§ 1. £1,165,083 to complete the sum for Inland Revenue.
§ MR. HEYWOOD JOHNSTONE (Sussex, Horsham) moved to reduce the Vote by £50. He moved this reduction from no spirit of hostility, but simply to draw attention to the necessity for forming new tax districts, and of increasing the number of surveyors of taxes, a need that had been recognised by the Secretary of the Treasury as far back as November, 1898. Out of twenty-five new districts which were sanctioned at that time, nine only had been created. He knew of his own knowledge that the right hon. Gentleman had looked into this matter, and that he fully recognised the present need. He desired to strengthen the hands of his right hon. friend in developing the reform of which he himself acknowledged the necessity. One of the greatest, objections to the system of administration which had unhappily prevailed for years past in this Department was that there was no preparation or training to qualify officers to till the places of those growing old or taking new districts. There were no qualified persons ready to take the places of the existing surveyors or to act in the new tax districts, as they were called. The right hon. Gentleman had informed him that this was largely owing to the system which had grown up, and which he could not help thinking was very greatly against the public interest. As there were no trained assistants, the surveyors had to pick up assistants where they could, and these men were liable to dismissal at a week's notice, and had no 828 claim to pension. These were the men chosen to assist such a responsible official as the surveyor of taxes; and the hon. Member asked the Committee to express the opinion that this was not the right system upon which to work, and that proper clerical assistance should be provided under proper conditions. During recent years the work of these officials had increased to an enormous degree, but the number of surveyors of taxes had been but very slightly increased. A few figures would prove this to the Committee. The increase of work falling on the shoulders of these men since 1870 was partly normal and partly abnormal. The year 1870 was a, very fair one for purposes of comparison, because before then there was a certain amount of assessed taxes also collected by the surveyors of Inland Revenue, and when those taxes were transferred to another branch there was necessarily a diminution in the number of surveyors, as it was supposed there would be less work. The taxable income with which these officials were concerned increased between 1876 and 1890 from £453,000,000 to £753,000,000, or 66 per cent., and the number of assessments from 9,000,000 to 13,000,000. Another cause of increased work was the growth in the number of claims for repayment, which had gone up from 100,000 to 300,000. As the number of persons of small means who invested their savings in various public funds increased, so the claims for repayment multiplied, because the income tax upon that class of investment was collected at the source, and therefore if a person's income was below the taxable minimum a claim for repayment had to be made. These claims cast considerable work upon the surveyors, as they had to satisfy themselves that the claimants were en- 829 titled to the repayment, and that their incomes were below the exempted amount. Moreover, these claims were likely to be considerably increased in number this year, as many people who would not trouble to put in claims when the income tax was eightpence in the pound would do so now the tax was a shilling. In addition to these normal causes of increase, the legislation of the last ten or twenty years had greatly increased the work of those men. In regard to the inhabited house duty, instead of there being two rates, there were now six, besides a special rate for lodging houses, and the surveyor had to go into all those and satisfy himself by comparison with the rate-books and other figures that the right amount of duty was being paid. This affected nearly 1,500,000 assessments, and as each assessment might have from one to seven different rates the Committee could realise the enormous increase of work involved. There was also the great increase arising from the change in the amount of abatements in successive income tax legislation, and another important addition was the burden of calculating the reductions under the Finance Act of 1894. There were 5,000,000 assessments affected by that Act, and the amount of the reductions represented by those assessments had risen from £45,000,000 to £157,000,000. Another and a very important branch of work which had increased was the examination of the accounts of joint stock companies. The increase in number between 1884 and 1897 was from 8,700 to over 30,000, each one of which meant about half an hour's work if the surveyor was satisfied, while, if he was not satisfied, there would be a considerable amount of correspondence, and very likely personal interviews. To cope with this enormous increase of work there had been only nineteen additional surveyors appointed, the number being 245 in 1897, as against 226 in 1870. The result was great dissatisfaction on the part of the surveyors of taxes, and that feeling had been intensified by another cause. The right hon. Gentleman had done his best to secure the formation of new districts, but the men could not be found to man them, and therefore it had been necessary to retain the services of men who were entitled to pensions, and who, under the retirement minute, should have been retired, thus making the way clear for the promotion of their juniors. 830 The hon. Member hoped some means would be found of removing this obvious injustice.
§ Attention called to the fact that forty Members were not present (Mr. GIBSON BOWLES, Lynn Regis). House counted, and forty Members being found present.
§ MR. HEYWOOD JOHNSTONE (resuming)
If I have not entirely lost the thread of my argument owing to the intervention of the hon. Member for King's Lynn, I think I was calling attention to the dissatisfaction which was felt by the surveyors of income tax in regard to the hardship of having their promotion checked by the practical suspension of the retirement order. Their promotion has been very largely checked at the present time on account of the suspension of the retirement order, which has prevented the promotion of a number of qualified persons to fill the places of those who should retire. I simply mention this matter in order to strengthen the hands of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of the Treasury in dealing with these men, in order that he may realise that they have a substantial cause of complaint. I think they have good reason to complain of overwork, and of the large increase of work which has been thrown upon them without any increase of payment, and with the additional hardship of their promotion being checked. I do not think I need apologise for calling the attention of the Committee to this question, because it is one which affects not only the interests of the public service— and we have heard the expression that the State should be a model employer— it is not upon those grounds alone that I call the attention of the Committee to this subject, but it is because these men are responsible for the very delicate work of assessing and gathering in a very large amount of the public revenue. Upon their capacity and ability, upon having proper time to discharge their duties and having intellectual capacities which are not affected by the drudgery and the strain of too much work thrown upon their shoulders, depends the successful ingathering of the revenue of this country. A large amount of taxable wealth is never assessed, and escapes taxation simply because the men who have the duty to look into this matter have not got the time or the business tact to do it. It is with the view of strengthening the hands 831 of the right hon. Gentleman that I have brought forward this motion. There is always something which hinders necessary reforms being carried out in the position of the public servants, and I hope the Committee will strengthen the hands of those who are anxious to meet the just, true, and right grievances of these surveyors of taxes.
§ MR. BROADHURST (Leicester)
I am glad that my hon. friend on the opposite side of the House has again brought forward this subject. Some three or four years ago I had some interview's with the Secretary of the Treasury on this very question, and since then I believe something has been done to lighten the burden of these surveyors of taxes. In the whole Civil Service I do not think there is a body of men more justly entitled to consideration or to some increased assistance than they. In many branches the numbers and location of members of the Civil Service admit of combination, and they are thus able to force the attention of the House to their grievances. But in the case of surveyors of taxes their numbers and location are entirely insufficient to enable them to adopt that means for asserting their claims to the consideration of the State. For many years past I have had personal experience, both as Income Tax Commissioner and as Commissioner of the Land Tax, of the work these men are called upon to do. It is not only enormous in volume, but involves the necessity of considerable learning, great skill, and keen intelligence. I do not know whether the right hon. the Secretary to the Treasury has had experience in sitting in these courts. [Mr. HANBURY: No.] I only wish he had, for I am sure that he cannot realise the importance and value of these men without practical experience. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that these surveyors of taxes have to construe new rating Acts and other Acts relating to Inland Revenue, and they have to advise the Commissioners as to what is the law. Then in regard to appeals, where the skill of the surveyor is most brought under the notice of the Commissioners, they must not only be lawyers but first-rate cross-examiners. Unless a surveyor of taxes is a good cross-examiner he cannot bring out from persons the most they have to pay as income tax. I have heard the very best form of cross-examination 832 conducted by surveyors. In many cases many persons are charged with income tax who are obviously not liable, and unable to pay, and I have seen the surveyors get at the fact in a few moments, aided by the Commissioners, with their local knowledge. I think the Secretary to the Treasury should see that something is done to improve the condition of their office assistants. This is a sore grievance. A surveyor of taxes engages the first person he meets in the street—office boys and young men from eighteen to twenty-five years of age, at all sorts of salaries, ranging from 10s. to 40s. per week. Now, when a young man spends five years in an office of surveyor of taxes, he becomes of personal value to the business houses in the neighbourhood, and by an offer of increase of wages these probably take him away just at the time when he is becoming of real value to the surveyor. There ought to be some arrangement made whereby at any rate the higher grade of clerks should be retained in the service, although the surveyors themselves come and go Then, and I am speaking here from personal experience, it is a serious matter that a lad going into a surveyor's office at fourteen or fifteen years of age, and remaining there ten or twelve years, and in the course of time obtaining a knowledge of the secret position of a large number of tradesmen within his area, should go out of the office with all that secret information in his possession, under no obligation whatever, other than moral, to keep it within his own breast. That is unfair to the taxpayers, and if we could keep these young men permanently the surveyor's life would be more tolerable than it now is. I do not know any class of Civil servants who have done less to bring pressure on Members of Parliament to better their position than these men. I may say I have not heard a word from any surveyor of taxes for the last three or four years. At the time I last brought their case before the House it is perfectly true a surveyor of taxes did draw my attention to it, otherwise I would not have known the position of the clerks. But from that moment till now I have had no communication with any surveyor I make this appeal to the Secretary to the Treasury entirely on my own initiative, believing as I do that in appealing for better conditions for these men I am discharging a real public service in the 833 interests of the revenue as well as of the taxpayers, and asking for something which a large body of men are well entitled to receive at the hands of the Treasury. I know that the Secretary to the Treasury has good feelings towards all hard-worked public servants, and I leave it in his hands to make himself acquainted with the facts, and to do his duty thereon.
§ MR. CALDWELL (Lanarkshire, Mid)
As a rule I am not in sympathy with any organisation of Civil servants whose object is to get increased emoluments. I am in exactly the same position as the hon. Member for Leicester. No one has spoken to me on the subject, and I express my view wholly from a public standpoint, and without any pressure from anyone. There are twenty-six surveyors of taxes in Scotland, and 298 for the whole United Kingdom. I quite endorse all that has been said in regard to the technical knowledge required on their part. They must acquaint themselves with everything relating to the necessary deductions for income tax. The claims for repayment of income tax have increased of late from 100,000 to 300,000, owing to the amount of income entitled to abatement having been increased. Obviously these surveyors have to do important work in checking claims for repayment of income tax, and while the amount of work has increased 300 per cent., the number of surveyors has not increased at all. Now, if you have not got a sufficient or a qualified staff, the inevitable result must be that claims for abatement will be passed superficially without that examination being given to them which is necessary for the protection of the revenue. Again, look at the inconvenience to those people who are desirous of having their abatement claims returned within a reasonable time. Anyone who knows anything about income tax returns is aware that there are a great many complaints about the length of time and the forms of investigation necessary in connection with these claims. In fact, I know that there are parties who do not claim abatement when they might, because of the delay and inquisition imposed upon them. That arises in large measure from the circumstance that the surveyor cannot really give the time to go into every account that he ought to give, and 834 is so overburdened with work that claims lie as arrears in his hand, and in order to dispose of them he passes deductions which need not, if due inquiry were made, be conceded, and the revenue suffers in consequence.
§ MR. HEDDERWICK (Wick Burghs)
I beg to call attention to the fact that there are not forty Members present.
* THE CHAIRMAN
I have satisfied myself quite recently that there are more than forty Members within the precincts of the House.
§ MR. CALDWELL
I am convinced that in the long run there would be an immense saving to the Treasury, and of worry to the public, were the condition of the surveyors of taxes improved. Under the Finance Act, there has been an enormous increase of work. The deductions which have to be considered have increased from 45 to 157 millions, and yet there has been no increase of staff. I do not consider it necessary to labour this matter more than to back up the appeal to the Treasury for sympathy for this particular class of Civil servants. If anything was proposed that was unreasonable, in asking for an increase of salary without a corresponding public benefit, it would not be favourably received, at any rate on this side of the House; but I am satisfied that even on this side of the House the opinion is that the claims of these men should be considered. There is a great deal to be said about the training of men from the lower grades to the position of surveyor. A great deal of knowledge in regard to the affairs of business men is obtained by clerks in surveyors' offices, and it is important that the work should be done in secrecy. It is only by a system of promotion and permanent employment, practical training, and experience that you can get efficient surveyors. You cannot do it by merely passing an examination in Acts of Parliament. It is a very remarkable thing, which shows clearly the necessity of increasing the number of surveyors, that we have to keep surveyors on who, on account of age, should have retired. The age clause is not merely in the interest of the men who are to retire, but in the interest of those who are to come after them. No doubt there are many 835 cases where surveyors have to continue in office a little longer if you are to get experienced men to follow them up; and there are cases where a man who has reached the age of retiring will be more competent to perform the duties than the man who will succeed him. In the interest of having a sufficiently and efficiently trained staff, equal to the requirements of the work, which has so enormously increased of late years, this should be looked upon as a branch of the Civil Service where the men are expected to go on from the lower grades up to the higher in the usual course of promotion. I venture to say the more efficiently the work is done the better it will be in the public interest. There is no doubt whatever that, so far as certain duties are concerned, they can get through their work perfunctorily without being called in question. A surveyor is practically the master of the situation so far as deductions are concerned, and when you consider that in these men's hands there is the disposal of large sums of the public revenue, there should be a trained staff to deal with that revenue. It is not increased salary that is wanted so much as a sufficient number on the staff, and that the training should begin at an early age in the office of the surveyors.
§ MR. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)
said he desired to call attention to the position of surveyors of Inland Revenue in Scotland, and especially to the case of the surveyor for Inverness-shire. That gentleman received a salary of £600 a year, and he not only undertook the duties of surveyor of taxes in the county of Inverness-shire, but also the duties of registrar of voters in Ross and Cromarty, and various duties in those three counties. It was physically impossible for him to attend to those duties, which necessitated his traversing hundreds of miles, satisfactorily. In consequence of this state of things there were many people in the remoter parts of the district of which he was the surveyor who were improperly assessed, and many who were not assessed at all. He understood that the present surveyor was a gentleman advanced in years, and might soon be on the pension list, and he urged the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury to look into the matter, and 836 when a change took place to make some difference in the new appointment.
§ THE FINANCIAL SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Mr. HANBURY, Preston)
It is satisfactory, I think, to be able to discuss the claims of these civil servants upon their merits alone. So far as I can ascertain, these gentlemen have neither sent circulars to hon. Members, nor have they brought any pressure of any kind to bear upon the House. The number of surveyors is not large, and they certainly could not be in better hands than that of the hon. Member who has advocated their cause in a temperate speech full of arguments and facts, and which fully brought out all the grievances of those whose claims he has voiced. He has advanced facts to which I entirely agree. It cannot be denied that the work of surveyors of taxes has increased largely in bulk and delicacy, and I do not think that there is anybody at the Treasury who has not a kindly feeling towards this deserving class of men. I told my hon. friend in answer to one or two questions that we have to recognise the fact that the present surveyors are overworked, and there was a necessity to create a certain number of new districts. We decided that there should be twenty-five, but that is by no means a magic number, and if when they are created we find it necessary to create still further new districts, we shall create them. Although we have created twenty-five new districts, we have not appointed for those assistant surveyors, and that is the complaint against us. That complaint is true to a certain extent, for we have tilled up nine only. The reason for that is that, owing to the short tenure of office of most of the assistant surveyors, we have not sufficient assistant surveyors whom we could promote. My hon. friend drew from that the moral that we ought to be educating and preparing men to take the place of assistant surveyors, so that when we created new districts we should not be short of really qualified surveyors. He suggested that we should recruit men from the clerks to the surveyors. I consulted the Chairman of the Board of Inland Revenue as to how far that was possible, and I quite agree with my hon. friend that we ought not to be again in the position in which we now are. We recognise that certain surveyors are overworked, but at the same time we have not a sufficient number of 837 men qualified to take that position. My hon. friend on the opposite side drew attention to the loss of promotion that follows owing to the fact that we are obliged to keep a number of surveyors who have passed the age of sixty, because we have not others qualified to occupy the posts. A proposal on the subject has been submitted by the Inland Revenue Department within the last few days, but we have not definitely decided upon it, and it would be wrong for me to forecast our decision, but I will consider the proposals brought forward by the hon. Gentleman with the fullest determination to do justice and increase the promotion of these men. With regard to the case of Inverness, I will look into that and sec how that stands. With regard to the clerks to the surveyors, the objection raised to the present system is that these men acquire considerable knowledge of the incomes of the persons residing in their particular districts, they are merely personal clerks and they are not entitled to pensions, and I think with regard to them there has been some exaggeration. I am afraid that even at Somerset House there is not that accurate knowledge of incomes that is desirable in the interest of the Exchequer, and the information of a surveyor's clerk would be for the most part of a very vague and general description. But it is said that they exercise very responsible duties, and that we ought to have them in the permanent Civil Service. I am afraid that, though we might gain some advantage by pursuing that course, we should sacrifice those which we have at the present moment. I very much doubt whether the class of clerks sent down to the locality would do their work as well as these men do. In the first place I do not know that we should get good men to go and settle down in these small towns, but you have at the present moment men living in the locality who readily undertake this class of work, and are perfectly willing to remain in the locality so that they year by year become more acquainted with the work in the district. These are considerable advantages, which more than outweigh any which would follow my hon. friend's suggestion. I think there is something in what he said, that they ought not to receive a fixed salary, but as their knowledge and usefulness increase so also ought their rate of pay. I do not know whether it is 838 generally known, but that is the rule at the present moment of the Inland Revenue Department. I quite admit that these men do very useful work, and, whilst their salaries were raised by the Treasury two or three years ago, I do not think they are so fully paid as their merits deserve, and I hope to be able to adjust their claim in that respect. With regard to the clerks to surveyors, the Board consider that in a considerable number of cases it is only fair and reasonable to raise the salaries of these men, and I will look into the whole case myself, and if I find that there is a good case made out, I shall have no hesitation in increasing their salaries.
§ MR. HEYWOOD JOHNSTONE
expressed his belief that the surveyors would be thoroughly satisfied with the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury, and he thanked him for the sympathetic tone of his answer.
§ * SIR CHARLES CAMERON (Glasgow Bridgeton)
was very glad to hear it was proposed to increase the districts and surveyors employed in England. He pointed out that in Scotland these gentlemen received increased pay and promotion in proportion to the success with which they supplied the screw to the income-tax payer. The result was that in Scotland the income tax was collected to a far greater proportioned extent than in England.
§ 2. £5,243,605, to complete the sum for Post Office.
§ * MR. WEIR
called attention to the overcrowding which took place in many post offices. Many post offices were shockingly overcrowded, packed full of employees, ventilation defective and the sanitary arrangements unsatisfactory. A condition of things prevailed in these offices which would not be permitted by the Home Office in factories and workshops. The result was that much suffering was entailed upon the employees, many of whom died every year from phthisis. He urged that there should be some system of inspection of the rooms in which the employees were 839 engaged, especially in the country post offices. The Government had done much to increase the postal facilities in the remote districts of Scotland, but there were still many things requiring attention. He asked that in these districts the postmen should be allowed to carry postage stamps, post cards, and postal orders for small amounts, which they could sell to the public. This would save poor people a journey of perhaps many miles to a post office. He also asked that pillar-boxes should be placed in these remote parts. He also asked that the postman should be allowed to receive registered letters on his round. Many of the people living in the remoter parts of the Highlands of Scotland went every summer to the East Coast to take part in the fishing, and those who went would naturally desire to send home a little money to their families, and ought to have greater facilities for doing so. There was also, he noticed, an item of £14,000 derived from void postal orders, and from money orders £3,000; could not some means be arranged by which the unfortunate public might get back this money, to which the Government could not possibly have a right?
§ MR. CALDWELL
thought a great deal might be said in favour of the rural postman being allowed to supply postage stamps. In many country districts a man had to go two or three miles to post a letter, whereas, if a stamp could be purchased from the postman, he would collect the letters in the usual way. He was certain the matter had only to be mentioned in order to receive the immediate attention of the Treasury.
§ * SIR CAMERON GULL (Devonshire, Barnstaple)
said there were just two points he would like to call attention to as regarded the collection and delivery of letters in the more remote country districts. The usual custom was to take the mail for a large country area to the central town of that area, and there sort the letters and send them out to the various villages. That caused considerable delay, and the question he wanted to ask was whether the Post Office could not create several more railway sorting offices. The district he had in his mind in putting that question was one where letters were delayed sometimes two hours, and were only delivered 840 after the farmers had gone to market, and so caused a great deal of inconvenience. There was another point, as regards late letter-boxes on mail trains. This was a question to which he had previously called attention, and after agitating nine months he had succeeded in getting one late letter-box put on one short line; he was now asking for one on another line, but up to the present this had been refused, the reasons given being unintelligible. He had been told that there was nobody to look after a letter-box if placed upon the train, but he had pointed out that nobody looked after the various pillar-boxes in the country, and one would have thought that if a letter-box was padlocked on to a train it would be equally safe. Such a box in such a position would be a great boon to many districts and a great convenience to the country generally.
§ MR. HANBURY
Several questions have been put to me, and I will take them in their order. With regard to overcrowding post offices, to a great extent I agree with the hon. Member. I do not think any Government Department ought to have its buildings overcrowded or in an insanitary condition, and I shall be prepared to see the principle of inspection carried out to the extent suggested. I do not think Government buildings should be under the direct inspection of the local authorities, because, after all, local authorities would like to take every opportunity of dropping on to the Government; but there ought to be somebody appointed, perhaps by the Home Office, to inspect Government offices in order that they may conform with the Factories Act on sanitary matters. The hon. Member next referred to the question of halfpenny postcards, and said he thought they ought to be sold at their face value, and, as usual, brought forward the case of the poor man. But the poor man does not use the postcard so much as the other classes, and if we throw in the card as well as the stamp for the halfpenny, the next thing we shall be asked to do is to supply a sheet of paper and a stamped envelope for a penny. Then with regard to pillar boxes in the Highlands, it is not only the Highlands, but the Lowlands also that feel the necessity for pillar-boxes, and I think it is in the interest of the post offices to have these pillar-boxes in the road through which the mail runs, 841 and any influence that I have with the Post Office I shall be glad to use in order to increase the number of pillar-boxes. As a matter of fact, in my own parish I have been trying for years to do the same thing, though not always with success. With regard to the distribution of stamps it is, no doubt, a great hardship to the farmer to have to go two or three miles to the post office to post his letters, and I do not see why a postman should not carry stamps. It would be no great extra burden on the postman, and I think an arrangement could be made so that stamps could be purchased from him. Another point which was raised, I gathered, referred to the amount of unclaimed postal orders, etc., which, no doubt, do bring in considerable revenue. I am told these amounts are never paid into the Exchequer until they have been four or five years in arrear, and when a postal order has been so long unpaid I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer is fairly entitled to the reversion. A point was raised by my hon. friend below the gangway with regard to letterboxes on mail trains; so far as I know the Post Office has lately begun to post letters on mail trains, but the hon. Member suggests that letters should be posted on boxes attached to nearly every train. There is no objection whatever to allowing letters to be posted on those trains on which there is a man carried to sort them, but what we cannot do is to allow a box to be attached to a train which has no servant to attend to it. The answer to the contention that it would take care of itself like a pillar-box is that a pillar-box is stationary, and that a train moves, and if there was nobody on the train to sort the letters so posted, they would be carried to the terminus, and be delayed to a greater extent than if posted in the ordinary way. Another point is the posting of letters in villages. If a letter was posted in a village nine miles from the head post office at seven o'clock in the morning, and the postman passed that village at eight o'clock, he used not to be allowed to take that letter on. It was left there until the afternoon, when it was taken to the head office. That arrangement was perfectly ridiculous, and it has been altered within the last two or three months. There is one other reform which I hope will be carried out. I think a great deal might be done by posting letters on mail 842 carts. There is no reason whatever why a man who wanted to post a letter should not meet the mail cart, and the postman deal with that letter. Having dealt with all the questions before me, I may assure hon. Members that during the last few years there has been an earnest desire on the part of the Post Office to meet the public wishes. These are really small reforms, but they are no doubt reforms which would confer a great boon on people living in remote districts.
§ SIR BRAMPTON GURD0N (Norfolk, N.)
said every Member of the House would acknowledge that the halfpenny open envelope circular was an intolerable nuisance. There were many thousands of people who came down to their breakfasts with fear and trembling at the number of these documents with which they would have to deal. He was told that one gentleman on opening one of them had discovered a letter properly directed and stamped inside. Every one was grateful for all improvements, but that concession had been a step in the wrong direction.
§ MR. CALDWELL
desired to call attention to the amount charged for conveying parcels to men on active service in South Africa, which was 9d. a pound. He thought, having regard to the present circumstances and the class of men who had gone out to serve their country, it would be convenient to make a special rate for these parcels. No one would send things that were not necessary, and it was well known that soldiers' letters were conveyed at ordinary postage.
§ MR. WILLIAM MOORE (Antrim, N.)
, who was indistinctly heard, was understood to complain of the delay in the postal arrangements in his constituency; he regretted not being able to give the particulars at the moment, but great delay took place in the delivery of letters in great towns in the North of Ireland, 843 including Derry. A great deal of the delay he understood was due to the London and North-Western Railway Company, which carried the mails from London, and which was under no penalties in regard to keeping time. He urged this matter on the attention of the Post Office. He submitted that, in a case where no penalty could be imposed against the railway company, there ought to be all the more care in carrying out the contract. He was quite sure that the Financial Secretary, who understood the grievance from which the people of the North of Ireland suffered, would attend to it, and endeavour to put the matter in order.
§ SIR MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbright)
said the great difficulty in this matter was the very small subsidy allowed to the railway company for carrying the mails. But a great deal of the blame was due to the arrangements at the junction at Carlisle of the Midland and Lon-don and North-Western Railway Companies, the one company having to wait on the other. Something might be done there to save half an hour.
§ MR. HANBURY
On the subject referred to by the hon. Member for Mid Lanark, the Post Office undertook to communicate both with the War Office and the Post Offices in South Africa. Of course, we have not complete control over the colonial post, because the proceeds are divided between the Post Office at home and the Post Offices in South Africa, either the Natal or the Cape Town Post Office.
§ Resolutions to be reported.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £563,015, 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 Expenses of the Post Office Packet Service."
§ * MR. WEIR
I am extremely sorry to be again compelled to call attention to the very unsatisfactory service between Kyle of Lochalsh and Stornoway. I should 844 not be doing justice to my constituents if I did not refer to this matter. I have occasion sometimes to travel over the seventy or eighty miles of stormy sea between these places, and I do not wish to sail in a tub forty years old. It is, of course, almost impossible for a boat of that age to keep up to time. The right hon. Gentleman will tell us that she got now machinery a few years ago; but how about the ship itself? I am not an expert, but I doubt the soundness or safety of a ship forty years old. I have to ask that the right hon. Gentleman will take this matter into serious consideration, with the view of having a better-steamer provided for the conveyance of passengers and mails to and from Stornoway. If the contractor is entitled to a larger subsidy, we should provide it in order to get a safer boat.
§ MR. CALDWELL
I presume this is the same boat I travelled with from Stornoway to Strome Ferry some years ago. I remember that at that time it was considered rather a doubtful boat. I remember that the engineer of the Highland Railway awaited my arrival on the mainland. The boat was very late, and, knowing the condition of the vessel, he certainly thought the boat was at the bottom of the sea. That was the opinion in this district eleven years ago. When I crossed it was not by any moans an extra storm. If that is the boat on the service I must say it is very unfair to the people of that part of the Highlands that the vessel should receive anything like a subsidy from the Post Office. The contractors put on this service a rickety boat which in the case of any other company would have been taken off long ago. I hope the matter will be considered very seriously by the Post Office. Some years ago when the Estimates were submitted I think a complaint was made of the condition of this very boat and service, and some promise of reform was made. Obviously nothing will be done until the Post Office takes some particular step. I hope this matter will receive the best consideration of the Treasury and the Post Office.
§ MR. HAVELOCK WILSON (Middlesbrough)
It is about time we had a new boat on this route. The sum of £3,000 is paid as a subsidy for this vessel. If she has been forty years in the trade I should 845 think that the vessel has been a perfect Klondyke to the owners, and they could well afford to purchase a more modern vessel. I think £3,000 ample, because a considerable amount of revenue is derived from the passengers and cargo this boat carries. I think it is a positively unsafe thing to have a vessel like this in this trade. The hull of the vessel will be pretty well worn out, and I should not be surprised if some day a calamity befalls the vessel. In that case my hon. friend will be able to charge the Post Office with the full responsibility for the loss of life, because session after session he has called the attention of the Postmaster General to this matter. I am quite certain if the Post Office would only move in it the owner would get a new and more modern boat—one that would do justice to the passengers and increase the trade between the island and the mainland. I want to have a few words with the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the mails to the Orient. I find that the sum of £415,000 is paid annually for the mails between Asia and Australia and the United Kingdom, whereas the amount paid for the conveyance of the mails between England and America is only £241,000. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would do something with regard to the manner in which the P. and O. Company deal with their employees. It has been admitted by the President of the Board of Trade that the P. and O. Company do not comply with the Merchant Shipping Act in providing seamen with proper accommodation. I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he can do anything in the matter. I believe it is in the power of the Post Office to give the contracts out to any companies competent to no the work, and I am certain that there are many companies which could do the work equally as well as the P. and O. Company. There is the Orient Line running to New Zealand—a very good line. They pay their workmen the best wages, give the best food, and the very best accommodation. I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he could not see his way clear to give a larger part of the mail contract to the Orient Company. They employ Britishers and do well by the men. Such a company ought to be well supported by the Government. I would like to ask that the conveyance of the mails to Australia should be taken 846 away entirely from the P. and O. Company, because they will not comply with the law, sweating the workmen and pinching them of their accommodation. I say such a company has no right to have any consideration at the hands of the Government. I know that the right hon. Gentleman takes a broad view of these matters. He does not support what may be called sweating firms, and I hope he will be able to give us an answer to-night that he will be able to place the contracts with good firms and leave the sweaters on one side.
§ MR. HANBURY
The question of this boat has been raised by the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty. I believe that for years when the Post Office Estimates have been under consideration this question has been gone into, and the boat has been criticised or questions have been asked. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lanark is a bad sailor or not, or whether that remark applies to the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty. It is rather late for the hon. Member for Mid Lanark to over-estimate the dangers of a passage by this boat.
§ MR. CALDWELL
I did not complain myself of the voyage. I only stated the opinion of those who knew the locality, and who knew the boat. I was quite unconscious of danger.
§ MR. HANBURY
I am afraid the two hon. Members are in conflict with each other. I understand that the hon. Member opposite rather enjoyed the voyage. He has no objection to the boat as regards his own comfort. He was so pleased with the boat, so far as I understand, that he is unable to say anything against it. He had to call in the prophets, who thought it could not run more than a few months. I think the mere fact that it has gone on twelve years since then has shown them to be false prophets. I do not say for a moment that it is a vessel of the strictest modern type. I understand that it is some twenty-five years old, and not, as has been stated in exag- 847 geration, forty years old. During all this time it has been passing through these seas. There have been a few occasions on which this boat has been late, but there has been no loss of life or of mails during the whole twenty-five years. Occasionally no doubt the boat has been late in arriving at Stornoway, and hon. Members have put question after question on this matter. In a great number of cases the delay was due not to the boat being unable to make the passage in time, but to the late arrival of the train on the other side. After all, it is the carriage of mails which is the main object for which the subsidy is spent. If the hon. Member can assure me that he does suffer inconvenience I will represent the whole matter to the Post Office, but I understand that he repudiates with scorn the suggestion of that. I think the hon. Member has not made out his case that this service should be dispensed with, and a new one put in its place.
§ way the matter has been treated. It has: been treated too lightly. The mails may not have been lost, but what about the time? The boat has been late many times. It has never gone to the bottom yet, but it has only to go to the bottom once. We do not want to jeopardise the lives of passengers and crew, or the safety of the mails. I beg to move that the Vote be reduced £100.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed— "That Item A (Contracts for Conveyance of Mails), be reduced by £100, in respect of the service between Kyle of Lochalsh and Stornoway."—(Mr. Weir.)
§ MR. HAVELOCK WILSON
The right hon. Gentleman has not given an answer on the question of the Australian mails.
§ Question put—
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 49; Noes, 140. (Division List No. 110.)849
|Asher, Alexander||Harwood, George||Pickersgill, Edward Hare|
|Austin, Sir John (Yorkshire)||Hogan, James Francis||Roberts, John Bryn (Eifion)|
|Bolton, Thomas Dolling||Holland, William Henry||Robertson, Edmund (Dundee)|
|Broadhurst, Henry||Horniman, Frederick John||Runciman, Walter|
|Burt, Thomas||Joicey, Sir James||Samuel, J. (Stockton-on-Tees)|
|Caldwell, James||Jones, William (Carnarvonsh.)||Shaw, Chas. Edw. (Stafford)|
|Cameron, Robert (Durham)||Macaleese, Daniel||Soames, Arthur Wellesley|
|Causton, Richard Knight||MacNeill, John Gordon Swift||Steadman, William Charles|
|Channing, Francis Allston||M'Arthur, William (Cornwall||Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath)|
|Daly, James||M'Dermott, Patrick||Tanner, Charles Kearns|
|Davies, M. Vaughan-(Cardigan)||M'Ghee, Richard||Ure, Alexander|
|Dewar, Arthur||M'Laren, Charles Benjamin||Wilson, John (Durham, Mid.)|
|Dillon, John||Maddison, Fred.||Wilson, John (Govan)|
|Doogan, P. C.||Morton, E. J. C. (Devonport)|
|Fenwick, Charles||Moss, Samuel||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—Mr.Weir and Mr. Havelock Wilson.|
|Gladstone, Rt. Hn. Herbert John||O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)|
|Goddard, Daniel Ford||Pease, Joseph A. (Northumb.)|
|Grey, Sir Edward (Berwick)||Philipps, John Wynford|
|Anson, Sir William Reynell||Bonsor, Henry Cosmo Orme||Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse|
|Archdale, Edward Mervyn||Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John||Colomb, Sir John Charles Ready|
|Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John||Brunner, Sir John Tomlinson||Cook, Fred. Lucas (Lambeth)|
|Balcarres, Lord||Bullard, Sir Harry||Corbett, A. Cameron (Glasg'w)|
|Balfour, Rt. Hn. A. J. (Manch'r.)||Carlile, William Walter||Cox, Irwin E. Bainbridge|
|Balfour, Rt. Hn Gerald W (Leeds)||Cavendish, R. F. (N. Lancs.)||Curzon, Viscount|
|Banbury, Frederick George||Cavendish, V. C. W. (Derbysh.)||Denny, Colonel|
|Beach, Rt. Hn. Sir M. H. (Bristol)||Cecil, Evelyn (Hertford East)||Dickinson, Robert Edmond|
|Bethell, Commander||Cecil, Lord Hugh (Greenwich)||Digby, John K. D. Wingfield-|
|Bhownaggree, Sir M. M.||Chamberlain, J. Austen (W'rc'r)||Doughty, George|
|Blakiston-Houston, John||Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry||Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-|
|Bond, Edward||Coghill, Douglas Harry||Douglas, Charles M. (Lanark)|
|Egerton, Hon. A. de Tatton||Jackson, Rt. Hon. W. Lawies||Rasch, Major Frederic Carne|
|Faber, George Denison||Jebb, Richard Claverhouse||Richardson, J. (Durham, S. E.)|
|Fardell, Sir T. George||Jeffreys, Arthur Frederick||Ridley, Rt. Hon. Sir Matthew W.|
|Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn Edward||Jenkins, Sir John Jones||Ritchie, Rt. Hn. C. Thomson|
|Finch, George H.||Johnston, William (Belfast)||Robertson, Herbert (Hackney)|
|Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne||Johnstone, Heywood (Sussex)||Rothschild, Hon. Lionel Walter|
|Firbank, Joseph Thomas||Lawrence, Sir K. Durning-(Corn)||Russell, T. W. (Tyrone)|
|Fisher, William Hayes||Leigh-Bennett, Henry Currie||Rutherford, John|
|Fitz Wygram, General Sir F.||Lock wood, Lt.-Col. A. R.||Sandon, Viscount|
|Slower, Ernest||Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine||Sidebotham, J. W. (Cheshire)|
|Foster, Sir M. (London Univ.)||Long, Rt. Hon. W. (Liverpool)||Sidebottom, William (Derbysh.)|
|Fry, Lewis||Lonsdale, John Brownlee||Sinclair, Louis (Romford)|
|Galloway, William Johnson||Lopes, Henry Yarde Buller||Skewes-Cox, Thomas|
|Gedge, Sydney||Lowe, Francis William||Smith, Abel H. (Chrishchurch)|
|Gibbs, Hon. Vicary (St. Albans)||Lyttelton, Hon. Alfred||Smith, James P. (Lanarks.)|
|Giles, Charles Tyrrell||Macartney, W. G. Ellison||Smith, Hon. W. F. D. (Strand)|
|Gilliat, John Saunders||Maclure, Sir John William||Stanley, Edward J. (Somerset)|
|Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir John Eldon||Martin, Richard Biddulph||Stewart, Sir M. J. M'Taggart|
|Goschen, Rt. Hn. G. J. (St. George's)||Mellor, Colonel (Lancashire)||Strauss, Arthur|
|Goschen, George J. (Sussex)||Milward, Colonel Victor||Strutt, Hon. Charles Hedley|
|Goulding, Edward Alfred||Monckton, Edward Philip||Welby, Lt.-Col. A. C. E. (Taunton)|
|Graham, Henry Robert||Moore, William (Antrim, N.)||Wentworth, Bruce C. Vernon-|
|Gray, Ernest (West Ham)||Morgan, Hon. F. (Monm'thsh.)||Whitmore, Charles Algernon|
|Green, W. D. (Wednesbury)||Morley, Charles (Breconshire)||Williams, Colonel R. (Dorset)|
|Greene, Henry D.(Shrewsbury)||Morton, Arthur H. A. (Deptford)||Williams, J. Powell- (Birm.)|
|Gull, Sir Cameron||Mount, William George||Willox, Sir John Archibald|
|Gunter, Colonel||Mowbray, Sir Robert Gray C.||Wilson-Todd, Wm. H. (Yorks.)|
|Gurdon, Sir William Brampton||Murray, Rt. Hn. A. Graham (Bute)||Wodehouse, Rt. Hn. E. R. (Bath)|
|Hamilton, Rt. Hon. Lord G.||Murray, Charles J. (Coventry)||Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm|
|Hanbury, Rt. Hon. Robert W.||Nicol, Donald Ninian||Wyndham, George|
|Haslett, Sir James Horner||Parkes, Ebenezer||Yerburgh, Robert Armstrong|
|Heath, James||Phillpotts, Captain Arthur||Young, Commander (Berks, E.)|
|Helder, Augustus||Platt-Higgins, Frederick|
|Hoare, Sir Samuel (Norwich)||Plunkett, Rt. Hn. Horace Curzon||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Sir William Walrond and Mr. Anstruther.|
|Howard, Joseph||Purvis, Robert|
|Howorth, Sir Henry Hoyle||Rankin, Sir James|
Resolution agreed to.
§ Original Question again proposed.
AN HON. MEMBER
asked whether the Secretary to the Treasury was satisfied with the rapidity with which the vessels of the Castle and Union lines, which were now amalgamated, ran to the islands of St. Helena and Ascension. The hon. Gentleman's experience, having travelled by these lines on three different occasions to South Africa, was that the vessels ran well within their powers. It, therefore, seemed that if the Post Office put a little pressure on the company, a more rapid delivery of the mails could be secured. It was to the interest of the company that the vessels should run at a lower speed, because of the smaller consumption of fuel, but it was to the interest of the public that greater rapidity in the delivery of the mails should be secured.
§ SIR BRAMPTON GURDON
asked whether the Secretary to the Treasury could give the financial results of the establishment of the colonial penny postage. If the system did not pay its expenses it was not fair that the British taxpayers as a whole should have to pay 850 what was really a tax for the benefit of colonial business correspondence.
§ MR. WOLFF (Belfast, E.)
asked the Secretary to the Treasury, as representing the Postmaster General, whether anything had been done in the direction of obtaining a more rapid delivery of mails between the North of England and the North of Ireland, and whether, considering the immense amount of correspondence and parcels from the North of England, something could not be done to secure a more regular delivery than had hitherto been enjoyed.
§ MR. HAVELOCK WILSON
With regard to the suggestion that the speed of the boats between this country and Africa should be increased, it must be borne in mind that if that is done more coal will be consumed, and consequently there will be harder work for the men. I trust if anything is done in that direction the right hon. Gentleman will see that there is a larger number of men employed to do the work. I hope also that the right hon. Gentleman will make some 851 answer with regard to the P. and O. contract for carrying mails.
§ MR. HANBURY
I do not know that my hon. friend the Member for East Belfast complains of the mail service as a whole, because he knows that the service to Belfast has recently been accelerated. As I understand, he complains of the service which connects the North of Ireland with the North of England and the South of Scotland. I know that representations were recently made by the Post Office, and I will make inquiries about the matter. With regard to the question of the possibility of greater speed on the vessels of the Castle line, it is a new point to me, and I will find out what the pace of the vessels is. Then the hon. Member below the gangway has spoken with regard to the P. and O. Company's contract. We have a contract with the Company, and by that contract we must abide. I do not know that we are concerned as to whether they carry lascars or not. The company have got to obey the law whatever the law may be. The hon. Member says that, under the law, whatever it is, the lascar is entitled to exactly the same accommodation on board the boats as the English seaman is, and he goes further and says that the President of the Board of Trade agrees with him in that respect. If that be so, I do not quite understand how it is a vessel can go on carrying lascars with less space than is allowed to English seamen. I think the hon. Gentleman must have made some mistake in his law, and that it is not exactly as he represents. I am bound to say that, apart from any question of the law, my sympathies are not entirely with the hon. Gentleman, because I cannot help having the feeling that the hon. Gentleman by the use of the law is rather trying to drive out the lascars, and I do not quite see why these men, who are British subjects like ourselves, should be driven out of British vessels. It appears to me that the hon. Gentleman, under the plea of breaking of the law, is trying to make it impossible for these lascars to be employed in the P. and O. Company's steamers. But that is not my matter. We have a contract with the P. and O. Company with some years to run, and as long as they do not break the law we have no right to interfere with them.
§ MR. HAVELOCK WILSON
The right hon. Gentleman has entirely misunderstood the point I wish to make. I was not urging in any way that the lascars should not be employed on the boats. I have never done that. What I have said is this—that the law says that seamen employed on British ships shall have 72 cubic feet of space. That is what the law says. I do not care whether he is a lascar or a Britisher, he has a right to that 72 feet of space.
§ MR. HAVELOCK WILSON
If no one objects to it I want to know why the men do not have it. I say that the President of the Board of Trade has admitted in this House more than once that the P. and O. Company are not complying with the law; they are breaking the law, and there is a penalty of £25 for every offence they commit. I have urged the President of the Board of Trade to put the law into force. He has not done so, and he will not do so—I do not know for what reason—so now I come to the Post Office. They have a right to make contracts. The right hon. Gentleman says that these contracts having been made for a number of years we have got to abide by them. I say in answer to that that there is a resolution passed in this House in 1891, which says that in all Government contracts there shall be a clause to say that the contractors must give fair conditions to their employees. I say that if the P. and O. Company are not providing proper accommodation for their lascar seamen, they are not doing fairly by the men. The right hon. Gentleman says that I want to use this as a side issue upon which to drive the lascars out of the employ of the P. and O. Company. I do not want to do anything of the kind. I say that in our interest, in the interest of the people of this country, it is necessary that every man who is employed on board ship shall have the proper accommodation to which he is entitled by law. I have observed for some time past a considerable number of cases of outbreak of cholera on board ships. These are entirely due to the fact that the men do not get proper accommodation. I say that that is a very serious matter when those vessels are coming into English ports. We may have an outbreak of 853 cholera in London shortly in consequence of the manner in which this large and wealthy company treat the lascar seamen. They are getting close upon half a million of money a year out of the pockets of the taxpayers of this country, and I say it is a scandal and a disgrace to the P. and O. Company that they should carry on in this way. The right hon. Gentleman says it is not helping the British seamen. I want to show why it will help the British seamen. We have been contending that we should have increased accommodation for British seamen. If we were to succeed in doing that, while lascars were allowed to be given less accommodation, it would encourage other shipowners to go in for lascars, and by-and-by there would be no British seamen employed on British ships at all, so that this is a matter of considerable importance to British seamen and to the community at large. I fail to understand why this attitude should be taken up by a Conservative Government, who say that the natives of India are our fellow - countrymen, and ought to have equal rights with Britishers. I say, if that is so, give them equal laws or an equal application of the law. There is no reason why they should be robbed of what they are entitled to have simply because they are poor unfortunate natives.
§ MR. MADDISON (Sheffield, Brightside)
I am very sorry the right hon. Gentleman has given such a very unsympathetic reply upon this point. I was a little surprised at the cheers which came from the other side when the employment of lascar seamen was mentioned. It must be a very interesting thing to the working men of this country to know how very anxious Members opposite are that lascar seamen should be employed on these vessels. For my part, I do not agree with my hon. friend if his intention is to exclude lascars because they are lascars. We have recently had a decision of the Law Officers of the Crown upon this question of the lascars, but for some reason the President of the Board of Trade was advised not to prosecute the P. and O. Company. Surely when the right hon. Gentleman says he does not wish British subjects, because they are lascars, to be excluded from these vessels, he must see that that must carry with it the requirement that these British sub- 854 jects should have equal space allowed them, as in the case of all other British subjects. I am astounded that while hon. Members opposite spent a great part of their electioneering time in advocating measures for the exclusion of aliens, a course which they said was for the benefit of English working men, my hon. friend can get no remedy from the Board of Trade or sympathy from the Post Office in regard to this matter. One thing that is clear is that there is a deliberate intention, design, and purpose of encouraging wherever possible these shipping companies which give employment to lascar seamen to the exclusion of British seamen. While I quite understand that the right hon. Gentleman could not all at once revoke this contract, yet if he had had any sympathy with the very fair contention raised by my hon. friend he would have given a very different reply. The real truth is that the present Government, while professing to help British workmen, and while getting votes by the thousand on the cry of "England for the English," have done their level best, and very successfully, to make England just not for the English. I regret very much that the right hon. Gentleman did not hold out the slightest hope that he would make any inquiry into this matter. The P. and O. Company have such influence with Her Majesty's Government that, no matter what the demand may be, and no matter from which quarter it comes, there is always one reply, and that is a defence of the company at any cost. I know nothing about the Orient Line, but at any rate the Government is not dependent upon the P. and O. Company. It is an incontrovertible fact that the P. and O. Company stand amongst the worst employers of seamen, and yet it is to that Company that the Government give all the support they possibly can.
CAPTAIN PHILLPOTTS (Devonshire, Torquay)
I may claim to have had some experience of British merchant seamen, and also of lascars. As regards the British merchant seamen I will say that there is no class to equal them as long as they are kept clear of the paid agitator.
Of course I bow to your ruling, Sir. I merely wished to say that lascars are substitutes on board the mail steamers only because they are less subject to the influences of these agitators.
§ * MR. JOHN WILSON (Durham, Mid)
I am neither a seaman nor a director of the P. and O. Company, but I am a paid agitator, and I feel honoured in being one. The question before the Committee, however, is not that of the paid agitator, or of the British seamen, or of the lascars; it is the question of carrying out the law of the country. It has been made clear that the President of the Board of Trade and the representative of the sailors are agreed that the P. and O. Company are not carrying out the law of the land. Seeing that the company receives subsidies to the amount of nearly half a million sterling per annum, would it not be competent, if the company are breaking the law, for the Government to say, "You must either carry out the law or else lose the subsidies?" I am a trade union secretary, but I have never tried to induce a man to break the law, and if any employers of labour wish this company to continue doing so let them stand up boldly and say so. I ask the Government not to pay a company to carry out bad conditions. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough has not asked that lascars should not be employed. This company can employ any man, black or white, but a British ship being British territory the British law must be carried out. Would it not be as well if, when these questions between labour and capital, between employers and employed, are being discussed, the terms "paid agitator" and "the tyranny of the masters" were left out of account altogether, and the questions discussed on their merits? I do not think a more reasonable demand than that of the hon. Gentleman behind me has ever been put forward in this House. If he is wrong, he is wrong; if he is right, the Government ought to see that this company do not get money for breaking the law of the land.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
As I gather from the observations of my hon. friend, what happens is this —On the boats of this particular company preference is given to lascar sailors and firemen instead of British sailors and firemen. The hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite thinks that is a desirable state of things, and the reason he thinks it is desirable is that lascar seamen and firemen are less amenable to the influences of the paid agitators than the British sailor. I will put the matter in rather plainer English. What the hon. and gallant Gentleman really means to say is that lascar seamen and firemen are employed because, owing to many circumstances, lascar seamen and firemen are satisfied with a great deal less wage and less comfort than British sailors and firemen. The lascar sailor is satisfied with 26s. a month, but the British sailor requires £4 10s. a month. I can understand the owner of a steamship and the chairman of a great company like the P. and O. preferring lascars to British sailors, but I cannot understand a British sailor and a patriot like the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite proclaiming that it is better on the whole for the country that the British sailor should be deprived of his employment with the connivance and patronage of Her Majesty's Government because lascar labour is cheaper. Why should a company which is largely subsidised and kept in existence by the revenues and taxes of this country be allowed to exclude a British sailor, who costs £4 10s. a month, in order to employ a lascar because he only wants 26s. a month? I cannot understand the hon. and gallant Gentleman supporting this idea unless he belongs to those cosmopolitan employers of labour who think they should under all circumstances employ the cheapest labour obtainable. But is there not a much larger question to be considered in this matter than the particular wage paid by a particular company? The maritime population is one of the great sources of the strength of this country, and in cases of emergency and national danger it is to this population that the country will have to look for its defence. I ask the Secretary of the Treasury, is it right that the encouragement and assistance of the Government should be given to exclude 857 the British sailor, upon whom you have to rely in the end, from one of the great shipping companies of this country, which is now being done with the connivance of Her Majesty's Government? The Government cannot get rid of responsibility in this matter. I have nothing to say against the company in its other capacities, but the P. and O. Company would not be able to carry on its business if it had not the support of the Government, and I think that support ought to be given only upon terms which are of advantage to the nation at large. I ask, is it to the advantage of the country at large that lascar sailors should be allowed to be employed upon terms and conditions which exclude British sailors? My hon. friend the Member for Middlesbrough has asked many questions upon this subject, and perhaps I have not given sufficient attention to the answers which the President of the Board of Trade has given. Therefore I accept what my hon. friend has stated upon this subject, and I understand him to say that one of the reasons why lascars are employed is that the P. and O. Company are able to violate the law with regard to lascars, which they could not do if they employed British seamen. I see the President of the Board of Trade in his place, and I should like him to give me his attention. The question we are discussing is the employment of lascar sailors, and my hon. friend has made the statement that the President of the Board of Trade has acknowledged that the P. and O. Company have violated the law with regard to the amount of accommodation to be given on board their vessels. I ask the Committee to carefully consider this question. Here we have a company violating the law with regard to the accommodation given to sailors, and violating it because a particular class of sailors are cheaper than another class of sailors, and the class of sailors favoured are lascars, and those injured by the law not being obeyed are men of our own kith and kin. This is a patriotic Government, and I should have thought they would look with some concern upon the exclusion by one of the great shipping companies of this country of that great resource and final body to which in an emergency you have to look, namely, the native-bred sailors of this land. The Secretary of the Treasury says he is bound to fulfil 858 his contracts, but the P. and O. Company are bound to observe the law, and therefore the violation of the law should mean the abrogation of the contract by the Government.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
Does the right hon. Gentleman mean to say that if he made a contract, and the contractor turned out to be fraudulent and guilty of illegalities, that he could not put an end to such contract?
§ SIR M. HICKS BEACH
We have made a contract with the P. and O. Company upon certain terms, and there are provisions in that contract which are binding on both sides. As long as the company fulfil the terms of that contract we are bound to pay them what we have undertaken. The question which the hon. Gentleman has been discussing as to whether they violate the law in their treatment of lascar seamen has nothing to do with this point. The hon. Member may be right or he may be wrong, but even if he is right in assuming that they do break the law, that would not justify the Government in abrogating the contract.
* THE CHAIRMAN
Order, order! If I allow the hon. Member for Dundee to intervene in the middle of a speech, I shall be obliged to allow other Members to do the same.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
I shall be quite willing to give way to anyone who wishes to elucidate this matter. The point we are now discussing is a very serious question, and I hope hon. Gentlemen do not think I am speaking from a party point of view, because I am not. I will not argue with the right hon. Gentleman, but I will take the question 859 apart from the ground of technicality and legality. Is the Government entitled to abrogate its rights of prosecuting a company for a violation of the law? [Ministerial laughter.] I do not understand the laughter of hon. Gentlemen opposite. Is the Government entitled to suspend the operation of the law with regard to a company which is violating the law in reference to the accommodation it provides for sailors, and at the same time to continue giving to that company its life-blood in the shape of its patronage by this contract for the supply of mails? That is the question we have to consider. I do not think hon. Members opposite would laugh if they were addressing their constituencies upon the cry of foreign as against British labour. Here is this Government, consisting of true-born British statesmen, actually bribing and subsidising a company which is violating the law, the result of which is to give lascar labour a tremendous advantage over those poor unfortunate men who have the disadvantage of having been born Englishmen, Irishmen, and perhaps some of them are Welshmen. These men have had the misfortune to have been born in this island, and because of that, and the fact that they have the manhood to assert their rights of demanding good wages and proper accommodation, they are excluded from the service of this great company, which gets an enormous subsidy from this great and patriotic Government. I seem to have excited the wrath of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and more especially the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Torquay, who thinks that a lascar sailor should be employed because he does not utilise the services of the paid agitator, and is satisfied with 26s. a month, when the unfortunate Briton, with the assistance of the paid agitator, demands £4 10s. a month. I would like to hear from the President of the Board of Trade some defence of his suspension of activity against this great company, which is violating the law for the protection of the lives of sailors. I understand also that these lascars, when emergencies arise, are not the best class of sailors, and that when you are face to face with a fire or a storm, these lascars are, after all, a very poor protection for the lives of the persons on board these vessels. Perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman will 860 enlighten us upon this question, as well as upon the subject of paid agitators.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
A few minutes ago when I was called to order I had no intention of intervening in this debate, but I simply rose to put a question to elucidate the real meaning of the reply given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He told us what were the conditions under which the Government contracted with the shipping company. I understood him to say that so long as certain conditions were observed the fact that the company failed to obey the law of the land would be no justification for the Government deciding to put an end to the contract. I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether that is a considered statement. I wish to know whether this is the state of things existing, that among the conditions which he makes with the shipping company there is not the implied condition that the shipping company shall obey the law of the land. If that is not the case, I should like to know whether he makes his statement upon the authority of the Law Officers of the Crown, who, I presume, must be consulted upon the question; and I wish to know, if it really is the case that this contract is such that it is not necessary that the law of the land should lie obeyed, why is it that the Government do not put this condition in among the other conditions of the contract? These are all questions the importance of which is increased by the experience we have had in this and preceding sessions of Parliament. We have never been allowed to have the information we desire upon this matter. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has intervened to tell us what, in his opinion, the conditions of the con-tract are. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will supplement his answer with a further statement.
§ SIR M. HICKS BEACH
Whether the P. and O. Company have broken the law in regard to their treatment of lascar seamen is a matter upon which I express no opinion. That has nothing to do with the terms of the contract for the conveyance of mails, which we are bound to fulfil. I am convinced that no court of 861 law would justify us in refusing to pay; for certain services so long as those services have been duly rendered.
§ MR. WILLIAM M'ARTHUR (Cornwall, St. Austell)
I wish to say one word on behalf of the unhappy lascar seamen. I do not prefer the lascar to the British sailor, hut I do desire to point out that, the lascar is just as much a British subject and entitled to the protection of the British law as the British sailor is. For that reason I feel a considerable amount of sympathy with the speech of my hon. friend behind me. I have no sympathy with the argument of one hon. Member, who spoke in a direction which tended to the exclusion of lascars altogether from British ships. I have a great deal of sympathy with the arguments of hon. Members who are not arguing for the purpose of excluding the lascar, but who argue that the lascar has just as much right to have the law maintained in his favour as the British sailor. If the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of the Treasury will forgive me, I wish to say that I think he has treated this matter a little cavalierly. A very serious statement was made by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, and it was that the law was broken as against the lascars by one of our great steamship companies. I am bound to say myself, knowing what I do about the companies, that I very much doubt whether that statement is correct. But it is a statement made by a Member of this House, and it deserves more serious treatment than that which it has received to-night. When we are dealing with the case of an alleged unfair treatment of those who are the subjects of the British Crown, and who are entitled to all the protection of the British law, it should not be allowed to go forth that this House is unmindful of the welfare of those subject races, or that it affords them less protection than any other subjects of our own blood. The point I am trying to make is that I do hope the two right hon. Gentlemen opposite will make a detailed and serious inquiry into this charge which has been made, without for one moment lending themselves to the agitation in favour of 862 the exclusion of native seamen as against British seamen, for the native seaman is a British citizen, and has just as much right to be employed as the native-born Englishman.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. RITCHIE,) Croydon
With regard to the question of the hon. Member who has just sat down, I may say that the Law Officers of the Crown have been consulted with regard to this matter, and their advice is that the English Merchant Shipping Act applies to the P. and O. Company's steamers. They also say that while it is perfectly competent for the Board of Trade or anyone else to prosecute, the Board of Trade, before prosecuting, ought to take into consideration the whole circumstances of the case, which are very shortly these. There are two Acts of Parliament, and one of them is the Indian Act. It was, for a long time doubtful whether it was under the provisions of the Indian Act that the matter ought to be dealt with. There are two modes by which a company transgressing the law can be penalised. One is by the disallowance of crew space in calculating gross tonnage, and the other is by prosecution. As hon. Gentlemen who are familiar with this subject know, the space occupied by the crews in ships is deducted from the gross tonnage for the purpose of the payment of all dues, but that reduction is not made unless the Board of Trade are satisfied that the amount of space provided by the law is given to the seamen on board. We have always, for a long time past, put in force the law in regard to the disallowance of crew space, so that the P. and O. Company, or any other company which does not allow space similar to that which ought to be allowed to British seamen, does not get this allowance, and therefore has to pay excess on tonnage wherever their vessels go. So far as that goes, the P. and O. steamers are penalised. It is only in some of their steamers that they do not give the proper space, for in many of their steamers ample space is given, although in some it is not 863 given, and the allegation is that if they are compelled to give the legal amount of space which is laid down in the Act for British seamen, it means that lascars cannot be employed at all. That is exactly what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Middlesbrough desires.
§ MR. RITCHIE
The hon. Member has acknowledged that it was so, but I do not wish to pursue this point. Lascars are British subjects, quite as much as the hon. Gentleman himself, and we have received no petition from the lascars, asking for this law to be put in force. If the P. and O. Company are compelled to provide this space it will mean the exclusion of the lascars from this employment, which, I think, would be a very great misfortune. We have been advised by the Law Officers of the Crown that we have a right to take all the circumstances of the case into consideration before prosecuting.
§ It being Midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Resolutions to be reported upon Monday next; Committee also report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.