. Now, when we had additional inspectors to deal with epidemics, etc., if my Lords of the Treasury had sent letters explaining their views and requiring this to be done and that to be done, there is not a man, whoever held the office or whoever would hold the office, who would not send the letter back and tell my Lords to mind their own business. I warn the House against allowing the Treasury to get the 130 thin end of the wedge into administrative control. The hon. Member for King's Lynn had a motion with regard to this administrative reform, but I am afraid it was counted out†——
§ * SIR HENRY FOWLER
I am not against the Treasury having control of the finances; I think it is necessary for the financial safety of the State that it should have that control, but it is unconstitutional that it should have any administrative control over any Department. The administrative control of a Department is in the hands of its responsible head, subject to the review only of the Prime Minister. It is well known that there have been Governments in the past where the Prime Minister had, so to speak, his finger on every Department, and cases are not unknown to history where the Cabinet have exercised a strong control in favour of the head of a Department, and against so-called Treasury control or interference. That being so, I submit to the House that the Postmaster General is entitled, and ought to be put on an exactly similar footing administratively as the Presidents of the Local Government Board, the Board of Trade, and the Board of Agriculture. He is not a child in leading-strings to be led by the Treasury in the administration of the great office over which he presides, and in considering and deciding on the enormous difficulties and applications which are constantly being made for reforms, innovations, and concessions in the Department of which he is the head. I do not undervalue what the late Postmaster General has done, nor do I undervalue what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has done in reference to the concessions made in respect to the Post Office, but I do not think that the Secretary of the Treasury will deny that the Post Office is behind the demands of the public and is behind the great railway and other public companies in the progress which† 20th March, 1900 (See The Parliamentary Debates [Fourth Series], Vol. lxxx., page 1353).131 is to be found in its administration. A Treasury official is not the proper person to decide such a question; it should be decided on a broad scale of administration. There is an economy which is most extravagant, and there is an expenditure which is most economical. What we want is more Post Office facilities, more expedition, less delay, and, where possible, less charge; and the House of Commons is the ultimate tribunal by which such questions ought to be settled, and those questions should be brought before the House by a Minister familiar with the Department and working in it every day.
§ * SIR HENRY FOWLER
I say at this moment an enormous amount of taxation is levied upon the public through the instrumentality of the Post Office. Sir Robert Peel maintained that the Post Office should not be carried on at the public loss, but beyond that he did not regard it as a revenue Department. What the Government ought, to see is that it is a paying one; but the customers of that Department are entitled to have their convenience consulted with reference to the application of the surplus revenue. It was a Postmaster General of not so long ago, Mr. Shaw Lefevre, who suggested that a fixed sum—I think he named £3,000,000—should be taken as the amount of the revenue to be derived from that Department, and that the whole of the rest of the revenue should be expended in improving Post Office facilities or reducing Post Office cost. I think the people of this country are heavily taxed for their postal facilities, although they do not see where, by which I mean to say that if I have to put a penny stamp on a letter which is carried for three farthings I am taxed to the extent of one farthing. Details of this kind ought to be brought before this House, and my point is that the House of Commons has not the control with reference to this great Department that it ought to have, and which it is entitled to have. I have carefully avoided saying anything personally with regard to the present head of the Department or with regard to the Secretary of the Treasury; but what I do say is that the House of 132 Commons is entitled to have the responsible head of that Department in this House or a responsible Minister, responsible to the Postmaster General, to represent him in this House. There is a growing feeling of dissatisfaction which manifests itself at meetings of Chambers of Commerce and elsewhere with the present working of the Post Office, and I think there is no better cure for that dissatisfaction, whether it be real or imaginary, than the control of the House of Commons, and I think that until the Post Office is adequately and completely represented in this House, we shall not have that control. This is not a party question, and I am not going to make any hostile motion with regard to it, but I do implore the House of Commons and the Government to direct their attention to the present state of affairs with regard to the representation of the Post Office in this House.
§ MR. HANBURY
There can be no person in this House better qualified to speak on this subject than the right hon. Gentleman who has just resumed his seat; but having regard to the fact that for six months he filled the position I have the honour to occupy in this House, I was surprised to hear him argue so strongly against the principle, for during the whole of that time he must have been acting in an unconstitutional manner. But his tenure of office was a short one, and must have led him rather to underestimate the responsibility and the knowledge of the Treasury with regard to Post Office affairs. Everyone will agree with him that a popular and very important Department like the Post Office ought to be adequately represented in this House. It ought not to be represented by a mere dummy, but by somebody who could speak with full responsibility, and I was astonished when my right hon. friend told me that in 1886 there was a division of opinion in the Government of that day as to whether the Post Office, if it had to be represented in this House at all by anyone not directly connected with the Department, should be represented by the Secretary of the Treasury or by the representative of some other Department.
§ * SIR HENRY FOWLER
My right hon. friend has misunderstood me; there was not a division of opinion in the Government. After the Government was 133 formed the duty of representing the Post Office was not imposed upon the Secretary of the Treasury except with his distinct consent.
§ MR. HANBURY
I quite agree that the Secretary of the Treasury ought not to be called upon as a matter of necessity to undertake this duty, but I do say there was nobody else in that House who could properly undertake it, unless it was someone connected with the Treasury. It would be ridiculous to have the Inland Revenue represented by the War Office, or the Customs by the Admiralty, or the Post Office by the Board of Agriculture. That would be thoroughly unconstitutional; but when the right hon. Gentleman speaks as if it were unconstitutional that the Post Office should be represented by the Treasury, that is a different matter. I think there is a very wide distinction to be drawn between the representation of one Department by another with which it has no connection and the representation of a Department which is controlled by a member of a Department which controls all the Revenue Departments. Our responsibility and our knowledge with regard to the Inland Revenue and Customs is no greater than our responsibility and knowledge with regard to the Post Office. The right hon. Gentleman is trying to draw a distinction between the Post Office as a Revenue Department and the Customs and Inland Revenue. That is a distinction that is drawn for the first time. I have never yet heard any question raised as to the Post Office not being a Revenue Department. The right hon. Gentleman said that this representation was not constitutional, but the law distinctly put all the Revenue Departments absolutely under the orders and control of Her Majesty's Treasury. I admit that there ought to be a great distinction, although the law stands as it does, between the action of the Treasury with regard to the Inland Revenue and the Customs and their treatment of the Post Office. The greatest deference ought to be paid to a high officer of State like the Postmaster General, who has a seat in this House, and occupies a very different position to the head of the Customs or Inland Revenue Department. But when the right hon. Gentleman speaks of the Treasury interfering with the administration of the Post Office he cannot know 134 what position the Treasury occupies, not only with regard to Post Office administration, but with regard to the administration of Inland Revenue and Customs also. The Treasury does not interfere at all. It leaves to the heads of these Departments full responsibility for the whole of their administration. There is a great amount of patronage in all these Departments, and the Treasury carefully abstain from interfering with them altogether. It may be said, "If you do not interfere in these matters how are you able to represent the Post Office in this House?" But those are the two things in which I think the Treasury ought not to interfere. In not interfering in those matters, I am not in any way putting myself in a false position as regards the representation of those Departments in this House. When I explained the position I took up with regard to questions in that House the right hon. Gentleman at once said, "There you have an instance of the Secretary of the Treasury attempting to control the Postmaster General." It was nothing of the sort. It is utterly impossible for me to act in two wholly distinct capacities. They are not distinct. That is exactly what I explained to the House, but hon. Members opposite still assert that they are distinct, and therefore maintain that the position is impossible. I, however, take the opposite point of view. Take the questions on Post Office matters in this House. We have exercised control over the answers for this reason. The Post Office has to consult the Treasury as to three-fourths of the questions connected with that Department. In giving in this House answers to questions concerning finance or any departure of policy, on which the Treasury ought to be consulted, I have to see that I am not doing something which might place me in a false position as Secretary of the Treasury. I was surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that there was a certain antagonism between the interests of the Treasury and the interests of the Post Office. He implied that it was to the interest of the Post Office to spend, and to the interest of the Treasury to prevent the Post Office from spending. That is not a very wise proposition. If the Treasury has the control, it is just the same whether it represents the Post Office in this House or not. It is not less when 135 it does not represent it, and it is no greater when it does, and I say the control over the Post Office in every sense is less when represented in this House by the Secretary to the Treasury than when it is represented by the Postmaster General. Far greater pressure is brought to bear on me than ever could be brought to bear on a representative of the Post Office. Another thing is that both the Treasury and the Post Office gain. The Treasury has a great deal more knowledge of the finance and the working of the Post Office than it could possibly have in the ordinary course of events, and surely, therefore, the control of the Post Office by the Treasury must be carried on in a much more reasonable spirit than the right hon. Gentleman suggests. I think there is a considerable amount of pedantic opposition raised to the control which the Treasury has over the other Departments, and it becomes almost absurd when the Treasury is dealing with a Department, which is a Revenue Department and is remunerative; not subject to large expenditure like the War Office, the Admiralty, or Local Government Board, but, on the contrary, bringing in a considerable return—it is perfectly ridiculous for the Treasury to take up the position which the right hon. Gentleman suggests. Take the facts. During the last five years the Post Office had been represented in the House by the Secretary to the Treasury, and I venture to say that never before had so many concessions been made by the Treasury to the Post Office as during that time, owing largely to the Treasury having more intimate knowledge of the work of the Post Office. There is no theory to govern matters of this kind, but fact, and the concessions have been enormous. In the first year the Government were in office a Committee recommended large additions to the pay of the staff. The Treasury accepted the whole of the recommendations without demur, and sanctioned an extra expenditure in pay of £350,000 a year, and it did not stop there. It was said that the case of some of the servants of the Post Office had been overlooked. The Duke of Norfolk and myself held a conference upstairs, with the result that after a fortnight's hearing of the evidence the expenditure of £90,000 a year more was sanctioned, and, in all, more than £500,000 a year was obtained for the Post Office.
§ MR. HANBURY
I am not saying it could not be done, but that the present arrangement is more convenient. But the matter does not stop there. There was the Budget concession of cheaper postage. The right hon. Gentleman said the Post Office ought to reduce its charges; to what postage does he refer? The penny postage realises an enormous revenue and brings in a profit, but every other part of Post Office work is carried on at a loss. The whole profit is on the penny letter. We have not only cheaper postage, but the extension of the free delivery of telegrams in the country districts. These are enormous concessions, but we do not stop there. Imperial penny postage has been established. So far as London was concerned we have taken charge of a new department of the Post Office—the telephone service. I hope that by the end of the year we shall have the telephone service extended all over the metropolis. So far, therefore, from the Treasury acting as a drag on the Post Office, I have done my best to spur it on, and would like to see it work more vigorously. The right hon. Gentleman, I think, laboured under some misapprehension when he quoted Mr. Gladstone as saying the Post Office ought not to be a Revenue Department bringing in a profit to a greater extent than £3,000,000 a year.
§ MR. HANBURY
I can quote a far higher authority than Mr. Shaw Lefevre. I can quote Mr. Gladstone. In 1866, when a Bill was introduced to enable the Postmaster General to sit in the House of Commons, no less an authority than Mr. Gladstone said the Post Office was a Revenue Department, and he did not see why it should not be used as a means of earning revenue for the benefit of the taxpayers of the country†. I think it is quite plain that there is really no such antagonism between the Treasury and the† Refer for this and other extracts to debates on the Postmaster General Bill, 1866; The Parliamentary Debates [Third Series], Vols. clxxxii. and clxxxiv.137 Post Office as this question raises. Is there any necessity, when the Postmaster General is in the House of Lords, that there should be a special representative in this House. Can the Treasury fully represent the Postmaster General here? I maintain that the Treasury is entitled to represent the Post Office as fully and efficiently as it represents the Inland Revenue or the Customs, and I say the i Treasury would not be doing its duty if it did not undertake the duty which is laid upon it by Act of Parliament What could be more explicit than the words of 56 Geo. III., c. 98, by which the Treasury was empowered to represent the Post Office. What has been the history of Post Office representation in this House? Up to 1866 the Postmaster General invariably sat in the House of Lords and was represented in the House of Commons by the Secretary of the Treasury and nobody else. That is a strong historical precedent. No complaint of the Postmaster General sitting in the House of Lords and being represented in the Commons was ever made, so far as I am aware.
§ MR. HANBURY
In 1866 a Bill was passed enabling the Postmaster General to sit in the House of Commons. It was introduced by a private Member and accepted by the Government, not because of any complaint of the existing system, but simply because it was not thought right that the choice of the Crown with regard to the Postmaster General should be limited to one House of Parliament. The late Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Childers, and Mr. Ward Hunt supported the representation of the Postmaster General in the House of Commons by the Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Childers stating that "he did not think it essential or, indeed, expedient that as a rule the Postmaster General should be in that House." In dealing with a business Department we could have no higher authority than the late Mr. W. H. Smith, and he distinctly said, in a letter written in 1877, that the arrangement by which the Post Office should be represented by the Treasury ought to be a permanent one, as it was the only way in which the business could be conducted in a businesslike way. He 138 went further: he said that so close was the analogy between the Post Office and the Customs and Inland Revenue Departments that in his opinion there should be no Postmaster General at all, but that the Department ought to be carried on by a Board. There is no other representative of the Post Office in the House of Lords. There are two representatives of the Treasury in the House of Commons; and surely the common sense of the case is that the Postmaster General should sit in the other House, where there is no other representation. What was Mr. Smith's reason for the representation of the Post Office in that way in this House? It was this, and it is one that I wish to call the attention of the House to very seriously. The work of the Postmaster General, in addition to being the work of a very high officer of State, is work which, if properly carried out, imposes on that officer, I believe, harder work than that of almost any other officer of State. He administers an enormous Department, which has a staff of 160,000 men. There is, perhaps, very little policy in connection with that, but the mass of detail and the necessity for detailed knowledge is enormous. What happens? The Post Office, with all this large staff and all this amount of detail which the Postmaster General has to grapple with, is practically controlled by two men, neither of whom is sufficiently long in office, even if they give their whole time and attention to it, to grapple with all the difficulties of the case. In the other Revenue Departments, where the work is nothing like so large, where the staff is nothing like so great, and where the responsibility is not so heavy, you have four men forming a board, and among those four you have always two or three who have had considerable experience of office, and who from long experience know the details of the work, and are able to keep constant control over the subordinate offices of the Department; but with regard to the Post Office the position is entirely different. The Postmaster General and the Secretary of the Post Office are both birds of passage. Sir Spencer Walpole had no previous experience of the work; he had been Governor of the Isle of Man. No sooner had he been a few years at the Post Office and had thoroughly learned his work, than he was succeeded by another man in the office of Secretary. The Post- 139 master General is in exactly the same position. He is there for four or five years, if the Government lasts so long, and that is a little longer than the life of most Governments. If a Postmaster General remains in office for four or five years, it may be assumed that he will take the first two or three years in learning his business and gaining the knowledge requisite for the efficient and adequate control over that huge staff. Why was it that Mr. Smith suggested that there should be some sort of permanent arrangement? It was that the heads of the Post Office were mere birds of passage, and that with the enormous amount of work they had to do—far too much work—the Post Office fell into the hands too often of the subordinate permanent officials. That is a state of things, I think, which ought not to take place. I am sure that those hon. Members who sat with me on the Telephone Committee must know cases of that kind have occurred, and that that was owing to the utter impossibility of the hardest-working Postmaster General overtaking everything. They were only there for a short time, and cases must arise where the subordinate officials take the bit between their teeth and take their own way without the knowledge of the Postmaster General or the Secretary of the Post Office. If that is the case, surely that is an argument for having the Postmaster General in the House of Lords. If the Postmaster General is to do his work and control his Department he will have very little time for the arduous work of a Member of the House of Commons, and surely it is a reasonable thing, therefore, to put him in the House of Lords, where he can give his undivided attention to the duties of this high and most difficult office. The right hon. Gentleman suggests a compromise. The right hon. Gentleman says, "Oh, but at any rate, let us have a direct representative of the Post Office in both Houses," and he suggests an Under Secretary or Sub-Postmaster General. If the desire of the House is that the Postmaster General should be in the House of Commons, I take it that if the right hon. Gentleman were in office with hon. Members opposite they would put the Postmaster General in this House, and that they would create the entirely new office of Sub-Postmaster General for a Member of the House of Lords, where 140 there is practically no work for him to do. That is the very reason for having the Postmaster General in the House of Lords. I confess, honestly, that I prefer a Board. I say so frankly; but if you are to have a Parliamentary representative of the Post Office, then I say if that man is going to do his work properly, and keep proper control over this Department, it is utterly impossible for that man to fully administer the Department and at the same time to do his work as a Member of the House of Commons. It is utterly impossible for any man to do the two. I say, therefore, if the work of the Postmaster General is small in the House of Lords, it is perfectly ridiculous to appoint a new Minister, or a new Under Secretary for the Post Office, who, if hon. Gentlemen opposite came into office, would have to sit in the House of Lords, while the Postmaster General would be in this House. I have shown the responsibility which the Treasury exercises with regard to the Post Office. The right hon. Gentleman implied that it was somewhat difficult for the Treasury to gain adequate knowledge of the administration of the Department. I have said that with regard not only to the Post Office, but also with regard to the Inland Revenue and the Customs, we do not pretend to go into all the details of administration. It would be very wrong indeed of any Department to so control a subordinate Department, and to tie the hands of those who are the legitimate administrators of that Department, but I confess that a vast amount of knowledge must be acquired by anyone who does the work at the Treasury. I venture to say that there is hardly a day passes at the Treasury on which papers do not come before me from the Post Office requiring me to go into them, and probably requiring my signature. Therefore the Treasury, as the Treasury, is constantly being informed of the work that is being done at the Post Office; but if the Secretary of the Treasury happens to be the representative of the Post Office in this House, then his opportunities of gaining knowledge are very considerable indeed. It would be utterly impossible for anybody to have ten or twenty questions a day put to him on the Post Office business of the country, and questions by Irish Members who desire the most complete postal facilities in the remotest hamlets of Ireland. [An HON. 141 MEMBER: Where we have not got them.] It would be utterly impossible for anybody who had not only his work to do in the ordinary course at the Treasury, but also as representative in the House of Commons of the Post Office, not to get a great deal of information. He has to examine the questions put to him from all points of view; he must have, as it were, a wide horizon of observation in Order to be able to reply to the questions addressed to him. It would be utterly impossible for any man to do that work and not get considerable experience of the working of the Post Office. As a matter of fact, with a new Postmaster General and a new Secretary of the Post Office, I consider myself a complete veteran in this work. I do say with all humility that at the present moment I probably know almost as much of the Post Office Department as Secretary of the Treasury as the Postmaster General himself. I hope I have made it clear to the House That, whether it be a bad or a good arrangement, at any rate there is nothing unconstitutional in the course we are taking. There has been some grumbling, and I am not conceited enough to state that there have not been a considerable number of defects. No doubt the work might have been better done by a direct representative of the Post Office while I have done it myself. If there have been any defects in the Post Office representation in this House it is due entirely to the individual and not to the system which he administers. That being so, I hope the hon. Member will not press the proposal for the appointment of another Minister. No doubt he has stated a fact when he says that there are several Departments represented in this House by two or three Ministers, and that the Post Office has not got a direct representative of even one in this House. But I say that the system of representation so far as the Treasury is concerned is absolutely complete.
§ * MR. HENNIKER HEATON (Canterbury)
I rise to express the hope that this question will not be allowed to drift, and that hon. Members will so confine themselves to the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton as not to allow any other question to interfere. The facts are these. We have this great Department with its enormous revenue 142 and staff of employees placed under the charge of a gentleman who has never been in the Post Office in his life. It is only fair to say that had it not been for the courtesy of the right hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the Treasury the position he occupies would have become intolerable during these past years. It is the right hon. Gentleman's common sense and his administrative capacity in dealing with the questions brought before him that has made the position as regards the Post Office tolerable. If my right hon. friend the First Lord of the Treasury has any sympathy with my right hon. friend the Member for East Wolverhampton, and if he will permit this to be a non-party question, we shall carry by an overwhelming majority a motion that the Postmaster General shall be in the House of Commons. These are the facts. It was rather amusing to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary trying to convince the House on a question in a way which was entirely antagonistic to the views of the House, and, I am afraid, under other circumstances, would have been antagonistic to the view of the right hon. Gentleman himself. My right hon. friend knows very well that the view of the entire House is that he should have been appointed Postmaster General, and his appointment would have given general satisfaction. It is only fair to say, with regard to my noble friend Lord Londonderry, that the Government have appointed a business man and a gentleman who is popular and will probably make a good Postmaster General. But what are the facts? During the whole five years of the present Administration only two questions were asked of the Postmaster General in the House of Lords, whereas some thousands were asked in the House of Commons; and to appoint a man to represent the Postmaster General in this House who has never been in the Post Office in his life, and knows nothing what ever of its working, is too ridiculous. This Department is growing; very grave questions are arising in connection with the men; but the gentleman who has to defend the Post Office in this House has no experience of the internal administration of the Department. I did not rise to delay the proceedings or to interfere with those who desire to bring forward any of the thousand and one grievances against the Post Office, but in order to 143 put the matter in a proper form, and to bring the question to the test, I beg to move—and I do trust my right hon. friend the First Lord of the Treasury will not intervene or make this a party question—that the salary of the Post-master General be reduced by £100.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item A (Salaries) be reduced by £100, in respect of the salary of the Postmaster General."—(Mr. Henniker Heaton.)
§ * Mr. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)
Not for the first time the House of Commons has witnessed the Secretary to the Treasury placing himself in an illogical and, I venture to say, inconsistent position. We have seen him time after time a bold man struggling with adversity at the brassbound box. We have seen him assume the responsibility of people in other places; and we have seen him pluckily giving time and energy to work which another man could more effectively do, or which he could do much better than he does now if he had a seat in the; Cabinet as Postmaster General in this House, and was able to devote the whole of his time to the duties of that office, concentrating upon the work that energy which we all admire, but which is now divided between being the Treasury's watch-dog and Lord Londonderry's footman. The reason I express it that way is that by universal consent the Secretary to the Treasury has discharged a very difficult task to the general satisfaction of the House; but it is because then he could do that work so very much better that we want him either to give the whole of his time to the Treasury or else—as I would prefer—to give the whole of his time to the Post Office. He says, with his usual modesty, that any defect which may have been witnessed in the Post Office administration in this House is due not to the system under which he occupies a double-barrelled position, or to the conditions under which his appointment is held, but to his defects as an individual. I believe that modesty was only made for those who have no beauty. As an administrator the right hon. Gentleman has many good points, which we all appreciate and admire, and I believe that any defects he has shown are not due to himself, but to the curious system under which the House of Commons tolerates 144 the Postmaster General being in another place when he ought really to be here. I have risen for the purpose of touching on one or two points made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston in answer to the excellent speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton. The Member for Preston started out by saying that the fact that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton had held the office of Secretary to the Treasury rather vitiated his argument and weakened his proposition for what I had hoped was going to be a motion. But I take the other view. The fact that the right hon. Gentleman has been Secretary to the Treasury indicates to me that on a close acquaintance with the duties of the post he knows the weakness of the position now occupied by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston. In fact, I believe that no one but a gentleman who had occupied the position of Secretary to the Treasury could have made so forcible a speech; and I sincerely regret that the etiquette of the Front Bench precluded the right hon. Gentleman from moving a reduction of the Vote. Why did the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton speak as he justly did? He knows, as I said, the weakness of the anomalous position of the Secretary to the Treasury, and, what is more, he has correctly interpreted the proper relation of the Treasury to a big Department like the Post Office. The Secretary to the Treasury ought not to be wasting his time about good conduct badges for postmen, the size and price of their boots, the shape of their helmets, or the contour of their coats. All these and other matters should be left to a direct representative of the Post Office, who should give prompt and direct attention to the demands of this House. What he ought to be doing as Secretary to the Treasury is seeing that the Post Office was economically administered from the point of view of Treasury principles, and he ought not to be attending to the hundred and one minor details of the Department, and so wasting his time which should be given to higher and larger questions. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston entirely mistook the point of the relation of the Treasury to the Post Office. I think the Treasury ought to be, if I may put it in these words, fiscally critical of the expenditure 145 of the Post Office; it ought to be financially supervisory; it ought to pull up the Post Office when it was out running the constable. What happens now is that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston, instead of exercising the duties of the Treasury Dr. Jekyll, is worrying himself with the details of Mr. Hyde. That is a position we do not want any Minister to be in. What has the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston to do with administrative rule, executive knowledge, or disciplinary control? It is the executive function of a Postmaster General to go into all these matters. He ought to be in the House of Commons to reply to the mass of questions which are now addressed to the wrong, because the irresponsible, official. If the directly responsible head of the Post Office were in the House of Commons he would be able to brush aside through his more direct and intimate knowledge many of the questions which are now put, and, by contact with many Members, to dispose of many of the grievances that are too frequently ventilated by questions because the head of the Post Office is in another place. Then the right hon. Gentleman, anxious to divert the criticism of the House, said, "Look at what the Treasury has done for the Post Office!" If he will allow me to say so, he weakened his ease considerably by that statement. He said, "Have we not given the men £350,000 in concessions, and another £90,000 since?" My answer to that is that you have either given the money to the wrong people, as in many cases I think you have, or you have not given enough to the right people, while some of the people who ought to have had a share of the money have not had any at all. In order to prevent the possibility of that charge we want to have the Postmaster General hero with all this mass of detail at his fingers' ends, able to prove to the House of Commons by his intimate knowledge that the right people have received the concessions, and that the competent and energetic have not been turned empty away. Until that happens you are sure to have postmen and Post Office officials of every grade and rank exploiting the administrative weakness of the present situation, in which we have the Postmaster General in the House of Lords and a representative in the House of Commons, and, through lack of communication, on the spur of 146 the moment to have all the weaknesses and eccentricities of that situation exploited not for the furtherance of the benefit of the whole staff, or for the interests of the Post Office, but for the exaltation of the permanent official. I think with regard to this £350,000 there is something to be said, but I have always refrained from criticising the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston because I considered that he was, not in a position in which he could be criticised or properly attacked. He is not responsible. He accepts responsibility without knowledge and office without power. We all know that he is not responsible in the sense that the First Lord of the Treasury, the Home Secretary, or the President of the Local Government Board is responsible. We all look upon the right hon. Gentleman as an energetic and good-natured medium of a condition of things against which his own good sense frequently revolts. The result is that we spare him many questions and criticisms which we should otherwise direct against him. Then he says, "Oh, but there is no reason for the change." I think there is, and I am going to answer the question put by the right hon. Gentleman himself. He asked, "Can the Treasury adequately represent the Postmaster General?" He says "Yes"; I say "No." Why do I say "No"? Because for war, local government, home affairs, and other branches of the Government service it is necessary in these matters to have a representative in the House of Commons. If that be true of other Departments whoso estimates are adequately discussed once a year for perhaps two or three days in the year, it is more than over essential that a department like the Post Office, which has to be daily and hourly criticised, should have a direct representative in the House of Commons. And, what is more, I think the time has arrived when the House will have to recognise that this vast staff of 160,000 men has got to be managed on different lines and different principles than have hitherto obtained. It is evident to everybody by the questions which are put in this House day after day that questions may be put on subjects that ought to be remitted to a permanent Committee of this House. I believe that this system of answering questions is growing up to an extent that some day may be a positive abuse, and in the end will damage those in whose interests 147 they are presumably put. To chock that there is only one way. You must have a Minister present directly representing the Department incriminated by the questions, or, as I should like to see with regard to the Post Office, you must have the Minister here with a small Committee of this House sitting in permanence to manage that big Department. If that condition of things existed, and the responsibility was brought home to that small Committee, nineteen out of every twenty of the questions the House is now troubled with would not appear, or, if they did appear, would be summarily dealt with in the light of impartial facts and knowledge, and the staff would be content with a system of control that had been adopted by every municipality. But what is the present position as regards the Post Office? It amounts to this—that we have a small autocracy of permanent officials at St. Martin's-le-Grand; they have a representative in the House of Lords who answers two questions in a year, and there is a gentleman here to defend the permanent officials or the Postmaster General with obviously insufficient information, lacking that knowledge which he would be able to acquire if he devoted the whole of his time to the work. The effect of it is that staffs show a disposition to get out of control, minor grievances are exaggerated beyond their due proportion, and real grievances the removal of which the men have a right to demand are put on one side by the permanent officials who may want the money necessary to remedy those grievances, either to swell their own salaries or to increase the number of assistants for the work in their own particular departments. Against this lack of method and system, and absence of control by this House, I protest. This is occurring to such an extent that I am convinced that the present Post Office management is sure to break down sooner or later through lack of confidence by men, public, and the House of Commons. We have now to snatch reforms and concessions from the Post Office for the benefit of the public like butter out of the official dog's mouth, and there has hardly been a single reform in the Post Office during the last twenty-five years which has not been forced from them. We want a Postmaster who has ideas of reform himself, and who will anticipate agitation by coming down to the House 148 of Commons not once a year, but whenever the necessities of the community justify it, and say, "We are in such a position now financially that we can give a halfpenny postcard, a reduction on parcels, an improvement in the condition of the men, and one hundred and one other things." This can be done only by a Minister in this House devoting his whole time to the work. I appeal to the First Lord of the Treasury to recognise the size of the Post Office business. It has an income of £17,000,000 and an expenditure of £13,000,000, and it makes a profit of about £4,000,000 annually. It has 160,000 persons under its control, or nearly as many as the normal numbers of our Army, and yet it has not got a responsible representative in this House. This condition of things is rearing up amongst this 160,000 men the view that there is no chance of them getting any redress for their reasonable grievances from the representative in the House of Lords and the permanent officials, or from the irresponsible official in the House of Commons. In the interests of discipline, good administration, public convenience, and a cheaper and better postage, I appeal to the First Lord of the Treasury, if he will not have a Minister directly representing the Post Office in this House, to appoint an Under Secretary who will relieve the Secretary to the Treasury of the drudgery which he now so cheerfully performs, and which, under the circumstances, can never be done so efficiently as it ought to be in the interests of a great Department. I venture to suggest this course because I believe that if we do not watch this question closely we shall find the Post Office administration discredited, and I do not want to see that happen. I believe that, with all its faults, our postal service is still the best in the world. Here and there you may find people writing letters to The Times, because they have nothing better to do, complaining that they did not get a postcard sent on after changing their address. As to the staff, in some branches it is underpaid, and in others overpaid, whilst in others promotion goes by preference but whatever the defects of the service may be, the Post Office ought to have a Minister in this House responsible to the House of Commons. We should then be able, without adding a single penny to the burdens of the country, to improve the postal service in a hundred and one 149 ways. The bulk of the useful reforms carried out by the House of Commons have not been done by questions across the floor of the House. I have been in the House of Commons eight years, and I have only put seven questions down. I do not like putting questions, if they take up time that could be better devoted to the better discussion of the subject on which the question can only partly and often inaccurately deal with. When I want anything from a Minister I get aim in the Tea-room or the Lobby and point out to him that I think it is a reasonable thing, and ask, "Can you do it? If you cannot do it, tell me the reason, and I will be content." it often happens that a preliminary notice avoids the necessity of a public question altogether, and thus time is saved. I want, Lord Londonderry sitting opposite to be criticised when he goes wrong, and when he is right let the House support him. I know that the Postmaster General is very often interpreted as being wrong when he is right, simply because of these anomalous and irresponsible people who come between him and his representative in the House of Commons. I appeal to the First Lord of the Treasury, in the interests of good government, to comply with the spirit, if not the letter, of the request of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton as soon as possible by so altering and rearranging the present system as to allow the Postmaster General to have a seat in this House. In these days when Cabinet seats are given not for administrative ability, but for political service, and sometimes for political ingratitude, it is a mistake to think that this cannot be satisfactorily arranged.
* MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
I am sorry to find myself unable to agree with the line of argument adopted by any of the Members who have addressed the Committee; but towards the end of his speech the right hon. Gentleman who introduced this subject made a personal reference with which I cordially concur. He avoided personalities, but in the reference he made to the fact that the work had been thoroughly done by the Secretary to the Treasury during the time he has represented the Department in this House I am in hearty agreement. I cannot call to mind any time when the 150 work of the Post Office has been so well conducted as it has been by the right hon. Gentleman. I think, however, that that is an exception which proves the rule, which is that those who are responsible for a Department should represent it. The right hon. Gentleman opposite goes to the extreme length of saying that that means that the Postmaster General ought always to be a Member of this House, and he gave various reasons for this. He said it was highly desirable that he should be here personally to defend the acts of his Department when they were criticised in this House. Did it ever occur to him that he has served under a Prime Minister who was not a Member of this House? I am at a loss to understand how the right hon. Gentleman can make himself responsible for this argument. He might as well argue that Lord Spencer was unfit to preside over the Navy because he could not be called to account in this House. I might go through the list and prove that the Government to which he belonged was an absolutely inefficient body on the very grounds which he has presented to us this afternoon. But I do not share that conclusion at all; nor do I agree that the right hon. Gentleman's remarks have raised constitutional questions in the sense he assumes. He referred to the fact that the Home Office had two representatives in this House; and that the Local Government Board had more than one representative; and I think he mentioned the War Department in this connection, and he founded upon these instances the theory that every Department ought to be doubly or trebly represented in the House of Commons. But so far from this being a constitutional doctrine, it is the very converse of it. The fact is that these places have been multiplied for Members of the House of Commons not because their services are wanted, but because by placing them on the Front Bench hopes are entertained that they may not be found so troublesome as they were in other parts of the House. Everyone is familiar with the simile redolent of the pigstye in which Lord Derby, when Prime Minister, described the excess of applicants over the places at their disposal, and it has been on that ground that the practice of multiplying subordinate officials has increased in this House. As an instance to the contrary I remember 151 that when, thirty-two years ago, Mr. Disraeli wrote to me to appoint me as Secretary of the Poor Law Board, he said in his letter that that involved the responsibility of representing a Department of the State in the House of Commons, as my chief was a Peer, and it was on that ground that he placed it at my disposal. I cannot admit that there is any constitutional doctrine in several Ministers sitting on one another's knees representing the same Department. In Lord Derby's own Government in 1866, when Lord Belmore was Under Secretary of State for the Home Department, it was laid down that each Department ought to have a direct representative sitting in each House, responsible either in his own person or as the representative of his chief in another place. That is the old constitutional doctrine. The hon. Member who spoke last threw out a suggestion, which has been thrown out before, that a new official should be created charged with the duty of representing the Postmaster General in this House. I venture to take exception to that also. There are already a considerable number of Members sitting on the Treasury Bench who have no representative duties assigned to them at all. I think one of them might be taken out of the Lobby, where there is a profusion of Ministers. He might be conducted to the floor of the House and employed for the purpose of defending the actions of his colleague in another place. I think that would be a far more constitutional course than the creation of Ministers one on the top of the other, representing a Department which is fully manned by one person. Can anybody say that there is work for three or four Members representing the same Department in this House? It is perfectly notorious that there is not. Is there work now for the number of Junior Lords of the Treasury, whom we are all glad to welcome as friends both in and out of the House? At any rate, we would far sooner see them brought on the front Bench and placed in charge of responsible official duties, which would be far more constitutional duties than the position in which they are now placed. The Secretary to the Treasury said that the duties of the Postmaster General were interwoven with the Treasury, and that the representative of the Treasury was a more fitting person to represent the 152 Post Office Department in this House than the Postmaster General himself. Falling in with that for a moment, I would suggest that one of the Junior Lords of the Treasury would be a more fitting person. My right hon. friend is supposed to be inferior to my Lords, who are actually in their own persons Commissioners for administering the office of Lord High Treasurer, and I would prefer to have one of my Lords here in person to represent the Postmaster General. I think the proper person to represent the Post Office in this House would be one of the numerous Government officials called Junior Lords of the Treasury, who have no work to do so far as this House is concerned. He would be able to devote his whole time and energies to work which it is scarcely fair to throw upon an overworked Secretary to the Treasury, even with the herculean frame, the boundless industry, and the great ability of my right hon. friend. Something was said about the anomalous position in which the Postmaster General himself is placed under this system. I remember the late Mr. Raikes saying to me that he imagined he was Her Majesty's Postmaster General, but that he found he was practically only a subordinate Treasury clerk. That ought not to be. My right hon. friend talked of the analogy between the Post Office and the Inland Revenue Department. I cannot see that analogy. It is perfectly right that the head of the Inland Revenue Department, who is a permanent Civil servant, or the head of the Board of Customs, who is also a permanent Civil servant, should have a mouthpiece in this House in the person of the representative of the Treasury; but the Postmaster General is a high functionary of State, and although Mr. Raikes found his position as he described it, that is, I maintain, unconstitutional. What we ought to press on the Government is that they ought not to listen to any clamour about peers holding offices. There must be, as our Constitution is moulded—and I hope it will long continue so—some places in the Government filled by Peers. I think a great deal ought to depend not only on the nature of the duties associated with a particular office, but also on the personality of the individual, to his claims on the confidence of his colleagues and the country, and to other matters in regard to which it is 153 impossible to dogmatise or to lay down a particular rule as to whether the holder of a particular office should be in the Cabinet or in the House of Lords or the House of Commons. It is far better that these details should be left to be dealt with as required on broad common-sense grounds. All I venture to suggest is that the Government for the time being should always choose the man they consider to be the most suitable to hold the office, without the slightest regard as to whether he is in the House of Lords or the House of Commons, and that in the House in which he does not sit there should be a responsible official subordinate to represent the Department. If that were done there would be an end to all grounds for complaint.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR, Manchester, E.)
My right hon. friend has made a suggestion, in the course of his remarks, which is absolutely original, and which I think he has borrowed from no source independent of himself, but which I do not think is likely to meet with any great favour from any side of the House. He has expressed his admiration for those Government officials who are commonly known as Whips, but his admiration only extends to them personally, and not as Whips.
* MR. JAMES LOWTHER
I beg my right hon. friend's pardon. My remarks were wholly and entirely laudatory. An hon. friend sitting not far from me said that he preferred to see them when coming into the House rather than when going out, but I did not join in that.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
My right hon. friend has never felt himself to be bound by any unpleasant communication which he may have received either leaving or entering the House from any of my colleagues whom he may have mot in the Lobby. It must be quite evident to the House that, whatever may be said against the present system, or in favour of a new Under Secretary for the Post Office, or for the Postmaster General having a seat in the House of Commons, nothing can be said for the plan which my right hon. friend suggests, and which has never been heard of before. It is that a Lord of the Treasury, who 154 has no direct connection with the Post Office, who is not brought, like my right hon. friend the Financial Secretary, into contact with Post Office business, is to act in this House as a conduit pipe, and merely as a conduit pipe, to the Postmaster General, who is responsible for the office. Such a system would not secure to the House that immediate and direct contact they desire with the head of the Department, nor would it even bring them into direct contact with a subordinate official of the Post Office, who, though a subordinate, is brought into administrative relation with the multifarious details of that heavily burdened office. A controversy has arisen as to whether the Post Office is or is not a Revenue Department. Unquestionably it is legally and technically a Revenue Department. It is so defined in our Estimates, and, I believe, also by statute. But of course it is quite true that there is a difference between the Post Office and the Inland Revenue and Customs Departments. These Departments have one function and one function only, and that is to collect the taxes which this House imposes. The Post Office, indeed, collects a great revenue for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but its fundamental and primary duty undoubtedly is to carry out great public services irrespective of revenue. Therefore the position of the Post Office is a unique position, and we are only confusing ourselves in this discussion by putting it on all fours with any of the other Departments. It is much more a Revenue Department than the Admiralty, the Local Government Board, and the Board of Agriculture, but it is much less a Revenue Department than either the Inland Revenue or the Customs Department. It stands in a special relation to the Treasury, and yet though it stands in a special and subordinate relation to the Treasury, it has great administrative functions to perform with which the Treasury is only indirectly connected. But when the right hon. Gentleman who initiated this debate said that the Treasury ought not to have any control over the policy of the Departments, he laid down a proposition which can hardly be said to be true of any spending Department, and which certainly cannot be said to be true of the Post Office.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Surely policy is an important side of administration. Administration which does not touch | policy is administration shorn of its most important functions and its most important prerogatives. But I say it is impossible for the Treasury to avoid some interference with the policy of any Department which is called upon to spend large sums of money. The analogy of the Local Government Board, which the right hon. Gentleman quoted, hardly holds good in this connection, because the Local Government Board is not a spending Department. The Treasury, of course, has to be consulted if the staff of the Department is to be increased; but it does not interfere, and it is not called upon to interfere, with the policy of the Local Government Board. But in the case of a great spending Department it is unfortunately impossible that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should not have something to say on questions of policy, because the amount of money which is to be spent is matter he has to consider and to advise his colleagues upon, and on the amount of money which is to be spent must, of course, depend to a certain extent the policy, say, of the War Office or the Admiralty. Therefore, it is perfectly vain to cry out against a system that has its difficulties and its objections, and which is only practical at all under the all-embracing superintendence of Prime Minister and Cabinet, but which you cannot get rid of unless you allow every Department on its own account to plunge into boundless and unknown expeditions of expenditure, which would undoubtedly, in the long run, land a country even as wealthy as ours in hopeless insolvency. Therefore, it is impossible but that the Treasury must interfere with the spending Departments, and so it must interfere with the Post Office. There is no way of avoiding it. The Post Office is a great revenue-collecting Department as well as a great administrative Department, and from day to day it must come to the Treasury for sanction of details of expenditure with which questions of policy and questions of administration are intimately and inextricably bound up; and, therefore, there is in the case of the Post Office, more than in the case of any other Department of the State, a justification for asking the Secretary to the Treasury, if he 156 can, to answer for it in the House of Commons. I do not think it has been noticed in this debate, but it is a fact, that there is a distinct advantage in the Treasury thus answering for matters for which the Treasury is responsible. I have known cases in my official experience, and I am perfectly sure the right hon. Gentleman opposite has known such cases also in his official experience, in which the Minister in charge of a Department has had to defend a course of policy of that Department which had been practically forced upon it by the Treasury, and yet it is not the Treasury who is called upon to defend it, but the Minister. That, of course, must always be the case; but it has obvious inconveniences, and these inconveniences are avoided if the Treasury, in the person of the Secretary to the Treasury, is in a position to answer for the Department, not merely as knowing what is going on in that Department, but also as representing the Treasury, which probably had an important say in the policy he is defending.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
The Secretary of the Treasury occupies a totally inconsistent position when he acts as the representative of the Postmaster General, and is at the same time a Treasury official. It is utterly inconsistent; just like a man being a trustee and beneficiary at the same time. Surely the right hon. Gentleman is too cute not to see that.
§ Mr. A. J. BALFOUR
No; I should require to be much more acute than I am to see that. I do no see it at all. In actual fact the policy is threshed out between the Post Office on the one side and the Treasury on the other. I can see no objection to the Treasury defending a policy for which they are in part responsible. I see no disadvantages in that, but considerable advantages. There seems to be an impression on the part of some hon. Gentlemen that this House is not brought into direct contact with the Post Office because there is no direct representative of the Post Office, such as an Under Secretary, here; and that there would be an advantage in having an Under Secretary of the Post Office in the House. In my view an Under Secretary would have no advantages as compared with my right hon. friend for dealing with questions of policy connected with the Post Office. It is felt that there ought to be 157 a Minister here capable of taking a lead which the House of Commons may give. But an Under Secretary has no more authority to do that, indeed he has less authority to do that, than my right hon. friend has. An Under Secretary is not and cannot be responsible for the policy of the Department. There are certain branches of the work of the Department which he may carry on efficiently; he may be thoroughly acquainted with the general work of the Department; he may be able to give the House every information as to the grounds on which this or that line of action has been decided upon; but it is not in his power to announce, in consequence of House of Commons pressure, without consultation with his chief, that some new departure is to be adopted. Some speakers have not shirked from saying that they would like it to be laid down as the result of this vote that henceforth and for evermore the head of the Post Office should be a Member of the House of Commons. I altogether object to any such limitation upon the discretion of the Prime Minister in giving his advice to the Crown. I entirely associate myself with what fell from my right hon. friend the Member for Thanet on this point. I think it would be a most unfortunate limitation to place on the choice of Her Majesty's servants, and would increase the difficulties which already exist in the allocation of the offices in the Cabinet. What reason can be given for insisting that the Postmaster General should be in this House which cannot with equal or even greater force be urged in favour, say, of the First Lord of the Admiralty being a Member of the House of Commons? The First Lord of the Admiralty deals with an annual expenditure of something like £24,000,000, and his duties touch the interests of every Member of the House and every member of the community. Naturally the House would always be glad to have information at first hand given with all the authority of the head of a Department. But would it be wise to lay down a rule that the First Lord of the Admiralty should always be a Member of this House? He is a Member of this House now with great advantage to the House, but in the last Government he was not a Member of this House, and I think that the majority of First Lords of the Admiralty in Liberal Governments since the Reform Bill have 158 been Members of the other House. I do not say whether it be right or wrong that the First Lord of the Admiralty should be so often in the other House; but I certainly would object to any attempt on the part of this House to lay down the principle that the First Lord of the Admiralty or the Postmaster General, closely associated though they be with vast spending Departments, should always have a seat in the House of Commons. Let me here reply to an observation made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Battersea. He explained his own personal practice with regard to questions, and I think that practice is a very excellent one. I wish it were more largely followed; but the hon. Gentleman seems to think it impossible to get at any Minister, or to have direct communication with any Minister, unless that Minister happens to be in the House of Commons. I can assure him he need not feel any such limitation whatever. I am sure my noble friend the new occupant of the Postmaster Generalship will be as ready as his predecessor the Duke of Norfolk was to answer any question which may be put to him and to explain to any Member of this House the motives with regard to subjects which might otherwise come before the House in the form of question and answer. The circumstance that a Member of the House of Lords is not always to be found in the Lobby is no serious obstacle to the free intercommunication of ideas, which I agree is a most valuable substitute for public question and answer, and which I wish were more often availed of by hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House. I think the House ought to pause before they attempt by a vote of this kind to limit the discretion of the Prime Minister of the day as to the recommendations he may make to the Sovereign in connection with the allocation of great public offices. All such restrictions must be injurious, must, in the long run, tend to preventing the fittest men being put in the most appropriate places; and it is on that broad ground that I object to a limitation which, so far as I can judge, carries with it no special inconvenience in the case of the Post Office, which carries with it less inconvenience in the case of the Post Office than in the case of those offices which have not got so efficient a representative in this House as my right hon. friend the Secretary of 159 the Treasury. I am sure it would be contrary to public policy if this House should endorse the rule or principle referred to. I trust my hon. friend who moved the reduction will accept the wise advice given by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and will not press his proposition to a division, but be content with the interesting and instructive debate which has taken place.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
The speech of the right hon. the First Lord of the Treasury seems to me to be an attack on the whole system of Parliamentary interrogation, which I regard as a most valuable constitutional privilege. I cannot see the point of the remark of the hon. Member who said that in the course of eight years he had not asked eight questions. But questions are frequently asked, as everyone knows, not for the benefit of the answer, but for the benefit which the question will have on public opinion at large. I think the First Lord of the Treasury would have acted more wisely if he had followed the hint I gave him in a question. Perhaps he will recollect that before the Duke of Norfolk resigned I asked the First Lord* whether he was aware that ever since 1866 until the Duke's appointment—with one interval of six months—every Postmaster General had been in the House of Commons, and I asked him what he would do with reference to a successor to the Duke of Norfolk. He replied that the new appointment lay not with him, but with the Prime Minister, and that in any case we had got the power of interrogating Ministers. Well, my right hon. friend who acts for the Postmaster General in this House has always performed his duties with the utmost satisfaction, but we have not been able to fix on him Ministerial responsibility. He has taken that position without a seat in the Cabinet, although with his ability he ought to have a seat in the Cabinet. Of course the old rule must be observed that a seat in the Cabinet is given to persons who will not set the Thames on fire. At the same time, why should we have Peers as figureheads of institutions and Departments which require the greatest amount of detailed experience? There is nothing which shows such hopeless incompetence as* See The Parliamentary Debates [Fourth Series], Vol. lxxxi., page 818.160 this Ministerial system. Why is it that a great Post Office reformer and great benefactor to mankind sits below the gangway, while we see Lord Londonderry pitchforked into the Postmaster Generalship, who does not know the difference between stamps, except by their colour? It was simply because he was a Peer and would be safe from criticism in this House. There has not been a single Home Secretary in the House of Lords, which shows that the office of Home Secretary is absolutely and essentially a House of Commons office. With one exception the Postmaster General has been a Member of the House of Commons since 1866. I object to the present system because it takes a representative Minister, who has hitherto been subject to cross-examination, from this House. This is one of the many attacks upon popular rights which have been made by Lord Salisbury, who has never missed an opportunity of depreciating the House of Commons. This is an office which has always been permanently in the House of Commons, and I hope my hon. friend will persevere and go to a division, for it is a matter really of principle. I hope the matter will be pressed on, and that public attention will be drawn to it, for it should be brought home to every person that under the present system the administration of the Post Office depends solely upon a Member of the House of Lords who answers two questions a year. If the right hon. Gentleman requires an argument upon this point he could not do better than turn up Lord Salisbury's celebrated speech in reference to the way he has been obstructed by the Treasury.* The Secretary to the Treasury is the obstruction himself, acting as the agent to the Postmaster General. On these grounds I hope that a division will be pressed for.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
I regret the observations of the hon. Member who has just sat down in reference to the new appointment of Postmaster General. I believe, personally, that it is an extremely good appointment, for Lord Londonderry is a man of business.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
I have not mentioned him, except in a general way as a Peer.* Refer to The Parliamentary Debates [Fourth Series], Vol. lxxviii., pages 32 and 237.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
I think it is an extremely good appointment, for many reasons. It is a great surprise to some people that the noble Lord is not a Liberal Unionist; he is the one sinner who is repentant, and we are the ninety-nine just persons who are extremely glad for his appointment. It is no very enviable post to which the noble Lord has been appointed. I can conceive nothing more disagreeable than to be in title and name what my right hon. friend has called a high functionary of State, and having absolutely no initiative of your own, and scarcely any power of your own except that which the Treasury chooses to allow you. I know that the patience of Postmasters General in the past has been sorely tried, but my belief is that the noble Lord who has now been appointed to the office, although thoroughly well able to hold his own, will have a very rough time of it when he comes to try a fall with the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury. My right hon. friend the First Lord of the Treasury has said, and said very truly, that Treasury control can only work so long as it is controlled by the Prime Minister. But unfortunately the Prime Minister has avowed that he has been unable to control it. Therefore it is not so small or unimportant a matter, because it has been stated from the highest quarter than in some cases the Treasury has overpowered even the Prime Minister himself. My right hon. friend says that there is no person in the whole administration so capable of answering for the Post Office as the Secretary to the Treasury, because he controls both the financial aspect of the question, and represents, if he does not control, the administrative Department. According to this the right hon. Gentleman alone is the best answerer that ever was or could be invented. If this be so, what are we to think of every Minister who has not that capacity, and who will have to give answers in another place? They will not have the completeness which alone belongs to the Secretary of the Treasury, and if it be true that he alone can give the complete answer required, then the same argument will apply to all other Departments. The Treasury interferes with every Department, and nobody knows this better than my right hon. friend, for nobody has interfered more than he has. I am bound to say that I 162 listened with very great interest to the speech of my right hon. friend the Secretary of the Treasury. Those of us who admire and believe in him, when we heard that the Postmaster General had been driven to South Africa—I mean, of course, by his patriotic desire to serve his country—expected to see my right hon. friend fill that post, and nine out of every ten Members felt that the succession to that post would be offered to him, and that his sense of public duty would force him to accept it. We do not, of course, know the secrets of the Cabinet, but I have been struck very much by this, that among all the speeches that I have heard my right hon. friend deliver in this House I think that one of the least successful has been that in which he has defended his own supersession. Some of his arguments were of a boomerang character, and will certainly recoil upon his own head. I believe the point of my right hon. friend opposite is this: there ought to be a responsible person to answer questions for the Post Office in this House, and the Secretary of the Treasury is not responsible. What answer is made to that? The Secretary of the Treasury himself avows that he is not responsible. On the contrary, so far from him being responsible to the Postmaster General, he claims that the Postmaster General is responsible to him. He explained to the House that when he consented to answer questions for the Postmaster General he did so upon two conditions: one was that he would never give an answer drafted by a permanent official, and the other was that he should have the power of altering the answers made. What was the result? The right hon. Gentleman has claimed and exercised these two powers since 1895, and the result is that in the answers he has given to this House we have not had the answers of the Postmaster General, but the amended, improved, shortened, elongated, and entirely changed version which the right hon. Gentleman himself has chosen to put upon them. How much he has altered them we do not know. T have noticed once or twice, when I asked certain questions about the Post Office, that the right hon. Gentleman avowed that he was not satisfied with the answer, and in all probability there had been a hot five minutes between him and the Duke as to the nature of the answers to be given. 163 So that the answers given have not been Post Office answers, but simply Treasury answers. The right hon. Gentleman has stated that by an Act passed in 1804 the Post Office was placed absolutely and completely under the orders of the Treasury. The year 1804 was the age of heavy postage and cranks, when great abuses existed in the Post Office, and at that time the Post Office, in the modern sense, had hardly come into existence, for they then resisted every suggestion of reform. But surely the time is pretty well ripe now for putting an end to the system of 1804, which brought in its train many inconveniences and mischiefs. It is now claimed that the Post Office is a subordinate Department to the Treasury, and my right hon. friend justifies this by saying that it is no more subordinate than the Customs and Inland Revenue Departments. But if the Post Office is subordinate to the Treasury, why is there a Postmaster General at all? Surely my right hon. friend, instead of being simply a conduit pipe for dictated answers coming presumably from the Postmaster General, should give the answers himself. I do not see why there should be a Postmaster General at all; but let me remark that the Customs Department and the Inland Revenue Department are in an entirely different position. There is no high officer of State at the head of these Departments, and consequently the situation has never arisen which arises with regard to the Post Office alone. I do think that the interference of the Treasury has been very mischievous, and it has produced this result, that we have no responsible person representing the Postmaster General, but we have only his tyrannical superior represented by the Secretary of the Treasury. I have often thought that I should like to put my supplemental questions to the Postmaster General himself when I have asked questions in this House. Had I been able to do so I do not think there would have been found absolute and complete agreement. The suggestion of a Sub-Postmaster General, it seems to me, would be one that would meet the case. My right hon. friend the Secretary of the Treasury supposes that if the Postmaster General was in this House and his deputy in the other House the deputy would have nothing to do. If that is so, what has the Postmaster General to do in the other House? The right hon. Gentleman 164 said that in 1877 the late Mr. W. H. Smith suggested in a letter that the Postmaster General should be abolished, and that he should be replaced by a Board. But why has the right hon. Gentleman or the First Lord of the Treasury not got the courage to do that? If they took that course then we should know where we are. If you had four Commissioners for the Post Office, as you have in the Inland Revenue Department, under the control of the Treasury, then we should have a really responsible person capable of replying with responsibility to the questions put in this House. This has not been proposed. I may say that I have no knowledge whatever of this letter of 1877 which has been alluded to.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
I thought I had not seen it in any public publications, and my experience of private literature is very small. If the idea of 1877 was a sound one, then let us carry it out to its logical conclusion, but do not keep on with the present system under the pretence that you have a high functionary of State and a man of great position from whom you may expect the initiation of great ideas and reforms affecting the national interest. We should not keep that idea on foot and at the same time put him under the meanest clerk in the Treasury. My right hon. friend knows that some of the small tyrannies are exercised by Treasury clerks. I am sure that my right hon. friend would exercise no small tyranny, if he exercised any tyranny at all it would he a large one; but it is well known that some of these small tyrannies are exercised by the small officials of the Department,, and this does not apply to the Post Office alone. If this idea were carried out it would be sound enough. I hope my hon. friend will not press his motion to a division, because, if he does, I am afraid I shall have to do what I really do not wish to do, and that is to vote against the Government, and that would give me great pain. I do trust that we have not heard the last word upon this matter, and that Her Majesty's Government will take into consideration the extreme convenience, and the constitutional propriety of having in this House a really responsible person competent to answer with 165 responsibility questions relating to the Post Office administration.
§ SIR BLUNDELL MAPLE (Camberwell, Dulwich)
I have listened with interest to the speeches made in this debate, but there is, if I may be allowed to say so, one particular line which has not been trotted out. It is that the Post Office ought to be a Department by itself, with its responsible heads. I wish to confine myself to the remarks made by the First Lord of the Treasury, because he generally anticipates great changes and advantages. The, Post Office at the present moment is but a small thing to what it will be by-and-by when we have acquired the telephone and other systems. My hon. friend the Member for Canterbury suggested that it would be better to have the Postmaster General in this House than in the House of Lords. I entirely disagree with that at the present time, because the Treasury is the master altogether over the Post Office. The Post Office is only a part of the Treasury, and it is not a commercial concern in the sense that it ought to be, for it requires reforming from the top to the bottom. When it is made a separate Department of the State then we ought to have the Postmaster General here to take upon himself the responsibility. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton very rightly put it that the Post Office ought not to be a large collector of taxes from the people. I think we ought to know what are the profits of the Post Office and what the income and expenditure of that Department really is, and we should also have the charges to the public reduced as much as possible. As regards the Post Office itself, it is one of the most unbusinesslike managed affairs that is possible, in the sense that it does not show its profit, and you have no capital account. What has occurred during the last fifteen years? Many branches of work which belong properly to the Post Office have gone into other channels. The telephone business and the boy messengers have gone, and the telephonic system, started by private enterprise, is now to be brought back to the Post Office. This has all happened because you have no capital account. Why should the Post Office not have a capital account and take stock of its property like other business concerns? 166 What occurs every day? Those who watch the Post Office administration know that over and over again houses with small leases are being bought, and large sums are being spent upon them, with the result that the rent will be two or three times greater in the end than it would be if you bought freehold property and put up proper buildings. If the postal authorities in Manchester wanted a new post office, and they came to the Treasury for £200,000 or £300,000 for that purpose, the Treasury would say, "No, you must take some leasehold premises." I think that the Post Office system at the present time requires reforming from top to bottom, more especially in view of the large increase in business which is likely to take place. We know what occurs year by year, and the taxpayers will shortly be called upon to pay a large sum to buy up the telephones. We know that that system ought to have been acquired by the Post Office long ago, but it has no capital account. The Post Office produces a large sum every year by way of income, but if it wants to make a large outlay it has no capital. Look at what could be done with the enormous wealth of a business like the Post Office if it was only properly taken stock of. In the Post Office, as in the case of large railway companies, or any other large commercial concern, it is necessary that you should have a capital account and show the proper profits of the business. At the present time the Postmaster General who sits in the House of Lords is nothing more nor less than a child in the hands of the Treasury. The Postmaster General can do nothing: he cannot make any expenditure, and he cannot even change the colour of a postage stamp, without the consent of the Secretary of the Treasury. I only rose to call attention to the position of the Post Office at the present time. I consider that it ought to be a separate Department of the State with its proper officials, and the Postmaster General ought to have a free hand. I hope my hon. friend will withdraw his motion.
§ * SIR HENRY FOWLER
I am perfectly satisfied with the course the discussion has taken and with the result it has, I think, achieved. I should like to say just one word with reference to the remark made by the Secretary of the 167 Treasury, and alluded to again and again, namely, as to the views of the late Mr. W. H. Smith. No man had a greater respect for Mr. Smith than I had, and any opinion he entertained on a question of administration was entitled to the greatest value, but he had only been in office a short time when he wrote that letter. It was a private letter to Sir Stafford Northcote. I do not know that any Government has ever taken practical notice of that letter, but I believe that the idea of turning the Post Office into an administrative board, practically, as it would be, independent of this House would be resisted to the very utmost and to the end. I can conceive no proposition which would be more disastrous to the public service than any attempt to destroy the office of Postmaster General and to create a reproduction of the Inland Revenue and Customs Board. It exists, as the First Lord of the Treasury has clearly and completely shown, for totally different purposes, as far as administration is concerned, and with it I conceive there is no analogy whatever. I should like to put to the hon. Member for Canterbury the desirability of withdrawing this motion. I initiated this debate, and I wish to make it clear that no censure of the present Postmaster General was implied; but when the House is asked to vote that the Postmaster General's salary should be reduced £100, I feel that it is a motion I individually should not vote for. I see no reason to censure Lord Londonderry with reference to this. I think it would produce a false impression in the House of Commons and in the country if a snatch division were taken on the assumed question that this would be the laying down of a principle as to whether or not the Postmaster General should be a Member of the House of Commons. My right hon. friend the Member for the Thanet Division intimated that I had proposed that the Postmaster General should be a Member of this House. He is a very good hand at dotting the i's and crossing the is, and I am quite willing to admit that that was the logical conclusion to which my speech pointed, but that was not my point this evening. My point was to bring before the House, the Government, and the country the undesirability of the present arrangement, and I do not think it is our duty at present to lay down any hard-and-fast line. The First Lord of the Treasury 168 spoke of the utter impossibility of laying down a rule that this and that office is not to be filled by a certain class of public servants; but I think there is a public opinion which is all-powerful with the men who form Cabinets, that there are offices which ought to be filled by Members of the House of Commons, and I think the tendency of public opinion and in this House is that among the offices which should be held by Members of the House of Commons the office of Postmaster General is one. I think it would be unwise to take it any further to-night. We have had what I call a very distinct indication of Parliamentary opinion on this question, and I for one am quite content that the debate should cease.
§ * MR. HENNIKER HEATON
I merely moved the Amendment to crystallise the discussion, and keep it in the bounds indicated by the right hon. Gentleman. I desire to say one word, though it is hardly necessary, and that is that I know no one in the House of Lords I would have chosen sooner than Lord Londonderry for great business capacity and energy, together with high courtesy.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ * SIR CHARLES CAMERON (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
I rise for the purpose of calling the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to a recent action on the part of the Post Office which appeal's to be contrary to the intentions of this House, grossly unfair to the municipalities of this country, and at entire variance with the policy in connection with the telephone system which, under the guidance of the right hon. Gentleman, was so successfully inaugurated last year. By the Telegraph Act of 1863 it is provided that if a telephone company desires facilities for laying underground wires in streets under the control of any corporation or public body it can only lay those wires on the conditions dictated by the municipality or body controlling the streets. That is a distinct protection of the rights of municipalities and a necessary protection. It is endorsed in a very much later Act—that of 1892, I think—an Act by which it is provided that while the Postmaster General might transfer to the telephonic 169 licensee his rights, that should only be done provided that the licensee shall not exercise any power under such enactments without the consent of the authority having the control of the street and that it should be subject to the same terms and provisions which the local authority might attach to their consent—in the same way, in fact, as was laid down by the Act of 1863. The municipality or authority controlling the streets was, therefore, in the position of being able to dictate the terms on which it would allow the streets to be broken up, and that absolutely without any right of appeal. The municipalities have always been most willing to co-operate with the public Departments, and when by another Act it was proposed that the Post Office should have the right of breaking up the streets they offered no opposition. The were willing to give whatever facilities they could to a public Department like the Post Office, and accordingly, in the Act of 1878 it is provided that the Post Office should have running powers for the purpose of laying telegraphic wires, and that in case of the body controlling the streets desiring to attach any condition, to this consent, and in case of the Post Office demurring to these conditions, the difference between them should be referred to a certain court. I am speaking of a Scotch case, and the court there was the Sheriff Court subject to an appeal to the Railway Commissioners. I think it is perfectly clear from what I have said that the object of Parliament was to safeguard the powers of municipalities or other bodies controlling the streets and roads as against private companies like the National Telephone Company, while affording every facility to the Post Office. In 1897 I think the National Telephone Company made application to the Corporation or Glasgow for liberty to lay underground wires along its streets. The Corporation of Glasgow has a great objection to allow outside bodies the right of breaking up its streets, and very properly so. It has under the streets systems of gas and water, the distribution of electric light, the distribution of hydraulic power, and the conveyance of sewage, and it objects altogether to outside bodies being entrusted with those powers. The corporation, having control of the streets, refused, although the National Telephone Company offered, I believe, very consider- 170 able money in return for the privilege. In the same way the Post Office made application to the city for the same authority, and negotiations went on. The city offered to give the permission desired by the Post Office on the condition that it should not be made use of for the benefit of the National Telephone Company. In 1898 the Post Office served the corporation with notice under the Telegraph Acts, requiring them to grant those facilities, and the corporation did so at once, subject to the condition that the permission would not be used in the way I have described. This was treated as a matter of difference and referred to the Sheriff for decision, and the Sheriff in the beginning of 1899 declared in favour of the Post Office, and that the Post Office had the right and was entitled to this without the condition that the corporation desired to attach to it. I may mention that an appeal was afterwards made to the Railway Commissioners on this point, and the decision of the Sheriff was confirmed, so that I do not at all dispute the law of the case. What. I wish to call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to is the policy. Up to this point the policy of the Post Office has been to coddle the National Telephone Company. The Post Office had sacrificed everything to the National Telephone Company. It had even sacrificed its own telephonic exchanges to the Telephone Company. They had been rant-only sacrificed to the interests of the competing private National Telephone Company. Up to that point, 1898–99, when this was in accordance with their general policy, the Post Office authorities wanted to do what they could for the National Telephone Company, and it appears that in law they were right. But since then the Post Office has taken a more wholesome attitude, and one, I believe, that commands the approval of the entire community. It wishes to improve the telephone system by all means, and it wishes to do so by competition—competition in which it is about to take a vigorous part in London—competition into which it invites the municipalities throughout the country to enter. It certainly is not in accordance with policy that the Post Office should step in and take away the light in their public streets in which the municipalities have a certain advantage over their competitors, and which is conse- 171 quently an incentive to them to outer into the field of competition. I should feel inclined to think that whatever views the right hon. Gentleman may be pledged to take officially in this matter, personally his sympathies cannot but be against the prosecution of a policy which tends to neutralise that competition and improvement of the service which he has been at such pains to bring about during the past year. The matter is now hung up. The Postmaster General has sent in a plan of the route he proposes to adopt. The municipality of Glasgow has suggested certain alterations in that, and I believe the matter is still under discussion. The die is not yet cast, but I believe it soon will be, and therefore I venture to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the matter this evening, in the hope that he may see his way, before it is too late, to prevent the inauguration of a policy so far as I know at present confined to the city of Glasgow, one of the first to apply for a telephonic licence, but which concerns every municipality in the country, and in which the Corporation of Glasgow has at its back the sympathy and support of the municipalities throughout the country. In order to allow the matter to be definitely discussed, I beg to move the reduction of the Postmaster General's salary to the extent of £200 in respect of the steps taken by the Post Office in sacrificing the rights of municipal authorities in the control of their streets in the manner I have described.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item. A (Salaries) be reduced by £200, in respect of the Salary of the Postmaster General."—(Sir Charles Cameron.)
* MR. JOHN WILSON (Lanarkshire, Govan)
I do not wish to give a silent vote on this question. It is one of very great hardship to the municipalities who have got licences or are likely to apply for licences. The great object of the Corporation of Glasgow in desiring to provide a telephonic system is to benefit the citizens, and representing as I do a considerable section of the community within the city area, I am only in my place here in advocating the cause of the corporation. The object of the corporation is to give cheap and good telephonic communication, and to give correct telephonic communication. There is no doubt 172 whatever that the corporation, who have now begun operations so far as pipes are concerned, and the getting of a bureau for telephonic purposes, are going forward in the hope that the Post Office will not do anything to hinder the prosperity of the object they have in view. Undoubtedly, the Post Office authorities, as we have heard, have a right to the streets for their own communications, but what the authorities of Glasgow object to is, that the National Telephone Company, or any other company, should come behind the Post Office authorities and get the benefit of the privilege that Parliament has conferred upon them. With regard to this very subject I hold in ray hand a letter addressed by the managers of the National Telephone Company to the members of the London County Council, and which I have no hesitation myself in saying gives away the whole case, so far as they are concerned. I shall read the paragraph—The company conducts its business under license from the Postmaster General—the telephone being within the Postmaster General's monopoly of telegraphs. Parliament in 1892 authorised the Postmaster General to delegate to any licensee (inter alia) powers which he, the Postmaster General, possesses for running wires underground. By an agreement, which was made in March, 1896, between the Postmaster General and the company, the Postmaster General entered into an express covenant to delegate these powers to the company in London, and in any other telephone area whenever requested by the company to do so. The Act giving this authority to the Postmaster General provides, however, that the licensee shall not exercise the powers in London without the consent of the London County Council.If it is good for the County Council of London it is good for the Corporation of Glasgow, or any other corporation in the country. The whole progress of this question, so far as it has gone, is entirely in the interests of the National Telephone Company. We have had enough to do with that company, and I think the less the Postmaster General has to do with the company the better for the people of the country. I hold it would be very much better, and in the interests of the Post Office, to work in harmony with corporations such as Glasgow and other large towns who wish the telephone in their own hands, rather than to put a stumbling-block in the way by creating, through the National Telephone Company, opposition to those various corporations. There is no doubt 173 whatever that the object of the Corporation of Glasgow is entirely in the interest of the community, and I am informed upon very good authority that the likelihood is that the charge for telephonic communication to the citizens will not be much more than half of what they are at present paying to the National Telephone Company. We all know that, so far as the National Telephone Company's charges are concerned, they are very much higher than those in most other places throughout the world. Why should we put our money into the pockets of the Telephone Company when we can get a more excellent service from our own local authority? I know, so far as the Corporation of Glasgow is concerned, and I think no one in this House will gainsay the fact, it is in the forefront of the corporations in the Queen's dominions in doing the best they can for the citizens. Why, what is the position? The streets were made by the ratepayers, they are maintained by the ratepayers, and they are the property of the ratepayers of Glasgow, and so with every other community in the same position. I hold that it would be hard lines indeed for the Corporation of Glasgow to be saddled with the opening up of the streets a second time for the purpose of allowing the Post Office authorities to delegate their powers to a company that we all know have enriched themselves to a degree they never ought to have done. I speak of what I know. So far as the right hon. Gentleman is concerned, if he had had his own way of it he would be more open and straight in this matter. I do not charge him with doing anything like an unjust act so far as the Post Office is concerned, but so far as the Post Office authorities are concerned their principle is to take all and give as little as they can. The principle of a straightforward Department is to do what is just and right, and to do it at once. I support my hon. friend.
§ MR. URE (Linlithgowshire)
I really do not think the Committee realises how aggravated the case is. I doubt whether the right hon. Gentleman who represents the Post Office realises how aggravated the case is. There is no community in the United Kingdom worse served in the matter of telephonic communication than the city of Glasgow. A monopoly was granted—I do not use the word in 174 an offensive sense—fourteen years ago, and complaints were begun at once. As years advanced these complaints gathered volume, and they extended to such a degree that the Government was constrained, in 1897, to appoint a Commission for the purpose of inquiring into the complaints against the Telephone Company, so universal and loud had they become. That inquiry was held in the autumn of 1897. The subscribers to the telephone were invited to come before the Commissioners and state their complaints fairly in open court. The telephone Company was put on its trial. There was an immense array of counsel and great preparations were made to meet the case. Their case absolutely and utterly broke down. The subscribers tendered witnesses taken from different classes of the community, who spoke strongly against the service they had had for a number of years before. Circulars were sent out to the subscribers, numbering upwards of 4,000, and 2,846 answers were given. The answers were unanimous in condemning the service of the Telephone Company then given to the citizens of Glasgow, but the best evidence of all was given by the Telephone Company themselves. They positively put in a table showing the forty three towns in the United Kingdom which they served, giving the percentage of complaints from each of the towns, with the result that Glasgow was found in the unenviable position of heading the list. There were positively ten times more complaints per head in Glasgow than in Birmingham, and seven times more than in the other large commercial communities of the country. These are damning facts the Telephone Company could never get behind. The right hon. Gentleman may say that the reason for all these complaints was that there was only an overhead wire system, and that there was no double circuit in the city. Well, that answer was found to be wholly destitute of foundation, because the only complaint which could relate to the disadvantages under which the overhead wire system labours is that the user of the telephone hears other voices than that which he intends to communicate with. That is a disadvantage certainly as compared with the double circuit system. That was only one, and formed a very small percentage of the complaints actually made. These complaints were classi- 175 fied in a number of different categories, and nine out of ten were due not to the disadvantage of the overhead wire system as compared with the double circuit system, but to the neglect of the Telephone Company and their officials. That was demonstrated again by the company themselves. They had for three years a list of the complaints that were made from the various parts of the city of Glasgow. They classified these complaints. Any intelligent man could tell which of the complaints were due to the disadvantage of the overhead wire system, and which due to the neglect and mismanagement of the Telephone Company. Positively the company, having all that information in their hands, refused to disclose it to the Commissioners. They knew perfectly that it would knock the bottom out of their own case. Although application was made weeks beforehand for the disclosure of this table, which would either have established the company's case beyond all question, or destroyed its foundation, the company kept it to themselves, and did not even put it before their own experts. When the experts were examined, if they had had these tables of the company before them, they could have intelligently analysed them, and seen how many complaints were due to defects in the overhead wire system and how many to the blunders and incapacity of the Telephone Company. That information was withheld. There can be only one inference drawn from this conduct, namely, that the company felt that there had been gross mismanagement. They completed their case by tendering as witnesses bribed representatives of the subscribers in the city of Glasgow, who said that their service was perfect; and in answer to the question, "Is there any reason why other subscribers should not be as well treated as you," they said "No; every man in Glasgow can have just as good a service as we have had," showing that the defects were due not to the fact that they had no wires underground and the double circuit, but to their own blunders and mismanagement. That seems to me to be a very gross case, and there was really no answer made to it. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if it is really a wise thing for the Government to support this company, and to damage the interests of a corporation which is a model for corporations throughout the 176 country for the way in which it manages its municipal enterprises. Positively every enterprise which the Corporation of Glasgow has undertaken has prospered in its hands, and there is no reason whatever to suppose that if the telephone service of the city passes under the control of the corporation it will not be managed as well as, and I might almost say bettor than that of any other part of the Kingdom. And yet the right hon. Gentleman is using the power which the statute has given to the Government for public purposes in order to give a lift to this company, which, as I say, has grossly abused the privileges conferred upon it fourteen years ago. The policy of the enactment is perfectly distinct. It is to the effect that no corporation should be compelled to give up its streets to any private individual or company, and, so strong is the presumption that it is against the public interest that streets should be given up to private individuals, that the statute says that when a corporation refuses to give permission no reason need be given for that refusal. The presumption is absolute in favour of the corporation. There is only one exception, to the right of refusal, and that is in a case where the Postmaster General on behalf of the Government and presumably in the public interest, asks the right to lift the streets for the purpose of laying underground wires. That is for purely Government purposes. The Corporation of Glasgow have frankly said that they have not the slightest objection to the Postmaster General for public or Government purposes opening up their streets and laying wires, but they do most decidedly object to giving him that power when it is avowedly sought for the purpose of giving a benefit to this Telephone Company. The corporation themselves have been approached by the Telephone Company to name terms on. which they would permit the streets to be opened, but they have unanimously refused to allow that or any other company to do so, and in so refusing they have rejected what may be called the favourable commercial terms offered, by the National Telephone Company. The corporation have taken this course because they so strongly entertain the view that in the public interest they must not allow private individuals and companies to tamper with the public streets. On the other hand, they freely gave their 177 consent to the Postmaster General; but what was their disappointment and disgust to find that that consent was to be used not in the public interest, as they had supposed, but for the private interest of a company which the citizens of Glasgow almost unanimously agree in condemning for the insufficient and inadequate service rendered by it during the fourteen years it had enjoyed a monopoly. I do hope that the right hon. Gentleman, who I know understands these things, and who is favourable to the Corporation of Glasgow in this matter, will take up a strong and independent position, and see that the powers which the statute has given to the Postmaster General are not abused by being used for the purpose of giving a benefit to a private company.
§ * SIR JAMES WOODHOUSE (Huddersfield)
As an English Member I should like to express my sympathy with the observations of my hon. friends who represent the city of Glasgow and the neighbourhood in this matter. I recollect perfectly well, as a member of the Telephone Committee, over which the right hon. Gentleman so ably presided, that this question came very prominently before us in that inquiry. I believe proceedings had been threatened by the Post Office against the Corporation of Glasgow, but they had not been taken at that time. I know the matter came under our purview and consideration, and a very strong feeling was entertained as to the action of the Post Office in reference to any attempt which might be construed to be really in effect a contravention of the spirit, if not of the letter, of the Telegraph Act of 1892. That Act, before it was passed by this House, was carefully considered by the municipalities of the country, who, as my hon. friend below me has said, are extremely jealous of any attempt to interfere with their streets, and they submitted that, under the powers of the Bill of 1892, as introduced by the Government, the National Telephone Company might be practically placed in a position; which no other licensee would ever be placed in, and that all competition whatever, whether by municipalities or otherwise, would be prevented. It was in consequence of the representations of the municipalities that a proviso was intro- 178 duced into the Government Bill of 1892, stating that—Notwithstanding anything in the Telegraph Act of 1878, a licensee shall not exercise any power in the said enactment without the consent of the urban sanitary authority interested, and it shall be subject to any terms and conditions which the said local authority may attach to any such consent, and shall comply with any regulation which the said local authority shall from time to time enforce in relation to telegraph matters.That was not a qualified but an absolute power of veto conferred on the local authority if they felt that the licensee in the exercise of its powers was proposing to do anything in derogation of the rights of that authority. I cannot help thinking, and this was the feeling of the Committee which had this matter under consideration two or three years ago, that in the case of Glasgow the Post Office have been doing indirectly that which it was intended by that proviso in the Telegraph. Act of 1892 should not be done. Feeling as I do that upon the facts that is the case—and I have stated the facts—I also feel that precisely the same case may arise throughout the country unless this House expresses its disapproval of the action of the Post Office in this matter. If that is not done the Post Office may do the same thing in other parts of the country where municipalities are desirous of protecting their rights, as the city of Glasgow is very properly doing in this case, and where they have applied for a licence in competition with the Telephone Company. Knowing the sympathies of the right hon. Gentleman in this matter, I do hope we shall have from him to night a favourable response to the appeal of my hon. friend below me, so that the Post Office shall not indirectly in this way use their statutory powers to practically strengthen the National Telephone Company's monopoly where local authorities desire that that should not be the case.
§ * MR. STUART WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)
What with the feeling of the municipalities on one hand, the Postmaster General on another, and the National Telephone Company in the third corner of this triangular business, I want to know where the public are to come in. I have the misfortune to be a subscriber to the Telephone Company in London, 179 and, although I am a subscriber, the House may remember that I have upon occasions championed the rights of municipalities in this very matter in this House: in regard to the taking up of their streets. But I rise to ask my right hon. friend the Secretary to the Treasury to pause before he says or does anything to admit this extreme claim on the part of municipalities. It is not business that municipalities should fail to come to terms with the National Telephone Company in some way. This claim to refuse all power to enable what is, after all, the only telephone organisation in existence to do that by which alone they can give an efficient service to the public is an extreme claim, and one which I think this House upon full consideration would not approve and perpetuate. Our position in London is very much the same as that in Glasgow. We are told we cannot have an adequate service because some arrangement cannot be devised whereby the lifting up of the streets by the National Telephone Company would be carried on in a way which should not injure the local interests of the municipalities. I say that the inability to arrive at some arrangement reflects very little credit on either the Corporation of Glasgow or the National Telephone Company, and is very injurious to the subscribers' interest, which is, after all, mainly the interest of the public.
§ MR. COLVILLE (Lanarkshire, N.E.)
Having served upon the Committee which two years ago, presided over with such conspicuous ability and fairness by the right hon. Gentleman himself, inquired into the condition of the telephone service of this country, I have some conviction with respect to the duty of the Government in this matter in dealing with the corporations. We were told last year, when the Bill then introduced passed, that corporations and other public bodies should have the right of applying for, and under certain conditions obtaining, licences from the Post Office. The city of Glasgow had for years sought in vain for such a right, and immediately they were encouraged to apply again they did so, and issued circulars offering a service which would compare favourably with that of the Telephone Company in respect to efficiency and particularly in respect to charge. The charge for the National Telephone Company's ser- 180 viceat present is ten guineas, while the proposed charge of the corporation was five guineas—a very substantial reduction. But the corporation now find that the Post Office will not permit them to attempt such a bona fide competition as was the intention of the Committee The Committee agreed that there was need for competition, and that it should be on fair and equal terms so far as the Pest Office was concerned, and that no advantage should be given to one competitor as against another. But immediately the Corporation resolve to enter into competition they find that their streets are to be used by their rivals to their disadvantage, that their rivals are practically to be permitted to have the power of the Post Office and the Government in opening up the streets, to the great prejudice of the city in many respects, and that power is to be given not for the specific purpose of affording a perfect system of telephonic communication on the part of the National Telephone Company, but in order that the company may be put in a position for the remainder of the term of its licence to enter into competition with the corporation itself. I think the case has only to be stated to show that the citizens of Glasgow will consider themselves very hardly treated by the Government and by the Post Office, which has the power of licensing, if, after encouraging them to apply for a licence, they should now grant such special privileges to the National Telephone Company as will make it practically impossible for the corporation successfully to compete. The citizens have a very special interest in this matter, inasmuch as, if there should be any deficit, it would naturally fall upon the rates or upon the common good of the city of Glasgow. Under these circumstances it is very necessary that the Government should not first offer them a licence and then put obstacles in the way of the licence being successfully used. I strongly support the right hon. Baronet in his motion.
§ MR. HAZELL (Leicester)
May I call the attention of the Committee for a moment to the state of things in London? Members have complained with righteous indignation of the way people are treated in some parts, but there are districts of London threatened with the complete stoppage of the system. Owing to the triangular duel between the National 181 Telephone Company, the London County Council, and the ground landlords, several people have received notices that the service will be very shortly discontinued. I therefore appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to put what pressure he can on the Telephone Company to come to some terms, and, still better, to give us some assurance that that particular part of London will very soon be supplied by the Post Office system, and to tell us what the rate will be.
MR. PARKER SMITH (Lanarkshire, Partick)
I do not think I take quite the same view about the Glasgow telephone service as some hon. Members. I was one of those who received the circular mentioned by my hon. friend, but I tore it up, because on the whole I thought the service in Glasgow was tolerably satisfactory. But I hope that if the corporation want to establish a system and have competition, no undue restraint will be put upon them by the Post Office. There ought to be room for both the company and the municipality in the city, and at any rate I hope, if they desire to try the experiment, the municipality may not be unduly interfered with in carrying out that experiment.
§ MR. HANBURY
The question of the telephone service in London, although it concerns way-leaves, is, of course, a different one from that which arises in Glasgow. As I understand, the situation in London is that, partly owing to storms and partly owing to the decision of certain landlords, the service of the National Telephone Company in certain parts of London necessarily becomes inadequate.
§ MR. STUART WORTLEY
Owing to the refusal of the London County Council to grant underground way-leaves.
§ MR. HANBURY
And over the rest of London, as my hon. friend says, the London County Council refuse to give underground way-leaves.
§ MR. HAZELL
May I interrupt the right hon. Gentleman for a moment? Owing to certain difficulties the subscribers in certain areas of London have had formal notices served upon them that the service will have to be discontinued.
§ MR. HANBURY
The difficulty arises in connection with overhead wires. It is said that the company ought to lay their wires underground, and great complaint is made of the London County Council because they will not give the necessary permission. Under ordinary circumstances, perhaps, the County Council would be carrying the exercise of their control over the streets too far if they refused that concession to public convenience. There is no doubt whatever that a telephone service, whether carried on by the State or by the National Telephone Company, is a great public convenience, and the London County Council should take that into consideration. But it must also be remembered that the State itself is engaged in rapidly constructing a system of telephonic communication all over London, and if anything is clear, it is that in the interest of the public generally in London there should be practical intercommunication between the two services. If you cannot get that brought about, the difficulty of having two systems working side by side, especially over so large and important an area as that of London, is very considerably increased, and it is in the public interest that everything that is fair and reasonable should be done to enable—I will go further and say to require—the National Telephone Company to work its system in communication with the Government telephone service, which is about to be established. As I understand, the London County Council are not acting at all unreasonably in the matter. They perfectly recognise the fact that they ought to use their powers for the public benefit, and that they ought not to deny these underground way leaves from any spirit of pique or from any opposition to the National Telephone Company, or from any high ideas as to their right to control the streets, but that they ought to use those powers solely and entirely for the best interests of the public. They have now an opportunity, if the National Telephone Company is reasonable, of giving the company every inducement to give, in conjunction with the State telephone service, as good a telephone service in London as exists in any capital in the world. I am not surprised, therefore, at the course they are taking, and if I were a member of the London County Council 183 I should do exactly the same thing. As I understand, what really has happened is this (I do not know this officially, but, after all, one can surmise pretty well how things are going): the London County Council, acting entirely in the public interest, are saying, "No doubt it is in the public interest that you should have underground communication, but it is equally in the public interest that you should work in communication with the Post Office telephone service, and therefore we will grant these facilities in the interests of the public to you if you will also recognise that you are not merely a private company with simply yourselves to consider, but that you have to work your service for the general benefit of London." As far as I understand—and I may say again that I am not aware of this officially—the position the London County Council are taking up, put shortly, is this: "We will give you underground communication if you will consent to consider the interest of the public and give intercommunication between the two systems." Now we come to the case of Glasgow. All the Members connected in any way with Glasgow have sounded the praises of the Corporation, and I am bound to say they have not sounded those praises unduly. The way in which the Corporation of Glasgow availed itself of the facilities afforded by the Bill of last year put it in the forefront of Corporations, and, in my opinion, it has set an example to other municipalities throughout the country which cannot be too highly praised. What is the position in Glasgow? The National Telephone Company are in existence there at the present time, and the Glasgow Corporation are now establishing a rival service of their own. It is only natural that they should not wish the Post Office to give any undue facilities to their rivals. Although I have always tried—and even the directors of the National Telephone Company will admit that—to deal fairly with the company, I do not think any undue facilities ought to be given to any private body. What are the facts? The National Telephone Company, long before there was any idea of competition, when they had a monopoly in fact though not in name, applied to the Corporation of Glasgow to be allowed to establish a service in Glasgow. The Corporation of Glasgow had a perfect right to refuse that permission——
§ MR. HANBURY
No; I am not now talking of underground communication. The Corporation had a perfect right to refuse permission to the National Telephone Company to work within their area at all, either overhead or underground. But they gave permission, and whatever the consequences may be they have to bear them. The service was started. At that time, when, as I have said, the National Telephone Company was the only telephonic agency in existence, and when there was no idea of competition, either by other companies or by municipalities, an agreement was entered into between the National Telephone Company and the Post Office. The National Telephone Company, although they had permission to work within the boundaries of the city of Glasgow, could not in any way interfere with the streets, and could not lay underground wires. The Post Office, under these circumstances, entered into an agreement with them, and everybody will admit that even though circumstances have somewhat changed since then that agreement ought to be respected. What was that agreement? I think hon. Members are under some misapprehension as to what it is the Post Office has actually done. If I rightly understood a circular which was read by one hon. Member, the National Telephone Company appear to imply that the Post Office had entered into an agreement with them by which the Post Office was bound to lay wires for them wherever they chose to go. That I understand to be the purport of the circular. If that is the statement of the National Telephone Company the company are entirely wrong. There; is no foundation for such a statement.
§ MR. HANBURY
I cannot believe that they did, but certainly when I heard the circular read it made that impression on my mind.
§ SIR J. FERGUSSON
I do not want to intervene for a moment, but all the National Telephone Company ever asked the Post Office to do was to fulfil their obligation to lay junction wires.
§ MR. HANBURY
I know, but I am talking of the circular. I may be mistaken, but so far as I understood it the statement is entirely wrong. If the hon. Member will read it again we shall know exactly what it does say.
MR. JOHN WILSON (Lanarkshire, Govan)
This circular is dated 19th March, 1900, signed by Wm. E. L. Gaine, the manager of the National Telephone Company, and sent from the general manager's office. This is the paragraph—The Company conducts its business under licence from the Postmaster General—the telephone being within the Postmaster General's monopoly of telegraphs. Parliament in 1892 authorised the Postmaster General to delegate to any licensee (inter alia) powers which he, the Postmaster General, possesses for running wires underground. By an agreement, which was made in March, 1896, between the Postmaster General and the Company, the Postmaster General entered into an express covenant to delegate these powers to the Company in London and in any other telephone area whenever requested by the Company so to do. The Act giving this authority to the Postmaster General provides, however, that the licensee should not exercise the powers in London without the consent of the London County Council.
§ MR. HANBURY
Undoubtedly anybody who reads the circular would be of opinion that the Post Office had entered into an agreement to lay wires for the company in any part of Glasgow. But that is not the case. I think the National Telephone Company ought to be very careful when it introduces the name of the Postmaster General or the Post Office in connection with a statement of this kind. Undoubtedly it is a most misleading circular, and no doubt it has misled the Members for Glasgow, who, feeling that they have a certain advantage from the possession of telegraph wires, naturally do not want to lose that advantage through the action of the Post Office. Of course, the Post Office are bound to carry out their agreement, but the agreement between the National Telephone Company and the Post Office does not amount to what the circular says. Under that agreement the Post Office are required to lay down wires between exchange and exchange, and nowhere else, and if the agreement, and nothing beyond the agreement, is carried out it will not prejudically affect the undertaking of the Glasgow Corporation. 186 I think the corporation would have good reason indeed for complaint if the Post Office went beyond the agreement and laid wires between the exchanges and the private subscriber, but that has not been done, and I do not think there is any likelihood of its being done. This agreement was made long before there was any competition impending, and I am sure that everybody, though they may regret that the agreement was come to, will agree that it must be faithfully carried out; and in the next place, that it does not operate to the disadvantage of the Corporation of Glasgow in the way in which hon. Members for Glasgow who have spoken in this debate seem to think.
§ MR. THOMAS SHAW (Hawick Burghs)
I think the House will be very grateful indeed to the right hon. Gentleman for the substance of his answer. In its form it is certainly as sympathetic an answer as we could wish. I perfectly understand the position in which the Department find themselves in view of certain Treasury Minutes which, in their judgment, constitute an agreement which they must honourably fulfil.
§ MR. HANBURY
I say more than that. It is a definite agreement drawn up between the National Telephone Company and the Post Office.
§ MR. HANBURY
I believe the actual date of signing was 1895, but the negotiations took place and the basis of agreement was arrived at several years before.
§ MR. THOMAS SHAW
Yes, and, as I have represented, the Government finds itself to be pledged to certain undertakings by reason of that agreement, which, in my opinion, is constituted by the Treasury Minute, and which apparently is carried further in documents which have passed between the company and the Secretary to the Treasury. I am not at all surprised that the Telephone Company should have issued the circular which has been quoted by the hon. Member for Govan. I entirely agree 187 with the right hon. Gentleman that it is in somewhat vague and far too comprehensive language. It makes a claim which, upon investigation, cannot really be sustained. The history of the Glasgow case is the foundation of that claim, and it is one of the most startling records of an agreement behind the back of a great corporation at the instance of the central Government which has ever been known in our country. This is the Glasgow case. An application was made directly by the National Telephone Company to the Corporation of Glasgow for power to open the streets, and, after anxious consideration, the corporation declined to grant that power, notwithstanding the fact that the company offered very handsome terms indeed in the form of way-leaves, etc., variously estimated as of the value of about £2,000 a year, for the privilege. No doubt the Corporation had in its own mind the previous history and record of the National Telephone Company, which was of the worst possible description, and had made up its mind to start, if possible, a telephonic system of its own. The negotiations ended in January, 1897; but will the Committee believe it that two mouths afterwards a communication was received from the Post Office to the effect that the Post Office desired to do the very thing, and nothing less, that the National Telephone Company had desired to do. That was a concurrence of circumstances which was very suspicious, and the Corporation of Glasgow discovered that the National Telephone Company, having been refused these rights as a private trader, had, by this circuitous and wholly wrong procedure, got the Government of the day to compel the Corporation to do that which they had declined to do. That is not a system upon which we in Scotland like business to be done, and I am perfectly sure, from the tone of the right hon. Gentleman, that if this matter had been free for open discussion, apart from any entanglement with regard to the agreement, the case would only require to be stated to secure its repudiation with scorn. The matter is even worse. The company in its own interest had been willing to make a payment equal to £2,000 a year for the use of the streets of Glasgow. But now it appears that the Post Office is to derive a revenue from the use of the streets by the company, for it is to have a royalty on the messages transmitted through that section, so that 188 Glasgow is in the position of having the Government of the day drawing revenue through the National Telephone Company for the use of its streets, and Glasgow gets nothing. That is nothing short of the farming of the streets of a municipality in the interests of the Imperial Government, and the sting of the case is that while the Government have made these terms Glasgow is left out in the cold, and its streets are to be opened at the will of the Post Office, notwithstanding that the citizens will still have to pay for their maintenance. In spite of the reply of the Secretary of the Treasury, I hope a division will be taken, because it is time that Parliament should do what it can to assist in the conclusion of any existing agreement which will permit of an arrangement amounting almost; to a scandal to be continued. I had not intended to speak in this debate, but I must say I think the time has come for the Treasury to reconsider the whole situation in which it finds itself entangled. We have a new Postmaster General, and I hope he will have given him a free hand in doing an act of the merest justice, by permitting municipalities to make their own arrangements in their own areas without the danger of being overridden in the way I have described.
§ SIR J. FERGUSSON
The hon. and learned Gentleman who has just spoken has confused two totally different matters.. The National Telephone Company approached the Corporation of Glasgow and endeavoured to get power to lay an underground telephone service, which, as is well understood, is a much more efficient service. They failed. But what was their position with the Post Office? They asked the Post Office, under an agreement concluded in 1895, to connect their exchanges by junction wires. The two things are totally dissimilar, and the company are not getting from the Post Office the powers which they unsuccessfully sought from the corporation. The connection of exchanges by junction wires is a very different thing from getting underground wires for private subscribers. I am sure that the hon. and learned Member who has just spoken would not, in calmer moments, urge the Government to set aside the agreement of 1895. When I was at the Post Office it was my duty to make arrangements, on the part of the Government, for the pro- 189 tection of the telegraph revenue, and to recover possession of the trunk wires, which were injuriously competing with and diminishing that revenue. It was a very difficult thing to carry out, but I succeeded in concluding an arrangement by which we regained possession of the trunk wires. The company surrendered them with the greatest reluctance, and one of the conditions they insisted upon was that the Government should connect their exchanges by trunk wires throughout the district. That condition was carried out by the succeeding Government, who were in entire unison with their predecessors' views. As to injustice to Glasgow, the corporation might have had the annual payment proposed, but it is clear the company would always have had to pay the ten per cent. on gross receipts to the Government. I hope the Committee will not go away with the idea that the National Telephone Company expect the Government to do anything beyond the agreement of 1895, and what the Government propose to do in Glasgow will not be in any way a disadvantage to the city. Indeed, the city will reap the advantage of the intercommunication. The hon. and learned Member cannot realise what he is doing when he suggests that the Government should now set aside an agreement made in 1895, for which the public received full consideration.
§ * MR. JOHN BURNS
It has been implied that the National Telephone Company, as far as London is concerned, has been subjected to undue restrictions and interference by the London County Council. That is not so, and I think the Secretary to the Treasury fairly put the case for the Council when he said that, as guardians of the public interest, they were wholly justified in imposing such conditions on a private company as wore for the general benefit of the community. The conditions imposed, in fact, are reasonable, and the Council would be neglecting their duty to those whom they represent if they granted way-leaves to the company without those conditions. I do not think the company have, therefore, much to complain of so far as the London County Council is concerned. It is the business of an Imperial Department to give reasonable facilities to municipal corporations, and I am sure London and Glasgow will give reciprocal facilities to a public Department without grudging. 190 But when they are asked to confer on a private company like the National Telephone Company, with its history and present conduct of affairs, the same privileges and advantages they might reasonably give to the Post Office, I contend that the Corporation of Glasgow would be neglecting their duty if they did not differentiate in their treatment of a public Department whose profits went to relieve taxation, and a private profit-making company. But there is one point as to which I should like information. When the Post Office granted to the National Telephone Company power, through the Glasgow Corporation, to put in certain junction boxes and exchanges to which they were to have access, as in the agreement of 1895, it was not understood that those junction boxes and exchanges should be multiplied indefinitely, and if the number is being increased it is not fair, and it ought to be stopped. If more extensions are requried in the public interest they should be made by the Glasgow Corporation. I ask the Secretary to the Treasury to keep the National Telephone Company to the original terms of the agreement as regards the number of exchanges. Now, the question is, will the National Telephone Company do that in Glasgow? There was a private telephone company started in Glasgow which had overhead wires, and the National Telephone Company absorbed it without giving any notice to the corporation of its intention to buy it. Without consulting the corporation it absorbed the company and went on with the overhead wires. The company that would do that would do anything. A company that will tell London subscribers that it is harshly treated, that will make mountains out of mole-hills, and complain of arbitrary interference when we ask that our streets shall not be broken up will do anything. Mr. Gaine is one of the shrewdest, not to say one of the most artful, officials that any company in this country has ever had, and if the Secretary to the Treasury goes through the agreement of 1895 he will find that it has been broken. As a representative of the London County Council I want to be reasonable with the National Telephone Company, but I sincerely hope that no further liberties or advantages will be given to it.
§ * SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
I generally abstain, having regard to 191 my connection with the National Telephone Company, from taking part in these debates, and I should not have intervened now were it not evident to me that a great deal of misconception, however unintentional, has arisen in dealing with this subject. I should be the last to question any reasonable and proper claim, or any municipal claim, whether in Scotland or any other part of the United Kingdom, and I include in that statement a loyalty to what municipal corporations have considered to be their divine right to deal with their own streets. But these rights are subject to two or three things—to the law of the land, to agreements advisedly entered into by a Public Department of State with even a private company, and, above all things, to the public interest, which ought to be paramount over all considerations. That is a principle to which, whatever may be my personal and official position, I should, nevertheless, loyally and completely subscribe in dealing with this matter. As to the misconception which has arisen it is quite clear that there was no unanimity as to the question of law when this debate began. What is the basis of the new departure with regard to the telephones? I understand, and I loyally accept it, that it is a basis of free and equal competition. That is the principle upon which my right hon. friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, as he has said, has always spoken on the question in this House, and upon which he has dealt with the company, and I am glad to see he now signifies assent to it. I do not say we have been always in complete agreement as to whether the terms were entirely equitable or not, but I am quite sure that such is the spirit in which he has approached the subject, and that any differences which have existed have been owing to the difference of view which may characterise those who have different interests to protect. Is this principle of free and equal competition which my right hon. friend accepts going to be followed out to its logical conclusion? I address myself first to the case of London, and to the remarks of the hon. Member for Battersea. He and I will not, I am sure, disagree on many municipal points. The case he has put is based on the principle of free and equal competition, and is also his vindication of the action of the County Council, a body with which I have always acted in sympathy, the benefits 192 which it has conferred on London I have readily acknowledged, and the policy of which I have generally supported. What, then, are the conditions sought to be imposed in the case of London? Do they come under the formula of free and equal competition? My hon. friend very rightly said that the principle of action should be against unfair competitive advantage cither in one direction or the other. He also said that the rates and charges to be accepted by the company were to be those formulated by the Government, whatever they might be. That is hardly a commercial principle, to begin with. The company represents large pecuniary interests, and surely compulsory adhesion, in order to obtain privileges intended for the public advantage, to unknown terms, would in slang language be called a large order. But, while I should object to it in the abstract, I also say that if any reasonable terms could be effected, for example, some extension of the company's licence as compensation, the Telephone Company would be glad to co-operate on the basis of intercommunication. My hon. friend's next point was intercommunication. Is a body not yet in existence to take all the advantages of intercommunication with a body which has been in existence for years upon no defined terms, and upon no agreement, and on what may be described as the same basis as that of an open cheque? That basis is most unequal. Then, what is sought to be done in London? That the State shall enter into competition—that, I presume, means fair and equal competition—in order that the best service may ultimately be got for the public. That is the object. I say that any system which would substitute, even for the past arrangement, which many call a quasi-monopoly, an unfair and one-sided competition would be a parliamentary injustice to existing interests, and would at the same time subject the public to the great disadvantage of a one-sided monopoly, under the specious guise of competition—namely, the monopoly of the State. Let me show how this would occur. The company has to pay to the Government a royalty of 10 per cent. of its gross receipts. If then the State gained equal rights of intercommunication all the advantage would be obtained by one side, and the company would be handicapped by the 10 per cent. royalty in 193 perpetuity and would thus be disabled from entering into real competition. Any such system which would expropriate a company which has been doing its best under great difficulties and disadvantages, a company which is refused facilities which are essential in order to obtain a good service and which would displace it for a one-sided monopoly. Such an illusory monopoly of the State would, in the end, be found to be a wrong system, and I venture to suggest that the County Council, in using the leverage of its position by refusing facilities to the company in order to extort from it—I use the word in no prejudicial sense—an arrangement; which would not be a real but a one-sided competition, is pursuing a policy the result of which may be the unjust parliamentary expropriation of private property and the substitution of a State monopoly of the worst description. Municipal competition on equal conditions may be desirable. We have entered into an arrangement with the Secretary to the Treasury on that basis, and we thereby have given adhesion—it may be compulsory adhesion—to a new departure and a new condition of affairs. Now what is the demand? Is it, as my right hon. friend has always said, and as I am quite sure he has always intended, for equal competition in order that the public interest may be served by having a real competition, or is it again, as in the case of the State which I have already put, for differential privileges for the municipality which will prevent that real competition ever coming into existence? If the company is to be handicapped by want of facilities in the opening of streets and the like, to which it is entitled under covenant with the Postmaster General, while the municipality shall continue to exercise its right to deal with its own streets, that would give the municipality an unfair advantage over its competitor and would prevent real competition. That, I say, is a matter which requires further consideration. But it is said, "Oh, the agreement between the Postmaster General and the company only authorises a certain policy on the part of the Post Office, and there is no legal or moral obligation now to act upon it"; but remember when these new arrangements for equal competition were made through the Secretary to the Treasury, that agreement existed in law and in fact, and was the practice 194 of the Department, and it would be manifestly unfair and unjust to treat it now as something which is non-existent, and to alter the position of affairs by ignoring it or attempting to ignore it, and to introduce in the provinces, not State, but municipal competition, which, while being on the surface plausible and fair and right, is in fact a one-sided and not a true competition at all. I say again that I accept, as a Member of this House, and in my official capacity elsewhere, the great and abiding principle of the public interest, and an effective and true competition as conducive to the public interest, but if you are going to set up a state of things which will be at once unfair and which will not lead to effective competition, then I think you despoil on the one hand, and you fail, on the other, to carry out your own principle of true and equal competition, and so the best conservation of the public interests.
§ * MR. JOHN BURNS
The speech of the hon. Gentleman, which is a very good speech indeed for the National Telephone Company, is based on the supposition that free intercommunication is to be one-sided. The hon. Gentleman knows that the Post Office already gives the National Telephone Company free intercommunication over its trunk lines.
§ * SIR. ALBERT ROLLIT
That was a condition of the bargain, and the company is only exercising its rights under the agreement. That cannot, therefore, be a consideration now for granting new demands.
§ * MR. JOHN BURNS
The whole speech of the hon. Gentleman was based on the supposition that the London County Council and the Government were asking what was unreasonable from the National Telephone Company. What we properly demand is that as the trunk wires of the Post Office are now at the service of the Telephone Company, so the lines of the National Telephone Company shall be at the disposal of every Post Office telephone subscriber, and unless the Telephone Company are prepared to accept that condition of things they are going to have the continued hostility of the House of Commons, the persistent hostility of the London County Council, and, I trust, the boycott from every municipality in England, Ireland, and Scotland.
§ * SIR. ALBERT ROLLIT
As to the trunk wires there can be no question. The company has not got them; they are the property of the Post Office.
§ SIR CHARLES CAMERON
May I add a new fact? The original application of the Post Office was for the laying down of three-inch pipes containing wires in certain streets. That has been carried through in parts, but since then I understand that the corporation have been served with notice for the opening up of half a dozen other streets. The Telephone Company, in order to avail themselves of this new method of getting underground wires, are establishing exchanges right and left, and are applying to the Government to connect them by underground wires. That certainly could not have been contemplated in the original agreement, and I trust the right hon. Gentleman will at all events put his foot down on it, and will prevent what is manifestly as much an abuse even of technical legal rights as I hold that the conferring of these technical legal rights was an abuse of the whole spirit of legislation.
§ * MR. MCCRAE (Edinburgh, E.)
I only rise to emphasise the answer—the very important answer—given by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury. If the position is as he has stated, and I have no doubt he is right, there evidently has been a great deal of misunderstanding between the Post Office authorities and the corporations. The Corporations of Edinburgh and Glasgow have been engaged in expensive litigation with the Post Office authorities on the supposition that the powers which the Post Office authorities were seeking to exercise were the powers which were stated in the circular read by my hon. friend the Member for Govan. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury that had it been a question between the corporations and the Post Office of those exchanges, there would have been no objection whatever on the part of the corporations to give facilities, and I think that the answer which has been given by the right hon. Gentleman to-night will be very much appreciated by the corporations. The hon. Member for South Islington put the position before the Committee as if it were one of 196 free competition. It is not a case of free competition. As the Secretary to the Treasury has stated, the privilege conferred on the Telephone Company by the agreement is as to exchanges. The corporations are jealous of their streets, and they understood that the contention of the Post Office was that it had power to demand the consent of the local authorities, and that it had delegated that power to the Telephone Company, and the corporations protested against the Telephone Company getting through the Post Office what it could not get itself directly. I can assure the Committee that this is not a question of telephone service only, but a question which goes to the root of municipal administration. If municipalities are to properly discharge their functions the control of the streets must be vested in them. That control has been vested in them by statute, and I do not hesitate to say that the legislation which those two corporations have been engaged in has simply been to protect the interests of the ratepayers. The Corporation of Edinburgh has recently entered into an agreement with the National Telephone Company. I will not comment on the merits of that agreement further than to say that, in my opinion, the corporation has given very considerable concessions to the National Telephone Company. Why were those concessions given? I have no doubt—in fact, I know—that they were given because under the agreement the control of the streets remained vested in the corporation. I hope the Government will set its face against the position hitherto occupied by the Post Office in Scotland of being the catspaw of the National Telephone Company; and apart from questions of telephone services, I venture to say that this is a matter of great public importance, and that it affects the usefulness, efficiency, and independence of our great local authorities.
§ MR. CALDWELL (Lanarkshire, Mid)
I wish to point out to the Secretary to the Treasury that in one respect I think his information was not very accurate. That is in regard to his statement that the Glasgow Corporation had assented to the Telephone Company coming into Glasgow and supplying the city with a telephone service. I am informed by a 197 member of the corporation that the corporation was not consulted in any way by any of the telephone companies that came into the city. They came and put up overhead wires by agreement with private individuals without consulting the corporation. That is important; because, when the matter was mentioned by the Secretary to the Treasury, I felt there was a good deal of force in the contention that when a company was asked to supply a public want and had supplied it for a number of years they might have some right to say that they were afforded public facilities. I am informed, however, that the Telephone Company came into Glasgow without any consent whatever having been obtained from the Corporation. The hon. Member for South Islington referred to this matter as if it were one of free and open competition. It is nothing of the kind, and for this simple reason. There can be no free and open competition between the Telephone Company, which has had a lease for a great many years, and the Corporation of Glasgow, which has to begin with a much shorter lease. Surely the terms are not equal when one party has a long lease and another a short lease. The company has the advantage of a prior lease, and now the corporation has the advantage that the streets are theirs for the public use and benefit of the citizens of Glasgow, and they say they will not give the use of their streets, which were made and are kept up by the citizens of Glasgow, to a private company. It was admitted, I think, by the right hon. Baronet the Member for North-East Manchester that the telephone company would be willing to pay Glasgow £2,000 a year for the streets. But the agreement which has been made overrides entirely what I am sure the company must feel to be the equitable right of the people of Glasgow to their own streets. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury to say that the Post Office has made an agreement with the Telephone Company, and that it must carry out that agreement. But how can a Government Department make an agreement which overrides the right of a community such as Glasgow to their own streets? You cannot possibly take away a right vested in the Corporation of Glasgow, unless you have an Act of Parliament for that purpose, and there is no such Act. How do you 198 propose to do it? It is admitted on all hands that authority was given to the Post Office to lay any wires they thought fit. Parliament granted power to the Post Office to interfere with the streets when acting in the public interests, without the consent of the corporation, but it is an altogether different thing when the Post Office assumes a right of selling—which is worse than delegation—to a private company, working for private profit, that which was only given to the Post Office for the use of the public. I do not go into the question of free competition; that has nothing to do with the matter we are now dealing with. The simple question is that the Corporation of Glasgow, and the corporation of every city in the kingdom, has the right to its own streets, and cannot be deprived of that right without its consent. I should say it is a very strong statement on the part of the Post Office that they can apply, in the name of the Government, for the right to lay wires, with the view of handing those wires over to a private company, thus overriding the right of the corporation to refuse permission to the private company to lay their wires under their streets. I do not believe that any Government could pass through the House of Commons an Act of Parliament to take away the authority over their streets of the different municipalities in the kingdom, and hand that authority over to the Telephone Company. Well, if the Government could not pass a Bill of that kind through this House, how could they expect by an act of pure administration to invade the rights of the corporations over their own streets, which are as much their property as the wires are the property of the Telephone Company? I say that this agreement is not a valid agreement, and could not be enforced in any way upon the Corporation of Glasgow, even admitting that the Telephone Company were willing to pay the corporation £2,000 for that which technically the Post Office are getting for nothing. The Telephone Company know the weakness of their position, and that is the reason they are willing to pay something. The corporation wish not for any payment, but to retain the power over their own streets. They refuse emphatically to allow the Post Office, by a subterfuge, to give to a private company, working for private profit, a right which they were under no obligation to give by Act of Parliament.
§ SIR J. FERGUSSON
I wish to remind the Committee and the hon. Member who has just sat down, that this was part of the original agreement stated to Parliament in 1892 by myself, standing at that Table; and stated also to the Committee upstairs. It was perfectly understood, and objected to by no one, that the Post Office should connect the exchanges by junction wires. All the difference between the Post Office and the company is, that whereas the company has no right of appeal to any court or to the Railway Commission, the Post
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ MR. STEADMAN (Tower Hamlets, Stepney)
We have this evening had a very interesting debate on telephones, and as to who should be Postmaster General. I rise for the purpose of advo-
§ Office can go to the Railway Commission, and if the objections of the municipality are unreasonable, the junction wires can be laid underground. There has been no secrecy about it at all: it was fully stated to the House in 1892, and was simply carried out by the succeeding Government as having had the full assent of Parliament.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 36; Noes, 72. (Division List No. 103.)199
|Austin, M. (Limerick, W.)||Griffith, Ellis J.||Shaw, Thomas (Hawick B.)|
|Billson, Alfred||Hayne, Rt. Hon. Chas. Seale-||Steadman, William Charles|
|Brigg, John||Hazell, Walter||Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath)|
|Burns, John||Heaton, John Henniker||Thomas, Alfred (Glamorgan, E.)|
|Caldwell, James||Leng, Sir John||Wallace, Robert|
|Channing, Francis Alston||MacNeill, John Gordon Swift||Weir, James Galloway|
|Colville, John||M'Crae, George||Whiteley, George (Stockport)|
|Curran, Thos. B. (Donegal)||M'Dermott, Patrick||Williams, John Carvell (Notts.)|
|Curran, Thomas (Sligo, S.)||Maddison, Fred.||Woods, Samuel|
|Emmott, Alfred.||Philipps, John Wynford||Yoxall, James Henry|
|Farquharson, Dr. Robert||Pickersgill, Edward Hare||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—Sir Charles Cameron and Mr. John Wilson (Govan)|
|Goddard, Daniel Ford||Roberts, John Bryn (Eifion)||.|
|Gourley, Sir Edw. Temperley||Samuel, J. (Stockton-on-Tees)|
|Archdale, Edward Mervyn||Fisher, William Hayes||Middlemore, J. Throgmorton|
|Arrol, Sir William||Flannery, Sir Fortescue||Monckton, Edward Philip|
|Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John||Forster, Henry William||Monk, Charles James|
|Barnes, Frederic Gorell||Foster, Sir M. (London Univ.)||More, Rt. Jasper (Shropshire)|
|Bethell, Commander||Garlit, William||Morton, Arthur H. A. (Deptford)|
|Bhownaggree, Sir M. M.||Gibbs,Hn.A.G.H.(City of Lon.)||Mowbray, Sir Robert Gray C.|
|Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John||Giles, Charles Tyrrell||Platt-Higgins, Frederick|
|Bullard, Sir Harry||Goldsworthy, Major-General||Plunkett, Rt Hn HoraceCurzon|
|Cavendish, R. F. (N. Lancs.)||Gordon, Hon. John Edward||Purvis, Robert|
|Cavendish, V. C.W. (Derbysh.)||Gorst, Rt. Hn. Sir John Eldon||Ridley, Rt. Hn. Sir Matthew W.|
|Cecil, Lord Hugh (Greenwich)||Greville, Hon. Ronald||Ritchie, Rt. Hon. Charles T.|
|Charrington, Spencer||Hamilton, Rt. Hn. Lord George||Robertson, Herbert (Hackney)|
|Clare, Octavius Leigh||Hanbury, Rt. Hon. Robert Wm.||Russell, T. W. (Tyrone)|
|Coghill, Douglas Harry||Heath, James||Samuel, Harry S. (Limehouse)|
|Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse||Henderson, Alexander||Smith, Abel H. (Christchurch)|
|Cornwallis, Fiennes Stanley W.||Keswick, William||Smith, James Parker (Lanarks.)|
|Curzon, Viscount||Lawrence, Sir E. Durning-(Corn||Webster, Sir Richard E.|
|Dickinson, Robert Edmond||Lawson, John Grant (Yorks.)||Williams, Joseph Powell-(Bir.)|
|Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-||Llewelyn, Sir Dillwyn- (Sw'nsea)||Wodehouse, Rt. Hn. E. R.(Bath)|
|Doxford, Sir W. Theodore||Long, Rt. Hn. Walter (Liverpool)||Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm|
|Dyke,Rt.Hn.SirWilliam Hart||Lonsdale, John Brownlee||Wortley, Rt. Hon.C.B.Stuart-|
|Fellowes, Hon.Ailwyn Edward||Lowles, John||Wyndham, George|
|Fergusson,Rt.Hn.Sir.J.(Man.)||Macartney, W. G. Ellison||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Sir William Walrond and Mr. Anstruther.|
|Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne||M'Killop, James|
|Firbank, Joseph Thomas||Massey-Mainwaring,Hn.W.F.|
cating the claims of the 160,000 persons employed in the Post Office for a fair and impartial Committee of Inquiry to be elected by this House to look into their grievances. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury this evening said that, as the result of
the sittings of the Tweedmouth Committee, over £300,000 was added in wages, while by the Norfolk-Hanbury conference a further £90,000 was put on the wage list of the Post Office. Well, in spite of that, injustice has been done to one class. The Tweedmouth Committee's recommendations are not being adhered to in reference to another class, and in regard to a third class—the postmen—I will try to show, as far as my humble abilities will allow me, that they are at the present moment being paid a very low rate of wages indeed. With reference first to the case of telegraphists. The late Mr. Fawcett, when he was Postmaster General, in 1881, divided the telegraphists into three classes—the second, the first, and the senior—each class being purely operative, and good character and ability being the only recommendations required to proceed from one class to the other in succession. It stands to reason that the longer a telegraphist remains in the service the more useful the man becomes to the Department, and Mr. Fawcett, in recommending his scheme to the Treasury, said—
The rates of pay which I propose are no more than sufficient to afford just and reasonable remuneration to those 071 whose efficiency and contented service so much of the interest and convenience of the community depends.
He further stated in the House of Commons that among the hundreds of communications he had received on the subject was a letter from the representative of a newspaper, who said that the work of a telegraphist, owing to the improvement in the instruments, had become more difficult, and required greater skill, and that they did their work with such remarkable accuracy that their wages should be increased. The Times, in commenting on this, said that £250 per annum was by no means too large a sum for a telegraph clerk to attain to as a maximum salary. From 1881 to 1892 the Civil Service Commissioners, in issuing notices for examinations, distinctly stated in their advertisement that the salary for a telegraph clerk in London, commencing at 16s. per week for one year, should advance in the first case to £45 per year; that it should then rise by £5 per annum to £100 per year; and that it should then go up to £190 per annum. In 1892, after the
Tweedmouth Committee was appointed, the £190 was erased from the notice paper. Now Sir Henry Fischer, the late Comptroller at the Central Telegraph Office in London, in a memorandum dated 10th January, 1896, stated that ordinary manipulative ability, combined with regular attendance and good conduct, were considered sufficient qualifications for promotion to the senior class. This was the policy adopted for a period of something like twelve years: simple industry and capability only were required for the telegraphists to reach a maximum of £190 per annum. The Secretary to the Treasury has himself stated in this House that no such proposition was ever held out, yet both the late Mr. Fawcett and Sir Henry Fischer and the Civil Service Commissioners have been quoted to the contrary. Before the year 1892 no selection was ever made and no special duties were required, yet the Secretary to the Treasury has stated that this class is now limited to men only doing superior operating work. If my information is correct, the men now promoted to the senior class on £190 per annum are doing no more superior work than was required of them previous to the year 1892. The only distinction made is that they are called overseers—their duties are no different.. In a Return issued in 1898, on a motion by a Member of this House, no mention is made of the maximum salary of £190. The maximum of the ordinary telegraphist to-day is only £160. Before 1892 men went on by the ordinary recognised way to the maximum of £190, but now they have no chance of looking forward to such a maximum. The majority simply reach £160. Previous to 1892 men. who reached the senior class received £190 per annum; but there are over 200 telegraphists to-day in the service of the Post Office who entered that service after Mr. Fawcett fixed the maximum at £190, and who, therefore, come in under the conviction that they would reach £190.. But since the Tweedmouth Committee has reported it has been laid down by the Secretary to the Treasury—for he to-day has taken upon himself the full responsibility of the Postmaster General, and he must, of course, accept the consequences of the actions of the Postmaster General and of the permanent officials of the Department, of whom, I take it, he is the mouthpiece in this House—that these
men are to be debarred from reaching the maximum of £190. Let mo make my point clearer. There are two hundred telegraphists who entered the service prior to the appointment of the Tweedmouth Committee, on the condition that they should attain to a maximum of £190 per annum. Now, I take it that in all business establishments, no matter what position a man may occupy, if he enters the service under the condition that he is to receive a certain salary at a certain period, he has a right in all honesty to attain such a salary, and not even the recommendations of a thousand Committees would justify a reduction of the salary. It formerly took twenty years for a man to reach the maximum. I maintain that, according to my information, no extra duties are entailed upon those who are now called overseers. But the promotions to this class are so small that they only reach something like ten per annum, and whereas at one time it was possible for a man to reach the maximum at twenty years service, there are now men who have been in the service of the Post Office as telegraphists for the last twenty-five years who have not the slightest prospect of over being able to reach the maximum of £190. look upon that as what we call in the outside world when a man's wages are reduced, "an Irishman's rise." I submit that when a man goes to work, no matter in what occupation, on the understanding that he shall receive a certain wage or salary, his employer as a business man is bound to pay that wage, and I wonder what would be thought of the London County Council, which has some hundreds of officials in its employment, if it deviated from its terms of engagement in a similar way. That body has men in its employ who entered it at a minimum of £80 per annum, rising to £300 per year; and I venture to say that no committee appointed by the Council would ever attempt to reduce the maximum of those already in the service, whatever they might do with new men coming in. I say, therefore, that the Tweedmouth Committee, although it might have recommended this alteration, had no earthly right to apply it to men who entered the service as telegraphists prior to the appointment of the Committee, on the understanding that they should, simply by ability, good conduct, and character,
reach a maximum of £190 per annum. I consider myself that the telegraphists have a serious grievance against the Government on this very question. Now I come to the question of the postmen. Goodness knows where all this £300,000 and £90,000 has gone to. You cannot get away from the fact that the postman to-day in London commences with a minimum wage of 18s. per week, rising by yearly increments of 1s. 6d. to a maximum in the first class of 34s., in the second class of 30s., and in the third class of 26s. Fancy that, Mr. Lowther. A man commencing on a salary of 18s. per week, and employed by the State in a Department that has a clear turnover and profit of between £3,000,000 and £4,000,000 per annum. These men are entrusted with very important duties. Honesty, I take it, is the chief characteristic of the men. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman representing the Postmaster General in this House whether he or the Postmaster General ever considered the question how a man is going to keep body and soul together upon 18s. per week, Why, even if he is a single man, it is as much as he can do in these times to keep himself. What is he going to do if he has a wife and family? Every man, no matter what his position in life, has as much right to get married as any other man who has a higher salary. Has the £300,000 gone in the direction of increasing their wages? I am a firm believer in the State employment of labour, but with one object alone. I believe to-day that the cut-throat competition going on between capitalists is the cause of reducing wages so far as the workmen are concerned, and I look to State employment as a remedy for this state of things; but when the State is paying men 18s. per week and giving a yearly increase of 1s. 6d. until they reach a maximum of 34s., 30s., or 26s., I wonder why we get men at all to enter our employment, because there are thousands of private employers paying superior wages. What is the position of workmen in London to day? During the last two years rents have increased on an average all over London 50 per cent. Have the wages of workmen and postmen increased 50 per cent? Why, they have not increased a farthing. How are these men with a miserable 18s. per week going to meet the landlord on Monday
morning? They have got to meet him and pay up or be turned out into the streets. It has been argued that an increase of wages on move than one occasion simply meant increasing the workman's rent, because the landlord took advantage of it. Take the postmen in our large provincial towns. They start with a minimum of 18s. per week and rise to a maximum of 30s. in the first class. Their minimum in the fifth class is 16s. per week in large provincial towns where rents have increased, and where the cost of living is equally as dear as in London. They rise to a maximum of 22s. Mr. Hill himself, in giving evidence before the Tweedmouth Committee, said he thought the scales of the larger towns might be improved. Take another man more unfortunate still—the rural postman. He has many miles to travel in performing his daily duties. If he starts from an office in a town, even according to the Tweedmouth Committee Report, he is supposed to receive the same rate of wages as the man starting from the same office although performing his duties in the town itself. His wage is 18s. in the first class, rising by annual increments of 1s. 6d. to 28s., and in the fifth class he begins at 16s. and rises by annual increments to 20s. The poor rural postman in all weathers has to tramp miles in delivering his letters. The Tweedmouth Committee recommended that he should receive the same rate as the postman who starts from the same office and performs his duties in the town, but up to the present time he gets 2s. less on reaching the maximum. We must all admit that there is plenty of room for improvement still in the way of increasing the wages of postmen either in the towns or the rural districts. There is another man—the auxiliary postman who is employed by the Government. The First Lord of the Treasury stated tonight, in reply to the speech made by my hon. friend the Member for Battersea, that the Postmaster General could always give an interview to a Member of this House. Well, it may be at the Carlton Club or anywhere else, I don't know. When the Duke of Norfolk was appointed Postmaster General he was at that time a member of the London County Council, and I was not a Member of this House. I claim to be, in or out of this House, above all things and before all parties, a representative of labour, and I did take
the opportunity of having a half-hour's discussion at Spring Gardens with the Duke of Norfolk as to the position of the men employed in the Post Office. During the vacation I have taken the liberty of writing to the Postmaster General when I have had any question to bring under his notice, but when the House is sitting the Secretary of the Treasury is his representative, and to go over his head and see the Postmaster General direct I should take to be a breach of etiquette. I should not for one moment think of communicating with the Postmaster General, whether Lord Londonderry or anyone else, while the House was sitting, when I could approach his representative in the House of Commons. Therefore I put a great, many questions to him. I honestly admit that this question business might be overdone: but at the same time, if any one, postman or anyone else, thinks I can do his case any good by putting down a question I shall always do so as long as I am a Member of this House. I had a question down as to some auxiliary postmen in London. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of the Treasury was not in his place, and the question was answered by Mr. Anstruther. He said—
These auxiliaries were paid at special rates, with the condition that they had no claim to the privileges of annual or sick leave, boot allowances, pension, or gratuity, and that their services might be dispensed with at any moment. Unfortunately the auxiliaries referred to in the question were given a wrong form to sign in the first instance; but the error was corrected as soon as it was discovered and before it could have taken effect.
Well, I do not know anything about whether the form was wrong or right. I do know, and it is admitted evidently by the officials themselves, that the form was given to these men to sign. It was signed, and, once having signed the form, they had a right to the privileges they signed for on that form, and had no right to be punished through an error of the officials themselves. They say that they are not aware that any special rates were paid to them. They receive 6d. per hour, which they also received for their duty prior to their taking on the new duty. They also receive just the same pay as the men who get the benefits recommended by the Tweedmouth Committee Some of these auxiliary postmen are employed something like four hours per day, and, when applying for vacancies that
may occur, five hours a day, which entitles them to receive privileges, such as boots, etc.: but they are informed that they must take the five-hour duty without the Tweedmouth concession of boots, money, and holidays. Those receiving the Tweedmouth concession are now asked to sign a form renouncing the same. Some were for night-work, but instead of receiving 6d. per hour they only get paid at the rate of 4½d. per hour. Some refused to accept the pay; others did accept it, I suppose, because they preferred that to walking London streets and being unemployed, which would mean starvation to their wives and families. I wish to deal with the question of stripes. At present the rule is that a postman may receive up to a maximum of six stripes, but in order to receive that maximum he receives a stripe once in five years, and, therefore, to reach the maximum he has to be employed in the Post Office for something like thirty years. I know a good bit of human nature after twenty-six years experience of workmen, and I should like to see the workman who could go thirty years in his employment without committing some indiscretion in that time. In all cases we must recognise and have discipline, but I do say we should punish men in accordance with the crime. You do not do that in reference to these stripes. A man may have a mark against him perhaps on the eve of five years service, and through some small indiscretion he is refused the stripe. I have lost many a quarter of an hour in my time. I am afraid I should never have got a stripe if I had been employed as a postman in the Post Office. Suppose he is a little late in the morning, and he is reported to the head office, he has to go two years longer before he receives the stripe. Whilst I am prepared to support discipline, no matter how great or small the crime, I say that at the present moment the Post Office treats all these postmen alike in regard to this stripe business. If the offence is a serious offence you can make the treatment a little different. I think the present system is a very unsatisfactory one. It treats all men alike, no matter how slight or how serious the offence. In regard to the length of time, I think five years service is too long for a man to wait for a stripe, which means thirty years in all to reach the maximum. Three years for receiving a stripe would be ample.
I come to another department—that of the sorters. I believe the hon. Baronet the Member for South Islington and the Secretary of the Treasury have had some communication in reference to sick leave. In answer to a question of my own a few days back I received this information—
The assurance was that no officer would be retired before sixty who is capable of efficiently performing the ordinary duties of his class. In some cases those ordinary duties must involve early attendance, and it would be impossible to retain officers who are permanently incapable of performing that particular duty.'
What is the position? When the sorter enters the service of the Post Office he has to undergo a medical examination, and six months after he undergoes a further medical examination. I believe he has to undergo a third medical examination. He has to perform duties requiring attendance sometimes at four o'clock in the morning, and again late at night. He must be in good health when he enters the service of the Government. Four o'clock duties are very early duties, and therefore very trying to the constitution of any man, I do not care how strong he may be. If a man has to turn out at three o'clock in the morning with snow or rain coming down and go through the streets any Member of the House will admit that that must try the constitution of any man. The result of that naturally must be that in a few years this man begins to feel that he is not the man he was when he first entered the service. Then the permanent officials pounce down on the man and say, "You are not capable of performing your duties. If you cannot get here at four o'clock in the morning you must take your pension and leave." I shall give one case—that of Mr. Wren. Night duty began to tell upon his health, and for two years he has been allowed to do mid-day duty. Now he is very kindly informed that he must take his pension and retire, although since the change to day duty was made he has never failed in his attendance by sick leave or otherwise. A man of the name of Pollard claimed exemption from night duty, not on the score of health, but by seniority. He was told that before his duty would be changed he would be medically examined. He has not been medically examined, and yet he is told he must retire. I maintain that if a man's health breaks down through at-
tending to the duties which the Post Office places upon him, the Post Office has a right to put that man on lighter duties instead of discharging him and telling him to take a small pension, which means great hardship unless he has friends behind him to get him light employment. I am going to raise the very important question of compulsory Sunday duty. I hope and believe that every Member of this House, no matter what his politics may be, has in some way or other regard for the Sabbath day. You may imagine that because I sometimes go and agitate in Hyde Park or elsewhere on the Sabbath I have no regard for that day. I treat the Sabbath as a serious day. Thank God I had good parents who brought me up in the Church of England, and I still adhere to the faith of that Church. I respect any man who may have conscientious objections to working on the Sabbath. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of the Treasury may say that these men enter the service under conditions of Sunday employment. I will not deny that for a moment. My point is that you issue an order compelling every man to take a rotation of Sunday duties, although it is against the will and conscience of some of the men to do so. There is no excuse for issuing that order, for you have already got more men volunteering than are required for Sunday duty. The superintendent of a Sunday school called at my home two or three weeks back and told me of a young man who was brought up in the Sunday school and became a teacher in it himself. He was compelled to do Sunday work in the Post Office, and it nearly broke that young man's heart. I was asked by the superintendent to do what I could to prevent this young man working on the Sabbath. There is no necessity for compelling every sorter in the Post Office to attend on the Sabbath, and I hope you will countermand the order. I suppose now brooms sweep clean. It is only during the time that Sir George Murray has been permanent secretary of the Post Office that both this sick leave business and compulsory Sunday labour have been introduced. I wish to mention the case of an auxiliary postman in London who was employed in the Post Office nine years. Last October two detectives visited the place where this man was employed and practically accused him of stealing a, postal order
of the value of two shillings. He was taken to prison and committed for trial at the Old Bailey. He was tried by a judge and jury and proved not guilty. This was in November, and in December the Post Office discharged the man. He, of course, must seek employment somewhere, and being a mechanic he has got to have a character before he gets into private employment. The Post Office are not satisfied with accusing the man unjustly, but they discharge him, and now refuse to give him a character when seeking honest employment elsewhere. I once saw a play entitled "The Ticket-of-Leave Man," and that play opened my eyes as to how criminals are manufactured in this country, and how hard it is for a man once accused of a crime, no matter how paltry, to get an honest livelihood. It is a scandal that this man after being found not guilty should be refused a character when seeking other emplyment. Then there is a case which I brought under the notice of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury shortly after the opening of the present session—that of a man named Taylor, of Stirling. This man had been in the Post Office for some years, and had enjoyed good health until he met with a slight accident in the service. He was then not only marked by his superintendent, but I maintain he was persecuted by that official. He was charged with being two minutes late in the delivery of his letters, and he was watched and harassed as a thief would be by a detective. At last he was told to take his pension. The latest information I have in regard to that case is that the man who is now doing Taylor's duties in order to get through his round in the time allotted by the office has his son to help him in the delivery. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will go further into that case. Another case is that of Lacon, a question in regard to which was answered to-day. The answer is that the reason Lacon has not had his increment is that he has been a little insubordinate in the office. That is the answer given by the official. The answer given by the man is that he has not received his increment because of his official connection with the union. I will not for one moment attempt to stand up in this House and attack permanent officials who are not able to defend themselves; it would be unmanly for me to do
so; but I do say that I have as much right to believe the statement of Lacon as the right hon. Gentleman has to believe the statement of the superintendent. There is only one way of proving these cases, and that is for a Committee of impartial Members of this House to be appointed, before which the permanent official can state his case and the men theirs. If that is done, the Members, if their minds are unbiassed, will very soon be able to judge as to who is telling the truth. My last point is with regard to the rights of combination. That is always a sore point with me, and a principle for which I will always fight, whether in this House or out of it. It has been stated over and over again that the men in the Post Office have full rights of combination. I wonder whether those who make that statement understand what the full rights of combination mean to the working man. The full rights of combination, recognised by law, enable him to join an organisation. Why does he join an organisation? For the deliberate object of having his interests protected. Should there be any dispute between him and his employer, the first thing a man does is to apply to his union, to whom he states his case. We have managing our unions to-day men as businesslike as any gentleman sitting on the Treasury Bench, and if a case is a bad one the union will not take it up. The man has to prove to the satisfaction of the executive committee that his case is a good one before the union will back him up. I am prepared to admit that, so far as the rights of combination are concerned, the telegraphists, postmen, clerks, sorters, and engineers have their various organisations, and there is no interference between the Government and the men, so far as joining those organisations is concerned. But when it comes to a question of a deputation to the Postmaster General, in nine cases out of ten the Postmaster General refuses to receive such a deputation, because the men appointed are not directly affected. There was a case recently among the sorters. A number of sorters asked the Postmaster General to receive a deputation on behalf of some of their members who considered they had a grievance. The deputation was to consist of sorters only, mark you, employed by the Post Office every day. But the Postmaster General refused to receive that deputation, although the
members of it were sorters themselves, and wished to represent other sorters, simply because the men themselves were not directly affected by the question they were desirous of discussing. While that state of things exists, do not let us hear any more talk about the rights of combination, because it is reducing those rights to a mere farce. There is one other point—about the engineers. I raised this question last year. Their grievance is not one of wages. There are a large number of engineers employed in a temporary capacity. When this Vote was under discussion on the last occasion the right hon. Gentleman stated that the reason these men were not placed on the permanent staff was that there were no vacancies. But why not have a proper system—say twelve months employment, or two years, if you like, so long as you have a system—by which a man after a certain time would be placed on the permanent staff] These men have been employed for years, and if you can find men work for years, surely it means that you are going to keep them constantly employed. By keeping these men off the permanent staff you are depriving them of the emoluments they would otherwise be entitled to receive. It is most likely that the Secretary to the Treasury will say to-night, as he said last year, that no ease has been made out why this Committee should be appointed, and that even were the Committee appointed the men would not be satisfied with the conclusions arrived at, and the agitation would still go on. In reply to the first point let me say that it stands to reason that, no matter how able some Members may be in discussing this question, we can only discuss it from a theoretical point of view, while if this Committee was appointed the men themselves would have an opportunity of stating their own case, and upon their own statements they would succeed or fail, as the case might be. It may be said that two Committees have already sat, the Tweedmouth and the Norfolk-Hanbury. But I maintain that a Committee composed of permanent officials is not a fair and impartial Committee; the minds of its members are no doubt made up before the inquiry is commenced. It is only natural, therefore, that the men should be dissatisfied with the recommendations of such a Committee. In reference to the Norfolk-Hanbury Committee, it was stated this
afternoon that Members of the House had an opportunity of attending the meetings. Yes, they may have had an opportunity of attending and listening to the evidence, but they were not members of the Committee, and therefore they had no right to cross-examine or to put questions.
§ MR. STEADMAN
I was not aware of that, and therefore I withdraw that statement. But, after all, what are these men asking for? They are not asking you to increase their wages, or anything of that kind, just now; they are simply asking the House of Commons to appoint a fair and impartial Committee of Members of this House in order that they may have an opportunity of laying their case before their own masters. I think that is a very reasonable request, and it is because that is my view that I take up and advocate their claims. So far as accepting the decision of the Committee, if appointed, is concerned, I am prepared to say, on behalf of the men, that they will be contented with that decision, whatever it may be. After all, it is a very simple matter. The right hon. Gentleman may refuse even the moderate concession I am asking for to-night. All I can say is that these men are patriotic and loyal to Her Majesty's Government. Many of them have volunteered for the front and are now fighting their country's battles in South Africa. Apart from being prepared to sacrifice their lives for their country, those at home are subscribing, and have subscribed out of the paltry wage which the Government pay them, some hundreds of pounds for the support of these men's families. They have stood loyally by the Post Office and by Her Majesty the Queen, and they now ask you to grant them this Committee. If this Department, which is an administrative Department, is to go on satisfactorily it must be conducted, not by a Board of permanent officials, but by a Committee composed of Members of this House, on the same lines as those upon which other administrative bodies are conducted. 214 But whether this Committee is appointed or not, these men, no matter how powerful maybe the influence of the permanent officials in the way of intimidation, will never cease their agitation until their object is achieved. This is the third occasion upon which I have raised this question, and as long as I am a Member of this House I will never cease from raising the subject unless the Committee is appointed. The ballot-box may deprive me for a time of my seat here, but, thank God, it can never deprive me of my voice; and whether in or out of Parliament, I should continue to advocate the claims of these men. I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £500.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item A (Salaries) be reduced by £500, in respect of the Salary of the Postmaster General."—(Mr. Steadman.)
§ * MR. YOXALL (Nottingham, W.)
I think it is impossible to be a Member of this House for a large constituency without becoming aware that practically all the lower and even the middle ranks of the postal service are seething with discontent. I say that deliberately. It is impossible to examine the complaints they make, to listen to their claims, to observe their evidence, without coming to the conclusion that there is some ground for this discontent. It is impossible to examine the evidence given before the Tweedmouth Committee, to compare that evidence with recommendations of the Committee, to compare the recommendations with the instalments of reform which have been carried out, and to follow the course of the administration during the last five years, without coming to the conclusion that there is a great deal of room and opportunity for still further reform. So far as I have been able to observe the administration of the Post Office, I am inclined to think it is carried out with some degree of ruthlessness, and what, for want of a better word, I will call shiftiness. I am not satisfied that the men in the employ of the Post Office got fair play from those in official charge of them. I have had under my own notice instances of shifty answers given in this House by the right hon. Gentleman, as the mouth- 215 piece of the Post Office—it is a pity he is not the head of that Department, and really as well as nominally responsible for what is done—in regard to abuses of administration which have been exposed in questions put from these benches. The claim the Post Office servants put forward is this: "We cannot get justice from our superior officers; we did not get justice from a Departmental Committee consisting partly, even mainly, of postal officials. We believe we could got justice from a Committee of the House of Commons if they would listen to our plea. If a Committee of the House of Commons would examine our evidence we believe we could get justice." That is the plea put forward. Why is that request refused? Is it a question of discipline? The postal authorities have ample powers of discipline in their hands at the present moment, and they exercise those powers with, as I have said, a certain amount of ruthlessness. When these men, who are taxpayers, ratepayers, constituents, and Britons, although they are postal servants, come, and through the mouths of Members of this House request that they should have a fair hearing by a Committee of the House, I do not think it is a proper reason to give for the non-appointment of that Committee that it might weaken the disciplinary powers of the superior officers in the postal service. What other reason can there be for refusing this request? Is it because it is too well known at St. Martin's-le-Grand that a great many of these complaints are well founded, and that if they were examined by this Committee they would be shown to be justified, and that no Committee of Members of this House could examine into the matter without coming to the conclusion that great reforms would have to be effected at St. Martin's-le-Grand? With regard to the charge of shiftiness, things of this sort take place. Boys, messengers, whenever it is possible to do it, are, with a certain amount of secrecy—not openly, but in effect—employed to do the work of adults. Auxiliary postmen are, where possible, employed to do the work of established postmen. Servants of inferior grades in the service are set to work, almost surreptitiously, to do the work belonging to superior grades. Wherever the medical certificates, stripe regulations, and the endless regulations which hamper, hinder, 216 and encumber the service can be brought into play they are put into force to prevent promotions or increases of pay, or rewards due for long and faithful service. All this produces amongst the men a feeling of disappointment, and a sensation of injustice, and an idea that they do not get from the officers above them the fair treatment to which they are entitled. I am inclined to think there is a very serious root-cause for all this, and I would point to that root-cause as being the commercial nature of the undertaking of the Post Office. There are complaints of this kind in a less degree about most of the public-offices, but never of such intensity or amount as in regard to the administration of the Post Office. The other Government offices are not profit-making Departments as a rule. They prepare their estimates; they obtain their finances by the vote of this House, and they administer their money as best they can. But the Post Office exists, and has existed for many years past, to make a profit for the country, and from the permanent head of the Post Office downwards, every official in authority knows that his duty is, first and foremost, probably—certainly prominently—to take care that his particular Department shows a profit on the year's operations. The profit must not decrease; it must increase in proportion to the turnover. If the profit be abnormally large, so much the more to the credit of the administration of the Post Office. Therefore you get this shiftiness, these mean little subterfuges and dodges to reduce expenditure and to cut down cost. You get pretexts, and expedients of the meanest nature in order to prevent the cost of administration increasing with the age, length of service, and the fair rights of promotion, of those employed. The cause of all this, evil is that the Post Office is not administered for the postal benefit of the people of this country so much as for the purpose of making a profit, increasing the revenue, and reducing taxation. I do not mean to say the Post Office should be run at a loss, or that it ought not to make a profit where a profit can fairly be made. The Department should show itself more enterprising in the postal benefit of the country, and I am inclined to think that if it did that the profit now made would be even increased—for instance, in regard to telegrams and other branches of the service. But no desire or apparent necessity to make a profit out of the postal 217 affairs of this country can justify the withholding of fair play from a set of men who, though poor and partly educated, are a very respectable, respect-worthy, and honourable set of people, and I am disposed to think, from cases which I have examined and evidence which I have sifted myself, that in a large number of cases these men do not and cannot receive fair play from the administration of the Post Office. If the right hon. Gentleman could go into these matters himself I feel sure he would come to the same conclusion as many of us have done. But he cannot do that, and we do not blame him. What we ask is that he should place before these men the opportunity of proving their case under the scrutiny and careful investigation of a skilled Committee of this House, and by the decision of that Committee let their case stand or fall. They say, rightly or wrongly, "We did not receive from the Tweedmouth Committee a proper hearing or a set of fair decisions. That Committee consisted partly of officials who were actuated first and foremost by this implied necessity of making a profit. We ask you to give us a tribunal in which we can trust, and by the decision of that tribunal we will stand or fall." Why cannot you grant this request? Is it because they are Civil servants? They are not Civil servants in the ordinary sense of the term. You do not give them the advantages in respect of pensions and maximum and minimum rates of pay such as Civil servants of the lower grades in other Departments enjoy. I would point out that if you say to these men, "You are Civil servants, and you must incur the disabilities of Civil servants," while at the same time you do not give them all the advantages of Civil servants; if you say, "You cannot bring your case before a Committee of the House of Commons, you must go through the ordinary process," the only result will be that these men will bring more pressure to bear upon their Members of Parliament, and they will come more and more closely into touch with the labour organisations of this country. Owing to the considerable power which these men can wield you ought to see the necessity of giving them what they ask, or else allow them to have full freedom of combination. Some time ago a lockout took place through the ineptitude of the administration. There is a third course open, and that is to crush down 218 this combination by sheer force, but that will be a failure from the point of view of policy. I urge upon the right hon. Gentleman that he should take the opportunity which is again offered of granting the request that is made, for it is a position which this House might with dignity take up. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to say that he consents to the appointment of this Committee.
§ MR. GODDARD (Ipswich)
The hon. Member for Stepney has made a proposal in favour of the appointment of a Committee of Investigation into the grievances connected with the postal service. After the most excellent speech of the hon. Member for Stepney, delivered with such moderation and with such admirable clearness, it is not necessary for me to say very much. Anybody who has come into contact with those employed in the Post Office must know that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction amongst them. They are dissatisfied with the terms of their employment, with their opportunities of promotion, and with the system of pensions which they get when they have to retire from their duty. I have always held the view that we ought to be exceedingly careful where the State is an employer of labour that it employs such labour on the very best terms that are possible for labour to be employed upon. I think the State ought to set an example to all other employers of labour in the way it treats its employees. I do not wish to go into the details of the grievances of these men, but I might mention just one point. There is great dissatisfaction with the decisions of the Tweedmouth Committee, mainly for the reason that it was mostly composed of those who were the masters of the men who are raising these questions. Surely it is scarcely in accordance with just methods of treatment that the men who raise grievances should be tried by the very men who inflict the grievances. Such a tribunal is not very likely to give a decision which will satisfy those who have raised a grievance. I think on that 219 ground alone there is sufficient justification for the demand for a re-investigation under circumstances which will satisfy those who make the demand. Apart from these other questions there is one matter which requires further investigation, and that is the system of promotion. Postmen seem to work on the principle of once a postman always a postman. They cannot got beyond a postman. They go on for five years, and the only promotion possible is a fresh stripe on their arms which gives them an extra shilling a week. But they are still postmen, and a postman may lose that stripe by a very trivial circumstance, as has already been pointed out by the hon. Member for Stepney. I know the case of a man, against whose character nothing can be said, who has lost his chance of another stripe—which is the only promotion available to him after five years service—simply because he was a little late in coming to his work on one or two occasions. It is quite right to keep men up to their time at their work; but surely it is very hard punishment to make a man lose all prospects of increased emoluments after five years service for a trifling thing like that, which certainly might be punished in a more suitable way. You will never get the very best service out of these men until you do give them a chance of being promoted. There is nothing for them to look forward to, even if they are industrious in their work. That is the principle which is now in vogue in the Post Office amongst postmen. They know that, however hard they work or whatever satisfaction they may give, they can never be anything else but postmen. I believe they are sometimes appointed to do extra duties as sorters, but I am told that they can never rise from the class of postmen to any other class. There are a great many men employed as postmen who do their work thoroughly and satisfactorily, but who are physically unfit, after a few years service, owing to the trying conditions they have to work under, to do that work which forms the ordinary duty of a postman. Is it not reasonable to ask that they should have some other occupation offered to them in the Post Office of the lighter kind which is more suitable to them, without being Compelled to retire upon a very small pension? I think the question of promotion really demands reconsideration. 220 There are a good many other points, and I really cannot understand the objection to granting the appointment of this Committee of Investigation into those grievances. I feel sure that the reason assigned, to the effect that the men would not accept the decision of such a Committee, is not a sound or a good reason. I believe that the men would accept whatever decision that tribunal came to in an honourable way, and they would abide by it. I do not think that is any reason against this proposal, and I fail to see any reason why it should be refused. I heartily support the hon. Member for Stepney, and I desire to thank him for bringing this matter forward.
§ * SIR ALBERT ROLLIT
I only desire to say a very few words upon this subject, as I have spoken upon the question so frequently. Therefore I will not deal with the matter in any detail whatever. I shall not pursue the very explicit and able statement which was made by the mover of this Amendment, for I do not think that, if the cases which he has stated to the House are true, there is any necessity to enforce them by any repetition. But they are either true, or untrue. If they are true, to my mind, they establish many cases of hardship which ought to be redressed; and if untrue they will, of course, be contradicted by my right hon. friend, who, I admit, has given great attention to this subject, and who, I am bound to say, has always endeavoured to meet it in a sympathetic spirit. I have had many opportunities of forming a judgment upon the grievances which exist throughout the postal service, and I know that among postmen, telegraphists, sorters, and other branches, there is a very widespread feeling that they have to endure hardships as to pay and promotion, and especially as to conditions of work, which ought to be redressed, and for which up to the present it has been found impossible to obtain redress. It is not because no attempt has been made to hear their case, but it is because the attempts which have been made to consider their complaints have been notable failures. The Ridley Commission held out hopes that something would be done, 221 and then it resolved that nothing could be done, although justice was done generally to the employees of other Departments. Then there was a Committee appointed by the late Government, known as the Tweedmouth Committee. I am fairly familiar not only with the Report of that Committee, but also with the evidence given before it, and I do not hesitate to say for a moment that its Report has been a great failure. What is more, I consider that in very many circumstances that Report is not at all supported by the evidence which was given before that tribunal. The facts stated and the opinions expressed, oven by the officials of the Department, in favour of the men were, to a large extent, ignored; and surely when those who are in immediate supervision of this class of employees state that their claims are just, they ought to be redressed, and when that redress is not made they naturally feel that it is a deep injustice. With regard to the Tweedmouth Committee's Report, it has been patched up over and over again, and I repeat that the Committee was a miserable failure. I have heard the right hon. Gentleman say that some hundred thousand pounds have been added to those recommendations since that Report was issued.
§ * SIR ALBERT ROLLIT
Then £90,000 has been added to the recommendations of that Report, but that fact alone shows how lamentably short of justice the Report itself fell. When we find that such is the case, and that, after all, these amendments and additions have had to be made, the failure of that Report is sufficiently manifest. It is not necessary for the right hon. Gentleman to repeat tonight, as if it were a favour, that these large additions have been made to the recommendations of the Tweedmouth Committee. These additions have been made because they are just, and light, or they ought not to have been made at all, in the public interest, and if there still remains a residue of proper complaint unredressed the inequality of the position between the various classes of employees is made even more manifest and less accept- 222 able to the men than if these additions had not been made. Those employees who have been relieved sympathise with their fellows, and if the wrongs of the latter remain unredressed the feeling of injustice to themselves is stronger than it was before, though they may unselfishly rejoice that their colleagues may have fared better than themselves. The recommendation of the Tweedmouth Committee in regard to Christmas boxes has been overruled, as well as other recommendations which strike at the character of that Report. This shows that a Departmental Committee of officials is not a suitable tribunal in any respect. This has been well put by the hon. Member opposite, who said that those who give cause for the complaints are not the proper judges to try the question, and I think that the demand so often made by myself and others that the complainants should have an independent tribunal is a right one. Personally I do not care whether it is a Committee or a Royal Commission; but when the men, who ask for a Select Committee, which I support, say that if this tribunal is appointed they will submit their evidence and abide loyally by the result, I think we shall make a great mistake if we reject such a proposal to seek redress judicially. I should like to speak for one moment upon one or two general points, and the first is the pretext that such a Committee would strike at discipline. But surely there are things even more vital than discipline. I admire discipline, but there are things of more importance, and justice is one of them, for justice is the foundation of discipline. You cannot and ought not to expect perfect discipline until you have done justice. Why should it be said that this Committee will strike at discipline more than any other Committee? Surely there is material in this House at our disposal sufficient to form a Committee which would be impartial and independent! I venture to say, from what I know of the employees, that they would undertake that no attempt should be made to bring political influences to bear even to secure justice for themselves, and, if it were so, I do not believe such a Committee would be found so pliable as to bend to such political influence for a moment. I have only to add that I think it is most desirable that an attempt should be made to create peace in the service. 223 Allusion has been made to a strike, with all its public inconvenience. At that time the aggrieved employees, very much by urgent advice, postponed action for the moment in support of the claims of the men in the hope that some Committee would be appointed, and, therefore, seeking a remedy constitutionally, they have an additional claim now, and we ought not to overlook the fact that, rightly or wrongly, these men now have votes, and if they cannot obtain redress for their grievances here in the House of Commons they will try to obtain it from our masters, the electorate. As has been said by the right hon. Member for West Monmouthshire—and I am surprised that it should come from him—this may be an undue exercise of political power. But, in my opinion, these men are quite entitled at election times to justify the votes they give by taking care that candidates understand the questions which seriously affect their interests, and candidates will, at any rate, promise to give them consideration and do them justice when they arrive here. If we refuse them justice now and decline this inquiry when they have declared that they would loyally abide by the result, I think our employees will be justified in taking care that in future their interests are properly represented here. These men have had a vote conferred upon them, and if they are to exercise that vote without discussion and without taking care that their representatives realise what their wants and wishes are, that state of things would be a positive danger to the State. Under these circumstances they would be justified in entering into an organisation not perhaps as active partisans, but wish the view of taking care that their case, if it is not redressed here, shall be redressed by those outside, and thus endeavour to obtain that justice to which they are entitled.
§ * SIR J. LENG (Dundee)
The hon. Members who have taken part in this discussion up to the present represent Metropolitan and English constituencies, but the grievances which have boon brought before the Committee are not merely London or English grievances. A short time ago I attended a meeting of the representatives from both the large and smaller towns in Scotland, at which 224 there were present representatives of every department in the postal and telegraph service. At that meeting precisely the same points were dwelt upon as we have heard to-night. I remember one point especially, and that was in regard to the large number of servants in the Post Office who were kept on as probationers, and who had been for a long time in the service. They had all the qualifications and they were doing all the duties of the Department, and they considered that they were being sweated by being paid at a lower rate than the others who were doing similar work. I am glad to say that in the Post Office at Dundee that complaint has been remedied, although tardily, and justice has been done there by removing this grievance in the telegraph and postal department. This shows that there are real grievances existing which are receiving attention, but the complaint is that so many representations have to be made before any attention is paid to them. There are many other points to which I might refer, but I will say that whatever representations are made to the Secretary of the Treasury I have generally found that attention is given to them. When the vacancy occurred in the Postmaster Generalship my hope was that the Secretary of the Treasury would have been promoted to that office. If the right hon. Gentleman had been so promoted I think the House of Commons would have had great confidence in his administration. Why is there this pertinacious and long continued objection to the appointment of a Committee to redress the grievances of 160,000 servants of the State? It has been said to-day that the Post Office is in an exceptional position. It is exceptional in this respect certainly, that there are so large a number of servants of the State in it. The men have the utmost confidence in their case being dealt with fairly by the representatives of the country in this House. If the administration of the Post Office is so sound as it is represented to be, if it is carried out so justly as is contended, why should the permanent officials refuse to submit their case to a Parliamentary Committee? On the other hand, if it is supposed that the servants of the Post Office are making unreasonable demands, why refuse to let them state their case, so that the reasonableness or unreasonableness of their case may be judged? I support strongly what 225 has been said, and I am glad to know that in this matter I have the entire concurrence of my colleague. I hope the Secretary of the Treasury will be able to say something more satisfactory tonight than he has done on previous occasions.
MR. LOWES (Shoreditch, Haggerston)
I have again and again had the grievances of those employed in the Post Office service brought before my notice, and I am afraid that I have troubled the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of the Treasury and the Postmaster General far oftener than I ought to have done upon these questions. I wish to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the courtesy and the consideration with which my complaints have always been met. I do not think there can be any doubt that the position of those employed in the Post Office in every department has materially improved under the present administration. The employees themselves admit this, but they say that there are still many flagrant grievances which remain unredressed, and they want a reasonable opportunity of placing those grievances before an impartial tribunal; and they have declared to me, both individually and in bodies, that they will loyally abide by any decision come to by a Parliamentary Committee. In the interests of the right hon. Gentleman himself and the Postmaster General, I think we should welcome this suggested Committee, because it would relieve him of the vast amount of labour which other Members and myself have caused him by having to bring individual cases under his notice. In regard to the men, I confess that in every case with which I have been brought into contact they have presented their views in a most reasonable and constitutional manner. Their one desire is to got their case heard independently of the permanent officials who are their masters and who create their grievances. I am perfectly certain that if the right hon. Gentleman would concede this request for the Committee, the men themselves would be satisfied, and a great many of their grievances would be swept away. I again wish to pay my tribute to the manner in which every case I have brought forward has been met by the 226 right hon. Gentleman, and the satisfactory assurances which he has given.
§ MR. HANBURY
I am afraid I must give exactly the same answer this year as I gave last to the request for a House of Commons Committee, and I do so on principle. My hon. friend the Member for South Islington said it was not a matter of much importance whether there was a Royal Commission or a Committee of this House appointed. But the request made by the hon. Member who brought forward this motion, and the request made by nearly every Member who has spoken upon it, has been that the inquiry should be held by a House of Commons Committee. Well, I say that the House of Commons is the last body which ought to interfere in these questions of the payment of our public servants. It is the last body which ought to be appealed to as regularly as it is by Civil servants to raise their salaries, because that, after all, is the real object of this proposed Committee. Already I think the pressure brought to bear on individual Members, and especially on Members who have a large number of civil servants in their constituencies, has become perfectly intolerable, and Civil servants may depend upon it that it is the general opinion in this House, although they may have their cause advocated by Members upon whom they may be able to bring particular pressure to bear, because a large number of them happen to live in the constituencies of those Members, I repeat they may depend upon it that in the opinion of the great body of the Members of this House they are taking a highly irregular course, and are in no way making their position more favourable In the minds of the great majority of Members. Nothing will induce me personally to agree to any Committee such as has been suggested. And while I object on principle, I object also because absolutely no necessity has been shown for the Committee. The case brought forward to-day is exactly the one which we have had brought before the House year after year. It has already been twice inquired into, and, as I have before said in the House to-night, with large results, seeing that the very civil servants who are now agitating have had 227 an increase in their wages and salary of £530,000 over and above what they were receiving before either of these Committees sat. Surely it hardly lies in the mouth of anybody to say that these Committees have not produced very beneficial results for the whole of the service. I think it is hardly fair to suggest that a Committee presided over by a man so impartial—although he does not belong to my side of politics—so able, and so capable of taking a thorough businesslike view of the whole matter as Lord Tweedmouth, and consisting, not, as has been said to-night, entirely of Civil servants who were masters of the Post Office employees, but of men of Civil Service belonging to other Departments, I say it is impossible to suggest that either Lord Tweedmouth, or the Civil servants who sat on the Tweedmouth Committee, did so with any other object than that of administering strict and impartial justice to these men. I do not believe that any of the motives which have been attributed to them can have any weight whatever in this House, and I repeat that it was a thoroughly fair and impartial Committee. It is all very well to say this now, but let mo remind hon. Members that at the time when the Committee was appointed there was no objection whatever raised in this House, except perhaps by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green, S.W., to its constitution. It is said it shows how useless this Committee was, and how badly it did its work, because a subsequent Committee on which the Duke of Norfolk and I sat, because we were so desirous that no case of the slightest grievance should be left untouched, inquired into every grievance which was said to have been left un-redressed by the Tweedmouth Committee. We went thoroughly into the matter. The hon. Member for Stepney does not seem to have been aware how thoroughly that was a House of Commons Committee, because he did not know that every Member of this House had a right to attend it, and that a large number of Members did actually attend and examine and cross-examine the witnesses. I say that that Committee was open to every Member of the House, and, as a matter of fact, a large number of Members did take considerable interest in its proceedings. I have further noticed that none of those Members who took such an interest have 228 since raised a voice in detraction of what was done by the Committee. We again added a considerable amount to the large sum added by the Tweedmouth Committee to the salaries of these men. And when we are asked to appoint a House of Commons Committee I have to reply that we have a Committee of the whole House every year, which can discuss every possible grievance that could be brought before a Select Committee of this House. This can be done before a Committee of the whole House, and the House has year after year debated cases of grievances that ought to be redressed. The hon. Member himself is a most capable representative of these men. He has told us that he speaks for 160,000 men under the Postmaster General, and I believe he is quite capable of doing it. Anybody who heard his temperate and well thought-out speech to-night must recognise that in the hon. Member the Post Office officials have indeed a representative in this House who does every justice to their cause. Certainly, I wish to pay that tribute to the hon. Gentleman. He has evidently done his best to collect all the evidence which can be given in favour of these men. But, after all, are the cases which he has brought forward of such a nature as to deserve that they should be treated by such an extraordinary tribunal as he asks us to appoint? What are those cases? He mentioned one or two which he specially said were of a nature which ought to go before this Committee. They are cases of a character which must occur year after year they are cases of alleged injustice on the part of the Post Office officials. If a case of that sort occurs one year it is just as likely to occur another year, and, I would ask, are we to have every year a Select Committee appointed by the House of Commons to deal with these matters—a Select Committee sitting in perpetuity to inquire into all cases of grievances that may arise? That is no doubt going further than the hon. Member suggests, but if the cases he has named are such as to require consideration by a Select Committee, then it will be necessary not only to have such a Committee appointed now, but to have it re-appointed year after year to deal with the constantly recurring grievances of the service. One of the important allegations he made was that the Report of the Tweedmouth Committee, in certain cases, 229 and especially in the case of postmen, had not been properly carried out. All I can say in answer to that is, that it is the intention both of the Post Office and of the Treasury to carry out the recommendations of the Tweedmouth Committee to the very fullest extent, and if the hon. Member is able to show me any case whatever in which that has not been done, even in the case of an individual postman, or sorter, or telegraphist, I will go into it myself, and I will do more: I will promise that the grievance shall be redressed, and that these men shall have the full benefit of the Tweedmouth Committee's Report. The hon. Member for West Nottingham seems to think that the whole of the grievances of the Post Office officials are due to the action of the Treasury and to its anxiety to wring every possible penny of revenue out of the Post Office. This, I may explain, is not, at any rate, the existing view of the Treasury. It is not the principle upon which we have acted in regard to the great concessions we have made. And further than that, I say it would be a most foolish policy to pursue. When he says that we are apt to reduce the wages of Post Office officials because we want to make the service more productive and to wring revenue out of it, he must bear in mind that at the present moment nine-tenths of that service is being carried on, I will not say at a loss, but at very little profit indeed. Now I come to the individual cases dealt with by the hon. Member for Stepney. The first was the well-known complaint, of the telegraphists, who say that, when they entered the service, they were promised that they should be able to reach a maximum of £190 per year. The hon. Member says that some alteration has taken place as a result of the recommendations of the Tweedmouth Committee, and that that promise is no longer carried out. I do not quite understand what case he was trying to establish to-day, because what he said was a little different from a great number of the statements that have before now been made in this House on behalf of these very men. He seemed to argue that because it had been held out to these men that they could reach a maximum as operating telegraphists of £190 per year, they ought to reach it before they retired from the service. Of course, that was 230 never held out to them. On the contrary——
§ MR. STEADMAN
May I explain that I was dealing with the case of those who were in the service before the Tweedmouth Committee was appointed, and who entered under conditions different to those attaching to appointments subsequent to the sittings of the Committee?
§ MR. HANBURY
What was held out to these men was that they should, as telegraphists, be able to rise to a salary of £190 per year. But even in those days the classes were limited, and the senior class was just as limited in numbers as it is now, and unless the men had. reached a stage at which they were senior enough to enter it, they had no possibility of reaching a maximum of £190. There has been nothing done; there have been no new limitations imposed upon. that class. It is just as easy to reach it now as before the Tweedmouth Committee was appointed. I may go further and. say it is a great deal easier to reach it, because up to the time of the Tweedmouth Committee's inquiry there were two barriers at which a man had to prove his efficiency before he was able to pass, on. At the present moment, however, there is only one. The distinction between the first and second class has been abolished, and the only barrier which has now to be passed is that at £160 before a. man can enter the senior class. That senior class now, as then, is limited in its numbers. I had always understood that the complaint of these men was not quite as it has been represented by the hon. Member. It was said that the senior class was now called upon to do more technical and more supervising work than it had to do in former years, and that it was not a strictly operative class. But the hon. Member has thrown away that, argument, because he has stated that the work done by these seniors is operative work, and the main burden of his com-plaint was that these men were receiving a salary of £190 and doing work hardly 231 superior to that done by the men at £160. Again he has complained that they are not receiving the promotion which they were getting a few years hack. My reply is that they are receiving the normal amount of promotion in the Post Office service. It did happen, no doubt, at the time when sixpenny telegrams were introduced, there was a very large amount of work undertaken, and fresh hands had to be called in, with the result that the rate of promotion became quite abnormal for a time. But after a period that ceased, and the men can hardly in fairness compare the rate of promotion now, which is the normal rate, with the abnormal rate which existed for two or three years after cheaper telegrams were introduced. Now I come to his remarks with regard to postmen. He asks where has this £530,000 a year, to which the Secretary to the Treasury referred, gone? Well, the complaint of the telegraphists is that far too large a proportion of it has gone to the sorters and postmen, and I repeat to him that a large portion of it has done so, and that postmen's wages have been considerably increased as the result of the Tweedmouth Report. The hon. Member drew quite a piteous picture. He said, "Look at the small wages of these men. It is quite impossible for them on 18s. a week to maintain a wife and family." I perfectly admit the justice of the statement, but, unfortunately for the argument of the hon. Member, 18s. is paid to nobody over nineteen years of age, and I do not know many men who at that age have a wife and large family to support. After all, it is only fair to take into consideration the fact that 18s. per week represents but a small portion of their wages. I do not say, of course, that at nineteen years of age a man can have gained any good-conduct stripes, but when we talk of the wages of postmen we must remember that they have a good many allowances and perquisites, a great deal of sick-leave and a good holiday, which men employed outside the public service do not receive, and those things represent a very considerable addition to their wages. I venture to say that the allowances which a man receives at nineteen years of age are quite equal to three or four shillings a week additional, and that eighteen shillings in the service may be very properly compared with twenty-two 232 shillings outside the public service. In the first place, there is the pay attached to the good-conduct stripes, then there is the allowance of twenty-one shillings a year for boots; next, in case of sickness the man gets full pay for six months and half-pay for another six months; then he receives fourteen week-day holidays, he has a considerable amount of uniform, he is provided with medical attendance gratuitously, and, of course, he gets a pension. I venture to say that all these allowances are quite equal to another four shillings a week. In regard to the auxiliaries, there again the grievance is alleged that the Report of the Tweedmouth Committee is not carried out, and that certain men who are doing four hours' duty daily have been asked to undertake a five hours' duty without receiving the allowances granted to other men doing similar duties. All I can say is that if they do not receive those benefits they ought to be in possession of them, and if the hon. Member will bring before me any cases in which the report of the Tweedmouth Committee has not been carried out with regard to auxiliary postmen I will undertake to see that the grievance is redressed. Then he raised the question of stripes, and talked as if a black mark were placed against a man's name for very trivial offences. No doubt one effect of placing a black mark against a name is to disqualify a man for stripes, and each stripe, be it remembered, brings him 1s. per week extra wages. The hon. Member pointed out that it takes thirty years to earn the full number of stripes. I admit that. But recollect this, that these men's wages are very fair, and compare very well with wages paid outside the service. I confess, however, the hon. Member did make one point, and I will consult with the Postmaster General as to whether anything can be done to meet him in regard to that. I understood him to put the case in this way. He said a man must have an unblemished record for five years in order to get a stripe. But, he said, take the case of a man who has put in one year's good service towards that stripe. A black mark against his name will result in his stripe being deferred, and he loses that year's record. But take the case of a man who, having put in four years' good -service, commits a like offence, and gets a black mark against his name; he is put in exactly the same position as the man who had only put in one year's service, 233 and his three extra years' good service count as nothing. I think there is a good deal in that. The hon. Member has stated a legitimate grievance, and I agree with him that the punishment is too rough and ready. I will, therefore, consult the Postmaster General to see whether the punishment cannot be distributed a little more justly in these cases. Now I come to instances of alleged intimidation. I have told the hon. Member, time after time, that if he can bring forward any case of intimidation he will have no stronger ally than myself in trying to put a stop to it. But the cases he has to-day brought forward are not, as I understand, properly describable as cases of intimidation. They are rather cases, if the facts are as he has stated them, which should be described as of injustice than of intimidation. He first dealt with the case of a man whose name he did not give, but who, he said, after being tried and acquitted by a jury, was discharged by the Post Office, and refused a character.
§ MR. HANBURY
This, of course, is not a matter which we can discuss across the floor of the House. It is, however, precisely one of those cases which the hon. Member would be perfectly justified in bringing before the Post Office authorities or myself, and I shall be glad if he will lay the matter before me, so that I may see what are the rights and wrongs of it, and ascertain whether the Post Office have done an injustice to this man, or whether there were grounds for supposing that his acquittal after all was more or less due to a technicality, and that, in spite of that acquittal, he was a man who ought not to be retained in the public service. Then, again, I come to the case of the man Taylor, of Stirling. I confess frankly that I had forgotten that case, and, indeed, one has so large a number of these cases to deal with that it is not possible to recollect all of them. The hon. Member's contention is that this man was apparently dismissed because he could not complete his delivery within the allotted time; that he 234 was watched day after day upon his rounds, and that the man who has been appointed in his place is only able to do the work in the allotted time by employing his son to help him. That, again, is one of those individual cases which are not really of such importance as to require the attention of a Committee, but which are of sufficient importance for any hon. Member interested to bring before the postal authorities, and which undoubtedly ought to be thoroughly inquired into by them. I will undertake that the case shall be looked into. The hon. Member further quoted the case of Mr. Lacon, of Birmingham, with regard to whom he put a question to me to-day. The information given me is that this is a case of insubordination. The hon. Member, on the contrary, says it is not, and he speaks of it as a case of persecution of the man because he belongs to a postal union. I say at once that if that is the case it is a bad one. The man had a perfect right to join any union he chose, and promotion ought not to be denied to him because he is a member of one. The last subject on which the hon. Member spoke was not one with which a Select Committee could deal. It was a question as to the rights of combination. I will state over again exactly what is the view taken by the Post Office with regard to the right of combination. It is that it shall be a combination of workmen, and not of people who are not workmen; that it shall be a combination of people who are employed by the Post Office, and who are employed in a particular branch, so that they shall know the subject on which they approach the Postmaster General. It would be perfectly ridiculous, to my mind, and I believe it would not be in accordance with the recognised practice of trades unions outside Post Office organisations, if it were otherwise. I understand that those unions consist of workmen belonging to a particular trade, and that they are, therefore, able to approach employers of labour with a full knowledge of the conditions of that trade. It would never do to say, for instance, that in the case of a grievance affecting sorters it should be possible for a combination of telegraphists and postmen to join with the sorters to represent to the Postmaster General matters about which the telegraphists and the postmen know nothing whatever. Certainly by their presence they would swell the number of the deputation, but they 235 would be absolutely useless in representing the facts to the Postmaster General, because they belong to a totally different branch, and can know nothing of its grievances. What the Post Office have done is this. They say, "We perfectly admit the right of the people employed by us to combine, but we do require that they shall have some knowledge of the subject on which they approach the Postmaster General, and we therefore insist that when a deputation of sorters is received, it shall consist of sorters only, speaking with the full knowledge of the grievances of sorters. We cannot permit any other branch of the service to deal with grievances about which they know absolutely nothing." Now I say that this is not a question which ought to be dealt with by a Committee.
§ MR. HANBURY
I hardly understand what the hon. Member means. If the sorters have a representative man belonging to the sorters' body, he certainly would be listened to.
§ MR. GODDARD
Every trade society has a representative man whose duty it is to represent that particular branch of the industry.
§ MR. STEADMAN
The case which the right hon. Gentleman has quoted is exactly one of those to which I referred. It was a deputation of sorters working in the Post Office. It did not include either Mr. Cheesman or Mr. Clery. It was composed of working sorters, and the Postmaster General refused to receive them, although they were members of the executive.
§ MR. HANBURY
Yes; that was a case of sorters interested in the question of "split duties." It is a question upon which, no doubt, there may be two opinions. The Postmaster General took one. I am bound to say I should have been perfectly willing to listen to those sorters as long as they were sorters, whatever section they might belong to. But it is only carrying out the principle 236 to a fuller extent. It is only carrying; out the view which is taken by the Postmaster General, that a telegraphist should not come forward to represent the case of the sorters, and that, even in the sorters' class, only the men who are interested in a particular question should be allowed to represent the case. I say at once that the Postmaster General went a little further than I should have gone myself, but still we must recognise that he was carrying out a principle. I think I have gone into the whole of the cases mentioned by the hon. Member.
§ MR. STEADMAN
No. There are the questions of Sunday labour and the sick regulations. You have not touched upon those matters.
§ MR. HANBURY
Oh, yes, I missed those. It is complained that those are recent alterations in the postal service. Now some misapprehension seems to have arisen with regard to the circular issued by the Post Office with respect to sick leave. It was intended to convey the idea that whereas no sufficient cheek had been kept in the past on the failure of certain men to attend, owing to sickness, a stricter watch would in the future be maintained, and, in the event of the sick leave being so continuous as to show chronic illness such as to disqualify permanently from the service, then the official would be called upon to retire. Of course that is reasonable. But the postal service need not fear for one moment that that circular is going to be used for any other purpose than I have mentioned. I am afraid that we at the Treasury, whether rightly or wrongly, take too great an interest in the Post Office service. At any rate we have to look after the pensions, and, certainly, we should be unwilling to grant a pension to a man except in. the case where it was necessary, and where he really had to retire on grounds of ill-health sufficient to justify the grant of a pension. The Treasury would certainly look with disfavour upon the circular being used to turn out of the Post Office service any 237 men who are, in our opinion, not qualified, on the ground of sickness, for pensions. It is not to be used in any sense for turning men out of the service any more than before. With regard to the Sunday labour, if I remember aright the hon. Member put a question to me; before the Easter recess, as to why the seniors, who had hitherto done all the Sunday work, were not to be allowed to do it in the future. The answer I gave him was that we did not think it well that these men should be constantly employed on Sunday duty, and that the Sunday work should be more evenly distributed throughout the service. We felt we ought not to have a large body of men constantly employed on the Sabbath. The hon. Member has argued the question from a somewhat different point of view to-day. I rather gathered from his previous question that he was in favour of seniors doing the work regularly Sunday after Sunday. It is quite clear that that cannot be his view to-night, because he, in a spirit of perfect sincerity, made a speech with which I thoroughly agree, to the effect that no attendance for Sunday duty should be imposed upon any man if it can possibly be avoided. There are, of course, certain necessities in the postal service, and it being the case that a certain amount of Sunday duty must be performed, we ought to avoid that duty always falling on the same man. I am glad to find that that is not what the hon. Member is advocating, for I rather gathered from his previous question that that was what he wished—that he desired the senior men to be constantly on Sunday duty. Now the case is somewhat different. It is true that there are a large number of volunteers, but we are distributing the work more evenly over the whole body of men, so that no one man shall have anything like a continuous Sunday duty. If we can grant any man an exemption we ought to do it. The hon. Member mentioned the ease of a young man connected with a Sunday school who had to give up the school because he was employed continuously by the Post Office on Sunday duty. I say, in the first place, he ought not to have been employed continuously on Sunday work, and if we can get a sufficient number of men to undertake it voluntarily—they are very well paid for it—we ought not to force Sunday labour on a man of the kind mentioned by the hon. Member. 238 I think I have now dealt with the whole of the cases presented to me. Really, after all, they are very small matters, and the great majority of them are cases with which I promise to deal, and for which I will find a remedy at once if the complaint is justified that the Report of the Tweedmouth Committee with regard to the men is not being carried out. Others are cases of injustice which in a large service like this—perhaps I had better not say actual injustice—are likely to occur in any year, and I can only repeat that if any hon. Member will bring forward any cases I shall be careful to fully inquire into them. The remaining cases with which the hon. Members dealt have already been thoroughly gone into, not only by the Tweedmouth Committee, but by the Duke of Norfolk and myself. They have, too, been ventilated year after year in this House. I have considered the subject with an anxious desire to be perfectly fair, and I must say that, in my opinion, with regard to the telegraphists' maximum and other questions, no case has been made out for such an extreme or extraordinary or unconstitutional remedy as the appointment of a Committee of the House of Commons. Partly because it is unconstitutional, and partly because the hon. Member has shown no case for it, I am again obliged to refuse the demand.
§ * MR. MADDISON (Sheffield, Brightside)
The speech of the right hon. Gentleman to which we have listened, increases the regret of many of us that he is not at the head of the Post Office instead of being a very admirable apologist for the head. To every case stated by the hon. Member for Stepney the right hon. Gentleman has in his usual frank and honest manner promised inquiry. A number of cases, he said, were not the sort upon which he would base his inquiry, because, of course, with 160,000 employees under the Department, there would be from time to time not only alleged but real grievances cropping up, and these sort of grievances the right hon. Gentleman said he will have to deal with as they come up. The most serious part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was his opening, which really touched the 239 fundamental position of those of us who argue for a full inquiry. He opposed this demand on principle—that the House of Commons was the last body in the world which should be appealed to by its servants. I quite admit the very serious danger that may take place through the State employment of a large number of men. I quite understand how you might have sections of men in constituencies, having no regard for public policy, and being stimulated only by their own interest in the endeavour to make their conditions of labour better. But what a dismal prospect the right hon. Gentleman holds out to us! These men must not bring any pressure on Members of the House of Commons; that is a most wicked thing to do! They must not combine in the ordinary way; and if at times they show that they are under the delusion that a Postmaster General is acting unjustly, they must not strike! But what are they to do when they suffer from real grievances? Are you actually going to shut all the ordinary avenues through which these men can obtain redress of their grievances? I venture to say that the demand now made for a Committee of Inquiry is a safety-valve in all cases like this. I do not say a Committee of Inquiry every year; but when there is a wide spirit of discontent abroad, as is the ease in the Post Office, if you want to save Members from the pressure to which the right hon. Gentleman objects, you must grant this inquiry. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that he will stop pressure on Members by resisting inquiry? He will only intensify and increase the very evil which he, in his place as a responsible Minister, declares may become a very serious danger. The right hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out that a very large amount of money had been voted for the increase of the salaries of the Post Office servants on the recommendation of the Tweedmouth Committee. Although I have not the honour of knowing Lord Tweedmouth, I accept the statement that he was a most competent chairman of that Commission, and I have no doubt, from his public action, that his sympathies were in the right direction. The noble Lord and the Duke of Norfolk thought it necessary, after a very short inquiry, to increase the amount of the salaries of the Post Office servants by £90,000. The right hon. Gentleman says 240 that the Norfolk-Hanbury Committee was equal to a Committee of this House, because hon. Members were invited to attend, and did attend its sittings. But what part did hon. Members have in the final deliberations of that Committee, and how could the right hon. Gentleman hold out to the Post Office servants, who are an intelligent body of men, that there had been practically a Committee of Inquiry, because hon. Members were permitted to pass an idle moment in a Committee room upstairs, and the most persistent of them were allowed to put a few questions, but they had practically no more to do with the final deliberations than if they had not been Members of this House? My surprise at the right hon. Gentleman grew in increasing ratio when he went on to say that apart from the satisfactory inquiry by the Tweedmouth Committee there is a perpetual inquiry going on in the Committee of the whole House, where there is an opportunity of putting questions to him and obtaining redress of real grievances. Mr. Lowther, what a prospect for Civil servants is this Committee of the whole House! Look at what we are doing to-night. We have to move a reduction of the Minister's salary or of a Vote in order to draw attention to grievances. Now, that becomes a party matter, and then the First Lord comes in at the right moment, and his followers would never think of voting against their party. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that this is a satisfactory Committee because it is a Committee of the whole House; but the deliberations of this Committees have the party gag put upon them. I have not had the honour of a seat in Parliament when the Liberal party was in power, but probably they would do exactly the same as hon. Gentlemen opposite. [HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!] I do not know. [HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!] I am a very ordinary man, but I know this—that good party men, for whom I have every respect, will troop into the lobby, not because some of them are against the postmen, but because upon a particular Vote depends an Imperial question, and how could they possibly vote against their party when it might load to the defeat and ruin of their party, and leave the government of the country to a number of pro-Boers? Therefore, an Imperial question is made out of a very small 241 question. I would like to say one word about combination. The right hon. Gentleman, in reply to questions, has over and over again said that the Postmaster General gives the freest liberty of combination. That is only half a truth, and the right hon. Gentleman himself even admits that. The hon. Member for Stepney referred to the fact that the Postmaster General refused to receive a deputation because some of them were engaged in "split duties." In fact, the Postmaster General commenced to split hairs. There may be some railway directors here; it is very seldom there are not half a dozen present. They know very well that when a demand has been made by the ten hours' signalmen, the directors have received a deputation partly composed of eight hours' signalmen to advocate the case of the ten hours' signalmen. The North-Eastern, which is the most liberal of all the railway companies, have allowed that over and over again. Then why does not the right hon. Gentleman, or the Postmaster General, allow the secretary of the telegraphists, or of any other grade, even if not now in the service, to represent the men on a deputatation? In the trades unions of the country it must always happen that a man who has been employed in some work becomes the general secretary of
§ his union; and he is the man who is the spokesman on deputations for his fellow unionists. My hon. friend below me goes to deputations in regard to miners' affairs, although he has never worked in a particular pit at all. It is, therefore, too much to ask us to believe that the Postmaster General allows the freest combination. I support this Committee of Inquiry because I believe it would prevent what I agree with the right hon. Gentleman might become a serious evil if State employees were to exert pressure at the polls in such a way as to induce candidates to put aside great Imperial questions in order to catch the votes of these men. The demand for a Committee of Inquiry is a just and reasonable one, and the right hon. Gentleman ought to remember that the security of it rests in the fact that it will be a Committee of the House of Commons, which we all know is the most impartial and fearless body in the world.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 46; Noes, 66. (Division List No. 104.)243
|Abraham, William (Rhondda)||Jones, William (Carnarvonsh.)||Robson, William Snowdon|
|Allison, Robert Andrew||Lawson, Sir W. (Cumberland)||Rollit, Sir Albert Kaye|
|Billson, Alfred||Leese, Sir J. F. (Accrington)||Runciman, Walter|
|Birrell, Augustine||Leng, Sir John||Samuel, J. (Stockton-on-Tees)|
|Burns, John||Lewis, John Herbert||Shaw, Thomas (Hawick B.)|
|Caldwell, James||Lonsdale, John Brownlee||Stanhope, Hon. Philip J.|
|Causton, Richard Knight||Lough, Thomas||Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath)|
|Channing, Francis Allston||M'Crae, George||Ure, Alexander|
|Emmott, Alfred||M'Kenna, Reginald||Warner, Thomas Courtenay T.|
|Foster, Sir Walter (Derby Co.)||Maddison, Fred.||Weir, James Galloway|
|Goddard, Daniel Ford||Massey-Mainwaring, Hn. W. F.||Williams, John Carvell (Notts.)|
|Griffith, Ellis J.||Morton, Edw. J. C. (Devonport)||Yoxall, James Henry|
|Gurdon, Sir Wm. Brampton||O'Malley, William|
|Hayne, Rt. Hon. Charles Seale-||Orr-Ewing, Charles Lindsay||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—Mr. Steadman and Mr. Woods.|
|Hazell, Walter||Philipps, John Wynford|
|Holland, William Henry||Pickersgill, Edward Hare|
|Horniman, Frederick John||Roberts, John H. (Denbighsh.)|
|Archdale, Edward Mervyn||Bullard, Sir Harry||Cook, Fred. Lucas (Lambeth)|
|Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John||Butcher, John George||Cornwallis, Fiennes Stanley W.|
|Balfour, Rt. Hn. A. J. (Manch'r.)||Cavendish, V. C. W. (Derbyshire)||Curzon, Viscount|
|Banbury, Frederick George||Cecil, Evelyn (Hertford, East)||Dickinson, Robert Edmond|
|Bethell, Commander||Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry||Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-|
|Bhownaggee, Sir M. M.||Charrington, Spencer||Dyke, Rt. Hon Sir William Hart|
|Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John||Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse||Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn E.|
|Fergusson, Rt Hn Sir J. (Manc'r)||Keswick, William||Russell, T. W. (Tyrone)|
|Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne||Lawrence, Sir E. Durning-(Corn||Ryder, John Herbert Dudley|
|Fisher, William Hayes||Lawson, John Grant (Yorks.)||Simeon, Sir Barrington|
|Foster, Harry S. (Suffolk)||Long, Rt. Hon. W. (Liverpool)||Smith, Abel H. (Christchurch)|
|Galloway, William Johnson||Macartney, W. G. Ellison||Tomlinson, Wm. Edw. Murray|
|Gedge, Sydney||Middlemore, J. Throgmorton||Webster, Sir Richard E.|
|Gibbs, Hn. A. G. H. (City of Lon.)||Milward, Colonel Victor||Whitmore, Charles Algernon|
|Goldsworthy, Major-General||Monckton, Edward Philip||Williams, Joseph Powell-(Birm)|
|Gordon, Hon. John Edward||More, Robt. Jasper (Shropshire)||Wodehouse, Rt Hn. E. R. (Bath)|
|Gorst, Rt. Hn. Sir John Eldon||Mowbray, Sir Robert Gray C.||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart-|
|Goschen, George J. (Sussex)||Murray, Rt Hn AGraham (Bute)||Wyndham, George|
|Greville, Hon. Ronald||Plunkett, Rt Hn Horace Curzon|
|Hamilton, Rt. Hon. Lord G.||Purvis, Robert||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Sir William Walrond and Mr. Anstruther.|
|Hanbury, Rt. Hon. Robert W.||Rentoul, James Alexander|
|Heath, James||Ritchie, Rt. Hn. C. Thomson|
|Henderson, Alexander||Robertson, Herbert (Hackney)|
|Johnstone, Heywood (Sussex)||Robinson, Brooke|
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ It being after Midnight, and objection being taken to further proceeding, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.