§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £6,267,500, 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, 1904, 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."
§ MR. BAYLEY
said he must again congratulate the Postmaster - General 1032 on the clear manner in which he had stated his case. What he wished to-know was were the counter clerks, lines-men, and sub-postmasters all included in this Committee of Inquiry. He also submitted that the Post Office staff should be able to give evidence before the Committee, which should also investigate the condition of the auxiliary postmen, among whom there was great discontent because they were not made permanent servants; and were the proceedings of the Committee to be open to the Press? All these were questions upon which they would like to have the right hon. Gentleman's opinion. Another point upon which information was desirable was whether the House would have a chance of voting on the names of the Committee separately, and so raising a discussion.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
said he did not propose to ask the Committed to vote on the names, either individually or collectively. Such a thing was entirely contrary to his ideas upon this subject.
§ MR. BAYLEY
submitted that it was usual, whether a Committee was-appointed from the House or outside, to give the House an opportunity of raising a discussion by voting on the names. They were quite willing to meet the hon. Gentleman on this matter, but they would rather have had a Parliamentary Committee, and he thought if the right hon. Gentleman reconsidered the matter and appointed a Parliamentary Committee he would lose nothing and gain much. But this Committee, however constituted, would only deal with part of the grievances of the Post Office officials, and although he had been assured by those whom he represented that the Post Office officials would loyally abide by the decision of the Committee of the House of Commons, the right hon. Gentleman could not expect that there would be the same loyalty with regard to the decision, of the Committee he proposed to appoint. However, speaking on behalf of the Post Office officials, he would say that they were quite willing to try the Committee which the right hon. Gentleman had suggested, though it was not the Committee they would most-have preferred. He hoped it would be appointed and get to work at once.
§ SIR ALBERT ROLLIT
said he was glad there seemed to be before them now some practical solution of this matter. The thanks of the Committee were due to the right hon. Gentleman for the manner in which he had put the case to the Committee. Of the administrative reforms promised by the Postmaster-General the introduction of the sixpenny order would be most useful to friendly societies and to the savings banks with which he was officially connected. The action of the right hon. Gentleman in this respect was a distinct aid to providence and thrift. He thought there was room for further reforms. The Post Office during the last half-century had not been altogether a progressive Department. He could not accept the suggestion that the Post Office should be merely regarded as a revenue-producing machine, and he thought it should have the first claim on any surplus it made. While in Canada recently he found very general complaints about the cost of the postage of newspapers from this country, the effect of which had been to flood Canada with American literature and indirectly to exclude literature from the home country. In this direction he hoped the Post Office surplus might be made available.
Twenty years ago there was great discontent on the part of the officers of the Postal service, and that discontent had been growing ever since, and he thought a certain class of the telegraphists had not had their proper and reasonable anticipations realised, and that they had a perfect justification for the discontent which had existed for so long. He also thought the grievance with regard to sanitation justified. He held that there was real ground for the dissatisfaction among certain classes of Post Office employees. The Tweedmouth Committee was a one sided tribunal; the officials were represented on it, but the men not at all. The Postmaster-General, in dwelling so much on the objections to a Parliamentary Committee—objections which he did not share—overlooked what was the exact attitude of the employees. It was quite true that they suggested a Parliamentary Committee, but their general demand was for an independent inquiry, and they had Offered to accept the result of any such 1034 inquiry. He was glad that, as the result of long and persistent endeavour, this demand was at length to be conceded. The announcement of the right hon. Gentleman was satisfactory so far as it went, but the reference was too limited. There were questions other than that of pay, such as those of special leave and the rights and conditions of combination, of which complaint was made. He hoped the meetings of the inquiry would be open to the Press, and he took it for granted that the employees would have a right to submit witnesses and state their views. His only doubt, subject to the disclosure of the names, was whether the tribunal would have the necessary specific knowledge and experience of Government Departments, which differed in many respects from private business concerns. However, he accepted the inquiry in good faith, and sincerely hoped, in the interests both of the employees and of the State, that the long-existing, and sometimes embittered, series of differences would be brought to an end, so that the country should have the willing, able, and contented services of this great body of public servants.
SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derbyshire, Ilkeston)
congratulated the right hon. Gentleman on the excellent precedent he had set of making a statement before the general discussion on the Vote was opened. If in connection with other Votes similar clear and candid statements were made by the Ministers concerned, he believed it would shorten the debates and conduce to the efficiency of the proceedings of the Committee. One of the gravest faults of the right hon. Gentleman's Department in the past had been its extreme rigidity, and a lack of willingness to modify its conditions to meet public or private demands. He therefore welcomed the more progressive spirit suggested by the right hon. Gentleman's statement. It was quite refreshing to hear talk of reforms, because in the past they had been most difficult to secure. The proposed changes were to some extent useful. More frequent deliveries in rural districts had long been required. The Post Office existed not as a profit-making Department but for the convenience of the public, although there was no doubt that the more facilities they granted the greater would be the amount of business 1035 done, and, consequently, the greater the amount of revenue received. The modification with regard to postal orders would also be a convenience to the public, but he regretted it had been accompanied by the restrictions with regard to the purchase of postage stamps. Those restrictions would interfere largely with a legitimate method of passing money from one person to another; they would be a hindrance to business, a detriment to trade, and an inconvenience to the public.
The demands of the employees had been divided under three heads—wages, sanitary conditions, and relief from work for meals. As to the question of wages, the right hon. gentleman had taken a course which, he thought, would probably meet the demands of the employees. He did not, however, think that the reference was altogether satisfactory. It ought, in his opinion, to be settled in conference with representatives of the Post Office workmen. As to the question of the sanitation of Post Office buildings and telegraph offices, he regretted that a suggestion made a year or two ago that a Home Office inspector should be called in when complaints on this head were made was not adopted. Surely it would be better to call in an impartial official unconnected with the Post Office to look into these matters. At present the men had to make their complaints to their superiors, and this caused friction. That would be avoided if an inspector, specially appointed for the inspection of workshops, were allowed, at the request of the Postmaster-General, to enter these premises and to ascertain if the sanitation was satisfactory. He thought the complaints of sanitation were borne out by the sick-leave figures, which, considering that the Post Office employees were a select class, were too high, being seven-and-a-half days per annum on the average, as compared with nine days among the members of friendly societies, who belonged to all classes, including those engaged in dangerous trades.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
said that seven-and-a-half days' sick-leave was the average among those who received full pay when absent. The average among those whose illness involved 1036 sacrifice was 5.2, which was little more than half what the hon. Member quoted as the friendly society average.
SIR WALTER FOSTER
believed that those who were not on the full establishment did not all work in Post Office buildings.
SIR WALTER FOSTER
said that probably the proportion of those on the establishment working in Post Office i buildings would be greater than the proportion of those not on the establishment.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
The out-door staff complain that their work is more unhealthy than the work inside.
SIR WALTER FOSTER
said that was hardly in consonance with scientific observation. The out-door staff ought to have less sickness than the in-door staff. The Committee would see the difficulty of drawing any conclusion from statistics which were more or less conjectural; in fact, there were no figures on which an argument could really be based. He believed, however, that the rate of seven-and-a-half days per annum was higher than it should be, and justified the question of sanitary arrangements being gone into. As to meal intervals, it appeared that the men had frequently to go six hours without food, and, in times of pressure, even longer, so that just when the telegraphic work was heaviest the men were most exhausted from want of food. This was bad economy on the part of the Post Office, and bad treatment of the men. He therefore thought there was reason for the reconsideration of the claim of the staff to have intervals for refreshment, especially when the hours were extended by the necessity for working overtime.
§ Mr. GOULDING (Wiltshire, Devizes)
expressed his satisfaction at having the Postmaster-General once more in the popular assembly. No public Department spread so widely amongst the public as the Post Office, and he did not think there was a Member of the House who did not receive evidence of that fact by numerous letters from his constituents 1037 in regard to the Post Office. He desired most sincerely to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the concession he had made with regard to postal orders. The sick pay of friendly societies was invariably paid by postal orders, and it had been a great burden to have to send two or three postal orders to make up small amounts. The change in regard to the signing of postal orders would also prove a very great advantage. The fact that my right hon. friend is going to issue these new postal orders at Id. will also be an advantage. As the representative of a working class constituency he desired to refer to the Committee which was going to be appointed to inquire into the question of the wages of Post Office employees. He commended the right hon. Gentleman's action in not appointing a Committee of the House of Commons which would be influenced by the electorate, and he thought they would get a much better decision from a Committee appointed from outside of men connected with business and commercial undertakings. He rejoiced that his right hon. friend had taken upon himself the burden of deciding the other questions. In the past they had had too much of Ministers delegating their responsibilities to Committees, and it was much better that they should come and defend their action in the House of Commons instead of appointing Commissions and Committees, behind whose reports the Minister afterwards sheltered himself. The Postmaster-General had determined to take the burden upon himself, and he was ready to wait with confidence the decision of his right hon. friend because, as regarded all these questions which must come before him, he was sure he would give a decision worthy of the support of the House.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)
said the Postmaster-General deserved the thanks of the public for the three or four concessions he had made. They were small concessions, but they were sensible, cheap, and convenient, and he hoped they would be the forerunner of a number of other concessions which would be suggested both by questions and the criticisms upon this Vote. But whilst thanking the right hon. Gentleman for 1038 what he had done for the public, he attached greater importance not to the concessions but to the speech which the Postmaster-General had made in regard to the treatment of the Post Office staff. He regarded that speech as one of the most serious statements ever made by a responsible Minister, for it was significant of social and political changes which were coming over certain classes in the Government service, and they indicated a serious moral decadence of the House of Commons when they found that the Postmaster-General was so impressed by the claims and petitions that came from his Department that he was prepared to sublet his authority to an irresponsible Committee of outsiders, and to sub-contract the duty of every Member of Parliament to keep the common charge of the purse and to relax its strings or be more economical as the facts and circumstances warranted. As a Member of the House of Commons; he protested against the statement that had been made by the Postmaster-General. He had told them that the staff he commanded was a staff of good character, honesty, capacity and zeal, and he said also that it was inevitable that the staff should complain and make memorials and requests, some of which were serious but mostly trivial. So long as employers of labour employed workmen there was sure to be a demand for shorter hours, for more holidays, and other conditions, which they need not now go into, and when a Minister was responsible for employing a number of men it should be regarded as inevitable that there must be more or less discontent and the men would ask for more wages and shorter hours, and for that which others enjoyed and which they did not receive. It was his business to adapt means to ends, and if postal employees were unreasonable and went further than the taxpayers' responsibility would allow, then it was the duty of the Postmaster-General to stand to his guns and resist this electoral pressure. Failing that courageous attitude, if he thought he was going to get rid of future agitation by appointing this Committee of independent outsiders, he was living in a fool's paradise and perpetuating agitation, because when this independent Committee was appointed it would be 1039 suspected even before it went to work; it would be considered partial and discredited; and its report would make the employees more discontented; and, to that extent, would cause friction, jealousy, and prejudice.
The hon. Member for Devizes said that the tendency in recent years had been to snub the House of Commons, and he illustrated this by quoting the Royal Commission and the Special Commission. He said there had been too much delegation by Ministers of their duties to Committees and Commissions. In his opinion, instead of this delegation to an independent Committee of outsiders, he thought the Postmaster-General ought to decide these matters himself, and failing that they ought to have a Committee of the House of Commons. He thought this was a kind of delegation of work which would do more harm than good to the Post Office. This Committee was to be appointed to inquire into the wages, the hours of labour, relief and questions of sanitation [Cries of "No, no."] He understood now that this inquiry was to be confined to wages only. Did the Postmaster-General think that a narrow reference of wages alone, with hours of labour and sanitation left out, was going to please this staff of 180,000? Did he think an independent Committee of outsiders on wages alone would satisfy them? Certainly not, and there would be great dissatisfaction. In asking that this Committee should be appointed, the Postmaster-General said that as a preliminary he had received deputations and memorials in the presence of some Members of Parliament with postal representatives present, and he found that some of the grievances were serious and some were trivial. This in dependent Committee would not deal with some of the serious grievances because they were outside the scope of the reference. There was no reason why they should submit the trivial grievances to the Committee at all. The House of Commons was satisfied that the Postal Service had done their cause incalculable harm in the House of Commons and in the Press by the way in which they had exalted the immaterial and the nonessential, and left the substantial grievances alone. Take a man starting work at ten o'clock in the morning. He works 1040 till two, and then after two hours interval, starts again at four and works till eight o'clock. The postal officials would never convince the House of Commons that this was a grievance.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS
thought the Post-master-General should say when postal servants were wrong and why their grievances were trivial.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
I told the deputation of Post Office employees upon this subject—when a typical case was described by them—that I thought they had no case at all, and that I could not for a moment entertain their suggestion.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS
said he thought they might find, in regard to the question of wages, that some of the complaints were equally trivial, and they might find that some were serious grievances. He would, however, rather have the view of the Postmaster-General at his post, supported by the House of Commons, as to whether those grievances were well-founded. In consequence of electoral pressure and intimidation the right hon. Gentleman had decided that he could not appoint a Committee of the House of Commons or a Committee wholly of the House of Lords, but he had resolved to go outside, and appoint an independent Committee of distinguished outsiders, to whom he was prepared to sub-let his authority, and the House of Commons would sub-contract their duty. As a Member of the House of Commons, he objected to this undermining, first, of the authority of the Postmaster-General, and secondly, he refused to allow the sub-letting of his own responsibility with regard to 180,000 postal employees. If all that the Postmaster-General had said with regard to influence at elections were true, influence which amounted almost to electoral intimidation, the real remedy for that lay, not in an outside Committee, which might pacify the staff for a year, but in disfranchisement.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS
said under certain circumstances he would. It was for the right hon. Gentleman to prove the case. If 180,000 persons employed by the State were using unfair electoral pressure and causing people to seek the protection of the Postmaster-General, if they were intimidating Members of this House to such an extent that they were incapable of discharging their duty, then the remedy was not an outside Committee but disfranchisement for servants who were capable of using this intimidatory and corrupt power upon Members of Parliament. He had been twelve years a Member of the House of Commons, and invariably the official voters in his own district were practically unanimously against him. He hoped they would continue to be against him, because then he knew where they were. He had rarely, if ever, advocated the claims of sections of Government servants, and never intended to. If the House of Commons did not do their duty to their own servants, and were influenced improperly, they would show that they were devoid of moral courage and lacked a sense of duty to the taxpayer. Fancy the Glasgow Corporation, because their men asked for an extra½d. an hour, saying, "We will not refuse this because they will vote against us." Fancy the London County Council, employing 12,000 men, saying, in regard to a claim of their workmen, "If we do not listen to this claim we shall not be able to face the electors, because of the pressure they will bring to bear upon us." The exercise of such an influence in municipal administration would produce confusion, and the government of all our big cities would pass into the hands of municipal servants, simply because the members of the Corporation did not display moral courage in the discharge of their duties. When the tramway men or the policemen made a claim before a municipality, what happened? The question was invariably referred to a Committee, and newspaper men were not there. It was considered by a practical business Committee, who on their own responsibility to the taxpayer and their duty to the workmen fitted in the wages accordingly. If they did not think the claims of the workmen 1042 should be granted, they told them so frankly; and, of course, if their claims were reasonable they were granted. Who was this Committee going to be? They were not going to have Peers or a Committee of the House of Commons. The Postmaster-General did not want to do his duty by dealing with these questions individually, and so was going to appoint this outside Committee of Inquiry. He supposed one of the members would be Mr. Harrod, of Harrod's Stores, another Mr. W. Whiteley, another Sir T. Lipton, the fourth a railway director, and the fifth, possibly, Mr. Macnamara, the Post Office horse contractor. Would a Committee of that kind give satisfaction to 180,000 employees? Certainly not. They would all be employers of labour, and some of them would consider 12s. a week high wages in the country, and 18s. or£1 a week good wages in towns. Immediately this Committee commenced their investigations, the postal servants would be encouraged to suspect and discredit the Committee. They ought not to allow this thing to be done. The Postmaster-General said they wanted business men to deal with this question, but were there no business men in the House of Commons? If he were Postmaster-General he would nominate a Peer as chairman, and the two Members for Oxford and Cambridge Universities, or, if that did not suit, he would select five men who had majorities of 4,000 in their constituencies, and few postal servants to bring pressure to bear on them. He believed that would better satisfy the Post Office employees.
The reference to the Committee was to be on the question of wages only. But that would cause discontent rather than allay it. It would apply to 100,000 out of 180,000 men, the best paid, the men who worked the shortest hours and who had greater chances of promotion, while it would leave outside 80,000. The men left out would include the auxiliary postmen, and the House of Commons did not want a Committee to decide whether they were overworked and underpaid. They were all agreed upon that already. No one would say 18s. a week was a wage on which the auxiliary postman could decently support himself and family, and if the Postmaster-General was to ask the House of Commons 1043 to make it 20s., or even 24s., they would unanimously support him.
He did not agree that the Home Office should be called in to look after insanitation in the Post Office. He believed that nine-tenths of the complaints of the postal servants with regard to insanitary post offices could be dealt with in the same way as other nuisances of the same kind were dealt with, by deciding that the post office was like a workshop or factory, and came within the purview of the local authority. He was in favour of equal rights for all white men, whether they were Post Office servants or not. He did not think very much had been made out of that point. As a member of a great friendly society, he had investigated the subject of health in the industries of the country, and he found that the health of postal servants and municipal servants compared favourably with that of the general population, while with regard to absence of liability to accident and injury they were considerably above the average of any other trade. He was elected to the House of Commons by a working class constituency, and one of his duties was to vote for trade-union conditions for all Government workmen, and to see that they were properly and fairly treated and not needlessly pampered or pandered to. This independent Committee which the Postmaster-General proposed to appoint would possibly do the postal servants a great injustice by not satisfactorily meeting their reasonable demands. In that case the Postmaster-General would be badgered next year on the Estimates to rectify their shortcomings. Indeed, it would perpetuate the agitation and increase the pressure on members of Parliament to have matters rectified. The effect would be to undermine the discipline of the Post Office, to undermine the authority of the Postmaster-General, and, generally speaking, to sap that respect which the staff was prepared to give to any Postmaster-General who made the concessions due to them, but who would stand up with a face of steel against trivial grievances. That was not a peculiar doctrine for a labour representative to give utterance to. Members of the County Council and of the Borough Councils knew that when they were fair and reasonable in dealing with the complaints of employees, the working-class ratepayers would stand by them. Hon. Members had been rushing 1044 to the Postmaster-General and congratulating him on the step he had taken. Why? Because it relieved some Members of Parliament from telling postal servants when wrong that they were wrong, and thereby incurring electoral displeasure. In the absence of disfranchisement, they might find it necessary to appoint a small permanent Committee of the House of Commons to sit with the Postmaster-General and advise him in precisely the same way as committees of municipalities advised the mayor, the engineer, the clerk, and other officers, and if unfair and ridiculous demands were made, the Committee would stand up and support the right hon. Gentleman in refusing to give concessions, and, on the other hand, they would share the responsibility for the concessions which they considered to be justified. If the House of Commons would do that very little would be heard of these complaints. The Postmaster-General had not had the moral courage to face the situation. He had hoped for better things from the right hon. Gentleman, who had shown capacity and patience during the short time he had occupied his present office. He was afraid that in this matter the right hon. Gentleman had listened to the voice of the charmer, in the person of the permanent official, who had advised him to appoint a Committee in order that responsibility might be diverted to other shoulders. The only way to stop logrolling and the intimidation of Members was for the House of Commons to do its duty and to take the consequences at the polls. He protested against their executive and administrative duties being taken away from them and handed over to a body of men who would stir up greater discontent than there had ever been in the past.
§ MR. DUKE (Plymouth)
said that the hon. Member for Battersea had been less generous than he usually was. The hon. Member accused the Postmaster-General of abnegation of his functions, and the Members of the House of abnegation of their functions. He seemed to take the view that Members of Parliament, with one exception, were afraid to do what they ought to do in the direction of reform, because they had some base anxiety as to whether they would lose some votes which the hon. Member thought were purchasable votes. The hon. Member did not usually deal thus with his 1045 colleagues in the House, and he hoped he; would bear with him if he presumed to point out that he did not think he had dealt fairly with the Postmaster-General or the House. In the course of the discussion on this subject last year, he ventured to say with regard to a class of postal servants—those who were not established in the Post Office—that to his mind they were badly treated by the public. He thought so now. He was glad that hon. Members who more directly represented labour, bore in mind that there might be a conflict of interest between established servants of the Post Office and other branches of the Civil Service, and the general body of working people in the country who provided to some extent the wages out of which public servants were paid. But that did not dispose of this matter. The Postmaster-General had a duty to discharge on his own responsibility, and if he did not discharge it there was an appeal to the House. He did not understand the Postmaster-General at all resented that view of his responsibility. It was pressed upon him with not quite so much temper last year as it was this year, and he was told he was not taking the position which the head of a Department employing a great deal of labour ought to take in his dealings with the labourers in its employment, at its disposal, and to some extent helpless in its hands. That was pressed upon him. What course had the Postmaster-General taken that day? He had not come and said, "I wash my hands of it; take charge of it yourselves." On the contrary, the Postmaster General had most properly said that which the hon. Member said he ought to have said. The Postmaster-General had said, "This is my responsibility." It was his responsibility, and it was the responsibility of hon. Members to see that he exercised it, and how he exercised it. The great difficulty in dealing with the question of proper wages and proper terms of employment of public servants, was the absolute ignorance which most Members of the House shared of what must guide the Postmaster-General, and ought to guide the House itself in coming to a conclusion on these matters. The Postmaster-General said that up to this time he had acted on the advice of those responsible to him in his Department, but Members of the House challenged that upon repre- 1046 sentations made by their constituents. Up to this point it was a constitutional position. He denied absolutely that any constituent was disentitled from coming to him and saying that he had a grievance, and that he was oppressed by the head of a Department in which he was a servant. He denied that there was any right on the part of the head of a Department to refuse to listen to the grievances of the employees. But how was anyone without special knowledge to know whether there were real grievances? The Postmaster-General had a generous confidence in those who advised him. The servants of the Post Office on the other hand had convinced many Members of the House that there were grievances and the Postmaster-General had been bound to take that into account. What did the right hon. Gentleman say? He said—You represent to me that my advisers are biassed and prejudiced. I will go outside of my Department. I will go outside the House and I will find five men of business who are experts in these matters, and they shall tell you what the facts of the matter are.When the Postmaster-General had got that information he would know more than he knew now. For his own part, he did not care so much about that, but he was selfishly glad because he himself would know more than he knew now. He would be in a position with regard to the representation of grievances, which appeared to him to be real grievances, to say to the employees if their grievances were unreal that their case had been considered by experts and men of business, that he saw what the Committee said and that he could go no farther in advocating the redress of grievances on their part, and that he must stay his hand. On the other hand real grievances would be redressed. What was there unconstitutional in that? There were Members of the House who had not the advantage of the hon. Member for Battersea in dealing with labour questions. In taking steps to assist them the Postmaster-General was not delegating his functions, nor was the House of Commons delegating its functions. He ventured to ask the hon. Member for Battersea whether he had not done a little injustice to the Postmaster-General and some of those who 1047 had advocated the claims of the civil servants.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS
said he had not consciously done injustice to the Postmaster-General. He wanted to save the right hon. Gentleman from a world of dissatisfaction and discontent. It was out of regard and respect for him that he had warned him in the way he had done.
§ MR. DUKE
said he had not that tenderness about the Postmaster-General, who must fight his own battle. He was very sorry that there was not some such Committee as the hon. Member for Battersea referred to, and to which the lowly servants of the State who were helpless in the hands of Ministers and heads of Departments, could go and properly present their grievances, instead of having the hopeless and disappointing task of going day by day, month by month, and year by year, and making representations to Members of this House, who were practically helpless, but who had absolute goodwill and the desire to help them. They had no means of knowing the rights of the matter, and so far as he could see there was no way of ascertaining the facts in any constitutional way except that proposed by the Postmaster-General, to whom he was exceedingly thankful for making the proposal.
§ MR. BROADHURST (Leicester)
said that one of the subjects he understood the Postmaster-General to reserve to himself was the vexed question of leave of absence. When the Postmaster-General dealt with that subject he would ask him to say that the men who were constitutionally taking an active part in the men's organisation should have every facility to attend their council meetings and executive gatherings, in whatever part of the kingdom they might be. Difficulties ought not to be placed in the way of men discharging a duty which had been imposed on them by their fellow-workmen. That was a matter of considerable importance, and one which had caused a great deal of irritation. Knowing the Postmaster-General's disposition to] meet reason- 1048 able demands, he felt certain that if the subject were brought under his notice he would see that those difficulties were removed or modified. Another point was, that when this Committee was appointed and proceeded to take evidence, he hoped every facility would be given to take the evidence of men who were best acquainted with the grievances of the Post Office servants, namely, the officials of their trades unions. Let there be no hesitation about inviting the leaders of the movement and affording them every opportunity of venting the grievances they represented and had mastered.
In regard to sanitation, he had a case to bring under the notice of the Postmaster-General when he was Secretary to the Treasury, and he was bound to say that the right hon. Gentleman had carried out his pledge to remedy the complaint. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would be encouraged to go on in that direction. Two years ago the Committee on Trade was engaged in the prolonged work of consolidating the Factories and Workshops Acts, and the great majority of the Committee would have inserted clauses in that Act empowering inspectors to visit all Post Office establishments and see into their sanitary condition but for a pledge that was given by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, then Home Secretary, that he would make such representations to the Post Office Department as would lead them to deal effectively with the complaints laid before the Committee. The Committee did refrain from inserting any clause, relying in good faith on the pledge of the Home Secretary, and the success which they anticipated would follow the right hon. Gentleman's representations to the Postmaster-General. The right hon. Gentleman opposite was now in full command, and was strong enough to carry out a policy, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would give the Committee his word that he would further see into this question of sanitation. The servants of the State should not be obliged to engage in operations under conditions highly injurious and even dangerous to their health. There was much to be said for the appointment of an outside Committee. The Postmaster-General had made out a case 1049 for it, at any rate to his complete satisfaction; but the right hon. Gentleman would not accuse Members of any want of consideration, or disregard for his opinions, if some of them differed from him on this point. There were some questions which might be dealt with best by an outside Committee, but in a case of this kind he had the firmest conviction that it would have been better to have confined the constitution of this Committee of Inquiry to Members of the House of Commons, with, if ornamentation was wanted, one or two Members of the House of Lords thrown in. Such an inquiry should be conducted by persons responsible to the community, and not by irresponsible outsiders, who would have no one to challenge them except those who had appointed them. A Committee sitting upstairs would have given a full measure of satisfaction to all concerned in these complaints. However, such apparently was not to be the case; the Postmaster-General was master of the situation, and appeared to be determined to carry out his own policy, which hon. Members could not prevent. But might he join with his hon. friend the Member for Chesterfield Division in humbly submitting the claim of the House of Commons to have something to say as to the constitution of that Committee, either in taking objection to certain proposed names, or in submitting others? The Postmaster-General shook his head at that, and apparently the right hon. Gentleman meant that the was going to appoint the Committee on the authority of his own selection, and that the House of Commons would share no responsibility for the composition of the Committee. [Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN: Hear, hear.] He would not then argue the point further, but only express the hope that the right hon. Gentleman would appoint a capable, fair-minded, and competent Committee, and that it would make an exhaustive report. The inquiry would really partake of the nature of an arbitration, and he trusted that every one interested would have a full and free opportunity of submitting his evidence.
§ MR. GRIFFITH BOSCAWEN (Kent, Tunbridge)
said he thought that the champions of the Post Office employees had 1050 every reason to congratulate themselves upon the statement of the Postmaster-General. They might not have got everything they asked for, but they had got a promise of an inquiry by an absolutely fair and impartial body. For himself, he preferred an entirely outside body, for such a purpose, to a Committee of the House of Commons. One of the dangers of municipal trading was that it put members of municipalities into a similar position to that of Members of Parliament, upon whom constituents exercised pressure. However, what was wanted now was not to discuss the grievances of the men, but the administration of the Post Office, and the facilities which have been given by it to the public. He congratulated the Postmaster-General and the Committee on the increased facilities promised, and while he approved of most of them, he thought the suggestion of placing restrictions on the sale of stamps across the counter by the public to the Post Office would be most inconvenient and irksome. The existing practice was convenient and handy, and therefore he hoped the matter would be re-considered, and the proposal withdrawn.
He wanted to ask the Postmaster-General whether he could not see his way to making the parcel post more useful in country districts. They had heard much lately of the difficulties farmers had to deal with in regard to railway freights on agricultural produce. These difficulties might be very largely met by an improvement of the parcel post service, which was much more useful in the town than in the country. In towns there were frequent deliveries, and a post office for collection was in every other street, so that it was perfectly easy for tradesmen to despatch their small parcels by that means. But in the country districts the case was very different; farms were widely scattered, and far from the nearest post office; and while the Department distributed parcels, no effort was made to collect them. He suggested that the Department should organise a collection of parcels as well as a delivery; if they went to the expense of the one, why not of the other. Alternatively, the Department might authorise every postman going along the country roads to collect parcels, take letters, and sell stamps; in 1051 fact, to be a travelling Post Office. If that were done, it would do a great service to the country districts. Then, Again, the limit of weight, at present 11 lbs., should be increased, if there was to be any system which was really to compete with the railways, and enable farmers to send their produce cheaply to the market.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
said he regretted that he could not take the same view of the constitution of the Committee of Inquiry as the hon. Member for Tunbridge. He viewed the appointment of that Committee with some apprehension. He thought a much better method would have been for the Postmaster-General to investigate all the matters and grievances raised, and decide for himself. The Postmaster-General was in a constitutional position to do so, and had a constitutional responsibility to the House of Commons; whereas, a Committee appointed from outside would be like a corporation, which had neither a soul to be damned nor a body to be kicked. From some indication the Postmaster-General had given in reply to the hon. Member for Leicester, the House of Commons was not to be told the names of the members of the Committee, or to have a right to express any opinion in regard to them. The hon. Member for Tunbridge said that this Committee would be a perfectly fair and impartial one. How did he know that?
§ MR. GRIFFITH BOSCAWEN
said that it would be fair and impartial if it partook of the nature sketched by the Postmaster General.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
said he was sure that the Postmaster-General would not appoint a Committee which he did not think fair and impartial; but in an ordinary wages dispute a tribunal would hardly be considered satisfactory on which there was not something like a fair division of representation between the classes interested, with, perhaps, an impartial person as an arbitrator or chairman. In Lancashire they had a Board of Wages, consisting of half employees and half employers, with an employer as chairman; and in Wales during the coal 1052 dispute there was a Board of six miners and six coal-owners, with an impartial chairman. That was what he called an impartial tribunal. They might dispute as to the wages question in the Post Office, but he could not imagine any possible division of opinion on the point that the State ought to be a model employer in seeing that its servants worked in healthy surroundings. It was shocking to know that the Post Office officials frequently worked under conditions imperilling their health and life. He had before him the report of a very important and interesting conference which took place between representatives of the Post Office workers and a number of Unionist and Liberal Members of the House of Commons. He wished to call the attention of the Postmaster-General to a statement which had been communicated to him, but as to the correctness of which he could not pledge himself, as he had no means of knowing. It was with reference to a post office regarding the sanitation of which there had been many complaints. A Committee inspected it. and reported that it was satisfactory. Afterwards, in consequence of the pressure which was brought to bear, the Duke of Norfolk visited it, and was so horrified that he insisted on an immediate expenditure of£15,000.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
I cannot trace any history which corresponds to that statement, which was made to me before.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
If that statement were correct it certainly showed a most shocking state of affairs. The idea of a great public Department keeping its servants in laborious employment, which involved a great strain, in insanitary surroundings, ought to shock the conscience of the country. The other day, at Liverpool, some gentlemen came to him from the Birkenhead Office, and they made a statement as to the conditions of work in that post office which shocked him. The complaint was that the post office accommodation was inadequate, that it was provided at a time when the work was very much smaller than at present, that the men were overworked, that they were constantly breathing bad air 1053 as the result of overcrowding, and that the staff was always diminished by men absent on sick leave. He had no opportunity of testing these statements, but they impressed him because of the emphasis with which they were made; and it struck him that such surroundings were certainly not creditable to the Post Office Department. The case was aggravated by the fact that there was a site, the property of the Post Office, available for the new Post Office necessitated by the enormous growth of Birkenhead; but at the present moment it served the purpose of a travelling circus, and the unfortunate officials were kept in insanitary surroundings, with the added grievance that before their eyes was a site for a better building. All those matters could be easily brought to a test. He was a member of the Factories Committee, which did a great deal of good work for the working classes of the country. It was proposed that the Post Office should be brought under the Factory Law, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was a master of mystification, said that a public Department could not be brought under the Factory Acts, and he gave reasons with which he himself was taken in at the time, though he could not understand why the State should escape restrictions with regard to labour which it imposed on other employers. Could anything be more grotesque than a Committee of this House imposing grave restrictions, some of them no doubt expensive and inconvenient restrictions, with regard to labour, and at the same time allowing the Government to escape. He considered that position quite illogical; and unless the Postmaster-General was able to further enlighten him he could not understand why the State should escape the healthy restrictions imposed on other employers.
His hon. friend the Member for the Clitheroe Division was a member of the Town Council of Darwen, a town which had the great advantage of supplying most of the paper used by the newspaper Press in this country. His hon. friend was a member of a Committee which visited those paper factories; they examined them; they went into all the sanitary arrangements; 1054 and they made recommendations when they found the state of things not very desirable. The manufacturers did not like this outside interference, but still they had to submit to it. The recommendations of the Committee were so reasonable that they were adopted by the Home Office, and the Home Office sent a circular to every paper factory in Darwen insisting on the recommendations being carried out. Why were those gentlemen entitled to visit every factory in Darwen and compelled to pass by the door of the Post Office? Had they not as much right to go into the Post Office as into any other building where labour was employed? If they went into the Post Office and found it in an insanitary condition, surely the Post Office, instead of resisting such interference, should welcome it. It would save them a lot of trouble, give them a lot of information, and enable them to do their duty to those for whom, as employers, they were responsible. The fact was that if the Post Office would consent to an independent inspection by the local sanitary authorities half the complaints would disappear, and if the remedies which would be recommended were adopted he had no hesitation in saying that the right hon. Gentleman would hear little more of complaints.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
Several points have been raised during the course of this debate to which I think I ought to make some reply. Let me deal, first of all, with the matter to which the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken mainly addressed himself, and which also formed the subject of comment by several other hon. Gentlemen. I thoroughly agree with the hon. Gentleman when he said that the servants of the State should not be obliged to work under insanitary or improper conditions. I think, however, there are reasons—though I will not attempt to give them, as the hon. Gentleman found difficulty in understanding them, even when they were put by the Chancellor of the Exchequer—why Crown offices should not be treated in exactly the same way as establishments carried on for private profit and conducted by private enterprise. I think I am right in saying that the hon. Gentleman himself was the leader of that hand of Members who 1055 resisted the inspection of conventual laundries by the Home Office, and other establishments of that kind where work was carried on.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
I do not think that that is quite a fair observation. In the first place, I was not a leader of the band at all; I had not that honour, although I was a member of it. At the same time the right hon. Gentleman would admit that profound religious feelings were stirred in regard to that question; and I do not think it is quite fair that the right hon. Gentleman should use that argument against me.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
I do not wish to do anything unfair, or to press the argument for more than it is worth. I had no intention of causing any offence to the hon. Gentleman by saying he was the leader of that band. I thought he was the leader, because he moved the Amendment. But in any case let me put the hon. Gentleman out of the question, if he will allow me, and take it on its merits. Here were certain establishments, conducted by private persons, deliberately excluded by this House from Home Office factory inspection. The hon. Gentleman says that they were excluded because profound religious feeling was stirred up. That is perfectly true; but I should say that safeguarding the sanitary conditions in which the people work, the importance of preserving the health of the people, and the danger that possibly some necessary precaution may be overlooked, are not less in the case of those laundries than in the case of the Government establishments; and I think I am entitled, to that extent, without venturing on the religious question at all, to put that as 1056 against the general expression of opinion delivered by the hon. Gentleman. I think that in some cases, where there is good reason to doubt whether a post office is or is not sanitary, the Postmaster-General might well have recourse to the advice and assistance of the Home Office through its factory inspectors. I myself recently received a report from a Home Office inspector on the accommodation at the General Post Office which may remove some of the hon. Gentleman's misapprehensions. I have no doubt that had the General Post Office been in the hon. Gentleman's constituency he would have received as shocking an account regarding it as he received about the offices he mentioned. The Home Office inspector went over the General Post Office, and the only alterations he recommended were certainly very trifling. They are now carried out. He said that the air was generally good, the sanitary condition excellent, and that although the building was neither a factory nor a workshop it would comply with the requirements of the Factory Acts had they been applicable. Hon. Gentlemen must understand that these ex parte statements made in regard to the sanitary condition of post offices must not be accepted as definite and final proof. At the same time it is quite true that in some cases where we are about to move into a new office, I cannot, for the short term that the staff may remain in the old office, recommend that large expenditure should be undertaken for sanitary and other requirements. But all these cases should be brought to the notice of the Postmaster-General, and, if brought to his notice, he will investigate them. My complaint is, not that the members of the Post Office staff should go to hon. Members and make statements, and that hon. Members should raise 1057 questions in this House. My complaint is that they should go to hon. Members in preference to coming to the Postmaster-General, to whom, I would hope, they might have gone in these matters, he being their natural friend and protector, and beyond whom they should not go until, at any rate, they had failed to obtain redress at his hands. Of course the debate has turned on the statement I made as to the action I propose to take in order to obtain advice regarding the scales of wages paid to certain classes of Post Office officials. With a great deal of what the hon. Member for Battersea said I am in agreement. But I do not agree with him in what I understood him to lay down as the duty of a Minister in my position. The hon. Member says that if I ask gentlemen out-side this House to advise me—gentlemen whom I shall try to choose because they are competent to give advice—if I ask such gentlemen to give me advice, I am sub-letting my authority and derogating from the dignity of this House. He suggests that I ought sooner to act on my own responsibility, and not go to anyone outside for advice; that I ought to take my own line in dealing with these questions and refuse any other form of inquiry. I do not know how long the hon. Member has held such views.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS
I have always held them, both with regard to municipal and to State servants. I think the Postmaster-General's staff is more competent to advise him on questions of wages and hours than any outside experts.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
I regret the hon. Member has not expressed those views before. Last year, when the hon. Member for the Chesterfield Division 1058 moved for an inquiry into Post Office grievances—not a limited inquiry into a specific point, but a general inquiry into the whole range of Post Office administration—and proposed a reduction in the salary of the Postmaster-General by way of giving effect to his views, the hon. Member for Battersea supported him.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS
Yes. But why? Because we were asking for a Committee of this House to assist the Postmaster General.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
The hon. Member's objection is not to sub-letting or taking advice from other people; it is only to the proposal to select gentlemen who are not Members of this House, instead of throwing the matter into the hands of a Committee of this House. He was good enough to tell me how he would select such a Committee. He said he would take the Members for the Oxford and Cambridge Universities, because they have no postal employees amongst their constituents, and because, I suppose, they would be especially impartial men on labour questions, as they had never been concerned in business transactions. Then he would add a Peer, possibly to give dignity to the Committee. What a strange selection! By what authority is the Postmaster-General to nominate such a Committee as that? Surely the hon. Member knows that his suggestion is not practicable for any Postmaster-General or any Minister of the Crown to follow. That is not the way in which Select Committees are nominated. For my own part, I have given a great deal of attention to this wages question since I have been responsible for the manage- 1059 ment of the Post Office. Before I held my present office, I had some knowledge of it, as, in my capacity of Secretary to the Treasury, I represented the Postmaster-General in this House, but now that my responsibility is more direct my knowledge is more complete, and my opportunities of acquiring information are greater. While I think that, on the whole, the Post Office scales of pay are just, and even rather generous, and that it is quite possible that an inquiry might show that in some cases they are too high, it is also clear that in some cases they might not be justified, and I do not believe that a Minister of the Crown derogates from his own authority, or the dignity of the House, by seeking advice from those who are competent to give it. The course I propose to adopt will not lessen my responsibility, but will enable me to come to a decision, with the concurrence of the Treasury, in the light of fuller information. I intend to give the names of the Committee to the House as soon as they are complete, but I think it inadvisable to submit their names to be voted on by the House. I decline to ask busy men to give their time to the public service in this way, with the condition that their names shall first be submitted. If the names I submit do not meet with the approval of the House, it will be for the House to express its want of confidence in me. I think it would be impossible to get men of the authority and position I hope to secure, unless the scope of the inquiry is kept within reasonable bounds. Having once come to a conclusion as to the proper scales of pay for the classes I have named, it will be com- 1060 paratively easy for the Postmaster-General to decide as to the other standards.
My hon. friend the Member for Tunbridge has raised the question of extending the facilities for the collection of parcels in the rural districts. I understand my hon. friend to suggest that postmen, delivering in rural districts, should be empowered to sell stamps and to accept letters and parcels; but a postman in a rural district does these things now, although, of course, he cannot carry more than a certain weight. It is one thing for a postman to accept parcels and letters offered to him on his round and another thing to say that, whether he has letters to deliver at a house or not, he shall call to see whether there is anything to send away. That will be a very large undertaking. It could not be carried out with the present staff, and would utterly disorganise the delivery of letters. If, however, he could see his way to further development, he should not be slow to adopt it. As to the suggestion that extra facilities should be given for the carriage of parcels of agricultural produce the late Mr. Hanbury, with whom I discussed this matter, was unable to suggest a scheme, and I can only say that if I can possibly find one I shall not be unwilling to adopt it. The hon. Member for Leicester has asked me as to the question of special leave of absence. I dealt with that subject fully last year. At the present time working postmen have fourteen days' holiday on full pay in the year. In addition to that, subject to the necessities of the moment, they may have ten days' special leave with pay, if they apply for it, on their providing a substitute. Is not that reasonable leave as compared with what working men in other employments are allowed? I think 1061 it is very generous, and I do not hold it is right to give any further concession in that direction. On that point I have given my final reply to the Post Office officials. Seeing that we have had ample discussion may I appeal to the Committee to allow us to get the Vote, especially as no reduction has been moved.
§ MR. NANNETTI (Dublin, College Green)
regretted that the right hon. Gentleman, in endeavouring to make a case against the hon. Member for the Scotland Division, should have introduced the question of the inspection of conventual institutions. The argument was not well founded, because the hon. Member had never objected to the sanitary inspection of convents. The right hon. Gentleman had asserted that when complaints were made as to in-sanitation they were brought immediately under his notice and attention given to them, but he could assure him that in the City of Dublin that was not the case. Time after time the attention of the Sanitary Officer of the City had been drawn to the condition of the Post Office, and he had replied that he had no power to enter on Government premises. Why should not such premises be equally open to inspection with private workshops? He did not think the right hon. Gentleman had met the claim of the men in anything like a fair or generous manner. The inquiry promised had reference only to the question of pay. But there were other grievances which ought to be considered, and amongst them the cases of favouritism in promotion which so often occurred. As to the character of the Committee he would like to know if, in the case of a dispute between employers and employees, 1062 any employer would agree to the matter being referred to a body of workmen outside the trade to settle? The effect of the hon. Gentleman's action would be to delay the removal of grievances, and therefore he held that the scope of the inquiry ought to be widened. He could tell the right hon. Gentleman that there was seething discontent in the Dublin Post Office, and the Lord Mayor and citizens had agreed that the officials were not well treated. He moved the reduction of the Vote by£100.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item A (Salaries) be reduced by£100, in respect of the Salary of the Postmaster-General—(Mr. Nannetti.)
§ MR. CLAUDE HAY (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
said that though many of them who had taken an interest in this question for many years might be disappointed at the decision arrived at by the Postmaster-General, he still thought that the Committee marked distinctly a step in advance. Hitherto there had been an obdurate refusal on the part of Postmasters-General to consider the claims brought forward by the postal establishment for an inquiry into various matters of which they complained, and although the proposed Committee might not altogether satisfy the postal clerks, he felt it would result in placing before the House a great amount of evidence which would lead to further inquiry into the conditions under which the postal service was administered. He regretted that the right hon. Gentleman had not answered questions put to him in the course of the debate as to why certain classes were to be exempted from the 1063 afforded to members of the staff to present their case. Why was it that 80,000 employees were outside the scope of the inquiry. As had been suggested by the hon. Members for Battersea and Plymouth, it was not right that the investigation should be confined to the higher grades of the postal staff; it ought rather to deal with the lowly-paid classes, whose position had become a by-word in the country. It was disappointing, indeed it was almost a shame, that a class whose wages ranged from 18s. to 25s. weekly, and whose case had not been reconsidered since 1878, should be left out in the cold. There were other classes omitted, the sub-postmaster and the engineers and linemen, whose case deserved consideration. The Postmaster-General had shown he was a master of his business and not merely an ornament of the Department, but he had not that evening taken them very far along the road of reform; still the Committee will probably lead to a useful exchange of ideas. He regretted that the reduction of the Vote had been moved, because, if the Committee were composed of men of wide experience in dealing with large masses of men and a variety of interests, it would be able to ascertain if the scale of wages paid in the Post Office was in accordance with the scale generally paid in outside employment. Personally he was confident that the result of the inquiry would be to prove that the complaints made year after year were well founded. It was all very well to say that the taxpayer must be considered, but they must also remember that postal employees were the servants of a monopoly, and if they lost their appointment had little or no chance of getting similar employment elsewhere. They had entered on a new chapter of postal 1064 inquiry, and what opportunities would be history, and he hoped the result would be to largely improve their position.
§ MR. LOUGH
said it was quite impossible in the time left to them to discuss the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, which had dealt with a question of gigantic importance, viz., the re-purchase of stamps across the Post Office counter. Perhaps there had been some pilfering, which it was desirable to stop, but in order to do that they ought not to treat as rogues every one who wished to sell stamps to the Post Office.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.