§ 1. Motion made and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £563,000, 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 Customs Department."
*SIR EDWARDSTRACHEY (Somersetshire, S.)
moved the reduction of the salary of the Chairman of the Board of Customs by £100 in order to call attention to the refusal of the Board to give information as regards the names and addresses of persons to whom foreign milk was consigned in this country and by whom it was sold. The Committee might think this a trifling matter, but he held that the British Dairy Farmers' Association, on whose behalf he was raising the question, were just as much entitled to find out who imported and sold this milk, as were those who desired that the sellers of foreign meat should declare themselves, or as sellers of manufactured foreign - made goods were known. He did not want to prevent foreign milk from being sold in this country, but he submitted that the purchaser had the right to know whether he was buying English or foreign milk. The milk ought to be imported under proper restrictions. Home dairy farmers were subject to strict rules as to inspection and registration, but this milk might, for all they knew, come from insanitary dairies or it might be left standing on wharves under insanitary conditions. The risks of infection were consequently great. At present it was unknown to the Customs or the seller or consumer under what conditions, sanitary or insanitary, this foreign milk was produced. Further than that it was quite possible 222 that it was retailed as English milk, and the consumer was thus defrauded by paying a higher price. He failed to understand the anxiety of the Government to protect the foreign trader in this matter, and he did urge that the Board of Customs, in the interests of the health of the public, might well give the information as to who were the consignees of this milk, so that people might know when they were buying milk produced under safeguards in the interest of public health, or foreign milk, in respect of which they had no guarantee.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item A (Salaries) be reduced by £100, in respect of the salary of the Chairman."—(Sir Edward Strachey.)
§ THE FINANCIAL SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Mr. ELLIOT,) Durham
was understood to deny that the Government were in favour of foreign milk being put on the market under more favourable conditions than English milk. The Government were in favour of good food being put on the market from whatever direction it might come. He did not think it was the duty of the Government, without legislation, to cause to be put over a man's shop a statement as to where he got his goods from. The hon. Member would have rested his case on a surer basis if he had brought forward any specific cases where injury had been done.
§ *SIR EDWARD STRACHEY
My complaint lies in a nutshell. The Board of Customs absolutely refuse to give the names and addresses of those who import foreign milk into this country. I want to know why they refuse it, and in whose interest they do so.
§ MR. ELLIOT
It is not their duty to do so. If, however, the hon. Member will talk the matter over with me, and if he can place before me any cases in which milk is complained of, I will see what can be done.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said he was very glad to hear from the Secretary to the Treasury, the sole 223 representative of the Government present, that they would welcome the importation of food from whatever quarter it came. But he was bound to confess that the hon. Gentleman's statement was not at all consistent with the action of the President of the Board of Trade in introducing a Bill giving power to absolutely prohibit the importation of sugar under certain circumstances dictated by a foreign Commission sitting at Brussels. He thought it was an unreasonable request to ask for the names and addresses of persons who imported foreign milk. It was asking the Commissioners of Customs to go beyond their proper duty in a matter in which they had no concern, and with which they were not competent to deal. It was not a matter for the executive Government to deal with the importation of foreign foods by way of prohibition, or by way of setting up signs to frighten the importer of foreign articles. He was not aware that the quality of the milk was complained of.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said he could quite understand the Customs authorities having power to stop the importation of bad milk, but the proposal of the hon. Member was that all foreign milk, good or bad, should be dealt with in an exceptional manner, and he should therefore resist the Amendment.
§ CAPTAIN NORTON (Newington, W.)
supported the Amendment. As a London Member representing a crowded constituency, where naturally great quantities of milk were consumed, he claimed that the people had a right to know where their milk supply came from. They thought they were justified in asking that the Government should do all in its power, not simply to benefit the farmers throughout this country, but to give to the consumers of milk some protection against having foisted on them foreign milk which might have been produced under insanitary conditions, or had been left standing on insanitary wharves. It was important that the rising generation should be 224 supplied with the best of milk. It was said that no complaints had been made against the quality of this foreign milk; but what he desired was to have every possible guarantee that a food so closely connected with the health of the people should be absolutely fresh and of the best quality, and not stale and poor.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
said that no complaint had been made that the foreign milk was impure. They had been told that some had been seized because it was bad, and surely there could be no complaint on that ground. This, he wished to point out, was a proposal to reduce the salary of a public official because he declined to do that which by law he had no power to do. Sir Henry Primrose was not empowered by law to take the course which was suggested, and they ought not therefore, to punish him for refusing to act illegally.
§ MR. COHEN (Islington, E.)
said he had listened to the debate with surprise. This was a proposal to brand as inferior anything imported from abroad in the way of food. That was a strange nostrum to come from a Party which professed to have a desire to do away with everything that had the least semblance of protection about it. He objected to the suggestion made by the mover of the Amendment that the names and addresses of importers of milk should be supplied. There was no ground for imposing a restriction because of the fear that milk might possibly have been tainted in course of transit from abroad. It was not alleged that this milk was adulterated in any way. He did not think the hon. Member for King's Lynn had treated the Secretary to the Treasury fairly in his interpretation of his remarks.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
I did not put any construction on his words. I only pointed out that he held certain views and that the Government held other views.
§ MR. COHEN
suggested there was no parallel between the cases of milk and sugar. One was a taxed article, the other was not, and he hoped it never would be. 225 He believed there was no ground whatever for putting any statutory regulation on the importation of such a necessary article of food, which he believed could not be produced in sufficient quantities in this country.
§ MR. CHAPLIN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
said that he had never given a Protectionist vote in the course of his life, and he did not regard this as a question of protection. It was a subject affecting the public health, and when he was President of the Local Government Board there was reason to believe that some of the preservatives used in milk were deleterious to the public health. If the hon. Member opposite went to a division he certainly would support him.
§ MR. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
thought the Chairman of the Board of Customs had been a little hardly dealt with in this matter as no rule empowering names and addresses to be given could either be laid down or carried out without having consequences which the House certainly could not approve. The hon. Member had not met the Financial Secretary quite fairly. The hon. Gentleman had offered to confer with him with regard to any abuse that might exist, and surely he ought to be satisfied with that promise. They ought not to pass any reflections on the Board of Customs in connection with that matter.
§ *SIR EDWARD STRACHEY
said that he would not press his Amendment if he were given an opportunity of raising the question on Report, should the Financial Secretary on consideration of the matter decide that he could not assent to giving the names and addresses of the importers of this milk.
§ MR. ELLIOT
said that he had only expressed his wish to know on what facts the hon. Member's grievance was based. After all, the Board of Customs had well defined duties to perform, and they could not do exactly what they liked with information that came to them confidentially. It was not the business of the Board to help the foreigner against the home producer or the home producer against the foreigner. The right course of the hon. Member was to legislate.
§ *MR. MACONOCHIE (Aberdeenshire, E.)
was sure that many Members on both sides of the House sympathised with the mover of the Amendment, so far as he desired to secure pure articles of food. If it was true that the milk that came over here was adulterated there was no reason why they should not stop it, but if they took into consideration the fact that the Chairman of the Board of Customs had no power whatever to give the information asked for without a special Act of Parliament, he thought it was a trifle unreasonable for Sir Edward Strachey to press this Motion. It appeared to him that the whole of Sir Edward Strachey's argument went to prove that he sympathised with the views of some Members of the House in the shape of protection, and in trying to stop supplies which might increase the food of the people.
§ *SIR EDWARD STRACHEY
Absolutely the contrary. The hon. Member entirely misrepresents me, and the Committee would recognise his object in so doing at the present moment.
§ *MR. MACONOCHIE
did not want to misrepresent the hon. Member, but they had the idea on the Government side of the House that that was the way his argument inclined. He (Mr. Maconochie) was sure, after the undertaking given by the Secretary to the Treasury that he could not very well give the information sought. Sir Edward Strachey would withdraw from his position, for he could not hold that they should deliberately propose that the Chairman of the Board of Customs should break the rule which he had no power to override without a special Act of Parliament.
§ *SIR EDWARD STRACHEY
said that, in view of the Financial Secretary's statement that the information he had asked for might require legislation, and that the Chairman of the Board of Customs was under legal obligation not to give the information, he felt it would not be right to press the Motion for the reduction of the salary of the Chairman of the Board of Customs until the point had been cleared up, and he therefore asked leave to withdraw his Amendment.
§ Leave to withdraw refused.227
§ Question put and negatived.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ MR. TOULMIN (Bury, Lancashire)
said that a large addition to the staff of the Customs had been necessitated by the sugar, coal, and corn duties. They had been told that 444 persons had been added to the staff at an annual cost of £57,000. Now that the corn duty was to be abolished, he asked for some assurance that the staff would be proportionately reduced. Three years ago the staff numbered 3,986, the next year it went up to 4,114, and now it had been very slightly reduced to 4,073. The cost had, however, not diminished. There had, on the contrary, been a considerable increase under the head of superintendents. In 1901–2 these officials numbered 231; now there were 262 of them, and it certainly did seem singular that when the general staff had been reduced in numbers there should have been an increase in the number of superintendents. He must press for some assurance that now that the corn duty was to be abolished the staff should be decreased.
§ MR. ELLIOT
said that even after the corn duty ceased to be levied there would be much extra work in the readjustment of rebates. Any reduction in the staff would be more apparent next year than in the present year. In such a department as the Customs it was necessary to look a little beyond the service of the moment, and it was probable that the changes in regard to the importation of sugar would entail a considerable increase of the Customs staff, because refining would have to be done in bond. Still he hoped that when the corn duty had been abolished it would be possible to effect some reduction.
§ MR. ELLIOT
said that there had been an enormous increase in the work of making returns, and that had largely fallen on the superintendents.
§ MR. WHITLEY (Halifax)
did not think the reply of the hon. Gentleman altogether satisfactory. He had suggested that an increased staff would be required because sugar refineries were to be placed in bond. But that was not a new policy of the Government this year. It was announced a year ago, and any increase of the staff due to the sugar duties must have been contemplated before these Estimates were framed. The hon. Gentleman's predecessor in office estimated the increased cost of staff through the corn duties for one year at £8,500, and seeing that the tax was only to be in force for three months of this financial year, so large a sum ought not now to be asked. The principle laid down was that money should be only taken for the necessities of the financial year and therefore it was hardly fair to be asked to vote money for contingencies which might or might not occur next year. Unless some more satisfactory explanation was given than had been given by the hon. Gentleman a reduction ought to be moved. It was most unsatisfactory to put a number of men on the permanent staff, and thus create a new class of civil servants whose services were only required for a year, and whose salaries would have to be paid when their services were no longer needed. Under the circumstances he moved to reduce the Vote by £4,000.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum not exceeding £559,000 be granted for the said Service."—(Mr. Whitley.)
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
pointed out that when the Government last year imposed the corn tax they imposed it as a permanent duty, and they very naturally providedan increased staff at the Customs for the collection of what was a rather onerous duty to collect. That was a necessary and inevitable step assuming that the Government intended to stick to their guns and make the corn tax a permanent one, but by some strange chance, during the absence of the Secretary of State for the Colonies on the illimitable veldt, the Government had come to the 229 decision to rescind this tax. He did not complain of the decision, but there was this to be said: if the Government had determined to undo the corn tax they must also undo the charge which had been placed upon the country by the imposition of that tax. It was not sufficient for the Secretary of the Treasury to "hope" there would be a reduction. These Estimates were prepared in the autumn or winter of last year, and it was fair to assume that the Government had at that time arrived at the decision to rescind the corn duties, and it was not fair, as the hon. Gentleman, who was a fair-minded man, and who had remained a fair-minded man even after he went to the Treasury, would see, for the country to pay the cost of these gentlemen who were put on to collect the corn duty when the corn duty had ceased to exist. He was not surprised that areduction had been moved. The hon. Member had stated that the sugar duty would require an increased staff this year by reason of the Sugar Convention. Why? And in what way? The decision of the Brussels Convention did not necessitate any additional men; on the contrary, fewer men would be required because the Sugar Convention prohibited the introduction of certain sugars into certain countries. The hon. Gentleman said that a greater superintendence of factories and places where sugar was manufactured in this country would be required and that these places would have to be placed under bond, but that was not a question of Customs officers. His belief had always been that that was a matter for the Excise. Customs officers could have nothing to do with a bonded system of inland manufactories, and therefore whatever bonded system was required, and whatever duties had to be collected, would have to be attended to by the Inland Revenue Department. He therefore anticipated the hon. Gentleman would agree, not to the reduction which had been moved by the hon Member opposite, but to a reasonable reduction representing the real reduction of the staff which had been rendered possible by the cessation of the corn duties.
§ MR. J. H. LEWIS (Flint Boroughs)
asked how many extra officials 230 had actually been appointed in consequence of the imposition of the corn duties, and the amount the country had to pay for their salaries. This information became of considerable importance to the Committee, having regard to the fact that the corn duty was not now to be a permanent duty. It would also be interesting to know what the "probable increase in duties soon to be expected," to which the hon. Gentleman had alluded, were. If that information was given the Committee might be justified in voting in favour of this Vote.
§ MR. MARKHAM (Nottinghamshire, Mansfield)
asked whether the custom still prevailed of destroying captured smuggled goods by burning or otherwise, and, if so, whether an alteration in that custom might not be made under which these goods might be sold for the public benefit. In the case of tobacco he asked that it might be supplied to the inmates of the workhouses, by whom, as everybody knew, a little tobacco was much appreciated.
§ MR. ELLIOT
said the increase in the number of the staff owing to the corn duty was forty-six indoor and forty-seven outdoor officers. But what he desired to impress on the Committee was that it would be bad policy and bad economy to dismiss anyone on the established staff when there would be a considerable demand for their services after the 1st of September next. With regard to the question of seized smuggled goods his strong impression was that the method of destroying goods which had been alluded to had been put an end to.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
was understood to press for a reply to the point he had raised with reference to the men whose services—in consequence of the abandonment of the corn duty—would not be required.
§ MR. ELLIOT
thought that the hon. Member was incorrect in supposing that in consequence of the abolition of the corn duty the services of all these men would not be required, or that their services would not be available, if required, in connection with the changes 231 with regard to the importation of sugar. It was expected that their services would be so available.
§ MR. NUSSEY (Pontefract)
pointed out that the Estimates had been framed with the knowledge that the Sugar Convention was coming on, and would have to be provided for. He fully sympathised with the hon. Gentleman, who was in the difficult position of not knowing what might be the policy of the Government from day to day. The duty might be revived even in the present week, but as far as available information went, these forty - six men indoors and forty - seven men outdoors would have nothing whatever to do between now and September. The Departments concerned ought to be careful to ascertain whether a tax was to be permanent before they increased the staff by a large number of men.
§ MR. MARKHAM
, in view of the large amount of money lost by the Revenue owing to the manner in which invoices were made out for rebates on small coal, asked whether the Custom House officials had any means of ascertaining from the colliery companies the actual price at which the coal was sold. He would tell the hon. Gentleman how he evaded the tax himself. The price of small coal was 6s. f.o.b. If a foreign exporter came to him for a certain quantity of large and a certain quantity of small coal, he would make out the invoice for a certain amount of small coal at 5s. 11d., and the foreign exporter would pay 6d. per ton more for the large coal. By that means the exporter escaped paying the duty on the small coal, and thereby, if the quantity was 20,000 tons, put £1,000 into his pocket. The colliery company gained no advantage, but the authorities ought to look into the matter, as the tax was largely evaded in that manner. As one who had evaded the tax, and would evade it on every possible occasion, he thought steps should be taken so to frame the tax that it could not be thus evaded.
§ MR. ELLIOT
thought the Treasury ought to be much obliged to the hon. Member for his remarks. With regard to the men to whom reference had been made, it would be very hard for them to 232 be dismissed at short notice. A great number of the men would be absorbed in the manner he had described.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON (Dundee)
said the hon. Gentleman misapprehended the point of the objection. Nobody desired to secure the dismissal of a number of officials. The Estimates were framed in November. Had the Government at that time decided to abolish the corn duty? If so, the Estimate was framed on that basis. But if the abolition had not then been decided upon, the Estimate was based on the continuance of the corn duty. That duty was now being abandoned; consequently the Estimate ought to be reduced.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
reminded the Committee that any unexpended balance of this Vote would be surrendered at the end of the financial year, so that if anything were saved on the salaries of these gentlemen it would be to the benefit of the Treasury. But what they could not be sure of was that anything would be saved. He doubted whether the hon. Gentleman was correct with regard to the transfer of the men from one duty to another. It had to be remembered, however, that the corn duty was imposed last year, and was to be taken off this. But was it to be re-imposed next year? They were given to understand that it was to be, and to that extent the hon. Gentleman had a case for the retention of these officials.
§ MR. WHITLEY
pointed out that the proposed reduction amounted to only one-eighth of the cost of collecting a duty which was to run for three months in a current financial year. The Motion did not involve the dismissal of the men. If the Financial Secretary was correct in saying they would be required in connection with the Sugar Convention it was the duty of the Government to bring in a Supplementary Estimate appointing them for that purpose. It was not right that the money should be taken under this Vote and the men employed subsequently for some other purpose. From the admissions of the hon. Gentleman himself he thought a case had been made out for the reduction.
§ MR. ELLIOT
said that with regard to the changes made necessary by the abolition of the corn duty the question was a very simple one, namely, the question of the best policy in the interests of economy and good administration. The question was what was the best thing to do? A great deal of work would have to be done in connection with the rebates. He thought the best policy was that which the Treasury proposed to adopt. In future the work would be done under the Customs Department. Personally he should like to see a larger reduction when things settled down. Naturally hon. Members felt that the arrangement was not altogether satisfactory, and it was not in itself desirable that when once a permanent duty was put on it should be shortly afterwards taken off. Whether it was right to put the tax on or take it off was not a matter to be discussed now.
SIR H. CAMPBELL BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)
The hon. Gentleman neglects the point of view which was put before the Committee by my
§ hon. friend near me and others. This is no question of dismissing individual men at all. These men who have been engaged in collecting the corn duty are not corn duty men ad hoc, if I may use the term; they are merely an addition to the staff necessitated by additional work. If that work is no longer required they can be employed on other work of the Department. If so, it will be unnecessary to make any additions to the Department. If these men are set free to take their share in the general work of the Department there ought to be some diminution of the expense, because no other new men will be required. It is not a question of leaving these men to destitution or of keeping them in idleness. I do not think it is at all unreasonable that there should be a reduction moved in these circumstances, for there is no hardship or difficulty in the matter whatever.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 37; Noes, 96. (Division List, No. 112.)235
|Allen, Chas. P. (Glos., Stroud)||Lawson, Sir Wilfrid (Cornwall)||Strachey, Sir Edward|
|Bell, Richard||Layland-Barratt, Francis||Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe)|
|Blake, Edward||Leng, Sir John||Thomas, F. Freeman (Hastings|
|Caldwell, James||Lewis, John Herbert||Thomson, P. W. (York, W. R.)|
|Cameron, Robert||Markham, Arthur Basil||Tomkinson, James|
|Campbell-Bannerman, Sir H.||Norton, Capt. Cecil William||Ure, Alexander|
|Craig, Robert Hunter (Lanark||Nussey, Thomas Willans||Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)|
|Dilke, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles||Rea, Russell||Wilson, F. W. (Norfolk, Mid)|
|Duncan, J. Hastings||Roberts, John H. (Denbighs.)||Yoxall, James Henry|
|Evans, Sir F. H. (Maidstone)||Robertson, Edmund (Dundee)|
|Hothouse, C. E. H. (Bristl, E.||Rose, Charles Day||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—|
|Hutchinson, Dr. Charles Fredk.||Samuel, Herbt. L. (Cleveland)||Mr. Whitley and Mr.|
|Jacoby, James Alfred||Sehwann, Charles E.||Toulmin.|
|Kitson, Sir James||Shipman, Dr. John G.|
|Agg-Gardner, James Tynte||Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edw. H.||Fellowes, Hon. Allwyn Ed.|
|Anson, Sir William Reynell||Cavendish, V. C. W. (Derbyshire||Fergusson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Man'r|
|Arnold-Forster, Hugh O.||Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. A. (Worc.||Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne|
|Atkinson, Right Hon. John||Chaplin, Right Hon. Henry||FitzGerald, Sir Robert Penrose-|
|Bain, Colonel James Robert||Churchill, Winston Spencer||Fitzroy, Hon. Edw. Algernon|
|Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J. (Manch'r||Cochrane, Hon. T. H. A. E.||Flower, Ernest|
|Balfour, Capt. C. B. (Hornsey||Cohen, Benjamin Louis||Forster, Henry William|
|Bartley, Sir George C. T.||Craig, Charles Curtis (Antrim, S.||Foster, P. S. (Warwick, S. W.|
|Bignold, Arthur||Cranborne, Viscount||Galloway, William Johnson|
|Blundell, Colonel Henry||Crossley, Sir Savile||Gardner, Ernest|
|Bond, Edward||Dewar, Sir T. R. (Tr. Haml'ts||Garfit, William|
|Bowles, Col. H. F. (Middlesex||Dickson-Poynder, Sir John P.||Gordon, Maj. Evans (Tr. Hmlts|
|Bowles, T. Gibson (Lynn Regis||Dixon-Hartland, Sir F. Dixon||Gore, Hn. S. F. Ormsby- (Linc|
|Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John||Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers||Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir John Eldon|
|Campbell, Rt. Hn. J. A. (Glasg:)||Elliot, Hon. A. Ralph Douglas||Graham, Henry Robert|
|Carew, James Laurence||Fardell, Sir T. George||Hall, Edward Marshall|
|Hamilton, Rt. Hn. Ld. G. (Midx||M'Iver, Sir Lewis (Edinburgh W.||Russell, T. W.|
|Harris, Frederick Leverton||Morgan, D. J. (Walthamstow)||Samuel, Harry S. (Limehouse)|
|Hay, Hon. Claude George||Murray, Rt. Hn. A. Graham (Bute||Smith, Hon. W. F. D. (Strand|
|Heath, James (Staffs., N. W.)||Myers, William Henry||Stanley, Lord (Lancs.)|
|Heaton, John Henniker||Nicol, Donald Ninian||Stroyan, John|
|Hoare, Sir Samuel||Palmer, Walter (Salisbury)||Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)|
|Hogg, Lindsay||Pease, H. Pike (Darlington)||Tomlinson, Sir Wm. E. M.|
|Hope, J. F. (Sheff., B'tside)||Percy, Earl||Vincent, Sir Edgar (Exeter)|
|Hutton, John (Yorks, N. R.)||Pretyman, Ernest George||Walrond, Rt. Hn. Sir William H.|
|Laurie, Lieut.-General||Purvis, Robert||Wilson John (Glasgow)|
|Law, Andrew Bonar (Glasgow||Rasch, Major Frederic Carne||Wilson-Todd, Wm. H. (Yorks)|
|Legge, Col. Hon. Heneage||Rattigan, Sir William Henry||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart|
|Lockwood, Lieut.-Col. A. R.||Reid, James (Greenock)|
|Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine||Ridley, Hon. M. W. (Stalybridge)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—|
|Long, Rt. Hn. Walter (Bristol, S.||Ritchie, Rt. Hon. Chas. Thomson||Sir Alexander Acland-|
|Lonsdale, John Brownlee||Rollit, Sir Albert Kaye||Hood and Mr. Anstruther.|
|Loyd, Archie Kirkman||Rothschild, Hon. L. Walter|
|Macdona, John Cumming||Royds, Clement Molyneux|
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ CAPTAIN NORTON
drew attention to the wages of the body of officers known as Customs watchers. He explained that Customs watchers were officers who performed duties which were many years ago performed by those who were known as assistants or outdoor officers. These outdoor officers were paid something like £100 a year, but owing to the general increase of education throughout the country the Customs officials found that they were able to obtain the services of men of good character who were sufficiently well educated and responsible to perform the duties which were performed by these outdoor officers at a very much lower wage, and they wisely and properly, in the interest of the taxpayers, abolished that class. To that there could not be the slightest objection. His point was that they went too far, and that they were employing the Customs watchers at what he did not hesitate to call a sweating rate of wages for men in the area of the county of London. In addition to a certain amount of physical labour these men performed the very difficult and responsible duties known as tallying and locking. Therefore the class of men obtained for these positions must be men of character who were absolutely reliable. The Government had always obtained for this class of duty men who had served in the Army, Navy, police and fire brigades throughout the country. The majority of these men at one time held pensions from having been in the Army, Navy, or police. At one period they received a wage of less than 19s., but their wage was raised to 21s. His 236 contention was that the Government had no right to take men who already had a pension and make use of that pension for the purpose of lowering their wages and thereby depriving others, who were in the labour market and had no such stand-by in the posts which they might occupy, of a fair wage. The Government was not justified in the face of the Fair Wages Resolution of this House in employing men at less than a living wage in consequence of the fact that they had pensions, which, after all, were in the shape of deferred pay or reward for duty done. Some time ago he brought the question of the pay of the Customs watchers before the Committee, and he was told that these men had little responsibility because they were under constant supervision. But he would point out that there was nothing to prevent a Customs watcher from entering into collusion with lightermen, and returning a lighter as containing 499 cases instead of 500 cases, of brandy, and thereby defrauding the public revenue. He did not say that it was done, but if a man was placed in a position in which he was able to do that, there was great temptation to do it when he was forced by the Government to live on what he called a starvation wage.
Take the case of locking warehouses, if any irregularity occurred in connection with the goods in these warehouses, it could never be detected until the whole of the goods had been cleared, and when the man concerned might be at the other end of the world. Therefore they required for that work men on whom they could rely. The various dock companies paid 237 their lockers 25s. a week and gave certain extra wages when they worked under certain conditions. In 1898, when he brought this question first before the House, the then Financial Secretary to the Treasury had a consultation with him and the gentleman who was responsible for these particular offices. It was agreed to give these men certain concessions, but these were to a certain extent bogus concessions. Paragraph I of General Order 66, issued in 1900, which was for the purpose of meeting these men, said that one-fourth of the whole of the number may proceed by yearly increments of 1s. from the present minimum of 21s. to a maximum of 24s. a week. There were 600 of these men employed throughout the country, and half of that number were employed within the area of the county of London. They had to do with the Port of London, and it was more especially for these men that he pleaded. He admitted that a wage of 21s. in certain parts of the country, where house rent was from 3s. to 4s., was a better wage than 24s. in London, where a man was obliged to pay 7s. or 8s. for anything like decent lodgings. These men could not obtain lodgings in the neighbourhood of the docks where their labour was, and they were compelled to go a considerable distance afield. Although they could get houses at get-at-able distances near the field of their labours at a more moderate rate, the difficulty was not overcome. These men, owing to the peculiarity of their duties, which extended to nine hours out of the twenty-four, were, on account of the arrival of fruit and vegetables at an early hour in the morning, unable to get to their duties without paying railway and bus fares throughout the entire week. Therefore these men, although Government officials placed in responsible positions, were called upon to do work at less than was paid to scavengers in the various London boroughs, and at less than was received by even an ordinary docker, who had no responsibility at all. They were led to believe that they might rise to 24s., but he could inform the Committee that there was a watcher with twenty-two years service who was not in receipt of that amount. Those who had joined since August, 1896, 238 could never obtain 24s., and had not up to the present obtained any increment. There were men with six years service without increment. These men had no complaints whatever recorded against them. The Customs watchers had been led to believe that, provided they performed their duties and were not unfavourably reported upon, they would rise automatically to the maximum of 24s., but they now found themselves in a position in which they were ruled out under the very order to which he had referred. These men were working at 21s., and had no hope of ever rising, while at the age of sixty they would be turned out of the service.
He would be glad to know also whether the Financial Secretary would consider the advisability of further extending the concession which was made to these men in reference to their uniform. On the occasion to which he had already referred, he pointed out that the only badge of office which these men had was a cap, and now, according to this order, they were to be annually supplied with a uniform jacket. He suggested that consideration should be given to the question whether they might not be given a complete uniform. In all foreign countries every man employed in any position under the Government, whatever his wages might be, was, at any-rate, given a respectable uniform. Apart from that, he would like the hon. Gentleman to say whether there was any reason why these men should not obtain a living wage. The hon. Gentleman's predecessor stated as a reason for not giving them a living wage the fact that they were not all able-bodied men. That could not be urged at the present moment. It was true that many years ago there was a certain number of old soldiers doing duty as watchers, and who, it was stated, had been taken on almost as a matter of charity. His contention was that it was the duty of the Government to employ the best men they could obtain, and to pay them the current rate of wages for that class of labour in the locality. Another objection which had been stated was that though their hours were nine per day, they were not employed continuously during that time. That was no answer to a man who had a wife and family to support on 21s. a 239 week. He was there as an employee of the Customs, and he could not go away to earn money elsewhere. He asked that it should be made possible for those men against whom there was no complaint to rise to 24s. a week.
§ MR. ELLIOT
said that this class of Customs watchers had been only started in 1896. Before that the work was done by men known as permanent labourers at a wage of 19s. a week. The work done by the watchers was of a purely mechanical kind—locking and watching doors. In 1900 their position was benefited. Their pay was increased, as was admitted by the hon. and gallant Member, and an increase was also made to their overtime wage. They were before that entirely without uniform; and for a long time they had only a cap, but now they had a jacket as well. Their case had been carefully gone into and considered as part of a system begun in 1896, and it had been since looked into and considerable benefits given to them. Some of them wished to be put on the establishment list; but there would be no difficulty in any of these men leaving at once and going where they would be more highly paid. He was told that there was a feeling amongst the men that if they were on the establishment system it would give them a right to a pension. He, however, on behalf of the Department,
§ did not think that that was desirable, even in the interest of the men themselves. That right to a pension would limit their freedom of going anywhere else. There was no reason why the wages which had been so lately gone over should be again revised.
§ CAPTAIN NORTON
said he could not accept at all what the hon. Member had said. These men did not exist in exactly the same category now as prior to 1900; whereas he had been dealing with their grievances for the last ten years. His contention had always been that these men had not a living wage, as also in regard to the men employed at Deptford and Woolwich; and the Government had no right to employ men at less than a living wage. That was the point at issue. It was true that some slight concession had been made to them in 1900, but the concession debarred the men from rising to a wage of 24s. a week. He begged to move the reduction of the Vote by £100.
§ Motion made, and Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £562,900, be granted for the said Service."—(Captain Norton.)
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 48; Noes, 110. (Division List No. 113.)241
|Allen, Chas. P. (Glos., Stroud)||Layland-Barratt, Francis||Taylor, Theo. C. (Radcliffe)|
|Bell, Richard||Leamy, Edmund||Thomas, F. Freeman (Hastings)|
|Blake, Edward||Leng, Sir John||Thomson, F. W. (York, W. R.)|
|Burt, Thomas||Lewis, John Herbert||Tomkinson, James|
|Caldwell, James||Mappin, Sir Fredk. Thorpe||Toulmin, George|
|Craig, Robert Hunter (Lanark||Markham, Arthur Basil||Ure, Alexander|
|Doogan, P. C.||Nussey, Thomas Willans||Wason J. Cathcart (Orkney)|
|Duncan, J. Hastings||Rea, Russell||Whitley, J. H. (Halifax)|
|Evans, Sir F. H. (Maidstone)||Reid, Sir R. Threshie (Dumfries)||Whittaker, Thomas Palmer|
|Gladstone, Rt. Hn. Herbert J.||Rickett, J. Compton||Wilson, Chas. H. (Hull, W.)|
|Harwood, George||Roberts, John H. (Denbighs.)||Wilson, F. W. (Norfolk, Mid)|
|Hobhouse, C. E. H. (Bristl, E||Robertson, Edmund (Dundee)||Yoxall, James Henry|
|Hutchinson, Dr. Charles Fredk.||Rose, Charles Day|
|Jacoby, James Alfred||Schwann, Charles E.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—|
|Jones, Wm. (Carnarvonshire)||Scott, C. Prestwich (Leigh)||Captain Norton and Mr|
|Kearley, Hudson E.||Shipman, Dr. John G.||Herbert Samuel|
|Kitson, Sir James||Soares, Ernest J.|
|Lawson, Sir Wilfrid (Cornwall||Strachey, Sir Edward|
|Agg-Gardner, James Tynte||Anson, Sir William Reynell||Austin, Sir John|
|Agnew, Sir Andrew Noel||Arnold-Forster, Hugh O.||Bain, Colonel James Robert|
|Aird, Sir John||Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John||Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J. (Manch'r|
|Balfour, Capt. C. B. (Hornsey)||Forster, Henry William||Murray, Rt. Hn A. Graham (Bute|
|Banbury, Sir Frederick George||Fyler, John Arthur||Myers, William Henry|
|Bartley, Sir George C. T.||Galloway, William Johnson||Nicol, Donald Ninian|
|Beach, Rt. Hon. Sir M. Hicks||Gardner, Ernest||Palmer, Walter (Salisbury)|
|Bignold, Arthur||Garfit, William||Pease, H. Pike (Darlington)|
|Blundell, Colonel Henry||Gibbs, Hon. Vicary (St. Albans)||Percy, Earl|
|Bond, Edward||Gordon, Maj Evans (Tr. Hmlts||Pretyman, Ernest George|
|Bowles, Col. H. F. (Middlesex||Gore, Hn. S. F. Ormsby- (Linc||Purvis, Robert|
|Bowles, T. Gibson (Lynn Regis||Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir J. Eldon||Rasch, Major Frederic Carne|
|Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John||Goulding, Edward Alfred||Rattigan, Sir William Henry|
|Carew, James Laurence||Graham, Henry Robert||Ridley, Hon. M. W. (Stalybridge|
|Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edw. H.||Greene, W. Raymond (Cambs||Ritchie, Rt. Hn. C. Thomson|
|Cavendish, V. C. W. (Derbyshire||Greville, Hon. Ronald||Rollit, Sir Albert Kaye|
|Cecil, Lord Hugh (Greenwich)||Hall, Edward Marshall||Ropner, Colonel Sir Robert|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. A. (Worc||Hamilton, Rt. Hn Ld. G. (Midx||Royds, Clement Molyneux|
|Churchill, Winston Spencer||Hamilton, Marq. of (Londondy||Rothschild, Hon. Lionel Walter|
|Cochrane, Hon. T. H. A. E.||Harris, Frederick Leverton||Samuel, Harry S. (Limehouse)|
|Coddington, Sir William||Heath, James (Staffs., N. W.)||Seton-Karr, Sir Henry|
|Cohen, Benjamin Louis||Heaton, John Henniker||Smith, H C (North'mb. Tyneside|
|Craig, Charles Curtis (Antrim, S||Hoare, Sir Samuel||Smith, Jas. Parker (Lanarks.)|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Hogg, Lindsay||Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)|
|Crossley, Sir Savile||Hope, J. F. (Sheff., B'tside)||Tomlinson, Sir Wm. Edw. M.|
|Dewar, Sir T. R. (Tr. Haml'ts||Hutton, John (Yorks, N. R.)||Tufnell, Lieut.-Col. Edward|
|Dickson-Poynder, Sir John P.||Laurie, Lieut.-General||Vincent, Sir Edgar (Exeter)|
|Dixon-Hartland, Sir F. Dixon||Law, Andrew Bonar (Glasgow||Walrond, Rt. Hon. Sir W. H.|
|Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers||Legge, Col. Hon. Heneage||Welby, Lt-Col A. C. E. (Taunton|
|Egerton, Hon. A. de Tatton||Lockwood, Lieut.-Col. A. R.||Wharton, Rt. Hon. J. Lloyd|
|Elliot, Hon. A. Ralph Douglas||Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn Ed.||Long, Rt. Hn. Walter (Bristol, S||Wilson, John (Glasgow)|
|Fergusson, Rt Hn. Sir J. (Man'r||Lonsdale, John Brownlee||Wilson-Todd, W. H. (Yorks.)|
|Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne||Lowe, Francis William||Wortley, Rt. Hn. C. B. Stuart|
|FitzGerald, Sir Robt. Penrose||Loyd, Archie Kirkman|
|Fitzroy, Hon. Edw. Algernon||Macdona, John Cumming||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—|
|Flannery, Sir Fortescue||M'Iver, Sir Lewis (Edinburgh W||Sir Alexander Acland-Hood|
|Flower, Ernest||Morgan, D. J. (Walthamstow)||and Mr. Anstruther.|
Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ 2. Motion made, and Question proposed. "That a sum, not exceeding £1,370,500, 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 Inland Revenue Department."
§ MR. CHARLES ALLEN (Gloucestershire, Stroud)
said that he noticed that the number of men employed by the Department in 1901–2 was 5,778, in 1902–3, 5,886, and this year, 5,984. That was a considerable increase in the personnel. But the expense was increasing at a greater ratio. In 1901–2 it was £1,274,000, in 1902–3 £1,322,476, and this year £1,347,900. Both increases were very considerable; that in the personnel being the most important, as it could not be readily got rid of.
§ MR. ELLIOT
said that the increases referred to were mainly due to the fact that the quinquennial assessment 242 under Sections A and B of the Income Tax was taken, and that entailed an enormous amount of extra work. Increased taxation always meant a considerable increase in work, and consequently in expense.
§ MR. J. H. LEWIS
said he wished to raise a question which affected a very large and very deserving class of ratepayers. He referred to persons who were entitled to abatements of their Income Tax. He had endeavoured from time to time to ascertain approximately how much those persons were entitled to. Last year they received about £330,000; but they were entitled to some millions. The fact of the matter was that a very large proportion of the people who were entitled to abatements never received them. It might be said that that was entirely their own fault; but he hardly thought that that was a sufficient answer. He feared that the officers of the Inland Revenue, although no doubt acting in the interests of the Treasury, were not too anxious to help persons who wished to obtain the abatements to which they were entitled. No one would wish, for instance, that a man with an income of £300 or £350 should 243 not receive the exemption to which he was entitled. He would suggest to the Secretary to the Treasury that he should, through the usual channels, give instructions to the officers of the Inland Revenue to render every assistance in cases of that kind, and to make it as easy as possible for persons making claims to have them carried through. That was the very least that the Department might do. He hoped the hon. Gentleman would give the matter attention, with a view to having justice done to the class to which he referred.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said he hoped the hon. Gentleman would not do anything of the kind suggested. Abatements and exemptions were a most mischievous and improper system. The exemption granted to one person meant an extra imposition on another person. If all the incomes of the country were taxed, a 6d. Income Tax would do the work that a 1s. Income Tax now did; and it was only because a certain class were entitled to abatements and exemptions that other persons had to pay a 1s. instead of a 6d. Income Tax. Abatements and exemptions were now extended to incomes of £700, which was far beyond the limit which would justify any sort of abatement. To exempt poor persons from the Income Tax was a notion for which something could be said; but that a man with an income of £700 should not contribute his quota to direct taxation as well as the man with an income of £1,000 or £1,200 was absurd. The result of the system was to make it necessary to levy increased taxation on other subjects of the Crown. Further, the Inland Revenue was a tax-collecting Department; and the business of a tax-collecting Department was to collect taxes, not to encourage remissions. Therefore, when the hon. Gentleman opposite urged the Secretary to the Treasury to get his Department to give facilities for escaping the payment of taxation, he was proposing that the Department should betray its first duty to the State. If there was to be a recasting of the Income Tax, it should be entirely in the contrary direction to that suggested. His conviction was that even the poorest were not disposed to evade payment of a fair proportion of taxation. If exemptions and abatements 244 caused certain persons to pay less and others to pay more than their proper proportion, the reform of the Income Tax should be in the direction of the diminution of the abatements and the disappearance of the exemptions. He wished to refer to the system of allowing poundages and percentages on the taxes collected. On page 40 of the Estimates there was a list of commuted allowances such as "Commuted Allowances in lieu of Poundage to Assessors and Collectors of Taxes." The proper way to pay public servants was not by percentages, but by fixed salaries. Payment by percentage was a false system. The best service was given for a fixed salary, such as the service rendered to the Navy or the Army. On page 40 also there was an item for statutory poundage to assessors and collectors of Income Tax; and a further item for allowances (chiefly to Excise officers) for collecting taxes. On page 39 there was an item for allowances to purchasing distributors in England and Ireland (5 per cent. and under on general stamps and 1 per cent. on postage stamps). The point to which he wished to direct the attention of the Secretary to the Treasury was that the true principle was to replace poundages and percentages by fixed allowances. He hoped to hear from the hon. Gentleman that it was the fixed intention of the Government to abandon gradually the system of paying public servants by percentages, which was a false and a vicious system; and he trusted the hon. Gentleman would give an assurance to that effect.
§ MR. ELLIOT
said he was in entire agreement with a great deal of what had been said by his hon. friend the Member for King's Lynn; and already a large number of commutations had taken place. In Ireland, the old system was still, to some extent, adhered to; but the system was under consideration, and it was probable that some move would be made in the direction of assimilating the practice in Ireland to the better system which obtained in England. With reference to the percentages paid in England and Scotland, his impression was that they were paid to certain bankers, not to officials in the service of the State, in connection with foreign 245 dividends. He was in entire agreement with the hon. Member for Flint Boroughs that the people referred to were entitled to abatement, and that being so every facility ought to be given to them to get back money which did not belong to the State, and which did belong to them. He would do his best to see that every facility should be given to the persons entitled to abatement to get it back.
§ *SIR JOHN LENG (Dundee)
said he desired to elicit some further explanation from the hon. Gentleman on a subject of great interest to the legal fraternity and the people of Scotland. A few weeks ago it was stated in an evening journal that it was the intention of the Inland Revenue to centralise the collection of all death duties arising in Scotland in the city of Edinburgh. It was suggested that these duties, which had hitherto been collected by the Inland Revenue authorities in the large cities and towns of Scotland, were hereafter to be transmitted direct to the head office in Edinburgh. The objections to the proposal had been stated in a remonstrance of the Faculty of Procurators in Scotland. He had received copies of remonstrances from many sources, but the one from Glasgow epitomised the whole. That remonstrance pointed out that the proper way of discussing the figures was by personal interview, and that if it had to be done in Edinburgh by correspondence, it was likely to throw a considerable charge on the people. In the case of Glasgow, where they would have to send accounts to Edinburgh to be adjusted the solicitor would have personally to attend, or if it were done by correspondence the settlement of the duties would be indefinitely delayed and great expense thrown upon the public. It ought to be made clear that it was part of the duty of the local Inland Revenue officer to adjust the accounts in the district, although the ultimate review of the accounts could easily be left to the central office in Glasgow. He hoped the financial Secretary would be able to give an assurance which would remove any anxiety there was in Scotland in this regard. It appeared that the one great change proposed was that instead of the 246 local stamp distributor accepting payment and giving the interim receipt the accounts must now be sent by him to the head office in Edinburgh for assessment before the duty was imposed. If that was all that was proposed and the local solicitors were not to be prevented, as hitherto, from arranging all matters with the local Inland Revenue officers the alarm and anxiety which now existed would be largely allayed. If not, he was afraid agitation would continue.
§ MR. ELLIOT
said he did not understand that anything which the hon. Baronet had just said was for the benefit of the general public; but for the benefit of the solicitors and lawyers of Scotland. The alterations proposed did not apply to inventories. What had been done was to provide a now method to facilitate the accountable person getting the proper assessment made. He might go direct to Edinburgh, or, if be liked, to his nearest solicitor or Revenue official. That was entirely for himself.
§ MR. SOARES (Devonshire, Barnstaple)
drew attention to Item (e) which had increased from £260,000 last year to £307,600 in the present Estimates. He could not quite understand why that should be, because if the allowance or poundage allowed to collectors of Income Tax was calculated on the amount collected, it followed that the Income Tax, having been reduced from 1s. 3d. to 11d., this item should have also been decreased.
§ MR. ELLIOT
pointed out that the general increase was due to the quinquennial assessment on Schedules A and B, and also to the fact that when there was an increased tax the Government had to pay more heavily for its collection.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said he desired to call attention to a not unimportant subject. In his belief there were enormous sums wasted by the system of collection adopted by the Inland Revenue, which refused direct payment to itself and desired payments to be made to subordinate officials. In 99 cases out of 100 the simplest and best way would be for the Inland Revenue to 247 receive payment direct, as all that would then be necessary would be for the taxpayer to draw a cheque and send it through the post. Under Item (F) the taxpayer was asked to pay banker's commission (usually 2s. 6d. per cent.) on drafts drawn for the remittance of revenue by local bankers, or by traders and others in payment of duties, etc. That was really absurd, as no banker was required. The assessment having been made, the act of payment was the simplest thing in the world. But that was merely an illustration of how the system worked. In Item (E) there was a heading, "Guarantee premiums in respect of Collectors of Taxes," and therein lay a most extraordinary anomaly and grievance. It would scarcely be believed that it was impossible for a taxpayer to pay his taxes and be certain he had finally disposed of them. If the local tax collector, having demanded and received from a taxpayer the King's taxes, absconded with the money, the taxpayer could be called upon to pay a second, or even a third, time. If the money were sent direct to the Commissioners of Inland Revenue they would refuse to receive it. Under ordinary circumstances the local tax collector received his appointment from certain Commissioners who were nominally appointed by this House. In certain cases where those Commissioners did not, the Inland Revenue themselves appointed the collector, and being aware, perhaps from bitter experience, that tax collectors were not incapable of defaulting, they paid the premiums provided by this Vote to secure the honesty of their own collectors. He desired to extract from his hon. friend an undertaking that such a system would be adopted as would enable taxpayers to be certain they had finally paid their taxes. He would suggest that they should be enabled to pay the money direct to the Inland Revenue Commissioners. Possibly such a system would require an alteration of the law, but he thought the requisite amendment could be made without giving rise to much discussion. Either the Inland Revenue authorities should guarantee the honesty of their local collectors, or they should receive the taxes direct. In the hope of receiving such an undertaking as he had suggested, he moved to reduce the Vote by £200.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item E (Commuted Allowances, etc.) be reduced by £200."—(Mr. Gibson Bowles.)
§ MR. ELLIOT
said that if a man had paid his taxes once it would be a very bad system which left him liable to be called upon to pay them a second, or even a third time. He, however, had not heard of any such cases. As a matter of ordinary justice it appeared to him that if a man had paid the money into the hands of a servant of the State it ought not to be possible for him to be called upon to pay again. Whether the suggestion of his hon. friend could be adopted he was unable to say, but he would certainly give an undertaking to look into the matter with a view to preventing a recurrence of such demands.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ MR. SOARES
, reverting to his objection to the increase in the item for commuted allowances in lieu of poundage to assessors and collectors of taxes, said he understood from the Secretary to the Treasury that this increase would not have been made had the Treasury known what the proposals of the Budget were to be. According to that principle if a tax were repealed altogether the Committee would still be asked to vote the entire cost of collecting that tax. It appeared to be a thoroughly bad system. Surely in such a case a revised Estimate ought to be presented. In order to get some further explanation he moved to reduce the Vote by £100.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum not exceeding £1,370,400, be granted for the said Service."—(Mr. Soares.)
§ MR. ELLIOT
said that when the Estimates were being framed in December the only thing that could be done was to have regard to the then existing taxation and the existing law. It would 249 be impossible to frame them with regard to a Budget which would not be introduced until after Easter in the following year.
§ MR. ELLIOT
said it would be very inconvenient to recast the Estimates in the middle of the year. They must study the convenience of the House.
§ the question of commutation. It had nothing whatever to do with the amount of income tax to be collected. Hitherto certain men had been paid by poundage; it was now proposed to commute that poundage, and pay them by salary. The amount depended entirely on the number of men whose payments were to be commuted during the year, and had nothing whatever to do with the amount of income tax to be collected.
§ Question put—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 47; Noes 129. (Division List No. 114.)251
|Blake, Edward||Lawson, Sir Wilfrid (Cornwall||Shipman, Dr. John G.|
|Bryce, Right Hon. James||Layland-Barratt, Francis||Strachey, Sir Edward|
|Burt, Thomas||Leese, Sir Jos. F. (Accrington)||Taylor, Theo. C. (Radcliffe)|
|Caldwell, James||Leng, Sir John||Thomas, F. Freeman (Hastings|
|Causton, Richard Knight||Lewis, John Herbert||Thomson, F. W. (York, W. R).|
|Craig, Robert Hunter (Lanark)||Mappin, Sir Fredk. Thorpe||Tomkinson, James|
|Duncan, J. Hastings||Markham, Arthur Basil||Toulmin, George|
|Emmott, Alfred||Norton, Capt. Cecil William||Ure, Alexander|
|Evans, Saml. T. (Glamorgan)||Nussey, Thomas Willans||Wason J. Cathcart (Orkney)|
|Harwood, George||Rea, Russell||Whitley, J. H. (Halifax)|
|Hayne, Rt. Hn. Charles Seale-||Reid, Sir R. Threshie (Dumfries||Whittaker Thomas Palmer|
|Hobhouse, C. E. H. (Brist'l, E.||Rickett, J. Compton||Wilson, Chas. H. (Hull, W.)|
|Hutchinson, Dr. Charles Fredk.||Roberts, John H. (Denbighs.)||Yoxall, James Henry|
|Jacoby, James Alfred||Robertson, Edmund (Dundee)|
|Jones, William (Carnarvonsh.||Samuel, Herbt. L. (Cleveland)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—|
|Kearley, Hudson, E.||Schwann, Charles E.||Mr. Soares and Mr.|
|Kitson, Sir James||Scott, C. Prestwich (Leigh)||Allen.|
|Agg-Gardner, James Tynte||Crossley, Sir Savile||Hare, Thomas Leigh|
|Agnew, Sir Andrew Noel||Dickson-Poynder, Sir John P.||Harris, Frederick Leverton|
|Aird, Sir John||Dimsdale, Rt. Hon. Sir Jos. C.||Heath, James (Staffs., N. W.)|
|Anson, Sir William Reynell||Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers||Heaton, John Henniker|
|Arnold-Forster, Hugh O.||Duke, Henry Edward||Hoare, Sir Samuel|
|Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John||Egerton, Hon. A. de Tatton||Hogg, Lindsay|
|Austin, Sir John||Elliot, Hon. A. Ralph Douglas||Hope, J. F. (Sheff., B'tside)|
|Bain, Colonel James Robert||Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn Edward||Houldsworth, Sir Wm. Henry|
|Balfonr, Rt. Hn. A. J. (Manch'r.||Fergusson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Manc'r||Hutton, John (Yorks, N. R.)|
|Balfour, Capt. C. B. (Hornsey||Finch, Rt. Hon. George H.||Johnstone, Heywood|
|Banbury, Sir Frederick George||Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne||Laurie, Lieut.-General|
|Bartley, Sir George C. T.||Fitzroy, Hon. Edw. Algernon||Law, Andrew Bonar (Glasgow)|
|Beach, Rt. Hon. Sir M. Hicks||Flannery, Sir Fortescue||Lawrence, Sir Jos. (Monm'th)|
|Beckett, Ernest William||Flower, Ernest||Lawrence, Wm. F. (Liverpool|
|Bignold, Arthur||Forster, Henry William||Legge, Col. Hon. Heneage|
|Blundell, Colonel Henry||Foster, P. S. (Warwick, S. W.||Lockwood, Lieut.-Col. A. R.|
|Bond, Edward||Fyler, John Arthur||Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine|
|Bowles, T. Gibson (Lynn Regis)||Galloway, William Johnson||Long, Rt. Hn. W. (Bristol, S.)|
|Brassey, Albert||Gardner, Ernest||Lonsdale, John Brownlee|
|Butcher, John George||Garfit, William||Lowe, Francis William|
|Carew, James Laurence||Gibbs, Hn. Vicary (St. Albans||Loyd, Archie Kirkman|
|Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edw. H.||Gordon, Maj. Evans (T'r H'ml'ts||Macdona, John Cumming|
|Cavendish, V. C. W. (Derbyshire||Gore, Hn. S. F. Ormsby- (Linc||Maconochie, A. W.|
|Cecil, Lord Hugh (Greenwich)||Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir J. Eldon||Manners, Lord Cecil|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. A. (Worc||Goulding, Edward Alfred||Maple, Sir John Blundell|
|Churchill, Winston Spencer||Graham, Henry Robert||Martin, Richard Biddulph|
|Cochrane, Hon. Thomas H. A. E.||Greene, W. Raymond (Cambs||Morton, Arthur H. Aylmer|
|Coddington, Sir William||Greville, Hon. Ronald||Murray, Rt. Hn. A. Graham (Bute|
|Cohen, Benjamin Louis||Hamilton, Rt. Hn. Ld. G. (Mid'x||Murray, Col. Wyndham (Bath|
|Craig, Charles Curtis (Antrim, S.||Hamilton, Marq. of (Londondy||Myers, William Henry|
|Nicol, Donald Ninian||Ropner, Colonel Sir Robert||Walrond, Rt. Hn. Sir William H.|
|Nolan, Col. John P. (Galway, N.||Bothschild, Hon. Lionel Walter||Welby, Lt.-Col. A. C. E. (Taunton|
|Palmer, Walter (Salisbury)||Royds, Clement Molyneux||Welby, Sir Chas. G. E. (Notts)|
|Pease, H. Pike (Darlington)||Russell, T. W.||Wharton, Rt. Hon. J. Lloyd|
|Percy, Earl||Samuel, Harry S. (Limehouse)||Williams, Colonel R. (Dorset)|
|Platt-Higgins, Frederick||Seely, Maj. J. E. B. (Isle of Wight||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Pretyman, Ernest George||Seton-Karr, Sir Henry||Wilson, John (Glasgow)|
|Purvis, Robert||Sinclair, Louis (Romford)||Wilson-Todd, W. H. (Yorks.)|
|Rasch, Major Frederic Carne||Smith, H. C. (Northum, Tyneside||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart|
|Rattigan, Sir William Henry||Smith, Jas. Parker (Lanarks.)|
|Reid, James (Greenock)||Stroyan, John||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—|
|Remnant, Jas. Farquharson||Sturt, Hon. Humphry Napier||Sir Alexander Acland-|
|Ridley, Hn. M. W. (Stalybridge)||Tomlinson, Sir Wm. Edw. M.||Hood and Mr. Anstruther.|
|Ritchie, Rt. Hn. C. Thomson||Tufnell, Lieut.-Col. Edward|
|Robertson, H. (Hackney)||Vincent, Sir Edgar (Exeter)|
Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ 3. £536,790, to complete the sum for Post Office Packet Service.
§ MR. CALDWELL
said that since the Vote was before the Committee the Postmaster-General had announced that he had appointed a Committee to go into the question of the renewal of contracts for the conveyance of mails to China. As regarded this Committee the Postmaster-General would remember that a year ago the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol in connection with these contracts, promised that he would appoint a Committee to inquire into the mail contracts and what the late Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to was a Committee of the House of Commons. By the existing law the Postmaster - General's Department had power to conclude a contract by land without the sanction of the House, and the only remedy hon. Members had was when the money came to be voted. In regard to the conveyance of mails by sea, the Postmaster-General had no such power. By the Standing Orders of this House a mail contract by sea was not operative until it had received the sanction of the House. That order was passed many years ago for a very good reason—namely, that vital interests were affected in connection with the conveyance of mails by sea. There were questions of competition between one shipowner and another, and there were great complaints at the time that the Standing Order was passed about influences being brought to bear in order to secure contracts for particular shipowners. Parliament had vested the approval of such contracts in the hands of this 252 House, and every contract, before it could be acted upon, must have the sanction of the House by special Resolution. It was obvious that if the responsibility of concluding a contract was to rest with this House, the Committee appointed to inquire into the terms and conditions of the contract ought to be a Committee of this House in whom they would have confidence, and whose inquiry would have great weight when they came to decide the point. If the Committee to whom this matter was to be referred was merely to be an advisory Committee, leaving the House of Commons free afterwards to have a full investigation into the matter, then of course there was not so much to be said, but that would be a double inquiry. The constitution of the Committee, according to what he could gather from the newspapers, was open to very grave doubt. For instance, it was to consist of representatives of different Government Departments. The P. & O. contract alone involved a sum of £330,000. It had been stated that they were to have on the Committee a representative of the Navy. Why should there be a representative of the Navy in a matter of this kind? There was nothing about the Navy in the P. & O. contract, and it was stated in the House lately in regard to the cruisers that the Navy were hampered by having to take these mail ships as cruisers, whether suitable or not. The Admiralty had a special Committee of their own to investigate the question of which ought to be the cruisers for the Navy apart altogether from the mail contracts. That was proper on their part because the mail contract steamers were not necessarily suitable for cruisers. They were probably not 253 the best, and we ought to have the best naval cruisers apart altogether from the question of carrying the mails. Looking at the list of P. & O. steamers, and Canadian Pacific steamers, they would find that there were none that could go above thirteen or fourteen knots an hour. We had practically nothing on our list to compare with the armed cruisers of Germany. Going to America the Germans had vessels which did twenty-two and twenty-three knots. We had nothing to compete with the German boats on the China station, or the Australian station. In a matter of this kind the mail contract should be dealt with entirely by itself, and the Admiralty should be left alone to take their choice of the whole British Merchant Shipping, and to determine what would be best in the interest of the Navy, without being trammelled by any terms of mail contract.
The first Lord of the Admiralty was no longer a director of the P. & O. Company, but at the same time he had been in that position and he possibly retained his holding. He did not know whether the First Lord of the Admiralty did so or not, but it was mere nonsense to say that a man who had been a director of a company, and who merely resigned when he came into a Government office, was an impartial man afterwards in dealing with a Government contract with that company. He was nothing of the kind. His interest would be with the company and those with whom he had been associated in the directorship. And all the more would he be able to give preferences when not a director. He ventured to say that the First Lord of the Admiralty as a director would be more careful not to act with what might appear to be favouritism to his company than when he was not a director. He thought it was unfortunate that in connection with such matters as these important contracts there should be a representative on this Committee of the Admiralty. This Committee was to inquire in to the contract with the P. & O Company, with which the head of the Admiralty was in such close relationship. It was to be remembered that at the present moment the mail contract was for taking 70,000 tons of mails. That was the total for which they got 254 £330,000. That was as much as would pay 15 per cent. on the total capital of the P. & O. Company, which consisted of £2,300,000. This House was asked to trust the preliminary inquiry to a Committee consisting of officials, and only one Member of this House. If any one wanted information as to the manner in which this subject was treated, it could be found in the evidence of Sir Thomas Sutherland. It was shown that the Chairman was no match whatever for that gentleman. One point which Sir Thomas tried to make in comparing his subsidy with the German subsidy was that because the P. & O. vessels went through the Suez Canal so much was paid for canal dues. But the dues were not paid for the mails only; they were paid for the whole ship and the cargo. That was an illustration of how Sir Thomas managed to twist and turn the matter. He said that in taking the percentage per mile of the subsidy, they must take it from London and not from Brindisi only. Quite so; but if the ship started from London it had the trade to Egypt, and that ought to be taken into consideration. What were the terms of reference to this Committee? What were they to inquire about? He also wished to know whether any other people would be asked to tender for the contract besides the P. & O. Company. It came to this—that they gave the P. & O. Company the monopoly of the trade route to Bombay, and the result was that they killed off other British shipowners from competing, and left the competition to be done by the foreigner. They would not kill the foreigner by subsidising the P. & O. Company, but they would prevent the British shipowner from having an opportunity of competing. The Frenchman and the German and every foreigner would go on in spite of any subsidy we gave in that way.
He wished to know also about the railway. Were the Committee to inquire as to the terms under which the Siberian Railway would take letters? Obviously the Siberian Railway would be the nearest railway conveying letters to Shanghai, Hong-Kong, and Japan. At present they took letters in nineteen days to Pekin, and they took them to Port Arthur and Japan in less time. The British steamships going to Port Arthur only made ten to twelve knots an hour, 255 while the Russian vessels did sixteen knots an hour, and of course Russia was competing with us. It was because of the slow P. & O. boats going to Bombay that there had been a demand for this new railway route which was so much spoken about. Then we were told that foreign countries were competing with us. Certainly they were competing with us, because this country and the P. & O. Company notoriously were behind. It used to be the fact that the P. & O. Company had the prestige of having the fastest ships. They were now nothing of the kind; they had lost that prestige altogether. The mails would be carried by a new route to the Persian Gulf and by the China route. There was another point. Why should not the mails be conveyed by the fast cruisers of the Fleet in the time of peace? These vessels steamed at the rate of twenty-two knots an hour, and in time of peace they did nothing, although we had to keep them in repair with their full complement of officers and men. At any rate, why should not these fast cruisers convey the mails to Bombay instead of employing slow thirteen and fourteen knot P. & O. boats? Would that matter be referred to the Committee?
Then he came to the Canadian Pacific Railway Company's contract for conveying mails from this country to Hong-Kong viâ Halifax in winter, and Quebec in summer, through Canada to Vancouver, and thence by the Empress line of steamers to Yokohama and Shanghai. That contract was entered into in 1889 for a period of ten years, and its conditions were very important. It should be remembered that this country did not make a contract to a foreign State but only to its own territory. Hong-Kong was our own territory, but Shanghai was not; it was only a Treaty Port. Therefore the contract ended at Hong-Kong. It was important to keep this in mind, because penalties were not exacted upon failure of arrival at Yokohama or Shanghai, where they might be as late as they liked so long as the ships arrived at Hong-Kong up to the contract time. The contract was for a mail service between this country and Hong-Kong by the route he had described, once in every four weeks in each direction, and the subsidy was £60,000 a year. 256 Of this sum the Canadian Government provided £15,000, but for that contribution Canada got value because it gave them a mail service to Japan and China, but as regarded the British Government the service was practically of no value whatever since they already had the P. and O. contracts to carry the mails to Shanghai, Hong-Kong, and Yokohama. The cost of the mails from this country to Canada was £500 additional. The remaining £45,000 was divided into two portions—£7,312 to be pad by the Admiralty for the mails to their cruisers, and £37,688 by the British Post Office. Moreover, there was this peculiar point about this contract. A service of steamers was not in existence at the time the contract was entered into. That was not usual. The Post Office often made the excuse for renewing contracts with existing companies and not entertaining offers by new companies that the latter had not then in existence quick speed steamers. The contract was given to the Canadian Pacific Company before their ships were built. At that time great pressure was brought to bear on the Government in regard to the contract. The Secretary to the Treasury stated that he had received a letter to be forwarded to the Prime Minister signed by upwards of 300 Members of Parliament in favour of a subsidy to the Canadian Pacific Company. He remembered the letter perfectly well, in which it was said that this was going to be a competitive service with the P. and O., that it would be a faster route, and that it would bring down the P. and O. rates. The Treasury Minute of 18th July, 1889, said—Her Majesty's Government considered the scheme as a whole, offering as it does direct communication entirely through British Territory, and an alternative route to the East, desirable in the interests of the Empire, apart from postal considerations, and under these circumstances my Lords again took the question into consideration. Though the scheme is not justifiable upon postal reasons alone, it offers an alternative service which saves several days as compared with the Suez route, and it is therefore of considerable value from a postal point of view. It has the land transit lying wholly within British Territory, and as a Military route it is held by the Naval and Military Authorities to be of the highest importance.They never gave the House of Commons any reason why.
257The offer of the company to construct mail steamers which could be employed by the Admiralty as armed cruisers in case of need, also accords with the policy already adopted in the case of certain other large steamship companies.The Treasury Minute further stated what he should show had been absolutely falsified—A sum of £2,165 a year now paid to France and Italy for the conveyance of the China and Japan mails by other routes may perhaps be saved. On the other hand, the cost of carrying the mails across the Atlantic may amount to £650 a year. The Canadian Pacific Railway will present an alternative route for Australian and New Zealand mails. At present these mails when sent viâ America travel viâ New York and San Francisco and a specially high rate is paid for the United States land transit. Under the proposed contract it will be passible to send them viâ Quebec or Halifax and Vancouver on payment of the ordinary postal union rates of transit to the Canadian Post Office, and possibly the mail route viâ the Pacific to Australia will be diverted from San Francisco to Vancouver.The optimism with regard to the mails to Australia and New Zealand had not been realised, for what had been the result? He put a question to the Postmaster-General as to what was the saving of time by the Vancouver as compared with the San Francisco route. Here was the answer he got on 24th February, 1903—The approximate time occupied in the transit of correspondence from London to Sydney viâ Vancouver is thirty-eight days, and viâ San Francisco thirty-four days.So that the mails had not been diverted from San Francisco to Vancouver as had been predicted. Now, observe how it was that everything was magnified as to the importance of this route, and how the advantages to be obtained from it were the inducing causes for granting the subsidy. Whilst the Treasury Minute of July, 1889, stated that the Canadian Pacific route—Offers an alternative service which saves several days as compared with the Suez route,the Secretary of the Treasury was compelled, in answer to a Question put by Sir George Campbell on 15th August, 1889, to admit—That in the desire to be concise the Treasury Minute is not so clear as it might be; the saving of time referred to is really on certain sections of the line—viz., between London and Shanghai and London and Yokohama.258 They were told in this revised answer that the mails from London to Hong-Kong would take the same average time (thirty-five days) by the Vancouver route as by the Suez route; that in the case of Shanghai there would be a saving of eight and a half days by the Vancouver route as compared with the Suez route, whilst as regarded Yokohama there would be a saving of from fifteen to eighteen days. It was on the faith of that that the contract was entered into.
How completely even this modified saving of time by the Vancouver route has been falsified by actual working out in practice, was shown by a reference to the Post Office Guide for January, 1903. It gave the approximate time occupied in course of post from London to Hong-Kong as forty days viâ Vancouver, and only twenty-nine days viâ Brindisi; or a saving by Suez of eleven days instead of occupying the same time as in 1889. In like manner as regarded Shanghai, the time occupied was given as thirty-seven days viâ Vancouver and only thirty-two days eighteen hours in the case of Suez, or a saving by the Suez route of four days six hours instead of, as alleged in 1889, a saving of eight and a half days by the Vancouver route. In the case of Yokohama, the Postal Guide gives thirty-two days viâ Vancouver as against thirty-eight days viâ Suez, a saving in the case of Vancouver of only six days instead of, as alleged in 1889, a saving of from fifteen to eighteen days. So far, therefore, as any postal facilities to Hong-Kong and Shanghai were concerned, the Canadian Pacific route had been mere bunkum. He had asked the Postmaster-General how many letters we got by that route—was it one, two or three, but he could not tell. The Postal Guide further brought out the fact that there were no less than six separate departures of mails every twenty-eight days by the Suez route, whilst there was only one departure every four weeks under the contract with the Canadian Pacific Railway Company. Thus, in January, 1903, mails were despatched viâ Brindisi on the 2nd, 16th, and 30th; by the French Packet on the 9th and 23rd; and by the German Packet on the 6th and 20th; while they were only sent viâ the Vancouver route on the 8th. Accordingly, mails sent from London by the French Packet on 9th January arrived 259 at Hong-Kong and Shanghai before the letters which left London viâ Vancouver the day previously. Even letters sent from London by the Brindisi route on 16th January arrived at Hong-Kong before the letters which left London on 8th January viâ Vancouver. So far as regarded Yokohama, there was a nominal saving viâ Vancouver route of six days, but it had to be borne in mind (1) that there was do postal contract by the Suez route to Yokohama, and that by proper arrangement this interval might be considerably reduced; and (2) that viâ Vancouver there was only one mail every twenty-eight days, whereas there were six mails every twenty-eight days âvi Suez, so that, even as regarded Yokohama, only those letters posted on the day of despatch of the mail viâ Vancouver, or within four or five days previously could possibly get any benefit. They did not subsidise vessels in the interests of foreign countries, but in the interests of the British colonics. The colonies gave contributions towards the mail contracts, but no contribution was received, for instance, from Japan. One mail a month was worth nothing. If a man were even one day late a monthly mail was of no practical value to him. There was only one mail in twenty eight days by the Canadian Pacific route; and it would therefore be seen that, from a postal point of view, that route was of no practical advantage whatever, and effected no saving as far as this country was concerned.
The Canadian Pacific Railway promised to put on a fast mail service between this country and Canada, but that service had not been put on. The Treasury Minute of the 18th of July, 1889, said—Some difficulty was felt with regard to the Atlantic portion of the line, the control of which in entirely in the hands of the Dominion Government. Satisfactory assurances were, however, given by that Government that the necessary acceleration of the service should be secured, and after much negotiation the terms of a contract were agreed upon.That assurance was never carried out; there was never any attempt to carry it out. For ten years, therefore, the Government had been working on a footing of not getting the value which had been promised to them. During that period the British Government had been fooled; and now, at the end of it, it was 260 proposed to renew the contract for five years, during which the Government would continue to be fooled. The Postmaster-General might say that it was not a question of postal matters alone, and that there were other considerations—naval and military considerations. He would deal with that. In the original contract it was stated that, if officers and men had to le despatched to Hong Kong or China there would be a considerable saving of time by the Vancouver route. Accordingly, in the original contract, there were clauses under which—The Company agree to convey troops on service at cost, the word 'troops,' including naval and military officers, seamen, marines, etc., including accommodation in colonist sleeping carriage, by rail, £16 4s. per man to and from Halifax, non-commissioned officers £20 13s. 11d., second class, and commissioned officers £31 4s 8d., first class. Rates to apply to detachments of fifty or upwards and to include all accommodation by land and sea, meals and rations. Government stores, not exceeding fifty tons in anyone consignment, from Halifax to Hong Kong at cost; the cost by railway being estimated at one halfpenny per ton weight per mile, and the coat by sea at nothing beyond the charge of 4s. per ton for loading and discharging; and stores exceeding fifty tons in weight at the lowest tariff rates charged to the public at the time of shipment.These were the naval and military advantages which were considered to be very important to this country, but who would ever think of sending troops to China by the Vancouver route. They would have to embark at Liverpool for Halifax, and on arrival they would have to travel five or six days by train to Vancouver, where they would detrain and embark on board ship for Hong-Kong, and arrive there later than if they had proceeded direct from Southampton without any changing. Those clauses were, however, eliminated from the new contract altogether, for the simple reason, of course, that the Government found there would be no advantage in sending men by that route. The new contract provided for any number of naval, military or civil officers in the service of His Majesty, not exceeding eight in the first-class saloon, four in the second class, and ten in the third class. But the passage money was to be the same as that charged by the Company for ordinary passengers of 261 the same class. Where was the need for putting such a provision into the contract? Why should there be any restriction as long as the Government were willing to pay the ordinary rates? Further, it was provided that the Company was to receive on behalf of the Admiralty small packages at the lowest rate of freight charged by the Company for private goods of a similar character and description. Under the original contract there was a provision for cheap fares; but that had now been dropped out, because it was found that the route was too long and involved too many changes. The Canadian Pacific Company befooled the Government for ten years; they now induced the Government to allow themselves to be befooled for another five years; and at the end of that period it would be found that the speed would not be one whit greater than it was at present. When the contract was before the House of Commons, and when he proposed that it be referred to a Committee, a number of canards appeared in the newspapers stating that the route to Yokohama could be covered in twenty-one days. That was actually done on one occasion; but it was merely an advertisement journey. They could never run a twenty-two knot service to Canada; it was too far north, and if they could it would be impossible to compete with the route to New York.
Then, with regard to the Admiralty subsidy of £7,312 in respect of these vessels being cruisers. These vessels were worth nothing as cruisers. They could not go more than fourteen knots an hour, and at that pace they would have to have armed cruisers to protect them, and vessels to carry coal for them, whereas Germany had cruisers which could go at twenty and twenty-one knots, as indeed had we. It had also been said that if the Suez Cana were to be blocked at any time it might be convenient to have Vancouver as a station. It was inconceivable that the Suez Canal could be blocked, but if it were the P. and O. Mail Fleet would be cut in two. Half of it would be in Chinese waters and half this side, and that part in Chinese waters could be easily diverted if necessary to Vancouver, while the other portion could go to Canada, This was not a question 262 of benefiting Canada but of benefiting the Canadian Pacific Railway Company. The shares of the Canadian Pacific Railway on the 5th February, 1889, were selling at 54, and on the 15th of the following August, after the contract was signed, they were selling at 63½. Why on earth was this contract renewed for another five years? When the Siberian Railway was completed and arrangements made with its owners to carry the mails they would reach Japan and Shanghai in about fourteen days, and no mails would go by these boats at all. So far as a quick service to Canada was concerned that had yet to be obtained, yet the only reason of this contract was to obtain an accelerated service. Did the Postmaster-General imagine that there was the slightest possible chance in the future of deriving any benefit from the renewal of this contract? When the Siberian Railway was completed they could not hope to compete with it. For ten years the Government had been fooled with the promise of an accelerated service and, not satisfied with that, the Government had renewed the contract for the purpose of being befooled for another five years.
§ MR. HENNIKER HEATON (Canterbury)
entirely endorsed what the hon. Gentleman had said with regard to the carriage of mails, but he was not in agreement with him in all his arguments. In his opinion these mail services should be charged not to the Post Office but to the Admiralty. We voted this money first to establish our supremacy on the sea, secondly to establish an all British route, and lastly for carrying mails. We paid for our mails 3s. a lb., because they were carried in British ships. On foreign ships they were carried at Is. 8d. a lb. We were, in his opinion, sailing under false colours. He hoped the Postmaster-General would carefully examine this question of mail subsidies. We were paying £60,000 a year to Canada and were glad to do so, but it was absurd to I say it was for the purpose of carrying the mails. We paid it to maintain British supremacy. We also paid £200,000 a year to India, and the whole postage to and from India did not amount to half the sum. Then why saddle the Post Office with the cost? The Australian people 263 are framing their contract in such a way as to insist that the vessels should be so built that a large portion of them should be reserved for the carriage of frozen butter and frozen meat. The Members of the House of Commons were anxious that those subsidies should be continued, but they were not anxious that they should fraudulently be placed on the Post Office Vote. The mails to America were a source of continual annoyance, because, although we were paying this large sum of £137,000 per annum, faster vessels travelled to America. He hoped his right hon. friend would be able to assure the Committee that a better state of things would prevail in future. The Returns moved for by the hon Member for Dundee had to some extent opened their eyes. It was because the Department were wanting in honesty in refusing to face the fact that they were paying the subsidies for purposes other than the carriage of mails, that they had fallen into their present position, but he doubted whether, strong as the Postmaster-General was, he would be strong enough to break through the traditions with which he was hampered in this matter.
§ THE POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN,) Worcestershire, E.
, dealing first with the question as to the Committee he had appointed, said that the two years notice given on January 31 of this year to the P. and O. Company to terminate the mail contract was given at the request of certain Colonial and other Administrations who were parties to the contract. The Australasian Administrations in particular preferred the request; but practically every Administration interested in the contract and contributing towards the service desired some changes. Speaking generally, the changes desired were greater speed and a smaller cost. These changes were equally desired by the British Post Office, but it must be a matter for negotiation and consideration how far success in these directions could be achieved. A service in which so many different Administrations were interested was a matter of some complication, and his desire to be advised by people with greater knowledge than he possessed as to how these various interests 264 could best be met, would be readily understood. He had, therefore, appointed the Committee, and he had selected the hon. Member for Aston Manor to be the chairman, not only in view of the interest he had taken in the subject, but because of his experience as chairman of the Committee on the effect of subsidies on British shipping and British trade. There was a unanimous opinion that he had conducted that Committee's deliberations with great skill and fairness, and he had acquired experience in that way which would be valuable to the Mail Contract Committee. On the Committee he had placed representatives of the Post Office, and he had invited the Colonial Office and the India Office to nominate representatives specially to look after the interests of Indian and Colonial Administrations. He had also invited the Admiralty to name an Admiralty representative—and they had, as a matter of fact, named two—in order that Admiralty interests might not be overlooked, and that the harmonious co-operation of the different Departments of Government concerned might be secured. He regretted the suggestion that because the First Lord of the Admiralty was, some years ago, a P. & O. director, this would make it impossible for any Admiralty official to sit on this Committee with an open and impartial mind. This was a large extension of anything that had ever been said concerning the position of Ministers as directors, and one which no authority other than the hon. Member for Mid Lanark was likely to approve.
The Report of the Admiralty Committee on the use that might be made of merchant cruisers had not been presented to the House; but one of the points particularly emphasised by the evidence they took was the desira-ability of a better communication between the Admiralty and the Post Office in regard to these contracts. He entirely shared that view, and thought it only reasonable and business-like—in fact, common sense—that the Government should obtain the advantages to be secured by negotiating as far as possible as a whole, and that the Admiralty should be associated with other departments in the consideration of a contract in which they had a great interest. He 265 agreed that the Admiralty should be unhampered in their choice of mercantile cruisers by considerations which were pre-eminently the business of the Postmaster-General; but that was not a reason why the Postmaster-General, in making a big contract of this kind, should neglect Admiralty interests altogether, or exclude Admiralty interests from consideration. It was not for the Postmaster-General to decide whether any ship should be used as a mercantile cruiser; but it was right that he should assure himself whether any condition useful to the Admiralty might be inserted in the mail contract, and whether any subsidy could be paid in respect of any naval advantages which the Admiralty might obtain, at the same time as the Postmaster-General was arranging for the conveyance of the mails. The reference to the Committee for which the hon. Member for Mid Lanark had asked had already been published. He had not the exact terms with him, but substantially it was a simple reference requesting them to consider what provision should be made for the mail service to the East and Australia on the expiration of the present contract. They would, of course, have to consider what alternatives to the present method of carrying the mails were available, and whether the opening of new routes and other facilities which had come into existence since the present contract was concluded should alter the conditions of carriage in any new contract. But he did not propose to ask them to consider the suggestion of the hon. Member that cruisers be employed in leisure times as ordinary mail ships. To that he would anticipate the strongest opposition from the Admiralty, and he did not think anyone acquainted with the Admiralty would associate himself with the hon. Member in that proposal. While it was in accordance with precedent that such a Committee as he had appointed should be called together, it would, of course, be for the Postmaster-General and other Ministers concerned, and especially for the Treasury, to consider carefully any Report which they might present.
The hon. Member had referred to a promise made by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer of a wider inquiry into the 266 question of mail subsidies. He was unaware of that promise, but if the hon. Member would give him the reference, he would look the matter up and see what it was. Personally, as at present advised, he did not think that a Committee of the House to look into mail contracts in general was required, or was likely to get much new information or to render any useful service. He was quite willing to consider what the hon. Member might have to say in the matter. Of course if there had been a definite pledge given he should be anxious to redeem it, but, so far as his own view was concerned, he thought that, if there was an interdepartmental Committee on the lines he had indicated to consider the conditions of the new contract for the mail service to the East and Australia, it would be possible to put the House in possession of full information; and, as the hon. Member had said, no such contract could be made binding for a term of years without the assent of the House being given to it. A big question had arisen in connection with the Australian contract to which he did not wish to do more than allude at the present time, as it was still under discussion. It might, however, appear as if he were trying to withhold information from the Committee if he passed by the subject without reference. It was known to hon. Members through statements which had appeared in the Press that the Government of the Australian Commonwealth had desired the insertion in any new contract to which they were a party of a provision directed against the employment of coloured labour on the mail ships. His Majesty's Government had felt themselves precluded now, as on previous occasions, from assenting to any stipulation for the exclusion of a class of His Majesty's subjects. He need scarcely say that if it would be, as in his opinion it would be, impossible for his Majesty's Government to assent to such a stipulation in any contract, it was doubly impossible in a contract to which the Indian Government was also a party. He only mentioned this to the Committee, because his silence might have the appearance of a desire to shirk the question.
With regard to the service from Vancouver across the Pacific, which 267 was worked in connection with the Canadian Pacific Railway, he need say the less, as the hon. Gentleman opposite had given the Committee a very full and detailed account of the circumstances in which the contract had arisen. To this question the hon. Gentleman opposite had devoted the greater part of his speech, and his hon. friend the Member for Canterbury had especially made it the text of his sermon that the Post Office Vote bore a burden which it was not fair to place there. He did not wish to challenge, in the main, the hon. Member's statement of facts; but he demurred to the statement that, in connection with this contract, the Government were conferring a favour upon the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, or that they had been fooled by the company, or that the company had been too sharp for His Majesty's Government. The contract was entered into as a great Imperial service by British ships at the urgent request of the Dominion Government, and not for the purpose of pleasing the Canadian Pacific Railway Company. If the Government had a desire to please anybody when this contract was made, it was to please the Dominion Government. It was quite true that the expectations with which the service was established had not been fulfilled. In one respect only the hon. Member had not given quite a fair account to the Committee. He had said that since this contract was made, the P. and O. Company's service, providing an alternative route to the East, had been quickened, so that this route, which would otherwise have been the shorter route to certain places, had lost its advantage even in regard to nearly all those places.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
said that was the case; but the hon. Gentleman had quoted so much from the Minute of 1889, that he had thought it only fair to show that a quickening was secured on the alternative route. It was perfectly true that we had failed to obtain hitherto any fast Atlantic service in connection with 268 this route, such as had been hoped for, and such as he still hoped to see established. The Canadian Government had from time to time made efforts to secure the establishment of such a service. Those efforts had not hitherto been successful, but it was within the knowledge of the Committee that quite recently they had called for fresh offers for a fast Atlantic service between this country and Canada. They had not vet communicated the result of any such offers to His Majesty's Government, and, in the meantime, it was perfectly true to say that this service, as it at present existed, was of very little advantage as a mail service. We made a very small use of it, and the revenue which was obtained from letters and packages which went that way bore no proportion to the subsidy which had to be paid for the service. In his opinion, His Majesty's Government, in their anxiety to meet the wishes of Canada and give Canada every opportunity for facilitating the establishment of this fast Atlantic service, had gone to the utmost limits to which they could be expected to go, in assenting to the renewal of the contract for five years, in the hope that by that time the establishment of an At antic service might become an accomplished fact, and that we might then get a further quickening on the Pacific side, and soon make this route a route of real value. If these results were not achieved in the further interval which was left, he did not think it likely that whoever might be then responsible at the Treasury or Post Office would be inclined to concur in any further extension of the contract on its present basis. He did not agree, however, that we had obtained no advantage from the contract. It was some advantage to have this alternative route, even though it was not a very effective route in the piping times of peace; and it was some advantage to have the British Marine represented in the North Pacific, and to prevent the trade in those parts passing away from the British Mercantile Marine. It was an advantage, at any rate, in the view of the Admiralty, to have the whole of these ships as mercantile cruisers, for which they were willing to make a contribution of £7,312, which represented 269 their contribution to the total cost of the service for this route for the call they would have upon the ships. The hon. Member opposite said those ships were very slow. No doubt they were slow contrasted with the Atlantic greyhounds, but their value to the Admiralty in certain conditions would depend, not on that comparison, but on the speed of other vessels cruising in the same waters. They were more valuable in the North Pacific than in the North Atlantic amongst very fast ships.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
said that although that might be true it was nevertheless worth while to have the British flag represented in those waters. Sometimes it was necessary to lay out one's money for a return which would not be immediate. It must be borne in mind by the Committee in considering this question of mail contracts that it involved not merely the conveyance of a certain bulk of mails between certain ports, but the running of a service in which vessels should start at fixed dates at a given time with or without passengers or cargo, with return at a given time and no waiting for cargo; and this regularity of service, which prevented the turning aside to obtain a cargo from other sources, had to be paid for. Under such circumstances it was not altogether fair to divide the amount of subsidy paid to the P. and O. or the Pacific Company, or to the Cunard or White Star line by the amount of mails carried, working it out and saying they might be carried cheaper in foreign ships. Possibly that might be so; but we had the advantage of the regular service, upon which we could rely, and so far as he was concerned he preferred wherever it was possible to send British mails by British ships. He went a step further. He did not altogether agree with the hon. Member that it was wrong to include the packet service Votes among the Post Office Votes. It was true that beyond the appropriations in aid they might serve a great national interest altogether outside the Post Office; but he did not know under what better classification the service could be put. As each contract 270 came up for consideration the Department did its best to secure the most advantageous terms in speed, regularity, and convenience of service; but the conditions were so widely different, the circumstances under which one contract was carried out were so entirely different from those which existed in reference to another contract, that each must be judged on its merits and examined by itself, and there would be no advantage in having them all thrown together into one pot to be boiled up and considered by the House of Commons. He had dealt with the points raised, and as there had been considerable discussion on a previous occasion he hoped the Committee would agree to pass on to the telegraph Vote, upon which there had not yet been any discussion.
§ MR. CALDWELL
said he had not moved a reduction of the Vote, and did not wish to do so, being quite satisfied that the matter would receive the personal attention of the Postmaster-General. He put more faith in the right hon. Gentleman's own personal attention than in his Committee. There was no doubt that the contracts referred to were two of the most important the British Government had to offer. He hoped, therefore, matters would be carefully adjusted before the contracts were entered into. He was satisfied with the answer given; and only desired to refer to the necessity for making the contracts for short periods, so that the service should obtain full advantage of the improvements in speed and other developments. In no case should a contract be entered into for more than five years.
§ Vote agreed to.
§ Resolutions to be reported.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £2,549,430, 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 working expenses of the Post Office Telegraph Service.271
§ *MR. JAMES O'CONNOR (Wicklow, W.)
asked whether the Postmaster-General had appointed the Committee to inquire into the grievances of certain Post Office employees, and whether he could give the names of the gentlemen who are to constitute the committee.
§ *MR HENNIKER HEATON
with reluctance called attention to a number of details in relation to the service, upon which he suggested reforms should be instituted. In the first place the large and increasing less on the telegraph service called for inquiry; no business men could be satisfied with the present state of affairs. The loss in the past year he estimated at £1,000,000, and probably it was more. There were 90,000,000 telegrams sent in the year, and on 74,000,000 of these the loss was 4½d. each. He thought it was due to the Committee that they should know whether there was to be a limit to this loss, or whether it would continue to increase. His right hon. friend had said that the reasons for the enormous loss in the telegraph they differed as to the reasons which caused the loss, and the whole country was waiting for an explanation of this state of matters. He called attention to this question some time ago and the Postmaster-General endeavoured to make some reform. The only thing that was done was to issue an order to postmasters not to give blotting-paper. The right hon. Gentleman might have effected a saving in connection with the cost of telegram forms and envelopes. Ninety million telegram forms were used, but he found that the supply was about 300,000,000. There must be a great loss in that direction. He had always held that the cables ought to be purchased by the Government; he meant the cables connecting this country with all parts of the Empire. At present the cable companies were making a very good thing out of their services. It might not be known to the Committee that we spent £4,000,000 a year in cabling to various parts of the Empire and to foreign countries, and only £1,000,000 in postage, that is, four times more on telegraphing than on postage to the colonies and foreign countries. On 272 the other hand, we spent in England £3,500,000 on telegrams, and £15,000,000 on postage. There was a great deal to be desired in the way of reform in connection with the telegraph tariffs to various parts of the world. The rate throughout Great Britain and Ireland was only a half-penny a word. The rate throughout France was less than a halfpenny a word, and he therefore thought that the rate to France ought not to be more than one penny a word. The Postmaster-General admitted the other day that a very large profit was made on the telegraph service to France Chambers of Commerce and other public bodies interested in obtaining cheap communication between this country and France were anxious that the rates should be cut down. But the tariff was worse for telegraphic communication with other countries on the Continent. For instance, the charge for a message from here to Spain was 3½d. per word, but from Germany to Spain it was only 2½d. a word, although the German cable had to pass our door. He would like the right hon. the Postmaster-General to explain these anomalies, and say whether he intended to move in the matter of their reform. Again the rate from this country to the Russian frontier was only 2d. a word, but into Russia itself it was 5d. per word. The rate from St. Petersburg to Vladivostock was 4½d. a word, but from England to Vladivostock it was 2s. 7d. a word. The right hon. the Postmaster-General should hold a meeting with the Postmasters-General of all the countries on the Continent and devise a scheme by which through telegraphic rates should never exceed the combined inland rates of the countries through which the messages pass That, he thought, was a common-sense suggestion, and if carried out it would give intense satisfaction to the commercial community. He understood that the Postmasters-General of Belgium, Holland, France, Germany, Italy and other countries were most anxious to come to some arrangement on this matter, and with the advent of a new Postmaster-General in this country he trusted they would be able to make both the postal and telegraphic communications between Great Britain and the Continent as 273 cheap as possible. The telegraphic rate to Egypt was 1s. 7d. a word, which was most unjustifiable, and he was sure that it could be not unprofitably reduced to 6d. a word.
He invited the attention of the Postmaster-General to the enormous charges for telephonic communication. The charge for a three minutes conversation between London and Paris was 8s., and 16s. for a six minutes conversation. That, he thought, was monstrous; it was far too high, as indeed had been admitted by the Postmaster-General himself. Statistics should be furnished showing the revenue and the expenditure on the telephonic service; and he was confident it would be demonstrated that the rate might be reduced from 8s. to 2s. 6d. for a three minutes conversation between London and Paris or London and Brussels. He believed hon. Members would also agree with him that telephonic communication between various parts of this country over the Trunk lines was much too high. A few weeks ago he had had a long conversation with the most progressive, able and intelligent Postmaster-General of Italy, His Excellency Signor Gallimberti, who had pointed out to him how the system of communication in Italy compared with this country. If the right hon. Gentleman would pay a visit during his holiday to Rome, and other Italian cities, he might learn a lesson in regard to charges both for telephonic and telegraphic communication. For instance, in Rome a telegraph message of fifteen to eighteen words only cost 5d., as against twelve words for 6d. in this country. Turning to another question, he had had hundreds of letters complaining of telegraphic blunder made by ignorant clerks in his right hon. friend's Department. In one case a man incurred a loss of £1,500, and was driven into the Bankruptcy Court through the blunder of a telegraphic clerk; and there were numerous other instances of people who had lost large sums of money through the carelessness of telegraphic clerks. When complaint was made to the Department, the answer on every occasion was a reference to the rules and regulations by which the Postmaster-General must be guided, and under which he must treat all 274 alike, although he deeply regretted the losses incurred. There was one case in which a man sent a message for 1,400 rolls of knitting wool at 7½d., and the telegraphic clerk sent it at 8½d. That was an astounding blunder; hundreds of pounds were lost, and no compensation was given. He thought that in such cases there should be something more than a polite letter of regret from the Postmaster-General. As to porterage of telegrams, there was free delivery from the Post Office door up to three miles, but if the distance was a yard beyond that, a porterage of 3d. per mile was charged from the Post Office door, or in other words for four miles altogether. For instance, a man who lived just one yard beyond the three miles was charged a shilling for porterage. The fair thing would be to commence charging porterage beyond the three-mile limit. It was stated that the object of the Government was to keep the people on the land, and he held that it was their duty to put every person in the country, whether near or distant from a Post Office, on a footing of perfect equality in regard to telegraphic communication. It was wrong to punish people for living beyond the three-mile limit; and he thought that his right hon. friend should give free porterage everywhere. They had now a magnificent system of transmitting telegrams; and he thought the time had arrived when the limit for telegrams should be increased from twelve to twenty words for 6d. Further, the name of every place in the country should be charged as one word. A man should not be punished for living in a place called "Mud-in-the-Hole" by having its name charged as four words. He never could understand why "Charing Cross" was charged as two words, and "St. Pancras" as one, unless it was that the Post Office wished to square the saints. He would leave that question in the hands of his right hon. friend, with the hope that he would be able to give the Committee an assurance that in future every place in the country should be charged as one word.
In conclusion, he would like to say a few words with regard to the marvellous system which was known as wireless 275 telegraphy, and which was invented by his distinguished friend Marconi Although he was in no way connected with that system, he was delighted with its progress. Lately there were signs of greater keenness on the part of the Post Office regarding it; but he should like an explanation as to why Marconi had not been treated fairly by the Post Office authorities in this country. He was glad to say that his right hon. friend had to a great extent altered that state of things. He would tell the Committee what occurred. A few years ago Marconi submitted a written offer to the Postmaster-General to connect the islands of Guernsey and Sark by wireless telegraphy without any conditions or stipulations, and without any expense to the Post Office; but the Post Office officials refused it. He would ask his right hon. friend to state why that offer was refused, in view of the fact that the Government went to large expense the other day in constructing a cable from Guernsey to Sark rather than accept the noble offer. He would mention another case. When Marconi was trying very hard to extend his system, in place of getting generous assistance from the Post Office, he never got anything but opposition. Worse than that, a letter, which he believed emanated from the Post Office, was sent to all the Colonial Governments warning them against taking up Marconi's system. He should like a thorough inquiry into that matter. Only the other day Marconi asked that he should receive the same rights and privileges as were given to the cable companies. A more modest application he could not imagine; but Marconi did not get the facilities for which he asked. He did not think that was fair. Marconi did not receive from this country that generous assistance which he hoped for and expected; but, at the same time, he was bound to add that during the short time the Postmaster-General had been in office he had made the position of Marconi more comfortable.
§ MR. HERBERT SAMUEL (Yorkshire, Cleveland)
said he thought that some explanation should be given of the very large increases in Sub-heads A and B of this Vote. In view of the fact that 276 the Post Office was working at a considerable loss, it appeared strange that there should be an increase of no less than £250,000 under those two heads. The maintenance of the postal telegraph system had increased by £133,000, or 16 per cent.; and telegraph works had increased by £125,000, or no less than 30 per cent. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would be able to give an explanation of those large and sudden increases. Some of the increases were very surprising. For instance, linemen and battery men in London numbered seventy-five last year, whereas this year they numbered 179. There were only three enginemen in London last year, as against eleven this year.
§ MR. HERBERT SAMUEL
said that the London telephones appeared under other heads. With reference to telephones, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would be able to tell the Committee what financial success had attended the operations of the Post Office in that direction, up to the present. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would also tell the Committee the result of his negotiations with the Marconi Company for wireless communication across the Atlantic. He sincerely hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would not adopt the suggestion of the hon. Member for Canterbury that the Government should take over and work the cable systems. A more risky speculation he could hardly imagine.
§ MR. CLAUDE HAY (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
said he should like to ask the Postmaster-General to take this opportunity of stating to the House the names of the gentlemen he proposed to appoint to inquire into the grievances of the postal staff, also how long the inquiry would be likely to last; and whether the Report would be laid before Parliament.
§ SIR JOHN LENG
said that the hon. Member for Canterbury had given the Committee a number of interesting suggestions which he hoped would be 277 adopted as time went on. He should like to emphasise the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman as to the cheapening of foreign cable messages. As far as trade and commerce were concerned, it was most desirable that the rates for telegraphing across the Atlantic, to Australia, to India, to China, and other countries should be reduced to the lowest possible point. The imports and exports of the country depended very much on low charges for cable communications. By far the most valuable part of the business of the country was conducted almost entirely by cable; and it was greatly handicapped as compared with continental commerce by the high charges which had to be paid. Allusion had been made to the treatment which the Post Office meted out to the young inventor, Marconi.
§ And, it being half-past Seven of the Clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Resolutions to be reported To-morrow; Committee also report Progress; to sit again this evening.