§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £2,615,509, 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 day of March, 1905, for the Salaries and Working Expenses of the Post Office Telegraph Service."
§ SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
said he desired to say a word or two about, the Report of the Post Office Wages Committee recently presented by the Departmental Committee appointed by the noble Lord's predecessor. The Postmaster-General was good enough to say that they should have an opportunity of discussing and hearing his views. It was not his fault that they had a comparatively short time that afternoon. More than a year had elapsed since the appointment of the Committee whose Report was spoken of by the then Postmaster-General as one which ought to be speedily made, and during a somewhat long period they had not had an opportunity of seeing its contents. At any rate, what they were entitled to hope now was that that afternoon the Postmaster-General would say distinctly whether he accepted the recommendations of that Report, and 1601 when he would be prepared to carry them out. Speaking generally, he ventured to say that after years of discussion the Report seemed to him to afford a solution of many controversial questions, and that, though it did not by any means completely answer the expectations, on points of detail, of those who, at any rate, gave evidence before the Committee, yet it was very well worthy of their consideration and also the consideration of the Committee in the interests ultimately of the State itself. Now, he would remind the Committee that there had been a controversy on this question for something like twenty-one years, and during all that period they had continually stated that there was great discontent in the Post Office, not merely on the question of wages, but as to the conditions of Post Office labour. That statement had been constantly and officially denied, but in this Report it was stated that there had been widespread discontent. Upon this he would only offer this observatin. No service could be thoroughly effective and no Department could be worked economically, in the widest sense of the word, where wide discontent existed, and he hoped—this being alleged by the Committee after full consideration of the present condition of affairs—the Postmaster General would see his way to accept the recommendations of the Committee for the removal of that state of things. He would also say that during the period to which he had referred, when the staff considered the grievances which they had to bear were great, they had never failed to consider the paramount subject of public convenience. He remembered well, some ten years ago, when things were so acute as to threaten a strike, that they were induced—and on the whole with difficulty—to give preference to the public convenience, and subordinate their private interests, a subordination which, according to this Report, seemed to have made some demand upon their sense of reason and prudence. The contentions which had been made from time to time in this House were thoroughly vindicated by this Report and by the previous Reports. Even the Tweedmouth Report, unsatisfactory as it was, did recommend an increase of pay, and they might safely draw the deduction from those Reports that the 1602 staff were suffering, and had been subjected for a long period to an injustice, the remedy for which he hoped, in the interests of the State, was near at hand.
Now he should like to say a word upon the history of the Report. It came from a Committee which was not of the staffs seeking. They desired a Select Committee of that House; in other words, they left the judgment of their case to their own employers. The answer always made was political pressure would be applied, and, he supposed, political expectations would be discounted; and that a Committee of that House was not the proper tribunal to try their case. It had, at any rate, the great merit that the staff from the first said they would abide by the final decisions of the Committee, both as to pay and conditions, and he ventured to say that a Committee of that House would not he subject to those suggestions made against it. He believed they would have done justice, and they would have had the certainty of the acceptation of their decisions. which he thought was an important point. Now the Committee ultimately appointed by the noble Lord's predecessor, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, was a Departmental one, and it was essentially a Committee of employers; no members of the service were placed upon it. No Labour Members were added to it, as some of them then desired. It consisted of Sir Edward Bradford, Mr. Charles Booth, the eminent statistician and social authority, and such commercial men, dealing with large numbers of employees, as the Manager of Harrod's Stores, and the Manager of the Great Central Railway. It was a tribunal which had this advantage, that it was obviously open to it to compare wages and conditions of employment generally with the wages and conditions of the Post Office service. Then much had been heard in that House of the great advantages of the Post Office service in medical aid, pensions, and the like; but he drew attention to the fact that this Committee swept away those considerations, and pointed out that if advantages were given they were balanced by some disadvantages of the public service. He pointed out that the order of reference was a restricted one, dealing simply with the question of the remuneration of labour, and, he ventured to say, of course 1603 with the advantage of knowing now what the decision had been, that few men could be found so qualified by their wide knowledge than the Committee appointed.
The present Chancellor of the Exchequer ceased to be the Postmaster-General soon after the appointment of the Committee, and the Committee very properly submitted to the noble Lord the question whether under the changed circumstances, they should proceed with their work. What the noble Lord replied was that he practically took the same view as his predecessor, and so he bound himself, of course with the latitude which attached to the acceptance or otherwise of all Reports of Committees, to at any rate a favourable construction and consideration, and he hoped also to a generous and liberal interpretation of the Report which might be presented. The consequence was that, if there was not confidence in the ultimate decision, there was a strong hope that it would be a decision that would be accepted. The staff gave evidence and the hearing was practically in public, the Press being represented, and throughout the whole proceedings there was no restriction on the conduct of the inquiry. And if the staff had an opportunity of giving evidence so equally had the Comptroller and the officials of the Post Office, in the presence, he believed, of the secretary of the Post Office, and the Committee might take it that the whole aspect of this wage question was laid before this tribunal of business men and therefore the Report was one which commanded confidence, and was one which he hoped would be accepted.
The Report indicated the position taken up on behalf of the staff. In dealing with the Report, he wished to emphasise that there were points touching whole classes and individuals which were not-accepted. In some cases he believed some classes of men would even be sufferers by the change recommended, but, taken on the whole, he thought it afforded a basis of settlement. In dealing with the various classes of the staff, he believed he might state that the sorters generally regarded the Report favourably and the postmen took the same view, though there were points of detail to which exception 1604 was taken and upon which, after the-noble Lord had stated his general view, it might be necessary to approach him., Taking the case of the postmen fen instance, the Report recommended that the system of Christmas-boxes should cease, but whether the addition of pay which only commenced after the age of twenty-six, made any real compensation for this somewhat remunerative system, bad as it was, was a question on which there were various views. And in some other respects what was proposed to the postmen was of doubtful value. In one respect there was a strong indication of the case made on behalf of the men, and that was as to the London telegraphists, for whom a maximum of £190 had always been claimed. The Committee had always been met with the statement that no such inducement was promised as a maximum of £190 after many years service, but the men had alway considered there had been a breach of faith on the part of the Department. This was a strong term to use and it was one which he did not endorse, but the Report told them that the men had been under a misapprehension—that they entered the service under a misapprehension caused by the publication of inducements on the part of the Civil Service Commissioners who conducted the examinations. For a series of years there were all sorts of barriers and obstacles to the attainment of this maximum of £190 in the shape of testimonial examinations and the like; but when they found the Committee, after going into the question thoroughly, saying there was an inducement to men to enter the service in the prospect, to use the words of the original advertisement, of obtaining a maximum of £190, and that there was a grievance there, then he thought it was a wrong which if not legally repayable was entitled undoubtedly to equitable consideration. If they had a Report dealing concretely with each class of officers in £ s. d. down to a very low point of detail, and if such a Report by employers felt it was just and right that the wages scale should be revised, he thought it was a ease of injustice, however unintentional, to the staff which called for redress, and lie hoped the noble Lord would tell the Committee that these recommendations made upon such 1605 authority would receive all the weight to which they were entitled.
There was of course one point which he ought not to fail to deal with in this summary, and that was the question of cost. Of course to make these additions to salary would involve some cost, but the very fact that the Government had to make that addition was evidence of a previous injustice in an inadequate scale of pay; and they must remember that the Post Office was a commercial undertaking which annually paid to the State a very large profit; and surely the first claim upon that profit was that of those who had helped to earn it, and that they should he reasonably, fairly, and adequately remunerated. If the Government did not do that they were really imposing a tax upon a class for the benefit of the community and on a class among the poorest and in favour o the richest. Therefore he maintained that as long as they had a balance of profit in the Post Office they at least ought to discharge fairly the claims upon it in respect to the wages of those who enabled that profit to be realised, and if they failed to do that they really approved of a system of class taxation. Sweating in any form of industry was objectionable. Parsimony was not economy in the end. The Report spoke of requirements of capacity and character and of the very high range of duties performed by these men, and the Committee very properly said that they ought to be adequately remunerated in such circumstances. There was no economy in underpaid or ill-paid labour. When the Committee found that the duties performed by the staff were responsible and exacting and demanded both character and capacity, he thought there was an unanswerable case. It was tune to redress a long-standing injustice which for nearly twenty years they had brought to the notice of the House. He could discuss the details, but this was neither the time nor the place to do so, but he thought he had indicated on the basis of this official Report some reasons why at last the time had come for the redress of grievances of too long standing.
§ MR. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
said there was one thing which he should like to remark on and that was that this Report had been presented for nearly three 1606 months. What was the situation? It would be discussed in a hurry and then the Estimate would be closured without proper discussion. Having regard to the deep interest in the matter they should have had a full opportunity of expressing their opinion on it fairly.
§ THE POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Lord STANLEY,) Lancashire. Westhoughton
I am not responsible for that. Supply is always put down at the request of the Opposition.
§ MR. LOUGH
said he did not complain of the noble Lord but he was complaining of the Government generally. An arrangement ought to have been made by which the Votes could have been discussed freely. He wanted to criticise the action of the Post Office somewhat generally, but he did riot desire to direct it too personally to the noble Lord, who had only been in office for a Year or a year and a half. During his short experience they had had two Postmasters neither of whom had been entirely satisfactory, and who had left the House the constant burden of making these complaints, with which his hon. friend the Member for South Islington had dealt for so many Years.
The position was a little peculiar. This Report with which they were dealing only referred to the remuneration of the employees of this great Department of State. He was strongly of opinion that such good relations should have been established long ago between the Post Office and its employees as would have prevented the constant necessity of the matter be discussed in that House. He did not think there was any other Department of the State in which complaints of the employees were so constantly being made. Within the last few years they had had two of these Committees. The first, the Tweedmouth Committee, was practically composed of Members of that House. They were told that it was a model Committee composed of all the virtues. Its recommendations were not acted on. If they had been, and the Postmaster-General had established better relations generally with the employees, at a round table for instance, Parliament 1607 and the country would have been saved many of these discussions. The Committee would remember the circumstances out of which this last Committee sprang. Members were constantly trying to deal, with the imperfect knowledge they possessed, with the complaints made by their constituents. It was always weariness for him to have to touch these matters at all, and it was only a sense of the real injustice contained in the complaints made by the men which had induced him to devote so much time to the matter as he had done. The finger of scorn had been pointed at hon. Members for voicing these complaints but eventually the Department said, "Now we will appoint an immaculate Committee, one whose Report everyone will receive and welcome," and they set up their Committee of business men. There was no taint of Parliament about that Committee, its members had nothing to gain by courting public favour. What had they done? All the recommendations made in the past seemed to be a perfect joke compared with the Report of this Committee. It had found the Department guilty on all counts, especially in the matter of remuneration. It was in these circumstances that they desired to hear from the noble Lord what steps he proposed to take in the matter. No doubt expense might be involved. It was necessary that the matter should be treated by the Department in a broad way, because it was quite possible that by treating employees better an improved system of economy would be introduced into the Post Office. These people, after all, had important duties to perform, and while the increment of pay secured a good deal, he believed that on the whole the better treatment of the employees in this as in other businesses would he found to be the most economical policy.
One or two difficulties which the noble Lord would have to encounter might be mentioned. One was the restricted reference to the Committee. Various classes of workers were excluded from the inquiry. How would these men feel seeing that every class whose case was brought before the Committee was proved to be underpaid? Would it conduce to more contentment in the minds of those whose cases 1608 was not considered? There were the tracers, for instance. They had a constant grievance of a technical character against the Department. He thought the Committee would be justified in pressing the Department to receive these men in a sympathetic and conciliatory spirit and to hear what they had to say instead of forcing them to discuss their complaints with Members of Parliament. Another class whose case ought to be considered were the unestablished men. In his own constituency there was a large factory for the making of telephonic instruments, and he was told that hundreds of the men there employed, although they had served for periods of from two to ten years, were not established, and that amongst these unestablished men dismissals were constantly going on. Not only were they denied the general good treatment received by men on the establishment, but they had not the ordinary security enjoyed by men under any good employer. The request put forward by these men was extremely moderate, viz., that men continuously employed for two years and upwards should be placed on the establishment. If two years was too short let some other period be fixed, but the men ought to have sonic means of getting established. The Post Office ought not lightly to commence the manufacture of instruments or anything else, but if it did take it up it ought to set up fair and even generous conditions of labour. If the grievances only of the classes mentioned in the Report were dealt with the discontent would be widened. Then there was a class known as bagmen largely employed in London, and they made the simple request that they should be admitted to the advantages arising from the "stripes" system. Another class whose case was not considered was the porters, and they, too, had their grievance. It was not unreasonable to ask the noble Lord to make a statement with regard to these classes as well as those dealt with in the Report, because, if they were not dealt with, the seed of discontent would be sown, and they would have all the trouble over again.
The great complaint against both the Tweedmouth and the last Committee was the limited nature of the reference. As an illustration of the difficulties 1609 with which they were confronted he would mention one case which had come under his notice. There happened to be in Islington a man named Carless, who had asked him to put Questions in the House about his case and he had refused to do so, because he did not like to raise these matters in the House in that way. It appeared that some years ago this man was dismissed from the Post Office on a charge of theft, and he immediately met the charge in what appeared to be a reasonable way. This man contended that if he had committed any theft he ought to be prosecuted, and if it was proved that he had not committed any theft he ought not to have been dismissed. The man had been pressing that view upon the Post Office authorities for three and a half years and he could get no answer from them. The Post Office would not have been guilty of any unkindness if they had arrived at a definite conclusion satisfactory to the man and his friends in the one direction. or in the opposite direction, and yet for three and a half years the case of this individual was agitated and finally he had to come to Members of Parliament in order to bring pressure to bear upon the Department. He had seen articles quite a column long in the papers upon this case, and it was a pity that this matter should have been dismissed in this way, because he thought the Department could have dealt in a conclusive manner with the case. That was a good example in the conduct of the Post Office in these matters. Other employers did not find these difficulties, and they had no substantial grievances with any of their workmen. He did not think that with better management these difficulties would arise in the Post Office. With regard to Christmas-boxes he hoped the noble Lord would be very clear about that matter. He understood that the Committee recommended that a substantial increase should be given to the men in lieu of Christmas-boxes, but how were Christmas-boxes to be got rid of? In a report upon the Report which he had received from the men he gathered that tie Christmas-boxes amounted to something like a quarter of a million of money, and it was said that this sum would be saved to the community in return for an increase in the wages. If the community 1610 had to find this extra large sum of money for wages he thought some definite step ought to he taken to put an end in some conclusive way to the Christmas-boxes, it was a question which ought not to be left open and loose. Altogether he thought that the Department must feel that this Report was a serious reflection on the management of this great branch of the public service. It was a pity that they had got to the point of referring matters of remuneration to those gentlemen, however excellent they might be; and now that they had given a Report, which was a condemnation of the Department after ten or fifteen years of mismanagement, he appealed to the noble Lord to exercise his influence with those able men who constituted his Department to induce them to endeavour to establish better relations in the public service over which they had the control.
§ *MR. CLAUDE HAY (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
said he thought this Report established the fact that the conditions and pay of a large number of, if not of all these men was not only unsatisfactory but was, he believed, below the standard of a fair living wage. Whatever they thought of the gentlemen who formed this Committee, at least they gave an enormous amount of time and great care to the consideration of the problem. He felt that they owed a great debt to them for their trouble. It was a poor compliment, indeed, to them that the discussion of their Report should be relegated to the dog days, when Members were not in the best fettle and many were away. One thing he was sure would, emerge from this discussion, that whatever Government was in power, this subject would not he allowed to rest until fair terms of pay and service ware given re all branches of the postal service. He was also confident that both side, of the House would agree when he paid that both. Parties, when they had beep in office, were equally to blame for the unfortunate condition of things. The hon. Member for South Islington referred to the contumely with which those who had taken up the cause of these public servants were treated, and allegations thrown at them as to their action on and interest in the subject having been inspired by the pressure of electors 1611 So far as his experience of this matter went, he was able to assure friends of his who were not at all unwilling to throw that taunt at them, that those who had pressed for inquire were please to be able to come down to the House and have the Report of the Bradford Commission in their hands, showing that the allegations they made as to the condition of these men were not unfounded, but were established in the Report.
The difficulty, no doubt, which must be overcome was that of cost. The noble Lord should not try to screen himself behind the question of cost. If he did, he would simply he parting from the rule which must be the guiding rule of every Department in the State—that of the model employer. If he continued the present system on the ground that the Post Office must not cost so much to the State, he would not only be parting from that very salutary principle but he would be bringing great discredit not only upon the whole Ministry but upon all who sat upon the Ministerial Benches. The other side had practically never done anything for the Post Office servants, although they had been many years in office. [OPPOSITION cries of "Hear, hear!"] Let him remind the House what the present Chancellor of the Exchequer laid down when he appointed this Committee. He urged very strongly upon the House that the main consideration which must weigh on him in the appointment of the Committee was that they should report quickly, and to use his own words, "that a speedy Report was most desirable." If that were so, he must have had in his mind the important consideration as to allowing this subject to drag on, and continue the feeling of unrest and uncertainty within the ranks of the Post Office service, which was most harmful to efficiency. On that ground, if on no other, it was much to be hoped that the Postmaster-General would not put off the decision of the Government on the whole subject till next year, but would boldly tell the Committee that evening that his Estimates for the coming year would make adequate provision for carrying out the recommendations of the Committee.
1612 The Report established one principle which could not be too often made public. For something like six years they heard nothing from the authorities but assertions that the Tweedmouth Committee established finality. This Report had made short shrift of the Tweedmouth Committee, and that being so, he would remind his noble friend that if the Bradford Committee was to be used to establish finality he would not settle the unrest in the various branches of the Post Office, but would only reach complete satisfaction and efficiency when he had brought within the scope of consideration those various classes which had been exclude," from the purview of the Bradford Committee. He should only like to refer to one detail of the Committee's Report. One of the paragraphs laid down that the test of population should practically be the basis for the purpose of fixing wages, and he thought that test was not a good one. The cost of inland towns and seaside resorts was often greater than in the large towns of the Kingdom. In illustration of that, he would quote the case of Princetown, Dartmoor, where the population practicaly was one which had been brought into existence by the contiguity of the Dartmoor penal establishment. The land of that neighbourhood was held by the Duchy of Cornwall, and the working classes were not able to obtain sufficient housing accommodation, and rents were forced up owing to the Government not providing sufficient housing accommodation for the Prison staff. The test of population, therefore, was not a fair one, and he sincerely trusted that his noble friend would bean that point in mind when he dealt with these recommendations. He was bound to say it was not encouraging, when great grievances were at stake, to find that after the great labour which had been expended by the Committee to which he had referred and the subject had been from time after time debated in that House, they should have to wait another year before the findings of the Committee were put into practical operation. But better late than never. If his noble friend was able to assure the Committee that these recommendations would become effective he would be not only 1613 the most popular Postmaster for many generations, but he would remove grievances which lay now upon more than 100,000 of their fellow-citizens who did their best for the country, and whose grievances were a stain upon the Government of the country.
§ MR. BROADHURST (Leicester)
said he could not imagine any service connected with the Government system which it was less desirable to associate with political Parties than the Post Office. The hon. Member for Hoxton had spoken under the impression apparently that the Pest Office was a branch of the Primrose League or something of that kind.
§ MR. BROADHURST
said that the Post Office was a neutral institution in which they were all concerned, which they all defended, and which they all assisted to the best of their ability. He trusted they would hear no more remarks of the kind made by the hon. Member in this discussion. With respect to the merits of the question under discussion, eighteen months ago the then Postmaster-General instituted the procedure by Departmental Committee, by an independent Committee as it was called, in order that the Committee might arrive at an unbiassed conclusion and should not be influenced by votes for or against Members on the part of great postal establishments. That was the argument used at that time, but many of them thought that there ought to have been an inquiry by a Committee of Members of the House. They agreed largely with the then Postmaster-General that he should have his own way, however, on the understanding that the inquiry was going to be conducted in a business-like way and with great expedition. In their innocence they were misled by those fine phrases. They understood that if the Report of the Committee recommended any action, that action was to be taken almost immediately, and they were bound to notice the fact that although the matter was now eighteen months old the present Postmaster-General had not up to the present informed them what was in his 1614 mind. He would be glad if the noble Lord would tell them what action he intended to take. The verdict of the Committee, consisting of men not open to political influences, and acting under the Department's own reference, had gone against the Postmaster-General. What was he going to do in the face of that verdict? The right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster-General was of a generous nature and always exceedingly straight in all his actions; and the Committee were expecting to hear from him that he intended to make this tardy act of justice. If the noble Lord satisfied them on this particular point he would get his salary covered or was it his stipend?
§ MR. BROADHURST
At any rate the noble Lord would get his Vote without a division; but if he did not satisfy the Committee by adopting the recommendations of his own Committee then a division would have to be taken in order to emphasise their belief that the recommendations of the Committee should be acted upon at once. The recommendations of the Bradford Committee with regard to fixing wages according to population was an important point. He could nit imagine anything more delusive. He lived in a humble township of less than 5,000 people, but he could live more cheaply in Manchester where house rent and taxes would be less, and where the choice of food was greater and the cost of food less. It was evident that the noble Lord fully appreciated that position.
§ MR. BROADHURST
Now, in regard to the people who served the Post Office faithfully, but who were not necessarily in a position of independence, let him tell the noble Lord his own personal experience in this matter. The postman who delivered most of his letters was a telegraph boy whom he had known for years. Before that ha was a caddie. Now he was a seasoned postman, a married man with children, and a more faithful servant the Post Office had not in their employ. He acted is 1615 postman for four or five months in a year, and at the end of that time was suspended until the next season. During the interval he had to find employment as best he could.
§ LORD STANLEY
The hon. Member. I think, is referring to Cromer, and refers to his postman being taken on during the summer season when he wants a caddie.
§ MR. BROADHURST
said that that man had been, to the best of his knowledge, during the last twelve or fourteen years in the postal service; and he did think that if there was not full employment fur a man, in cases of that sort, during the slack season, there ought to be some continuous connection between the Post Office and such a servant. That was an illustration of thousands of other cases. When they had such excellent servants in their employment they should be taken into consideration. They seemed to be in a perpetual ferment as regarded Post Office work. At one time the abominable and disgraceful sanitary arrangements of the post offices formed a prominent subject of inquiry, and many Members of the House did not press for reform some years ago in the Grand Committee because the Post Office promised to make a change. Why could not the Post Office follow the practice adopted by the cotton trade, the coal trade, and the iron trade, and have a standing Court of Appeal to which all complaints could be referred? It would save the Department a great deal of trouble and prevent discontent among the servants. If they were always in a state of agitation the Government would not get the best work out of them. The unrest amongst the working people showed that there was a wrong somewhere and that wrong should be rectified. He trusted when the noble Lied spoke that he would tell them what was proposed in these matters, and he would suggest most respectfully to the noble Lord that the sooner they heard him the better they would be pleased. He always liked to hear him, and to-night especially they were anxious and desirous to get light from the noble Lord who was the head of this great Department.
MR. RUTHERFORD (Lancashire, Darwon)
said it was impossible to listen to 1616 this debate without feeling a great deal of sympathy with the noble Lord the Postmaster-General, because it was evident that to-night he was in a very awkward position. His position, however, had not been made by himself; it was inherited. It had been traditional to the office of the Postmaster-General to reply to all complaints for a quarter of a century back by saying that the men were contented and were well paid, and that nothing more could possibly be done. It was perfectly evident, on reading the Report of the Bradford Committee that the replies that had been made from time to time to Members of the House by the Postmaster-General had not been well founded, and that grievances had existed. As a matter of fact, instead of this being a well conducted and contented service, all over the country there was a mass of seething discontent, widespread and not confined merely to the telegraphists or the postal department, but spreading over the whole of the different departments under the Postmaster-General.
He was not going into any particular details, because he did not think this a suitable occasion; but there was no doubt about it that the state of affairs with regard to the pay of the whole of the departments of the Post Office was practically this—that nothing had been done since 1890. Nothing whatever had been done since then and very little had been done since 1881, whilst at the same time the whole of the expenses of the men in the service had been rapidly increasing. Their cost of living, their cost of travelling to and from their work, their rent, rates and taxes had been rapidly rising, and that had not been taken into account in their pay. He would only give one illustration of the position of the men in the Postal Telegraph Department. It was this: that after twenty-three years of service a competent and efficient man in the Postal Telegraph Department got £3 a week in London and £2 18s. a week in the provinces, and when they looked at the question of promotion, they would find that 16 per cent. of the whole start had obtained their maximum, and that, therefore, promotion was absolutely at an end so far as they were concerned. He thought it would be conceded that 1617 the public servants in this most important department had for many years been badly treated. Complaint after complaint had been made to Postmaster-General after Postmaster-General, and at last the noble Lord's predecessor said he would appoint what he called a Departmental Committee. The answer which had been given to Members of this House was, he ventured to think—he did not know if he was justified in using the word "insulting"—but it was exceedingly offensive. It was "Oh, you are interested because constituents of yours are urging these points and you want to get votes." So far as he was concerned he indignantly denied that. He did not believe there was a Member of that House who would pause to give consideration to any such paltry influence, because the number of votes in a any given constituency was such a trifle. But the figures and the details with respect to the whole of these men had so impressed Member after Member that they had not been able to resist taking the matter up. The Postmaster-General had only one course to adopt that night. He ought to say he would at once adopt the Report of the Bradford Committee and he ought to come boldly forward and say he would apply the same principles and give the same advantages to those other departments of the service which had not been considered in that Report; but which ought to be taken into account and given equal consideration. The Postmaster-General, if he desired to retain that high opinion which the hon. Member opposite entertained of him, ought to take some such course.
§ *MR. HERBERT SAMUEL (Yorkshire, Cleveland)
said that in the very few words that he should address to the Committee he did not propose to enter into the details of this Report, nor even into its general merits or demerits, for he held very strongly that this Committee was not fitted to consider the details relating to payment of the employees of the State. Even if there was no electoral influence concerned, the Committee as a Committee—a large body of this character—could not possibly go into the many details which must necessarily arise in a matter of this nature. But there was no question to anyone who was ac- 1618 quainted with practical politics that electoral influence did arise in these cases, and he would submit that these matters ought never to come before the House or the Committee of the Whole House for direct decision. The matter was sometimes worse than it was in the case of the Post Office. Dockyard and Arsenal constituencies occasionally, as they all knew, had elections in which votes were determined on questions relating mainly to conditions of employment. But it was impossible to leave the decision of these matters in the hands of a despotic Department, in the hands soley of the employers of the men concerned, nor could they lay down the rule that supply and demand must fix the rate of wages for the employees of the State. If that rule were adopted, they would have the rate of wages probably falling to an exceedingly low level, below a real living wage, down to the lowest level they could induce people to accept. Nor could they say that when these men entered the service of the State they knew the terms they were accepting, and ought, therefore, to be contented during the whole of their career in that service; for the cost of living was constantly rising, and the value of money was somewhat falling as years went on, and no one would suggest that what was a fair wage fifty years ago would be a fair wage now, or that a fair wage now would necessarily be a fair wage fifty, twenty, or ten years hence.
There must be some means of adjusting wages from time to time according to circumstances and Parliament ought to establish some outside board or committee to act as arbitrator between the various Departments of the State and the bodies of men they employed, in cases of serious dispute. That was the course adopted in the great industries. Almost all the great industries had boards of conciliation with provision for reference to outside arbitrators in case of serious dispute. This Bradford Committee was precisely in the position of such an arbitrator; and he did not sea how the Post Office could refuse to abide by its award. They were in the position of an employer of labour whose workpeople were discontented and the dispute had been laid before an outside arbitrator for his 1619 decision. That award had been given against the Post Office, and the Government could rot well refuse to obey its verdict. Unquestionably the cost would be heavy, but it must be remembered that the Pest Office was continually earning larger and larger profits. Ten years ago its profits were only £3,000,000, now they were £4,000,000. There had been an increase of 33 per cent. in ten years, which had been made from the labour of the people employed. If the men had been underpaid the increase of their salaries was surely the first charge on this increase of profits. Those on that side of the House might of course, and probably would, be taunted with the fact that at one moment they were advocating economy in national expenditure, and at another advocating an increase in specific items of expenditure; but they had never carried their desire for economy so far as to say that the State should pay its employees such a wage as in the opinion of an entirely impartial outside board of arbitrators was below the proper standard of remuneration. From the standpoint of the Treasury, the first outcome of the policy of appointing an outside Committee had not been very propitious, but he was convinced that along these lines the State ought to proceed, and that all questions of employment and of wages of State employees ought to be referred to some form of permanent Commission or Board established more or less on the lines of the Civil Service Commission.
§ MR. HENNIKER HEATON (Canterbury)
said although his remarks would be brief still he might say he had studied this question for a great number of years, and had been invited by large numbers of postmen to take part in deputations to the Postmaster-General. He had consulted Members of the Opposition on this question and thought the facts which he should place before the Committee would be such as to induce the Postmaster-General to take action in this case. The number of Post Office Officials exceeded the number of the British Army a few years ago. They numbered 176,000. They made claims which the Member for West Monmouth said presented an abyss that the country would never contemplate. He had on one 1620 occasion been invited to accompany a deputation to Mr. Arnold Morley. He asked how many Members of Parliament were going on the deputation and he was told, "There are thirty-nine and you-make forty." Imagine forty Members of Parliament waiting on the Postmaster-General. Call it intimidation. He said it was not fair and the result was he stopped the deputation. He much regretted that his right hon. friend had already received a deputation of twenty Members of Parliament. The time had come when both sides of the House should resist the illicit demands of the postal service. He sympathised with the demands of public servants, but Sir George Murray proved conclusively that the postmen were paid better than the policemen, and showed by figures that they were indeed very well cared for, that they were paid on a scale of wages which no other-person occupying their position now got, that they had doctors to attend them when they were ill and that they were partly clothed. The whole story told by Sir George Murray was one which hon. Members opposite and employers of labour should study. The recommendations of the Bradford Committee, he would point out, would if carried out cost two millions a year to the Treasury and another half million would be required to satisfy the claims which were not touched. But notwithstanding that important Committee, the next day he received, and hon. Members received, a protest against the Committee saying that the employees would never rest until they had a Parliamentary Committee. He mentioned this because he thought the House should hack up the authorities in exercising what they consider proper and fair jurisdiction, and that if hon. Members would do as was clone in Australia and disfranchise the postmen, and give them a member of their own, if they liked, it would be better for the country. That was one of the reasons why he hesitated about taking over the telephones when he considered that another 50,000 men would be added to the public service who would demand pensions and increased pay. He was sorry that his speech might be considered unbecoming and very unpopular. He was looked upon as a sort of Radical with regard to these matters. Still they had given during the last ten 1621 years large concessions to the postmen amounting to two and a half millions while they had only given to the public in concessions in post office facilities a sum equal to £55,000. He wished hon. Members on this occasion to be true to themselves and to take such measures as to secure that they should have fair play and not be intimidated by the enormous number of postal employees who might be a positive danger to the country in future.
§ MR. NANNETTI (Dublin, College Green)
said the speech which they had just heard was one which should have been delivered before the Committee was appointed and before the Report which they were there to consider that night was made. He reminded the hon. Member who had just spoken that the Committee who had reported to that House was not a Committee composed of Members of that House or one which could by any means be charged with being very favourable to the demands of the employees. It was a Committee of business men chosen by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer because they would present a fair and unbiassed Report. He regretted, in dealing with the Report before them, they had not had the advantage of hearing from the noble Lord what were the intentions of the Government with regard to it.
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.