HC Deb 12 May 1904 vol 134 cc1215-40

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £6,400,618, 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, 1905, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Post Office Service, the Expenses of Post Office Savings Banks, and Government Annuities and Insurance, and the Collection of the Post Office Revenue."

* THE POSTMASTER - GENERAL (Lord STANLEY,) Lancashire, Westhoughton

I think it would be convenient to the house that I should make a statement, first, as to what has been done in the past, and what is proposed to be done in the future, in regard to the administration of the Post Office. The first point that occurs to me is as to the various proposals put forward by my predecessor, and how far they have been put into execution. The first one which hon. Members will desire to hear about is on the subject of the Committee which my right hon. friend the present Chancellor of the Exchequer appointed last year to inquire into the wages of certain Post Office officials. My right hon. friend appointed a Committee composed of various business men, under the presidency of Sir Edward Bradford. I found this Committee appointed when I came into office, but they had not at that moment actually begun their sittings. I asked them to continue the work which my right hon. friend placed in their hands, and I gave instructions, which I think have been fully and loyally carried out, that those men who wished to give evidence should be given every possible facility to do so, and that no hindrance whatever should be put in the way of those who wished to lay their case before what I hold to be a good and independent tribunal. The Committee has only reported to me within the last few days; I think it was on Tuesday last that I received their Report. At any rate, I did not see their Report until that day myself. As a general rule, I do not think it is held that Departmental Committee Reports are necessarily published to the House or the public, but I feel that the Report of a Committee like the one I have mentioned, takes the form of rather more than a Departmental Committee Report, and it is obviously necessary that the whole of it should be in the hands of hon. Members. In addition to that, I think the House should have ample time for the consideration and discussion of that Report. I have not received the whole of the evidence and the appendices, and therefore I am not in a position to lay the Report on the fable of the House. I think, therefore, the best way for the convenience of the House would be that I should postpone Vote III., which is the Telegraphs and Telephones, on the present occasion, and defer it until a later day in the session when hon. Members will have this Report in their hands, and although I may not at the time be able to give a decision as to the policy of the Government on that Report, hon. Members will then, I think, be perfectly free to discuss it and draw their own conclusions from the Report. Upon this point I wish to ask you, Mr. Deputy Chairman, whether I should be in order in putting the question in this way before the House, and would the House be in order in discussing not only the Report, but also the case of the civil servants and Post Office servants, who had not been included, but who hon. Members think ought to have been included in the inquiry. Really I think there ought to be a sort of half discussion on one Vote and half discussion on the other Vote. I have consulted Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and he has informed me that he will, under the circumstances, allow a full discussion of those officials included in the Report and of those not included in the Report, on Vote 3, which is the Vote for the Telegraphs and the Telephones.


I think it would be more convenient to take the discussion as suggested by the noble Lord on the Vote for Telegraphs and Telephones. You cannot discuss the Report on both these Votes, and I think the Committee will prefer to take the discussion on the Telephones and Telegraphs Vote.

MR. BAYLEY (Derbyshire, Chesterfield)

asked if sufficient time would be allowed for hon. Members to fully consider the Report?


said the best promise he could give was that his Estimates would not come on until the Report of the Departmental Committee had been in the hands of hon. Members sufficient time to allow themselves to become thoroughly conversant with its contents. He hoped they would not discuss this question at the present moment, but leave it over until a future date.

* SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.)

said he thought the proposal of the noble Lord was not unreasonable, but it should not be forgotten that this Committee was appointed a year ago, and therefore he hoped there would be as little further delay as possible. He was glad that the noble Lord had undertaken to publish the Report, and he hoped that at an early period they would have an opportunity of discussing it. He wished to know if such questions as not only wages and duties, but stagnation of promotion, sanitation of the offices, the £190 maximum, and matters of that kind, would be included in the Report. He thought the noble Lord should have time to consider the Report, and he relied upon his doing so kindly and sympathetically. He agreed that it would be best to deal with the whole matter upon the adjourned Vote, when the long-standing grievances of both postal and telegraph employees could be fully discussed.

MR. NANNETTI (Dublin, College Green)

said that many hon. Members had come down with the idea that this Vote was going to be taken, but if it was adjourned until the Report was placed on the Table, he wished to know whether they would be precluded from dealing with those officials who were not included in the Report. There were only four classes included connected with the postal service, and he wished to know whether they would be ruled out of order when the Report came up, and not be allowed to discuss the question as to the advisability or right, of those outside the four classes to be considered.


I understand that the wages are paid partly under the Post Office Vote and partly under the Telegraphs and Telephones Note; therefore it would be in order to discuss the question of wages under either Vote. I think, however, that it is the opinion of the Committee that the discussion on these points should be restricted to the Telegraphs and Telephones Vote when the Report has been laid on the Table.


said he was perfectly certain it would be for the convenience of the Committee that they should not discuss a Report which was not before it. He was perfectly certain, also, that when the Report was before the Committee, it would be better not to discuss it piecemeal. He had the permission of Mr. Deputy-Speaker, confirmed by Mr. Deputy-Chairman, for stating that on the later Vote they would be able to discuss these matters when the Report of the Committee was in their hands, so that if they made a sacrifice now by abstaining from discussion on this particular Vote, they would be able to speak on another occasion. He hoped, therefore, that hon. Members would accept the assurance that, at any rate so far as he was concerned, there would be full opportunity for discussing the Report as soon as possible.


said that on behalf of the Post Office employees whom he represented, he was satisfied with the assurance given by the Postmaster-General.

MR. WILLIAM RUTHERFORD (Liverpool, West Derby)

said he should like to ask the Postmaster-General one question. The House understood last year that the Committee was to deal only with the question of wages. There were a number of other very important topics which required to be considered, and he wanted to know from the Postmaster-General whether these topics were dealt with in the Report. For instance, he wanted to know whether it dealt with the important question of the prospects of promotion, and also with the hours and conditions of employment. If they were to understand that the Report dealt with matters of that kind, he thought it would be more satisfactory to discuss it on a future occasion, when it was before them.


said he had already stated that none of the rights of hon. Members would be sacrificed by postponing the discussion. The hon. Member would be allowed to discuss not only the matters dealt with in the Report, but also those which he thought ought to be included. He thought it would be found that everything had been taken into consideration, for rates of wages were not the only things that affected a man's livelihood. There was the question of the cost of living, as also various other things which had been taken into consideration. Some views had been put before him by hon. Members privately, and he thought he could safely say that all had been put before the Committee and dealt with by them. His lion, friend the Member for South Islington had asked him whether the Report said anything about sanitation, and whether anything had been done in regard to that matter. He confessed that he had from lack of time not been able to go carefully into the subject up to the present, nor had he been able to read the whole of the evidence given with respect to it. He know that the Committee had considered the question of the health of the Post Office servants, but he did not know what the Report said. He hoped to be able to do something to improve those offices which, he regretted to say, had been found to be, as regarded sanitation, not in a suitable condition.

He had little or nothing really to state to the House as to alterations in the postal service of the country during the past year. There had been various small reforms, and even small reforms cost a great deal of money. An attempt had been made to extend the usefulness of the halfpenny post by allowing a little more of those printed statements which were in common commercial usage. It might interest the House to know that they were endeavouring to extend the motor services of the Post Office. Personally he was an enthusiast on motoring, and he should like to see these services extended very but he was bound to say that present moment motors were not sufficiently reliable to depend upon in any great degree. He did not want to advertise the firms that had done badly, but, perhaps he was doing no firm injury if he said that the car running between London and Epping, which was supplied by the Milnes-Daimler Company, was providing a most excellent service. There was no doubt that both as to speed and economy it was standing them in good stead, and he hoped that the services might be extended in other directions, and that in time they might find motorcars a means of quickening the delivery of letters and parcels in the rural districts.

In the issue of postal orders several changes had been made. He had proposed to all the Colonies that there should be an interchange of postal orders between them and this country; so that orders issued in this country should be payable in the Colonies and vice versa. A large number of the Colonies had already agreed to the arrangement, and in a few months he hoped that all of them would follow. The new denominations of postal orders introduced last year had apparently met a real public want. Of the guinea orders 500,000 were paid in the year ended 31st March last, and of the orders for 5s. 6d. and 6s. 6d. nearly 750,000 were paid. He had not found that up to the present the postal order for 6d. had been much asked for; but he was in hopes that it would come to be used for the payment of those advertisements which at present were paid for in stomps. In the year ended March last, postal orders were paid to the amount of £34,250,000, as compared with £33,000,000 in the preceding year. But the number paid was 90,720,000, as compared with 93,140,000 in the preceding year; so that the public, it appeared, were in very many cases now able to remit by means of one order where previously two had been necessary. Another reform to meet the public convenience was the issue of twenty-four stamps in a little book. The charge of one halfpenny over the value of the stamps had been objected to as making an inconvenient sum. The Post Office might obviate the difficulty by substituting twelve halfpenny stamps for six of the penny stamps in the book, so that the purchaser would only have to tear out one of the halfpenny stamps instead of having to produce a halfpenny to make up the price of the book. The Post Office was also considering the advisability of issuing books of stamps of higher denominations. As to money orders, inconvenience had been felt from the comparatively low limit—£10—fixed for inland money orders. From the beginning of the present year the limit had been extended to £40, and a similar increase had been arranged for with a large, number of foreign countries.

One increase appeared in the Estimates which he hoped would meet with the universal approbation of the House. It had been found that there were many cases of unestablished men and sub-postmasters who did not come under the benefits of the Superannuation Act; and who, at the end of long and faithful service, had nothing to look for. With the consent of the Treasury a sum of £5,000 had been put in the Estimates to enable some sort of gratuity to be given in hard cases of this kind. For many reasons he was glad that the telephone discussion had been postponed. Later in the session he hoped to be able to give more definite information to the House as to the progress of the negotiations with the telephone company, and as to the future organisation and administration of wireless telegraphy. He hoped that he should be able to assure the House that the Post Office were arriving at a conclusion which would prevent the growing up in this country of a monopoly such as there had been experience of in the past. At the same time, he should be able to show that ho was not dealing unfairly with those who had made wireless telegraphy a possibility. He had no great departmental reforms in prospect, but if there were money to spare, he should like to extend increased postal facilities to these districts that were now poorly served.

There was one important reform which he was prepared to make, and it was one which he knew would interest his lion, friend the Member for Canterbury. The hon. Member had always been very anxious that the penny postage to the Colonies should be extended to Australia. He was glad to say that with the consent of the Treasury—having had some indication that Australia was willing to come into the arrangement—he had asked the Colonial Office to inform the authorities there that if they would give an assurance that at a definite date in the near future they would agree to institute a penny postage rate between Australia and England, he was ready to introduce it at once between England and Australia. He was, therefore, in hopes that the Australian postal authorities would soon see their way to agree to this proposition. He was afraid that the statement he had put before the Committee was somewhat dull, but he hoped the House would accept it as a full and simple statement of what he had been able to do and not to do. At the same time, he would be ready to answer any Questions put to him on points of detail, and he hoped that, in the end, the Committee would justify all the steps he had taken on the matters brought before him.

MR. HEMPHILL (Tyrone, N.)

said he wished to know whether the noble Lord had come to any decision in regard to what was called cash on delivery? The reason of that query was that he had had several letters from his constituents stating that the present system of cash on delivery interfered with the business of small traders.

MR. LOUIS SINCLAIR (Essex, Romford)

said he was sure that the Committee must be very grateful to the Postmaster-General for his interesting statement: but there was one matter which he would like to bring under his notice. English newspapers had now, owing to the hostilities between Russia and Japan, to travel by sea, instead of overland. But Germany had made arrangements with the Siberian Railway to get their newspapers delivered in China a fortnight before the, English papers. He begged the noble Lord to see whether he could not arrive at some arrangement with the Siberian Railway by which they could carry English newspapers. He congratulated the noble Lord on the arrangements he had made for the use of motor-cars in postal delivery. He remembered the time when such a suggestion was received with ridicule; and he was sure that in many districts the delivery of letters and newspapers would be greatly facilitated by the use of motorcars. He understood that the Telegraph Vote was to be discussed on a future occasion, but he should like to point out now that a telegram of two words from France to Great Britain cost, at the minimum rate, 4d., whereas a telegram from Great Britain to France cost, at the minimum rate, 10d. That ought to be remedied. Then the time had, he considered, arrived when the postage from here to France should be reduced to 1d. or 1½d. He was sure that if the noble Lord approached the French Postmaster-General on this question he would be met half-way.

* MR. McCRAE (Edinburgh, E.)

said he hoped the promised discussion on the Report would not be delayed to a late period of the session. As to telephones, did he understand the noble Lord to say that an opportunity would be afforded for discussing the policy of the Government on that subject on the same Vote as on the telegraphs?


said that they would come on separately.


said that they ought to know at the earliest possible date what the Government proposed to do in regard to the acquisition of the whole telephone system of the country.


said he congratulated the Postmaster-General on the reforms he had introduced during the last year; but he wished to point out that the assurances which the noble Lord had given the Committee in regard to the postage to Australia were very unsatisfactory. Two years ago the late Postmaster-General promised exactly the same thing. They were told that Canada had suffered very considerably from the large numbers of letters which had been sent from there to Australia and which had been overcharged in postage. Immediately on receiving that information he communicated with Lord Strathcona, who telegraphed to the Postmaster General of the Dominion as to how the system had worked between Canada and Australia; and Lord Strathcona received from the Postmaster-General of Canada the following cable— Representations to Lord Stanley about penny postage between Canada and Australia not working unsatisfactorily absolutely unfounded. First two or three months noticed increase in short-paid letters, then this entirely ceased and is now working without a flaw. He had a letter from Mr. Barton, the late Premier of the Australian Commonwealth, practically saying the same thing, and he thought that the penny postage to Australia should be established at once. He wished to ask his right hon. friend the Postmaster-General as to what he was doing to establish a universal penny post. He would urge that efforts should be made to establish cheap postage between Great Britain and other European countries. At present it cost 2½d. to send a letter from Dover to Calais, whilst the rate to India and China was only 1d. The postage between England and France should be the inland rate of the country of origin, as was the ease between the United States and Canada. He did not think they were making full use of their opportunities for developing friendly relations with France by continuing to charge several times as much for postage to France as for postage to Jersey. As regarded money orders, he complained that the rate from England to France was much higher than the rate from France to England. The amount for which in England 6d. would have to be paid would be covered in France by a charge of 1d. That was a ridiculous state of affairs. In Germany the Post Office delivered money of which it was the medium of transmission at the payee's address without making any addition to the original charge. He thought some similar arrangement might be made with advantage in this country, and it was a reform which would commend itself to the whole country. He wished to draw attention also to the vexatious manner in which the present restrictions on the conveyance of samples operated, and he would urge that greater facilities should be allowed.

Whilst the Post Office was, on the whole, the best and greatest in the world, it was, he was afraid, guilty of meanness in some details. At present it was the custom to exact fines from holders of postal orders not presented within the proper period. A case had come to his notice in which a man had had to pay 7s. 2d. in order to obtain the value of a 7s. order. That was ridiculous. No Jew ever behaved so badly as that. The Post Office had the use of the money for a considerable time, and made a charge for it. Fines on postal orders amounted to an enormous sum. He trusted the matter would receive attention. In the case of prepaid reply telegraph forms not used within two months the Post Office refused to refund the money. That, too, was, he thought, hardly worthy of the Post Office. The fee for the registration of letters might be reduced with advantage from 2d. to 1d. In the case of letters insufficiently stamped, double the deficiency was charged. That was grossly unfair. Again, the Post Office not only destroyed an embossed stamp which was pasted on a letter, but surcharged as if the letter had not been stamped at all. The heavy fines for insufficient postage should be abolished.

Complaint was made by many hon. Members of the great delay in the morning delivery of letters. His view was that this delay would be greatly mitigated if there were three classes of postmen—the first class to deliver letters, the second newspapers, and the third parcels. Another reform he would commend to his noble friend was the placing of letter-boxes in all through trains. In every part of the Continent letter-boxes were to be found on the trains, while in this country letters could be posted on only very few trains. Another small matter that could easily be remedied was this—that the British stamp was the only stamp in the world which did not bear upon its face the country of origin. It was also desirable that there should be an international stamp, or, at any rate, that one should be able to purchase the stamps of other countries at the General Post Office. In Ceylon, in India, and in parts of Australia notices would be found bearing the words "British stamps sold here;" but there was no place in connection with the British Post Office where foreign stamps could be purchased. Another reform which had been advocated in the House was the right of senders to recall letters posted by mistake. In other countries, if anyone posted a letter by mistake he went to the postmaster, wrote out the exact address on the letter, and stated its contents, and the postmaster at once stopped the letter, and if satisfied as to the writer would hand it back. From the British Post Office letters once posted could never be recovered. Then there was the question of lotteries. The British Post Office authorities contended that they had no authority to open letters. Vast masses of letters were posted in this country for German lotteries, which it would be perfectly easy for the authorities to identify. In Canada and the United States the law secured absolute immunity to postmasters and they seized thousands of letters.

Then there was the question of getting compensation For Post Office blunders. Post Office officials on the whole were very honourable and respectable men, but in spite of that there were a number of convictions for stealing letters, and if a Post Office official was found with stolen orders they were not given up. The Postmaster-General was surrounded by rules and regulations which absolved him from all responsibility. He thought a little pressure might be used to secure the reform of the law in this direction. In telegrams the most astounding and wicked blunders were made, for which there was no redress. Another matter was the desirability of securing a penny postage to Egypt. Letters could be sent for a penny to Singapore and many of the China stations, but immediately a traveller reached Egypt his letters cost 2½d. He could not understand why his noble friend did not immediately remedy this grievance. Then there was the enormously high charge for the postage of magazines. Very often more was charged than the cost of the magazine, while newspapers 21b. in weight were carried for ½d. In New Zealand magazines to the weight of 8oz. went through the post for a penny, and it would be a great boon to the people of this country if they could get their magazines through the post at a more reasonable rate.


thought the announcement by the Postmaster-General concerning the offer he had made to Australia ought, on the whole, to be received with gratitude, and he hoped that in a corresponding spirit the noble Lord would make overtures to the Government of Canada to facilitate the introduction of British newspapers and literature into the Dominion on terms enabling them to compete with the newspapers of the United States. He feared the hon. Member who had just spoken would have to remain in the House for at least fifty years to see many of the suggestions he had made carried into effect. There was one short way of securing his ends, and that was that when the present Postmaster-General in due course was elevated to a more responsible position the hon. Member for Canterbury should be his successor. With regard to the halfpenny postage, some consideration ought to be given by the Post Office to the fact that, while heavy sixpenny newspapers weighing several pounds went for a halfpenny, the same rate was charged for the much smaller papers chiefly read by the working classes. This rule really acted as a discrimination in favour of the wealthy, who were accustomed to purchase these heavy illustrated publications. Many of the reforms initiated by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer were recognised as being of great advantage; and, although the noble Lord had modestly disclaimed having brought forward any great reform himself, it was recognised in the Department that his bright and breezy personality had introduced a greater stimulus to activity and reform than had hitherto been apparent.

He had had a communication placed in his hands from a comparatively poor man of excellent character in the Highlands of Scotland, whose daughter in 1901 passed with credit her examination for entrance into the service as a Post Office clerk. Since that date she had been discharging her duties in a fashionable South Coast town, but was still in the "learners' class." with a salary of 5s a week. This young woman's father an mother, after the honourable manner of Scotch parents, had denied themselves in order to give their daughter a good education, and since the examination in 1901 they had continued the course of self-denial for the purpose of supplementing her salary of 5s. a week. It was not right that well-educated young women should remain for a couple of years on such a salary. The amount was not sufficient to make both ends meet, and it exposed the girls to great temptations. He hoped the noble Lord would look into this question, as the instance he had given was by no means an isolated case. He further desired to bring under the notice of the Postmaster-General a matter affecting the post office in his own constituency. Last autumn, acting strictly according to the regulations of the Department, the deliverers in the post office at Dundee made a respectful representation, which passed through the hands of the postmaster, and was known to have been forwarded to Edinburgh. In that presentation they stated that their department was understaffed and overworked, and that the records of the office would show that a number of young men had broken down in health owing to the conditions under which they worked the early deliverers not being allowed sufficient time for meals before they were sent out again. What he wished to remark upon was the dilatory movement of the Department in dealing with complaints of that sort. Some weeks ago, in reply to a Question, the Postmaster-General stated that the representation had been received, and yet, although it was dated September last, he had just had a telegram saying that nothing had been done to remedy the matters complained of. The noble Lord, who was a capable man, ought to stir up the officials of the Department, and see that when proper representations were made they were not put into a pigeon-hole or filed without having been investigated, and that if on investigation the complaints were proved to be well-founded they were promptly dealt with. It would be far better to say "no" to an application and say it promptly, than to hang up the matter indefinitely and keep the men in a state of suspense. He hoped the noble Lord, who, he believed, was the right man in the right place, would act vigorously in his Department, and see that these matters were promptly dealt will.

MR. H. C. RICHARDS (Finsbury, E.)

expressed a fear lest the noble Lord, although the right man in the right place, should be "squelched" by the permanent officials in the Department. He desired to draw attention to a grievance suffered by business people, viz., the tampering with their correspondence in the halfpenny post. This practice was indulged in by over zealous officials simply that it might be known that, they had obtained certain excess payments for the Post Office. Recently in a country post office he was told that they had opened the halfpenny letters, and as a result had exacted by excessive distraint the sum of 4s. 2d. from the unfortunate people who received their invoices from London through the halfpenny post. The letters of a firm in his own constituency were sometimes delayed until as late as twelve o'clock, when the weekly or monthly raid was on, in order that their halfpenny letters might be gone through individually. The Postmaster-General had said that certain changes had been made; but the complaint was that when the noble Lord started on the path of common sense he stopped half way on the journey. If common sense prevailed at the Post Office they would not hear of the words "per Pickford" on invoices going for a half penny while the words "forward per Pick-ford" entailed a penny tine. This system of espionage was absolutely indefensible, and he appealed to the right hon. Gentleman to break down these absurd distinctions which harassed commerce, delayed letters, and made officials of the Post Office Shylocks and taxgatherers of the worst description instead of servants of the public. The practice of inflicting a penny fine for adding the word "forward" to "per Pickford" and similar distinctions was unworthy of a great commercial nation, and the noble Lord would go down to posterity as one who had done as much for business people as Mr. Fawcett himself if he would only put a stop to this system and insisted on common sense being used. With regard to colonial and foreign postage, he believed that the Postmaster-General at Washington was personally only too willing to establish a penny rate between England and America. What the Canadians complained of, and what was very inimical to Imperial interests and instincts, was that newspapers from the United States could pass into Canada at a much lower rate than newspapers from this country. The consequence was that the Canadian world was saturated with the American view of matters rather than with the view of the mother country, and the territories in the great North-West were allowed to get their magazines and newspapers from across the border instead of from England, because the Canadian Post Office could not get from this country the same advantages as were offered by the United States. Penny postage with France was not half so important as an arrangement with Australia, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would make every effort to conclude the great system which the Duke of Norfolk gave to the country as a Jubilee present.

He further urged that the regulation with regard to communications on the face of post-cards for transmission inland should be extended to the whole of the Empire. As to letter-boxes on through trains they were really a necessity. It was utterly absurd that a passenger should be unable to post a letter upon the train which he knew was bringing up the London mail. If they could post in the letter-box at the railway stations up to the time of the departure of the train it would not be so bad, but these letter-boxes were cleared and the letters taken away to the post office and then brought, back. There was no reason why they could not be sorted in the train, nor was there any reason why letter-boxes should not be put into the through mail trains, so the passengers on the train might write and post their correspondence while travelling. He asked the noble Lord also to consider the feasibility of a penny post to Egypt. It was absurd that this one place should be the only place to which we could not send a letter for a penny. It was not the Egyptian Post Office which made any difficulty, but those Post Office officials in this country, who never rejoiced so much as when, instead of considering the public and removing these petty obnoxious and trying measures generally, kept, the public at arms length. One point to which he wished to draw attention was the number of hours at which post office officials in rural and local offices were kept at work during the Christmas time. He could give the Postmaster-General the name of a postmaster who in that time of pressure refused to get outside assistance and worked the young men, under twenty-one years of age, twenty-two hours out of the twenty-four for a week before the Christmas morning, with the result that on Christmas morning these poor young men fell asleep on the sacks and were physically incapable of sorting the letters. And this course was pursued solely in order that the postmaster might show that he was able to cope with this enormous delivery without employing extra assistance. In his opinion, in times of pressure, such as Christmas time, twelve hours a day should be the, limit of time to which these men should work.

In regard to the Post Office contracts, which would come in on another Vote, he hoped the Postmaster-General, before the contract with the P. and O. Company expired, would give an opportunity to those who desired to make some strong remarks on the subject to express their views on the way in which the P. and O. service between this country and India was carried on; also with regard to the way passengers on those boats were treated, and generally with regard to the conduct of the company. He appealed to the Postmaster-General to encourage and not discourage the carriage of letters for a halfpenny. He drew attention to the fact that letters weighing two ounces could be, and were, carried by Parliamentary sanction for a halfpenny, and said it was unfair that the public should be mulcted and fined simply because some absurd and antiquated regulations were not carried out. In India a post card could be sent throughout the length and breadth of the land for a farthing, and a letter weighing half an ounce for a halfpenny. In conclusion, he urged the Postmaster-General to remember that the Postal Service existed for the benefit of the country, and not the country for the benefit of the Postal Service.


said before making his own complaint he desired strongly to support that made by the hon. Gentleman opposite as to the delay in the delivery of letters in this country. There was no reason why letters posted in time to catch the night mail from Dublin should not be delivered in London by the morning delivery instead of as at present at mid-day. He had had many complaints as to this.


If the hon. Gentleman would get for me the envelopes of letters so delivered it would greatly help me in making an inquiry.


was understood to assent. Continuing, the hon. Member said he had ventured last year when the Departmental Committee to inquire into the wages of the Post Office officials was appointed to intimate that it would not meet with the approval of and give satisfaction to the men employed in the Postal Service. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire, the predecessor of the noble Lord, however, was callous to all appeals made by hon. Members on behalf of the postal servants, and appointed that Committee to deal with a particular subject. The feeling in the Postal Service at the present moment was more than ever a feeling of deep discontent and dissatisfaction at the manner in which they were being treated. He had in his hand an extract from a letter of one of the most popular postal organisations in London, which dealt with the grievance that existed in this country. While giving evidence before the Committee it was made obvious by the postal servants that they could not look on this Committee as impartial because there was no representative of the working classes, who would be likely to sympathise with or have any knowledge of the views and grievances of the postal servants, upon it. He desired to-day to make an appeal to the noble Lord, and to say that no rest or security would be given to the postal authorities until a Committee of this House was appointed to deal with the whole of the grievances under which the postal servants were now suffering. The extract said— We wish to make it perfectly clear that we do not regard the Committee as in any way an impartial or satisfactory body. We have been informed by Mr. Hanbury that Parliament was our Court of Appeal and we think as State servants our grievances should be decided by a tribunal formed of the peoples' representatives. He agreed with the organisation that sent out that notice, and the noble Lord need not flatter himself that the findings of the Committee would do away with the grievances that now existed. That was the opinion expressed in London. He would now give the opinion expressed in Dublin where the servants of the Post Office had also an organisation. It would be remembered that last year they said distinctly that the constitution of the Committee had caused much dissatisfaction in the service. They had declared that the findings of the Committee which was appointed could nor be accepted as final, and that a Parliamentary Committee was still demanded by the postal servants. It would naturally be expected that he should give some reasons why this demand had been made. He would not attempt to trespass on the prerogatives of English and Scotch Members. He would leave them to bring forward the grievances of the postal servants in England and Scotland. He would deal with the grievances that affected his own country and specially his own constituency. He had been inundated with letters in regard to these grievances, and he had pestered the noble Lord in regard to them more than he wished to do.

The first point he wished to draw attention to was that of those called "learners." The question of learners in Ireland was a serious one. What was the system over there. Young lads were taken into the service in an inordinately large number—more than could possibly be required. They were brought in at 6s. a week, and they were kept working at that wage even when they had mastered the business. They were employed in handling most valuable documents—money orders, etc. What was the result? In several cases petty thefts had been committed by boys earning 6s. a week, lie said that was not right. It was not a wage that the Government should offer to these boys. The Government would say that they were only learners and that they would have the opportunity later of being appointed on the establishment. Yes, but what was the length of time that these youths had to wait. In Dublin they had had to wait in many instances fourteen months before they were appointed permanently; in Belfast they had to wait, twelve months, in Cork ten months; in Derry and Limerick an indefinite period. They very often had to wait until some person died before they were taken on to the permanent stag, lie would appeal to the noble Lord not to bring these young men into the service of the Post Office unless he could hold out the hope of some reasonable chance of promotion. The hon. Member for Dundee had instanced the ease of a young lady who two years ago entered the service and was working still at the miserable salary of 5s. a week. She had not yet received a permanent appointment. That was not a system that should be allowed to go on. It was nothing less than sweating. It was a method of getting cheap labour, and he said that a big Department like the Post Office should be above such a system. They should be prepared to pay learners a proper salary, or not appoint them at all, unless within a reasonable period—say, three months. They should be paid a fair salary when they had to deal with valuable correspondence. There should not be a terrible temptation placed in their way. Young men were very often brought from country districts to London, Dublin, and other large cities, and they were not able to keep body and soul together on the wages they received. He hoped the noble Lord would pay attention to these grievances.

Another class he wished to call attention to was the dual workers. He had brought the case of these men before the noble Lord on several occasions. There were young men who came, into the service and were supposed to be telegraphists and sorters. The practice was that these young men for twelve months were engaged in sorting. At the end of that period, if it suited the convenience of the controller or some other party, a young man who had been engaged as a sorter was clapped down at an instrument and he was expected to be as proficient and expert in the manipulation of the machine as if he had been continuously at the work. The noble Lord had stated that he considered it was the way for bringing about; a competent and proper staff of men. With all due respect he might tell him that he had had some experience himself in the manipulation of a machine, and he knew that if a man were taken away from a machine he had been in the habit of manipulating and put back to it twelve months afterwards he would not be as expert at the work as if he had been continuously engaged at it. He did not think it was fair to these young men that that system should exist. The reply would be that it existed in London and all over England as well. That might be so, but he knew that it did not exist to the same extent as it was carried on in Ireland. He noticed from the Report of the Tweed mouth Commission that it was the intention then that the dual worker should get so many hours a day at the machine and so many hours sorting. The system of taking a man twelve months from the machine was not calculated to develop the service or to promote the interest of the public. What was the result? If a young man made a mistake he was hauled up before his superiors, a black mark was put against him, and he was probably on that account declared not eligible for promotion. It might be that he was riot an expert operator and did not give the satisfaction expected. He held it was not in the interest of the service that such a system should be carried on. He quoted what the Irish Times and Evening Mail had said in condemnation of the system, pointing out that both of these papers generally supported the Government. He hoped the noble Lord would pay some deference to the opinions of these journals. He could quote from the Freeman's Journal to the same effect. The fact was that the whole Press of Dublin had complained over and over again with reference to the system of dual work. He had shown that it was not for the advantage either of the worker or of the public generally.

The hon. Member for Dundee had alluded to the long hours worked by the Post Office officials in Scotland, and the hon. Gentleman who preceded him spoke with reference to Christmas pressure. He wished to state to the Committee what was taking place every day in Dublin. It was promised at the time of the Tweedmouth Commission that split duties would be ns far as possible abolished. He had brought this question before the noble Lord, who stated in reply that the promise had been complied with in Dublin. He could assure the noble Lord, from the information he had received, that the system did exist. He hoped the noble Lord when he heard the facts would not tolerate its continuance. It was no unusual thing in Dublin for men to go on duty at five in the morning and to be kept for two hours. After the pressure was over they were sent away, and they came back at eleven o'clock for two or perhaps three hours. They went away at two and came back at four to work on to eight. He asked any Member of the House to say whether that was a fair system, or one which should be tolerated in connection with the Postal Service. If the men were practically in the service of the Post Office from five in the morning till eight at night, what time had they to educate their minds, to take physical exercise, or, in fact, to do anything but go home and sit at the fireside or rest on the sofa? A Committee of this House was asked for last year to inquire into the grievances, but the noble Lord's predecessor did not rise to the occasion. Last year he stated that this question would come up year after year, and the time of the House would be wasted discussing it until it was taken up and dealt with in a thorough manner. The Postmaster-General had been spoken of in glowing terms, and he trusted that his term of office would be marked by reforms which would give satisfaction to all concerned. He did not wish to flatter the noble Lord, but he knew that he had a great name among postal servants. He hoped he would maintain that name by showing that he was anxious to ameliorate the condition of those in the service of the Post Office, making it what it should be, the model employer in the country. It was stated that these men were to get nine hours rest, but it was well known that in the United Kingdom there was no such system. In some cases they might get nine hours rest, but, as a general rule, this arrangement was not carried out as it should be.

The hon. Member for Dundee also complained with respect to Scotland of what there was also reason to complain of in Ireland, namely, the depletion of the staff. He was satisfied that it was not the Government who wished to do that. It was done by officials at the head of affairs who insisted on cutting down the staff in every possible direction, so as to show what economists they were. The result was that the messages were delayed, because there was no one present to answer the signal. Press messages were also delayed. That was a very serious matter, and should be dealt with immediately. Since the war broke out between Russia and Japan a special staff of men had been appointed in the Dublin office, but he believed it was the opinion of the supervisors that the additional staff found sufficient employment in dealing with the ordinary work. He himself had worked on into Sunday morning dealing with war telegrams, in the production of his paper and knew the pressure, and he insisted that it was not right that the public service should suffer in the way it did.

An even more important question he wished to raise was in reference to the manner of filling up the appointments in the post and telegraph service in Ireland. He had no hesitation in saying that intelligence and efficiency did not get the promotion they deserved. Favouritism was rampant in the service, and he declared that that had been proved up to the hilt. The noble Lord had been imposed upon by his under-officials in a recent case which he had brought before him, which was a perfect scandal. No encouragement was given to young men to look for promotion, which they had a right to expect. Last year, on the 23rd of March, he had brought this question about promotion before the noble Lord's predecessor. He was satisfied with the reply at the time; but he ought to have taken it with the proverbial grain of salt. The answers given by the Postmaster-General were really the answers of the subordinates in his office, and he thought that it was the duty of the Postmaster-General to go into these matters personally. On 7th May last he put another Question to the then Postmaster-General on the same subject, and the reply of the right hon. Gentleman was— I have nothing to add to the answer which I pave to the hon. Member on this subject on 23rd March, beyond stating that the officer to whom he is supposed to refer has not been appointed to any superior grade. She has been lent temporarily to the Central Telephone Exchange, for work for which she has special qualifications. Then on 19th April this year he put a Question on the same subject, and the noble Lord replied— The lady to whom the hon. Member is understood to refer has been appointed to be first-class assistant supervisor in the Central Telephone Exchange, a post for which during her temporary employment at the Central Exchange she showed herself to be fully qualified. He was not finding fault with the appointment, but with the favouritism displayed. This girl was appointed simply because she had strong friends at Court. Such a system should not be allowed to exist as appointing individuals over the heads of seniors who were equally qualified. He dwelt on this case because it showed how favouritism and nepotism were triumphant, how ability was discouraged, and efficiency was neglected. The Telegraph Chronicle commenting on this case said— Pledges given in the House of Commons are set aside, and Postmasters-General are given answers at variance with facts. We commend this incident to Lord Stanley. He is young to the work, and is an honourable man. He should demand an explanation from his friends at the Central Telephone Office, as it is known that the lady in question boasted before she left the Central Telephone Office she was to be promoted to the rank of supervisor at the Telephone Exchange. That was what was taking place in England, but something similar was occurring in Ireland at the same time. He would read an extract from a letter he had received from one of his own constituents— As a direct result of the system of promotion, a set of men have got to the head of affairs in the Dublin Sorting Office who are not able to fill their duties creditably. An instance of this is their blundering incapacity in handling the American mails landed at Queenstown. The Cunard Company supplies a special service when the English portion of the mail is landed at Queenstown, yet the controller of the Dublin Sorting Office will not supply ample staff, with the result that large portions of every mail are sent unsorted to Liverpool and London. A man with no knowledge of the Dublin office was promoted to the rank of first-class assistant superintendent over the heads of all those senior to him on the clerks class, and over all those holding the rank of second-class assistant superintendent. This man has shown no special ability since lie came to Dublin. He has never performed any duties of any importance without assistance, and at the present time he is performing a duty with the assistance and guidance of a Dublin-trained second-class assistant superintendent. That was the manner in which in the service men with special qualifications were passed over. Character and ability stood for nothing. He was informed that in that case 117 men had been passed over who were senior to the man appointed. When he brought the subject before the House he was told that there was not one of these passed over who were suitable for promotion, and he said at the time that that statement was not correct. In those promotions reliable men in the clerks class and the second-class assistant superintendents had been passed over for junior men with less ability and experience. His correspondent further said that— Quite a feature of the promotion was the selection of one of those who was principally concerned in the Corcoran defalcations. The controller who was censured in that case had his salary increased, and his status improved.

And, it being half-past Seven of the clock the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.

Resolution to be reported upon Monday next; Committee also report Progress; to sit again this evening.