HC Deb 21 June 1906 vol 159 cc387-434

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum not exceeding £10,496,741, 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 March 31st, 1907, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Post Office, including Telegraphs."


said the most remarkable feature of the postal revenue at the present moment was the continued improvement which it had shown in every respect. He found that the excess of revenue from the various branches last year exceeded the estimate by about £670,000, and in the coming year the additional revenue derived from it was estimated at an excess of £800,000 over the previous year. The savings banks were also in a flourishing condition, and the number of depositors had increased. Their sheet-anchor was, of course, the penny stamp, and he was glad to say the revenue from that source was increasing month by month. The worst feature of the situation was the telegraph service. It had never been profitable, and now the telephone system had so largely taken its place that the revenue was falling off. The telephone system had made considerable progress, and the revenue derived from it was increasing rapidly year by year. The Post Office were pressing forward telephonic communication with various parts of the country, but they had great difficulty in obtaining wayleaves for the purpose. Not only did private individuals attempt to extort blackmail from the Post Office, but there was considerable difficulty with various local authorities. The Post Office had no desire to place overhead wires in places where they would be an eyesore; they were prepared to put the wires underground where necessary, and he hoped they would receive proper treatment from the local authorities. He hoped that the extension of wireless telegraphy as a commercial means of communication would take place rapidly. He expressed his surprise that the secretary of Lloyd's should have made a violent and unprovoked attack on the Post Office, and especially on his predecessor, in circulars on this matter which he sent to the newspapers and the Peers. All he could say with regard to the statement of the secretary of Lloyd's was that it was a pure travesty of the truth in regard to this matter. It was thought necessary to pass the Wireless Telegraphy Act to enable the Admiralty to control, in time of war, the stations that were being erected and to prevent the multiplication of stations to an extent that would interfere with the effective working of naval stations. The Act was also necessary to arm the Post Office with power to carry out any agreement that might be come to at any international conference which might take place. He understood that one of the chief objects of the Act was not to create a monopoly, but to prevent the monopoly which was gradually being created by one company's erecting stations at all the most suitable places. The only means of preventing that was to give the Postmaster-General power to license various companies and various systems. Since the passing of the Act only one additional licence had been granted to the Marconi Company, while ninety-one licences of various kinds had been issued, and only three licences had been refused. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had described him as a sturdy beggar for asking that a portion of the revenue should be applied to the postal service. He agreed that the Post Office ought to be a revenue-bearing portion of our system, but when there were additional profits the public ought to have some benefit from them. The cost of the various domestic postal reforms to be carried out and those which would follow the new Postal Union Convention, when it came into force, would amount to £156,000 a year and £190,000 a year respectively; in all a charge on the Post Office of £350,000 when they came into full operation. It was not easy in the present condition of things to find money for postal reform, but he thought the Committee would recognise that £350,000 a year in our present financial straits was no small sum for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give him for that purpose. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his Budget speech, had already referred to these proposals of domestic improvement, and he would only wish to supplement his right hon. friend's observations with a few words, and to indicate the nature of the reforms which he had been able to bring into operation. The first reform had reference to the charges for the Parcel Post, in regard to which he had introduced a new scale. The basis of that postage was a two-penny charge, with an additional penny a pound. What he had been able to do was to reduce the charge by a penny above the four pounds scale and by twopence in the upper scale from six pounds upwards. He confessed that that, of course, was only a provisional reform, and he thought it was generally acknowledged that the Parcel Post might very well be enlarged and improved, and possibly the charges at the lower end of the scale also reduced, and the upper scales extended. But he had no funds this year which would enable him to carry out that proposal. Then there was the question of reduction in the cost of postal orders, which formed in this country a very popular form of remitting money. No less than 95,000,000 postal orders were issued last year, and when he looked into the matter he found that the number of orders of the lower denominations of 2s. and 2s. 6d. amounted to 12,000,000, which was an indication, he thought, that they were largely used by people in humble circumstances. The present charge of 1d. on those orders represented a charge of from 4 to 4½ per cent. on their cost price. He proposed to reduce the rate on orders of this denomination from 1d. to ½d., and the rate on orders from 11s. to 15s. from 1½d. to 1d. He thought that would be a great boon to a very large number of users of postal orders. He had been pressed by his hon. friend the Member for Canterbury, and by other hon. Members to extend what might be called the commercial halfpenny post, so that any printed document or any document that was not of a personal character which did not exceed 2oz. might be sent for one halfpenny. The difficulty had always been one of definition, but what he proposed to do was to revise the definition as it existed at present, and to extend the benefits of this particular post. He did not suppose that all the anomalies and difficulties would be entirely overcome, but he hoped a good deal might be done to the advantage of the commercial firms, traders, and others who used this post. The reform to which he attached most importance was the increase of postal, telegraph, and telephone facilities. He was surprised to find that there was a certain number of misguided people in this country who desired to have their postal facilities increased. He was not one of those. He would rather like to have them very much diminished, though he dared say that if he had not got the facilities he would want them. With the money placed at his disposal he would be able to secure, except in regard to very distant places or very scantily populated neighbourhoods, to every house in this country the delivery of letters on at least three days a week. Then, at present, unless it could be shown that telegraph facilities were likely to be fairly profitable, or, at any rate, not to lead to any great loss, they were only granted under a guarantee that half the loss was borne by the individual of the locality, while the other half fell upon the Post Office, and in the case of the telephone the whole loss fell on the guarantor. In future, both in regard to telegraphs and trunk telephone lines, the guarantee would be reduced from one-half to one-third, and this, he hoped, would lead to an extension of these facilities to a large number of places where at present, unfortunately, they did not exist. He hoped, too, that this would meet the view of the Board of Agriculture as to the necessity of a cheap telephone service in rural and especially in fruit-growing districts. The improvements to which he referred would cost, as he had already stated, for a complete year, something like £156,000, and he thought he might claim that they would give relief which was very much needed, especially by the poorer classes, by the trading and commercial houses of the country and by the public at large. He was glad to think that the results of the Universal Postal Union Congress at Rome this year would be of considerable advantage to those who were interested in foreign postage. The hon. Member for Canterbury had urged upon him that at that conference he should have taken up an attitude of strongly pressing for a universal penny post throughout the world. His answer to that was a simple one, and perhaps it would appeal to hon. Members. He was personally sympathetic with the proposal that there should be a universal system of penny postage throughout the length and breadth of the world, and it was quite obvious that at some time or another that system would be introduced. It was equally evident that anomalies, such as that while they could send a letter from England to Australia for 1d., while it cost 2½d. to send a similar letter to Paris, did exist under the present system and must disappear. But the Government were not now in a position to deal with the question. Universal penny postage would involve this country in a loss of half a million sterling in postal revenue, and, as there would be practically no profit on the international penny postage, that loss, would not be recouped, however largely the number of letters was increased as a result of the reduction. He thought the Committee would generally recognize that under present conditions the Government were not in a position to sacrifice £500,000 of revenue even for so laudable an object as that of universal penny postage. Even if the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been in a position to offer him the £500,000 to play with, he was not sure that he should not have used it in other though perhaps less showy ways than in establishing universal penny postage. It would have been easy for the British delegates to make a demonstration in favour of the proposal for a universal penny postage if they had liked to do so, for when the Universal Postal Union Conference met, it was quite certain that a proposal for the establishment of the universal penny post would not have been carried and the Government could have professed to be in favour of it without involving the risk of any loss. But that would not have been, in his opinion, a satisfactory or honest way of dealing with the question, and therefore it was that he instructed the British delegates not to record their votes in favour of it. The British proposal at the Congress was that, failing universal penny postage, the initial charge of 2½d. should be reduced to 2d., and that, for every additional ½ oz. the charge should be 1d., instead of, as at present, 2½d. That would have meant that the charge for a letter weighing 1 oz. would have been reduced from 5d. to 3d. Both those proposals, he was sorry to say, were defeated, though they received the backing of all the English-speaking delegates and of some of the representatives of the other countries. However, largely as the result of the action of the British delegates, the initial weight of a foreign letter would be raised from ½ oz. to 1 oz., the charge remaining at 2½d.; while the charge for the second ounce would be 1½d. instead of 2½d., as at present. The upshot of the matter would be that, in future, they would be able to send a 1-oz. letter for 2½d. that formerly cost 5d., a 2-oz. letter for 4d. that formerly cost 10d., and a 3-oz. letter, which formerly cost 1s. 3d., for 5½d. He thought that would be regarded as a material relief to those sending letters abroad. Another result of these reductions would be that the difficulties connected with the question of enclosure would very largely disappear. The British delegates at the Postal Union Congress proposed under instructions from home that in regard to underpaid letters the fine should be limited to 1d., whatever might be the overcharge. It was an annoying matter when a letter had been not quite sufficiently stamped, very often owing to a mere accident, to find a heavy charge for overweight. The proposal of the British delegates was not carried. Under this new system, however, the fine for the underpaid letter would not be as it had been, 5d., but could not exceed 3d. As to the difference between the proposals now adopted and Imperial penny postage, he was not sure that on the whole the advantage from the point of view of the foreign letter writer would not be greater under the former. The initial charge would no doubt be more than at present, but when it came to anything exceeding 2 oz. the advantage lay on the side of the allowance of an increased weight in place of a mere reduction of charge. Moreover, universal penny postage would not have affected our relations with the Colonies in regard to Imperial postage, which was at present 1d. the ½ oz. But the reform adopted by the Congress of raising the unit weight had this advantage with regard to our existing system of Imperial penny post—that in future we should be able to send to our Colonies, and to any part of the British Empire for 1d. an ounce instead of only half an ounce; while two ounces would cost 2d. instead of 4d. Another reform adopted by the Congress was the "reply coupon." Anyone writing to a friend abroad and desirous of sending postage for a reply or a small remittance could do so by means of an international coupon. The total cost of the proposals would be £190,000 a year. He hoped that before very long some of that would be recouped by the increased number of letters sent. Imperial penny postage had now been extended to practically the whole of the British Empire. Bechuanaland and Rhodesia had come in during the last twelve months, and the system now extended throughout the Empire with the exception of one or two small islands in the Pacific. To his predecessor, whose absence from the House he regretted, really belonged the credit of a reduction in the price of porterage for telegrams and of another small reform. These were the proposals which the Department laid before the Committee, and he hoped they would be considered to be satisfactory. There were two other matters which were receiving his attention, but about which he was not in a position to say anything very definite. He hoped, however, that something might be done in the right direction. The first was a question which interested very much those who had directed their attention to the subject of Canadian postage—he meant the question whether we could give a material reduction on the postage of heavy articles, such as periodicals, magazines, and newspaper matter, in order to meet the American competition, which flooded Canada with American literature. He was in communication with the Canadian Government, and had made proposals and suggestions which he was sure they would meet in a friendly spirit, and he thought also in a favourable spirit. He hoped that before long some practical action might be taken. The second point was the question of reducing the postage on the literature for the blind. Every one had the greatest sympathy for the blind, and he was in negotiation with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and those interested with a view to such a reduction. All these matters were dealt with from the point of view of the public, but they must not forget that the Postmaster-General was the largest employer of labour in this country. He employed 150,000 persons, and indirectly he employed 50,000 persons apart from the men working under contractors. Therefore, his action, good or bad, must have a considerable influence on the general position of the labour market. His view was that the Government ought to be a good employer. As to contractors, the question was largely one of whether they paid fair wages and whether their conditions of labour were proper conditions. He had had the honour of moving and getting the House to adopt the fair wages clause, and he had consequently a parental feeling in regard to that clause. He had given a great deal of attention to any facts brought before him, where it was alleged that proper wages were not paid or that proper conditions were not observed, and he would continue to do so, in order that the Resolution of the House might be carried out with the fullest possible effect. He had been able in one or two cases to improve the conditions by drawing the attention of the contractors to them. The other day he gave notice of the termination of a contract because he thought it clear that the contractor was not, and never could be, a fair employer of labour. With regard to clothing contracts, the assent of the Treasury had enabled him to appoint an officer of the nature of an Inspector to be added to the Department, and for the first time the Postmaster-General would have an opportunity of more or less controlling the conditions of these clothing and other contracts or obtaining information as regarded them. With regard to the Department as a direct employer of manual labour, at Mount Pleasant and Holloway it was his anxious desire, and that of the Secretary and Controller, to place that work as far as possible on a stable basis, so that there should be the least possible fluctuations in regard to the work given out to these factories, and that there should not be a large number of men taken on at one time and discharged at another. Thus the men would be employed as far as possible from the beginning to the end of the year. The matter was not an easy one to arrange, but an endeavour was being made to carry it out. Referring to the Committee of Inquiry into the conditions and wages of postal servants, he said that the Committee was very much indebted to the members of that Committee, especially the chairman, for the great amount of time and attention they were giving to this important matter. As to the conditions of service, he thought the time had come when the full right of representation and combination ought to be allowed in the postal service as in other associations, and that there should be a reiteration of the right of appeal to the Postmaster-General. He believed that the stronger and more responsible a trade union was made the more likely were the relations between the trade union men and the employer to be good and satisfactory. Far from the recognition of postal trade unions leading to friction, he believed that the stronger and more representative the associations became the less would be the friction, and the more easy it would be to arrive at a conclusion satisfactory to both sides.

The last six months had been a period of exceptional pressure on the Department owing to the Committee of Inquiry, which took away the able Secretary and others for six or seven weeks, while reforms, spacial questions and memorials, deputations, etc., had consumed a large amount of time. In addition hon. Members themselves had something to do with the delay which took place in dealing with matters in which they were interested. He was informed a little while ago by his private secretary that in the ordinary way sixty or seventy applications of various sorts were made by hon. Members in the coarse of a calendar month, but that for some months past, in consequence perhaps of there being a new Government, a new Parliament, new Members, and a new Postmaster-General, the number of applications of all sorts had amounted to between 300 and 400 per month. This, he might say, was before there was an unfortunate vacancy in Glasgow, since when letters had been thick as leaves in Vallom brosa. He mentioned all this not as an excuse, but as an explanation of delay. He was not complaining of it at all, and he thanked ion. Members for the consideration which they always gave in these matters, and for not pressing him too severely. He wished to refer to the question of the appointment of sub-postmasters and medical officers. Ten years ago hon. Members had the direct power of appointing sub-postmasters, and so on. They had relinquished that power, but the position at present was that they had a certain power of recommendation to tie Postmaster-General. It certainly seemed to him that the old system ought to be reverted to or this matter taken out of the purview of politics altogether. Having now been Postmaster-General for six months, he had formed a very high idea of the marvellous organisation and efficiency of our great postal service. Of course there were accidents, but when he told the Committee that last year no less than 4,700,000,000 letters and packages were sent throughout this country and no less than 100,000,000 trunk telephone and telegraph messages, the wonder was not at the number of complaints but that they were not infinitely greater. He desired to recog- nise the zeal and public spirit that animated all branches of the service, of which he was proud to be the temporary chief.


said the two important points which ought to engage the attention of the Committee, namely, the wages of postmen, and universal penny postage, would not come up to-day because the postmen's case was now being considered by a Committee, and the question of universal penny postage would be discussed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Postmaster-General in the Grand Committee room on July 3rd, when a deputation would wait upon them. He promised the Postmaster-General that when the time arrived they would be able to show that the loss by the introduction of universal penny postage would not amount to more than £125,000 a year. Imperial penny postage, although strongly opposed by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessors, was carried. It was just the same in Rowland Hill's day, and it was found that no loss resulted from the introduction of the penny postage. He would show how little reliance could be placed on the brief prepared for his right hon. friend by referring to one matter. The right hon. Gentleman had told them of the blessings of increasing the weight of letters to foreign countries from a half ounce to one ounce. If the right hon. Gentleman would turn to Hansard of ten years ago when he asked the Postmaster-General of that time to increase the weight of letters to the Colonies and foreign countries from a half ounce to one ounce, he would find the reply was that a letter written on the strongest paper and in the strongest envelope could be sent for half an ounce to any part of the world, and it was not the intention to extend the weight to an ounce. To-day the right hon. Gentleman had referred in terms of praise to the benefits of the increase of the weight to an ounce. Surely after the insulting way in which the right hon. Gentleman's predecessors refused to increase the weight to an ounce there ought to be some sort of apology from the right hon. Gentleman for the attitude he took up to-day. No reliance could be placed on the figures supplied to the right hon. Gentleman as to the loss that would arise from the introduction of universal penny postage. He was prepared to show that the initial loss would not be a quarter of what the right hon. Gentleman said, and that the increase of letters in three years would cover the loss. The right hon. Gentleman had said that he had given £150,000 this year in concessions, but he omitted to tell the Committee at the same time that the Post Office made £480,000 extra profit. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the time had not arrived for selling post-cards at their face value. The loss would be very small. This was the only country in the world in which it was not possible to get the postcard at its face value. Another reform which he would like to see carried out was that telegraph money orders should be delivered at the residence instead of the recipient having to go to a post office to get the money. In every other country the reform he asked for had been carried out. In regard to this, and, in fact, to all money orders, it was far better for one postman to take the money to 200 houses of the addressees than for 200 persons to go to the post office for the money advised in each of their money orders. It would be an immense saving of time. He hoped hon. Members would join with him in pressing for that reform. Then there was the question of the cost of sending money abroad. To send 5s. to Paris from this country the cost was 4½d., but the cost of sending the same amount from Paris to this country was only one penny. Surely England could afford to send money abroad as cheaply as France, and he hoped a conference would be held with the French authorities upon this point. The only answer he had received on this point was that if £20 was sent it would be cheaper. There was another reform which had been received with great favour in Australia, America, and Italy. He referred to private letter boxes at post offices. In Sydney, Melbourne, New York, and even in Rome, a private letter box could be rented, where by applying his own key a person could get his letters at any hour. This country refused to give that facility to travellers from all parts of the world. Such a reform would answer a good purpose, and would be largely used by people in various parts of the Empire. The Postmaster-General had made a very curious admission with regard to the non-liability of the Post Office for anything which was stolen or any loss inflicted through the error or carelessness of the employees. He had told the Committee what a splendid staff he had, but he would like the right hon. Gentleman to adopt the practice which he would adopt in private life and when losses occurred to the public through gross carelessness or robbery pay his liabilities. To turn to another matter, this was the only country which refused to return a man a letter which he had posted in mistake. They insisted upon delivering it and refused to return it to the man who had written it. In every other country the moment a man sent a letter off by mistake he could go to the postmaster, and after furnishing the address and writing an account of the contents of the letter it would be returned to the writer. Often very serious injury had been done through mistakes of this kind, and he urged the right hon. Gentleman to allow writers of letters to withdraw them under those circumstances. There was another small matter which was causing great annoyance to a large number of persons, and that was the difficulty of buying stamps at railway stations. It was almost incredible that at the bookstalls they could not purchase a stamp. He was told by the great firm who controlled the bookstalls that it was owing to the excessive meanness of the Post Office that they could not get stamps at railway stations. If the Postmaster-General would look into this matter he should be much obliged. The right hon. Gentleman stated that he could not get any more money out of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but when a source of expenditure which was not justified was pointed out any business man would at once consider it, and put an end to it if possible. At the present moment they were losing £1,000,000 a year on the telegraph business. Every telegram that was dispatched cost the country 1s., whilst the average amount paid for it was only 7½d., which showed an absolute loss of 4½d. upon every telegram delivered. In round figures 90,000,000 telegrams cost £4,500,000, and the money received for them was £3,500,000. Would any business man tolerate this enormous loss upon telegrams? He was a little worried when he heard his right hon. friend express such sympathy for postmasters, because he thought the time had arrived for putting an end to political patronage. In the great colony of Australia on the railways they had a Civil Service board irremovable as judges, and Members of Parliament had no right to make or interfere with promotions. He thanked the Committee for listening to him so patiently.

MR LUPTON (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)

congratulated the Postmaster-General upon the interesting speech he had made. He rose to say a few words in regard to the interests of the employees who carried out the work of the Post Office in the admirable way he had described. As regarded their religion there was no interference from the Postmaster-General, but it was only as regarded their blood that the Postmaster-General seemed to think he had the right of interference, and to say what kind of blood should flow in their veins. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that it was for the good of the country that all his employee should be vaccinated, and he would, therefore, call his attention to a few figures which might make him consider whether it was necessary to interfere with the liberty of those who served under him. In the smallpox hospital where he lived there had been admitted 577 cases, and of these 509 were vaccinated. No one looking at those figures could say that vaccination was a safeguard against smallpox. One of these people had been re-vaccinated three times, another four times, and another five times. He believed there were some people who were re-vaccinated every six months, but they were not all like the pauper who, when a doctor offered him a shilling if he would allow himself to be vaccinated, replied: "Yes, you may vaccinate the whole of my body at that rate." They usually valued their skins at a little more than one shilling a square inch, and the Post Office employees valued their skins more highly than that. Vaccination was absolutely useless. If the hon. Member for the Epping Division who laughed would give him two or three hours of his valuable time he would undertake to convert him. He knew the hon. and gallant Member was a man of intelligence. He would offer him £10—


Is it in order for a Member of this House to offer a bribe to another?


I do not think it was serious.


I will hand him £10—


Oh, leave that.


I am sorry the rules of the House will not allow me to finish my sentence.


No, you must not.


I am sorry because it leaves me at a disadvantage. It prevents me making an explanation, and that half-sentence will go into the Press because I must not finish a sentence. People said, he continued, that in Germany they had wiped out smallpox by vaccination. In six years there were eighty-eight deaths in London from smallpox and in Berlin in the same period fifty-one.


Order, order! On the Post Office Estimates we cannot have a discussion on the general question of vaccination.


said he could not trace the history of all Post Office officials, but he could trace the history of men in the Army, and he thought he was entitled to take statistics from the Army to show the effects of vaccination.


said the hon. Member was out of order in discussing the general question of vaccination.


said he bowed to the ruling of the Chair, but what he wished to say was that the Postmaster-General could order vaccination if he liked, and he submitted he was entitled to raise the question of whether vaccination was of any use or not.


The question must be raised by itself, but the general question of vaccination is out of place on the Post Office Estimates.


said that if vaccination was shown to be useless in the Army it must be useless in the Post Office. He supposed he was in order in saying that. In the last twenty-eight years, of 3,953 vaccinated soldiers 10 per cent, had died of smallpox. If they died in the Army in that ratio they would die in the same ratio in the Post Office. The hon. Member was proceeding to quote in stances of the effects of vaccination when—


I have already said that we cannot have a general discussion on vaccination. The hon. Member must limit himself to vaccination in the Post Office and its effect upon Post Office officials.


No statistics are published as regards smallpox in the Post Office.


Then there is no use referring further to the matter.


said he would content himself by asking the Postmaster-General to inquire into the question of vaccination and smallpox, and if he came to the conclusion that vaccination was useless he should revise the existing orders on the subject. The right hon. Gentleman might alter his regulations so that vaccination would only be compulsory if he thought it was necessary at all in the case of a severe epidemic. His opinion was that vaccination was no use at all.

MR. WALTER LONG (Dublin, S.)

said he wished, as having been connected with the Local Government Board for some time, to protest against the remarks of the hon. Member for the Sleaford Division. The hon. Member had said that the Postmaster-General should only make vaccination compulsory in the Post Office in the event of a severe epidemic. He protested against that because nothing could be more disastrous to the service. He wished to draw attention to a subject which created a good deal of interest, but which had found very slight advocacy in the Committee. They had had a very interesting review by the Postmaster-General of the work of the Post Office for the year, and about the necessity for cheap Imperial postage, but while with the greater part of the world the postal arrangements were admirable and in this country the service rendered by the Post Office was of a character they had a right to admire, he was sorry to say that in many rural districts the condition of things was very bad. He knew of places which were well provided with railway communication, and contained a large population, where the postal arrangements were very far from what they ought to be. He had drawn attention to this matter repeatedly, but his representations had met with very meagre results. In many parts of the country the postal service arrived at a late hour in the morning, and the delivery took place at from half-past three to half-past four. Of course that did not affect the people who were able to keep carriages and servants, and could send for their letters; but the poorer people, the farmers and small traders, were very seriously inconvenienced by the want of adequate postal facilities. There were many farmers in the country who were seriously hampered in carrying on their business owing to their letters arriving after they had gone to the market, or to the neighbouring towns on business. They found on their return that their letters had arrived, but the post had left, and it was next morning before they were able to reply to their communications. Of course, the Postmaster-General had great difficulties to face, but he submitted that in many cases a great improvement might be effected by a re-arrangement of postal facilities. In certain districts local circumstances had altered. New railways had come into existence, and it would be quite easy by an alteration of the postal centres to afford the facilities asked for. He did not suggest that there should be the same number of deliveries as in the towns, but he submitted that there should be an arrival of letters early in the morning and a collection late in the evening. At present a man in Manchester who spent 1d. on a letter got all the facilities he could desire, and an adequate return for the expenditure, but in the country districts a man did not get the same value for 1d. spent on a letter. He did not ask the Postmaster-General to say anything on the subject that day, but he asked him to give his earnest attention to this question so that all these difficulties might be overcome.

MR. SEDDON (Lancashire, Newton)

said be wished to express his thanks to the Postmaster-General for his remarks with reference to the Post Office employees. The attitude of the right hon. Gentleman was not only the correct one, but stood out in strong relief against that of his predecessor. Personally he did not share the regret expressed that the late Postmaster-General was not present to criticise or to commend the statement for the current year. He had no desire to see that Gentleman in the House, and he did not regret the small part he had played in trying to keep him out. He did not think it was in the interests of the public service for any paid official, even a Cabinet Minister, to describe a section of the community as blood suckers and blackmailers. Until he had learned better manners he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would keep out of the House. He noticed that £580,000 was paid last year to contractors for carrying the mails by road, and he was told that in these cases the Post Office did not own the vans or have any control over the men. The result was that the men were paid low wages and worked long hours under unsatisfactory conditions. In the Post Office it had been demonstrated beyond all doubt that the employment of direct labour was efficient, economical, and in the public interest. Yet there was this enormous amount paid to contractors. Electric traction had passed out of the experimental stage, and the money now paid to contractors would pay three per cent, on something like £20,000,000. Surely this was a favourable opportunity for encouraging British industries by setting up a great motor carriage service to be worked by the Post Office. The Post Office was now sympathetic towards direct labour employment. He appealed to the right hon. Gentleman to extend the operation of the principle and to secure the employment by the Post Office of as much direct labour as was possible. That would be, he held, an economy to the nation and a benefit to the workmen engaged.


said there were two Reports to which he wished to refer for a few moments. In the last Parliament there was a considerable body of opinion, on both sides of the House, as to the action of postal servants in bringing pressure to bear on Members of Parliament in regard to their grievances. In order to prevent the recurrence of that pressure he advocated the appointment of a permanent Commission, which should from time to time survey the changed conditions of industrial life and the alterations in its standards in regard to wages and living. The Commission should deal not only with the Post Office or any other Department but with the conditions prevailing in every Department, contrasted with those existing in civil life. It was true that at the present time a Committee had been appointed to inquire into this question as it affected the grievances of postal servants, but he regretted that the late Postmaster-General did not appoint, as he might have done, a permanent Commission which, if its constitution was satisfactory, he believed would have the support and confidence of both Parties. It should be representative of labour as well as of the other wide interests concerned. He appealed to the present Postmaster-General to take into consideration the question of bringing before Parliament the desirability of appointing a permanent Commission to deal with wages and conditions of service of Civil servants not only in the Post Office but in all Departments of State He thought that would satisfy the minds of those who were uneasy and alarmed about these grievances. The Postmaster-General had given promises n egard to some reforms which had been pressed upon him by a great many Members of the House of Commons, but he had not given any definite pledge as to the reduction of the postal rates between this country and Canada. Last year a deputation consisting of twenty-one Members of Parliament waited upon the late Postmaster General and begged him to init ate a reform which would give to Canada that consideration to which she was entitled in regard to this very serious matter. The question had not been discussed for two or three years, and it was well worth going over the ground which had been traversed before, in order that a new House of Commons might understand the position. He was quite sure that there was not a Member of the House who did not desire the closest and most sympathetic relations between this country and the Colonies, and he was sure that there was no one who would not give reciprocal relations which did not involve any change in our fiscal system. He had nothing to do with the fiscal system of this country in regard to this question, and therefore he claimed the sympathy of his hon. friends opposite. At the present time periodicals and magazines going from this country to Canada had to be paid for at the rate of 4d. a pound, whereas periodicals going from the United States to Canada were paid for at the rate of a halfpenny a pound That being so, anyone interested in the industrial developement of this country and the developement of trade between ourselves and our Colonies must realise what a serious condition of things this was, because a magazine coming from the United States was filled, and purposely filled, with advertisements of American goods. Another serious thing was that there were fifty-five periodicals published in America to one published in Canada. Therefore, Canada was swamped with American literature which represented the commercial and social life of the United States and dealt with the attitude of Canada as a Colony towards this country. This constant influx of American literature and its influence in Canada tended to devitalise the loyalty of the Colony. That process had been going on year after year, and if they could devise a reform of the Postal Department—which was the milch cow of the Government far more than any other Department—without any undue pressure upon the resources at the disposal of the right hon. Gentleman, he thought it ought to be done. A sixpenny monthly English magazine cost 9s. 6d. a year in Canada, whereas, an American magazine only cost 6s. 6d. That was a differential rate which effectually excluded English magazines and literature from Canada, except English magazines which were imported in bulk into the United States at a cost of 8s. per hundred pounds or about a penny a pound. When these magazines arrived in America, however, they had added to them about a hundred or a hundred and fifty pages of American advertisements. All this had a tendency to diminish the commercial interchange which should go on between this country and Canada, and to decrease the output of the industrial centres of this country. At present the Nineteenth Century, weighing ten or twelve ounces, cost 4½d. to send from London to Liverpool, whereas the quarterly issue of the Gentlewoman or of The Drapers' Record, weighing two and a half pounds and containing 130 pages of advertisements, and sixty-four pages partly advertisement and partly reading matter went through the post from London to Liverpool for a halfpenny. He called the system a stupid one, but when he put the matter before the late Postmaster-General almost a couple of years ago the right hon. Gentleman said that the publishers of certain publications took advantage of the Post Office Act, and so brought about the anomalies of which he complained. Of course if a proposal was made to remove anomalies of this kind it would receive opposition on the part of the owners of these huge and successful newspapers which went by post for a halfpenny. If the rates on magazines like the Nineteenth Century and the Contemporary were lowered, a better class of reading matter would be provided. During the last few years there had been a tendency to lower the taste of the public by cheap newspapers and literature, and it was desirable that the movement in that direction should not be encouraged. He knew that the right hon. Gentleman was sympathetic in this matter. Canada had shown its willingness to meet this country by stating that they would lower the rate with regard to magazines and periodicals by a farthing, and they were making that concession upon international grounds. Canada, therefore, was trying to find a way out of the difficulty, and he hoped that the proposals which the right hon. Gentleman had made to the Government of that country were not of a nature which demanded too large a sacrifice. Successive Postmasters-Generals had always, with the whip of the Treasury snapped over their heads, opposed reforms which, when initiated, brought grist to the Treasury. So far as the telegraph department was concerned he was not prepared to offer any opinion. In view of the facts he had endeavoured to put before the Committee, and in view of the fact that there was a large body of opinion on both sides of the House in its favour, he thought the reply of the Postmaster-General with regard to Canada was most unsatisfactory. Canada was asking for the reduction of a penny on the postage rate on British magazines. She said that if we gave her that reduction she would be able to purchase more magazines of this country in order to compete with the great incursion of American magazines. But beyond the Imperial influence and solidarity through out the Empire which these magazines would convey, there was the commercial and industrial interest. He believed the Postmaster-General could do nothing more popular, so far as Canada was concerned, and he believed so far as this country was concerned, than to adjust these anomalies in connection with the inland postage, and in adjusting them make it possible to reduce the rates to Canada. He relied on the right hon. Gentleman, first, to give the Committee as soon as possible the terms of the negotiations into which he had entered with Canada; secondly, to make the conditions as light as possible for her to accept; and, thirdly, not to consider too seriously the possible loss of revenue, because he must remember that he did not get so much out of the postage as he would expect, as the bulk of the reading matter that went to Canada went by way of the United States, which got the bulk of the postage. In conclusion, he appealed once more to the right hon. Gentleman to advance this most excellent cause as rapidly as possible.

MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)

said it was obvious that the many topics which were usually discussed on these Estimates could not be entered into now because the Committee which was considering them had not concluded its deliberations. But there was one question, which was not under the consideration of the Committee, to which he desired to refer. It was the question of the wages and conditions of service of the mail van drivers. He had always held that the conditions of service of these men and the wages they received were a disgrace to the Service and to the country. He would give the Committee a typical case. A mail van driver started out at 6 a.m., worked till 10 a.m., returned at 2 p.m., and left off at 10 p.m. for a wage of 3s. 6d. a day.


What is the name of the contractor?


said he was unable to give the name of the contractor. But, in addition to those hours, the men had to attend on Sunday to clean their horses, harness and stables, for which they received no remuneration. He contended that no one who even indirectly was working for the State ought to be serving under such conditions. The right hon. Gentleman had told the Committee he had determined one contract because he was not satisfied with the conditions under which the men worked, but he would like to know what the right hon. Gentleman considered were fair and reasonable hours for a mail van driver, and what was a fair and reasonable salary. It appeared that at present the old Fair Wages Clause was incorporated in these contracts, but that was of no use, as long experience had shewn. He held the opinion that the Post Office ought to do its own cartage, but, until it did, he wished to press on the Postmaster-General very strongly that as the Fair Wages Clause had proved a failure, he ought to adopt the practice followed in many cases by the London County Council and other local bodies, of incorporating in these contracts a schedule of hours and wages. There was no difficulty in doing so. He felt very strongly upon this question, in which the people of the East End of London were largely concerned. But it was not only a question of workmen; the honour of the public and of this House was concerned. The men for whose conditions of service they were responsible should not be subjected to such conditions as those which he had stated, In order to elicit a fuller statement upon this very important and pressing question, he moved to reduce the Vote by the amount of which he had given notice, namely £100.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £10,496,641, be granted for the said service."—(Mr. Pickersgill.)


congratulated the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster-General upon being the first Minister occupying the position he held who had been able to see his way to grant a concession to his blind fellow countrymen, although he regretted the right hon. Gentleman was unable to state to the Committee what the concession was that he proposed to grant. All the Committee would share the sympathy exhibited by the right hon. Gentleman towards the blind. There were a great many people who did not realise that the blind had to suffer a considerable amount of hardship that more fortunate people had not to put up with. They had to pay as much rates and taxes as their more favoured brethren, but had not the opportunity of enjoying the amenities and advantages which those rates and taxes provided in the same way as those who had their sight. They had at great trouble, and after years of instruction, been taught to read with their hands, by a laborious but ingenious use of the sense of touch, to supplement the sense of which they are deficient; but after having been so instructed they found themselves still further handicapped by the price and the difficulty of getting the literature they required. The weight and bulk of literature for the blind was such as to make the cost of postage very heavy. The Postmaster-General had expressed his sympathy with the proposal, but he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would appreciate the value of the adage that a little help was worth a deal of pity. The blind were obliged to confine themselves to such magazines as "Progress," which cost 6d.: the price of transmission through the post amounted to 3d., and for some o cult reason an additional 1d. was sometimes charged. These were instances of the expense of sending through the post literature available for the use of the blind. A more astonishing piece of information was furnished by the Secretary of the British and Foreign Blind Association who told him that the weight of the Bible in a form for the blind was 105 lbs., and the cost of postage per copy £1 0s. 5d. This seemed to him to make it prohibitive in many cases for blind people, who were not very largely endowed with this world's goods, to obtain literature of any kind through the post. The preferential rate given to newspapers was regarded with envy by the blind. Such papers as the Field, the Graphic, and the Queen were larger in bulk and wider than the magazine for the blind he had referred to, and yet they passed through the post for ½d.; the Drapers' Record, with 300 pages on one occasion, passed through the post for ½d., although it was six times as large as the small magazine to which he had referred. He was glad to think that the Postmaster-General proposed to mitigate the difficulties which the blind suffered with regard to literature sent through the post. He only hoped the concession would be really material. The Postmaster-General conducted one of the most efficient and best equipped of the Government Departments, and he was so far happily placed that his was one of the Departments which invariably swelled the revenue instead of depleting it as other Departments did. The right hon. Gentleman, therefore, could be liberal without falling foul of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and follow the example of various foreign countries and British Colonies by allowing literature for the blind to pass free through the post. He urged the right hon. Gentleman not to spoil the ship for a ha'porth of tar. Many proposals had been made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make use of public money for the benefit of Members of Parliament. If the Committee were polled to decide the question whether the right hon. Gentleman should yield to any of those proposals to grant, free postage for the blind, he would guarantee the right hon. Gentleman a larger majority than it had ever been his duty to tell in favour of the Government.

MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)

said he had nothing but admiration for the statement of the Postmaster-General, and, notwithstanding his right hon. friend's gentle remonstrance with regard to the importunity of Members, he ventured to bring before him a grievance affecting the whole of the north-west of Ireland—he referred to the mail service between Ireland and England. The mail service proper—viz., the service via Holyhead—was as good as it could be. Trains leaving Derry in the afternoon about 3 o'clock reached Kingstown at 8 and London at 5.45 in the morning. But some time ago the merchants of Belfast asked for additional facilities via Greenore. After a good deal of fighting with the late Postmaster-General that boon was conceded, they securing a mail bag by the train leaving Belfast for Greenore. Of course that concession only whetted the appetite of the places left out. After another contest—he was on two deputations to the Postmaster-General—this boon was conceded to the city of Derry. That made the remaining places more clamorous. He submitted that the boon could be conceded to the other places without adding much to the cost and would entail absolutely no trouble to the Post Office officials. The train stopped at the stations and the postal officials were at the station with mails. It was a mystery how this could be denied. The invariable answer of the late Postmaster-General was that the amount of correspondence would not justify the increased cost. There would be little or no increased cost; and how did the Post Office know what the amount of correspondence would be before it had tried the experiment? He knew of one case in which a firm of linen merchants would send twenty or thirty more letters a day if they had this convenience. Why should the Post Office proceed in this piecemeal fashion, and having satisfied Belfast and Derry and shut off their pressure, leave the other three or four towns on the route from Derry to Belfast to contend for this simple act? He had to acknowledge the exceeding courtesy of the right hon. Gentleman on many occasions, and he would now ask him to look into this matter afresh. It would not involve any extra charge on the Post Office, or any additional trouble.


said he was anxious to take up the appeal of the hon. Member for Gravesend for a concession to Canada in the matter of the postage on magazines. It was a subject on which Canada felt very deeply, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not merely give a sympathetic answer, but state what he was able to do. He looked upon the question not so much from the commercial point of view, though that was important, as from a regard for the wishes of Canada itself. Canada had made very great concessions to us and would welcome, no doubt, similar concessions from this side of the water. He was tired of hearing subjects put forward as being non-political, but he really thought that this question was non-political. Hon. Gentlemen opposite might have different opinions as to how an Imperial bond should be created, but he was sure they would be all ready to assist in pressing upon the right hon. Gentleman a concession of postage which would assist high-class magazines from this country to be spread throughout Canada. Then there was the question of mail carts raised by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green. He was not prepared to go into the question of the wages of the drivers, though he was inclined to think they were underpaid. Nor was he inclined to go so far as to suggest the impropriety of not having a State service of mail drivers. But he did hope the right hon. Gentleman would go into the whole question. Not only were the mail drivers paid as low as possible, but the animals they drove were of the worst possible kind, and a great deal of cruelty was shown in the class of animal that was placed between the shafts and the way in which it was driven. He was more inclined on this occasion to plead for the animals than for the men, for he was sure other hon. Members would look after the men but might be apt to forget the horses. Motor traction might be usefully employed to the great saving of the horses and men and time, and the greater convenience of the rural districts. The motor vans now used in London could be used also in the country districts with advantage. With regard to vaccination he thought the Postmaster-General was right in refusing to relax his rules. He heard with satisfaction that the guarantee in rural districts for post-offices was about to be reduced to one-third instead of one-half. That was a valuable concession, and one which would be a great benefit in the rural districts where the advantages of telegraphy were beginning to be more highly appreciated. He would also like to know how the employment of old soldiers as rural postmen was going on. Were such appointments on the increase or on the decrease? Had these old soldiers proved good servants, and had the new system of granting characters instituted a short time ago proved a success? He was painfully aware that in the old days the old system of characters was liable to abuse. Since that system had been abolished he knew of many good men who were out of employment, and he was naturally anxious that they should receive some consideration for the hardships they had undergone in their country's service. He would sooner have seen the 2s. and the 2s. 6d. postal orders left untouched, and the wages of the rural postmen increased.


That matter, of course, is before the Committee.


said that perhaps when the matter came up in a concrete form the right hon. Gentleman would see what could be done to assist the rural postmen, rural postmasters, sub-postmasters, and sub-postmistresses in the small country villages, who had such hard and responsible duties to perform, and whose remuneration was extremely small. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman would tell them that there were numerous applications for any of these positions under the Post Office, and that if there happened to be a sub-post office vacant he was overwhelmed with applications. That, however, did not affect the question that if a person did a certain amount of responsible work he should be paid a wage commensurate with that work. That, was the opinion of the majority in this House, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would remember that the class of employees he had referred to were extremely scantily paid. If he would also make some announcement in regard to Canada he would confer a great boon upon that Colony, and also upon the people of this country.

MR. CATHCART WASON (Orkney and Shetland)

said he quite agreed with the sentiments expressed by the right hon. and gallant Member for the Epping Division in regard to sub-postmasters, postmasters and postmistresses. He knew the case of three young men in his district, one of whom had to travel nine miles out and back for 1s. 6d.; another travelled seventeen miles out and back for 2s.; and the third seventeen miles out and back for 1s. 9d. Those were entirely inadequate rates of pay, and while it might be perfectly true that men could be readily obtained, that was no reason why the Post Office should not pay more. They ought to see that a fair rate of wages was paid and set a good example as model employers. Many grievances had been put forward by hon. Members, but they all sank into insignificance beside the grievances of his constituency, which had been absolutely neglected under the new scheme. When he listened to the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer who spoke of the large sums of money which were going to be devoted to securing that every district should have at least three deliveries a week, he felt exhilarated, because he thought at last a brighter day was dawning in the north country. But those hopes which had arisen in his mind and in his constituency had all been dashed to the ground; they were as badly off as ever, and it now appeared that there was not the slightest idea of giving his constituency any portion of this large sum of money for postal reforms. At present the county of Shetland had only one direct mail a week, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would try to do something in the direction of remedying that injustice. The Post Office paid a large sum for their mail service, but he did not think that adequate steps had ever been taken to find out whether better value could not be got for their money than they were getting at the present time. There was only one direct mail service a week for the whole county of Shetland. They were only asking for two direct mails a week all the year round, and that they could not get. The county of Orkney had also its special grievance. The mail leaving London at 8 p.m., Inverness at 9.30 a.m., was due at Thurso at 3.30 p.m., and should arrive at Scapa, Kirkwall, before 8 p.m. Frequently the mails instead of arriving at 8 o'clock at night did not arrive until 11 o'clock, or sometimes later. In order to suit the convenience of the railway companies the right hon. Gentleman allowed the mails for a whole county to dawdle along at the sweet will of the railway companies. The Postmaster-General ought to take the railway companies by the throat, and let them know plainly that the Government would not allow them to treat thus not only the mail of the entire county of Orkney, but the mail of the greater portion of the county of Caithness. There had been in the past an unjustifiable detention of the steamer at Aithhole to pick up or drop the Laidlaw Factor or some shooting tenant. This privilege had been so abused that it had often caused great inconvenience. The predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman gave a pledge that this kind of thing would not be permitted to go on, and he hoped the Postmaster-General would see that that pledge was carried out to the effect that the mail steamer should not stop if it would cause delay of over ten minutes.

Another grievance to which he desired to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman had reference to the delivery of mails from Kirkwall to the North Isles. The straightforward and the cheapest plan would be to start at one point one day and to travel all that day until the destination was reached, and to return on the following day. The people in the districts served were perfectly satisfied that could be done. He admitted that the Post Office was paying a very large sum for the Orkney and Shetland service, but at the same time he maintained that where the public interest was concerned, all other considerations should be put aside at once. These matters were really of vast importance to a considerable section of the community. The people who lived in distant parts were entitled to far more consideration at the hands of the Postmaster-General than those who lived merely in the suburbs of London. Referring to the delivery of mails on Sunday in Scotland, he said he was sure the Postmaster-General knew that the Scottish people were nothing if not Sabbatarians. He thought a considerable sum of money could be saved by discontinuing certain mail cart and foot services which were provided at present all over Scotland on Sunday, only for the purpose of delivering a few letters which might very well be delivered on Monday. Where he lived in Ayrshire mails were driven over sixty miles out and home. [An HON. MEMBER: With one horse?] With one horse, but changed at stages. This was not a question of horseflesh, but a question of breaking the Sabbath day and the incurring of unnecessary cost. If the right hon. Gentleman would put a stop to these Sunday deliveries he would do much to commend himself in the eyes of religious Scotland.

SIR A. ACLAND-HOOD (Somersetshire, Wellington)

said he sympathised with the remarks of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, but perhaps he would be surprised to hear that some people who lived in Somersetshire, within 160 miles of London, were in the same position as those in the northern islands in respect to postal facilities. The case had been brought before the Post Office for many years, but little or no improvement had been made. Some of the farmers had their letters delivered four days a week, others three days a week, and others only two days a week. The hardship of this condition of affairs arose in this way. Most of these people tried to make a living by selling poultry, eggs, butter, and cream, and it was obvious that unless they could rely on getting orders in time they could not properly carry on their trade. Another way of living was by letting lodgings in the summer months, and in these days unless business men could get their letters and newspapers every morning they would not take the lodgings. The result was a serious loss of income to a certain number of his constituents. Another disadvantage was that stockbuyers who sent letters intimating their intention to visit farmers sometimes arrived before the letters were delivered. It might happen that the farmers had to send some miles off for the stock. He hoped the Postmaster-General would look into the matter. He knew the old argument was that such a service would not pay, but no one could say that it would not pay until it was tried. He had never agreed with the Post Office opinion that all services should bring an immediate profit to the State. The farmers and small traders paid rates and taxes, and they were quite as much entitled to a daily delivery of letters as the richer people who lived in other districts.

MR. MORTON (Sutherlandshire)

asked who gave the instructions to the British representatives at the recent Postal Conference at Rome. These matters apparently were settled by the officials. He believed he was right in saying that the Postmaster-General was in favour of universal penny postage, but unfortunately the right hon. Gentleman had not much to say in the matter. It was a well known fact that the Post Office permanent officials were always against reform of any sort whatever. Every improvement in the postal system of this country for the last hundred years, including penny postage, had had to be forced on the officials from the outside. To-day the Committee were told that the adoption of universal penny postage would mean a loss of £500,000. The hon. Member for Canterbury calculated that the loss would be £125,000 for the first year. He would sooner take the hon. Member's calculation than that of the Post Office officials, because he had been right throughout and they had been wrong. So far as was known not a single shilling had been lost through the adoption of Imperial penny postage. Before our representatives were sent to Rome the opinion of this House should have been consulted on the question of universal penny postage. The proposal at the Conference in favour of universal penny postage was supported by the representatives of New Zealand and the United States but opposed by this country. He knew that the Postmaster-General had said that our representatives did not vote. They withdrew, and he was rather ashamed of them for having done so. He should have liked to have seen this country taking a leading part in bringing about this reform for the welfare of the people, for there was no doubt that the extension of postal facilities tended to good feeling throughout the world. There was something in the newspapers about reducing the postage from 2½d. to 2d., and he understood that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had provided for that loss in the Budget Estimates of this year. What was the Postmaster-General going to do with that money? What he wanted was reforms for the benefit of the people of this country. He did not think there was very much in the complaint about the Canadians having American magazines. He had lived on the American continent for ten years, and he found that the American magazines were better than the English. ["Oh, oh!"] Hon. Gentlemen shook their heads, but probably there was not much more in their heads than in some of the English magazines. ["Oh!"] He insisted that a very large number of American magazines were superior to the English magazines. Canadians preferred to read the American magazines rather than some of those produced here. He wanted to call attention to the sweating that was going on in the making of the uniforms for the men] in the postal service. For instance, the contractors in the East End of London paid only 6½d. for making a pair of trousers. The middle-men were making a huge profit while the poor wretches who made the trousers were starving. He advocated that the uniforms should be made in Government factories so as to ensure that the real workers were paid a proper wage. Something had been said about introducing politics into the Post Office. When their friends on the Opposition Benches were in office they packed all these billets with Tory officials, and the result was that they could not get any reform.


asked if it was in order to accuse a Government of packing offices with their friends.


thought that the remark of the hon. Gentleman might cause unnecessary pain, and that it was one which ought not to be made.


said that at the suggestion of the Chairman he would withdraw the remark, and there was an end of it; but he was not surprised that his friends opposite were angry about it, their consciences pricked them. He complained that postal and telegraphic facilities in Sutherlandshire were incomplete; some places in that county were twenty miles from a telegraph office, and there were parts of the district where there was only one delivery of letters in the week. That meant that the people could not do their business properly. Moreover, he wanted to know whether the promise of the Prime Minister in regard to colonising our own country was to be carried out. He was afraid that nobody in Downing Street, in spite of that promise, knew anything about colonising. He himself had lived for ten years in the Colonies, and he could assure the Committee that never yet had Downing Street been able to govern a Colony properly. The Colonies only succeeded when they were granted the rights of self-government. That was why Canada was making such leaps and bounds in the way of progress. What the Colonies got was railway communication, postal and telegraphic facilities in order that the settlers might obtain the latest information as regarded prices for their produce. However, what he wanted to press was that the Prime Minister should carry out his promise that we should colonise our own country. There was room in Sutherlandshire for a further population of 50,000 people. One of the difficulties in Sutherlandshire was that, except on the east coast, there was no railway communication, and his right hon. friend the Postmaster-General lad not only neglected to, but had refused to give further Post Office facilities in his constituency. This was a serious matter to those farmers, crofters and fishermen who were struggling to get a living. Sutherlandshire had a right to have its reasonable demands in regard to postal facilities acceded to. There was mismanagement with regard to sending the mails by the new motor cars from Lairg to Lochinoh. He understood that that matter was still under the consideration of his right hon. friend, and that he had not yet given a final answer. It was their duty to consider the people who resided in Great Britain and Ireland and to endeavour to make them s-elf-supporting and not to waste millions on wars and rumours of wars.


said they had had a most interesting discussion as to the necessity of providing further postal facilities. In regard to that subject he was sure that he never thought that he would be standing there, if the Postmaster-General would allow him, to take the part of that right hon. Gentleman. It must be remembered that although there was a large profit on the Post Office Department, that profit went to defray State expenses, and if the Post Office gave the facilities which hon Gentlemen were asking for they were only taking the money out of one pocket to put it into another, because if the money was spent in the way asked for the remit would be that taxation would have to be increased. It was on that ground that, if he would allow him, he wished to say a few words on behalf of the right hon. Gentleman. It had been said that this was not a Party question, and he agreed. It was not a Party question, but a question of business. An hon. Member had alluded to the fact that something like half a million of money appeared in these Estimates for the conveyance of mails upon the roads and had said that that represented about 3 per cent, interest on £20,000,000 of capital. He gathered, however, from the hon. Member's speech that he desired that a large sum of money should be spent upon electric traction without incurring any additional cost. He would point out that a considerable portion of this money was spent in conveying mails in the country, and that it would be impossible on country roads to provide electric traction. No doubt motor traction could be provided, but he had no doubt that that would be much more expensive than the present system. This was a question which had been exercising the minds of the great railway companies in England, who were endeavouring to see if they could not do away with horse and substitute motor traction. The Midland Railway Company had instituted a few motor traction cars, and the right hon. Gentleman was himself making an experiment in regard to a few vehicles of the same class. For himself, he should like to see a system of motor traction instituted, but it must be remembered that as far as the conveyance of goods and parcels was concerned, motor traction was in its infancy, and experience tended to show that while, where they could find a large quantity of heavy goods on a particular road motor traction could be made profitable, where the number of parcels was small motor traction was very much more expensive than horse traction. As far as the Postmaster-General was concerned he thought the right hon. Gentleman had done well to institute in a small degree experiments in motor traction without committing himself to a large expenditure in that direction. His right hon. friend the Member for the Epping Division had alluded to the condition of the horses in the mail carts; and here again he felt compelled to take the part of the Postmaster-General. The condition of the horses in the mail vans was a few years ago extremely bad, and he had the honour of making an inspection of them at the request of the late Postmaster-General. He thought the result was a considerable improvement of the horses and that that improvement had been maintained since. If the right hon. Gentleman the present Postmaster-General asked him to perform a similar office he would be glad to carry it out again. As to wireles telegraphy he could not say whether it would be a commercial success, but up to the present moment it had not been, although the experiments had been interesting. The right hon. Gentleman had not mentioned what the loss would be in regard to his reductions in the charges on postal orders. He should like to know the amount. As to the appointment of a Committee of the House with regard to the wages of Post Office employees he did not propose to go into that question as the Committee was still sitting. He himself had had rather a curious experience in regard to this question in the course of his contest at Peckham. It had, however, nothing to do with his candidature or anything of that sort. He had a discussion with a postman who was exceedingly frank in stating his views, and he did not, after listening to those views, quite agree with the appointment of this Committee. That postman was under the impression that the only way in which he could get his salary increased—he did not blame him, human nature being what it was he said that the only thing that concerned him was to get a rise in his wages—but he was under the impression that the only way to get that rise was to get his Member to vote for this Committee of Inquiry. For himself he had always refused to give any pledges to do that sort of thing, because it put Members in a very awkward position. If the Committee did not recommend or the House did not agree to a rise in wages there would be a good deal of disappointment, to say nothing of the pressure which would once again be brought to bear upon Members of Parliament by Post Office employees. [LABOUR cries of "Why not?"] He thought there was a very excellent reason against it. If the Committee were going to say that the whole of the Civil service were to use their votes to make Members vote for an increase of their salaries, he thought they were entering upon a very dangerous course. He remembered a brilliant speech by the late Sir William Harcourt, in which that right hon. Gentleman said he hoped both side would resist any such pressure, and he regretted to hear that any hon. Member thought otherwise. Another point was that if they granted a large increase of salaries, a large number of taxpayers would resist because money would be taken out of their pockets and put into those of others, when they were not in. a much better position, if any, than the recipients of the increased wages. The hon. Member for Canterbury was very wise in calling attention to the losses on the telegraph service, and he hoped it would be a warning to the right hon. Gentleman not to accede to the demand of the hon. Member for Sutherlandshire to give him further telegraphic facilities in the county he represented. He could not know what the cost would be until he had tried the changes. There was not the slightest doubt that the reduction of telegraphic charges had caused loss, although when the reduction was made it was expected to be profitable. The reduction having been made, however, it was difficult to go back to the old charge, and he thought the right hon. Gentleman would find that to be the case if he made the reductions now suggested. He had only one other point to which he wished to allude, and that was with regard to the medical officers. He found on page 68 of the Estimates that certain salaries were given to medical officers, and on page 82 that a payment was made to them of 8s. 6d. per head. Those payments altogether amounted to £720. What he wished to know was whether the payment of 8s. 6d. per head was in addition to the salary.


No, the two things are quite separate.


said he was glad to hear it. He would conclude by hoping that the right hon. Gentleman would be a little stiff with regard to the concessions that had been asked for.


assured the hon. Member for Sutherlandshire and the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland that he was quite as much alive as they were to the importance of increased postal and telegraphic facilities in the distant parts to which they had alluded. It was not a question of profit. On the contrary, there was always a loss on the postal facilities to these distant parts, and the question that must arise in regard to all those special cases was whether the increased burden was justified. Upon the general question, he hoped the postal reforms to which he had referred in his opening statement would be of great profit to the country. He assured the hon. Member for Sutherland that he was carefully considering the proposals he had brought before him. With regard to the question of motors, the postal authorities already made some use of motors, and they were at the present time in negotiation for a more extended use, and intended to use them to the utmost extent on the main posts. And, of course, any advantage that accrued to the main posts from their use must accrue to the branch posts. He thought the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland had rather exaggerated the conditions which obtained in the postal service to those districts, because there were already three deliveries a week in the winter, and five in the summer.


Not in the ordinary sense of a delivery every other day.


said he understood that the hon. Member proposed to bring a deputation to him and he would he glad to go into the details them. The right hon. Member for the Wellington Division of Somerset mentioned the case of Exbourne. If the right hon. Member would draw his special attention to the conditions prevailing in that particular district he would do his best to meet his view, and he hoped under the new arrangements he would be able to do so. If the hon. Member for South Tyrone could suggest, as he had intimated, immense improvements in the postal service at no cost at all he should be delighted to meet him in any suggestions he had to make.

The hon. Member for Sleaford had referred to the question of vaccination. All he could say in reply was that, rightly or wrongly, the general system of the British Civil service was that the men engaged in it should be vaccinated. If that wa right in regard to other Departments it was still more necessary and right in regard to the postal service. He assumed that vaccination was an advantage. That was the basis of the system of compulsory vaccination for the Civil service. If that was so, it must be quite clea that the men in the Postal service were the ones that ought of all others to be vaccinated, as they ran greater risk not only of contracting smallpox themselv but of carrying the contagion among the public. They had to go to poor districts and had to handle all sorts of package, and in the sorting office more men were employed in one room than in any other Department of the Civil service. Last year in the whole of the postal service, comprising 150,000 men, there was no case of death or retirement caused either by smallpox or vaccination. The noble Lord the Member for Oxford had raised the question of reduced cost for the supply of literature to the blind. It had not yet been possible for him to decide definitely the final basis upon which the concession should be founded, but its general line would be a material reduction in the cost of parcels post under restrictions that would confine it to bona-fide cases. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green had raised a question in respect to contractors' carmen. He sympathised with the views expressed with regard to the excessive hours of work and the inadequate wage paid. But the difficulty in regard to contractors' employees was that it would involve an entire change in the system to give direct employment and necessitate large annual expenditure in building and so on, and that was one of the matters he had not yet been able to give proper attention to. As regarded the question of wages under existing contracts, he had done his test, when his attention had been drawn to any particular case, to insist as far as he could upon what seemed to be a fair wage and fair conditions. He would be glad to look into any specific case his hon. friend brought to him. The great difficulty was that there was no recognised rate of wages. He was giving considerable attention to the matter. The deputation which he was going to receive next week might be able to throw some light on the matter. Unfortunately, he was very much tied, because the contracts ranged over a very considerable period. That, of course, did not affect the fair wages clause. In any new contract he should certainly see that the proper conditions prevailed. In a case in which he did not think the employer was in a position to carry out the conditions of labour he had given notice to terminate the contract. He was endeavouring to arrive at some conclusion with the Canadian Government as to postage of Canadian newspapers. He recognised the great services rendered by the hon. Member for Canterbury to the cause of postal reform; but he would remind him that it was easier to devise reforms than to get from the Treasury the money necessary to carry them out. He believed the hon. Member for Sutherland thought that the whole of the surplus ought to be applied to Post Office reform, or, at all events, a large portion of it.


I did not say that, but I will say it now if you like.


said that of course he did not agree with his hon. friend on that point. He thought the revenue from the Post Office must be used as some relief to the taxpayer. The question of the amount of money that ought to be given to the Postmaster-General was a source of perpetual difference and argument between the two offices concerned. As to the suggestion of the hon. Member for Canterbury that postcards should be sold for their face value, his attention was directed to that matter when he considered how best to dispose of the sum which the Treasury gave him on this occasion. To have carried out the reform suggested would have cost between £30,000 and £40,000 a year, and he came to the conclusion that the reform he had introduced would be more useful. The hon. Gentleman's wish, however, was one which he would like to see carried out, and when he got a little more money out of the Treasury perhaps he might be able to bring it about. In regard to the loss of articles in the post, where it was due to the fault of the Post Office he was willing to give proper compensation, but the Postmaster-General could not be liable for any amount of damages where there was a difference of opinion in regard to the value of a particular article. An important point which had been made and for which something might be said was that under proper conditions a letter which had been posted ought to be able to be recalled. With regard to universal penny postage, it would involve an initial cost of £500,000 a year; and as there would be no profit on a foreign letter carried for 1d., it was impossible that any increase in correspondence should make up for the initial loss. The hon. Gentleman had said that the loss would be £125,000 a year, but he did not understand where the hon. Gentleman got his figures from. Last October the hon. Member, in a letter to the Times, stated that the cost of universal penny postage would be £375,000 a year. He could not see how the two figures could be made to correspond.


said the increase of letters accounted for it.


said the point they were discussing was the initial cost. However, he would not trouble the Committee further, only maintaining that the figure he gave was the correct one.


Will the right hon. Gentleman reply upon the clothing question.


reminded the hon. member that in his opening remarks he said that up to now the Postmaster-General had possessed no means of looking into the conditions of labour which prevailed under the contracts. But he had been able to appoint an inspector for this purpose, and he hoped that in future the Department would be in a better condition to look into and to control the conditions of labour under contracts.

COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY (Shropshire, Newport)

urged the claims of poor old soldiers for employment in the Post Office service, and called attention to the possible overburdening of rural postmen owing to the number of parcels containing agricultural and other produce that had to be carried. Had anything been done in the direction of getting into communication with the officers in command of depots and others for the purpose of giving employment to old soldiers, and had any steps been taken to increase the number of soldiers employed in this way? He did not think there could be any more legitimate demand made than that these positions should be made available to old soldiers and sailors. [Why?"] It was his opinion that those who had served their country in the Army and Navy had a very strong claim for these positions.


I agree with the right hon. Gentleman if they are competent for the business they undertake.


Allowing that they were competent, he thought they had a fair claim to those positions. Rural postmen did not require to be highly educated men, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would give full consideration to this matter, and get in touch in the rural districts with those who were able to tell him who were the right men to employ. He was glad to hear that the right hon. Gentleman had given increased facilities for the carrying of agricultural produce. He did not in the least wish to minimise the value of that boon, but he was afraid that the result would be that the number of parcels piled upon the back and shoulders of the rural postmen, who often had to go across fields and cross roads, would be enormously increased. Those who saw the rural postmen labouring under all these difficulties must feel with him that there ought to be some limit. He hoped some means would be found by which these men would be relieved, as it was not fair that in consequence of this change there should be put upon these men a burden which they could not reasonably be expected to carry. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would give his attention to this matter.

MR. AINSWORTH (Argyllshire)

said that the proposed increase in the number of deliveries of letters to private houses in the Highlands, where the houses were extremely scattered, might involve a very large expenditure. He thought it would be of much greater benefit to the district to give a better mail service than an increase in the deliveries of letters. He desired to thank the Postmaster-General for the enormous boon he had conferred upon the West Coast by enabling them to have the London mail earlier.


said that if there was any Government Department in which good service should be extended to the people it was the Post Office. He was glad to hear from the Postmaster-General that he had been successful in getting back from the Chancellor of the Exchequer a reasonable proportion of the profits of the Post Office and he hoped a fair share of that money would reach Ireland. He regretted that he could not agree with some of the conclusions of the hon. Member for Sutherland, who found fault generally with the Post Office service, which he said contrasted very unfavourably with the service he had seen in the Colonies. He could not agree with that contention. The telegraph service in this country was at the disposal of the Government and the telephone system was also largely controlled by them, whereas in Canada both telegraphs and telephones belonged to companies which were in no way controlled by the Government, nor were they established on so good a basis as in this country. In Canada their letters were not brought to the doors, and in many respects comparisons were odious. With regard to the charge of filling the Department with the friends of politicians, that kind of thing existed to a certain extent everywhere. Unfortunately, it existed in Ireland, and many of those in charge of the administration of post offices in Ireland neither belonged to Ireland nor understood the postal wants of the country. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would make some statement in regard to the representations which had been made to him in relation to Canada. He did not agree with the statement that the magazines and publications of this country were inferior to those of the United States; he thought they were of just as high an order as those published in America. The fact was that a demand had been made throughout Canada and other portions of the Empire for better facilities to obtain those publications, in order that they might be placed within the reach of Canadians. That request had not only come from the Press of Canada, and the large body of readers in that Colony, but it had formed the subject of a very important debate in the Canadian Senate, during which it was supported by prominent members of the Canadian Government and the Opposition. A Resolution in this direction was passed by the Canadian Government and forwarded to the Postmaster-General of the late Government. He knew that there was a strong feeling in Canada upon the subject. He took exception to the statement of the Postmaster-General that Irish Members ought to be grateful for all he had done for Ireland by the extension of the telephone. Year in and year out he had asked the Post Office to extend the telephone system from Dublin to Galway, and nothing had been done; but now that the Postmaster-General was rich enough to give so many millions to the Chancellor of the Exchequer he hoped a telephonic trunk line between the extreme east and west of Ireland would be established. Representations had been made to the Postmaster-General by leading bodies in Dublin and Galway in favour of the establishment of the telephone system between the two cities. He wished to remind the right hon. Gentleman of a subject which was brought before him some months ago in the form of a Question, namely, the manufacture of postmen's clothes. The contracts for clothing were not at that time given so freely and extensively in Ireland as they might have been. While he did not object to employment being given in this country, he did object to the means of livelihood being taken away from a considerable section of the Irish population. The figures which had been placed before the House showed that the people were going away from Ireland in considerable numbers because they could not find employment. By placing more contracts in Ireland for clothing, the Postmaster-General could not only do good work for the people there, but obtain for the Department the very articles which were required. The right hon. Gentleman told him that a little contract had been given, but he himself thought more might have been done in this direction. Referring to the despatch of letters to New York by the mail leaving at the middle of the week, he said that on Wednesday he posted a letter for America, believing that it was in time for the mail. In order to be sure he asked the postmaster whether it was in time, and he discovered that it was not. One could never be sure as to the departure of mails for the United States and Canada on Wednesday, there being no fixed and regular hour of closing. He understood that the inconvenience of which he complained arose from the White Star line being unable sometimes to provide fast steamers, and that the Post Office was obliged on these occasions to send the mails by German steamers from Southampton. He asked the right hon. Gentleman to look into this matter with the view of getting the White Star line to make their fast steamers available for the carrying of the mails.


who was indistinctly heard, was understood to say that certain figures which he quoted were not inconsistent with others which an hon. Member had given.

MR. ROWLANDS (Kent, Dartford)

thanked the Postmaster-General for extending the telegraphic facilities in the country. He stated that he was the first Member of Parliament to call attention to the grievances of the mail-cart drivers, and he had to discuss it with former Postmaster-Generals. He found that nothing much had been done. He pressed upon the Postmaster-General the importance of scheduling the hours to be worked by the mail-cart drivers in future contracts. He knew that the right hon. Gentleman would find great difficulty in getting anything like accurate information as to the hours now worked by the men.


thanked the Postmaster-General for his reply, and asked leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment by leave withdrawn.

Original Question again proposed.

MR. WILLIAM RUTHERFORD (Liverpool, West Derby)

expressed regret that the Postmaster-General should have allowed himself to say of the secretary of Lloyd's, Sir H. Hozier, that he issued a circular which was a travesty of the truth. Sir H. Hozier was a gentleman with a reputation second to none in the city of London, and it was most unfortunate that the right hon. Gentleman should have used such strong language regarding him. In respect to the question of wireless telegraphy, he understood that the idea of the Government in what they proposed to do was to prevent foreigners, in case of war, being able to take advantage of this country. In order to do that they had made a contract with the Marconi Company. He found that the directors of that company who were going to protect us against foreign invasion were M. de Volder (President), M. Balser, M. de Coe Thys, M. M. Travailleur, G. Marconi, A. Ochs, I. Lowr, M. Renouard, M. Ch. Roux, M. E. de St. Paul de Sincary, Eruesto M Pinto, and M. Nagelruackers.


Is the hon. Member satisfied that that is not a Transvaal mining company?


That is a very unseemly interruption.

And, it being a quarter-past Eight of the clock, and there being Private Busines set down, by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means, under Standing Order No. 8, further proceeding was postponed without Question put.