§ 1. Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £2,411,250 be granted to His 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, 1903, for the Salaries and Working Expenses of the Post Office Telegraph Service."
§ *(4.15.) CAPTAIN NORTON (Newington, W.)
said the matter to which he wished to draw attention in connection with this Vote would, he thought, appeal to the Members of the House, because it dealt with the efficiency of a certain important branch of the Civil Service, inasmuch as it dealt with the state of contentment of the employees in that branch of the service. He must appeal to the House to give 661 him a fair hearing in connection with this matter, because it had never been his practice to appeal to the Committee with reference to imaginary complaints, and this was one which was real, substantial, and permanent. The case briefly was this, that the Government had been guilty of a distinct breach of faith in connection with a certain number of worthy Government officials. He knew that to make this statement of breach of faith was what must be called a strong order, but he was prepared to prove that he was not exaggerating in the smallest degree. He would point out in the first place that he referred to the class of Government officials known as postal telegraphists, and he might incidentally point out that this was a service which had grown, as the expression was, by leaps and bounds, and that since 1870 telegraphy had increased tenfold, the numbers of the instruments in use had increased sevenfold, and the speed had increased fivefold. Higher skill, intelligence, and education were required from the employees, and in addition to that they had to possess a certain amount of technical education not required before, inasmuch as this technical work was done formerly through the Engineer's Department of the Post Office, and as a proof of this he would refer to what Sir William Preece said in 1895. He stated that these employees in the higher class should also comprehend the nature of faults that occurred in the apparatus, to evince an ability to remove those faults and generally to secure the maintenance of the apparatus. Therefore a higher standard of technical skill was required from them. They were subjected to a greater strain and there was an increased mass of work. It was said that their position was a good one compared with those who did similar work out of doors. That he entirely denied. For example, the Eastern Telegraph Company paid their head operators up to £204. In Germany those who did the same class of work could reach £162, and in Holland they could reach £183 at the age of forty years. In both those countries the cost of living was considerably less than it was in this country. What was the history of the way in which these gentlemen had been dealt with? When they presented themselves for examination, a paper was 662 placed in their hands and certain prospects were held out to them by that paper, which was issued by the Civil Service Commissioners; This was what was stated in the paper—The Civil Service Commissioners are authorised by the Postmaster General to append the following notice"—Then an enumeration took place of certain conditions they had to fulfil and the following paragraph occurred—After a year at 16s. a week to advance to £45 a year rising by £5 a year to £100, with a prospect of obtaining £190.These men entered service on the distinct understanding that they could reach £190 salary. But owing to a classification which it had suited the Government to make, a certain number, some 200, of the present men were placed in this position, that they could not, humanly speaking, attain to that £190. This was how it occurred. The Government, finding their business developing, found it also convenient at the same time to ask the senior telegraphists to take a certain share of what were known as supervising duties, and in order that they might successfully carry out these duties they there and then instituted a technical examination. Many of the men objected to the examination because they were placed in a position which prevented them from having the necessary practice to fulfil those conditions, and as a result of that the Government had to go back upon their order, and in 1897 they had to do away with that practice. But they did not do away with that particular class of supervision. They continued it, and by means of this classification they had made it impossible to fulfil conditions laid down in the paper presented to those men. Formerly they were able to reach this position after from twenty-one to twenty-three years service. Lord Londonderry, on 25th April, 1901, made this statement. He said that the conditions under which promotion to the senior class is now obtained are precisely the same as they always have been, namely, good conduct and competence to perform superior duties. Sir H. Fisher, who was the controller of the Central Telegraph Department made this statement. He said ordinary manipulative ability, combined with regular attendance and good 663 conduct were considered sufficient qualifications for promotion to the senior I classes. Therefore, it was perfectly clear from the statements of the postal authorities themselves that, provided a man fulfilled these conditions—it said nothing whatever about supervising duties—as an efficient operator he was to be allowed to rise to the maximum scale of £190. At the present moment it was absolutely impossible for them to do so.
It was quite likely that the hon. Gentleman who was about to reply to him would endeavour to get through the meshes of the net by means which were not uncommon to the Front Bench. He would endeavour to prove that this did not apply altogether to operators, but to those men—those arbitrary classes—which the Government set forth, namely, these supervisors, but up to a few years ago these very Estimates with which they were now dealing continued under the head of the central telegraph office, a section headed "General Body" and under that "senior first class and second class telegraphists." No mention was made of supervisors. Had they intended to include supervisors they would not have stopped at the sum of £190. He would put another Question to the hon. Gentleman. If £160, which was the maximum sum stated, according to present intentions held good now, he presumed that the hon. Gentleman would not deny that it held good that every man entering the service now as an operator could rise to £160, and it held good equally with reference to the £190 in the past. If the present promise was binding, them the previous promise was undoubtedly binding. Moreover, there were only some 200 Gentlemen now to be dealt with. This injustice, for it was nothing less, this breach of faith having been in operation for some years the result had been that a large number of men were now out of the service, and had been unfairly treated. But some 200 still remained, and the least the Government could do was to show justice to these 200 men.
Now he came to the question whether it was unfair or unreasonable to demand that they should be paid on this scale. He might put aside for a moment the question of the breach of 664 faith, because he thought it could not by any possibility be denied. When this class was formed in 1881, and when the maximum was fixed at £190 this was what Mr. Fawcett said in his letter to the Treasury of 13th January, 1881—The rates of pay which I propose are not more than sufficient to afford just and reasonable remuneration to those, on whose efficiency and contented service so much of the interest and convenience of the community depend.Then he went on to say—The first scale will he paid where duties of the first quality have to be performed.Had he been speaking of supervising duties in connection with the £190, he would have had to speak of duties of the lowest scale, because the lowest supervisor was paid at a higher rate than those to which he refers, which again went to prove the truth of his contention with reference to the sharp practice on the part of the Government. Now he asked this—Was there a single instance in any other Government Department of the Civil Service where regulations issued by the Civil Service were not the regulations which really governed promotion and the conditions of service. He thought hon. Gentlemen would admit that that was so. Then it seemed to him that a gross injustice had been done with reference to this particular class. A deputation had gone to the Postmaster General some time ago, and the Committee would be surprised when he told them that one of the officials made this statement. He said to the subordinate official he was cross questioning—Suppose we had an epidemic of influenza in London next winter, and a large number of these men who had got into the higher class died oil", would you not then attain perhaps to this position?Well, that was trifling with the question. There was no human possibility of these men attaining that position which they were allowed to believe they would attain under the conditions which he had laid down and which he would not repeat. It was painful to him to bring these things forward, because it was despicable on the part of the Government, which ought to be a model employer, to deal in this way with their officials, more especially with men of such a subordinate position. He had a letter from Lord Londonderry 665 dated 25th April, 1887, signed by Mr. Murray, which referred to the advantages of the Government servants—pensions, holidays, medical attendance and so forth. Upon every occasion when he brought the grievances of Government employees before the Committee this wretched absurdity was trotted out. He had repeatedly told the hon. Gentleman that all these advantages which the Government claimed for their employees could be obtained for the sum of 6d. a week from any ordinary friendly society.
He did not desire for a moment to take an unfair advantage of, or to make any absurd demands upon, the hon. Gentleman. He did not suggest that all the machinery of the Post Office should be upset again, though the Post Office had been guilty of a breach of faith as regards these people. In the case of those who were entering the maximum might be left at a £160 instead of £190, although he thought it was not prudent to differentiate between men doing the same kind of work. But at any rate let the Government have the honesty to acknowledge that they had made a mistake, and let them do justice to those who had been dragged into the service of the Crown under unfair conditions. Let the men remain as operators, but at any rate give them the increase of pay which they were promised. He asked that they should get the same rate of pay as their predecessors had before this rule, made to suit the Post Office, was brought into operation. He begged to move as an Amendment to reduce the Vote by £100.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed "That Item A (Maintenance of the Postal Telegraph System) be reduced by £100."—(Captain Norton.)
§ *(4.34.) MR. HAY (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
said he had listened with interest to the remarks which had fallen from the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite, who had entered into the details so minutely as to make it unnecessary for him to go into them again. This was not a matter of Party polities which affected the Ministry of the day, but one in which each Government, drawn 666 from either side of the House, had been equally to blame. The Committee should regard this as a matter of Departmental administration, upon which it might give its decision. The point which the hon. and gallant Member made so clear was that certain members of the Central Telegraphic Staff joined the public service under express conditions, conditions which entitled them, after honourable and long service, to a maximum of £190 per annum, whereas they found by the operation of this regulation they had been jockeyed out of their £190 and had to remain content with £160. The question was not one which affected a limited number of the service, because there were something like 3,000 male operators on the staff of the Central Telegraph Office.
The regulation to which exception had been taken was a regulation made with regard to about 170 of those men who attained the maximum of £190. Apart from the actual justice of the case, so far as the regulation was concerned, very much graver questions were raised. There was the fact that men who had joined in times past, and who had looked forward to this £190, were now confronted with the increased cost of living. Living in London had become considerably more expensive in recent years. In support of that statement he would like to mention one or two facts. The rental payable for dwellings such as those occupied by the Civil Service Clerk, such as telegraphists, in the Croydon district was 12s. per week. After making allowance for the railway ticket, the annual cost came out at £42 9s. in 1892; since then it had increased to £49 19s. In the West Brompton district it had increased from £46 in 1895 to £60 10s. in 1902. In all districts the increase had been equally marked. Of course, the point generally argued by all gentlemen in the position of his hon. friend was that finality had been reached in this matter by the findings of the Tweedmouth Committee. But the findings of that Committee were revised within six months at a conference between Members of Parliament, the Postmaster General, and the representatives of the men. He submitted that the case of these men was a fair one on which to demand that 667 justice might be done. The only thing which he would ask the Committee to bear in mind was that it was no argument, to say that because there were a large number of candidates for the position these men held the State, or the Government should pay the lowest wages. The State should be a model employer, and should not, by the higgling of the market, become the prime sweater of the country. Hecould not emphasise that, point more strongly than by saying that while all around these men the standard of wages had risen for every kind of labour during recent years, theirs had remained stationary. Their wages did not rise in ratio to the cost of their living; but, on the contrary, they found they had been done out of something like.£30 of the probable maximum they would obtain after an active and useful career. After all, the State aimed at securing for its service only the best, and those who devoted themselves to this particular work, instead of finding the best career in the public service, found that the Telegraphic Department of the Post Office was only useful as a recruiting ground from which the great cable companies recruited their staffs. That had come about simply because the great Cable Companies insisted upon the highest efficiency and paid for it, and they gave greater attractions to these men, who might otherwise have had a useful career in the Post Office to the public advantage. By a higher rate of pay and also a pension, the companies rendered their service infinitely more attractive than that of the Post Office.
So far as he was personally concerned, he had certainly made no special election pledges to the Post Office Telegraphic officials in his constituency, but he had lived in close contact with these men and knew their legitimate grievances, and he believed that their demands did not always get the kindly and sympathetic attention of this House which they deserved. The hon. Member below him had his fullest sympathy when he was confronted day after day with typewritten answers to questions put by him to his hon. friend, who, however sympathetic he might be, had not the slightest possible power to alter these things. The power he 668 exercised in this matter was to maintain simply that which was told to him as the official view of the Postmaster General. He hoped, nevertheless, that his hon. friend would realise that the views of the Postmaster General were not the only views which existed in the Department, but that there was intense feeling, not on the part of one discontented person but on the part of those who had given their best energies to the study of the subject. The object which the Committee had in view was to remedy what might be considered the legitimate grievances of a large body of public servants who did their best for the public and who ought to be encouraged, so that instead of there being this continuous state of discontent pervading the officers of the State, there should be a spirit of content and a desire on the part of these men to do their best.
§ *(4.48.) SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
said that these matters had been debated at length on previous occasions, but unfortunately grievances were not redressed by long speeches or by lapse of time, or, indeed, not redressed at all. For a long time past there had been a very strong and general feeling in the service that many of the men had been the victims of something amounting almost to an imposition, however unintentional, on the part of a public Department. Strong terms had been used in the course of the debate, but he should endeavour to deal with the matter on the basis of what he believed to have been a contract between these employees and the Post Office Department. It was not difficult to show that that implied—or he might even say express—contract had induced many to enter the service, only to find that the contract was afterwards departed from by one of the contracting parties, viz., the State. The inducement to a large number of young men to enter the service was the wording of an official note, and the note was the basis of the contract. These young men were to go through a very long period of service, with, at any rate in the earlier stages, very inadequate remuneration, accepted in the belief that it would 669 become more substantial as they advanced in life, and all the time with the cost of living increasing. According to the words put before them by the Post Office through the Civil Service Commissioners before they entered their examination the contract was—with the prospect of proceeding to £190 a year.The question of non-promotion was not the question at all. There might be times when promotion was difficult, owing to lack of vacancies. But these gentlemen were entitled to say that there should be a continuance of substantially the same right of access to positions which would give them £190 as existed at the time the inducement was held out. Many obstacles had been put in the way of the fulfilment of that promise. In the first place, a technical examination was imposed, and that formed a barrier to the employees entering the class which received £190. Unless he was mistaken, that examination was withdrawn, a proof that the Department felt at that time they were interposing an unfair obstacle, and to that extent the grievance was remedied. The class of supervisors in itself was an obstacle, and so long as the condition at present existing continued, the feeling of injustice would remain. There was also the fact that promotion was less attainable now than at the time the regulations were made. That stoppage in the flow of promotion he believed to be due to the interposition of new barriers since the making of the contract. It was an element in the discussion of the subject that the original terms of inducement had been withdrawn. Why? Because it was felt that they offered an undue inducement which could not be fulfilled. If he was correct in his recollection, new terms were substituted. That, again, was a confession that the terms originally proposed were undue inducements and misleading. Then there was the fact that the officers of the Department, in their evidence before the Tweedmouth Commissioners, undoubtedly expressed sympathy, and, what was more important, a sense of injustice—at any rate, one, Sir Henry Fisher, did. If the complaint on grounds of contract was well founded, as he believed it to be, it was the interest of 670 the State to endeavour to remove the grievance. If the Department had any doubt as to whether they were doing that which would conduce to the contentment, and therefore the efficiency, of the service, their plain duty was, even at some cost and inconvenience, to remove the grievance which existed, or at any rate to grant to those subjected to it an independent Committee to examine into the matter. At present grievances existed, and by his vote and voice he should certainly do his best to remove them, both in the Telegraphic and; Postal Departments, and if there was any doubt as to the grievances then an independent Committee ought to be appointed to examine the £190 rate, and as to civil rights of the Services and all other open sores.
MR. DAVID MACIVEE (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
was understood to say he had been approached by the telegraphists in his Division. They came before him, both at the time of the election and since, and told him their story. He thought it a reasonable one, and promised to do what he could to help them. In pursuance of that promise, he desired to support the appeal which had been made. He was a little sorry that the hon. Member who opened the debate appeared to refer to the Post Office as a political Department. The Department knew no polities, and was independent of Government. As a matter of fact, the Tweedmouth Com mission, with regard to which so much dissatisfaction was felt, was appointed by a Liberal Government.
§ CAPTAIN NORTON
pointed out that the grievance was of long standing before the Tweedmouth Commission was appointed. That Commission attempted to remove it to some extent, and did, in fact, abolish the technical examination.
§ MR. DAVID MACIVER
quoted from a statement issued by the Postal Telegraph Clerks' Association, to show that they protested against the composition of the Tweedmouth Commission even before it commenced its inquiry. He hoped the Financial Secretary to the Treasury would meet the views which were largely held by the people of Liverpool, and 671 grant to those dissatisfied civil servants an inquiry such as they desired. They simply asked for an impartial inquiry. It was not for him to say anything more, except that he sympathised with the case which had been put before the House. He thought there was a great deal to be said from the telegraphists' view. The cost of the necessaries of life had increased considerably since the subject was last considered, and the time might fairly be said to have arrived when the matter should be again inquired into.
(5.0.) THE FINANCIAL SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN,) Worcestershire, E.
I always listen with great regret to any hon. Member who thinks it his duty to charge a Government Department with breach of faith. No charge can be more serious than that, and there is no charge which a Government Department would less desire to deserve, or even to be suspected of deserving. I, therefore, cannot accept the views of the hon. and gallant Member, and I shall base my refusal upon a direct denial of the charge that there has been any breach of faith. If I thought for a moment there had been such a breach, I should not be here to defend the Department, nor would my noble friend the Postmaster General ask me to do so. I think the Committee should have brought to its notice the exact extent of the grievance brought forward by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, and, assuming it to be well-founded, the number of people whom it affects. As the discussion has gone on, hon. Members must have been led to suppose that it was a grievance affecting a very large class.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
I did not say the debate was so initiated, but that as it went on one might have gained that impression. As the hon. and gallant Member is aware, that is not the case. The case he has put before the Committee is that of certain male telegraphists at the Central Telegraph Office in London. It is not even the case of all the male telegraphists at that office. What is it about which hon. Members 672 have complained? That in a description of the terms offered to intending candidates there was a statement that, after reaching a certain maximum, they would have a prospect of proceeding to £190 a year. It is upon that phrase that the charge of breach of faith is based. That phrase was in use only for a certain time.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
Between 1881 and 1890. The hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite, and the hon. Member for Hoxton, have both spoken as if in the course of those years no improvement had been made in the position of these telegraphists. I am certain they could not have intended to convey anything of the kind. Anyone familiar with the history of the question would know that repeatedly, since the earlier date I have named, better pay and conditions have been granted to these men. It was on the occasion of one of these improvements in pay under the Raikes scheme in 1890 that the circular in question had to be withdrawn, and the words have not since been used.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
(after quoting the scales and remuneration under the schemes which came into operation in 1881 and 1890 respectively, continued): Those men who joined the service between 1881 and 1890 were the only persons who, in any case, could complain of a breach of faith. It could, therefore, only be in regard to those men that under any circumstances this alleged breach of faith could have occurred. The promise was that they had a prospect of rising to £190. The hon. Member said this offer was an unfair one. I suppose it would not be unfair to say that an officer joining the British Army has a prospect of becoming a field-marshal, but that does not mean that every officer will become a field-marshal, or even a general. This was put before them as a prospect to which some of 673 them might attain. I think that the Committee will see that under these circumstances the telegraphists never received a definite pledge that they would have this £190.
thought the Secretary to the Treasury was in error, because prior to that, all these men rose regularly and systematically to £160.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
The fact that these men's predecessors, even if it were true, attained positions which they have not attained, does not justify this demand. The question is, whether these men have attained to the promotion which they were promised. In the first place, I say that there was no such promise. All they were told was that there was a prospect of rising to £190, which was beyond the scale set out. The very words chosen showed that all of them would not reach that amount, and they had no right to complain. If there are now the same proportion of men on the scale as when the circular was issued, surely there can be no ground of complaint. I am trying to put the case as frankly and as fairly as I can. I do not wish to leave any doubt in the mind of the Committee as to the exact point at issue between us, and I wish to meet the point fairly. The question is whether the prospect of attaining this higher position has become worse than it was. The hon. and gallant Member for West Newington has assumed that I shall endeavour to escape from the meshes by some disingenuous subterfuge. I will, however, do my best to meet the case fairly. Under Mr. Fawcett's scheme the number of situations above the maximum limit of £160 was 168; and it bore a proportion to the total number of telegraphists below the senior class of one to six and a third. In 1890 the proportion was exactly the same. At the present time the total number above the limit is 349, and the number below is 2,076, according to the latest figures. I ought just to say that I am not quite certain that my figures are up to date, but they are the most recent, and I think the proportion is practically the same at the present time.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
Yes, they are included. As I have just; stated, the total number above the limit is 349, and the total below is 2,076, so that the number of those who have risen to £190 is practically the same as it was.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
Yes, but if the proportion remains exactly the same the total must be increasing.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
Yes, I am comparing the number of those not rising above £160 with the number who are over £160. All that the Government ever held out to these men was a prospect of a certain number of them attaining something beyond the ordinary maximum of their class, and I say that the number of them who have passed that limit is the same proportion to the total number now as it was in the past. I think those who have been good enough to follow me will see that, when reduced to its proper limits, there is a very slender foundation for so grave a charge as one of breach of faith on the part of a great Government Department towards its servants. Hon. Members have urged that it is to the interest of the Government that its servants should be contented and satisfied. I need hardly say that there is no one who feels that more than the responsible Ministers concerned. We have endeavoured, and we are endeavouring, to treat all cases of grievances, alleged or proved, fairly and impartially. We are doing our best to remedy grievances where they are shown to exist and where they are well founded. We are trying to make such improvements from time to time, in pay and conditions of employment, in the postal and other services, as the circumstances of the case justify. I do not think, however, that contentment in the public service is promoted by the annual recurrence of debates of this kind, or by making in this House 675 allegations of such gravity on such a very slight foundation. I deprecate the using of this House for purposes of that kind, and I wish hon. Members would persuade themselves that there is no one who is more desirous of doing justice to employees than the head of a great public Department; and there is nothing which is easier for the heads of any Department to do than to give way, not at their own expense but at somebody else's expense, to any demands which may be addressed to them, and in that way a Minister might purchase for himself or his representatives in this House a peaceful and quiet life and the applause of hon. Gentlemen who have spoken; he could easily do this by making free with the taxpayers' money. But we have a duty to the taxpayers as well as to our employees. We have no more right to pay extravagant wages to our employees than we should have if we were directors of a company with the interests of the shareholders to guard. We have to guard the interests of the taxpayers of the country I have never set up the interests of the taxpayers as a defence against paying fair wages, and I will never attempt to justify what my hon. friend calls making a Department of State "the chief and prime sweater of the country." Nevertheless, because we are dealing with public money I do not think we ought to be more lax in our administration than we should be if we were dealing with our own money. I will only say in conclusion upon this point that my hon. friend the Member for South Islington placed his case on a footing on which I cannot accept it, because he says that these men are entitled to a continuance of the same right of access to the higher positions which they had when they entered the service. I claim to have shown that they now have exactly the same access to the higher positions as they had when they entered the service.
My hon. friend the Member for the Kirkdale Division of Liverpool entered upon a wider question. I hardly know whether it arises on this particular Amendment or not. The hon. Member once more urged upon us the necessity of reviewing the findings of the Tweedmouth Committee by means of a further Committee of inquiry to be conducted by Members of 676 this House, and he prejudged the relative merits of the two Committees by distinguishing a Committee of this House from the Tweedmouth Committee as being an impartial Committee. Upon what grounds does my hon. friend dispute the impartiality of the Tweedmouth Committee? A distinguished Member of the other House, who had no inducement or interest to be unduly hard upon postal employees, acted as Chairman; and for the rest the Committee was composed of public officials of the highest standing, only one of whom was connected with the Post Office administration, and than whom I venture to say we could find no abler or more careful men and thorough inquirers either inside or outside of this House, wherever we might go. This Committee devoted day after day to the consideration of every grievance which the postal employees could put before them, and they heard evidence to the fullest extent. Their inquiries extended over something like a year and a half, and a Member of that Committee told me that it very nearly upset the organisation of every other Government Department that their heads of Departments should be taken away in order to devote so much time to this Post Office question. They carried out the most impartial and careful inquiry that could possibly be held, and they recommended a series of changes which have resulted in imposing upon the taxpayers of this country an additional burden of something like £500,000 a year. Since the sittings of that Committee the postal and telegraph expenditure has increased in a much faster ratio than it did before, and has increased, I think I am right in saying, faster than the revenue derived. When I consider the great concessions that were made, and the great burden that was placed upon the taxpayers, the care that was given to that inquiry, and the opportunity that was afforded to every one to have their grievances heard, I cannot pretend to think that a case has been made out for trying—not fresh matters, but for retrying the same matters and changing the tribunal, merely because all its decisions were not agreeable to one of the parties concerned. I hope the House will not do anything so fatal to the 677 efficiency and the organisation of our Civil Service, as to allow any large body of civil servants to think that they have only to be importunate enough to secure in this House repeated inquiries into their grievances, no matter what previous care has been given to their consideration. I trust the House will have confidence in the desire of the Postmaster General to deal fairly with all his employees, and believe me when I say that there is nothing easier for us to do than to give way; and that it is only because we believe it to be our duty to the taxpayers that we find it necessary to refuse these recurring and increasing demands.
§ (5.22.) MR. KEIR HARDIE (Merthyr Tydvil)
said the Secretary to the Treasury had carefully evaded the point at issue. The question was whether a certain number of telegraphists were to have their maximum salary raised from £160 to £190 a year. He contended that the concessions made by the Tweedmouth Committee imposed no additional burdens upon the tax-payers, for all that this Committee did was to allocate a small portion of the extra profit made by the Post Office amongst the Post Office servants who made that profit. Surely that was not imposing an additional burden upon the taxpayers. Notwithstanding what the Secretary to the Treasury had said, he considered that the House of Commons was the proper place to discuss the grievances of the Post Office employees. In regard to the grievances themselves, what was the central fact of the case? That men and women employed by the State in the telegraphic and other services were paid less than the same class of employees performing similar duties in the employ of private firms. Take for example, the case already mentioned—that of the Eastern Telegraph Company. Under the Post Office a lad entering the telegraph service has attained at the age of twenty-one a wage of 22s per week of forty-eight hours, which is about 5½d. an hour, but under the Eastern Telegraph Company, and other similar concerns, when he has attained the age of twenty-one his wage is 36s. per week. Further a young man under these private concerns would rise 678 by annual increments of £12, until he he had attained a maximum of £204, whereas under the Government employ he would only rise by annual increments of £5 4s., the maximum being practically £150. There they had the true point at issue, if every Government Department was bound by the fair wages Resolution of this House. Every Department is under obligation by the decision of this House to become a model employer, and the point of dispute in connection with this Amendment is that in this connection the Government, instead of being a model employer, occupied as the hon. Member for Hoxton put it, the position of a sweating employer and that was the ground on which he and his hon. friends supported the Amendment. He trusted that Members on both sides of the House who were interested in efficiency in the public service, would see to it that the employees in this special Department of the service of the State were at least placed on terms of equality with those of private concerns. Unless that was done, inevitably the result would be that all the best men in the Telegraph Department would drift into the service of the private companies, leaving only the inferior men to carry out the work of the State. He trusted that the desire which had been shown by the hon. Gentleman on the Treasury Bench would not be lost sight of. The point was that the employees of the Government should be brought up to the standard of those who were connected with private concerns.
(5.27.) MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said that after the clear, fair, and candid statement of the Secretary of the Treasury, the regret sometimes expressed that the Postmaster General was not a member of this House need no longer be entertained. His hon. friend was entitled to every credit for the candour of his statement. This Amendment was founded on the assumption that the Government ought to be what was called a "model employer." That meant that the Government was to pay higher wages than it could get the work done for. Nobody could possibly dispute that the Government could get the work done at the wages paid at present. He did not think that any Government work was done absolutely satisfactorily, and 679 the sole question was whether the Government was to be called upon to pay more than it could get the work done for, in order to earn the character of a model employer. Let no hon. Member think that he was in favour of low wages. He believed the true principle would be to pay the highest possible wages for the most strenuous possible work, and to turn out any man who was not capable or willing to give the best work for the highest wages. If that principle could be applied to the Government Departments, it would possibly get rid of one-fourth of the employees. His ideal would be that the Government, of all employers, should pay the highest possible rate of wages and insist upon the most strenuous work, and get rid of those who were too old, or too weak, or were incapable to do work of that kind. But that was really not a possible or practicable policy at the present time for the Government. Hon. Members knew perfectly well that the position in the Government service was "slack work." If they went down to a dockyard, they would see among five or six labourers that there would be three or four standing idle. He fancied that the telegraph men were kept pretty hard at work, but the theory of those who took to Government employment was that they had obtained a sort of privilege, and that they were not obliged to use that strenuous labour which they would have to use in the service of a private employer. He thought that the term that the State should be a "model employer" was altogether misleading. He would much rather that it was a model Government than a model employer of labour, because, after all, hon. Members must remember that if the Government had duties to those whom it employed, it had greater, more extensive, and higher duties to those for whom it was trustee. It could not be as generous with the money of the taxpayers as private employers were with their own. So far from the position of the Government being that of a more generous employer than a private individual, the contrary-was true. A private individual could do what he would with his own, but the Government was not at liberty to act in that way. The Government was purely 680 the trustee for those on whom it levied taxes and, therefore, it was less at liberty to be what was called a model employer. It was perfectly clear that the Government was paying wages, to the employees now in question, which sufficed to get men to do the work which was required, it was perfectly notorious that if there were any places open, there was no difficulty in filling them up. That showed that the wages were not, on the whole, inadequate.
The whole of this debate raised once again the very serious question of the way in which civil servants were using their electoral power in order to bring pressure to bear on this House. He was aware that many hon. Members, who brought forward the position of servants of the State, did so against their own desires, because of the almost irresistible pressure placed upon them by the servants of the State who were at the same time electors. He hoped he should not be thought to be deficient in sympathy for those who received low wages in the service of the State, amongst whom he should certainly not include the telegraphists. If Government employees continued to exercise influence on those who sat in this House, he thought the question would become a very grave one, and he was afraid the House would have to consider whether it should not revert to the old constitutional principle, and disfranchise every man employed by the State. He hoped it would not come to that, but if it did it would be in consequence of this increasing pressure. He supported the Secretary to the Treasury in resisting this particular Amendment, because it was one of many which tended to illustrate a form of tyranny that was becoming unbearable, and which tended seriously to injure the character of this House as making its Members the advocates of classes, sections, and little communities instead of being trustees not for them alone, but or the whole community.
§ *(5.35.) MR. KEARLEY (Devonport)
said he could speak from a fairly long experience, and thought he could say that, outside any legitimate grievance, these men no more influenced or brought 681 pressure to bear upon Parliamentary representatives than any other con stituents in the country. If he might say so the hon. Member for King's Lynn had a bee in his bonnet on this particular question. They had heard his views expressed over and over again. There was one statement he had made he thought he must contradict, and in support of that contradiction he would give him evidence which would be endorsed by the Secretary to the Admiralty. The hon. Member for King's Lynn said that when they went into a dockyard—
THE DEPUTY CHAIRMAN
Order, order! I allowed the hon. Gentleman to use that simile, but not to discuss it.
§ * MR. KEARLEY
said his was a simile also. The hon. Gentleman had pointed out that when they went into a dock yard they saw there perhaps half a dozen men, and they would find at least three or four of them standing idle. The Secretary to the Admiralty could give a denial to that and so could the Secretary to the Treasury, who had filled the position of Civil Lord to the Admiralty. Both hon. Gentlemen had had large experience of Government employees. How was it that in the Dockyards they got their ships built cheaper than in any private shipyards? They knew the hon. Member for King's Lynn was an advocate of the old detestable policy of "The devil take the hindmost." The hon. Member believed in what was called supply and demand, and said that the Government could get these postal employees at this price, and why should they pay more? And then, because their case was brought forward in the House of Commons in a constitutional manner, he said, "If I had my way, I would disfranchise the whole lot."
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
I did not say that. What I said was that if this kind of thing continued the House would have to consider whether it should not revert to the old constitutional principle, and disfranchise every man employed by the State.
§ * MR. KEARLEY
said he did not think there was much difference between the 682 statement he had made and that of the hon. Gentleman opposite. These questions would continue to be brought forward in that House by the people's representatives. If the hon. Member was anxious to bring to a stop the bringing forward of these grievances by the Parliamentary representatives of these men, let him carry out his suggestion and propose a Resolution to disfranchise the Government employees throughout the country. The hon. Member was one of the most ingenious Parliamentarians in the House, and there were many methods known to him by means of which he could bring forward a Resolution. He invited the hon. Member, not merely to make these aspersions on men who were not able to protest in person, but to give the House an opportunity of voting, and he thought he would find himself in one of those minorities of which he had experience in the past. He was perfectly sure the hon. Gentleman's views were singular and exceptional, and would find no echo among Members.
§ (5.42.) CAPTAIN NORTON
said the debate had gone completely off the line. He reminded the Committee that his statement had nothing to do with the broad question of the living wage. His contention was that the Government had been guilty of a breach of faith, inasmuch as they had issued a statement that the salaries would rise by certain gradations to a maximum of £190, and now they had placed the men in a position which prevented them by any possibility rising to that amount. There were still 200 men to whom the Government had given a distinct pledge, and the Government stood convicted of a breach of faith towards them.
§ MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
said that, having been in the public service himself, he wished to say a few words. He sympathised with all legitimate grievances, but he desired to associate himself with the protest of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury against the continual applications which were being received, and the pressure which was being put on Members of Parliament from the public service. It was, of course, a very pleasant 683 thing to advocate increases of pay to everybody. He should like to advocate that himself. He also agreed that the State should be a model employer, and that it should pay well, but it should do so in a reasonable manner and not pay fictitiously higher prices than would be obtained in other similar walks of life. If the pay of Post Office telegraphists was compared with the pay of men similarly engaged in private employment, it would be found to be higher. If it were not, it would be extraordinary that, on every vacancy, a large number of persons desired to get in. He did not wish to throw cold water on any person's real grievances, but he thought it was rather amusing that while they were always complaining of increasing taxation, they should at the same time be advocating extremely liberal salaries. He thought such debates were injurious to the public service, and tended to demoralise it. If real grievances existed they ought certainly to be redressed. They ought not even to trust to the Government to put them right, but in those days of the Press, he thought every Government would act rightly towards persons employed by the State. But, as the hon. Member for King's Lynn had said, if the present system continued, and if these grievances were to be a continual source of agitation in the House, he was sure it would tend to demoralise and injure the public service.
§ MR. BARTLEY
The hon. Member asked him what evidence there was of that, but he knew as much about the public service as the hon. Member, as he had been twenty years in it, and he knew also the effect of such debates on the staff. Men clamoured to get into the public service, and some of them, as soon as they were in, clamoured for an increase of pay. He had a great many civil servants in his constituency—he respected them very much—and he believed the bulk of them were satisfied. But there were also an enormous number of clerks earning about the same salaries in private employment; and he had no hesitation in saying that the advantages in salary, pension, and in other ways of the public service were much greater than could be obtained in private employment. He knew the case of a man who was in private employment for forty years, and was not receiving anything like what he would have had in the public service, and he was told at one or two days notice that he must leave without a pension or anything else. The public service was fairly liberal. He thought grievances should be redressed, but he did say that continual agitation on every occasion, and the putting of pressure on Members of Parliament, was dangerous, and tended to injure the public service.
§ (5.48.) Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 134; Noes, 165. (Division List, No. 118.)687
|Abraham, William (Cork, N. E.)||Cogan, Denis J.||Field, William|
|Allan, William (Gateshead)||Condon, Thomas Joseph||Flynn, James Christopher|
|Allen, Charles P (Glouc., Stroud||Craig, Robert Hunter||Gilhooly, James|
|Ashton, Thomas Gair||Crean, Eugene||Gladstone, Rt. Hn. Herbert John|
|Atherley-Jones, L.||Cremer, William Randal||Goddard, Daniel Ford|
|Barlow, John Emmott||Crombie, John William||Gray, Ernest (West Ham)|
|Bayley, Thomas (Derbyshire)||Dalziel, James Henry||Hammond, John|
|Bell, Richard||Davies, Alfred (Carmarthen)||Hardie, J. Keir (Merthyr Tydvil|
|Black, Alexander William||Davies, M. Vaughan-(Cardigan||Harmsworth, R. Leicester|
|Blake, Edward||Delany, William||Hayden, John Patrick|
|Bond, Edward||Dilke, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles||Hayne, Rt. Hon. Charles Seale-|
|Brigg, John||Dillon, John||Hayter, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur D.|
|Burns, John||Donelan, Captain A.||Helme, Norval Watson|
|Caine, William Sproston||Doogan, P. C.||Hemphil, Rt. Hon. Charles H.|
|Caldwell, James||Dunn, Sir William||Hobhouse, C. E. H. (Bristol, E.)|
|Campbell, John (Armagh, S.)||Elibank, Master of||Hope, John Deans (Fife, West)|
|Carew, James Laurence||Emmott, Alfred||Horniman, Frederick John|
|Carvill, Patrick Geo. Hamilton||Evans, Sir Francis H (Maidstone||Humphreys-Owen, Arthur C.|
|Chamberlayne, T.(S'thampton||Fenwiek, Charles||Jacoby, James Alfred|
|Channing, Francis Allston||Ffrench, Peter||Jameson, Major J. Eustace|
|Jones, David Brynm'r (Swansea||Norman, Henry||Shipman, Dr. John G.|
|Jones, William (C'rnarvonshire||Nussey, Thomas Willans||Soames, Arthur Wellesley|
|Jordan, Jeremiah||O'Brien, James F. X. (Cork)||Soares, Ernest J.|
|Joyce, Michael||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)||Stevenson, Francis S.|
|Kearley, Hudson E.||O'Brien, P. J. (Tipperary, N.)||Strachey, Sir Edward|
|Kennedy, Patrick James||O'Connor, James (Wicklow, W.||Sullivan, Donal|
|Kinloch, Sir John George Smyth||O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)||Tennant, Harold John|
|Leamy, Edmund||O'Donnell, T. (Kerry, W.)||Thomas, Abel (Carmarthen, E.)|
|Leng, Sir John||O'Dowd, John||Thomas, David Alfred (Merthyr|
|Levy, Maurice||O' Kelly, James (Roscommon, N||Thompson, Dr EC (Monagh'n, N|
|Lewis, John Herbert||O'Malley, William||Thomson, F. W. (York, W. R.)|
|Lundon, W.||O'Mara, James||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|MacDonnell, Dr. Mark A.||O'Shaughnessy, P. J.||Warner, Thomas Courtenay T.|
|Macneill, John Gordon Swift||Power, Patrick Joseph||Weir, James Galloway|
|MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Reddy, M.||White, Patrick (Meath, North)|
|M'Arthur, William (Cornwall)||Redmond, John E. (Waterford)||Whittaker, Thomas Palmer|
|M'Govern, T.||Reid, Sir R. Threshie (Dumfries)||Williams, Osmond (Merioneth)|
|M'Hugh, Patrick A.||Remnant, James Farquharson||Wilson, Henry J. (York, W. R.)|
|M'Kean, John||Rigg, Richard||Wilson, John (Durham, Mid.)|
|M'Kenna, Reginald||Roberts, John H. (Denbighs.)||Woodhouse, Sir J. T (Huddersf'd|
|M'Killop, W. (Sligo, North)||Robertson, Edmund (Dundee)||Young, Samuel|
|Mooney, John J.||Roche, John||Yoxall, James Henry|
|Morgan, J. Lloyd (Carmarthen)||Rollit, Sir Albert Kaye|
|Murphy, John||Runciman, Walter||TELLERS FOR THE AYES— Captain Norton ad Mr. Claude Hay.|
|Nannetti, Joseph P.||Shaw, Thomas (Hawick B.)|
|Nolan, Joseph (Louth, South)||Sheehan, Daniel Daniel|
|Acland-Hood, Capt. Sir Alex. F.||Elliot, Hon. A. Ralph Douglas||Lees, Sir Elliott (Birkenhead)|
|Agg-Gardner, James Tynte||Fardell, Sir T. George||Legge, Col. Hon. Heneage|
|Agnew, Sir Andrew Noel||Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn Edward||Leveson-Gower, Frederick N. S.|
|Aird, Sir John||Ferguson, R. C. Munro (Leith)||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. A. R.|
|Archdale, Edward Mervyn||Fielden, Edward Brocklehurst||Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine|
|Arnold-Forster, Hugh O.||Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne||Long, Col. Charles W (Evesham|
|Arrol, Sir William||Fisher, William Hayes||Long, Rt. Hn. Walter (Bristol, S)|
|Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John||FitzGerald, Sir Robert Penrose-||Lonsdale, John Brownlee|
|Bagot, Capt. Josceline FitzRoy||Flannery, Sir Fortescue||Lowe, Francis William|
|Bain, Colonel James Robert||Forster, Henry William||Lucas, Col. Francis (Lowestoft)|
|Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J.(Manch'r||Foster, Philip S (Warwick, S. W.||Lucas, Reginald J (Portsmouth|
|Balfour, Rt. Hn Gerald W (Leeds||Galloway, William Johnson||Macartney, Rt. Hn W. G. Ellison|
|Banbury, Frederick George||Garfit, William||Macdona, John Cumming|
|Bartley, George C. T.||Gibbs, Hn. A. G. H (City of Lond.||MacIver, David (Liverpool)|
|Bhownaggree, Sir M. M.||Gordon, Hn. J. E.(Elgin&Nairn||Maconochie, A. W.|
|Bignold, Arthur||Gore, Hon. S. F. Ormsby-(Line)||M'Arthur, Charles (Liverpool)|
|Blundell, Colonel Henry||Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir John Eldon||M'Calmont, Col. H. L. B (Cambs.|
|Boscawen, Arthur Griffith-||Goschen, Hon. George Joachim||M'Calmont, Col. J. (Antrim, E.)|
|Bowles, T. Gibson (King's Lynn||Goulding, Edward Alfred||M'Killop, James (Stirlingshire|
|Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John||Gretton, John||Mappin, Sir Frederick Thorpe|
|Brotherton, Edward Allen||Gunter, Sir Robert||Martin, Richard Biddulph|
|Bull, William James||Hain, Edward||Maxwell, W. J. H.(Dumfriessh.|
|Campbell, Rt. Hn. J. A (Glasgow||Halsey, Rt. Hon. Thomas F.||Meysey-Thompson, Sir H. M.|
|Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edw. H.||Hamilton, Rt. Hn Lord G (Midd'x||Middlemore, Jno. Throgmorton|
|Cavendish, V. C. W (Derbyshire||Hamilton, Marq of (L'nd'nderry||Mitchell, William|
|Cayzer, Sir Charles William||Hanbury, Rt. Hon. Robert Wm.||More, Robt. Jasper (Shropshire)|
|Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor)||Helder, Augustus||Mount, William Arthur|
|Cecil, Lord Hugh (Greenwich)||Henderson, Alexander||Murray, Rt. Hn A Graham (Bute|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. J. (Birm.||Higginbottom, S. W.||Murray, Charles J. (Coventry)|
|Chamberlain, J. Austen (Worc'r||Hoare, Sir Samuel||Murray, Col. Wyndham (Bath)|
|Chapman, Edward||Hogg, Lindsay||Nicol, Donald Ninian|
|Cochrane, Hon. Thos. H. A. E.||Hope, J. F.(Sheffield, Brightside||Orr-Ewing, Charles Lindsay|
|Coddington, Sir William||Horner, Frederick William||Palmer, Walter (Salisbury)|
|Cohen, Benjamin Louis||Hudson, George Bickersteth||Parker, Gilbert|
|Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse||Hutton, John (Yorks. N. R.)||Pemberton, John S. G.|
|Colomb, Sir John Charles Ready||Jebb, Sir Richard Claverhouse||Pierpoint, Robert|
|Cranborne, Lord||Jessel, Captain Herbert Merton||Pilkington, Lieut.-Col. Richard|
|Cripps, Charles Alfred||Johnston, William (Belfast)||Platt-Higgins, Frederick|
|Cross, Alexander (Glasgow)||Kenyon, Hon. Geo. T. (Denbigh)||Powell, Sir Francis Sharp|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Kimber, Henry||Purvis, Robert|
|Dickson, Charles Scott||Lambton, Hon. Frederick Wm.||Randles, John S.|
|Dimsdale, Sir Joseph Cockfield||Laurie, Lieut.-General||Rankin, Sir James|
|Douglas, Kt. Hon. A. Akers-||Lawrence, Joseph (Monmouth)||Rattigan, Sir William Henry|
|Duke, Henry Edward||Lawson, John Grant||Renwick, George|
|Ridley, Hon. M. W (Stalybridge||Sturt, Hon. Humphry Napier||Wilson, John (Glasgow)|
|Roberts, Samuel (Sheffield)||Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)||Wilson, J. W. (Worcestersh. N.)|
|Robertson, Herbert (Hackney)||Talbot, Rt. Hn. J. G (Oxf'd Univ.||Wodehouse, Rt. Hn. E. R.(Bath)|
|Rothschild, Hon. Lionel Walter||Thorburn, Sir Walter||Wolff, Gnstav Wilhelm|
|Russell, T. W.||Thornton, Percy M.||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart-|
|Samuel, Harry S. (Limehouse)||Tomlinson, Wm. Edw. Murray||Wrightson, Sir Thomas|
|Scost, Sir S. (Marylebone, W.)||Tritton, Charles Ernest||Wyndham, Rt. Hon. George|
|Seely, Charles Hilton (Lincoln)||Tuke, Sir John Batty||Wyndham-Quin, Major W. H.|
|Sharpe, William Edward T.||Valentia, Viscount|
|Smith, Abel H.(Hertford, East)||Webb, Colonel William George||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Sir William Walrond and Mr. Anstruther.|
|Smith, James Parker (Lanarks.)||Welby, Lt.-Cl. A. C. E (Taunton|
|Stanley, Lord (Lancs.)||Willoughby de Eresby. Lord|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ (6.0.) MR. WEIR (ROSS and Cromarty)
urged upon the Government the need of an alternative cable between the Island of Lewis and the Mainland. He said it had not fallen to his lot to thank any Minister for much, but on this occasion he was pleased to be able to thank the Secretary to the Post Office for the pains he had taken to repair the cable from Lewis to Stornaway. There were 30,000 people on the Island of Lewis, and it was most essential that there should not be these breakdowns in cable communication between the island and the mainland, which had the result of dislocating all business. He therefore hoped that the Post Office would see their way, in order to guard against these constant breakdowns, to laying another cable between Stornaway and Lewis. He also suggested that the charge for the registered telegraphic addresses should be increased from one guinea to two guineas, which he thought would have the effect of greatly increasing the telegraph revenue. He also complained of the insanitary state of the telegraph offices, which he stated was most serious, and which he believed was the cause of a large number of the cases of illness among the telegraph operators and employees, and he hoped that the insanitary telegraph offices would very soon be placed in a sanitary condition.
§ MR. ALEXANDER CROSS (Glasgow, Camlachie)
said he took this opportunity of drawing attention to the frequent breakdown in winter of the telegraphic service between Scotland and London. He frankly admitted the great efficiency with which the Post Office did its work, and the manner in which the heads of Departments conducted their business, but he 688 pointed out that for a long period during the last winter, telegraphic communication with Scotland was interrupted, that owing to the severity of the weather, the snowstorms and the gales, and the wrecking of the telegraph post, the condition of things was such that telegraphic communication between London and Scotland was suspended, and that on several occasions, telegrams to Scotland from London had to be sent via New York. The Chambers of Commerce of Scotland had communicated with the Post Office, but they did not receive an entirely satisfactory reply. The Government said they did not see their way to make any change within any definite time, but had confined themselves to general promises. Between London and the Midlands means had been taken to obviate these difficulties, and in view of that fact he drew attention to the state of affairs in Scotland in order to impress upon the hon. Gentleman the necessity of giving to Scotland a similar service to that which had been given to the Midlands. If the business had been in the hands of a private company a second set of wires would have been put up long ago. He desired to impress the hon. Gentleman with the necessity for dealing with this matter at once. The expenditure, no doubt, would be great, but money could be borrowed at a low rate of interest, and every penny spent would mean extra revenue. If the Post Office wished the Telegraph Service to yield the revenue they expected, they would have to be prepared to spend money freely, to alter their plans, and not use things which were liable to these checks and breakdowns. This was a serious matter, and he hoped it would; receive the earnest consideration of the hon. Gentleman. He would not move 689 a reduction now, but only in the event of his not obtaining a satisfactory answer.
§ *(6.10.) SIR JOHN LENG (Dundee)
said he supported the hon. Gentleman opposite in the complaint he made with regard to the interruption of telegraphic communication, which was very inconvenient to the people of Scotland. Telegraphic communication was to the Body Politic what the nervous system was to the human body, and any interruption to that meant nothing less than paralysis. When on former occasions he adverted to this subject, the replies he had received were always to the effect that the delays were exceptional and caused by exceptional storms. The experience, however, of the last two years had gone to show that these storms were by no means exceptional, but occurred with regularity year after year in the depth of the winter The fact of the matter was that the telegraph poles were found to be too weak-The Post Office strengthened the poles, but having done that, they proceeded to multiply the number of wires they had to carry, with the natural consequence that whenever a gale of wind or heavy falls of snow occurred, the poles were not able to carry the weight of the wires. Last November and December the stoppages had been worse than ever. According to the reply given by the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Post Office to Questions put by the hon. Member for Newcastle and himself, in December last the wires between Newcastle and Glasgow were interrupted for four days, during which time there were no telegrams, either private or business, and it might be said that as far as telegraphic communication was concerned, Scotland was shut from the whole of the civilised world. The news papers were without their ordinary telegraphic communication; they were without the financial reports, and all that class of information for which business, men look first in the morning. This was bad business on the part of the Department. The duty of the Department was to maintain steady, regular, and uninterrupted telegraphic communication. Its failure to do that implied a failure of its ideas and of its 690 application of the proper ways and means to fulfil the purposes for which it was established.
The Financial Secretary had admitted that this was an important question so far as revenue was concerned. The loss of revenue in November was £2,500, and in December £5,500. But a more important point was that of repairs. These were estimated to cost in November £2,500 and in December no less than £27,000, or a total loss to the Department, in revenue and repairs, of £37,500. The loss to the Department, however, was as nothing compared with the loss to the business men of the country. So important to business men was this question, that a very influential deputation, composed of gentlemen representing the Chambers of Commerce in the North-East of England and the whole of Scotland, and other business men, waited upon the Postmaster General in March last. The Postmaster General did not deny the importance of the subject; he agreed as to the desirability of these interuptions and delays being prevented by the laying down of underground wires; and he referred to the fact that a subterranean cable had for some time been working satisfactorily between London and Birmingham, intimating that this was about to be extended to Stafford and then to Warrington, where it would join the existing cable between Manchester and Liverpool. He also stated that the laying of a section beyond Preston, a distance of only thirty miles, was contemplated during the present year with a view to its ultimate extension to Scotland. Next Winter there would probably be other storms similar to those of November and December last; the whole of Scotland, with the North of England, would be again cut off for days from the civilised world; they would be, to use a telegraphic word, insulated-To the Postmaster General the question was apparently one of cost. The expenditure on the Birmingham underground wire had been £165,000, and it was calculated the extension to Glasgow would cost £700,000. Assuming the £165,000 had to be deducted from that, it left a balance of little more than £500,000. According to the Postmaster General, this was more a Treasury than 691 a Post Office matter, and the noble Lord felt a difficulty in asking for the necessary grant in consequence of the heavy burdens under which the country was labouring by reason of the war in South Africa. But whatever difficulty the Chancellor of the Exchequer might have, the Postmaster General ought to present to the Treasury the whole case in the strongest possible terms, leaving with them the responsibility for the answer they gave. The complaint of business men generally was that the Postmaster General should feel this difficulty about the expenditure of half a million to complete the underground system to Scotland. In two months the Department had lost £37,500 in revenue and the cost of repairs, a sum which represented far more than the interest on £1,000,000. He contended that there ought to be no hesitation in regard to this expenditure, especially seeing it was reproductive. At a time when the money of the nation was going to South Africa at the rate of £1,000,000 a week, it was most unwise there should be this parsimony in regard to an item of reproductive expenditure amounting to only £500,000. Everyone enjoyed the advantage of telegraphic communication, and everyone suffered inconvenience and often pecuniary loss if that communication was not maintained.
He also desired to refer to the attitude of the Post Office towards the adoption of wireless telegraphy. What was the Department doing to encourage its adoption by arranging communication with the Marconi stations? The Marconi system had been adopted by the great Transatlantic and German lines, with conspicuous advantage. The Admiralty had shown their appreciation of the system by adopting it on 130 ships in His Majesty's Navy. But, as far as he could discover, the Post Office had done nothing to link on their system of wires with the Marconi stations. In this matter he did not wish to blame so much the Postmaster General or the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. In several respects they had shown an advanced and enlightened spirit, and had not stood in the way of important reforms. But there were permanent officials in the 692 Department who might better be described as permanent obstructionists, and who did not exhibit that readiness to adopt one of the most important scientific inventions of the age which might have been expected of them. The system would materially facilitate telegraphic communication in the merchant service and the Navy, with lighthouse stations, and also between the islands of Scotland, where, in bad weather, it was very important there should be some such means of communication. The attitude of the officials of the Telegraph Department towards wireless telegraphy was almost precisely that of the Admiralty in the early part of the last century when they ridiculed the proposals of Henry Bell, the inventor of the application of steam to navigation, as being impracticable and unworthy of consideration. Lord Nelson, a man of genius, strongly urged them to adopt steam navigation, but they declined; and Henry Bell was compelled to address his offers to foreign Powers, with the result that America placed a steamer on the Hudson River before one was placed on the Clyde. It was to be hoped the Post Office would not have a similarly disgraceful record in this matter, but that they would show they were awake to the progress of science and its practical application.
§ (6.35.) MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)
called the attention of the Secretary to the Treasury to the importance of guarding against telegraphic communication with Scotland being interrupted, and especially commented on the exposed position of the wires on the East coast. The interruption of telegraphic business for three or four days which occurred last Winter was a very serious misfortune. Already the considerable loss incurred by this interruption of communication had been referred to. The Post Office had undertaken to supply underground wires in some parts of England, and he thought there was much stronger reason for taking this course in regard to the wires communicating with Aberdeen, Glasgow, and Dundee, which were so liable to disturbance. There was no part of the United Kingdom subject to more severe and protracted snowstorms than the country between Fife and Aberdeen, 693 which affected not only the telegraph wires but also the railroads; and so it might happen that the whole of that district and the towns of Aberdeen and Moray might become entirely isolated for a considerable period. It was true that there were telegraphic lines running across that part of Scotland to the West, but even these were very liable to snowstorms and might frequently be interrupted. He thought those hon. Members who realised what telegraphic communication meant would feel that his hon. friend had put a very strong case. This was a matter which had excited the greatest possible interest in the North East of Scotland, and he hoped the Secretary to the Treasury would make a beginning in Scotland. With regard to the Marconi system, his hon. friend had not mentioned one country with which they had great difficulty in communicating on account of the enormous expense of laying cables. He referred to Iceland. By the Marconi system communication might be established with Iceland at a small expense. Le thought their meteorological service would be more complete if it included Iceland and was connected with it by telegraphic communication. In that way they would be able to render a considerable service to agriculturists.
§ (6.42.) MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
In reply to the hon. Member for Dundee, I am bound to say that he has made himself so well acquainted with what has passed between the Postmaster General and the deputation that waited upon him that I am afraid I cannot add to the knowledge which the hon. Member already possesses. There are one or two remarks which I should like to make in reference to what fell from my hon. friend the Member for Camlachie and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Aberdeen. No one will dispute the enormous importance which uninterrupted telegraphic facilities have come to possess in the organisation of our modern life, and it is a great proof of the services rendered to the country that the interruption of telegraphic facilities is so severely felt. The problem is not quite such a simple one as is supposed. I have listened with horror and dismay to the suggestion 694 that the Post Office has, in some way, favoured the Midlands or English towns, and refused the same favours to Scotland. The events of the last two years have been quite exceptional in the experience of the Post Office. Over a period of ten years before that, the expenditure required for repairs has been only a little over £3,000. During the last year and the year before there were altogether abnormal storms, causing abnormal damage, affecting the communication with Scotland especially. The only reason why the country between London and Birmingham was taken for the first experiment for underground wires was because it was found that that district was very liable to be interrupted. Winds sweeping across the Midlands cause some of the most important interruptions of communication between Scotland and the South, and the Post Office dealt first with the districts that suffered most, and we shall proceed with such extensions as will give the greatest advantage to the whole service. Naturally the Post Office Department is anxious to press on with the work as rapidly as possible, and we are devoting £30,000 to it this year—not so much as I could wish, but the money will be spent for the advantage of northern communication, and not in favour of any particular district on the way to Scotland. The enormous importance to Scotland of telegraphic communication is fully recognised, and the desire of the Post Office is to render the system secure as soon as that can be done. It is quite possible that in another year disturbances may require expenditure on cables in the South-West and South-East, whence traffic to the Continent goes, and cables in all parts of the Kingdom have to be considered.
But even with these underground cables we are not able to do away with the overhead wires, and we do not get rid of that expense. In our present state of knowledge we cannot do all our business by underground cables. I am not an expert on the subject, but I am informed that there are several forms of telegraphy which cannot be conducted by underground cables. Underground cables, though cheapened and improved by science, are still very costly, and less satisfactory in working than overhead wires. Therefore we are obliged under 695 any circumstances to keep overhead wires going, and we do not get that relief which Members have held out as an inducement to proceed with the laying of underground cables. The hon. Gentleman opposite has stated that after all we make a great profit from the telegraph, and we ought to be well content to spend a little money to guard our revenue and protect our customers against the risk of interruption. I wish we did make a profit. I am most anxious, speaking for the Treasury, to give to the Post Office a fair share, a not ungenerous share, of any additional profits made, to go to the improvement of any portion of the service the Postmaster General may think desirable. It is often difficult for a Secretary to the Treasury to do full justice to the cause of the Postmaster General in this House, but I never feel more difficulty in having to defend the Estimates than when I have to put forward Treasury views perhaps not wholly those of the Postmaster General. I think it would be fair to say, taking the average over a number of years of the amount the Post Office and telegraphic services have respectively contributed to the State for the last few years, there is half of the additional profit to go to the revenue and the remainder to be at the disposition of the Postmaster General, but the difficulty is that the telegraph service has no profit, and not only so, it makes a loss.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
That is perfectly true, but if the right hon. Gentleman means to imply that the loss will be likely to be recovered, and that we shall be likely to do better if we spend all this money, that is not so. We can carry on a certain amount of traffic during the interruption, but the amount stopped is, after all, a very small figure. In the worse week of last year the reduction in the number of telegrams was only 6 per cent. on the total figure. That is serious enough, and I do not say it is satisfactory; but the right hon. Gentleman opposite must not suppose that there is untold wealth to be got out of this provision against interruptions, and he must bear in mind 696 the fact that our expenses for maintaining overhead wires will have to go on after the underground cables are laid. Therefore, the position is not quite so strong as the hon. Member for Camlachie and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Aberdeen would naturally suppose. At the same time, I share the desire of the Postmaster General to go on with this work as rapidly as possible; but, on the other hand, the Committee must recognise that the present financial year, with the proposals the Chancellor of the Exchequer has had to make, is not a promising occasion for coming for a great increase in telegraphic expenditure without any great increase of revenue. We are bound to have some regard to the general condition of the finance of the country, and I do not think we should be justified in very largely increasing expenditure this year, or in borrowing largely, having regard to the great needs of the Government in other ways. The figure is £30,000 altogether, which would be quite an inadequate figure if it were to be taken as the measure of our normal rate of progress. I hope that the circumstances of next year will be more prosperous, and that they will enable us to make more progress. I assure the Committee that we do not underrate the importance of the question, and that we shall not forget it in the framing of next year's Estimates.
§ (6.55.) MR. MUNRO FERGUSON (Leith Burghs)
said he sympathised with the statement of the Financial Secretary of the Treasury that the sums allowed for underground cables for several years past had been very small. He did not urge the extension of the underground system on the ground that it would pay, but he did urge it as an absolute necessity in order to prevent the chaos in business arrangements in the great centres in Scotland which resulted when these great disasters occurred. He urged this also because neither the Treasury nor the Post Office should place reliance on the probability of fine weather. Last year they were particularly fortunate, but in many parts of the country the telegraph wires were interrupted more or less every year.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
The cost for repairs has averaged £3,000 over the whole country for the ten years to which I referred. Storms do not always occur in the same districts, and the situation is difficult to ascertain.
§ MR. MUNRO FERGUSON
said that owing to the growth of the number of telegraph wires used for business transactions any interruption of the service by storms was the more readily felt. It was often supposed that the wires were blown down or that trees fell across them, but as a matter of fact it was neither wind nor trees that brought them down. The damage was caused by snow freezing on them.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
That is very rare. It was nearly always the effect of outside objects falling across the wires.
§ MR. MUNRO FERGUSON
thought there was some misapprehension on this matter. He lived in a part of the country where he had opportunities of acquiring information on this subject. He had great respect for the opinion of the Telegraph Department engineer, and he readily acknowledged that owing to his exertions a great deal of work had been done in Scotland which had enormously helped the outlying parts of the country; but with regard to the damage done by storms he could state that after a bad snowstorm they might go through hundreds of miles of the country and find the wires lying down. He was best acquainted with what happened in the case of the wires along the Highland line, where they were more open than anywhere else. It was done simply by the snow. With regard to those parts of the north country which were more exposed to snowstorms than the south, it would be a mistake to suppose that the interruptions were caused by wind. A deputation waited on the Postmaster General the other day, and very general regret was expressed that the Financial Secretary of the Treasury was not able to be present. The reply given would have been more satisfactory with regard to the extension of the underground system if some date had been fixed on which they might count as the time 698 when the Department would be prepared to undertake the further extension of the wires. In the reply which the Postmaster General gave to the deputation which recently waited on him there was no assurance offered by the noble Lord that anything more was intended than to supply the needs of the North of England. What they would like to know was whether the Department would extend the wires farther north. The repeated interruption of the system was an intolerable nuisance in cities like Glasgow and Edinburgh; and they brought this proposal forward as a provision which was absolutely necessary to the great centres of industry.
§ *(7.0.) SIR ANDREW AGNEW (Edinburgh, S.)
asked whether the Post Office had any definite scheme for carrying on continuously this work of underground cable extension to its conclusion. At present they had no definite promise that it would be carried beyond the North of England. It would be satisfactory to the people of Edinburgh and Glasgow to know whether there was a definite time within which they might count upon having the cable brought to those places.
§ (7.1.) MR. BLACK (Banffshire)
said it was quite true that the Financial Secretary of the Treasury had spoken sympathetically in a general way, but he had given no definite promise that he was going to undertake this work. He made this reform dependent on various other matters which involved the putting of it off to a more convenient season. Apparently one reason on which to some extent the reform was to be dependent was whether there was or was not a profit from the telegraph service. He thought the Secretary to the Treasury has very much underestimated the importance of the question, which wan a long-standing grievance and one which involved large sums of money. So long-as he remembered there had been interruptions of the telegraph system, and the Post Office should long ago have taken this matter in hand. It so happened that the matter became more urgent in 1890 and 1891. These breakdowns had gone on perodically for many years. The telegraph was not like a 699 private undertaking. It was a service which existed for the convenience of the public at large. He asked the Committee to consider for a moment what was the loss resulting from these breakdowns. He thought it would not be an overestimate to say that a very large portion of the business of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Leith, and other large towns two days loss in 1890 and 1891 through the want of telegraphic communication. It really meant of income represented by more than 1d. in the pound of income tax to that portion of the business community. If that was the position, and he did not think it could be more seriously disputed, it called for redress irrespective of the cost. The matter should be looked at as a whole. These business men had to pay income tax, and it was not good enough for a Member of the Ministry to stand up and say that he was not going to deal with this until he got a profit from the telegraph service, or until a convenient time arose.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
What I said was that the underground communication between London and Birmingham had been taken for the first experiment because that covered the district which was most subject to interruption.
§ MR. BLACK
Be it so. He was willing to take from the hon. Member that that was the ostensible reason, but if that was his experience in the past it was not necessarily the experience of the future. That was not a good reason why the underground wires should not be extended to towns in Scotland. The Financial Secretary of the Treasury had stated that an underground service of wires would not necessarily be a saving to the Treasury for repairs, because it would still be necessary to maintain the overhead system. In New York it had been made compulsory to put telegraph and telephone wires underground, and he did not think it could be maintained that we practiced more kinds of telegraphy than the people of that state. He suggested that the Financial Secretary of the Treasury might make further inquiry as to whether an underground system might not be established here. 700 The underground wires to Birmingham justified their extension to Scotland, and, as regarded Scotland, they were not altogether like the Midlands of England. The principal centres of industry in Scotland were on the coast, and if Scotland could not have underground land wires they might have a submarine cable system.
(7.10.) MR. GIBSON BOWLES
called attention to the present method of stating the accounts together for the telegraph and telephone services, and asked whether, seeing that the telephone service had now become a distinct and expensive service, the Treasury could arrange to have the accounts stated separately in order that they might see what loss or profit arose on the telephone service. In making this suggestion he recognised that the same wires were used to some extent for both services, but he did not think it was right that they should continue to pretend that the telegraph and the telephone were one and the same thing. There was another point on which he should like to get a little information. There had just been issued the Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Cable Communications. He did not propose to enter into the whole of that Report, because he thought some portions could more appropriately be discussed in connection with other Votes, but there was one portion which essentially belonged to this Vote. He called attention to two statements on page 34 of the Report, with respect to the working of the submarine cable between England and the Continent. The first was that the Board of Trade granted landing rights in this country, and the second was a suggestion that the powers of the Cable Landing Rights Committee should be enlarged, and that it should be called the Cables Committee, and that the Board of Trade should be relieved of its present responsibility with regard to cable landing rights. Was that course taken, or proposed to be taken?
§ * MR. NORMAN (Wolverhampton, S.)
asked if the hon. Gentleman could give the Committee any information as to the relations which existed between the 701 Post Office and Mr. Marconi or Mr. Marconi's Company. He wished to know particularly how much money had been spent by the Post Office in experiments and other matters connected with wireless telegraphy, and what the country ha I got in return. It was commonly stated—he had no means of knowing whether it was accurate or not—that the sum was between £30,000 and £40,000. No sum was taken in the Estimates in connection with wireless telegraphy, and there was no means of specifically tracing how much had been spent. He thought, however, it was clear that large sums had been spent, and certainly somebody must have profited. One important Post Office official had recently left the service, and he believed he was right in saying that that gentleman was now engaged in private scientific practice. The country had a right to look for information as to what return it had got for its money, and he hoped that the hon. Gentleman, who was so well informed as regarded the details of his Department, would be able to supply it.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said he desired to supplement the question of the hon. Member by two further queries. The first was—Was the Post Office aware that it had been stated on good authority that Mr. Marconi was using a master patent which belonged to Professor Lodge of Birmingham? Were the Post Office convinced that that was not the case? Otherwise, if the Post Office purchased Mr. Marconi's system, and it subsequently turned out that the master patent belonged to Professor Lodge, the position would be very awkward. The other question was whether the Government would take a monopoly of wireless or ethereal telegraphy as was taken of ordinary telegraphy?
§ (7.15.) MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
Perhaps I may say a few words with reference to the underground cables to Scotland, in reply to the further questions which have been addressed to me. Certainly, it is the intention of the Post Office to continue the cables, not only to Scotland but into Scotland. It is proposed eventually 702 to carry the lines as far as Lanark, whence branches will be laid to Glasgow and Edinburgh. I cannot fix a definite time, and I would ask the Committee to have a little more patience and indulgence, and let us see how we get on next year before I venture to give any date for the completion of the work. The hon. Member for Ross called attention to cable communication with Stornaway. That cable was under repair quite recently, and I hope it will now give an efficient service. I do not think that we could at the present time, as I informed the hon. Member the other day, undertake to duplicate the cable, but whether there are any ether means to increase the security of the cable shall be considered. We greatly desire to give Stornaway the best possible service, having regard to the nature of the case. The hon. Gentleman also suggested that we should make some addition to revenue by increasing the fees for registered addresses, and I will commend that suggestion to the Postmaster General's attention. Lastly, he asked me a question with reference to the alleged insanitary condition of Post Office buildings, and he mentioned, in particular, the ravages of consumption among the Post Office staff. The hon. Gentleman will be glad to learn that he is under a misapprehension as to the prevalence of consumption in the Post Office staff. Careful examination and statistics show that the average number affected by consumption between the ages of sixteen and sixty-five is actually greater in the general population than it is in the Post Office staff. Of course the Post Office is continually improving the condition of the more backward offices, and any case of alleged insanitary conditions in any particular office will receive the attention of the Post-Master General, and be at once inquired into. With reference to the question of my hon. friend the Member for Kings Lynn, no attempt has been made as regards the past to distinguish between expenditure on telephones from expenditure on telegraphs. I am not now speaking of capital expenditure, which is quite distinct. I very much regret that that distinction was not made in the accounts. I promised the House that the accounts in regard to the London scheme, which 703 is our biggest experiment, should be kept separately, and I have been in communication with the Postmaster General as to the form the accounts should take, and as to certain items which must be more or less matters of conjecture, and to determine in what way we can present the most accurate statement of the facts to the House. I am afraid that the telegraph and telephone accounts for the country generally cannot be shown separately. I certainly share my hon. friend's desire that these two services should appear separately, and I shall consider if that is possible. As regards the Cable Communications Committee's Report, which I think was only circulated this morning, I would appeal to my hon. friend that it could be better discussed on the Civil Service Estimates which deal with cable subsidies. It was only during the Easter holidays that I had an opportunity of reading the Report myself, but I have given directions that the recommendations of the Committee should be communicated to the different Departments concerned, and, of course, my hon. friend will understand that I must await their views before expressing a definite opinion on them. Prima facie my inclination is to adopt them. Then a question has been raised as regards our relations with the Marconi Company and with Mr. Marconi himself, and concerning wireless telegraphy generally. The hon. Gentleman the Member for South Wolverhampton rather suggested that the Post Office has shown too much readiness to facilitate the operations of Mr. Marconi, and that we have been reckless in spending money in promoting Mr. Marconi's researches without any apparent result to the country. Mr. Marconi was given facilities by the Post Office for making experiments with a view to discovering a system of wireless telegraphy. He had already, I think, at that time secured his master patent, but the expense of those experiments was nothing like what the hon. Gentleman was informed it was. He spoke of £30,000 or £40,000; I cannot give him the exact figures, but I think only about £2,000 or £3,000 was spent on these experiments which were made not only for the benefit of Mr. Marconi but for the benefit of the Post Office engineers 704 and electricians, who were themselves along with Professor Lodge and other scientific men devoting their attention to the same problem at the same time as Mr. Marconi. The Post Office made no payments to Mr. Marconi. The use of wireless telegraphy within this country would be an infringement of the Post-master General's monopoly and cannot be undertaken without his licence within the three mile limit.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
Is that the opinion of the law officers of the Crown, or the result of a legal decision?
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
It is not the result of a legal decision ad hoc, so to speak. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to give him the best information I can on the spur of the moment, I think there has been no decision in any case between Mr. Marconi or any one using his patent and the Postmaster General, but a decision in another case established the right of the Postmaster General to a monopoly, and the law was laid down in such a way as to leave no doubt that it would apply to wireless telegraphy, as it was held that the transmission of messages by means of electricity was an infringement of the Postmaster General's monopoly. The hon. Member for Dundee suggested that it should be the duty of the Post Office to establish wireless telegraphy in lighthouses and at different points along the coast for the purpose of receiving messages from sea. The Department will not place any obstacle in the way of that, and I believe arrangements of that kind are being made, not by the Post Office, but by Lloyds, who are the recognised means of communication with the sea. Then the hon. Gentleman for King's Lynn asked me as to the validity of Mr. Marconi's patent, and as to whether we were aware that that validity was questioned. The Postmaster General is well aware of rival claims. He has taken advice on the subject, but I think no advantage would be gained by my making any statement as to the effect of the advice. I can only say that we are well aware that doubts have been raised, and that the subject has received serious consideration. May I ask the Committee 705 to allow us to take this Vote shortly? There are other Votes down on which hon. Members desire to raise various questions of interest, notice of some of which I have received, and I hope I may induce the Committee to give us an opportunity of discussing them.
§ MR. WILLIAM ALLAN (Gateshead)
With regard to wireless telegraphy, I may inform the hon. Gentleman that it was in existence in 1837. Wireless telegraphy was invented by Beaumont Lindsay at Dundee in that year, and was accepted, by the Royal Institution, and therefore, when entering into negotiations with Mr. Marconi, it is necessary to look into the validity of his patent.
§ MR. NORMAN
asked whether the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury would inquire what had been the sum expended by the Post Office in connection with wireless telegraphy, and what had been the result.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
said he was afraid he could not do that. The experts of the Post Office were themselves conducting a series of experiments when Mr. Marconi appeared on the scene and asked for facilities. These the Postmaster General gave, of course himself securing a knowledge of the results obtained. Perhaps he might be able to find the whole sum expended, and he could not earmark the expenditure which was incurred at the suggestion of Mr. Marconi. But the whole sum was much less than the hon. Gentleman suggested.
§ 2. Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum not exceeding £5,961,815 be granted to His 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, 1903, 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."
§ (7.32) MR. THOMAS BAYLEY (Derbyshire, Chesterfield)
said he rose to move a reduction of £100 on the salary of the 706 Postmaster General in order to call attention to certain grievances of the officials of the Post Office. The Post Office officials and also the telegraphists had long standing grievances, and those grievances were rather increasing than diminishing. These officials had offered in perfect good faith to accept the decision of a Committee of the House of Commons if they were allowed to bring their grievances properly before it. He thought it would be wise for the Government to accept this offer of the Post Office officials. Both the Post Office and the Telegraph Department were great trading concerns, and as great trading concerns they should treat their officials in the same way as other great trading concerns treated theirs. He thought there should be a Court of Appeal for these men, and that should be the House of Commons alone, and when any dispute arose this House should constitute itself the Court of Appeal in the matter. As the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Vote had said, this was not a question of extravagant wages, but it was a question of a fair living wage, and the House of Commons had a right to decide what a fair living wage was. The Government itself published a Report every year showing the change in the rate of wages. That was published by the Board of Trade Department, and that Report stated that apart from agricultural labourers, seamen, and railway servants, 1,136,000 work people had gained an average rise in their weekly wage of 3s. 6d. per week in four years. It further stated that in the same period the increase of wages of the manual labouring class had been about a shilling per head. That information was in the Government's possession, and he did not see why the Post Office officials should not come in for their proper share of the prosperity of the country. He thought the House of Commons should accept the offer which had been made by the Post Office officials, and that their grievances should be investigated by a Committee. He thought these grievances, if not recognised and treated in a spirit of absolute fair play in the way in which other great trading concerns dealt with their servants in a kind and conciliatory manner, these grievances would become a source of greater trouble in the future. If this friction went on increasing greater trouble 707 would come out of this matter. There was now an opportunity for the House of Commons to end it for ever by accepting the terms and conditions which had been suggested. If those terms were accepted and a strong Committee of the House appointed, he felt convinced in his own mind that those who had these grievances, if they could not get what they thought they ought, would loyally abide by the decision of that Committee. It would be a wise act on the part of the Government to meet this question in this way and discuss it with the representatives of the people. We wished to act fairly and honestly to all public servants. He begged to move the reduction of the Vote by £109. Of course, if any indication were given to him that such a Committee as he asked for would be appointed he would immediately withdraw his Motion.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item A (Salaries) be reduced by £100, in respect of the salary of the Postmaster General."—(Mr. Thomas Bayley.)
§ (7.40) MR. GALLOWAY (Manchester, S.W.)
said that in the speech which had been made by the hon. Member he had left out of account a very important part of the case. If the Committee which had been asked for should inquire into the grievances of the officials with a view to there being an increase in the salaries of these civil servants, the proposal came with an extraordinary air from the hon. Gentleman opposite, because the Committee could not forget that if these demands were granted it would largely increase the expenditure of the nation, and no suggestion had been made by the hon. Member as to the source from which the money was to come. The position of those men had been compared to that of the railway servants much to the detriment of the Post Office officials. Everybody knew the conditions under which the railway servants worked. He himself had a lively recollection of the Motion which had been moved in that House by the hon. Member for Derby which had for its object the exposure, by means of a Return, of the intolerable conditions under which the railway servants performed their duties. There were other 708 points to be taken into consideration besides those which the hon. Gentleman raised. It was asked that a Select Committee should be appointed, but one could not conceive a body more incompetent or rather less capable of undertaking the duty of such an inquiry than a Select Committee of this House. Nevertheless, he had great sympathy with some of the grievances complained of by the postal servants. He agreed that the time taken by the authorities to return an answer to the requests or representation made to them was very unsatisfactory. He had himself occasion to write to the Postmaster General upon a matter, and on that occasion it was four months before he received a reply. The delay in replying to complaints was very unsatisfactory and un business like, and it created a suspicion in the minds of civil servants that they were not being fairly dealt with. If the Financial Secretary could see his way to expedite replies when complaints were made, instead of postal servants having to wait three or four months, he would find that, even with his present powers, many of the grievances could be removed, and the agitation at present going on would come to an end. He did not think many of the complaints had much foundation in fact, but some of them had, and those which had arose from the system under which the Post Office was worked, whereby Treasury officials were for ever trying to squeeze the employees wherever possible under the existing rules. He might instance the case of a postal servant being employed on "superior duties" for nine months. He could not be employed on those duties for ten months without his salary being raised, so at the end of nine months he was put back to his old duties, although it was not even pretended by the Post Office that he was incapable of performing the superior duties. Such a system would not be allowed to exist in any business concern in the country. He believed that such cases were few and far between, but they were permitted to be exaggerated by the postal servants themselves because of the delay which continually took place in dealing with them. Whether it was desirable or undesirable to raise the wages now given to these postal servants he did not pretend to say, but it certainly was a most unfortunate moment in the history of the country, when there was a deficit of 709 £1,000,000 to meet, to ask for an increase of salary involving much cost. The object of this inquiry was not only to obtain the redress of grievances, if they could be proved to exist, but also to secure an increase of salary.
§ MR. GALLOWAY
asked whether the hon. Member meant that if the Committee recommended an increase of salary that increase of salary should not be given. If so, he could not see the object of the inquiry.
§ MR. GALLOWAY
thought that proved his contention to be a perfectly good one. He was not saying that such a decision on the part of a Committee of Inquiry would be wrong, but simply that it was an unfortunate moment at which to make such a demand. If a commercial concern was losing money, a workman would not select that moment to ask for an increase of wages. He would wait until prosperity returned, and then make his request. He hoped the Financial Secretary would adhere to his decision, and that, whether he appointed a Departmental or any other kind of Committee, he would not, at any rate, set up the dangerous precedent of granting a Select Committee of the House of Commons.
§ (7.57.) MR. KEARLEY
said the point which had been urged was, that there should be an independent inquiry into the grievances of these postal employees. Those grievances had been set forth in the House for many years past, but had received no satisfactory redress. As the mover of the Motion which led to the appointment of the Tweedmouth Committee, he might be permitted to say a word or two as to the composition of that body. Unfortunately it was saturated with the official element. Not only was it a packed Committee in that sense, but the Post Office spared no effort to put their case forward, as they were perfectly entitled to do, in 710 the strongest possible way. To onlookers it certainly seemed that it was not a tribunal by which the grievances of the employees would receive an impartial hearing. Undoubtedly, considerable concessions were made by that Committee, and large additions made to the Post Office Vote as the outcome of its recommendations. Still, the feeling of dissatisfaction with regard to its composition was largely responsible for the continuance of the agitation among postal servants. It would be well to get this matter settled one way or the other, and the only way in which that could be done was by the appointment of an independent Committee. He should strongly oppose the appointment of a House of Commons Committee. Such a Committee would not be a proper body to inquire into questions affecting the wages of Government employees. But it was possible to get, outside the House of Commons, an independent Committee which did not consist of postal officials.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
hoped the hon. Member was not under the impression that the Tweedmouth Committee was composed of Post Office officials, because, as a matter of fact, there was only one such official on it.
§ MR. KEARLEY
was under the impression there were more. At any rate, it would not be denied that there was a feeling at the time that it was an official Committee, and that before it the employees did not get quite the sort of hearing they had anticipated and had a right to expect. The hon. Member for South-West Manchester had deprecated the making of appeals at the present juncture involving expenditure from public funds. But it was not the responsibility of those who had raised this question to point out where the money should come from. Before the Budget was disposed of they would have a great deal to say as to where the money had gone, and they would then make suggestions as to how money might be raised in other directions than those proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Then he desired to refer to a matter affecting his own constituency. Devonport and Plymouth were practically one 711 town, but the postal staff at Devonport received quite a different scale of pay from that in force at Plymouth. Prior to 1897 the Plymouth employees were divided into two classes, one class having a maximum of 52s. and the other 40s. Under the Tweedmouth Report the two classes were amalgamated, and now the whole of the indoor staff had the prospect of advancing to 52s. In Devon-port they formerly had a maximum of 40s., that had been extended to 44s., and there the matter at present stood. Devonport was one of the most highly rented towns in the Kingdom. When he raised the question on a previous occasion the then Financial Secretary accounted for the differentiation between the different staffs by saying the scales were based on the amount and importance of the business at the respective offices. He did not see why such a principle should apply to a case such as he was describing. According to the result of his inquiries, when the various places were scheduled the question of rental was taken into consideration in settling the schedule in which a particular town should be placed. No doubt Plymouth was a very important place, but so also was Devonport. Devonport was a great naval arsenal and a large military depot, and the postal work in connection with the Services was extremely important The population, which now stood at 80,000, was growing at an extremely rapid rate, owing to the fact that the Admiralty were spending a stupendous sum of money on the development of their works. Naturally the contractor had imported into the town a great army of labour, and that tended in the direction of raising rents. If the Financial Secretary would make inquiry he would be satisfied that the rental conditions prevailing in Devonport were such that the difference in the rates of pay in the offices he had named should no longer be maintained. It was impossible to compare a town like Exeter with Devonport. Two or three years ago there was a differentiation of treatment between the postmen in the two towns he had alluded to. They petitioned that the treatment should be made uniform, and an inquiry was made, but the result was unsatisfactory. He maintained that, at the 712 present moment, there was justification with regard to the postal employees for a further Committee of Inquiry. He did not think that his hon. friend was right in saying that there was only one official upon the Tweedmouth Committee. He had a sort of recollection that the constitution of that committee was extremely official, and after consulting the list of names he was convinced that it was more official than he thought it was. He had only one word more to say with regard to the postmen in the three towns he had mentioned. If the pay was to be made uniform and rise to the maximum it might be accepted. For the same reasons that the Devonport employees of the Post Office were asking for a reconsideration of their pay, he asked, on behalf of the postmen for an inquiry at the same time into the question as to whether the maximum ought not to be raised to 28s. per week.
He thought he had some justification in making this request, because he had already shown in his comparison that some towns had now a maximum of 28s. per week. The population of the three towns he had given as an illustration amounted to about 200,000 people, but the population of towns like Brighton, Derby, Hull, Leicester, Nottingham, and Wolverhampton was as great as the population of the three towns to which he had referred. Hon. Gentlemen would perhaps bear in mind that the population of those three towns in itself justified the postmen there being treated on the same basis as many of those other towns where the population was not so great. He asked the Secretary to the Treasury to have an inquiry into the conditions now prevailing in those three towns, and if he found, as he hoped he would, that the rental conditions were the same throughout, he thought the hon. Member would see at once that it was manifestly unfair to pay one section one rate of wage, and another section a totally different rate. He knew two postal employees, one working in Devonport, and the other in Liverpool, and one of them had the prospect of going up to a maximum wage of 52s. per week, while the other could only rise to 44s. per week. He would now leave the matter entirely in the hands of the Secretary to the Treasury, and in conclusion he would 713 appeal to him to give an undertaking that he would have an inquiry held into the whole matter. (8.24.)
§ *(8.47.) MR. DUKE (Plymouth)
said on both sides of the House hon. Members had protested against political influence being placed at the disposal of the Postmens' Federation for the purpose of obtaining for postal servants an improvement in their conditions of service. It appeared to him that there was a perfectly constitutional and proper objection to this use being made of the House of Commons. But on the other hand most people knew that the recognised practice—recognised by the Post Office and the Treasury and the country at large—at the present time was that the postal servants should communicate with their representatives in Parliament. He could not see of what use it was to communicate with their representatives in Parliament, unless those representatives were to make their grievances known either by letter or in the House itself. With regard to the grievance which had been referred to by the hon. Member for Devonport, he did not intend to discuss it because the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Vote had promised to investigate it, all he wished to say, was that the matter had already been investigated, and although the case made out by the Post Office Officials was in its facts unanswerable all it had met with was a polite denial. That was an excellent instance of the unsatisfactory character of the present mode of dealing with this question, He did not propose to discuss generally the terms of service and the wages of an individual case, he desired to mention two matters relating to the Postal Department and the postmen. They were matters which he considered of public importance, and matters essentially of a kind entitled to be mentioned in the Committee. One was the present relations between the Postmens' Federation and the Postal Department. The Federation was formed with the consent of the Department as a regular means of communication between the postman and the Postal Department. Some intermediary was required. He did not think anybody in this country believed that the postmen were generously treated. At least if there were such he 714 had never met them, but if the Secretary to the Treasury thought that the postmen were generously treated he hoped the hon. Gentleman would say so.
§ * MR. DUKE
I can only say with equal emphasis I certainly do not. The hon. Member continuing said that the Federation was organised on the understanding that it should not become a trade union with a body of paid officials. It was managed by postmen who devoted their own time, and who provided substitutes at their own expense, to attend to their postal duties while they attended any meetings of the Federation. He did not know why the Department, which had recognised that it was a useful institution, and had encouraged its formation by the postmen, were now complaining. The postal authorities now were cutting down the leave of these men, and putting restrictions upon them in the matter of leave required for the purpose of administering the business of their Federation. If that restrictive policy was carried much further this Federation could not be carried on on its present lines. It might or might not be desirable that the Federation should be carried on, but in his opinion it certainly was desirable, and he thought facilities should be given to those men so far as was consistent with subordination, and without neglect of their duty, to carry it on. Nobody wanted to encourage postmen to strike, but it seemed to him that the best mode to discourage them from so doing was to encourage them in carrying on a lawful organisation. Perhaps the Secretary of the Treasury would explain to the Committee what were the facts? As he understood the matter the postmen were told that too much leave had been taken, which, no doubt, had been taken at the postmen's own expense, and told that the Department would not permit unlimited leave. That was, of course, quite reasonable. The postmen proposed a certain number of days should be given, and that seemed to have been conformed to for one year, but further restrictions had now been put upon the leave. He did not for a 715 moment suggest that the Department might not be right in the matter, but the postmen did not think that it was right or that it was treating them in a kindly way. The postmen thought the Department was putting undue pressure upon them. He did not believe that was the wish of the Postmaster General, and he was quite certain it was not the wish of the Secretary of the Treasury, but it was very desirable that the postmen should understand the lines upon which the Federation could be allowed to run. It was quite clear that they could not have unlimited leave, but on the other hand if they were not generously treated when they desired leave for the conduct of the business of the Federation, which should be conducted as a domestic matter in the Post Office itself, it might have to be conducted as an ordinary trades union. That would not be at all beneficial to the Post Office Service, which must be a disciplined, subordinate, and permanent Government Department managed without friction. It might result in action such as was taken by free workmen outside the public service. Another matter which he desired to refer to was the position of the postmen in regard to a system which had been introduced comparitively recently of what was called rotation of duty. Under the Tweedmouth Committee the postmen were divided into two staffs,—an indoor staff who stayed at the Post Office, and an outdoor staff who delivered letters. It was thought advantageous to the public service to have one separate set of men employed to deliver letters because I they got accustomed to the district in which those letters were delivered. But a system was being tried in the large towns whereby postmen who had delivered letters all their lives were being put to perform indoor duty, letter sorting, and the like, and indoor men were being required to undertake outdoor work. Postmen strongly objected to this. These were all matters connected with the administration of the Department, and he hoped his hon. friend would go into these matters, for he was perfectly sure that so far as he was concerned the hon. Gentleman was not out of sympathy with the humbler ranks of the service.
§ *(9.4.) MR. HELME (Lancashire, Lancaster)
said he joined in the request that the Government should grant an independent Committee. He thought it was the duty of the House to press upon the Government the claims the workers persisted in making, and he did so for the reason that these officials were at present so much dissatisfied that they were positively considering whether they ought not to send a representative to this House who should speak on their behalf, because it was felt that members who represented the people generally, failed to represent the grievances which they urged and thought should be granted. The hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer that afternoon objected to the introduction of the term "Labour Member," and said he refused to recognise any man as a Labour Member. It certainly ought not to be necessary for any particular body of men to be compelled to select and maintain in this House one of their own class, in order that their claims should get a respectful and considerate hearing. If that hearing was not already given they failed to fulfil their dutiesas representatives of the people, the great bulk of whom in this country were what was called the working classes, and for that reason he joined in asking that this Committee should be appointed. The results of the Committee presided over by Lord Tweedmouth had failed to satisfy the employees. There was not only the question of pay to be considered, but there were other matters which these servants of a great public Department desired to have investigated. The hon. Member for Devonport drew attention to one local aspect of the rule in which the scale of pay, according to the report, was divided into five classes. He thought that the pay should be regulated according to the average rate of wages, and the cost of living in each district. Great complaint had been made about the arrangement known as "split duty," dividing the sorter's day into two parts. They had to work from, say 4 a.m. to 7.30, and then return at 4 p.m. to 8. In large towns men lived at a distance, thus considerable time was occupied in journeys, and also for meals; thus many men could not got more than five hours' sleep at once, which was not conducive to health or comfort. The Commission urged the abolition of "split duty," and recommended nine hour off 717 duty clear of travelling. Then again there was the position of the women clerks to be considered. They used to begin at £65 a year, and rise to the maximum of £100 a year by annual increments of £3. Now they begin at £55 a year, rising to a maximum of £70, by annual increments of £2 10s. He thought above all that an opportunity should be given to the servants of the Postal Department to have access to the principals of the Department. At the present time there was a great difficulty in obtaining leave so that the representatives of the men might go to represent the case of the men to the principals of the Departments. It was also complained that it was very difficult to obtain sick leave; and, further, in the matter of sanitary arrangements and ventilation much remained to be done to protect the health of the officials. So on all those grounds he supported the claim of these officials, that there should be an independent Inquiry into these questions. He thought the Committee ought to deal generously with them, and that careful consideration should be given to their claims, and full justice done.
§ MR. DAVID MORGAN (Essex, Walthamstow)
said he thought this Inquiry would be very desrable. The Department employed a large number of men, and they ought to be fairly and properly treated. With regard to the wages, he felt that they were inadequate when they came to consider the fact that on account of his duties it was absolutely necessary for a postman to live near his work, and therefore could not go out of his district into another, where housing accommodation might be cheaper. The sanitary arrangements in many Post Offices left much to be desired. One Post Office with which he was acquainted in his own constituency might have been sufficient when the population was 50,000, but now it was 108,000 the work had naturally increased enormously, and the Post Office facilities were nothing like what was required. Would the hon. Gentleman the Secretary of the Treasury say whether there was any rule by which Post Office officials were promoted from the third to the second class, because from information which he had received he believed there 718 were many men now in the third class who from the amount of work they did should be in the second class. He hoped the hon. Member would consider the arguments which had been used in favour of this large body of hard-worked public servants, and that if his Department could see their way they would listen to and consent to the demand for the Inquiry which had been asked for. He believed that if that Inquiry were held it would do a great deal of good, because there were no doubt a great many questions on which the complaints of these men were well grounded, and it was only right that they should be considered.
§ * MR. LEVY (Leicestershire, Loughborough)
said it was no doubt very unpopular at the present time to suggest anything that might entail further expenditure, but those who sat with him on the Opposition Benches were not responsible for that extravagence which had been going on in the way of expenditure for the past few years. At the present time the amount of money provided by the Fawcett scheme for rural postmen who had to travel long distances was absolutely inadequate, and he certainly thought some further considerations should be given to those men. All sorts of restrictions were imposed upon them; many of them had to walk many miles a day to meet the mail or the postcart driven from the neighbouring town, and they had to deliver their mails to that cart and take the mails from it, and in times of storm and bad weather the mail carts were frequently unable to keep their time. He knew many instances where, owing to snowstorms or the bad condition of the roads, through stress of weather, the carts were late, and these unfortunate men had to wait for them often for hour's without shelter of any kind. He thought that men should not be exposed to such risks unnecessarily, nor be expected to stand out in the snow and rain without any shelter. He had called the attention of the hon. Gentleman to this subject by letter, but had never yet received a satisfactory reply. He had been told once that these men were allowed overcoats, but he thought better protection should be afforded and adequate shelters provided.
§ *(9.17.) MR. HAY
said in his opinion the heavy increase of the national expenditure was not a proper ground for refusing to remedy the grievances of the servants of the State if those grievances were well founded. That the country was engaged in a special work was not a reason why the State's servants should not receive that which would be given to them by a private employer. Furthermore, the State should be a bright example to the private employer, and therefore to put forward that argument was to deny the first attribute that should attach to State employment, which was that men should have adequate remuneration for good service. But even during the course of this war there had been instances where the Government had departed from that principle. It was not two months since the Secretary of State for War proposed to increase the pay of the Army, and it was only two years ago since the Secretary of State for Home Affairs proposed to increase the pay of the police in consequence of the changed condition of life in our towns. The servants of the State employed in other directions were therefore given an increase to cover the enhanced rent in the districts in which they lived, and he thought it was only right that these servants of the State should be similarly treated. But he did not limit his demand to that. He felt that the sanitary conditions, or rather the insanitary conditions, of some of our postal establishments and other matters not financial made an independent inquiry absolutely necessary.
To hark back to the Tweedmouth Committee as the beginning and end of all inquiry into the conditions of life of this great army of postal employees was absolutely ridiculous. Not only had the circumstances altered, but the number of men had largely increased. It had been shown that that Committee was a more or less packed bench; the bulk of its members were gentlemen who must be regarded as being more or less dependent persons. They were permanent officials, and therefore could not be said to enjoy that freedom of thought, action, and opinion which attached to men not-connected with the Civil Service. He entirely demurred to the suggestion that this was an unjustifiable agitation, by 720 which undue pressure had been brought to bear on Members of the House. Even if it were so, he could not follow the hon. Member for King's Lynn in saying that at this time of day employees of the State should be divested of their civic rights.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said that his contention was that if this sort of thing went on it would have to be considered.
§ * MR. HAY
thought the obvious conclusion to be drawn from that statement was that if this sort of thing continued—to use the hon. Member's words—the pressure would become so great and be so effective as to destroy the independence of Members of the House of Commons, and that consequently persons who received pay from the State would have to be divested of their electoral rights. If the Post Office were only administered by business men, nothing would be heard of these troubles which annually took up so much of the time of the House. In the present Postmaster General they had a man whom they knew to be most considerate of the feelings of others, and a man of strong character and great determination. Nevertheless, since he had been at the Post Office he seemed to have lost those traits of character. The truth was that the real masters of the Post Office were the permanent officials, who had had no experience in the management of men, and had no sympathy with the aspirations and ideals of the working and middle classes who constituted the postal staff. So long as the Post Office remained the mere serf of the Treasury, surrendering its balances year by year to that Department, so long would there be this discontent, not only on the part of the persons employed but also on the part of the public, who in many cases were most inefficiently served. The Government would be well advised in believing that the action of those who had taken this matter up was dictated, not by any electioneering considerations, but by a sense of public duty and fair play. They believed that the time had arrived when these grievances, whether ill or well founded, should receive a careful, sympathetic, and business-like examination at the hands of an independent Committee.
721 Having dealt with the general question, he desired to refer to two or three points affecting interests with which he was specialty connected. The first was the case of postal servants engaged in military work in South Africa.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
did not wish to interrupt any discussion germane to the Vote, but the men to whom the hon. Member was now referring were serving as soldiers in South Africa. The conditions of their service were matters for the War Office, and with which the Postmaster General had nothing to do. He therefore submitted that it would not be in order to discuss the question on the present Vote.
THE DEPUTY CHAIRMAN
If that is the case, it will be out of order to discuss their salaries on this Vote.
§ * MR. HAY
said he had not mentioned the word "salary." lie was about to say that these men had been lent, for the service of the State, by one Department to another, and he submitted that he would be in order in referring to them, because one of the inducements offered to them to serve their country in South Africa was that they should not be in a worse position than that offered by private employers, viz.: that their situations should be kept open for them, and that whilst they were absent they should receive their pay. The Financial Secretary had stated that he would have an opportunity to refer to the question on the Estimates, and he desired now to take advantage of that opportunity. The point he wished to make was that the Post Office sometimes posed as a private employer, and at other times as a Department of the State, according to which attitude suited their book. It was not right that these men should be made the subjects of a game of battledore and shuttlecock between two Departments, the one saying they had nothing to do with the men because they were under the War Office, and the other declining all responsibility on the ground that the Post Office had to do with the terms under which they served.
Another point of detail to which he wished to refer was almost personal. 722 During the last few months it had been his duty to communicate on several occasions with the Postmaster General, and his experience had been that if he made a general statement he was asked for details, and if he gave details he received a general statement in reply. The principle of the Post Office for years past had nominally been to discourage the increase of the auxiliary or un-established staff. So late as December 31st last the Postmaster General described the auxiliary employment as very undesirable. Nevertheless, on February 6th last, there was an increase of ninety-three persons on the auxiliary staff at the East Central branch. He contended that if principles were laid down for the administration of a leviathan Department such as the Post Office, those principles ought not to be forthwith departed from without grave reason being shown. It seemed that when it suited the feelings and the exigencies of the utterly unbusinesslike authorities at the Post Office, all principle went to the winds, and by technical points and finesse in regard to regulations the men were harassed and irritated and subjected to injustices which would not he tolerated by the staff of any large concern such as a railway, or Whiteley's, or any similar establishments. On one occasion last winter the Dutch mail was late, and a certain portion of the men in the City were called upon during their period of rest to deliver this late mail. As a result they had nothing to eat from early morning until between five and six o'clock in the afternoon, and they had to resume duty between six and eight o'clock for the evening delivery. According to the regulations made under the Tweedmouth Committee, the time allowed for tea was half an hour. These men having been without sustenance for the best part of the day, took an half hour, to which they were entitled under the rules, but they were all, nevertheless, entered on the book as "late," and they appealed against it successfully, and when he complained to the Postmaster General he was told not to trouble about the matter as the appeal had been allowed. He instanced this as an example of the muddling and unbusinesslike way in which these matters were treated. He 723 thought that any business of the state conducted on lines such as these was not only unbusinesslike but deserved the condemnation of the Committee. The regulations of the Post Office, under which the auxiliary staff were governed, were also muddled, unbusinesslike, and bullying in their character. If something like 160,000 persons were performing their daily work under such conditions it was high time that Some absolutely independent inquiry should be made on the part of the House of Commons, and they ought not to be put off by the official phraseology of his hon. friend the Secretary of the Treasury, who he asked to signalise his tenure of office by bringing about the investigation so much desired.
§ (9.38.) MR. SWIFT MACNEILL (Donegal, S.)
said his hon. friend opposite who had just sat down, had made an excellent speech, and he had represented the Post Office Department as serf to the Treasury. It was in regard to the serfdom of the Post Office to the Treasury that he intended to speak. It was a fact that only one Amendment could be taken, and that was put in the form of a reduction of the Postmaster-General's salary. His hon. friend below him had been much more considerate than himself, for he had intended moving the reduction of the Postmaster General's salary by £500, and although he was entitled to preference he had suppressed himself and had given away to the Amendment of his hon. friend. In the past his voice had been like one crying in the wilderness. He had no personal animosity against Lord Londonderry, but having regard to the fact that the Post Office was a business which affected every; branch of the community, he claimed that they ought to have the Postmaster General sitting in the people's House. For more than a generation the Postmaster General had been a Member of the House of Commons where he had sat to defend his policy.
It so happened that in the year 1866 an Act was passed through both Houses making it possible that the Postmaster General should be capable of sitting in the House of Commons. So great were the objections to the Postmaster General sitting in the House of Lords, that the Bill to which he had alluded 724 was deemed to be absolutely necessary. It was an utter abrogation of the whole spirit of constitutional liberty that an official who had such an enormous amount of money passing through his hands, and who had under his charge 160,000 employees—it was an outrage that such an official should have no direct representative in the House of Commons. The Postmasters General in former years had done great service to the country in consequence, of having a seat in the House of Commons. He might mention Sir Lyon Playfair and Mr. Fawcett, who introduced magnificent reforms mainly because they were subjected to the influence of the House of Commons. From the year 1892 to 1895 there was no more satisfactory official than Mr. Arnold Morley. If the Postmaster General could not himself sit in the House of Commons he ought at least to be directly represented. The Secretary to the Treasury claimed that he represented the Postmaster General, but he did not represent directly and could not control the officials who supplied him with his information. It was absolutely ridiculous that questions addressed by them should be answered by a Gentleman in the House of Lords, who would only give such information as was supplied to him by his officials. It would be better to have no Postmaster General at all than to be placed in such a position.
It was no exaggeration to say that the Duke of Norfolk personally paid a great deal of attention to his work, and he was very courteous indeed to hon. Members of the House of Commons in supplying them with the information they required. He, however, was an exception, and they had now got a Postmaster General who was a politician first and a Postmaster General after. The present Postmaster General was a gentleman who would not attend to his business, although he had 160,000 men and all their destinies in his hands. When the Postmaster General was not in his office he was generally Primrosing all over the place. He wished to have a gentleman like the Duke of Norfolk as Postmaster General, who would attend to his business and be subject to the control of public opinion. He had no 725 hesitation in saying a good word even for a lord, because it was his misfortune that the Duke of Norfolk was a duke.
Every single Department of the State was directly represented in the House of Commons except the Post Office. Some of the Departments had more than one representative in the House. Why was the Postmaster General not in the House of Commons? Was it because he was afraid of being asked so many questions? In the case of a Department like the Post Office it was absolutely necessary that hon. Members should come in actual contact with the Minister for that Deparment. He admitted that it was a very great honour to be replied to by the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury. The system was that the Question was put to the hon. Member and it was referred to various officials, and some considerable time after they generally received a letter from the Postmaster General saying that nothing could be done. No doubt the Postmaster General was better employed arranging the laws for the landlords in Ireland. With regard to what had been said by the Secretary to the Treasury it was an utter mistake that the Post Office should be regarded as a profit-making concern. The Post Office was established for the benefit of the people, and upon one occasion Mr. Shaw Lefevre actually proposed that £3,000,000 out of the Post Office revenue should be devoted to the reduction of postal charges. He considered it was an outrage that the Postmaster General should not have a seat in the House of Commons.
§ *(9.54.) MR. BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)
understood that the question was that a Committee should be appointed to inquire into certain grievances of the postal employees, but the hon. Member for South Donegal seemed to have devoted his time not so much to advancing arguments for the appointment of a Committee as to—
THE DEPUTY CHAIRMAN
Order, order! The Question before the Committee is to reduce Item A—the Vote to the Postmaster General—by £100.
§ * MR. BANBURY
said that had been moved in order to urge that a Committee should be appointed to inquire into certain grievances, but the hon. Member for South Donegal seemed to use the Motion that the Postmaster General's salary should be reduced merely as a foundation to attack the Postmaster General. He attacked the Postmaster General because he was a Member of the House of Lords and not of the House of Commons, but in the same breath he said that the Duke of Norfolk was a model Postmaster General. The Duke of Norfolk was a Member of the House of Lords, and if he was a model Postmaster Lord Londonderry was not disqualified from being a model Postmaster because he was a Member of the House of Lords. He rose not so much with the object of answering the speech of the hon. Member for South Donegal as to point out to the House, as he had already done on other occasions, the great detriment which he conceived would result to the country if they were continually, for electioneering purposes—because it was for no other purpose—to have Motions brought before them for Committees of Inquiry which should be Committees of that House, and which were asked for merely because it was supposed that pressure could be put on the Members of the Committee to induce them, whether right or wrong, to grant the demands which had been asked by the people who pressed for inquiry. The hon. Member for South Donegal said the Post Office must not be considered as a revenue Department, and that it was to be managed in the interest of the bulk of the people. He quite agreed with the hon. Member. That was absolutely true, but he would point out to him that if the Post Office was conducted at a loss somebody would have to find that loss, and the people who would have to find it would be the bulk of the people, and it was because he objected to the bulk of the people being mulcted merely for electioneering purposes that he supported the Government tonight in the course they were going to pursue. He believed that every Member of the House of Commons was anxious that every servant of the State should receive a proper consideration for his labour 727 and he was sure that every one on the Conservative side of the House would agree with him when he said that that was the generally accepted opinion in all quarters of the House. But how were they to arrive at what was a proper sum to pay a man for his labour? They could only arrive at it by finding out whether there were many applicants or not for the position, and as long as they knew that there were hundreds of people who were ready and anxious to take up the position, then he thought the Committee should consider the bulk of the people who found the money, and not merely a few discontented people who thought that by exerting a little pressure on weak-kneed Members of Parliament they could secure something for themselves at the expense of people who were not better off and who in some cases were worse off than themselves. This Post Office agitation had been going on ever since he had the honour of becoming a Member of Parliament ten years ago. When he first entered the House a Committee was appointed, presided over by Lord Tweedmouth, for the purpose of investigating these grievances. He did not think anybody could say that was a prejudiced Committee, or that it was prejudiced against the working classes.
§ * MR. BANBURY
said his hon. friend observed that if it was prejudiced and it would be in the other direction. He believed that his hon. friend, with his usual acuteness, was right. That Committee reported that certain increases should be made, and those increases were were made—[An HON. MEMBER: No!]—and the people who asked for that Committee were not satisfied and wanted more. Another Committee was appointed, and it was presided over by the Duke of Norfolk. His right hon. friend the President of the Board of Agriculture was present during the sittings of the Committee, or he was a member of it. The result of that Committee was that further increases were made, but still the Post Office employees were not satisfied. He was afraid that they were like hon. Gentlemen on the other side, 728 who, whatever concessions they got under the Irish Land Acts, still demanded more. He believed that whatever concessions were made, and however they were increased, they would still be required to give more. What they had to arrive at was what was just and fair, and the worst tribunal to arrive at that was a Committee of the House of Commons. How did they appoint a Committee of the House of Commons on a subject like this? They took those Members—[Cries of "Divide."] He was extremely sorry that his remarks were so true that hon. Members opposite did not care to listen to them. They appointed certain Members in favour of the proposed inquiry and certain Members against. Was that an impartial inquiry? What they ought to have, if they were to have a Committee, was a Committee consisting of Members who were not prejudiced for or against. He did not say that he ought to be on the Committee—far from it. [Cries of "Divide" and "Order."] He did not know whether the hon. Gentleman who called "Divide" thought he would make him sit down, but if he did he was quite mistaken. He had no wish to prolong the debate He had said what he had said because he believed it to be his duty to say so. Nobody could say that he had got up and taken the popular side. It was not always the popular side that was right. He thought he was justified in making the few remarks he had made. He had not made them for electioneering purposes, but because he believed it was in the interest of the country that civil servants should not continue to put pressure on Members in order to advantage their own position. [An HON. MEMBER: Why not?] Their votes were given to them to be exercised for the benefit of the country. He remembered the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire some years ago, in a very remarkable speech, saying, in much better language than he could command, every thing he had said to-night. [Laughter.] He did not know why hon. Members opposite should laugh at the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire. He thought the right hon. Gentleman was one of their leaders. However that might be, he thought the 729 House of Commons should pause before they yielded to pressure for merely electioneering purposes.
§ (10.6.) MR. FIELD (Dublin, St. Patrick)
said the hon. Member for the Peckham Division was entirely mistaken in imagining that the Members who had taken part in the debate had done so for electioneering purposes. If he had taken the trouble to analyse the numbers, he would have found that there were 160,000 voters spread all over the three Kingdoms, and it was doubtful whether in any constituency the number of men engaged in Post Office work could influence an election. The hon. Member for Peckham told them that this agitation had been going on during the ten years he had been in the House. What was the reason that it was not stopped? It was because these men had genuine grievances. He had attended meetings both in London and Dublin, and he held the most dangerous thing that could happen was that a public Department should be seething with discontent. These men were helping to carry on the public business of the country, and he put it to the Financial Secretary of the Treasury that the safest thing that could be done under the circumstances was to hold an Inquiry. If these men could not prove their case, it would drop to the ground. What were the facts? There was a journal edited by Post Office officials, and he found that the Post Office servants were clamouring all over the country for some constituency where they could put in a man to represent their opinions to this Assembly. That was to say, they were of opinion there was no one in the House who had a desire to do justice to a large body of men who were engaged in the service of the State. There was one other argument which he thought was worthy of consideration at this stage of the proceedings. We ought to have a body of contented men conducting this important service; for after all the duties performed by the postal and telegraphic servants were amongst the most important that could be committed to any section of the community. Therefore it was absolutely necessary in the public interest that these men should be satisfied. He could not understand 730 why there should be on the part of some Members of the House of Commons or the Treasury any desire to prevent an Inquiry into their grievances. He entirely agreed with his hon. friend the Member for South Donegal that it was necessary that the Postmaster General should be a Member of this House, because the official in charge of such an important Department should be in touch with the representatives of the people. He would go further, and say that of all the Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite, the Financial Secretary of the Treasury—without impugning the action of the hon. Gentleman, whom he had found most courteous in any correspondence he had had with him in this matter—should not represent the Post Office, for he had too much to do. He had enough to do as Secretary of the Treasury, without being bothered with Post Office matters. His duties in connection with the Treasury and as the representative of the Post Office were of that dual nature which disabled him from taking the same impartial view of Post Office matters which would be taken by an independent official. He did not wish to detain the House at this late hour by going into many points which he could bring forward with reference to sanitation, promotion, and the regulations of the service. He could dilate on those matters for a long time if necessary, but he did not think any useful purpose would be served by going into the details. He put it to the Financial Secretary of the Treasury that it was desirable in the public interest that such an inquiry should be held by an independent Commission, because all who had taken any interest in this question knew that the recommendations which were made by Lord Tweedmouth's Commission had not been carried out, and that therefore there was discontent among the servants of the Post Office. He expressed the hope that the Financial Secretary of the Treasury would give a favourable reply on the point which had been brought before him, and that an Inquiry would be granted to be held by a Select Committee of this House, and not by permanent officials. They should have an independent Committee to try the questions at issue. It was nothing short of a farce to appoint 731 permanent officials to inquire into their own conduct in the past, and to say how things were to be carried out in the future.
§ (10.14.) MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
This debate has travelled over a very wide field. It started with the single object of securing an Inquiry by a Committee of this House into the grievances of Post Office servants, which is very much the same question as was raised earlier in the evening on the previous Vote. At the same time, although I have expressed my opinion on that proposal, I think it is due to the Committee that I should deal with the points which have been raised in this debate. I scarcely know what to admire more, the happy optimism of the hon. Member for the St Patrick Division of Dublin, who believes that, although all inquiries have hitherto failed to produce satisfaction, one more would be certain to result in allaying what he calls the seething discontent of the service, or the profound distrust which my hon. friend the Member for Hoxton shows in all who have not the happiness to be entirely independent of the Government service. The hon. Gentleman who initiated this debate declared that what the servants of the Post Office required was a Court of Appeal, before which they could bring their grievances, such as anyone outside the Government service had. He then went on to urge on the Government that they would do well to put off the responsibility which at presents rests on their shoulders, and lay it on the House of Commons. I cannot imagine a greater dereliction of duty on the part of responsible Ministers than to follow the advice of the hon. Member. I refuse to resign one particle of my responsibility, or to accept the suggestion of the hon. Member that the Government should wash their hands of their responsibility, and throw this subject, as an open question, before the House of Commons, and ask a Committee of this House, without aid or guidance from responsible Ministers, to judge upon the multitude of conflicting interests and details incident to the administration of so great service as the Post Office 732 I, for one, will not be a party to putting off that responsibility on to the House of Commons.
The hon. Gentleman says that what the Post Office employees require is a Court of Appeal. I venture to say that they have a Court of Appeal such as exists for no other body of workers in the country. They have free access and right of appeal to their immediate superiors, who are permanent servants of the Post Office, like themselves. They can have their eases considered by them, and if they are not satisfied with the result they can appeal to the Permanent Secretary of the Post Office and to the Postmaster General himself. The attitude of the hon. Member in this matter is surely extremely inconsistent. He complains in one breath that the Postmaster General and the Permanent Secretary come periodically fresh to the Post Office with no experience of its business, having spent their previous lives in other occupations, and in the next breath he says that these same gentlemen are bound up with tradition, and that they are anxious only to maintain the existing state of things. I venture to say that there is not a more able public servant than the present Permanent Secretary of the Post Office. Since I have held my present office I have been brought, I had almost said into daily, certainly, into almost daily relations with him. I have had to discuss extremely difficult and complicated subjects with him, and I venture to say that a clearer mind and a fairer and more impartial man no one could wish to find among Government servants, and we may be happy if he is a fair sample of those who preside over great public Departments. I admit that in any great service of this kind there must always be anomalies. There will be cases of individual hardship. New difficulties and new problems will arise, which cannot be foreseen, and which require constant revision and review by the heads of the Department. My hon. friend the Member for South-West Manchester, in a speech which, if he will allow me to say so, I very heartily agree with, said that he believed that some part of the discontent or dissatisfaction which exists among members of the service, and perhaps also among Members of this 733 House, is due to the delay which, of course, occurs between the time a representation is made and an answer is received. I think that is true. I think there has been, in some cases, fair matter for complaint in that respect, and in conjunction with my noble friend and the Permanent Secretary I have been doing my utmost to expedite replies to all representations made in a proper way, and especially, if hon. Members will allow me to say so, to ensure that hon. Members who communicate directly with the Postmaster General should be answered at the earliest possible moment. [Cheers.] I am grateful to the Committee for recognising my services.
But having said so much, let me say one thing more. I would beg the House to remember what is the class of questions which is habitually brought before the Post Office. I will deal with one or two which have been raised in this debate before I finish. They are questions of principle and general application, about which it should be possible to give replies, if not on the spot, at any rate with very brief delay. But there are other questions relating, it may be, to a particular individual in a particular place in perhaps a distant part of the country, and it is not possible to answer off-hand, questions of this kind, if hon. Members desire that full and complete inquiry should be made by the head of the Department. In a great administration like this there must be decentralisation, and how difficult it is to decentralise, either in the Post Office or in the Army, when working under constant examination by question and answer in this House, no hon. Member who has not had experience of official life can easily realise. But there must be decentralisation, because every little petty matter cannot be dealt with by the Postmaster General or the Permanent Secretary. Their attention should be reserved in the main for large questions, and I think it is deplorable, absolutely deplorable, that so much of their time should be occupied, as under present circumstances it necessarily is occupied, with matters of very small detail, because these matters of detail are asked by hon. Members, and because we do not feel that an hon. Member will accept an answer from anyone but the highest 734 authority. I think a third of the time—am putting it at a low estimate—of the highest officials of the Post Office is occupied in answering queries raised by Members of this House, and in providing me with information in order that I may be in a position to answer the inquiries addressed to me. Under these circumstances, while hon. Members are not content to have a small matter affecting a particular individual in a particular locality dealt with, as it would be in any private business, by the officer on the spot, without appeal or reconsideration unless grievous cause is shown, there must be delay if hon. Members are to inquire from headquarters as to the reasons of that officer's decision and re view the whole case. I can assure my hon. friend that it is our desire that the delays should be as short as possible. I think they have been too long in many cases. There have been unfortunate cases where communications from Post Office servants have been altogether overlooked. I think that is most regrettable, and I can assure the Committee that my noble friend and myself are doing everything in our power to prevent their recurrence.
I would ask the Committee to take note of what I am about to tell them. I may say that the correspondence of the Post Office—not the letters it carries for the public, but as to its business—amounts to about 60,000 letters a day, and I would ask hon. Members to remember that fact, and have some patience and forbearance. Occasionally even letters go astray, and then, of course, no answer is received. Now, Sir, let me examine for a moment the class of grievances by which this demand for inquiry has been supported. The first remark I have to make is that no single grievance or alleged grievance has been produced, to the Committee tonight which was not before the Tweed-mouth Committee or the President of the Board of Agriculture and the Duke of Norfolk, when they sat in one of the rooms of this House. What we are asked to do is not to inquire into grievances which have not been inquired into before, or which have been overlooked, or have received insufficient attention. What we are asked to do is 735 to re-try not alone the whole ease that was tried by the Tweedmouth Committee, but every particular of that case in which the decision of the Committee did not grant the postmen the whole of what they had asked. It would be futile to expect—as the hon. Member for the St. Patrick Division of Dublin, with his happy optimism, suggests—that any fresh inquiry would be successful in allaying this agitation. What is required is that we should go on having the case tried by various tribunals until we have found a tribunal which would find wholly in favour of the complainants. What are these grievances? The hon. Member for Devonport raised a question in relation to the pay of the indoor men at Devonport as compared with the indoor men at Plymouth. He said that the conditions of life in the three towns," as they are called, were the same, that the cost of house rent and living generally was equal, and that to an ordinary man it was impossible to conceive why different rates of pay should be given to men working in the Post Office at Plymouth and to men working in the Post Office at Devonport. He added that he thought the equality had been admitted, because the outdoor men had been put on an equal footing. The explanation of what, on the face of it, appears to be a grievous anomaly, is that the pay of the indoor men is regulated, not merely by the cost of living, but by the nature and extent of the work they have to do. Now, the letter carrier, when he carries letters for so many hours a day up and down the streets at Devonport or for the same number of hours a day up and down the streets of Plymouth, has a precisely equivalent amount of duty to do, but that is not so in connection with indoor work. The indoor work at Plymouth is infinitely greater than that at Devonport, and being greater, it is also much more complex and more difficult; and accordingly the rate of pay in Plymouth for this more difficult and complicated work is higher than the rate of pay which the men receive for indoor work at Devonport. It is right that both offices should be reviewed to see whether changes have arisen, and I will make that inquiry; but all that I want 736 to show to the Committee is that this thing, which looks at first sight to be a foolish anomaly, is based on good reason.
§ MR. KEARLEY
I made it clear that there was differentiation until some years ago, and that then the rate of living was the same.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
The postmen, discharging exactly the same' duties in two towns where the cost of living is the same, get exactly the same rate of pay. Other men who do not discharge the same duties, but other complex and more intricate duties, do not get the same rate of pay. The hon. Member was followed by the hon. Member for Plymouth, who complained that new regulations had been issued which limited the right of postmen to obtain special leave to attend meetings of their association. I think the Committee will admit that the Government is generous in this respect. The established postman has, to begin with, fourteen working days leave, exclusive of Sundays, on full pay; he has, in addition to that, ten days special leave in the course of the year on his providing a substitute so that his work can be carried on efficiently. Now, I submit that twenty-four days leave in a year is not an unreasonable amount of leave to give to these postal servants, and I do not think it can be said that the Postmaster General is unduly hard when he allows these men ten days leave to attend their organisation. But what he found was that some officers were so often absent from their duties as to impede the proper discharge of them, and I can tell the Committee myself of a case where a postman was sent up for pention, on being invalided out of the service on the ground of ill-health due to overwork, in which I have the gravest doubt as to whether that ill-health was not caused, not by his work at the Post Office but by work done outside. I do not think, therefore, that it will be said that we are less generous in this matter than private employers.
§ * MR. CORRIE GRANT (Warwickshire, Rugby)
The complaint is that having been originally allowed a greater limit of time they have now been restricted.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
If the hon. Member had done me the honour to listen to what I said, he would have heard that that was the complaint to which I gave the answer. We found it necessary to place a restriction on the time outside the fourteen days full leave that postmen might devote to other services.
§ * MR. CORRIE GRANT
Everybody knows that a member of the Post Office service can take ten days leave if he can find a substitute, but what was alleged, as I understood, was that men who went away on Federation service were formerly given a special allowance, and that that has now been taken away.
§ MR AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
I utterly fail to understand what the hon. Gentleman meant by stating what was said by my hon. friend, and whit has been re-stated by me. If I have not made myself understood by the hon. Member, I am afraid I am constitutionally unable to do so. Now we come to the complaints of the hon. Member for the Lancaster Division. He complained that the sick leave allowed to the Post Office servants was illiberal.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
A certain amount of control over application for sick leave is necessary in every service, I am afraid that the public service is not free absolutely from what is known as malingering, and uncontrolled sick leave to anyone who applies for it would not, I think, tend to the efficiency of the public service. Let me just tell the Committee what is the sick leave to which these men are entitled. Established postmen are entitled to six months sick leave on full pay, and six months further sick leave on half - pay. Unestablished postmen for the first six months have two-thirds pay and for the next six months half pay. Now, I think, so long as we are as generous as that, I am justified in saying when I am challenged that we do treat our public servants well. I think it would be hard for them to find better treatment in 738 private employment. Another hon. Gentleman recommended this Inquiry on the grounds that horse allowance in certain rural districts was insufficient. Does the Committee think it is reasonable that we should set up all this machinery of Inquiry by Select Committee in order to find out whether in some part of the Loughborough Division the horse allowance or a rural postman is sufficient, or how often some postman, owing to a snowstorm, is left waiting at a cross road for the arrival of a mailcart?
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
I do not think the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman is a very good one, because even if we erected shelters at these cross roads I think it is extremely probable that we should have to employ and pay for police to protect them. I do not think that is a very practical suggestion on the part of the hon. Member. Then we come to my hon. friend the Member for Hoxton. My hon. friend was very indignant that a Motion such as that which we are discussing and speeches such as those we have listened to, should be subjected to any other than liberal consideration, and he asks us to accept his assurance that he is guided solely by a sense of public duty. I am anxious to make every allowance for the hon. Member, but does he think it right, while taking so much to himself, to allow nothing to other Members, and will not allow that they also may be actuated by public motives? The hon. Member complains of the whole of the permanent officials in the Post Office who are not on weekly wages, without exception; and last, but not least, he condemns the Financial Secretary. He complained—and he found a supporter in the hon. Member for South Donegal—that the Postmaster General did not give sufficient attention to his duty.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
What was the complaint of the two hon. Gentlemen? The complaint, in effect, was that the Postmaster General was a tool in the hands of the Treasury. That was my hon. friends complaint, and his statement was warmly approved by the hon. Member for South Donegal—that the Postmaster General was a serf to the Treasury; and then in the next sentence, almost, the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Donegal said, instead of having the Postmaster General here to answer for himself, the defence of the Post Office was put into the hands of a clerk and a puppet who had no control over it.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
I deny that I ever used such a word in my life. I neither said "puppet" nor "puppy."
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
Either statement might be true, but both cannot be true, and the hon. Member should decide on which horse he is going to ride before he comes down to the House and makes charges of this kind. Now, I have examined at great length the round of grievances which have been put forward as a basis for this reduction, and I do not, and the Government does not, hold that in the allegations that are made there is any substantial ground for this Inquiry. I speak with some sense of responsiblity on this matter. The Post Office is a gigantic service. Upon its efficiency and regular working depends the convenience, not only of ail our commercial system, but our whole national life. It is one of the Revenue Departments, and its contribution to the Exchequer, though it has not grown to the extent of some of the taxes, is an important contribution. We are the guardians of the efficiency of the service, and of the revenue derived from that service, and we cannot devolve upon other people the inquiries we ought to make ourselves. But we consider that it would be a grave dereliction of duty on our part to throw this great service into the turmoil 740 and confusion of a Parliamentary Inquiry, with the knowledge that such an Inquiry would not be final—hon. Gentlemen who have supported this Amendment have declared that to talk about finality in this matter is absurd—with the knowledge that there is no finality in it, with the knowledge that what is done today for the Post Office must be done tomorrow for every other Department employing a large number of Government servants, until returns to this House will more and more depend on the willingness of Members to purchase the support of those who are in public employment by promises of concessions at the public expense, instead of securing their support, like that of other citizens, on public grounds and national interests.
§ *(10.50.) MR. NANNETTI (Dublin, College Green)
referred to the grievances of the men employed in the Dublin Post Office in reference to the findings of the Tweedmouth Committee. He had recently called the attention of the Financial Secretary to the proceedings of an indignation meeting held in Dublin, at which 500 postal servants were present, and where a resolution was passed calling on the Government to carry out the recommendations of that Committee. Under those recommendations split duties were to be abolished, and a nine hours rest conceded. But that Committee sat five years ago, and its recommendations had not yet been carried out. The hon. Gentleman had said that if Members of the postal service had a grievance they could go to the heads of their Departments. Surely the Financial Secretary knew that anybody who took that course would be a marked man, and would lose all chance of promotion, and possibly his situation as well. The Department in Dublin was seething with discontent. At the public meeting recently held, at which the Lord Mayor, several Members of Parliament, and representatives of the commercial community were present, all agreed that the men had substantial grievances and pledged themselves to do what they could to bring them to the notice of the Postmaster General He had brought the matter before the Financial Secretary, and had received a courteous reply. But soft words 741 buttered no parsnips, and the grievances remained unredressed. It was the duty of the State to act as a model employer, to see that the men enjoyed fair conditions of labour, and were not called upon to work excessive hours. He joined in the appeal for an independent Inquiry into these grievances. But if the Inquiry was to share the fate of the Tweedmouth Committee, it would be better to have no inquiry at all, because to have findings brought in but not carried out was worse than useless. Recently in Dublin there had been a terrible scandal. The head of the Department had been censured for his action in connection with the Corcoran defalcations. When, however, promotions came to be made, strangers were imported into the city and put over the heads of the men already there. This treatment was protested against, but the statement was alleged to have been mad; by the Controller that there was not a man in the Department capable of taking a responsible position. He branded that statement as a falsehood. The promotions were awarded to favoured individuals, and so long as there were men who, having passed competitive examinations, were competent to take the positions, it was not fair to bring men in from the country and place them over their heads. It could not be argued that these men were better qualified. How could men from a little country Post Office be better qualified for the work than those who had graduated in such a service as that in the General Post Office, Dublin? As a result of this system the citizens were suffering. At Christmas no less than 20,000 letters and 17,000 packets were delayed for several days, purely as the result of the way things were done. It might be a matter of sentiment, but it was very hard that Irish fathers and mothers, who looked for letters from their kith and kin in America and other lands, should be disappointed in this way on Christmas day in consequence of the bad system in existence at the Post Office. Another matter of complaint was the "trippage" allowance to supernumeraries, who were sent to Queenstown and other places to sort the mails. The men with permanent positions received 7s. a day in addition to their ordinary pay, but supernumeraries who were engaged; received only about 3½d. an hour. As the; trip lasted, say, six hours, such a man 742 would get the magnificent sum of 1s. 7d. or 1s. 9d. to defray his extra cost of subsistence. He appealed to the Financial Secretary to see whether the matters to which he had referred could not be remedied; if that were done he was satisfied that it would be found that in Dublin there was a staff second to none in the Kingdom, capable of filling any positions they might be called upon to occupy. He asked that the recommendations of the Tweedmouth Committee should be carried out; that excessive overtime should be discontinued; that an increased allowance should be given to the men be mentioned on trippage duty, and that promotion from the ranks should be given to competent men who had to pass a competitive examination.
§ *(11.3.) MR. BUTCHER (York)
said that in a great Department like the Post Office it was inevitable that from time to time grievances or alleged grievances should arise, which demanded inquiry and sometimes redress. The question at issue seemed to be as to the proper tribunal to adjudicate upon these grievances. Nobody could deny that in the normal and ordinary course, the proper tribunal to make the Inquiry was the Department itself. The responsibility was cast upon the Department to see that the grievances brought before it were considered, He could conceive of nothing more certain to undermine the authority and to lessen the sense of responsibility of a Department than the doctrine that whenever grievances were brought before the House of Commons the House should order a Committee to examine into and adjudicate upon those grievances. Such a course would be most dangerous and injurious to the public service, He did not say that circumstances could not arise in which a Committee of Inquiry would be necessary. If it were shown that substantial grievances existed, and that the Post Office Department were incapable of dealing with them, then it might be necessary to appoint such a Committee. He was not, however, satisfied that any such case had been made out. He had listened attentively to the speech of the hon. Member who moved the reduction, and he believed he was right in saying that he had not 743 brought forward one specific instance of a grievance. One would have expected that when a Parliamentary Inquiry was demanded, specific instances where justice had been denied to the employees and where grievances had failed to obtain the redress to which they were entitled would have been brought forward. Certain cases have been put forward by other Members, but after listening to the most careful speech of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, he was satisfied that the grievances complained of had been carefully considered by the Department, and had been fairly and properly adjudicated upon. After endeavouring to approach this question with an open mind, he had come to the conclusion that no case had been made out for a Parliamentary Inquiry, and he should have no hesitation whatever in supporting the Government upon this question.
§ (11.10.) MR. KEIR HARDIE
said he wished to refer to the wages paid to women in the Postal service.
§ MR. KEIR HARDIE
said the Secretary to the Treasury had refused the appointment of a Special Committee, partly because every employee was free to make his or her grievances known. In theory that was so, but in practice every employer of labour in the House knew how difficult it was for the poorer paid employees to make their grievances known and secure their redress. In the Postal service there were now Trades Union organisations for the various branches of the service, and all that those organisations claimed was that, through their officials, they should be allowed to approach the heads of Departments in order to secure a redress of their grievances. [Ministerial cries of "No, no."] That, at any rate, was their claim. They claimed that the officials should be allowed to approach the heads of Departments with the view of securing a redress of their grievances. There were employers of labour in the House who had good sense enough to treat directly with Trade Unions in all labour disputes, and he ventured to assert that there was not an employer of labour in 744 the House of Commons who had adopted that method who was not ready to admit that this course was the most satisfactory and the most economical, and one which conduced to the best relationship between employer and employed. If that was true of the private employer, surely it was equally true of the State. These men were the servants of the Post Office, which employed no less than 160,000 persons, and each one of them had a grievance. What the Post Office Department asked was that each of those 160,000 persons should individually place his grievance before the Post Office authorities. The Trades Union method was that their grievance should be referred to the Trades Union organisation and then presented, not one by one but in bulk, through the officials of that Trades Union organisation, which was a more satisfactory and a more economical way of dealing with them and was the best which the State could adopt. He wished to enter his protest against the doctrine which had been preached in this debate of the State of obtaining its labour in the cheapest market, and he more particularly wished to protest against that doctrine being applied to women. What was considered to be a good law to apply to the Postmaster General ought to be an equally good law for the humblest employee of the Post Office. Every hon. Member who had given even a superficial consideration to this question knows that if a living cannot be earned by wages for honourable work it has to be eked out by what can be picked up from the streets.
Reference had been made to the Tweedmouth Committee and to the fact that the Post Office employees were dissatisfied because its findings had not been carried out. The Secretary of the Treasury seemed to imagine, because the Tweedmouth Committee did not give satisfaction to the employees, that therefore a Committee appointed by the House of Commons would also fail in this respect. He would remind the hon. Member that the objection to the Tweedmouth Committee was that it was not representative either of the House of Commons or of the employees whose grievances it was called upon to investigate. It was a purely official Committee. [Cries of "No, no!"] There was only one person upon it who was not an 745 official, and all officials could be relied upon to stand by one another in a matter of this kind. Upon a Committee of that sort appointed to investigate the grievances of post Office employees there should have been some representative of the employees to see that their case was properly brought out. What was asked for now was that there should be a Committee appointed to investigate the grievances of the employees.
One outcome of this debate would be to give a strong stimulus to the movement on the part of the Post Office employees to send a representative from their own ranks to the House of Commons. He could give case after case of grievances suffered by Post Office employees which would fully justify their demand for a Committee of Inquiry. The Tweedmouth Committee was distinctly limited by the terms of reference under which it was appointed by Mr. Arnold Morley, who was then Postmaster
§ General. It had been distinctly laid down that it was no part of the duty of the Post Office to make profit, but it should be worked for the future convenience and not reduced to the level of a mere profit-making machine. It was this desire on the part of the Post Office officials to make profit which lay at the root of all the troubles which the House had been discussing in the debate that evening. The Post Office did not exist to make profit. It supplied a great public convenience and it was the duty of the House of Commons to see that every one of its employees, from the highest to the lowest, should be treated in such a way as to set a good example to private employers of labour.
§ (11.20.) Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 110; Noes, 150. (Division List No. 119.)747
|Abraham, William (Cork, N. E.)||Hatch, Ernest Frederick Geo.||O'Brien, P. J. (Tipperary, N).|
|Allan, William (Gate-head)||Hayden, John Patrick||O'Connor, James (Wicklow, W.|
|Allen, Charles P. (Glouc, Stroud||Hayne, Rt. Hon. Charles Seale-||O'Donnell, T. (Kerry, W.)|
|Asher, Alexander||Helme, Norval Walson||O'Dowd, John|
|Barlow, John Emmott||Hemphill, Rt. Hon. Charles H.||O'Kelly, James (Roscommon, N|
|Beaumont, Wentworth C. B.||Hobhouse, C. E. H. (Bristol, E.)||O'Malley, William|
|Bell, Richard||Holland, William Henry||O'Mara, James|
|Black, Alexander William||Humphreys-Owen, Arthur C.||O'Shaughnessy, P. J.|
|Blake, Edward||Jacoby, James Alfred||Power, Patrick Joseph|
|Bolton, Thomas Dolling||Jameson, Major J. Eustace||Reddy, M.|
|Brigg, John||Jones, William (C'rnarvonshire||Redmond, John E.(Waterford)|
|Burns, John||Jordan, Jeremiah||Rigg, Richard|
|Caldwell, James||Joyce, Michael||Robertson, Edmund (Dundee)|
|Campbell, John (Armagh, S.)||Kennedy, Patrick James||Roche, John|
|Channing, Francis Allston||Lawrence, Joseph (Monmouth)||Rollit, Sir Albert Kaye|
|Condon, Thomas Joseph||Leng, Sir John||Runciman, Walter|
|Crean, Eugene||Levy, Maurice||Sheehan, Daniel Daniel|
|Cremer, William Randal||Lloyd-George, David||Shipman, Dr. John G.|
|Dalziel, James Henry||London, W.||Soares, Ernest J.|
|Davies, Alfred (Carmarthen)||MacDonnell, Dr. Mark A.||Strachey, Sir Edward|
|Davies, M. Vaughan-(Cardigan||Macnamara, Dr. Thomas J.||Sullivan, Donal|
|Delany, William||Macneill, John Gordon Swift||Thomas, David Alfred (Merthyr|
|Dillon, John||Macveagh, Jeremiah||Thomas, F. Freeman-(Hastings|
|Donelan, Captain A.||M'Cann, James||Thompson, Dr EC (Monagh'n, N|
|Doogan, P. C.||M'Govern, T.||Thomson, F. W. (York, W. R.)|
|Douglas, Charles M. (Lanark)||M'Hugh, Patrick A.||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|Elibank, Master of||M'Kean, John||Warner, Thomas Courtenay T.|
|Emmott, Alfred||M'Kenna, Reginald||Weir, Jame-Galloway|
|Evans, Sir Francis H (Maidstone||M'Killop, W. (Sligo, North)||Whitley, J. H. (Halifax)|
|Fenwick, Charles||Mooney, Jonn J.||Wilson, John (Durham, Mid.)|
|Ffrench, Peter||Morgan, J. Lloyd (Carmarthen)||Wilson, John (Glasgow)|
|Field, William||Morton, Arthur H. A. (Deptford)||Young, Samuel|
|Flynn, James Christopher||Murphy, John|
|Fuller, J. M. F.||Nannetti, Joseph P.|
|Gilhooly, James||Nolan, Col. John P. (Galway, N.)|
|Grant, Corrie||Nolan, Joseph (Louth, South)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—Mr. Thomas Bayley and Mr. Claude Hay.|
|Hammond, John||Norton, Capt. Cecil William|
|Hardie, J. Keir (Merthyr Tydvil||Nussey, Thomas Willans|
|Harmsworth, R. Leicester||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)|
|Acland-Hood, Capt. Sir Alex. F.||Fisher, William Hayes||Morrell, George Herbert|
|Agnew, Sir Andrew Noel||Flower, Ernest||Morrison, James Archibald|
|Archdale, Edward Mervyn||Foster, Philip S (Warwick, S. W.||Mount, William Arthur|
|Arnold-Forster, Hugh O.||Galloway, William Johnson||Murray, Charles J. (Coventry)|
|Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John||Gibbs, Hn A. G. H.(Cityor Lond.||Murray, Col. Wyndham (Bath).|
|Bagot, Capt. Joscehne FitzRoy||Gordon, Hn. J. E.(Elgin&Nairn||Nicholson, William Graham|
|Bain, Colonel James Robert||Gore, Hn G. R. C. Orm-by-(Salop||Nicol, Donald Ninian|
|Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J.(Manch'r||Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir John Eldon||Palmer, Walter (Salisbury)|
|Balfour, Rt. Hn Gerald W.(Leeds||Goschen, Hon. George Joachim||Pierpoint, Robert|
|Banbury, Frederick George||Goulding, Edward Alfred||Purvis, Robert|
|Bathurs, Hon. Allen Benjamin||Greene, Henry D. (Shrewsbury)||Randles, John S.|
|Bhownaggree, Sir M. M.||Hain, Edward||Rankin, Sir James|
|Bignold, Arthur||Hamilton, Rt. Hn Lord G (Midd'x||Rattigan, Sir William Henry|
|Blundell, (Colonel Henry||Hamilton, Marq of (L'nd'nd'rry||Remnant, James F'arquharson|
|Bond, Edward||Hare, Thomas Leigh||Ritchie, Rt. Hon. Chas. Thomson|
|Boscawen, Arthur Griffith-||Harris, Frederick Leverton||Robertson, Herbert (Hackney)|
|Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John||Helder, Augustus||Royds, Clement Molyneux|
|Brookfield, Colonel Montagu||Henderson, Alexander||Russell, T. W.|
|Brotherton, Edward Allen||Hogg, Lindsay||Samuel, Harry S. (Limehouse)|
|Bull, William James||Hope, J. F.(Sheffield, Brightside||Sandys, Lieut.-Col, Thos. Myles|
|Butcher, John George||Howard, John (Kent, F'versham||Sharpe, William Edward T.|
|Carson, Ht. Hon. Sir Edw. H.||Jebb, Sir Richard Claverhouse||Simeon, Sir Barrington|
|Cautley, Henry Strother||Johnston, William (Belfast)||Sinclair, Louis (Romford)|
|Cavendish, V. C. W.(D'rbyshire||Know es, Lees||Skewes-Cox, Thomas|
|Cayzer, Sir Charles William||Lambton, Hon. Frederick Wm.||Smith, Abel H. (Hertford, E.)|
|Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor)||Law, Andrew Bonar||Smith, James Parker (Lanarks.)|
|Cecil, Lord Hugh (Greenwich)||Lawson, John Grant||Stanley, Hon. Arthur (Ormskirk|
|Chamberlain, Ht. Hon. J. (Birm.||Lees, Sir Elliott (Birkenhead)||Stanley, Lord (Lancs.)|
|Chamberlain, J. Austen (Worc'r||Legge, Col. Hon. Heneage||Stewart, Sir Mark J. M'Taggart|
|Chamberlayne, T.(S'thampton)||Leveson-Gower, Frederick, N. S.||Start, Hon. Humphry Napier|
|Chapman, Edward||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. A. R.||Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)|
|Charring ton, Spencer||Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine||Talbot, Rt. Hn. J. G.(Oxf'd Univ.|
|Clive, Captain Percy A.||Long, Col. Charles W (Evesham||Tomlinson, Wm. Edw. Murray|
|Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse||Long, Rt. Hn. Walter (Bristol, S)||Tufnell, Lieut.-Col. Edward|
|Colomb, Sir John Charles Ready||Lonsdale, John Brownies||Tuke, Sir John Batty|
|Compton, Lord Alwyne||Lowe, Francis William||Valentia, Viscount|
|Corbett, A. Cameron (Glasgow)||Lowther, C. (Cumb., Eskdale)||Warde, Colonel C. E.|
|Corbett, T. L. (Down, North)||Loyd, Archie Kirkman||Welby, Lt.-Col. A. C. E (T'unton|
|Cox, Irwin Edward Bainbridge||Lucas, Col. Francis (Lowestoft)||Whitmore, Charles Algernon|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Lucas, Reginal J (Portsmouth||Willoughby, de Eresby Lord|
|Cross, Alexander (Glasgow)||Macdona, John Cumming||Wilson, A. Stanley (York E. R.)|
|Crossley, Sir Savile||MacIver, David (Liverpool)||Wilson, J. W.(Worcestersh. N.)|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Maconochie, A. W.||Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm|
|Davies, Sir Horatio D.(Chatham||M'Calmont, Col H. L. P.(Cambs||Wortley, lit. Hon. C. B. Stuart-|
|Dickson, Charles Scott||M'Iver, Sir Lewis (Edinburgh W||Wrightson, Sir Thomas|
|Dorington, Sir John Edward||Martin, Richard Biddulph||Wyndham, Rt. Hon. George|
|Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-||Maxwell, W. J. H (D'mfriesshire|
|Durning-Lawrence, Sir Edwin||Mitchell, William|
|Dyke, Rt. Hon. Sir William Hart||Molesworth, Sir Lewis||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Sir William Walroud and Mr. Anstruther.|
|Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn Edward||Montagu, Hon. J. Scott (Hants)|
|Fielden, Edward Brocklehurst||More, Robt. Jasper (Shropshire)|
|Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne||Morgan, David J (W'lthamstow|
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ (11.30.) CAPTAIN NORTON
said he desired to draw attention to the conditions under which the women clerks of the General Post Office worked. He referred to those who were employed in the Money Order Office, the Postal Order Office, the Clearing House, and the Savings Bank. He might, for the convenience of the Committee, explain that this class of employees first came into existence in 1881 under Mr. Forster, and at that time he laid down that the minimum living wage for these women clerks the sum of £65 per 748 annum, increasing by yearly increments of £3. This state of affairs went on until 1897. Then after the sitting of the Tweedmouth Committee that initial salary was lowered by £10, namely to £55 per annum, increasing by yearly increments of £2 10s., so that it took these women clerks under present conditions about four years before they were in the same position as their predecessors—many of whom were still serving—were in when they first joined the service. The number of these women clerks have fallen from 938 to 650, and therefore the matter that he was going to bring forward of doing 749 justice to them would not entail very great expense upon the Treasury. What did the Post Office demand of those who filled this particular position? They demanded that they should be of eminent respectability, good education, high physical standard, and that they be between eighteen and twenty years of age. Their salary had been reduced without any change whatever in the conditions from £65 to £55 per annum. Why? Was it that the cost of living since 1881 had decreased in London? Was it that there was any change in regard to the entrance examination for this position? On the contrary two more subjects had been added, and as a consequence the expense of preparing for the examination in order to enter the service had undoubtedly increased. He should like the Committee to realise the position in which these women clerks found them selves. He might point out that the Government had insisted upon their occupying what must be called a certain social position. Their parents must keep them without doing any remunerative work until they are eighteen years of age, and they must give them a good education, and yet they found themselves after entering on a Government appointment, for the first four years of their career in a worse position than the daughter of an agricultural labourer who had been able to earn some money in various occupations beforehand, and who later on takes up the position of a housemaid in a gentleman's family. A young woman in the position of a housemaid occupied a position of comparative luxury, being well fed, well housed, and able to provide herself with clothing and other necessaries. In consequence of this the women clerks had sent a petition to the Postmaster General. What was the reply to their petition. The Postmaster General first of all said that there was no ground for restoration to £65 a year, that they knew the conditions on entering, and that no alteration in the conditions had taken place. The hon. Member did not deny that they knew the conditions on entering. A large number of these young women were drawn from the provinces, where they would get better lodging for 3s. per week than they could 750 get for 6s. in London. Then the Postmaster General went on to make the astounding statement that the petitions had been badly advised in making the assertion contained in Clause 7, which he objected to because he considered it a very extravagant statement. The statement in Clause 7 was that those of the petitioners who did not receive assistance from their parents or a supplement of income from other sources had to curtail their food allowance, which exposed them to the many evils arising from insufficient nourishment. The Postmaster General objected to them pointing out that they must either starve themselves, or spend so little on their personal apparel that they were practically objects of pity or ridicule to the other clerks, who happened to live with their parents, and therefore could spend the bulk of their salary on dress. The Postmaster General wound up by declining to grant an interview. In consequence of that, they sent a second petition to the Postmaster General, who, being ably supported by an admirable secretary, who like all the permanent Government officials in this country did his work thoroughly well. The secretary with great tact declined to forward the second petition, because he knew that it would be too much for the Postmaster General. This second petition was to prove to the Postmaster General that he was misinformed with reference to the statement he made in reply to their former petition. It gave details, showing how they disposed of this wretched income given by the Government. The various items included in the necessary cost of living amounted to £52 per annum, so that after these women had maintained themselves, though, as he considered insufficiently, they had £3 left wherewith to dress themselves. It was absolutely impossible for these women to dress themselves decently on that sum. Of course, he did not expect the hon. Gentleman who was about to reply to have any special knowledge on these subjects. He would be under the impression, as many young unmarried men were, that females wore no undergarments. [Laughter.] Well, young men were generally ignorant of these matters. [Laughter.] The hon. Gentleman might be under the impression that the women clerks had nothing to pay for such dress. 751 He presumed the innocence of the hon. Gentleman was such that he believed that corsets were made exactly the same in front as behind—[Laughter]—but he could assure him that it was absolutely I impossible under any conditions for any young woman to dress herself on £3 a year. Therefore, they were absolutely obliged to dress themselves in the most penurious manner, or to deprive themselves of necessaries in other directions, if they did not receive help from their parents. He held that the Government service should not be for those only who had happy and comfortable homes. Those women who had to rely solely on their salary, had left only £3 a year for their clothing, for their annual holiday, and for recreation. What those women asked for was remuneration which would enable them to live up to the standard of health, education, and respectability which the Post Office demanded of them. Their work, and he was sure the hon. Member would not deny it, was of a responsible character, and was in addition very trying and detrimental to health.
It might be urged that women outside the Post Office were worse paid. His contention was that there was no comparison between women engaged in typewriting and similar work outside the Post Office, and those who were similarly engaged inside the Post Office, although the Government were supposed to give a fair day's wage for a fair day's work. It might be said that if that were the state of affairs only women who had homes in London should join the Service. But if that were the case why did the Government hold examinations for this Service in the great provincial towns. It was because they thought it desirable that women clerks should be drawn, not solely from London, but from the country generally. If there were any sweating in connection with the Post Office it was exemplified in the highest degree in the employment of those women who positively had not a living wage. If Mr. Fawcett thought £65 a year a living wage in 1881, surely £55 could not be regarded as a living wage now, especially when it was remembered that lodgings of the most modest character had doubled within the last thirty years, and that in addition to that, taxes have been put on bread, sugar, tea, and jam. The main food of those women consisted mainly of tea, and bread and jam, articles which 752 were very highly taxed, in addition to which the price of meat had recently risen. Again, in some of the poorer parts of London rates had gone up to 9s. in the £, and it was manifest that those who were in the habit of letting lodgings would as a consequence charge more for their rooms. All he asked was that the old initial salary of £65 should be restored. There was no demand with reference to increment or increased pay. He would further point out to the Committee that those young women would be the mothers of a future generation. Some of them were married already, and it was quite evident that their health suffered and that the future of the race would suffer also. He did not think he was making an extravagant demand, and he trusted the hon. Gentlemen would hold out some hope that there would be a return to the state of things which existed prior to 1897, and that the women clerks employed by the Post Office should be given what was considered a living wage.
§ MR. TALBOT (Oxford University)
said he should like to say a few words in support of the view of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who had just spoken, which seemed to him to be not an unreasonable one. That case was differentiated from others which had been discussed earlier in the evening in one respect, namely, that those young women were absolutely incapable, except indirectly, of exercising any political pros sure. It was, further, a singular example of reduction of income. The Committee were well accustomed to people asking for increases of salary, but in that case all they were asked to do was to restore the salary to the amount originally fixed by Mr. Fawcett. That was not an extravagant demand, and whether his hon. friend was enabled to consider it favourably or not, he hoped he would not shut the door absolutely against it. The memorial to the Postmaster General to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman referred was very reasonable, and was most temperately worded. It stated—Although your petitioners fully recognise that after a certain number of years their salaries may be sufficient, they respectfully suggest to your Lordship that there is pressing present need which deserves consideration.753 He was sure that his hon. friend's heart was with the demand even if his voice would be against it; but he hoped that his hon. friend would not absolutely shut the door against it.
§ (11.50.) MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
No one will allege that my right hon. friend has any ulterior motive to serve in making an appeal of this kind except the honest desire to do what is right by public servants. I do not complain of the manner in which the hon. and gallant Gentleman raised this question, though I regret he did not give me any indication that he was about to raise it. I confess, however, that from the facts, as slated by him, I am inclined to draw a different inference to that which he drew. His inference was that the rate established by Mr. Fawcett many years ago could not be more, and was probably less, than what should be paid today. The inference I draw is that we should be extremely careful when establishing a service in fixing high rates of pay. It is very easy to increase the rate of pay, but very difficult to reduce it. In this particular case what has been done has been to reduce the minimum, and to re-arrange the increases so that in a certain number of years the clerks receive the same salary that they would have received under the old system. It is suggested that the initial rate is too low for young women living in London, and no one can be insensible to the difficulty of young women, in the initial stages of their career, living in London, and not having homes of their own. I do not contend that we ought to encourage young women from the provinces to come to London for these situations, but, at the same time, it is not possible for us to refuse to young women not living in London the right to compete for these Government positions. I do not know whether the Committee understand what the initial rate of pay is. These young women enter the service between the ages of eighteen and twenty, and in their first year they get a guinea a week. Is that unfair or unreasonable pay? Does it compare unfavourably 754 with what is paid to young women in similar employment outside the Government service? As soon as they complete one year, they get an increase of £2 10s., and they continue annually to receive £2 10s. rise, until they get £70, and from £70 to £100 they get a rise of £5 per annum. I do not think that these are unreasonable terms, or that they compare unfavourably with terms offered to young women in other employments. If my right hon. friend, or the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite, has evidence to show that the initial rate compares unfavourably with what is paid in outside employment, I will, of course, look into the matter, and confer with the Postmaster General regarding it. But as the matter stands, I do not think it is unreasonable pay, or that I should be justified in holding out a hope that we will go back to the unduly high minimum fixed by Mr. Fawcett. The first Amendment discussed covered the whole of this Vote, and I therefore hope the Committee will allow the Vote to be now taken.
§ CAPTAIN NORTON
said he wished to move the reduction of the Vote by £100. He only asked the hon. Gentleman to go back to the initial pay which was given to the predecessors of those women, who did the same work, under the same conditions.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put;" but the Chairman withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ (11.57) Motion made, and Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £5,961,715, be granted for the said Service."—(Captain Nortm.)
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 83; Noes. 145. (Division List No. 120.)757
|Abraham, William (Cork, N. E.)||Hay, Hon. Claude George||O'Dowd, John|
|Allen, Charles P.(Glouc, Stroud||Hayden, John Patrick||O'Kelly, James (Roscommon, N.|
|Asher, Alexander||Hayne, Rt. Hon. Charles Seale-||O'Malley, William|
|Bayley, Thomas (Derbyshire)||Helme, Norval Watson||O'Mara, James|
|Black, Alexander William||Jameson, Major J. Eustace||O'Shaughnessy, P. J.|
|Blake, Edward||Jones, William (C'rnarvonshire||Power, Patrick Joseph|
|Brigg, John||Jordan, Jeremiah||Reddy, M.|
|Caldwell, James||Joyce, Michael||Redmond, John E.(Waterford)|
|Campbell, John (Armagh, S.)||Kennedy, Patrick James||Rigg, Richard|
|Channing, Francis Allston||Levy, Maurice||Roche, John|
|Condon, Thomas Joseph||Lundon, W.||Runciman, Walter|
|Crean, Eugene||MacDonnell, Dr. Mark A.||Sheehan, Daniel Daniel|
|Cremer, William Randal||Macneill, John Gordon Swift||Shipman, Dr. John G.|
|Davies, Alfred (Carmarthen)||Macveagh, Jeremiah||Sinclair, John (Forfarshire)|
|Delany, William||M'Govern, T.||Soares, Ernest J.|
|Dillon, John||M'Hugh, Patrick A.||Sullivan, Donal|
|Donelan, Captain A.||M'Kean, John||Talbot, Rt. Hn. J. G.(Oxf'd Univ.|
|Doogan, P. C.||M'Kenna, Reginald||Thomas, David Alfred (Merthyr|
|Douglas, Charles M. (Lanark)||M'Killop, W. (Sligo, North)||Thomas, F. Freeman-(Hastings|
|Elibank, Master of||Mooney, John J.||Thompson, Dr E C (Monagh'n, N|
|Fenwick, Charles||Murphy, John||Thomson, F. W. (York, W. R.)|
|Ffrench, Peter||Nannetti, Joseph P.||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|Field, William||Nolan, Col. John P.(Galway, N.)||Weir, James Galloway|
|Flynn, James Christopher||Nolan, Joseph (Louth, South)||Whitley, J. H. (Halifax)|
|Fuller, J. M. F.||Nussey, Thomas Willans||Wilson, John (Durham, Mid.)|
|Gilhooly, James||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)|
|Grant, Come||O'Brien, P. J. (Tipperary, N.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—Captain Norton and Mr. Warner.|
|Hammond, John||O'Connor, James (Wicklow, W.)|
|Harmsworth, R. Leicester||O'Donnell, T. (Kerry, W.)|
|Acland-Hood, Capt. Sir Alex. F.||Dickson, Charles Scott||Long, Col. Charles W. (Evesham|
|Agg-Gardner, James Tynte||Dorington, Sir John Edward||Long, Rt. Hn. Walter (Bristol, S)|
|Agnew, Sir Andrew Noel||Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-||Lowther, C. (Comb., Eskdale)|
|Archdale, Edward Mervyn||Duke, Henry Edward||Loyd, Archie Kirkman|
|Arnold-Forster, Hugh O.||Durning-Lawrence. Sir Edwin||Lucas, Col. Francis (Lowestoft)|
|Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John||Dyke, Rt. Hon. Sir William Hart||Lucas, Reginald J. (Porsmouth)|
|Bagot, Capt. Josceline FitzRoy||Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn Edward||Macdona, John Cumming|
|Bain, Colonel James Robert||Fielden, Edward Brocklehurst||MacIver, David (Liverpool)|
|Balfour, Rt. Hon. A J.(Manch'r||Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne||Maconochie, A. W.|
|Balfour, Rt. Hn Gerald W. (Leeds||Fisher, William Hayes||M'Arthur, Charles (Liverpool)|
|Banbury, Frederick George||Flower, Ernest||M'Calmont, Col. H. L. B.(Cambs|
|Bathurst, Hon. Allen Benjamin||Foster, Philip S.(Warwick, S. W||M'Calmont, Col. J.(Antrim, E.)|
|Bhownaggree, Sir M. M.||Galloway, William Johnson||Martin, Richard Biddulph|
|Bignold, Arthur||Gordon, Hn. J. E. (Elgin&Nairn)||Maxwell, W. J. H (D'mfriesshire|
|Blundell, Colonel Henry||Gore, Hn G. R. C (Ormsby-(Salop||Mitchell, William|
|Bond, Edward||Gore, Hon. S. F. Ormsby-(Linc.)||Molesworth, Sir Lewis|
|Boscawen, Arthur Griffith-||Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir John Eldon||Montagu, Hon. J. Scott (Hants)|
|Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John||Goschen, Hon. George Joachim||Moon, Edward Robert Pacy|
|Brotherton, Edward Allen||Goulding, Edward Alfred||More, Robt. Jasper (Shropshire)|
|Bull, William James||Guthrie, Walter Murray||Morgan, David J. (W'lthamstow|
|Batcher, John George||Hain, Edward||Morrell, George Herbert|
|Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edw. H.||Halsey, Rt. Hon. Thomas F.||Morrison, James Archibald|
|Cautley, Henry Strother||Hamilton, Rt. Hn Lord G (Midd'x||Morton, Arthur H. A. (Deptford)|
|Cavendish, V. C. W.(D'rbyshire||Hamilton, Marq of (L'nd'nderry||Mount, William Arthur|
|Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor)||Hare, Thomas Leigh||Murray, Charles J. (Coventry)|
|Cecil, Lord Hugh (Greenwich)||Harris, Frederick Leverton||Murray, Col. Wyndham (Bath).|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. J.(Birm.||Helder, Augustus||Nicholson, William Graham|
|Chamberlain, Austen (Wore 'r||Henderson, Alexander||Nicol, Donald Ninian|
|Chapman, Edward||Hogg, Lindsay||Parker, Gilbert|
|Charrington, Spencer||Hope, J. F.(Sheffield, Brightside||Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlington|
|Clive, Captain Percy A.||Johnston, William (Belfast)||Penn, John|
|Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse||Knowles, Lees||Purvis, Robert|
|Colomb, Sir John Charles Ready||Lambton, Hon. Frederick Wm.||Randles, John S.|
|Compton, Lord Alwyne||Law, Andrew Bonar||Rankin, Sir James|
|Corbett, A. Cameron (Glasgow)||Lawrence, Joseph (Monmouth)||Remnant, James Farquharson|
|Corbett, T. L. (Down, North)||Lawson, John Grant||Renwick, George|
|Cox, Irwin Edward Bainbridge||Lees, Sir Elliott (Birkenhead)||Ridley, Hon. M. V.(Stalybridge|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Legge, Col. Hon. Heneage||Ritchie, Rt. Hon. Chas. Thomson|
|Cross, Alexander (Glasgow)||Leveson-Gower, Frederick N. S.||Robertson, Herbert (Hackney)|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. A. R.||Royds, Clement Molyneux|
|Davies, Sir Horatio D. (Chatham||Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine||Russell, T. W.|
|Simeon, Sir Barrington||Tomlinson, Wm. Edw. Murray||Wilson, J. W.(Worcestersh. N.)|
|Sinclair, Louis (Romford)||Tufnell, Lieut.-Col. Edward||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart|
|Smith, Abel H. (Hertford, E.)||Take, Sir John Batty||Wrightson, Sir Thomas|
|Smith, James Parker (Lanarks)||Valentia, Viscount||Wyndham, Rt. Hon. George|
|Stanley, Hon. Arthur (Ormskirk||Warde, Colonel C. E.|
|Stanley, Lord (Lancs)||Whitmore, Charles Algernon|
|Stewart, Sir Mark J. M. Taggart||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Sir William Walrond and Mr. Anstruther.|
|Sturt, Hon. Humphry Napier||Wilson, A. Stanley (York, E. R)|
|Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)||Wilson, John (Glasgow)|
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ Objection being taken to further proceeding.758
§ (12.8) Question put, "That the Question be now put."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 149; Noes, 79. (Division List, 121.)759
§ Resolutions to be reported upon Monday next; Committee to sit again upon Monday next.