§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £6,920,538, 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, 1908, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Post Office Services, the Expenses of Post Office Savings Banks, and Government Annuities and Insurances, and the Collection of the Post Office Revenue."
§ THE POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Lord STANLEY, Lancashire, Westhoughton)
said his right hon. friend the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he held the office of Postmaster-General, instituted the practice, which commended itself to the Committee, of making at the commencement of the discussion on the Estimates a general statement as to the work performed by the Department over which he presided; and he proposed, with the consent of the Committee, to follow the same course. He would endeavour to be as short as possible, but it was rather difficult in the present instance to be so for two reasons. In the first place, it had been a somewhat exceptional year in the Post Office with regard to changes and innovations, and secondly, there was a feature in the administration of that Office which particularly called for comment, and that was the action which he took with regard to what was called the Bradford Committee. He proposed to deal with that last, and to enumerate first, as shortly 1351 as he could, the work on which the Post Office had been engaged.
There were two matters to which he would refer at the outset; one was the agreement they had come to with the National Telephone Company. It would be remembered that last year, when he had the honour of introducing the Estimates, he told the House that he hoped before the year was over to have come to some arrangement, subject to the consent of the House, for the amalgamation of the Post Office system and the National Telephone Company's system, or for the taking over of the National Telephone Company's system by the Government. That agreement was being subjected to a trial, so to speak, before a Committee upstairs, and as it would in due course come down to this House for confirmation or the reverse by the House as a whole, he need not refer to that further.
Another matter which last year occupied the attention of the House for a short time in the early hours of one morning was the passing of the Wireless Telegraphy Bill. That Bill was only a temporary one, and would come to the end of its existence in August next year. The Postmaster-General then would, he thought, be wise in his generation if, before going into any final legislation with regard to wireless telegraphy, he gave this Bill another year's work to see whether improvements could be made, for this reason. It was not until they began to grant licences that they realised the endless difficulties there were, difficulties which had hardly been foreseen. It was not until February this year that, having got all the different applications and having considered each branch of the applications, they were able to begin the issue of the licences. The hon. and gallant Member for Newington had asked him for a Return which would give him all the statistics with regard to the licences so far granted. This Return he had been only too glad to give him, and he trusted it would prove of interest to the House. There was only one thing he needed to add to that report, and it was an assurance which he hoped the House would accept. No single licence had been given or refused without the full consent or approval of the Admiralty on whose 1352 behalf, as a question almost of national defence, he asked the House to pass the Bill last year. He had not brought down with him the Return which the hon and gallant Member asked him for about a week ago, but he promised to have it got ready as quickly as he could and it would be submitted to the House. He promised there should be no secret.
There were two small points dealt with in a Bill of the previous session, viz., the cumulative poundage on postal orders and the use of embossed stamps for prepayment of postage. They had instituted an official parcel post to America. Before the parcels post was provided for by an arrangement with a private express carrier company to America. He was glad to say they had been able to come to an agreement with the Deputy Postmaster-General of America by which there was to be an official parcel post service between the United Kingdom and America. They had also made considerable progress with the interchange of postal orders with the Colonies. He would ask the House to allow him to pass a small Bill after twelve o'clock which was connected with this question, because he did not think it could be called controversial. At present postal orders were not interchangeable between this country and Egypt and certain British protectorates; but he thought it would be found an advantage to hon. Members travelling abroad, and to many others as well, to have this inter-changeability, and he would ask the House to allow an Act to be passed which would enable them to carry this into execution. They had instituted a system of sea-sorting on board the Atlantic liners, which would be found to give a considerable acceleration in the delivery of letters. At the present time, however, it was hardly perfected. The Cunard Company had not, he believed, given their adhesion to the scheme, but he had no doubt whatever they would be able to come to terms with them and thus be able to accelerate the delivery of letters from America.
One other matter might perhaps appeal to hon. Members. It was the question of the use of motors in the Post Office service. He was glad to say that every year seemed to prove that we could 1353 rely more and more on motor services for the purposes of delivery, especially of parcels. Perhaps the House would like to know that they had at the present moment motors running between London and Epping, London and Redhill, Manchester and Liverpool, Birmingham and Warwick, Birmingham and Worcester, Newcastle and Sunderland, and Northampton and Hitchin, as well as between various district offices in London. Arrangements had also been made for motor services to Hastings, Brighton, and Eastbourne. In every single case the service had been reliable; it had been much cheaper, and much faster. There was one other reform that hon. Members might have noticed, namely the facility of deposits not exceeding £1 at sight from the Post Office Savings Bank. There had been rather a cumbrous, and somewhat expensive, manner of dealing with these urgent withdrawals before. It had to be done by telegram, since by the ordinary method it might take three days to get a small amount out. He had changed that to this extent, that any person could now obtain any sum not exceeding £1 from any post office at once, subject of course to producing; his Savings Bank book and establishing his identity. The book then had to be sent to London, being subsequently returned to the depositor by post.
§ SIR GEORGE BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
Is the Post Office responsible if it is paid to the wrong person?
§ LORD STANLEY
said he thought so. There was one other reform which, perhaps, he might mention, because it had been worked and most successfully carried out by officials in the Post Office. It was the complete revision and practical rewriting of the Post Office Guide. In the new guide, from which had been eliminated very much useless information, would be found all the information that could be reasonably expected in as concise and convenient a form as possible. Another reform had been the introduction of the penny post from this country to Australia. Australia was not able to meet them in the same way as they met her, except to this extent. While we reduced our rate 1354 to our domestic rate they reduced the rate to this country to the level of their domestic rate of two pence. They gave a promise, however, that when their finances allowed, they would reduce the postage to the same amount as ours. It might interest hon. Members to see what effect the reduction of the rate had had. Taking the twelve weeks ending June 24th and October 20th, 1904, the combined average for the two periods was 95,302 letters. The average for the twelve weeks ending June 23rd, 1905, was 111,794, or an increase in 1905 over 1904 of no less than 17.3 per cent. That, at all events, showed that what they had been able to do had appealed to many people in this country, and he could not help hoping it had been of most advantage to the poor, enabling them to communicate with their friends abroad more frequently.
Now he came to the Bradford Committee, and he hoped the House would allow him to put his case to the best of his ability and as fully as he could. The House must allow him to go back to the beginning of this agitation. It began with applications in this House for a Parliamentary Committee to deal with the question of Post Office wages. It was refused by his right hon. friend the present Chancellor of the Exchequer for reasons which he then considered adequate, and he felt perfectly certain that recent events would not have made him see any cause to differ from the opinion he then expressed. He must be allowed to quote his words. Speaking on April 30th, he said—I hold as strongly as I have ever done that a House of Commons Committee is not a body for such an inquiry. No one can have a higher respect for this House or its reputation, and for the spirit which leads so many Gentlemen to give up so much time to public work, and it is therefore with no disrespect for the House of Commons or its Committee that I repeat for myself and my colleagues that we are unalterably opposed to anything in the nature of a Select Committee of the House of Commons for a decision of this Question. Hon. Members know and it is no use blinking our eyes to, the amount of pressure which is brought to bear or is attempted to be brought to bear upon Members on both sides of the House by public servants and by Post Office servants especially, … and even if the machinery by which Select Committees are appointed were such as to enable us to secure a Select Committee composed of thoroughly impartial men who had committed themselves by no expression of opinion 1355 to one side or the other, I still think it would not be fair to pick out fifteen Members of this House and make them marked men for the pressure which is now exercised more or less over the whole Assembly.That was the reason for which his right hon. friend rightly refused to give a Parliamentary Committee to inquire into these grievances. At the same time he recognised that there were certain anomalies which wanted looking into, and that there might be certain points of hardship which ought to be met. With that view he appointed a Committee which was now known as the Bradford Committee to report to him, and to give him the benefit of their advice. Hon. Members and many other people besides looked upon the constitution of this Committee as being that of an arbitration committee, and considered that the result should be accepted by both sides as an award which was final and con-conclusive. He must at once protest against any idea of this being considered as an arbitration committee, because to have an arbitration committee they must have both sides agreeing to it as such. In this case he hoped to be able to show that neither side looked upon it as an arbitration committee at all. His right hon. friend in suggesting a Committee said he would suggest a small body of men, he believed not more than five, of practical business experience who would consent to examine the scale of wages, and who would report for his advice and information as to whether they considered the wages adequate or not. Later in the debate the hon. Member for Battersea rather taunted him with by this means giving up his responsibility. His right hon. friend answered him in words conclusively showing that he did not think he would be bound definitely to accept any or all of the recommendations that might be made. The words he then used were—I do not think a Minister of the Crown derogates from his own authority of the dignity of the House by seeking advice from those competent to give it. The course I propose to adopt will not lessen my responsibility, but will enable me to come to a decision with the concurrence of the Treasury in the light of fuller information.He was sanguine enough to think that the Committee would allow that as far 1356 as his right hon. friend was concerned he did not look upon this as an arbitration committee. But there was also the side of the postal employees to consider, and they had committed themselves, not only by the speeches of their leaders, but by various circulars and newspapers connected with their various associations. There could, at all events, be said to be no ambiguity about their language. The following paragraph in a circular sent round summed up the position of the Postal Telegraph Clerks' Association in August, 1903—With practical unanimity our Parliamentary friends advise, while readily admitting the incomplete nature of the inquiry and the objectionable constitution of the Committee, that we should give evidence.This was the paragraph to which he intended to call attention—We have accepted this advice, but we wish to make it perfectly clear that we do not regard the Committee in any sense as an Arbitration Board, neither shall we relax our efforts to obtain a Parliamentary inquiry.
§ MR. BAYLEY (Derbyshire, Chesterfield)
On behalf of the Post Office officials I accepted the Government's proposal at the time.
§ LORD STANLEY
Did the hon. Member accept it as an inquiry into the circumstances, or as an arbitration.
§ MR. BAYLEY
My opinion, and the opinion of the House, was that it was an arbitration to settle for the time being a difficult question and we were willing to support it for the time being.
§ LORD STANLEY
said no doubt his right hon. friend would be quite willing to state his case. Undoubtedly the men in their circular said deliberately—We have decided to accept this advice, but we wish to make it clear that we do not regard it as an arbitration committee.
§ LORD STANLEY
said that the Ron. Member for Derbyshire said he accepted it on behalf of them all as an arbitration. 1357 Against that on May 8th, 1903, it was stated in the Telegraph Chronicle—It was then decided that Mr. Bayley should state clearly that the Committee was unsatisfactory and would not be accepted as final.Either one or the other was wrong. The Committee was formed. Hon. Members knew the composition of it. It was formed by his right hon. friend before he came into office, and he was asked whether or not he wished it to proceed. He stated that a pledge having been given to the House he naturally had no wish to depart from the course his right hon. friend had adopted. The Committee, therefore, sat and reported, as the House knew. It would be as well if he pointed out the terms of reference to the Committee. They were—To inquire into the scales of pay received by the under mentioned classes of established Post Office servants and to report whether, having regard to the conditions of their employment and to the rates current in other occupations, the remuneration of certain specified classes is adequate.Surely if that meant anything it meant that the Committee should endeavour to ascertain the wages in other trades or employment corresponding, or that could be said to correspond, with the work of Post Office officials, and that the rates of wages should be compared with a view to seeing whether there was any failure on the part of the Post Office to pay its officials up to the scale. He was bound to say at once that judging from one paper of their organisation—he would be perfectly fair—they dissociated themselves from any idea that their wages should be compared with anybody else's. In one of their periodicals, the Post of August 29th, 1903, it was stated—Not only do we object to the composition of the Committee, but we take the strongest exception to its terms of reference. The inquiry as to whether our wages are adequate or otherwise becomes a farce if their adequacy is to be judged by the standard of wages of the open labour market. No such comparison would be reasonable or fair. There is no other employer who fixes his own prices or makes an annual profit of £4,000,000 sterling. There is no other class of work which can be compared to the Post Office work, neither any other employee who can be compared with the Post Office servants. … Surely Mr. Chamberlain does not think we shall regard such an inquiry as final. If he does, the sooner his mind is disabused the better.1358 Now the House would see that at all events the men did not wish their case to be made the subject of any comparison with outside employment. It was undoubtedly clearly hid down by his right hon. friend that such a comparison should be made, and it was on such a comparison, he believed, that this House was entitled to judge of the amount which ought to be paid to its servants. The House would have noticed that, under the terms of reference, the comparison was absolutely essential. But the Committee did not see their way to carry out this part of the reference, for in paragraph 95 of the Report they say—We have not seen our way to obtain any specific figures as to the comparative rates of wages current in other occupations. So far as this portion of the reference to us, we came to the conclusion that no really useful purpose would be served by asking employers of labour to furnish precise details of the wages paid by them. Certain official information is already available, being obtained and published from time to time by the Board of Trade. This information supplemented by our own experience, affords more reliable data than any particulars we could hope to obtain in the way of evidence within the limits of an inquiry of reasonable duration.Now he wished to be fair to both sides. They said that, but what he wished to know was what evidence in the Board of Trade Returns had they got which would show that wages generally had steadily increased or that at the present moment there was a falling-off in the purchasing power of the ordinary daily wage of a workman. The Statistics as to the cost of living recently published by the Board of Trade showed that, while the cost of fuel and light had somewhat increased and rents had somewhat risen, 100 shillings would do in 1900 the work which it took 120 shillings to do in 1882. [An HON. MEMBER: What about fiscal reform?] He had written to the members of the Committee who were employers of labour, asking whether they would be good enough to furnish him with statement, of the wages paid in their own businesses. In some cases he received no answer; and in others he was supplied with the most meagre returns; but, such as they were, they did not lead him to believe that a comparison between those wages and the wages paid to the Post Office servants would be unfavourable to the Post Office.
§ SIR JAMES WOODHOUSE
asked whether the returns received by the noble Lord would be laid upon the Table.
§ SIR JAMES WOODHOUSE
said that, in accordance with the ruling of the Speaker the other day, any documents referred to by a Minister with a view to influencing the House must be laid on the Table.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
Is not this the rule, that, while a Minister may refer to a document, it is only when he quotes from it that he is obliged to lay it upon the Table?
§ LORD STANLEY
said he did not rely upon these communications; he withdrew his reference to them, and he asked the House to consider what he had said about them as not having been said. The Bradford Committee further stated that they thought the Post Office servants were justified in asking for more wages, not only because of the arduousness of their labours, but because of the social position they occupied. That was a basis for a calculation of wages which he could not accept for one moment. It meant that, though the Post Office paid their servants well for the work they did, it should pay them extra for the social position they obtained through being in the service of the State. The Committee went outside the terms of their reference in recommending the creation of more higher posts—without taking evidence of any sort or kind on the matter—for which there was no work, in order simply to increase the prospects of promotion. For instance, in one department the reform scheme of the Committee would mean an increase of the overseers from 250 to 900. He thought he was justified in refusing to accept such a recommendation as being outside the terms of reference to the Committee.
As the Committee had instituted no comparison between the wages paid to Post Office servants and the wages paid 1360 in what he might call comparable employments outside, he was obliged to do so himself. He thought it would be admitted that bank clerks were a better class of men and performed a better class of work than sorters and telegraphists; and yet he found that in some of the London banks the unpromoted clerk did not reach the maximum pay of the sorter and telegraphist. The railway clearinghouse might certainly be compared with the central telegraph office. At twenty-two years of age the telegraphist got £76 the clearing-house clerk £70; at thirty-six the telegraphist might reach the maximum of £160; the clearing-house clerk did not reach his maximum, £150, until he was fifty-six. He was permitted by some of the railway companies to state that telegraphists in their employment never went beyond 35s. a week. The maximum wages of the Post Office telegraphist were, in London, 62s. per week, and in the large provincial towns, 52s. to 56s. a week. The educational qualification of a certificated elementary school teacher was very much higher than that which was required of sorters and telegraphists; and yet the male certificated teachers in London, if untrained, reached only to the same maximum as the sorters, and telegraphists, whilst those teachers, who were trained in colleges rose to only £15 higher. The hours of teachers were better; they had longer holidays; but their position as regarded sick-leave and sick-pay was not as good. In Hull the highest grade of certificated teachers received £140, the sorting clerks and telegraphists received £141; in Swansea the comparative figures were £135 and. £136, and in Exeter £130 and £136. The only comparison which was not entirely upon his side was that with the clerks in the cable companies, who were paid more than the Post Office cable-room operators; but in the case of the cable companies' operators the work was more arduous and there was liability to be sent abroad at any moment. He had, however, granted an increase of pay to the cable-room operators. Compositors had also been cited in comparison, but he found from the Board of Trade Returns that their average pay was about the same as that of sorting clerks and telegraphists, and that 5 per cent, were always out of work. The 1361 Post Office employee was never out of work, and received pension, sick-pay and leave on full pay, which were never given to the compositor. That constituted a great benefit and put him on a higher standard of pay than was given to the compositor in London.
He now came to the postmen. In their interview with him, there were two classes with whom the postmen wished to make comparison—sorting clerks and telegraphists and bank messengers. The comparison with sorting clerks and telegraphists was rather amusing, because the first thing the sorting clerk said was that nothing would induce him to accept the wage given to a mere postman, and if the latter's pay was put up to the former's, it would immediately be necessary to increase the pay of the sorting clerk. He had got particulars with regard to bank messengers. As a matter of fact, he thought the bank messenger was really a higher class, and had more responsibility than any postman, corresponding rather to the overseer; but he found that, except in one or two exceptional cases, the bank messengers had not got so high a maximum as the postman. More than that, a bank messenger was bound to find security before he was engaged. As regards the police, the comparison was slightly in support of the postmen's contention; but he would ask the House to realise the difference in the circumstances of employment of policemen and postmen and the difference between the requirements which the Post Office exacted and those demanded by the Commissioner of Police. The London police had to be 5ft. 9in. in height, whereas the Post Office took men at 5ft-4in.; and each year more than 2,700 policemen were injured by being assaulted in the discharge of their duties, which did not fall to the postmen's lot. Again, in the last four years there were 3,087 candidates, of whom 2,319 were qualified in every respect, for 695 places as learners, or more than four to one for every vacant post, and the applicants knew perfectly well what the conditions were. Therefore, it could not be said that on the part of the public at large there was that distrust as to the proper payment of the Post Office employees 1362 which they were to understand existed. The Committee said that it appeared to them that the adequacy of the terms now obtained must be tested by the number and character of those who offered, by the capacity they showed on trial, and finally by their contentment. The Committee found that there was no lack of suitable candidates, from whom the best were selected on examination. The supply ran short only during the South African War, and that mainly in the industrial centres. Further, there was no complaint as to their capacity, but that there was widespread discontent. If they had as many men as they wanted, of the right quality, was it not putting a premium on discontent if they said the only thing which justified giving them an increase in their wages was the existence of that discontent?
Briefly summarised, what had been done by the recent revision in increasing the wages of Post Office officials had been as follows:—In London, male sorters and telegraphists, a shilling per week increase in the minimum to 100; age increase of 3s. a week at 25 for 5,000; higher maximum for 1,100; and additions of 2s. 6d. a week for 280 men engaged in working telegraph circuits direct to the Continent. As to provincial sorting clerks and telegraphists, an improved minimum of 1s. a week had been given to 450; an age increase at 25, varying from 2s. 6d. to 1s. a week, had been given to 6,300; an improvement in the maximum to 350; and 2s. a week addition for twenty men engaged in working direct wires to the Continent. In the case of postmen in London, 200 had received an increase at the minimum of Is. a week; 1,500 had had their pay increased by various amounts; 600 had been benefited by a concession as to the minimum rate of pay at twenty-five years and over In the provinces, 800 postmen had had an improvement in the minimum of Is. a week; 3,100 had benefited by various amounts under the concession as to counting unestablished service; 4,600 had benefited under the age minimum, and 4,700 by an improved maximum. In the past the scale of pay had been based mainly on the amount of work done at the particular office, but he had decided 1363 that the cost of living in the particular neighbourhood should also be taken into account. He did not think the recommendations of the Bradford Committee for a scale based on the population in different areas was at all satisfactory, because the cost of living varied in towns of the same size, and he had determined to have a complete revision of all the scales in connection with the various towns of this country, taking into account the cost of living, and he hoped to announce alterations shortly. Hon. Members sympathised with the case of the rural postmen who suffered hardship in having a lower scale of wages than the town postman, although starting from the town. He had changed that, and the rural postmen starting from towns were now on precisely the same scale as the town postmen.
He had also improved the condition of other rural postmen, hitherto on a fixed wage, by increasing that wage, and at the same time, in order to give them an incentive to do good work, had placed them on a scale by which they would rise to a higher wage. The total of the ultimate benefit would be—in London, 10,700 sorters and telegraphists would receive £54,000; 7,500 postmen £26,600; and in the provinces, 15,600 sorting clerks and telegraphists £61,800; 29,500 postmen, £94,500; 800 members of the supervising force £7,000, and 14,100 men in smaller classes plus additional cost for extra duty, Sunday pay, etc., for the whole of the staff, £128,400 per annum.
§ LORD STANLEY
said the total number was 78,200 persons, who would receive an ultimate benefit of £372,300 a year. Of female sorting clerks and telegraphists there were about 2,000 in London and 1,800 in the provinces who would ultimately benefit.
§ LORD STANLEY
said that would be the ultimate increase when the whole 1364 scheme was at work. There were 42,900 persons who were receiving an immediate increase of £224,400. As regarded female labour, 3,800 women would ultimately receive £7,800 a year.
He had endeavoured to show to the best of his ability that the Committee was not an arbitration committee; he had made the comparison which he thought ought to be made between the wages of Post Office employees and the wages of those in outside employment; and he had endeavoured to show by the figures he had last read out that he had at all events done something—he believed all that should be asked—to rectify any shortcomings there might be. But he would ask the House just to consider what was going to be the end of all these demands. This was really a question worthy of consideration on both sides of the House. What were the demands on the public purse for this particular office? It would be within the recollection of the Committee that at a deputation to his right hon. friend and himself one of the men stated that he thought the whole of the £4,000,000 profit, as he regarded it, made by the Post Office employees, ought to be devoted to the payment of those employees.
§ LORD STANLEY
No; that man made a deliberate statement, not on his own account, but as representing a particular section or organisation in the Department. It was repudiated by others present, but it was not the case that the man who made the statement withdrew it, because on January 28th he wrote a letter in which he not only did not withdraw the statement but justified it. The concluding paragraph of that letter was one of which the Committee might well take note—There is only one valid reason which can be urged against the whole of the £4,000,000 being now paid to Post Office workers, their lack of ability to spend the money usefully. But this should not discourage us.That surely was a large demand.
§ LORD STANLEY
said the demands made by employees generally before the Bradford Committee, with the pay of all the supervising classes raised in proportion, would have meant the payment from the Exchequer of no less than £2,500,000 a year. He was entitled to ask when was this to cease. Hon. Members knew better than he how they were being bombarded with applications from Post Office employees and other classes of Civil servants for increases of wages. This had taken a form which was not illegal, but which he could not help thinking was an abuse of their rights, viz., the form of a political threat. They had circulated an appeal in which they expressed very clearly and very frankly their intention, and it was one of which the Committee would have to take note now or it would be much worse in the future. They said—Two-thirds at least of one political Party are in great fear of losing their seats. The swing of the pendulum is against them, and any Member who receives forty or fifty such letters will under present circumstances have to consider very seriously whether on this question he can afford to go into the wrong lobby. This is taking advantage of the political situation.It was indeed, but it was abusing, as it seemed to him, their rights as voters. It was nothing more nor less than blackmail. It as nothing more nor less than asking Members to purchase votes for themselves at the general election at the expense of the public Exchequer. Both sides would have to make up their minds that some means should be devised by which there should not be this continual blood-sucking on the part of the public servants. How it was to be done was not for him to say, but he had suggested, and he still thought, that there would have to be some organisation outside Party politics altogether, and unconnected with and unmoved by Parliamentary and political considerations, to whom such questions should be referred and by whom an impartial opinion should be given.
§ LORD STANLEY
said the Bradford Committee was hardly the kind of body which he should call a permanent Committee to whom these questions ought to be referred. That, he thought, was 1366 what, sooner or later, would have to be done.
He wanted now rather to anticipate a request that would probably be made by hon. Members opposite—that he should appoint a Parliamentary Committee. To that request he would have to give a negative reply, and he would say plainly why. In the first place, there was that paragraph of his right hon. friend's, speech which he read out at the beginning of the discussion, which showed very clearly what pressure he anticipated would be brought upon any Members who might have to deal with these questions. Nothing had happened since that was written to make any Member of the House think that his right hon. friend's opinion on that point was not perfectly justified. In the evidence given before the Committee would be found the whole of the men's case and their demands as clearly as could be wished, and anybody studying that evidence was as competent to judge of the situation as any member of a Select Committee could be. There was also a personal point to which he might refer, viz., that to appoint a Committee would be to place upon its shoulders a burden of responsibility that ought to be borne by the Minister in charge of the Department. Whatever the Committee might say or recommend it was to that Minister alone, with the consent of his colleagues, that the responsibility would belong. If he might use a colloquialism which expressed his meaning better than any other words, he would say that he was not afraid of taking the responsibility of running his own show himself, and he would not put upon fifteen other Members any responsibility which he, personally, was afraid to bear. He had considered the Report and the evidence, and had done what he thought ought to be done to rectify shortcomings. He stood responsible for that and was not afraid of his responsibility. He asked the Committee to approve the action he had taken. He might have taken the easy course of accepting the Committee's Report or appointing a Committee of this House, but, although that might have been popular, it would not, in his opinion, have been a straight course to adopt. He had done what he believed to be fair, just 1367 and honest to the uttermost to all Post Office employees, and he trusted that the Committee would think that, while he had done his best for the employees, he had not been unmindful of the interests of the employer—the British taxpayer.
§ CAPTAIN NORTON (Newington, W.)
said he rose to move the reduction of this Vote which stood in his name for the purpose of drawing attention to the numerous grievances of long-standing connected with the postal service. In doing so he should devote himself to the general aspect of the case, leaving it to hon. Members who followed him in the debate to deal with the different classes for whom they would speak. First of all he would briefly state how the case had arrived at its present position. The postal servants had for many years complained of the conditions under which they performed their duties, and, as far back as the year 1881, an amelioration was proposed when Mr. Fawcett was Postmaster-General, but it was never carried out. Nine years later, under the Postmaster-Generalship of Mr. Raikes, a scheme was brought forward which the Treasury refused to sanction, and it was ultimately only partially carried out. As a result of that there was a demand for a Parliamentary Committee of inquiry, but that demand had never been granted. In the year 1895, owing to the growth both of these grievances and the agitation, they had the Departmental Committee, known as the Tweedmouth Committee, appointed, but, owing to the fact that that Committee was somewhat restricted in its inquiry, in the year 1897 it was followed by the Norfolk-Hanbury Committee. At that time he declared that no good could result from it because it was not the class of Committee which the Post Office servants demanded, nor could they have any confidence in any other Committee except a Parliamentary Committee, seeing that every other kind of Committee had failed. He was right in that contention, and in May, 1903, the late Postmaster-General, whilst combating the proposal to grant a Parliamentary Committee of inquiry, declared his intention of granting what he was pleased to call a business Committee, composed of members from outside this House, and he especially asked 1368 for this class of Committee, giving several reasons. Prominent amongst those reasons were two—namely, that such a Committee would be free from the suspicions of undue influence, and, furthermore, that it would report rapidly and enable him to put matters right. At the time, he condemned this Committee from his place in the House, because he contended that there was no honest belief on the part of the Government in the existence of those grievances amongst the postal officials, and consequently, there was no strenuous desire upon their part to investigate and deal with them; and secondly, he contended that it could not be dealt with more rapidly by an outside Committee than by a Committee of this House.
As regarded what had been said about undue influence, his contention was that so long as the postal officials, or should he say the members of the Civil Service, and for that matter the members of the fighting services, were allowed to maintain a vote, they had precisely the same rights as all other voters in the country to exercise their fullest influence in the defence of their rights, privileges, and interests. He might mention that all classes of all communities, all professions, all trades, all combinations of individuals, such as anti-vaccinationists and so forth, had invariably used their utmost pressure in defence of their interests and views upon Members of the House. It might be said that Civil servants occupied a totally different position. That he fully admitted, but what had they seen of recent years? Not a tendency to deny the constitutional rights of voting to these classes, but, on the contrary, to extend them. Within the last twenty years his hon. friend the Member for Manchester and others had succeeded in obtaining the franchise for no fewer than 40,000 members of the police throughout the country. If it was the desire and wish of the people of this country, and of the taxpayers, to enter into such an arrangement with their Civil servants and fighting forces that they should enter them upon the understanding that they were to be deprived to a certain extent of their civil rights, that was another 1369 question, but it did not apply to the present case.
As to the question of the Committee dealing more speedily with this question than the Members of the House, his contention had again proved accurate. This Committee was promised in May, 1903, and consequently it had taken more than two years since the Committee was promised, nearly two years since it was appointed, nearly a year since the Committee reported, of which as much as three months was consumed in the printing of the Report. Therefore, he thought he was fully justified in saying that the Government had no faith in the existence of those grievances, and that they had no desire to deal with the question, and, in fact, all they wanted was to gain time and feed the postal employees upon vain hope. This Committee had inquired into one class of grievance, and one class only—namely, the question of the rates of wages, leaving absolutely untouched several other great questions such as civil rights, hours of employment, promotion, the sanitary condition of the buildings in which the work was done, special leave, sick leave, and holidays. Those were all questions of which for years the postal employees had had reason to complain. None of those questions had been dealt with by this outside Committee of business men, and he, personally, had condemned that Committee from the outset.
When this Report appeared it was rejected by the Postmaster-General, and upon what grounds? It was rejected upon the grounds that the Committee had not adhered to its terms-of reference. He only needed to quote a paragraph from the Report which showed the view which the Committee took, and to his mind rightly took, in regard to this matter. He wished to point out again that, at the time this Committee was proposed, he stated in the House that the going outside of the House for business men was a distinct slight upon the Members of the House, as if there were not as brilliant and successful business men in the House of Commons as outside of it! Furthermore, there were men in this House who, in addition to business qualifications, enjoyed the esteem and confidence of the public outside. 1370 The Bradford Report was rejected on the ground that the terms of reference were not complied with. In his opinion that was a quibble, and it was a despicable quibble, and it was a means of thrusting on one side this Report of a Committee appointed by the Government themselves. The Government had treated this in the same way as they had treated some other matters, and in the same way as they had treated the late distinguished Chief Secretary for Ireland, who, at the behest of the Government, attempted to bring in a form of Home Rule by a side wind, and when he failed to pull the chestnuts out of the fire they dropped him just as they were now dropping the Report of this Committee! He again asserted that it was simply a quibble, and a despicable quibble, and his justification for that statement was to be found in page 19, in which the Committee stated—We have not seen our way to obtain any specific evidence as to the comparative rates of wages current in other occupations. So far as regards this portion of the reference to us, we came to the conclusion that no really useful purpose would be served by asking employers of labour to furnish precise details of the wages paid by them. Certain official information is already available, being obtain led and published from time to time by the Board of Trade. This evidence, supplemented by our own experience, affords more reliable data than any particulars we could hope to obtain in the way of evidence within the limits of an inquiry of reasonable duration.Moreover, it is difficult to make any valid comparison between a national, postal service and any form of private industrial employment, the entire conditions being necessarily so different; payment by results and promotion and dismissal according to the will of the employer, being inapplicable, if not impossible, under the State.And yet the Postmaster-General brushed aside the whole evidence of that Committee and made it a charge against them that they had failed to comply with the terms of reference. How strange it was, as some writer had said, that men would stoop to do in their collective or corporate capacity things which they would scorn to do as individuals. He would give an illustration which he knew would appeal to the noble Lord. What would the noble Lord think of a great landowner, who for years had had difficulties with his tenantry in connection with the question of a reduction of rent 1371 and having combated the proposal to refer the matter to a Committee of surrounding landowners, did eventually agree to refer the matter to a Committee of expert land agents in the immediate vicinity; and if, when this Committee reported in favour of an all round reduction of rent, averaging 15 per cent., the landlord in question declared, "Oh, I have myself investigated this matter, and I have decided upon a reduction of 5 per cent." He was sure the noble Lord opposite would agree with him when he said that if that landlord's tenantry went to him in a body and gave notice to quit, the noble Lord would be the first man to say, "Serve him right;" and if that landowner happened to live in Lancashire, wherever farmers were gathered together, either for business or for pleasure, the language which would be used to describe the conduct of that particular landlord would lose nothing either in volume or in force.
The noble Lord asked them to take him as an authority on the wages question in preference to such men as the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, the director of a great railway, a great ship owner, and the managing directors of two of the largest and most important commercial concerns in this country. If the noble Lord expected them to do that, then he must have an exaggerated opinion of his own knowledge and experience in this matter of the rate of wages, and he must have also a very limited idea of the common sense of hon. Members of that House. But he was sure the noble Lord did not expect them to do anything of the kind. He yielded to no one in admiration of the many admirable qualities of the noble Lord. Among those qualities he would put cordiality, courtesy, and sound common sense. Therefore, the noble Lord did not expect them to accept him as an authority on the wages question, over and above the five gentlemen whose names he had referred to. But the noble Lord had no faith even in the scheme he himself proposed, because on January 12th, speaking to a deputation, he said—I do not pretend for one minute that I expect that in stating thus generally what the Government are prepared to do you will think I am right in what I am doing. I quite expect, 1372 and I am sure not without reason, that you will endeavour, by all legitimate means, to get a further increase, but I am also sure that any action you take will be temperate.He (Captain Norton) would ask what was the noble Lord's object in bringing forward this scheme of his if he did not believe in its efficiency?
§ LORD STANLEY
This was said to the men themselves. I was perfectly right from the point of view of the employer. I said that probably the employees would not think so.
§ CAPTAIN NORTON
said the noble-Lord went on to say—I am also sure that in any action you take you will be temperate.Quite so, and if the action of the postal officials had not only been temperate but abundantly temperate, as he had over and over again stated, if they had ever crossed the border of discipline he would certainly not be their spokesman in the House, but would be speaking against them. But there was not the smallest shadow of doubt that they would continue, as all their associations had pledged themselves to do, this agitation and this demand, because they were fully justified in appealing, like all other classes of workmen, if he might use the word, from the management to the employer; that was to say, from the Government to the Members of the House of Commons, who were the representatives and the protectors of the taxpayer here, and who, in their turn, would be responsible to the taxpayers.
They talked of threats on the part of a certain limited number of postal officials. Why, the idea was preposterous. Had not every hon. Member the power of appealing to the taxpayers, and did he not frequently do it against any particular part of the taxpayers who sought to deal unfairly by his fellows. But the fact was that the public were now fully convinced of the justice of the claims of the postal officials. How did the man in the street look at this question? He said that the present Government had been in power some ten years. At the beginning they were able to give thousands of pounds in doles to their political 1373 supporters. They were able to squander not thousands but scores of millions on a disgraceful and mismanaged war. They had been so negligent of their duties that they had allowed the taxpayers to be swindled by contractors out of millions. It had been conclusively proved by the Committees that had sat that there had been deficiencies in the War Office accounts amounting to millions. Somebody must be responsible for that, and, while these millions had been lost from want of sufficient care on the part of tie Government, they denied to the permanent servants of the State a Living wage. The public realised that and they were on the side of the postal officials, and, therefore, they might continue the agitation in a temperate manner because the public were convinced of the justice of their cause.
Now, with reference to what he supposed would be known as the Stanley modified scheme, he said it had one merit, and one merit only. That was, that it was cheap. But, on the other hand, it had one demerit, and that was a very important demerit. It was justice long delayed, and still being denied. Therefore he condemned it. Perhaps some might doubt that statement. Let him read again from the Bradford Committee Report, paragraph 22—There are points in this scale at which we think improvements might be made. For example, it has been urged upon us with some force, and much evidence has been put forward to show, that the minimum wage is not a living wage and that great temptations beset young men who are left to support themselves unaided on an insufficient salary, also that the scale is insufficient to enable sorters to support a wife and family at a reasonable age.Well, in spite of this under payment, aggravated by the general rise in wages and. prices to which the Committee had also alluded, there had not been any insubordination or any inefficiency on the part of the postal officials. On the contrary, if they read the Bradford Report, they would find that their superiors, over and over again, spoke in the highest terms of the way in which they had done their work. Now, he asked, would any other body, more especially such a large body as these, outside the public service, have behaved in this admirable manner? Was it not a tribute, and a very high 1374 tribute, to the excellent qualities of our public servants? He asked would the coal-miners of this country have patiently laboured under the disadvantages under which these men had laboured? Would they, if Committee after Committee had met the employers, and if time after time they had been foiled, still continue to do their work? Let those hon. Members who said that they represented the coal-miners in this House answer if he was right or not. He said it would not have been tolerated for one moment. He said it was their duty, as Members of the House and representatives of the taxpayers, to see that these officials were given at least a living wage. The demand he made to the House was that these men should have their case—not simply the case of wages alone, but all their grievances, the whole category of them—fully placed before a Parliamentary Committee of inquiry. Let that Parliamentary Committee of inquiry decide. There had been inquiries since 1881, and they had all failed to give satisfaction in regard to the grievances of the men. Here, now, this last Committee of outside men, totally un biased in every way, and who might be thought rather against the men than for them—these men had proved abundantly that the postal servants had been underpaid and that they had many grievances. He said at least that since the Government would not accept the dictum of their own Committee they should grant a Parliamentary Committee of inquiry. He was not alone in making this demand. More than forty Members on the opposite side had, on two occasions when approaching the Postmaster-General on deputations, declared it to be only—he forgot the exact words—just and right that the matter should be immediately attended to. This was the case that he had to lay before the Committee, and he did it with much confidence, feeling that there were Members on the other side of the House who, at any rate, had some independence, and who placed the matter of justice above a Party vote.
§ SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
in supporting the Amendment, said he had the advantage of knowing for more than twenty years, during which he had been in this House, somewhat intimately 1375 the details of this controversy. He was bound to say that so far from deserving some of the reflections which had been made on the conduct of the service and the imputation of their having exercised a most unjust and undue pressure—because that had been alleged—during that time he had seen much reason to admire their consistently constitutional conduct. He, at any rate, did not forget that when a strike, a few years ago, was very imminent, they were good enough to accept the advice given them by Members of this House, including himself, and to prefer the public convenience and interest to the assertion of what they then believed, as they believed to-day, to be their just rights. Whatever objection there might be to a Parliamentary Committee it had at least to be remembered that they had always said they would accept and abide by its determination, and that it would be a verdict of their own employers, possibly with some very slight representation of those who more particularly represented the labour interest in the House. He thought that that had been a reasonable and just attitude. And what was the House to do unless something of that sort was adopted. The Tweedmouth Committee made confusion worse confounded. Classification, and all other questions were discussed, but they were by no means settled, and now they were today to-day that a Committee which was heralded with certainty of practical success had been set on one side. What tribunal was there left but the House of Commons? Could this House determine the questions of detail which had been put before the Committee to-day? Only through a Committee. And yet, after all, as representing both employers and employed, this House was a tribunal even superior to the Minister himself. It must assume the responsibility of determining justly the question which had produced chronic discontent, born, in his opinion a, of injustice and inequitably low wages, which was proved by the fact that at the point of the bayonet and at long intervals those injustices had been partially, but only very partially, redressed. To-day what his noble friend had proposed was not, of course, a free gift to the Post Office servants. It was justice to the men, or gross injustice to the taypayer. But if it was justice it only who wed the measure 1376 of injustice to which they had been so long subjected. This discontent had often been denied by Ministers in the House. He had heard it said constantly that it did not exist among the servants as a whole, but he read in this Report a passage which he thought might be taken as conclusive, that there "was widespread discontent" arising rom just and real grievances. He put it to the Committee whether, after existing for nearly twenty years, it was a proper economic position, whether it was safe and in the interest of the State, that this discontent should continue, whether it should be dealt with by patchwork proposals, one after another, or whether it was not a wise and businesslike course which animated the present Chancellor of the Exchequer to submit the question to a business tribunal, and settle it so far as possible for some time. He still thought business men in this House could, would, and might deal with it with perfect safety.
He had said the Post Office servants had been underpaid, and there was never any economy in underpaid or ill-fed labour. He had heard interjections to-day and read in the papers about medical attendance and the like, and again he should like to refer to the Report of the Committee which had been investigating closely and in detail all these points. That Report said, taking into account the advantages and disadvantages of the service, the medical aid—medical aid which, he would remind the Committee, had so often been rendered necessary by bad sanitation of post and public offices and the like, was not an unmixed benefit to the service. The Committee found that these additional aids were counter-balanced by many considerations which belonged to a service in which the employees had no right to barter for their wages, but in which the wages were arbitrarily fixed by the employing Department, and pensions were really only contingent deferred pay. Therefore, they might dismiss that incidental consideration. The main point for discussion to-day was, after all, the attitude of his noble friend towards the Report of the Committee of his own choice and of his own appointment. He could not get away from that cardinal fact. It was twice approved. It was appointed 1377 by the late Postmaster-General, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that Committee, hoping ultimately to meet with approval, went to the noble Lord and asked him to endorse it, which he did. It was his own Caesar to whom he had appealed, and having appealed to Caesar he brushed him aside, treated him with great indignity, and said he would have his own will and way. He did not know what other Members might say or do, but of course the noble Lord was setting up a lay Cæsar only to knock him down when he talked of this being an Arbitration Committee. One could not divest the Minister of responsibility and fix it upon arbitrators. What could be said was that when a Minister appointed a Committee, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer did—"to strengthen his hands"—he could not afterwards say with any reasonable fairness that he would have no regard for it, or brush it aside. He put it to the Committee whether the noble Lord as a Minister was or was not bound to have a full and fair regard to the Report of a Committee of his own appointing which had gone Sully into the complex, intricate, and technical details which this House could not hope to unravel.
What was the origin of the Committee? It was dictated to the postal service and no representative of the employees was put on it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in appointing it said—I have come to the conclusion that the wages which postal employees receive are not in all respects satisfactory. My hands will be strengthened by the practical and business knowledge and experience which I can find from this impartial and independent tribunal. They will report for my information, and the plain question I put to them is: 'Are the wages of the Post Office servants adequate or not.'That was the plain issue that was left to the Committee by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There was another significant word which he used, which be came very material when considering the action of this Committee, when the right hon. Gentleman said there must be a limit to inquiry for it must not be interminable.
If there had been a roving Commission into all trades it would act as was shown by the noble Lord, for the replies he received from employers would 1378 not be complete by any means, and if not complete would probably be misleading. If they had done that, the inquiry would probably have been going on now. His only doubt was whether the Post Office would not have been pleased rather than sorry if it had been so, for there had been long delays before that Report was published. There had been hopes and anticipations on the part of the men. It took months to print and to consider it, and it was only produced at the very fag end of the session when it was impossible to discuss it. He wanted to point out here that in all his observations in his speeches on appointing the Committee there was no word to indicate on the part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the Committee that he expected they would inquire into the wages and conditions of other trades. He thought that was a significant circumstance, unless the reproach now laid upon the Committee was in reality an afterthought.
§ LORD STANLEY
I do not quite understand what the hon. Member means by the Chancellor of the Exchequer never thinking that this Committee would not inquire into the wages paid in other trades.
§ SIR ALBERT ROLLIT
said he did not say that or refer to the reference itself. He said in all the observations of the Chancellor in heralding his Committee, about their business experience and knowledge and impartiality and independence, and strengthening his hands, he never said any word in his speech itself about his expectation that there would be a roving inquiry into other trades.
What happened? The staff, whatever they feared, loyally gave evidence. The Leader of the Opposition said the other night that it was the duty of the Department to see that its case was properly put before the Committee. The Committee themselves asked for the Post Office case and the present Secretary of the Treasury, Sir George Murray, the Comptrollers, and others, attended and gave their evidence as to the effect of any proposals the Committee might make. This Committee had done more than 1379 most Committees. It visited the General Post Office, came into contact with the staff, visited the Central Telegraph Office, went down to Liverpool and other provincial places, and saw how the work was going on and even travelled, through one of its members, on the North-Western mail car from Rugby to London to see even the details of dealing with letters in transit. Surely that was some reason for confidence in the Committee's Report. It heard matters in public and in the presence of the Press and heard all classes for and against this Report.
What did the Committee find; because, alter all, that was the main point—whether their findings could be reasonably justified, remembering that they had seen the witnesses and examined the circumstances. They found that in the younger classes the minimum wage was not a living wage. Was that the basis upon which a young man was to commence his life? Was it the basis on which he was to meet the temptations of early life? Was that the basis on which he was to enter upon marriage? If that finding was true, it was destructive to the system which had prevailed in relation to this matter up to the present time. He believed the Committee, after full investigation, said that there should be some substantial increase, and let not the Committee be mislead into thinking that these were generalities. He had the Report, which, with its appendices, was full of the most intimate details touching each class—sorters, tracers, telegraphists—and the subject had been threshed out thoroughly.
Then they were told that this would cost something. Of course it would cost something. That was the measure of the injustice, for there had been injustice. He knew the noble Lord was chivalrous, and he shared to the utmost what had been said about him, but he did not think that in quoting one uneconomic individual, a Mr. Young, who did say that the net revenues of the Post Office should go to the employees—an obvious absurdity and even for the purpose of Parlamentary debate, the Postmaster-General should not seek for a moment to fix it upon the employees themselves. They had done their best to repudiate it. He had heard it repudi- 1380 ated at public meeting after public meeting. He would say for them what he thought was a true proposition, that when they were dealing with a surplus revenue of £3,000,000 to £4,000,000 one of the first chares upon that was that all proper expenditure, including fair and just earnings and wages of those who produced the net revenue, was a first charge upon that service, and tin next charge, u less they maintained a special tax on letter writers, was the provision of additional facilities in respect to which we owed much to the noble Lord to-day for what he had proposed.
How had the noble Lord dealt with this matter? He had done something. He had done about one-sixth of what his? Committee found, upon his own estimate of what the carrying out of the Report would cost, and that was he measure of the previous injustice, But that sixth or so was not and would not be acceptable unless the wages were just and right as found by this or some other Committee which would have to deal wit it. The question was one of justice or the contrary. He believed the earners had justice on their side, but this House could not really determine the question. Take one case which was not dealt with in any way by this Report. It related to the Telegraph Office. They had heard often of a case in which they promised a prospect, through the Civil Service Commissioners, to any young telegraphist entering the service, of £190 a year. It was like the baton in the knapsack of the soldier and the possibility of his becoming Field Marshal. Very few had ever attained it. It was not a great sum as a wage for a skilled telegraphist after twenty-one years service, but nearly every pediment that could be offered had been presented. Instead of its being open to operatives, technical examinations, senior classes, and supervision had been interposed as barriers after the contract was made. He did not say it was a breach of faith but it was a breach of contract. The noble Lord proposed to leave that unredressed. He thought that was not equitable. He thought the telegraphists had a just claim in equity in that matter, for they would 1381 not be fairly dealt with until £190 maximum was conceded after twenty-one years service instead of £160. To a married man with a family, and increasingly long distances to travel, greater demands in many forms and in London certainly an increase in expenses, that was not a great sum. That was one of the cases and he added it specially to those mentioned. Without peace the work of the State could not be well carried on. In such a case parsimony was not economy.
In the reference to the Committee it was stated that the members were to inquire to the scale of pay and report whether the Wages, having regard to the wages in other occupations, were just. One of the chief members of the Committee was an eminent statistician. The official figures were at his disposal and there were also other members who knew what the current rates of wages were. There was, therefore, no need for inquiry on that point. The Committee included the head of a great railway company, a director of Harrod's Stores, and also the head of the Wholesale Co-operative Society. They were men with a concentrated knowledge which would enable them to deal with the terms submitted to them. This was a grave question of justice on the part of the State as an employer. Was it to be maintained? Was the Report to be brushed aside? If so, was the House of Commons incapable of producing fifteen impartial and efficient business men to consider the matter. If not, the House should have full and fair regard for the decision of the Committee. He desired that the State, as was represented by the Committee, should be a good employer of labour; that in its own interest it should pay proper remuneration; and that any increase in unfair cost of earning it should be a first charge on any revenue, before it was regarded and disposed of as net profit.
§ Whereupon Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding. £6,920,438, be granted for the said Service."—(Captain Norton.)
§ SIR J. FERGUSSON (Manchester, N. E.)
said that, as one who had held the office of Postmaster-General, he 1382 should be sorry to think that any servant of the Government was not adequately paid. What was the test of adequate remuneration? Surely it was whether the market could yield labour according to the demand; and when they knew that there were five or six candidates for every position in the Post Office how was it possible to say that the pay was inadequate as compared with that in other employments? They had heard spokesmen of the Army declare that the inducement to enlist was insufficient as compared with private employment; but it was not possible to say that as regarded the Post Office. Hon. Members knew how the position of the employees of the Post Office had been advanced during the last fourteen or fifteen years. Mr. Raikes improved the pay of the establishment by £207,000; and as a result of the Tweedmouth Committee there was a further increase of £600,000. When he was Postmaster-General there were also increases; and the Duke of Norfolk and the late Mr. Hanbury followed on the same lines. Then the present Postmaster-Gene al increased the pay to the amount of £312,000; and altogether the increase in wages during the past fourteen or fifteen years amounted to £1,000,000. Nevertheless, hon. Members declared that the interests of these public servants had been disregarded. The Tweed-month Committee went exhaustively into the question and made many recommendations. These were carefully considered by the Duke of Norfolk and the late Mr. Hanbury; and the pay of the staff was increased by £600,000 per annum.
The hon. Member who moved the Amendment spoke of an agitation which would continue until what he called justice was done. At one time these employees were denied the franchise for fear they might bring undue influence to bear upon Members of Parliament in their own interest. It was not until 1874 that the Act of Parliament was altered and they were placed in the enjoyment of the franchise; but it was clearly laid down at the time that the Departments should have the right to regulate the extent to which their servants might engage in political agitation. But now hon. Members were to be 1383 seen encouraging public servants to engage in agitation. He thought it was most unfortunate that Members of the House should allow themselves to be influenced by the pressure which public servants brought to bear upon them, and should bombard the Treasury with Questions and representations with a view to extort increments of pay for these public servants, and so prevent the public service being regulated according to the rules of the labour market, viz., supply and demand. He earnestly hoped the Committee would not lend itself to this kind of pressure.
§ MR. SCHWANN (Manchester, N.)
said he was not surprised to hear the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman. When he was Postmaster-General he believed the right hon. Gentleman did give some small increases of two shillings a week to some of the postal employees. The right hon. Gentleman said that since that time great increases had been given to men in various grades. That was quite true, but during the same time the Post Office itself had made extensively increased profits. £500,000 profit was made in the year 1904 over the profit of 1903, and if any officials were entitled to receive additions to their pay, as he believed they were having regard to the work they had to do, it was those who made that profit. At the same time the country was repaid by the efficient carrying on of the Department. Referring to the Bradford Committee, he might say he did everything he could to urge the men to appear before it. He said it was composed of business men who, he thought, would deal impartially with the matter, but that at the same time if they leant one way more than another they would probably lean to the side of the State. Every man who was appointed on the Committee was an expert managing large numbers of employees. Yet their Report had been brushed aside and the most meagre attention had been paid to its recommendations by the Postmaster-General. Discredit had been thrown upon the Committee by the State, and he was therefore not surprised that after that took place these men should have refused to give their services to the Committee. The Post Office servants had 1384 received such treatment up to this date that they must insist on a Committee of this House being formed to deal with this matter.
Now there were one or two cases he desired to call to the attention of the Postmaster-General. The case of the sub-postmasters was one of the hardest of those which occurred under the régime of the Post Office. They had very arduous duties to perform and from the nature of those duties it was almost impossible for them to leave their offices. They were responsible for everything that occurred through the acts of their employees, and their pay was very inadequate to the services they gave. Now the sub-postmasters were a very large body. In London there were 901 sub-offices; in England and Wales 4,105; in Scotland 350, and in Ireland 210. There was a total of 5,566. There was a general impression among the sub-postmasters that every concession given to the public was really squeezed out of the sub-postmasters, and they would find that that was practically the case. In the money order business it was at one time impossible to get a money order for more than £10, and the post-master received a commission on each £. Now that it was possible to get money orders for £20, £40, and £50 the sub-postmaster missed the commission on each £10, and only got one commission on the whole. Then the parcels post had made it possible to send larger parcels, and this caused a considerable increase in the work of the sub-postmasters. With regard to sub-postmasters, the right hon. Gentleman had made a so-called concession by raising the payment for the first 1,000 money orders from 20s. to 30s. That I would benefit some of the smaller offices, but as the rate per 1,000 above 5,000 was to be decreased by 10s. the larger sub-offices would be considerable losers. For many years sub-postmasters felt that they had been tapped to provide money required in other directions, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would give their complaints his serious attention.
Then as to engineers and linesmen, whom Sir W. Preece described as the backbone of the telegraph and 1385 telephone service, from 65 to 75 per cent, were not on the establishment, they were on probation, which the men thought was a very great debarment to them. They were buoyed up in the hope of being placed on the establishment, but too often the hope was illusory. Some of the supervisors had numbers of men under them, and hundreds of pounds worth of property in their charge, so that they were responsible men. It was unfair that such men should be on probation for from two to twenty-five years a term should be fixed at the close of which either the services of the men should be dispensed with, or the men themselves placed on the establishment, and receive the privilege attaching to that status. With regard to wages, they were paid for piecework at from 5d. to 5d. per hour in London, which amounted to about 23s. a week, whereas companies paid 7d. or 8d. an hour, amounting to from 31s. 6d. to 36s. a week. Moreover, when they worked outside the office they were allowed from 6d. to 8d. per day for lodgings, while the telephone company allowed 50 per cent., and some companies 200 per cent. more. Since the Bradford Committee, the men on the establishment had been docked of certain holidays, and all new men had to work fifty-four hours a week and also submit to certain reductions in the holidays awarded by the Tweedmouth Committee. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would give these matters his best attention.
§ SIR GEORGE BARTLEY
said that from old associations his sympathies were naturally with the men in the public service. He believed that service was the best in the world, and it ought to be maintained at full strength and efficiency. His view had always best that the State should be a model employer, that it should pay its employees fairly, liberally, and even generously—not so generously as to constitute a bribe to men to enter the public service, but sufficiently to afford an example to other employers, so that through the agency of the State the standard of life might be raised rather than lowered. The general question the Committee had to consider was whether or not Post Office officials were fairly paid. The natural inclination was to pay the men as highly as possible, 1386 but how were hon. Members to judge whether these people were fairly paid? Reference had been made to profits. He regretted to read that a member of the recent deputation seemed to demand a very large share, if not the whole, of the profits of the Post Office—though certainly that was not the attitude adopted by the general body of postal servants. The State had a right to make a profit; but it should not be forgotten that for many years there had been a heavy loss on the telegraphs portion of the work, so that the question of profits had really nothing to do with the matter. An important consideration was the fact that for every post in the service there was a large number of applicants. That, after all, was the real test of the whole situation. ["No."]
The Committee had to consider not only the interests of the service, but also the interests of the taxpayer, and he declared emphatically that they must hold the balance fairly between the two. In his own constituency there were a large number of postal servants, and he would, doubtless, gain many votes if he said at once that they ought to have everything they asked for. But there were also an immense number of people anxious to get situations, and he undertook to say that hundreds, if not thousands, of them would jump at the chance of employment under the Post Office at present rates of pay. If there were so many anxious to enter the service on the terms now obtaining, he thought that was conclusive evidence that, as a whole, postal servants were not unfairly or unjustly treated. No doubt there were cases which required adjustment, and he took it, from the Postmaster-General's speech, that those-adjustments would be made. From inquiries he had made, it seemed that many men freely entered the service and then a year or two afterwards began to complain that the pay was not sufficient. That, he thought, was a very peculiar position.
He thought it unfortunate that so much pressure should be put upon Members of Parliament in connection with this matter. Ever since he had been in Parliament postal servants had been agitating for increased pay 1387 Various Committees had been appointed. As to the Tweedmouth inquiry, everybody knew that the Chairman was not likely to be influenced in any way by sordid considerations, but would endeavour to deal with the matter as liberally as possible. Practically, the carrying out of Lord Tweedmouth's suggestions involved an increased expenditure of £600,000 a year, and they thought that would have brought an end to the agitation. But it had not done so. He very much regretted that these charges were continually being made. Another test to apply to this case was the test of other employment. There was an institute carried on by the Civil Service known as the Civil Service Supply Association. It was a very large concern, commenced more than forty years ago. It was a profitable business and paid a large dividend, and out of 1,500 or 1,600 employees about 400 of them were paid less than £1 a week. Now this was an institution carried on by Civil servants themselves, who appointed the staff and settled the wages, and it was very largely on the lines of the Post Office, and it was very remarkable that they should pay such small wages. It was nevertheless a fact that they paid 25 per cent of their employees less than £1 a week. He was extremely anxious that the Post Office employees should be a contented and happy class of persons, but in this matter he sympathised with the Postmaster-General, because it seemed to him that if they were everlastingly increasing the number of persons employed by the State and by municipalities, and if they adopted a system under which there was a continual agitation for increased pay when that pay was as liberal as in any other private employment of a similar kind, the time must come when something must be done to put the system upon a different footing. He felt very strongly that this ought not to be made in any sense a Party question. It was very unfortunate that the matter could be worked in the way that it had been, by the threats of the withdrawal of support by the employees. This was a most unfortunate position of affairs and he was quite sure that Members on both sides of the House, whilst wishing to do justice to the men in every way, would remember that they had the taxpayer to consider as well as 1388 the public employee. Taxation had grown so heavy that he thought they were bound to see that they got the full value for their money, and that it was not wasted.
§ SIR GEORGE BARTLEY
said he certainly supported the Postmaster-General. They were bound to do that, and he hoped some measure would be adopted either for a Joint Committee to go into these questions or for a permanent body, such as the Public Accounts Committee, to look into them and see whether there was I fairness and propriety in the payments, and whether they could be satisfied that full justice was being done. If some such course was adopted, both sides of the House must do what was right and not allow pressure to be exercised unduly. So long as they allowed the system of agitation in the matter of payment in the Dublin service to continue, they would not only be permitting an injury to the staff but they would be paying more than was necessary, and undermining that real efficiency and good name of the public service which he trusted would always deservedly exist.
§ MR. BAYLEY (Derbyshire, Chesterfield)
said the hon. and gallant Member who moved the reduction of the Vote had dealt fully with the Post Office employees' grievances, but one point had not been touched upon. The Bradford Committee was appointed to settle all disputes for the time being, and the House as a whole accepted that appointment in perfect good faith, believing that the Postmaster-General and the Government were not deceiving the House of Commons in any way. The Report came out in good time and a very able Report it was. That Committee was composed of very competent business men, but the Postmaster-General, three months after receiving their Report, told the House that this Committee had exceeded the terms of reference. In such a case there was one very simple thing to do. If a Report exceeded the 1389 terms of reference the proper and courteous thing to do was to send that Report back to the Committee and ask them to explain why they had exceeded the terms of reference, or the alternative was to ask them for a fresh Report. Neither of those courses was taken. He did not think that Report had ever been acknowledged officially, and those gentlemen had not been thanked for devoting all their energies to this inquiry.
An ordinary case of law corresponded very much to this one. If they went to trial there was a period during which they could go to a Court of Appeal. When that time expired, and ether side did not avail themselves of that privilege, the judgment stood and could not be altered. The Government was exactly in that position. They did not go to the Court of Appeal for they did not send the Report back. Consequently they accepted it. It was the Government's own Court which made the inquiry, and they had allowed the time to go by for appealing. In so doing the Government had made a very great mistake, and were causing a great amount of dissatisfaction in the public service by their action in not accepting the Bradford award, and they were doing the very thing which they ought to have avoided. That disatisfaction was growing, and it had been caused by the Government and not by the employees, who were simply speaking of what they believed to be right and just. The Postmaster-General had made a very able speech, but he lacked imagination, and did not put himself in the place of the Post Office employees who felt, and felt rightly, that by not going to a Court of Appeal the Postmaster-General was keeping something back. There was a very strong feeling, not only in the House but outside, that the Government, by not carrying out the award of Sir Edward Bradford, were causing considerable irritation amongst Post Office employees in the country, and they were doing the Very thing they ought to have avoided.
§ MR. RITCHIE (Croydon)
said that whatever might be the opinion upon the main question to be discussed, he was quite sure that the whole Com- 1390 mittee appreciated—and highly appreciated—the extremely good work that had been done by men acting under the Postmaster-General. He was satisfied that they had every confidence that the work was well done and they all desired, if there was a real grievance among a body of men like that, to have the grievance remedied. But they must be just before they were generous, and he hoped that the House of Commons would not forget their responsibility to the taxpayers, and would remember that if they did more than was necessary they were not acting fairly to the taxpayers of the country. It was a remarkable fact that whilst Members of the HOUSE of Commons were preaching economy in the public service and were finding fault with the swollen Estimates, they tried in every way to induce responsible Ministers to make larger demands upon the taxpayers for particular purposes. When a question like this came up economy was thrown to the winds and they were asked on altogether insufficient grounds to add to the burdens of the taxpayer an amount which was estimated by the Postmaster-General, and he thought agreed to by the hon. Member for South Islington, at something like £2,400,000.
§ LORD STANLEY
; If the amount asked for by the employees before the Committee had been granted it would have amounted to £2,500,000 but the amount awarded under the Bradford Committee would have been £1,300,000.
§ MR. RITCHIE
I think the hon. Member for South Islington spoke about the amount as being six or seven times more.
§ SIR ALBERT ROLLIT
What I said was that the noble Lord offered about one sixth of what was asked for by the Report of the Committee, but I may say that I do not even agree with that estimate of my noble friend the Postmaster-General.
§ MR. RITCHIE
I rather gathered from my noble friend that the amount will ultimately reach a sum over £300,000.
§ SIR ALBERT ROLLIT
That was not my calculation but in that case it will be somewhat more than one-sixth.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said it was very little short of the sum he stated. The estimated cost of carrying out the proposals was between £2,000,000 and £2,400,000. That was the amount which the hon. Gentleman seriously contemplated casting upon the shoulders of the already heavily-burdened tax-payer.
§ SIR ALBERT ROLLIT
That was not a calculation of mine. I thought the sum stated by my noble friend was somewhat less. It is not a question now of what the men claimed but of what the Postmaster-General himself estimated as the cost of carrying out the recommendations of the Committee, viz., £1,250,000, and it was to a sixth of this estimate (not my own) I referred. None of the figures were mine.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said it was not worth while quarrelling with the hon. Gentleman about the figures. At any rate, it would amount to something like £2,000,000. That was the amount which the hon. Gentleman was indignant that the Government did not at once concede. The demands were made irrespective of the amount they would cost.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said that if it could be shown that this amount was really necessary in order to do justice to the employees of the State he for one would not, and he did not believe that the taxpayers would, grudge it. But he would grudge, and he believed the taxpayers would grudge, the expenditure of this amount of money unless it was clearly shown that it was necessary in the public interest and in order to do justice to the employees. This claim was based on the Report of the Bradford Committee which had been spoken of as an arbitration committee. He should be very much astonished if any member of any Government would ever consent to occupy the position of saying that when a reference was made 1392 to a Committee he would feel himself bound to accept the conclusions of the Committee, whatever expense might be involved. The responsibility rested upon the Government and upon the Minister, and it was for them or him to consider the recommendations of the Committee. It was for him to consider all these matters and to come to a decision on his responsibility, and to make such recommendations as he might deem necessary to the House of Commons. It could not be otherwise it would be absurd to suppose that a Minister could discharge his responsibility, and especially his responsibility as to finance, by referring the matter to a Committee. He found that so far as the applications for employment were concerned, the number of applicants for posts in the General Post Office had been so great as to show that, in the opinion of those desirous of entering the public service, this was a very desirable service.
When his hon. friend the Member for South Islington spoke of those particular employees not being able to commence their career with a salary which would enable them to live comfortably he should like to ask him what service there was where the initial salary could provide for that contingency. Not only did the number of applicants show that it was a popular service, but that those who entered into it were satisfied with the terms offered. It had been, shown by elaborate comparisons with other Departments that the employees of the Post Office were not only on an equivalent in the remuneration they were paid, but in a large number of cases they were in a superior position to the other: classes of employees which had been mentioned, and that whether they judged by comparison of the number of the employees or the number of applicants for this particular employment, it was clear that there was no warrant from the-public point of view for the expenditure of so large a sum of public money as they were asked to expend by adopting the conclusions of the Bradford Committee. The Postmaster-General had naturally considered the Report and the evidence, and he had been led to make a considerable amelioration in the position, of a large number of employees. He was sure they, 1393 must recognise that the sum he had mentioned was by no means an insignificant sum to give to the class of public servants which they were now discussing.
Something had been said about appointing a Parliamentary Committee. No worse tribunal could be appointed for considering questions of this kind—a Committee consisting of politicians whether of one Party or the other. There were employees of the Post Office who had bombarded Members of Parliament with letters day by day asking them to come down to the House of Commons and support their proposals. But these employees did not confine themselves to these letters, objectionable as he thought they were. They actually used threats—unmistakeable threats—at a time when a general election was within measurable distance, and that made things much worse from the point of view he was now discussing. They were asked at such a time to refer the wages of these people to a Committee consisting of politicians. There surely could be no more unfit tribunal for determining a matter of this kind, and the Government would be most wrong and badly advised if they consented to anything of this kind. He did not in the least deny tint people in the public service should be allowed to make proper representations in order to obtain a remedy for any grievance under which they suffered, but he was perfectly certain that these letters continually coming from individuals in one's own constituency—sometimes a dozen in a day—was a wrong way to make representations. He was perfectly certain that representations made in a proper manner would always be considered by the Postmaster-General or any member of the Government whose Department was concerned, but this kind of representation the Government and the House of Commons were bound to resist to the utmost of their power. He was very glad to hear that the Postmaster-General had been able to make some amelioration and to adopt some of the proposals made by the Committee, but he hoped that he and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in considering what were the just demands of public employees, would also consider 1394 what were their duties towards the taxpayers of the country, and at a time like the present, when they groaned under very heavy taxation, he hoped they would set their faces resolutely against any such demand as that made on behalf of the Post Office employees.
§ MR. NANNETTI (Dublin, College Green)
supported the Amendment moved by his hon. friend. The noble Lord said this agitation began in an application for a Parliamentary Committee in 1903. He begged to remind the noble Lord that when the application was made for a Parliamentary Committee in 1903, it was not for an inquiry into the question of wages alone, but for an inquiry into all the grievances alleged at that time to permeate the postal service. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer, on that occasion, when he found that the feeling of the House was against him, agreed to have the question of wages placed before the Committee. On that occasion he protested and said that the appointment of the Committee was merely to throw dust in the eyes of the postal service, and he thought he had been justified by the events which hid taken place, because the findings of that Committee had, to use the words of the noble Lord, been brushed aside. Some miserable doles had been handed out to the men which could not possibly satisfy them, and which could only lead to continued dissension and agitation and loss of time in this House considering the grievances.
Several hon. Members had stated that considerable feeling had been aroused in England, Scotland, and Wales over the action of the Government in brushing aside the findings of the Committee. Speaking for Ireland he could only say that a feeling of indignation and disgust permeated the whole postal service in regard to the manner in which they had been treated in connection with these findings. The sorters, telegraphists, and postmen, one and all, were dissatisfied with the decision of the noble Lord in regard to these findings, and he could promise the noble Lord that every possible effort would be made to bring about a reversal of the policy he had adopted, and to have a Committee of this House appointed so that the full measure of 1395 their demands should be conceded. On May 11th, 1903, he ventured to make the following observations—They were told that the Committee that the Postmaster-General had promised to appoint was to be an impartial Committee, but he believed that so far from dealing with the grievances it would have the effect of accentuating them, and that the complaints would all come up again. He therefore warned the postal servants to have nothing to do with it.He was sorry to say that his advice was not taken at that time. The responsible officers thought it would be well to see what would be the findings of the Committee. They went to great expense for the purpose of getting up their case and they gave evidence before the Committee. After nine months the Committee arrived at their conclusions and reported that the wages of the postal servants were inadequate, and consequently they recommended an improvement in the scale. How had these recommendations been carried out? The noble Lord, in memorable words, had stated that the recommendations had been brushed aside, and a scale of increase had been adopted which was not commensurate with the demands which had been made upon him. It was not necessary for him to again quote the figures which had been given by the noble Lord. Comparisons had been made between the pay of compositors and that of postmen; but that comparison should have been all on the side of the compositor and not on that of the postman. He knew that because he was a compositor himself. A compositor after serving a five years apprenticeship began on full wages of 38s. a week; but it was only after a long term of years that a postal servant, even after he was fully competent, enjoyed a salary of £60 or £70 a year. The increase sanctioned by the noble Lord could not be accepted; and the sooner the House made up its mind to appoint a Parliamentary Committee to inquire into the whole question the better. It had been proved that seething discontent existed in the postal service, altogether outside the wages question. The Government had, ignored the finding of the Bradford Committee, the members of which had been snubbed in such a way that it would be found difficult to appoint other Committees who would serve on such 1396 inquiries. The noble Lord and the Chancellor of the Exchequer must have forgotten that when an appeal was made to appoint that Departmental Committee, consent was not given until it was found that the strong feeling of the House was against them. The Chancellor of the Exchequer then said that—For his part he was confident that by men of both political Parties he should be supported in his decision to take this question of the wages of the servants of the Post Office out of the sphere of Party conflict, and get a verdict which would be received with confidence.Well, that Committee had been appointed, and its verdict had been given; but had it been received with perfect confidence by the Treasury Bench? On the contrary, the findings of that Committee, appointed by themselves, had not been accepted by the Government. What was the complaint against that Committee? That they did not go out of their sphere of reference and take evidence as a roving Commission in regard to wages paid in other trades. But that was unnecessary, seeing that the wages returns of all I trades could have been found in the Labour Gazette for the last ten years. And what did the noble Lord, the present I Postmaster-General, say on another occasion?—All such questions as pay should be referred not to this House, but to some judicial body who could feel no outside influence, and look at the matter as between employer and employed, with the object of giving to the employed those wages which in the open market a good employer would give to his employees, and at the same time protecting the master from any outside influence.Well, the Bradford Committee was a judicial Committee, but the noble Lord refused to carry out its findings. He advised the men at that time as to the course which they should take; and he was right. The men were justified in continuing their agitation for a Parliamentary Committee; but afterwards they gave their case away by giving evidence before the Bradford Committee. Now they saw their mistake; and their demand for a Parliamentary inquiry could no longer be denied. He thought that if the House wanted to settle this question once and for ever, that could only be accomplished by the appointment of such a Committee. The men themselves had promised that they 1397 would accept the finding of such a Committee. To talk about the interests of the taxpayer was all very well; but what about the money wasted in the South African War, in the doles to landlords, and in the South African stores scandals? He was sure that the taxpayers did not want this House to be shabby employers, but that they wanted to pay fair wages for fair work. It was, indeed, the duty of the State to pay its employees such a wage as to keep them from the starvation point.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said that he could not feel the same disregard to the interests of the taxpayers as some hon. Members appeared to have. Neither could he agree that because there had been extravagant expenditure in the South African War, therefore, there should be extravagant expenditure on the postal officials—if it could be called extravagant expenditure. The fault he himself found with the Treasury was that they paid far too little attention to the taxpayer. Every Member who came to the consideration of the point now raised—viz., whether the wages of the postal servants should be raised beyond their present point—approached it with a double allegiance and a divided duty. They had, in the first place, to consider it from the standpoint of allegiance to the taxpayers; and in the second place, with proper feeling for the welfare of the men in the postal service, especially for those in the lower ranks, whose wages he considered very small. He was not going into the question of the living wage. He did not know what that might be. It depended always on where a man lived, the man's own mind, and the prevailing fashion, and circumstances of the locality. After all, the question which the House was asked to ascertain and decide was what were the proper rates of wages to pay to postal servants? He could conceive of no tribunal less qualified to give a decision on that point than this House—either in itself or by a Select Committee of the House or by any such Standing Committee, as had been now suggested.
How were they to arrive at a proper rate of wages for a good piece of work? He knew of no other method than that pursued in the ordinary avocations of 1398 life. In those avocations, the rate of wages was arrived at by higgling and haggling and bargaining between employers and trades unions. They had trades unions as representative of the organised forces of the workers, who dealt with the employers. The employers were also organised; and when finally a figure was arrived at between them after negotiation, the employers had the enormous advantage that they might accept the decision as final and that it was perfectly certain it would be carried out. That was one of the great uses of trades unions, that they gave bargaining power to the workman and security to the employer. But in the case of the postal servants no adequate trade union was possible, because there was only one employer. The Post Office servants could not call out one section of employees so as to bring pressure to bear on another employer. Of course he was well aware that there was a very strong, compact body of Post Office employees, led by very capable leaders, who put their case in a very precise way. But they could not yet, for many reasons, as other trades unions acted, and their only course was to circularise Members of this House with arguments in which persuasion certainly did too often approach menace. He hoped that Members of that House, while ready to consider argument, would never allow themselves to be influenced by menace, which would be found in the long run, not to help but to injure those who used it. The question then remained a specially difficult one—what were the proper wages? The Post Office employed 183,000 servants. Every variety of duty was fixed upon them, with, consequently every variety of remuneration, from the rural postman, who received a few shillings a week, to the noble Lord on the Treasury Bench, who received a relatively exiguous and insufficient salary. What Select Committee of that House, what Standing Committee, what permanent body of any sort, was competent to settle the salary of the noble Lord and the wages of the rural postman? It was perfectly impossible. They must really have worn the shoe to know where it pinched, and how the remedy was to be made. The noble Lord made what be thought was a very frank and manly 1399 speech, though, the expressions "black-mail" and "blood-suckers" were, he respectfully submitted, too strong. There might be some leaders of the organisation to whom those terms might be applied, but he was certain that the great body of these public servants did not deserve them.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said he was glad of that explanation. Without it the expressions would, he was sure, have unjustly wounded a very worthy body of public servants. He had personal experience of the unscrupulous methods adopted by individuals but still the terms of the noble Lord could not be applied to the service generally. He thought the noble Lord had made what must be regarded as very considerable concessions indeed. They involved, to begin with, an additional charge on the taxpayers of £224,000, and when those concessions reached their maximum in ten or fifteen years that amount would be increased to £372,000 a year. Surely this was a very large increase in the wages of the postal servants. Hon. Members who argued that that was not sufficient, and who wanted another Committee, should first ask the postal servants whether they were now satisfied or not. He thought they probably would be. The Bradford Committee was not, he thought, very happily constituted and was no better fitted to fix rates of wages for the Post Office than would be a Committee of this House, for so special a case as the Post Office. The rate of wages must be arrived at and fixed by the people who knew and who were concerned. The test for a Department like the Post Office was whether there was a sufficient number of candidates to fill the vacancies, and no better best had yet been suggested. But even when the rate of wages was fixed it was only fixed for the moment. They could not fix it permanently, and in two, ten, or twenty years the whole question would or might have to be reconsidered. That was another argument against a Committee. He had come down to the House with a perfectly open mind on this subject, but, having heard both sides 1400 the question, he felt bound to say that the Postmaster-General had made great concessions and had established good case. The Postmaster-General had shown, moreover, a proper sense of duty in refusing to shoulder off his responsibility on any Select or Standing Committee. Consequently he should feel it his duty to support the Government.
§ MR. PLATT-HIGGINS (Salford, N.)
, referring to the grievances of the engineering branch and storekeepers, said whereas the idea, so far as he could see, was that more or less every branch of the service should have some addition to its pay, these employees had had their wages reduced and their hours increased. The maximum for linemen and battery men in past times was 40s. a week, but now it had been reduced to 38s. a week, while their hours had been increased from fifty and a-half hours to fifty-four hours a week.
§ MR. PLATT-HIGGINS
said the hours of these servants had been increased, and in respect of certain allowances they had well-founded grievances. Moreover, only 25 per cent, of them were on the established list, and he hoped his noble friend would undertake to increase that percentage. Then with regard to lodging claims. When he was in business years ago he always paid 2s. a day for lodging allowance where a man had to go about the country and sleep in a different bed every night. The Postmaster-General allowed 6d. What kind of bed could be got for 6d? He hoped the noble Lord would give his attention to these matters. If he did, he would find that these servants were anything but fairly treated.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN, Worcestershire, E.)
said his noble friend authorised him to say that he would look into the matters raised by the hon. Member for Salford. He hoped the Committee would not think it impertinent of him to intervene in the discussion, but he was doubly interested in the main 1401 subject of the debate, whether the Government were or were not justified in declining to adopt in toto the recommendations of the Bradford Committee. In the first place, as Postmaster-General, he was responsible for appointing that Committee, and in the second, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, the guardian of the public purse, he felt bound to place before the House his views when the public revenue was seriously threatened. Hon. Gentlemen had alleged that by his action in appointing this Committee he had bound himself in honour to accept their Report, whatever it might be, and to carry it into effect. The hon. Member for Huddersfield had quoted a phrase of his, in which he had spoken of his expectation or hope that he might obtain from the Committee an impartial and judicial decision. He thought it was too much to lay all this stress on a single word uttered in the course of a speech delivered in that House where no verbal preparation was possible; but, if those words were open to misconception, they were corrected in the course of the same debate; for, in reply to the hon. Member for Battersea, who accused him of shirking responsibility, he had said that be did not consider he was in any way derogating from his position by asking other gentlemen for advice, and that his responsibility must remain intact and undiminished.
§ SIR JAMES WOODHOUSE
said that a fortnight later the right hon. Gentleman used these words—I intend the Committee to be a Committee sitting to give judgment, and not a Committee sitting to advocate the interests of one side or the other.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
said that was true, and what he had then laid stress on was the impartial character of the Committee. If he used any words which compared this Committee with a judicial tribunal it was in respect of the impartiality which he hoped would attend their deliberations, and which he thought was essential. But was there the idea in any man's mind at that moment that thus Committee was to bring in a verdict which should be binding on both parties? His noble friend had already read some of the statements made by the employees 1402 or their representatives, and he would supplement them by a quotation from the Telegraph Chronicle of August 26th last year, actually after this Report had been published—In writing to Members of Parliament it should be made very clear that we do not regard the Bradford Report as a substitute for that programme"—the programme adopted at Liverpool—That Report may be a concession, but it is not all …. We never recognised the impartiality of the Committee nor its fitness to deal with our case. We shall not accept its Report as a final settlement.It was only the representatives of the taxpayer who were to be bound; the employees themselves were to be free to recommence their agitation to-morrow, even if to-day the House of Commons gave them all that for the moment they asked.
There were one or two general considerations. It was the desire of the House of Commons that the employees of the State should be fairly and even well paid, but they had other obligations besides. They were trustees for the great mass of the people, who under no circumstances could expect to be employees of the State; and the money with which they paid those who were selected for the service of the State was contributed by that great mass, often worse off, very often no better off, than the servants of the State themselves. They had a double duty in that House—a duty to be fair to the servants of the State and a duty to be just to the taxpayers, who could secure protection from none but the House of Commons. And if this was at all times true, it was especially true in times like these, when the burdens on the taxpayers were very heavy. By a single vote in the House of Commons they might increase those burdens by millions of money. There was a growing demand for fresh services to be undertaken by the public, and unless they were economical in the conduct of the services for which they were already responsible they would bring that movement to disaster. They would force public bodies of every kind to retrace their steps after the ratepayers and taxpayers had borne an enormous burden unless there was economical management of this great business. In his view, even the parity and integrity 1403 of public life was involved in this matter. The worst form of corruption that could be found in public life in other countries was due to the system which had grown up of employing more men than were needed to do public work and paying them rather more than their work was worth. In this way they gradually produced a system which rested upon corruption and which became part of their political life, and, once it had taken hold, they found it almost impossible to control it. To create a privileged class of public employees either doing less work or earning more pay than they could earn in good employment of a similar character outside was to strike at the root of our free institutions, to poison them at their source, and to vitiate all that followed from them. It was for that reason that in drafting the reference to this Committee he put in the words—That the Committee, in making their recommendations, shall have regard to the conditions of employment of the classes they deal with, and to the rates of wages current in other occupations.He ventured to say that that was the only standard by which they could test the fairness of the rates the Government paid.
His hon. friend had read the paragraph in which the Committee stated that they had not seen their way to obtain any specific evidence as to the comparative rates of wages current in other occupations. They explained this by saying that they had the Returns of the Board of Trade before them, and that they had had business experience of their own. If he had been relying only on their business experience he should have asked them to give evidence, and he should not have appointed a Committee to take evidence. But that was not all. Not only did they make up their minds not to take any of the evidence which was directly pointed to in the terms of reference, but they themselves had laid down principles which in their opinion should govern the State in these matters. The Committee said they thought postal employees were justified in resting their claims to remuneration on the responsible and exacting character of the duties they performed, and on the social position they filled as servants of the State. He did not know the exact meaning of that 1404 sentence, but he presumed it meant that they were to be in some way separate from and more favoured than any of their fellow-workmen in any employment not paid for by the State. That principle was a departure from anything that any responsible Minister or any responsible Government had ever accepted. It would leave wages either to a haphazard determination by the Minister of the day, or any equally haphazard demand which the employees might choose to make. Applying their principles the Committee went on to make the very remarkable statements which had been read by his noble friend. Those passages showed why it was not possible for the Government to adopt that Report and why no responsible Government, without a breach of their duty to the country, had ever adopted a Report based upon those principles. There would never be settlement for a day if they said it was only necessary for employees to express discontent in order to have the question of wages reopened and in order to be able to demand an increase.
The Committee having dealt with the matter as they had done, the Government had been forced to do for themselves that which they hoped the Committee might do for them. They had been obliged to make comparisons of wages for themselves, examples of which his noble friend had already given to the House. These comparisons showed, he said, that there was no justification for the wholesale increase in the wages of Post Office officials which the Bradford Committee recommended. Might he just give one or two other figures? Hon. Gentlemen might suppose from the way the case was presented, that little or no advance had been made in recent years in the salaries of the Post Office employees. Let him take one or two comparisons between 1885 and 1903, giving for each year the average weekly pay. The average weekly pay of male sorters in London in 1885 was 28s. 5d., and in 1903 it was 40s. 8d., a rise of 43.1 per cent. Male telegraphists in the Central Telegraph Office received in 1885 28s. 10d. and in 1903 40s. 2d., an increase of 39.3 per cent. In the rest of the United Kingdom male sorting clerks and telegraphists, who in 1885 earned an average 1405 weekly wage of 27s. 2d., received in 1903 an average wage of 33s. 2d., a rise of 22. 08 per cent. Postmen of all grades who in the earlier year earned on the average 19s. 10d. had risen to 24s. 6d., showing an increase of 23.52 per cent. These increases were given before the additions which had been made by his noble friend. The Committee, therefore, would see how large had been the increase already given.
He asked the Committee to consider what would be the cost of doing that which they were asked to do to-day. His noble friend had given the figures showing what the recommendations of the Bradford Committee would cost if carried out. Did the Committee realise that, if the recommendations of the Bradford Committee had been in full operation this year, there could have been no reduction in taxation, and that the tea duty would have remained at 8d. instead of being, as now, at 6d.? Did they realise, what was a far more serious consideration, that the demands of the Post Office servants were only the beginning of the matter, and if they were conceded there were many other grades of Civil servants which must be treated on the same basis, to the great increase of the expenditure of the country? He did not hesitate to say that the demand represented by the Report of the Bradford Committee would mean at the very least an increase of the sugar duty by 50 per cent. That was the least which the taxpayers of the country were asked to pay in order that a privileged few might maintain their social position as servants of the State.
The question at issue was not one between the two political Parties. It was above Parties. It was whether there was to be good economical government in this country at all, or whether Civil servants in the employment of the Crown could make such use of their votes, as citizens, for the purely selfish purpose of forcing the public to pay more for their services and so increase the expense of a great Department of State. He did not know how long they 1406 could go on in the position they had now reached, under which pressure was brought to bear on hon. Members of all Parties by their constituents. He was certain that if any scheme could be devised, such as was foreshadowed by his hon. friend the Member for North Islington, so-that they might take this question altogether out of the region of political life—not merely out of Party life but out of Parliamentary life—it would be a great advantage. It would tend to preserve the Civil Service free from that political influence and independent of the changing fortunes of political Parties which had been their great boast and security in the past. If there were a general feeling in the House that an object of that kind was one on which all Parties might well co-operate, then His Majesty s Government, whilst maintaining as resolutely as they had in past years their objection to referring these specific grievances to a Select Committee appointed in the ordinary way for that particular purpose, would be prepared to assent to the appointment of a Committee of this House consider the state of affairs which had arisen; to see if they could devise some remedy for it, to lay down the principles by which they should be governed in these matters; and to advise whether it would be possible to establish some permanent body or Commission, outside the sphere of electoral pressure and above and beyond any of our Party conflicts, which might advise the Government in applying those principles to particular cases. Such a Committee could, of course, only be successfully conceded with the goodwill of all Patties in the House; and if the whole House were animated by a desire, if possible, to set this question at rest. With that goodwill, he thought, it might serve a useful purpose. The object to be attained was of such vast importance that he, for one, would not refuse any method by which they might hope successfully to compass it and to maintain the Civil Service in that high position of which, with its great traditions they had such just cause to be proud and. such good reason to be grateful for.
§ Question put.1408
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 206; Noes, 249. (Division List No. 248.)1411
§ And, it being after half-past Seven of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again this evening.