§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £11,117,751, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1908, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Post Office, including Telegraphs."
§ *THE POSTMASTER - GENERAL (Mr. SYDNEY BUXTON,) Tower Hamlets,
I propose to make some general observations with regard to the work of the Post Office during the year. I am sorry I am not able to give so favourable an account of the financial position of the Post Office as was the case last year. It is true there has been a considerable addition to the revenue, but the increase has not been so great as was expected twelve months ago. While the general trade of the country has been good, the revenue of the Post Office has shown a certain want of elasticity. Still there has been a considerable increase on the year's receipts. The gross increase has been £350,000, but the department anticipated about £250,000 more; and for the coming year we estimate an increase of £430,000 over the past year. The absence of the usual elasticity is due to various causes. Some hon. Members may think it due to the advent of a Liberal Government and the presence of an incompetent Postmaster-General. I admit both premisses, but I do not think either of them contributed to the result. Whatever may be the case, the business of the Post Office has not fallen off from either of these causes. The absence of elasticity is due in the first place to the fact that last year we did not have a General Election, and I do not think many hon. Members will be anxious to bring about a General Election simply in order to increase the receipts of the Post Office. Then, there is no doubt it is largely due to change of taste on the part of the public. Last year there was an abnormal number of picture post-cards purchased by the public. That craze, I am afraid, is to a certain extent diminishing. At one time valentines held the sway; then came the Christmas-card. The former have gradually disappeared, and I can only hope the public will direct its superfluous energy and spare halfpence into another channel equally profitable to the Post Office. In connection with the telegraphs, there is little doubt that the Street Betting Act of last year had also an adverse effect on the revenue. That, however, I for one do not regret. But I am afraid that the chief reason for the falling off in elasticity is the very large increase in the use of the telephone by the public. This is cutting into the only profitable part of the telegraph service, viz., the short distance telegrams in large towns. It is going further than that. Conversation by telephone is 377 largely superseding the use of letters and post-cards. That is a serious matter as affecting what is the sheet anchor of postal revenue—namely, the penny post. In spite of this, the department has endeavoured in the last year to extend the telephone system as far as practicable. Including certain wires which we have laid down in behalf of the National Telephone Company, in view of taking over the lines of that company in 1912, the mileage of wire has been increased by 78,000 miles in the course of the year. A considerable part of that has been telephonic extensions in various parts of Ireland. Both telephone and telegraph lines, I may say, would be more rapidly increased if the Postmaster-General had more adequate powers for dealing with individuals, corporations or other public bodies, which in parts of the country are great obstructers by refusing way leaves. It not infrequently happens that on the same day I receive communications complaining on the part of some public body that the Post Office are neglecting to extend the telephonic system in their area, the same post brings an absolute refusal of the ordinary way leave from the corporation itself. In spite of this, however, the wires have been considerably extended.
§ SIR GILBERT PARKER (Gravesend)
Has not the revenue for the telephonic system shown an increase?
§ *MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
Yes, and that is the only satisfactory point. It is at last, taken as a whole, on a paying basis. But at the same time we are losing on the telegraphs. In regard to the general position of wireless telegraphy, the question of the ratification of the Radio-Telegraphic Convention is now before a Select Commtitee of this House. The Post Office has naturally, therefore, held its hands to a certain extent in issuing licences; but I have been able, nevertheless, to issue licences to various British companies during the year. For the coming year the expenditure is estimated to be larger than the normal owing to increased services, and, of course, there is a certain cloud over the expenditure of the coming year pending the report of the Select Committee on the wages of postal servants.
378 That leads me to the point of how far under present circumstances I was entitled to press the Chancellor of the Exchequer for a greater grant than he has already given for the improvement of the postal service. I have always held that the balance of Post Office revenue ought to be expended, in part, in the interests of what I may call the postal consumer. That policy I have been able to carry out since I came into office. In that connection I do not think the public have any cause of complaint against the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I did not feel I could approach him as strongly this year as I did last year, when he described me as one of the most sturdy beggars among his colleagues. But if I have not been so fortunate this year it is not because I have given up hope; it is rather that I am biding my time and may make an even greater demand another year. I must point out, moreover, in taking the two years together, that he has given me no less a sum than £350,000 a year. Last year my right hon. friend placed at my disposal in order to make postal improvements the sum of £156,000. This was for home reforms. Then there is an additional sum of £200,000 this year, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has allowed me to take into the Postal Union, to be devoted to the reduction of foreign postage. That is a substantial sum to be taken into account.
§ SIR GILBERT PARKER
What are the reforms to be?
§ *MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
If the hon. Member had been a little more patient he would have seen that I was about to give some details. The substantial result of the reform is that a reduction is made in the charge for the lower denomination of postal orders, and in the higher denominations of the parcel post a very considerable reduction is made. Then the guarantee for a telephone or telegraph is reduced from a half to a third, and I am glad to know that great advantage has been taken of that concession. Another concession, it may interest the Committee to recollect, was that there should be, if possible, a delivery on three days a week in every part of the kingdom, however remote. In the last few months the department has increased the deliveries to three times a week in a very large 379 number of places, involving not less than one million letters a year, and thus the acceleration of letters in the rural districts will be increased. The Postal Union reforms are twofold. In the first place it has been often thought that it would be an advantage if people writing to this country might be enabled to include the cost of the reply. The Department has been able to secure that reform by means of an international coupon which can be enclosed in the letter. But we have been unable to induce the other great countries to agree to a substantial reduction in the 2½d. rate for letters. Their finances did not admit of a reduction being granted or, at all events, they would not agree to the suggestion of a 1d. or 2d. But the British delegates have obtained almost an equivalent. At present a letter sent abroad must not weigh more than half an ounce for 2½d. This weight is now raised to an ounce, and the charge of 2½d. will cover it, instead of the former charge of 5d. A letter weighing 20z., instead of costing 10d., will now cost 4d., and a letter of 30z., instead of costing 1s. 3d., will now be carried for 5½d.
§ *MR. HENNIKER HEATON (Canterbury)
What percentage of the letters were over half an ounce in weight?
§ *MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
I am afraid I have not the figures.
§ *MR. HENNIKER HEATON
Was it not only one in a thousand?
§ *MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
That is not the point. One of the objects in view in these suggested reforms was that correspondents should not have to consider every half-sheet of notepaper they put into a letter, but that they should enjoy the same freedom to post their letters abroad as they enjoyed under their domestic postage system.
The principal reforms carried out and coming into operation this year include a substantial reduction on the postage of newspapers, magazines, and trade journals to and from Canada. This reform has, I am glad to say, met with very great approval on the part of the Canadian Government, and I think that it has given great satisfaction at home. I have also been enabled to reduce the postage on literature for the blind, and practi- 380 cally to put these afflicted people on the same level as those who still enjoy the use of their sight. The Braille system involves heavy type for each book, and my object has been to treat the volumes of literature for the blind as advantageously in point of cheapness as those for the use of readers with their sight. There is also a small reform for the comfort and convenience of the public desiring to communicate with India and elsewhere. Anyone can telegraph to an English port or to Brindisi, and the telegram will be sent out by the steamer from that port to India or elsewhere. I am also experimenting with stamp machines, so that by means of putting a penny in the slot in these machines at the stations the public may obtain a stamp. The system is not yet complete, but up to the present the experiment has been very profitable, because when the pennies are put in the slot the stamp is not always forthcoming. These are the machines I for one rather approve; but on the other hand, I am sorry to say, there has been a machine in use which suddenly dispensed 3s. 6d. worth of penny stamps before anyone put a penny in at all. Among the other questions which have engaged my attention are the charges and the facilities now in existence between France and the Continent generally and England as to telegraph lines and telephone service. I hope before long to be able to reduce the charge affecting the public service in this matter, and at the same time to add greater facilities. Another subject that has engaged my attention is how best to treat the lottery circulars which are poured with so much profusion into this country. It ought to be clearly understood, however, that it is neither expedient nor right for the Postmaster-General on his own initiative, whatever may be his suspicions, to open a letter which is gummed and closed, and about whose contents there can be no knowledge obtainable without opening it. Circulars that are open, on the other hand, are examined and destroyed when they are found to relate to lotteries or other matters of an undesirable character. In the case of sealed letters of this description, if attention is drawn to them, the Department always refers the question to the police, so that, if possible, they may immediately take proceedings against the authors. I think it is obvious from from a communication I have received 381 that I have been able to take some effectual steps in checking the abuse. A correspondent paid me what I consider to be the greatest compliment I have received in my administrative life by writing me a letter which begun thus—Mr. S. Buxton,—It is with the greatest contempt that I address you, knowing you to be a person of a thieving, mean, and despicable nature, and to have the fact impressed upon me by the circumstances that we have such a man to hold the office of Postmaster-General absolutely makes me feel inclined, after the manner of hundreds more, to turn against the British race altogether.That letter is from one of the circulators of these lottery tickets. I have appointed a Committee to inquire into the question how far the Post Office can be utilised for assisting small employers to insure against risks under the Workmen's Compensation Act. The Committee is presided over by Lord Farrer, and I hope that the Report will be soon forthcoming.
It is often believed by hon. Members and others that there is undue delay in carrying out inquiries into or promises to increase postal facilities. But the solution of these questions is not so simple as is generally believed. During the past year the Department has been enabled to spend £200,000 on the extension of the underground telegraph system throughout the country. On this particular item there has now been an expenditure of £1,250,000, and the authorities desire in the coming year to increase these facilities as far as possible. It is easy to suggest reforms, but every suggested reform costs money, and it is not always the crass stupidity and obstinacy of the Department which causes it to decline to carry out particular reforms in a particular space of time. Sometimes what is believed to be a step in advance in the matter of postal reform, is in reality a retrograde movement. It is absolutely essential in a large service such as the Post Office to secure uniformity and simplicity, and, though each suggestion of improvement might confer an advantage in one quarter, it might also cause delay, confusion, and disappointment in other quarters.
I have dealt so far with the administration of the Post Office as regards the public. I now come to the other side. The Postmaster-General is by far the largest employer of labour in the United Kingdom. He has under him in the 382 Department 200,000 persons one way and another, of whom 50,000 are women. This is a question which has given me a great deal of anxiety, and it is one to which I have given my best possible attention. I have always said, and I think the Committee will bear me out in saying so—I have always said publicly that the Government, speaking for any Government, ought as an employer of labour to set a good example to other employers; but at the same time we do not want to set up in our public services a privileged class. We want to consider the interests of the taxpayers as well, and while the Government ought to be a good employer of labour, in my opinion, it ought not to be a lavish employer of labour at the expense of the taxpayers. There are different classes of labour for which the Department is responsible, namely, those working for the Post Office under contractors, the mechanic or engineering class; and, of course, the postal employees themselves. As to the class under contractors, I found out after I came into office that I had hardly any control whatever over the conditions of employment, and one of the first things I was enabled to do with the consent of the Treasury was to appoint an inspector to examine and report in regard to the conditions of labour under the various contractors to the Post office, so that for the first time the Postmaster-General might have personal knowledge and personal control over these conditions. Having a parental interest in the Fair Wages Resolution, I have endeavoured to see that it is carried out, so far as it can be, fairly and properly. We have had a Departmental Committee appointed, and I hope it will work out some scheme for the better, the more efficient, and the more uniform working of the service. The fair wages clause is a very important one in Government contracts. I have introduced into every new contract additional clauses as to the wages to be paid, etc., all of which will I hope tend to the improvement of the conditions of those working under contractors. But in regard to this matter you cannot go with a great leap at once. The matter must be dealt with gradually, and improved conditions must come year by year. One of the great difficulties in connection with this question is that of ascertaining what is the recognised fair rate of wages in any particular industry. 383 I have experienced this difficulty lately in regard to carmen's wages. There is no recognised rate of wages in that particular trade, but it was obvious to me that the men were underpaid and overworked. After some communications on the subject, what I have been enabled to do is to go to the contractors and say— "I do not say that at the present moment there is a recognised rate, but I am going to say what I think you ought to pay, and what I consider a fair rate of wages in the trade." I am bound to say that the contractors met me in a fair spirit, and I think the arrangement come to has given satisfaction to the persons in the employment of the contractors. The wages for single horse men is 25s. a week, and for two horse men 27s. a week. In addition to that they both get a complete uniform which represents 1s. 3d. a week.
§ MR. SEDDON (Lancashire, Newton)
Does that apply to the provinces as well as to London?
§ *MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
No, it applies to London. As to the provinces I am still in correspondence. I think my hon. friend has drawn my attention to one or two cases in which the men have been underpaid. I am very glad that the cases have been brought to my attention. These were cases in which the wages appeared to be unduly low, and I shall have the matter inquired into at the earliest possible opportunity. The same remarks apply to the clothing contracts, but unfortunately in regard to these it is not easy to act at once. The contracts had in some instances been entered into before I really had sufficient time to study the question. In regard to all these matters we are hampered by existing contracts, and for some time to come that will be so in many cases. There again it seems to me that it is not right to accept necessarily the lowest tender. It seems to me that the contracts should be spread over a large area so that one could get experience of the way in which the various employees are paid, and further that when new contracts are given out there will be a better chance of choosing between the good and the sweating employers. I think something can be done by spreading the contracts over a large area, and by being by no means tied 384 down to taking the lowest offer. Then as regards employment at the Post Office factory at Holloway, I told the Committee last year that I had endeavoured, as far as possible, to average the work over the year, that is to say, to arrange, as far as possible, the work of those employed in the factory so as to spread it evenly over the year, and thereby prevent the necessity of discharging a large number of men at one time and taking them on at another. The carrying out of that policy has taken some time, but I think it has now been placed on a basis which will obviate the system of employing a minimum of men at one time and adding largely to the number of temporary hands at another. There is a matter in connection with the factory which I think will interest the Committee. There has been instituted at the factory a system which I understand is in operation at a considerable number of private establishments. It is what is called the "suggestion system." That is to say, any workman employed there may make suggestions as to the design of tools, the improvement of machines, or the methods of manufacture, the saving of material, and the prevention of accident?. They are encouraged to make their suggestions by rewards given to them when they propose anything of a practical character, and I am glad to know that in eleven months no less than 108 rewards, averaging from 5s. to £5, have been given to various workmen under the Post Office for suggestions of that nature. I think that everybody will agree that that is a good thing to do. It will interest the men in their work, encourage them to make suggestions, and to have confidence that, if the suggestions should be carried out, they will be rewarded. Therefore it is a scheme which merits the attention of the Committee.
As to the enormous number of men engaged in the actual postal work and the claims they have put forward for improved conditions, their case is now before a Parliamentary Committee. That is in accordance with what they themselves desired, and it is not for me to anticipate—for I have no knowledgewhatever—what may be the conclusion at which the Committee will arrive. This, I think, I may say, however, that as the men themselves desired a Parliamentary Committee, which I thought they were entitled to 385 have, I presume, now that they have appealed to Caæar, they will be prepared to accept the verdict which Cæsar may give. In regard to sanitary improvements, medical services, Home Office inspection, and other matters of that sort, alterations have been made which we hope will improve the conditions of the service. We have been endeavouring as far as we can to limit the over-pressure in the summer season, and the excessive overtime to which that often leads. Unfortunately, while in the summertime the work increases, the staff at that time is at a minimum, owing to the holidays which are granted at the best season of the year. We have endeavoured, as far as possible, to deal with that situation, and while it is necessary to employ a certain amount of temporary labour, we have endeavoured in other ways, and by other moans, to diminish the over-pressure and the overtime during the summer season.
There is another matter to which the Committee will allow me to refer, for I know that it is one in which a good many Members take an interest. That is what I may call the blot on the escutcheon of the Post Office, namely, the position of the boy messengers. We have to part with a very large number of these boys at the age of sixteen. I may say that we part with them at that age because we believe that if their services are to be dispensed with at all, it is better for them to go then rather than at eighteen or nineteen years of age. The position of the matter is this. It is a matter over which I have no control. It is due to an arrangement of some years standing between the Post Office, the War Office, and the Admiralty, under which—and I think very legitimately—ex-soldiers and ex-blue-jackets of good character, on leaving the Army and the Navy, should be received into the service of the Post Office. These men were accepted if there was nothing serious in their record against them in order to prevent their going on the streets. The arrangement was that one-half of the postmen's places should be given to ex-soldiers and ex-sailors and the other half to the boy messengers. I confess that it has distressed me very much to receive communications from many parents and others on behalf of those boys whose services have to be 386 dispensed with at sixteen years of age. It is useless to say to the parents that when the boys came into the service of the Post Office at thirteen or fourteen years of age they were informed that it was not a permanent service, and that they had signed a paper to that effect. Every parent, of course, thinks his own child is the best, and that he will certainly succeed, and the parents cannot be persuaded that they have not to a certain extent been taken in when they are asked to take the boys away from the Post Office service. We have given as much time as possible to the consideration of this question with the view of limiting the sevcrity of the treatment of these boys, and I think that we have with some success met the problem. I have now come to an arrangement with the War Office under which, while declining to take a single ex-soldier more into the service, or to place further posts at their disposal to the displacement of the boy messengers, there is to be greater elasticity. In future instead of the ex-soldiers being as now entitled to certain places, I have full freedom to distribute them as fairly as I can among the various branches of the service. Representations were at once made to me that, in adopting this course, we were injuring the interests of the telegraphists or of the learners who would become telegraphists, and that we were endeavouring to introduce those men in order to reduce wages, and so forth. I can hardly believe that those who made these assertions really made them in good faith. It is quite well known that the effect of introducing these men into these positions is to create vacancies for boy messengers, and that not a single person in the service can possibly suffer from the intrusion of those ex-soldiers. They will be taken on the establishment when they have had a certain amount of training, at the same rate of wages and on the same conditions as the present telegrapists. There is no question of introducing cheap labour or anything of that sort. We are doing what we can to direct the attention of employers and others to the boy messengers, and, I am glad to say, in some cases very successfully. It depends very largely on the energy and enterprise of the postmaster, and I should like to pick out particularly the postmaster of Derby, who has been most successful in finding 387 places for these boys, many of whom have been enabled, by the admirable training he has given them, to obtain places on their own initiative. At one time there was some prejudice against these boys. They were not, perhaps, as smart as they might be, but having seen a good deal of the article, I beg to recommend it as a first-class article.
Last year I told the Committee that I fully recognised the Post Office associations as trade unions, with a right of combination and of respresentation through the representatives of different classes. I have nothing to regret in having done so. I think it is the right thing to do, and I believe it has been a satisfactory step. Indeed, I have gone further lately, and have drawn up fresh regulations in consultation with the associations themselves in order to carry out smoother working in regard to this matter. It has been my strong and earnest desire throughout to bring about better relations between the various classes of the postal service, and to bring them, as far as I can, into personal relations with the heads of the Department, because I am a great believer in personal relations as a means of smoothing over difficulties and removing antagonisms. I think these associations and those they represent were inclined to be over suspicious in regard to the Department. They profess to think that the Department was actuated by sinister motives. I am quite certain that the desire of all those who represent the Department is to do their best and the greatest possible justice to the staff as a whole.
The Postmaster-General's position is not an easy task. He has to bear the fierce light of publicity. There are upon him the eyes of some 40,000,000 of population, the eyes of 670 Members of Parliament, all of whom have constituents with eyes upon them, and there are also something like 150,000 watchful and critical employees. Nor is it a light task, because his relations with such a large army of employees must necessarily lead, not only to the larger questions to which I have referred, but also to personal matters, all of which are difficult and take time, and many of which are very painful, though some are amusing. I can only express my indebtedness to hon. Members who write to me, or button-hole me, or question me, 388 for the very conciliatory way in which they treat me in regard to these matters. The service is a great one. I believe—may, I am sure—that it is actuated from the top to the bottom, with very few exceptions, by real zeal and interest in the work of the Department. I have had many opportunities during the last year of meeting all classes and all ranks of Post Office servants, and I have been very much struck by the public zeal which actuates this great service, and which, I think, is appreciated by the public. I have endeavoured during the time I have been at the Post Office to make advances in every direction. I have done something, or have, at least, endeavoured to do something, for the comfort and convenience of the public, and I have endeavoured, as far as I could, to improve the conditions of those working in the Post Office and to bring about a better understanding and more cordial relations.
§ *MR. HENNIKER HEATON (Canterbury)
said he would endeavour to presents picture of the Department from the public point of view. The revenue of the Post Office and Telegraphs Department was £22,000,000, and the expenditure was £17,600,000. The profits of the British Post Office amounted to £4,600,000, exactly £1,000,000 sterling over the amount they were ten years ago, although the expenditure had increased to a large extent. The predecessors of the right hon. Gentleman had sought, in the interests of the public, to limit the amount of the profits which should go into the Treasury. It was held that the Post Office ought not to make profits, and the proposal was made that all above the present profits should go towards extending, cheapening, and facilitating postal communications. He recommended that suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman, who had been going about the country thanking the Chancellor of the Exchequer for having given back to him but a small proportion of the enormous profits which had been made by the Department. His right hon. friend had made a speech which put him in considerable difficulty. Last year the right hon. Gentleman employed 195,000 or nearly 200,000 people, which was 50,000 more than ten years ago. In five years 250,000 people would be employed in the Post Office service, and no doubt, 389 they would be continually making demands upon the Postmaster-General. He would suggest to him a system which would put an end to those calls upon his time and attention. The suggestion was that there should be appointed a Public Service Board similar to that which had been established in Australia. The board there consisted of three able men free from political influences, irremovable by Government, who dealt with all questions in relation to wages and emoluments paid in the various public services, and their decisions gave general satisfaction. Such a body dealing with the complaints of Post Office employees would relieve the Department and Members from much annoyance and from what might become a source of danger to the public service. In an inquiry for establishing such a board the right hon. Gentleman would have every assistance from the Opposition side of the House. From a study of post offices in various parts of the world for the last twenty years, he could say that the British Post Office was one of the best in the world, but it had a number of faults which no business mind could tolerate. The Postmaster-General was armed with full authority against the public and had no responsibility for the defalcations and errors of his servants. No private person conducting such a business would be allowed such irresponsibility, and he suggested that the powers and authority of the Postmaster-General needed revision. The right hon. Gentleman had obtained a cheer by his reference to the reduced postage to Canada. Under the now system a pamphlet weighing a pound could be sent to Canada, 6,000 miles away, for 1d., a wonderful concession for which they were thankful; but then to send a pamphlet or magazine to the Reform Club half a mile off would cost 4d. The arrangement with Canada, moreover, was mean to an extraordinary degree, and one which could not long be tolerated. When he worked hard for postage reduction he did not bargain for a system by which magazines could be sent to Canada for ½d. each while those sent across the road would cost 3½d. in postage. By the new arrangement Canada was made to pay two-thirds of the postage. It was an astonishing arrangement, and would excite laughter here though perhaps not in Canada. The Canadian people were our most 390 loyal people and they were grateful for improved means of communication, but to make them pay two-thirds of the cost of the reduction in postage of our magazines was ridiculous. He was surprised to find that the Postmaster-General made no reference to the inconsistencies of foreign postal rates. From Dover to Calais the postage of a letter was 2½d., but that letter could be sent to Fiji, 12,000 miles, for 1d. A letter could be sent to New York for 2½d., but through the United States to Vancouver, 6,000 miles, it could be sent for 1d. Stronger efforts should be made to remove such anomalies. He appealed to the Postmaster-General to begin a universal penny postage with the United States, where there were probably more British-born subjects of the King than in his distant dominions elsewhere. These people sent £1,600,000 in small postal orders to this country in the course of the year, and the establishment of a penny postage would be hailed with satisfaction by the English-speaking world. In the telegraph system reforms were required. From this country to France the rate was 2d. a word, but in Franco, as in England, it was ½d. a word. Why did we shout for entente cordiale and charge France for a telegraph from Dover to Calais four times as much as we charged for a message from Dover to Ireland? It was astonishing, to people who had considered the question, that postal reforms had been carried in the teeth of Post Office opposition, and one reason he found in the fact that, though the Department was conducted by men of high honour and ability, it had not had a business man at its head since the time of Henry Fawcett—not a man who took into his councils the business men of the country. In France a consultative committee of business men were always sitting with the head of the Department to consider what was best for the general convenience, and he commended the appointment of such a Committee to the right hon. Gentleman, together with the establishment of a Government printing office. In Australia and in the United States post office and other printing was done in Government offices with saving of public money and many other advantages. There were many other matters worthy of attention, but he would content himself with saying that never was there more need for an Imperial 391 Postmaster-General who would consult with our Colonies and dependencies, and with foreign countries, upon the question of telegraph communication. The public scarcely realised the importance of this subject, and the opportunities there were for economy in expenditure. An amount of something like £4,000,000 sterling was spent in telegraphing in the year. To the Cape the expenditure was £500,000. In telegraphing to Australia we spent more than £1,000 a day, to India and the East almost the same sum, and to the United States £1,000,000 a year.
§ *MR. ANNAN BRYCE (Inverness Burghs)
said he was astonished that the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down should have indulged in the criticisms he had on the actions of the Postmaster-General when he was perfectly well aware that that of which he complained did not depend on the action of his right hon. friend, but on the action of the Governments of the respective countries concerned. The public owed a great debt of gratitude to the Postmaster-General for what he had done in the way of reductions.
§ *MR. HENNIKER HEATON
§ *MR. ANNAN BRYCE
In the increase in the weights from ½ ounce to 1 ounce, and the reduction of the postage on weights above 1 ounce, which would make an enormous difference to the countries within the postal union. Any criticisms which he might have to make of the actions of the right hon. Gentleman inconnection with the Motion he proposed to move he made with great reluctance, because everyone knew the interest the right hon. Gentleman took in the details of his Department and would be convinced of his interest both in its financial condition and in the position of the staff. He had recommended himself to everybody in the House by the consideration with which he met the suggestions made to him, and there was no doubt that since he came into office there had been much better feeling throughout the country in regard to the Department. He himself had to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the way in which, he had dealt with a 392 complaint in regard to a matter in his own constituency. The right hon. Gentleman's action in that case would meet with the gratitude of the staff in that constituency. He proposed to move to reduce the right hon. Gentleman's salary by £100 purely with the view of calling attention to a matter of great interest to Scotland. About two months ago a very influential and important deputation waited on the Postmaster-General with regard to underground telegraphic communication with Scotland, and the answer given by the right hon. Gentleman to that deputation was not altogether satisfactory. The right hon. Gentleman showed great knowledge of the subject and great sympathy with the deputation, but explained that unhappily from his financial position he was not able to gratify to the extent he desired the wishes of the deputation with regard to the extension of underground telegraphs. It was well known that, owing to the overhead communications only, telegraphic communication in Scotland was liable to be interrupted during the winter, and last winter there was a very long and serious interruption. The Postmaster-General, although he was aware of this, was able to proceed only very slowly in the conversion of the present overhead into an underground system. The right hon. Gentleman said he would this year be able to complete only the communication to Edinburgh, and although the necessity of communication to Dundee and Aberdeen was very urgent indeed, owing to the slowness of the work it would be many years before they would see safe underground communication between those towns and the rest of the North of Scotland with the South. He begged to move.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item A be reduced by £100."—(Mr. Annan Bryce).
§ SIR F. BANBURY (City of London)
said the hon. Gentleman who had moved the reduction had no doubt good grounds from the point of view of Scotland obtaining underground in place of overhead communication, which it was evident the climate there rendered more 393 necessary than in England. At the same time he could not help feeling that the cost fell on the United Kingdom as a whole; therefore, he did not think the Postmaster-General could press on this reform quicker than he had. The right hon. Gentleman had made a very clear statement on the various subjects in which he had interested himself since he had been in office, but there were some subjects upon which he did not agree with him. The right hon. Gentleman had devoted a considerable portion of his speech to the question of the boys, and he would be inclined to vote for the Amendment because the statement in that respect was unsatisfactory. The right hon. Gentleman had said they were placed in a hard position, and that that was owing to the arrangements made with the War Office and the Admiralty that a certain number of time-expired soldiers and sailors had to be taken into the Post Office every year. The right hon. Gentleman had used a rather unfortunate phrase. He had spoken about the "intrusion" of soldiers and sailors into the Post Office.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
said he did not mean it in an offensive manner, but he quite admitted that it was perhaps not a proper expression to use.
§ SIR F. BANBURY
said he would not refer further to that point, and he was glad he had given the right hon. Gentleman an opportunity of putting it right. The right hon. Gentleman had said that these boys were badly treated because, though their parents were told when they were engaged that the employment would be only of a temporary character, and though the House was told that these boys had signed an agreement in which they acknowledged they knew of this fact, yet, when the period arrived at which their employment was to cease they considered they had a grievance. He could not conceive how a business man for a moment could consider that when a man had signed an agreement, and carried out the terms of that agreement and completed his bargain, he had a grievance because he had to leave. The right hon. Gentleman had further 394 said he would take care that no further soldiers or sailors were employed in the Post Office. That surely was a very unfortunate conclusion to arrive at. He suggested that if the parents of these boys felt aggrieved that their boys were being discharged from the Post Office, the simplest thing for them to do would be to send them into the Army. Then when they had had a good training and were well disciplined, they could return to the Post Office. There could be no grievance then. If such an arrangement could be arrived at a great incentive would be given to recruiting Which was held to be highly desirable by many in the country. He would like to know what objection the right hon. Gentleman had to such a scheme, which he thought would meet a crying want of the men who had served their country, that they should have a claim to serve their country in a civil capacity. The right hon. Gentleman had also announced that the Post Office intended to alter the custom which had previously existed of accepting the lowest tender. The Post Office had a number of contractors on the list, and it would hardly be fair to ask them to send in their tenders and then not to accept the lowest. It was quite a different matter if they advertised for tenders, because people whom they knew nothing about might tender, but where they had a list of contractors, it was to be assumed that their names would not appear upon it unless it was known that they were satisfactory people. Where there was such a list of contractors, it seemed to him that it was only fair that the lowest tender should be accepted. He believed that principle was acted upon in all large departments and concerns in the country. The right hon. Gentleman, in answer to a Question of his, had stated that he estimated that he would get £450,000 increased revenue this year. The net increase of expenditure came to £621,000. The result, was, supposing the estimate of £450,000 increased revenue was realised, there would be a deficiency of £170,000. That was rather a serious fact. The right hon. Gentleman had already alluded to the want of elasticity in the Post Office revenue, which, it must not be forgotten, was one of the great items of the revenue producing Departments, and any decrease in the 395 revenue of the Post Office must mean an increase of taxation in some form; therefore it was most important that the net revenue of the Post Office should be kept up. The increase, as far as he could see, was almost entirely in the direction of wages. That was a very serious thing, when one bore in mind that there was, at the present moment, a Committee sitting on that subject. It seemed to him that it would have been better if the right hon. Gentleman had waited until the Committee had reported before he made any alteration in wages. In regard to superannuation and other non-effective charges, he saw that superannuation came to a very large amount, £555,000, and that it had increased very largely in the year, he thought by something like £50,000. On page 136 of the Estimates, he found that a letter carrier, aged twenty-three years, who had been six years in the Metropolitan Police, had been granted a pension. If the man had been six years in the police, it meant that he had joined the force when he was seventeen years of age. Why should this man receive a pension at the ago of twenty-three? Another man called Eden, aged forty-seven, had a pension of £104 10s. a year, "because of his inability to discharge efficiently the duties of his office." He would like to know what that meant. On the next page there was the record of a managed forty-eight, who received £206 a year pension, and there again the reason was inability to discharge efficiently the duties of his office.
said the reduction which had been moved was on the right hon. Gentleman's salary, and it was open to discuss questions of policy, but not details which would really arise better on other items.
§ SIR F. BANBURY
said the right hon. Gentleman was in charge of the Vote and he desired to have particulars of these pensions, the conferring of which would be under his control, and if he received, a satisfactory answer he certainly did not want to vote for the reduction of the right hon. Gentleman's salary.
§ *MR. SMEATON (Stirlingshire)
said he had received a complaint of rather a 396 serious kind from Grangemouth, an important seaport in his constituency, the third in importance, as an export centre, in Scotland and the link between Glasgow on the West and the Eastern export and import trade. It had only reached him that morning, together with a sheaf of other complaints. He wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman why it was that the Post Office trunk exchange had been removed from Grangemouth to Falkirk. At Grangemouth a very large volume of business was being done, and this removal of the trunk exchange had very seriously dislocated business. The merchants had suffered very great delays, and he wished to know whether the right hon. Gentleman would consent to restore the original arrangement by which the trunk exchange was located at Grangemouth, and also to accelerate the telephone service between Grangemouth, which was the eastern seaport of Glasgow, and Glasgow itself which financed the trade. The report he had received that morning was that the Grangemouth traders would not be content unless either they received a direct trunk service between Grangemouth and Glasgow, or a sufficient number of wires were placed solely at the disposal of the Grangemouth and Glasgow community in regard to Grangemouth business. He would accentuate the claim they now made, by stating that the trade of Grangemouth, under the old arrangement, was very much facilitated. It was mainly with the Baltic States, Norway and Sweden, and was chiefly in timber and iron inwards and coal outward, and the result of the dislocation of the telephone arrangements had been seriously to impede that trade. There had been considerable difficulty recently in conducting the important business with the Baltic provinces and the inconveniences were being felt more and more daily. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would give him an assurance that the trunk telephone exchange would be restored to Grangemouth, or at least that an equally rapid and efficient service would be provided at an early date. If he received that assurance he would not vote for the reduction of the salary of his right hon. friend, but otherwise he would be obliged to do so. Another subject to which he wished to call attention was the serious complaints of 397 traders that deliveries were irregular and not sufficiently numerous. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would pay attention to those complaints.
§ MR. MUNRO FERGUSON (Leith Burghs)
said he cordially supported his hon. friend's proposal. He did not know that he could congratulate the Postmaster-General so cordially upon the support he was receiving from the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London, who evidently thought that the chief object of Imperial revenue was that it should be spent in London or its immediate vicinity. Telegraphic communications in Scotland seemed to be looked upon with perfect indifference by the hon. Baronet, but they were, nevertheless, of some importance to the industrial communities on the East Coast of Scotland. The North of England towns had been well linked up with the underground telegraphic system, and it was a matter of congratulation that Glasgow had been joined up. The slowness of the means adopted to link up Edinburgh with the underground telegraphic system fully deserved the criticisms which had been made upon it, because the delay was intolerable. The climate of Scotland was a good deal worse than the climate of England in regard to the subject they were discussing. It was the snow falling in a certain condition which clung to the wires and broke them down, and Scotland had to suffer in that way. From the point of view of the business community this matter was urgent. It was not only Edinburgh but the great commercial districts of Fife, Dundee, and Aberdeen which were concerned, because they were all cut off sometimes for days from the rest of the world by the breaking down of telegraphic communication. It was always possible for England and Ireland to get a million or so for anything of importance, and it was not right that Scotland should be starved in this way year after year. The limit of their patience had now been reached on this matter. They were not urging a retrograde policy, and he trusted the right hon. Gentleman would bring the telegraphic communications with Scotland up to the same level as the rest of the work over which he presided.
§ SIR GILBERT PARKER
hoped it was not too late to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon the improvement she had made in the means of communication between this country and Canada in regard to the postal service. He felt that the right hon. Gentleman deserved the greatest credit in this matter, because previous Postmasters-General had always adopted an adamantine attitude towards the efforts other Members and himself had made to reduce the postage rate to Canada, the excuse being that it would involve an immense loss to the Postal Department. He was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman state that he did not think there would be any great loss on account of this concession. He strongly held that the Postal Department ought not to be considered the milch cow that it was; the amount of money paid over to the Chancellor of the Exchequer was out of all reason. The reason they had not had proper reforms in the past except at the point of the bayonet was that the Chancellor of the Exchequer demanded every year £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 from the Department. His hon. friend had spoken of the typists employed at 18s. a week in the General Post Office. Three years ago the hon. Member for Canterbury and others on both sides of the House urged that such a salary was absolutely inadequate. Anyone who knew what it cost to live in London knew that 18s. a week would not supply any girl with a decent living. She must live with her parents or be a burden upon her relatives, and she had to face actual starvation or temptations to something much worse. The right hon. Gentleman handed over £4,000,000 a year of profits to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and yet he declined to give these typists an increase in their wages.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
I do not decline.
§ SIR GILBERT PARKER
said he was glad to hear that statement from the right hon. Gentleman, because they had seen for a long time urging that the Postmaster-General should give better wages to the female workers. The 399 difference between the male and the female workers in regard to wages was very great. It had been urged by the hon. Member for Canterbury that the only way to get a proper and efficient service and proper pay well balanced was not by the efforts of trade unions and associations, but by the boards which he had suggested. Labour Members knew that, because whilst they were able by their unions to gain advantages for one particular section of post office employees they did not gain them for another section. The difficulties attaching to this matter of salaries was one that should not be borne by the Postmaster-General. The pressure that used to be brought upon Members of the House had not been so much exercised since the attempt had been made to bring the associations into closer relation with the Department itself, but in the past attempts at pressure had been made which practically amounted to blackmail, and they had made some hon. Members who had supported the cause of the employees extremely angry. Whilst such Members had voted for all just claims they had opposed and resented the attempts made to compel them to intervene in regard to these matters. He honestly thought we should never have a really first-class postal service with all the improvements due to them until Pariament had reduced the amount which the Department paid over to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and had relieved the Postmaster-General of the duty of acting as the final judge and arbiter in the case of salaries. When that had been done they would arrive at a condition of things which would make the Post Office the best Department in the world. Our police and postal service was universally acknowledged to be excellent. In every other respect we were in the van of progress and the Postal Department should not lag behind. In regard to the arrangement made with the trade association, difficulties would arise, because they would bring pressure to bear in certain directions to achieve certain reforms only; that would cause rivalry and jealousy in other directions and they would never have any uniform system. The system of dealing with salaries ought to be kept uniform by a board free from all political considera- 400 tions. The right hon. Gentleman had pointed out that they had 200,000 employees in the Post Office and 150,000 of them were critics. He supposed the other 50,000 were ladies, and he asked whether the reason the wages of female employees were not raised was that they did not criticise. With regard to the telephone service he had to pay £17 10s. a year and £110s. deposit, together with an extra charge of 6d. on his messages for a private telephone. That was out of all proportion to the proper expenditure. The Postmaster-General would say that he could not alter it because it would be impossible to make the telephone service pay. At the beginning of a great service there must be a certain amount of loss. The service had first to be built up before the return could be expected from it which they ought to get. If a certain amount of the money which was given to the Chancellor of the Exchequer were devoted for the time being to the relief of the telephone service he believed the Postmaster-General would get a larger revenue in the end. While the Department was one of which the country might well be proud, it was a Department in which reforms were as necessary now as when his hon. friend the Member for Canterbury commenced his campaign twenty years ago. If the Postmaster - General would throw off the shackles of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in this case, and it could be done—[An Hon. MEMBER: What about about old-age pensions?] If they were depending on this Department for old-age pensions they might get them, but the wages of the people they wished to benefit would not increase in proportion to the cost of living in the country.
§ MR. SEDDON (Lancashire, Newton)
said he did not rise as a critic of the right hon. Gentleman, but to pay him a personal tribute for the public spirit which he had brought into his great Department. Last year he raised the question of the wages paid to the mail cart drivers, and he was glad to learn that the Postmaster-General had given his attention to it. In some directions he had considerably increased the wages and improved the conditions of the drivers. He wished, if possible, to accelerate the speed and widen the field of the 401 right hon. Gentleman's activity. It was perfectly true that many of the mail drivers in this country were paid scandalous wages. He would personally wish that the Post Office would undertake its own mail van work, and not give it to private contractors, but pending that time, which he hoped was not far distant, he would ask the Postmaster-General whether it was possible for him to make inquiry in the provinces on the lines which he had so successfully followed in the Metropolitan area, in order to find out the wages paid to the mail drivers. He had had several cases brought to his own knowledge where the hours were intolerably long and the wages scandalous, something like 2¼d. per hour. That was the pay of some of the drivers who had to stand all the inclement weather. Heasked whether the Postmaster-General could secure a return of the wages and conditions of the men engaged in the mail van service. He was glad to find himself in opposition to the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London. He was beginning to think that it was a virtue to be opposed to anything which the hon. Baronet supported. The hon. Baronet had stated in the course of his remarks that the revenue of the country depended to some extent on the income and the profits of the Post Office. He agreed. But the hon. Baronet went on to say that the Postmaster-General must exercise great care, because he had found that an increase of wages in one direction had arisen owing to an increase in another. He himself believed that that increase had been warranted. It had been granted by the Postmaster-General to some extent to remove a grievance in the Department over which he presided. He would like to call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to another question which might mean another outlay which would approximate more to justice than the present conditions. In Liverpool, in connection with the telegraph office, he was informed on very good authority that there were a large number of temporary clerks employed alongside a number of permanent clerks. There was also a considerable amount of overtime worked by those permanently engaged. Surely by a little arrangement those who were temporarily em- 402 ployed might, at least in some cases, be put on the permanent staff by removing the overtime, and thus avoiding the insecurity of those who were not now on the permanent staff. In the labour world there was nothing more depressing than the feeling of uncertainty, and many of these temporary clerks did not know the length of time they would be occupied in the postal service. He was told that it figured out at about eight months in the year, and that the other four months were a period of uncertainty. It was reasonable to suppose that the four months might mean a period of privation as well. He asked the right hon. Gentleman to exercise his good offices in making an inquiry into this question at Liverpool, so that some of the temporary clerks might be put on the permanent staff. He was glad that his hon. friend had raised the question of the female typists. He did not think there was any man who would support sweating in connection with female labour, and especially the miserable wage paid to the typists. It was impossible for a female to live in London, Liverpool, or other large centre on 18s. a week. She might be living at home, and in that case 18s. contributed to the family exchequer would help the family to live somewhat decently; but if she was compelled, as she sometimes was, under the Post Office conditions, to remove to another office, she might be taken from the home circle to live in London. It was impossible to live on 18s. a week in any of the large cities, and he was sure that the Postmaster-General would be doing a real public service if he gave these females a standard living wage, and reduced the disproportion as regarded pay between males and females. There was not a very great difference in the work they did, and that being so, he thought the Postmaster-General in the interest of justice should bring the salaries into some more even relationship than existed at the present time.
§ MR. CROMBIE (Kincardineshire)
said the question of providing underground wires in Scotland was a very serious one. He reminded the Committee that at the end of last year there was a severe snowstorm in the North of Scotland, and 403 that for three days owing to the breakdown of the telegraph wires the city of Aberdeen was shut off from the rest of the world. That was a great calamity. He did not say that it was a calamity for Aberdeen to be shutoff from the rest of the world, but it was a serious calamity for the rest of the world to be shut off from Aberdeen. Aberdeen was the second largest centre of the fishing industry in the Kingdom, and that industry was to a large extent dependent on the telegraph. The city was also an important telegraphic centre. It might be said that such a snowstorm would not occur again. He was not sure about that. He believed that the weather went in cycles. It did so in the time of Pharaoh and it might do so again. There might be a cycle of bad winters, and it was very important that something should be done to prevent the interruption of telegraphic communication. The Postmaster-General had been exceedingly kind to Aberdeen. He acknowledged that frankly. The right hon. Gentleman went down there recently and opened a new post office. He believed that Aberdeen intended to get something out of him when he was there, but somehow or other that had fallen through. Whether that was due to the Postmaster-General's charm of manner or to the Highland hospitality with which he was welcomed and the desire not to take advantage of a guest he could not say, but the right hon. Gentleman got away and nothing had been done. He knew that the right hon. Gentleman would plead impecuniosity. That was always the plea of Ministers on these occasions. If he was going to extend the underground wires to Edinburgh, why could he not leave out the connection and begin at Aberdeen, extending the wire southwards? The part of Scotland most likely to be disturbed by storms was the northern part between Aberdeen and Dundee or Edinburgh. He urged that if more money could not be got to extend the lines more rapidly from the south, the work should be done from the north.
§ *MR. WILKIE (Dundee)
thanked the Postmaster-General for his action in meeting the representatives of the workers' organisations. He did not share the views which had been expressed in some quarters as to the trouble which 404 the right hon. Gentleman would get into in future by simply following the example of most large employers of labour. The fact that the employees knew that they could approach the right hon. Gentleman would tend to do away with a considerable number of complaints. The treatment of the boys who entered the Post Office service had been a great grievance for a considerable time. He did not think the present method was satisfactory. There seemed to be a desire to force the lads into the Army. If the Army was to be recruited it would not be done by this method. These lads were above the average in education, and he thought that other methods should be adopted to secure recruits. As to the suggestion that a ''Public Service Board" should be instituted, that would require to be very carefully considered. It was a very large question which would affect the civil servants from the highest to the lowest grade; and it might cut in a way which was not anticipated by the hon. Members who had made it. There was a grievance in regard to the telegraph employees in Dundee; it was an entirely local grievance, and he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would see his way to meat the wishes of the telegraphists in that city. There was another matter which he wished to bring before the right hon. Gentleman in regard to the postal rates charged for periodicals, which affected particularly the industrial class. These rates were much higher than those charged for society journals and other papers of a so-called higher class, and certainly for periodicals which were of much greater weight and bulk. He did not know whether that was according to law or not; but, if it was, a small Bill should be introduced to remedy that grievance. Then there was the question affecting his constituency in connection with the underground telegraph wires. A deputation had recently waited on the Postmaster-General. They complained that while the right hon. Gentleman had complied with the demands of Glasgow and Edinburgh he had left such important cities as Dundee and Aberdeen and the whole of the North of Scotland out of account. The deputation had received no satisfaction. Since then he had visited Dundee 405 in reference to the matter, and had had interviews with the representatives of the public and the chamber of commerce and many business men in the city, who were very greatly dissatisfied with the reply which the Postmaster-General had given to the deputation. They thought that the extension of the underground wire to Dundee and the North might be greatly accelerated. In his reply to the deputation, the Postmaster-General stated that a storm such as that which had broken all communication with the North in January last did not often occur. If the right hon. Gentleman could guarantee that such another storm would not occur until he had these lines underground, they would not press him; but the right hon. Gentleman could not give that guarantee, therefore he thought that the business communities of Dundee and Aberdeen should be served at once by underground telegraphic lines so that the whole business of the east coast of Scotland should not be interrupted.
§ *MR. WILES (Islington, S.)
believed there were from 8,000 to 10,000 men who had served in the Army or Navy who now had an engagement in the postal service. He thought that when these men were taken into the Post Office service they should be allowed to count for pension their seven years service in the Army or Navy. Let them take the case of a young man eighteen years of age—
pointed out that the question of pensions was a matter of legislation and could not be discussed under this Vote.
§ *MR. O'GRADY (Leeds, E.)
said he desired to draw the attention of the Postmaster - General to three points, namely, the wages of the Post Office employees, the creation of a privileged class of workmen at Mount Pleasant, London, and the question of the wages of the mail drivers. The minimum wage or letter carries in London was only 20s. per week and rose only to 34s. after long service, so that the conditions of employment did not compare favourably with those in other spheres of industry. It must be remembered that 406 the great bulk of those men were married, and even when they attained to 34s. a week that was hardly enough to keep a man and his family. Last year he had raised the question in respect to the joinery department at Mount Pleasant. The conditions there were such that no trade unionist could apply for work at all unless he cared to drop out of his union. They were just as much entitled to be paid the same rates for employment under the State as those paid to the privileged classes in this Department, and until the conditions of employment were altered there would be great discontent. As to the case of the mail van drivers the hon. Baronet the junior Member for the City had said that on every occasion the lowest tender for the contract should be accepted, but he submitted that that led to sweating. He did not know of any men in private employ who were so badly paid as the mail van drivers, and he supposed that that was because the Post Office Department did accept the lowest tender. The best way would be for the Post Office themselves to undertake the work of the carriage of the mails from the post office to the railway stations another districts and not by means of contractors. Mention had been made of the creation of a board in Australia to consider all these questions of wages. That Civil Service Board in Australia had worked very beneficially for the employees as well as for the Government. Australia, however, was a new country and this was an old country, and the only means the workers had to bring pressure to get justice for themselves was through the trade unions, and the Postmaster-General had met them in the, readiest manner and allowed them to state their case directly through their representatives. Before the question of a Civil Service Board to consider wages was adopted, he would prefer that some longer period of trial should be given the new conditions.
§ *MR. STAVELEY-HILL (Staffordshire, Kingswinford)
called attention to the condition of the post office at Old Hill, South Staffordshire, and to the method of inspection of post offices generally, the right hon. Gentleman had informed him that he had had this post office inspected 407 having reference to the complaints which had reached him as to the inadequate accommodation it afforded for such a large district. No doubt the inspection had taken place, but he wanted to know the views of the inspector. He was in this post office last Saturday and saw how inadequate the accommodation was, as more than four fully grown people could not stand at the counter at one time. It was true that there were two sub-post offices, but they were such a distance from the main office as to be of very little use. There was no desire on the part of those who had petitioned the Postmaster-General to oust the present postmaster, but they asked that there should be a reconstruction of the building. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would consent to receive a deputation of the inhabitants on the subject.
§ *MR. MORTON (Sutherland)
said it was perhaps unfortunate that so many subjects should be brought forward on the question of the reduction of the Postmaster-General's salary. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would not take it as a reflection upon himself as it was merely a way of raising those questions. The question of mail drivers had been before them for twenty years, and the right hon. Gentleman said he was not responsible as the work was done under contracts. They had all heard of these contracts and of conditions as to fair wages to the men. Surely the Postmaster-General could see that these conditions were put in the contracts for carrying the mails. He quite agreed with the hon. Member who had spoken previously that the Post Office business ought not to be simply for money making. It ought to be carried on in the interests of the trade and of the social affairs of the United Kingdom. He hoped the Postmaster-General would be able to do something in the direction of a universal penny post, and pointed out that, as far as they knew, the Imperial penny post had not been a loss at all. The present arrangements were perfectly ridiculous. One could send a letter to India and Australia and further still for 1d., but to send one across the Channel from Dover to Calais cost2½d. One could send a lette across the United States to British 408 Columbia for 1d., but if it was stopped on the way, say at New York, it cost 2½d. In reforming such anomalies as that he knew they would have no trouble with the Postmaster-General if it were not for the permanent officials who hampered and controlled him. ["Oh."] Well, the Duke of Norfolk told the country that his difficulty in carrying out any reform was the power of the permanent officials, and if the present Postmaster-General did better than his predecessors they would be grateful indeed. The difficulty was to make these permanent officials recognise any merit outside their offices and outside themselves. Every reform had been driven into the Department from outside. They opposed in the first instance Rowland Hill's penny postage. He believed the permanent officials hated like poison his hon. friend the Member for Canterbury, but if the Postmaster-General had his own way he thought he would carry out what that hon. Member advocated. The City had recognised the services of his hon. friend by giving him its freedom in the usual gold box, and it was, after all, the City which benefited more by cheap and efficient postal facilities than any other part of the United Kingdom. He hoped the Postmaster-General would overcome the Chancellor of the Exchequer and would not be "bossed" by his permanent officials. The more the right hon. Gentleman depended upon his own ability and knowledge the better it would be for the country in regard to the postal service. If the Postmaster-General alone were concerned he did not think it would be long before we had universal penny postage. He wished to join with his colleagues in impressing upon the Postmaster-General the necessity in regard to the service with Scotland of having the wires placed underground. He supposed he would be told that the right hon. Gentleman had not got the money, but with a post office revenue of £2,405,000 from Scotland and an expenditure of £1,981,000, which showed a profit of between £400,000 and £500,000 per annum, he had no business to use that profit elsewhere until he had put the Scottish telegraph, post, and telephone service in a proper efficient condition. It was no use for the Postmaster-General to say he could not 409 control the weather. It was his business to control it, and that was the reason why the reduction was moved in his salary. He trusted that the application made on behalf of Scotland would not be in vain. His concern was with a district two or three hundred miles further north, where the weather was more stormy, and his reason for having these wires in a proper and safe condition was stronger even than that of others who had spoken. His constituents were 700 miles away and could not come to the House and watch their proceedings; they were dependent on the telegraph to take them the news, and therefore he trusted that not a moment would be lost in putting these matters right. He noticed in the Estimates that about £1,000 a year was spent on telegraph business in regard to race meetings, and he asked why the right hon. Gentleman was spending money on such a vice as racing, the only respectable thing about which was the horse. He further complained that the right hon. Gentleman had not carried out the promises made last year with regard to giving larger facilities, both postal and telegraph, in country districts. With regard to Sutherlandshire, the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget speech last year made a full statement about telegraphs and telephones and said he would give larger facilities, and that under ordinary circumstances the Postmaster - General should guarantee two-thirds of the annual cost. This telegraphic communication was very important to a place like Sutherlandshire, which had to depend on the telegraph for its markets. Last year he sent in a petition on behalf of the people living at Elphin asking for a telegraph service. The right hon. Gentleman promised to put up a wire and conduct the service if the people of the district guaranteed so much per annum, but refused himself to go on the guarantee promised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer although the Chancellor of the Exchequer had promised that the Postmaster-General should guarantee two-thirds of the loss (if any). With regard to the postal delivery, there were several places in Sutherlandshire which had only one delivery a week, and though the postmaster-General had made considerable improvement in the postal facilities (for which he thanked him) by giving, in some cases, two deliveries a week, having regard 410 to the promise that there should be a delivery at least three times a week, he contended the right hon. Gentleman had not gone far enough. In one particular case a most extraordinary thing had happened. Up to a few weeks ago the people of a certain district had had a delivery three times a week, and they had now been knocked down to a delivery on the Saturday only. So that the promises of the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been in that case reversed. That was a matter he would send in to the Postmaster-General to inquire into. He did not apologise for occupying the time of the Committee; it was the duty of Members of the House of Commons, before they granted supply, to ventilate their grievances and secure reforms. He reminded the Postmaster-General that fourteen months ago the Prime Minister promised to do everything he could to help the people to improve their country. The Prime Minister had on that occasion said that we ought "to colonise our own country." He (Mr. Morton) had forgotten more about colonisation than many hon. Gentlemen ever knew; and he knew that the Canadian and United States Governments considered it their first duty when "colonising" to attend to postal facilities, telegraphs, and telephones. On one occasion when he was in a new settlement in America so anxious were the Canadian Govern-to assure the delivery of mails that they sent them on the back of an Indian, who walked into the settlement on snow shoes. He thought the right hon. Gentleman ought to do everything in his power to carry out the promise of the Prime Minister to help the people to improve their own country and trade. While thanking the Postmaster-General for past favours, he hoped he would attend in the future to the important matters he had mentioned.
§ COLONEL LOCKWOOD (Essex, Epping)
said he regarded the permanent officials as a hard-working body, who paid close attention to their business, and for regularity and everything else they were unequalled by any other body of public servants; the Postmaster-General would be absolutely useless and incapable without the assistance of the permanent officials, who were acquainted with the work, and it was to them that the Postmaster-General, when 411 he was placed in office, must naturally look. He was always sorry to hear the permanent officials found fault with. They might think, at times, that they were hide-bound and stuck to red-tape, but he did not think for a moment that there over entered their heads any thought save that which they believed to be entirely for the public good in the way of greater facilities. When he came into the House he was astonished to see his hon. friend the Member for the City of London on his legs and addressing the House, but he found him for once employed on an excellent object, though he confessed he viewed with alarm the prospect he described as to the employment of old soldiers, and he was sure he might venture to say a few words in their behalf. The right hon. Gentleman could not in fact abrogate the arrangement made as to the employment of old soldiers, but he would not increase their number owing to the fact that the parents of the boys thought that they laboured under a grievance. He was very sorry indeed to hear that the right hon. Gentleman did not intend to increase the number of Reservists employed, because it had always been one of the difficulties in the service that men leaving it were not able to find employment, and he thought that a man who had served his country was entitled to greater consideration at the hands of the community than those who had not done so. He had no wish to labour the point, but he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would see that in some people's minds at all events the provision of employment for men who had deserved well of their country was a very serious question. Only men who had excellent characters were eligible for this employment, and it was hard that they should have so limited a door slammed in their face. With regard to the female typists in the Post Office, he did not believe that it was possible for a girl in that position to live in London on less than £1 a week, and he thought they should at least be on the watch in her behalf. Had anything been done in respect of the dining arrangements or getting food, except at their own expense or outside of the office? If no arrangements had been made, he thought some ought to be made. He did not think that these girls ever got their meals properly or comfortably. 412 They went out and got an indigestible bun and a glass of milk, not in the least wholesome for them, and they had no time to get their proper food. He trusted that, if it was not already the case, the Postmaster-General would be able to make such arrangements that they could get their food in the office, or in some room adjacent to the office—decent food, well cooked, and with an opportunity to eat it so that their health would not be affected. As regarded the question of the mail drivers, he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would see his way, in the interests of man and horse, to supplying motor vans in the place of horse vans where practicable and possible. Another point to which he wished to call attention was the question of change given over the counter to the public. The point was whether, if a five-pound note was tendered at the post office, change could be obtained.
§ MR. SIDNEY BUXTON
I am inquiring into that.
§ COLONEL LOCK WOOD
said he would not in that case press the matter further, but he would be glad of a reply about the boy messenger service.
§ MR. SIDNEY BUXTON
That is all arranged.
§ COLONEL LOCKWOOD
said the principal question he had raised was as to the employment of old soldiers and he hoped it would be seriously considered by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. MACLEAN (Bath)
said he would like to join in the commendation of the right hon. Gentleman's policy with regard to the employees in the Post Office service. They found, as a result of it, that instead of a state of agitation, they had now something approaching content. With regard to one or two remarks which had been made as to serving the country, he pointed out that there were men who served it as efficiently and faithfully outside the ranks as did those who were in the service; and it was not fair that, where men had been employed for a great number of years in the Post Office, they should not have, rightly and properly, the promotion which was due to them. He wished to draw attention to the inefficient state of the post office in 413 High Street, Bath. A great amount of injury and inconvenience was caused owing to the lack of public accommodation. High Street was right in the centre of the city, and Bath was constantly full of visitors from all parts of the country and many parts of the world, who wished to send telegrams, or money, or postal letters to great distances. They had to go to a sort of subterranean office which was off the High Street, and great inconvenience was experienced. The matter was one of great importance to the city, and representations had been made over and over again by the chamber of commerce and by the city corporation, expressing the earnest hope that the question would have the consideration which it really needed. One objection with which they were met was that there was not sufficient business done to justify an extension of facilities. He suggested, with all respect to the permanent officials who very largely controlled these matters, that they ought to look at them in a business-like way. A business man, when dealing with a subject of this kind, knew perfectly well that if he wanted an extension of business he ought to extend his promises. He was quite certain that if the authorities properly considered the urgent prayer of the petitions which had been sent up from time to time by the representative bodies of the city with regard to this matter the great public inconvenience complained of would be very speedily remedied.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON,
who was to indistinctly heard, was understood say that the hon. Member for Canterbury, as well as the hon. Member for Sutherland, had attacked the permanent officials of the Post Office with some virulence. It had been his honour and pleasure to work with the permanent officials at the Post Office for some time. He thought our public service was the highest in the civilised world, and there were no men in that service who were more anxious to do right than the permanent officials of the Post Office. It was their duty, when suggestions were made, either from outside or from the Postmaster-General, to criticise those proposals in order that it might be soon whether they would hold water. He might say frankly that some of his own proposals might have been criticised in the 414 initial stages, but he had welcomed that criticism. If, however, he had made up his mind to do a particular thing, though the officials might not agree with it, no one could give him greater assistance than they did in making it easy for him to carry his plan out. That was, he thought, the greatest compliment to them. A permanent official ought first to criticise, and then, having criticised, to do his best to make the proposal a workable one for the benefit of the public. He had heard with great regret the words of the Members for Canterbury and Sutherlandshire. The hon. Member for Canterbury had compared our Post Office with that of France, which, it was said, always had a business man in connection with it, or at the head of it. All he could say was that he was glad he lived in a country—even if there was no business man in the Post Office—where they had rejoiced in penny postage for sixty-six years, whereas it was only introduced in France last year.
§ *MR. HENNIKER HEATON
said France had a penny post, but it was raised to pay the expenses of the War. He had the highest opinion of the permanent officials and would not exchange them for any body of civil servants in the world. It was of the head of the Department in France that the had spoken.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
said that in reference to female typists, as a matter of fact, they were civil servants, and in that sense he had no control over them. There appeared to have been some mistake in regard to their rate of pay. It was true that these typists were paid 18s. a week during the first year of their i service, but they were working upon a scale under which their wages rose to 19s. the next year, and an increase of 2s. a week every succeeding year until their wages reached 25s., and he thought hon. Members would agree with him that that was a very different thing from 18s. per week. He did make representations to the Treasury on receipt of a memorial from these typists, because it seemed to him that their case ought to be considered in order to ascertain whether their wages were or were not adequate. With regard to postal improvements, some hon. Members had gone so far as to say that the whole of the profits on the postal system ought to be spent upon improvements. He was 415 bound to say that he did not agree with that view. The Post Office had always exercised a double function from the point of view of the revenue: (1) to add something to the Exchequer in relief of taxation elsewhere; and (2) to provide a certain amount to be spent every year in postal improvements. He thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer had allowed a very liberal sum for various improvements by granting £350,000 a year extra out of the revenue of the Post Office, and he considered that that was a very substantial contribution to postal reform. [An Hon. MEMBER: It ought to be double.] The hon. Member who made that interruption could not be aware of the relations of the Treasury in regard to all the great spending departments. They were spending quite enough already, and if they had not the watch-dog of the Treasury to guard their expenditure he did not know what would happen. The hon. Member for Gravesend had alluded to his own private telephone, but it was a very long wire, and that was why he had to pay an additional sum. He had settled the question of London carmen, and any instances where the carmen were not receiving suitable wages and whose hours were unduly long would certainly be inquired into.
§ MR. MORTON
asked if it was provided in the contract that they should be paid a fair rate of wages?
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
replied that every contract contained a fair wages clause giving the right of inspection and general inquiry into the rate of wages.
§ MR. MORTON
Then they are breaking the contract if they are not paying fair wages?
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
Yes. The difficulty was that whilst they had a fair wages clause, there was no recognised rate of fair wages. With regard to the telephone system referred to by the hon. Member for Stirlingshire, he had had some communication with the National Telephone Company on the subject, and he would see what could be done to improve the service. The increases which had been referred to by the hon. Member for the City of London were only normal increases in the pay of Post Office servants according to the 416 scale. With regard to the messengers, he felt that it was a real hardship that the boy messengers should come into the service anticipating permanent employment and then have to give up their service. In regard to the clothing contract, complaint had been made that he had not accepted the lowest tender in every case. Hon. Members must be aware that in the clothing trade there was a great deal of sweating, and if the lowest tender was always accepted the result would be that the employees would not receive decent wages. Another reason why he had not accepted the lowest tender in every case was that he bad endeavoured to spread the tenders over a considerable number of contractors so that he might obtain some experience as to who were good and who were bad employers. The hon. Member for Sutherlandshire had asked him a question about underground telegraphic wires, but he wished to point out that he had endeavoured to meet the various suggestions he had made. In regard to the extension of telegraph lines in sparsely populated districts such as Sutherlandshire, there must be some discrimination where the capital outlay was out of all proportion to the general advantages of the locality. He entirely appreciated the importance of the matter to which his hon. friend from Scotland had drawn his attention. It was a very serious thing that a town of the size and importance of Aberdeen should be practically cut off from telegraphic communication for two or three days through a snowstorm. The only gratification he felt about the matter was that when the deputators came to see him about it, they admitted that the snowstorm in question was the most severe one for fifty years. He agreed with the hon. Member for Kincardineshire that it was an immense loss to the rest of the United Kingdom to have Aberdeen cut off for two or three days, but if it only happened once in fifty years they would perhaps be able to bear it with equanimity. Some hon. Members had gone further and suggested that he ought to control the weather in Scotland. Since he had been at the Post Office he had had a considerable number of duties imposed upon him, but he confessed that it was rather beyond his power to control the weather in Scotland, and he hoped, if he was unable to do it, he would not be 417 blamed. He found that in the administration of the Post Office he often got praise for things for which he deserved none and got blamed for things for which he was not to blame. He read the other day, for instance, that last Christmas the Christmas parcels were much better packed, and that it was due to the new Postmaster-General. That was undue praise. It would be undue blame to blame him for not controlling the weather in Scotland.
§ MR. MORTON
I did not suggest that. I suggested that by the expenditure of a sum of money you could control the weather by putting the wires underground.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
said he felt the importance of the matter, but he wanted to point out two or three considerations which he hoped would be appreciated, because they largely affected the question and his power of dealing with it. The system of putting telegraph wires underground was a comparatively now one. It was only in the last few years that they had discovered the paper insulator and that it had been really effective. When it was first done by gutta percha it was ineffective. This meant that there had been delay in carrying out the underground wiring. Only a certain amount of the work could be carried out each year, in the first place because of the expense, and, secondly, because of the difficulty of supervision. Already something like £1,000,000 had been spent, and by the end of this year £1,250,000 would have been spent in underground wires towards the completion of those parts, the trunk and main wires, which were already in hand. When they were completed they would be able to turn their attention to other quarters of the country. It was a costly thing, however, to put in underground wires, and it was not merely a question of the initial cost. A considerable outlay was involved in breakages which occurred from time to time, and the return nothing like covered the interest on the expenditure. Still, it was a thing that ought to be done as a national matter and done as rapidly as possible. What should be done was first to have a complete trunk line from London to Glasgow, and then from it to 418 have spread out spurs in various directions. In the first place they wanted a trunk line down to the south west and south in order to catch the cable connections wish the Continent, with India, with the East, and with America, and prevent storms breaking the communications. His hon. friend the Member for Aberdeen had said that it would be a serious thing that Dundee, which was interested in the jute trade, should not be able to communicate with India. That was the strongest argument in favour of completing the underground wires to the south-west, where the Indian cable started, before laying them to Dundee itself. Similar storms occurred in South Wales, and, if there were no underground wires in the south-west, not only Dundee but every other part of the country might be in the position of having their communication with India cut off for an appreciable time, whereas, under existing conditions, Dundee had not been cut off from communication with India. He thought his hon. friends from Scotland were too much inclined to deal with the matter as a local question. It was really not a local question at all. It was far more important to the jute industry of Dundee than to the Devonshire labourers that the underground wires should be extended first to the south-west. The first thing to be done was to bring the underground communication in connection with the cables in various parts of the country, and that was what they had in hand at present. They had in hand a cable to Newcastle, and it was hoped, if not to complete it, at any rate nearly to complete the underground cable from Edinburgh to Glasgow. He was asked by one hon. friend why they did not begin at the Edinburgh end and by another why they did not begin at the Aberdeen end. It was difficult from these suggestions to find out which end to begin first. One reason why they would not be able to complete the underground wire between Edinburgh and Glasgow this year was that the Edinburgh Corporation had been very obstructive in regard to way-leaves. They had very much delayed the work by refusing them liberty to go in the direction they wanted. He hoped they would be lessobdurate in future. It was a case of a locality urging extension on the one hand and refusing facilities on the other. He was afraid that all he could say was that he fully appreciated 419 the importance of the particular proposals that had been made. They had certain schemes in hand and they had a certain amount of money, £250,000 this year, in order to carry them out. When these schemes were completed, other extensions would be proceeded with. He would point out, however, that he had had representations made to him, not only from Dundee and Aberdeen, but from other places, including Hull and Newcastle. Hull and Newcastle together had double the trade of Dundee and Aberdeen. It was a reason for giving considerable weight to their representations. There was one thing to which he did not think sufficient importance had been attached. His hon. friend had dwelt with particular persistency on a particular snowstorm in the north, and pointed out that the wires were broken down in consequence; but his information was that what was even worse than that was a cyclone in the south when trees were blown down. He did not think, therefore, that they could dwell too much on the question of the weather, seeing that the wind storms in the south were quite as serious as the snowstorms in the north. He was afraid he could not promise any more than he said to the deputation, that Dundee and Aberdeen should receive full consideration when the other lines were completed. He hoped his hon. friends would feel that he had endeavoured to explain the matter as fully as he could; but if they still persisted in reducing his salary he would have to grin and bear it.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
said he had been asked to bring forward the question of newspaper postage. He did not think the Committee realised how anomalous and contradictory the position was at the present moment. He might sum it up by saying that journals which were pounds in weight, dear in price, and small in circulation, could be posted for a halfpenny, while many other journals, a tenth of the weight and size, were charged a penny. Personally he attached no blame to the Post Office in this matter. He would not have mentioned it but for the fact that urgent representations had been made to him from influential quarters. He would illustrate the present state of the law. Papers like the Graphic and the Illus- 420 trated London News which cost sixpence could be posted for a halfpenny, whereas the postage of the People's Friend, a sheet an eighth or a tenth of the weight of the Field or any of the big sixpenny weeklies was a penny. There were other journals with which he was connected which were subject to the same grievance. It appeared to him an extremely ridiculous position that a heavy and dear journal going to wealthy people should be charged only a halfpenny postage, while a small journal which was read by poor people was charged a penny postage. He had endeavoured to get at the principle underlying the postal charges in regard to this matter, but it was rather hard to discover. He understood that a certain proportion of what was called news matter must appear in the paper to entitle it to the halfpenny rate; but it was rather difficult to know what the definition of news was, or what news was contained in some of the big weeklies. Those who, like himself, were connected with some journals were extremely grateful for the editorial assistance they got from the Post Office. Let the Committee take the case of the Queen. It was a most admirable journal; it contained a description of the toilets of the ladies, the latest fashions, the names of those presented at Court, and the latest elegancies in chiffons from Paris—highly interesting he was sure to ladies, and also to the gentlemen who were proud of having fashionable ladies for their wives. He did not belong to either class, and he was unable to see what news the Queen contained. Then there were the Lady's Pictorial and the Lady. Those papers were fashionable papers, full of fashionable intelligence, and were taken by fashionable people. But if they took Tit-Bits and papers of the like kind he did not see why they should not be regarded as having news, and should be charged a penny instead of a halfpenny postage. But that was not the end of the contradictory rules of the Post Office, for some of those heavy and costly papers were allowed to have advertising insets. He maintained that the distinction made by the Post Office between papers and periodicals was founded on no sane or sound principle which could be defended. He had been asked to bring in a Bill on the subject. After the experience he had had in piloting 421 the Musical Copyright Bill through the House, he had made a vow that never again would he embark on a career as a legislator. He supposed, however, that legislators were like lovers, entitled to break their vows occasionally, and he was quite ready to start legislation again, but on one condition, viz., that the Government should put on the Committee all its forces. By a combination of that kind he believed that they might reach the desired eirenicon. He asked his right hon. friend the Postmaster-General as to whether they might have his assistance in this regard.
§ *MR. MCCRAE (Edinburgh, E.)
said that the right hon. Gentleman had hardly been fair to the Corporation of Edinburgh. So far as he understood, the complaint had really assumed very small proportions; but he thought that the Post Office was more to blame than the Corporation of Edinburgh. The point of difference was as do whether the concrete pavement in Princes Street should be torn up or the line carried a few hundred yards further round by a side street. He would urge the claim made by hon. Members for constituencies further north than Edinburgh, in regard to the extension of the underground telegraph system to Dundee and Aberdeen. He had the honour to introduce the deputation which waited upon the Postmaster-General in regard to this matter. They were charmed by the right hon. Gentleman's courtesy and sympathy, and the promises he had given them. The right hon. Gentleman indicated that it might be possible to expedite he work out of savings; but they were anxious to have a more definite statement to-day from the right hon. Gentleman than he had hitherto given as to the immediate necessity of the execution of the extension of the underground telegraph system, at least, to Aberdeen. It had been said that the recent storm which caused so much destruction and interrupted business so greatly, was greater than any which had occurred for fifty years. But storms were of very frequent occurrence along the East coast of Scotland, and caused great dislocation of business by the breaking down of overhead telegraph wires. He was sure that his right hon. friend did not minimise the necessity of proceeding with all possible despatch 422 with the extension of the underground line, and he hoped that he would give such a promise in regard to the matter as would induce his hon. friend to withdraw his Motion for the reduction of the Vote.
§ MR. FELL (Great Yarmouth)
referred to the breakdown of the service between San Francisco and New Zealand. That service was established fifty years ago, and was so successful that merchants at home and abroad used it for their correspondence. Three years ago the service which formerly was monthly was improved to a three-weekly service. In the month of February last a notice had been put in the Post Offices all over the country that letters to New Zealand should not be addressed via New York and San Francisco but via Suez Canal. He wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether there was any prospect of the old service being re-established.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
said he could give no information, because he had no control over the service
§ MR. FELL
said the new service had broken down completely. The old service was eight days shorter than the route by which letters were now sent to New Zealand, and fourteen days shorter than the alternative route. Postal services all over the world were being shortened, and it was an anomaly that one of our principal Colonies should suffer from this retrograde measure.
said the hon. Gentleman was not in order in taking the line he was now doing, inasmuch as the Postmaster-General disclaimed responsibility.
The Postmaster-General says he has nothing to do with it; so the whole matter is out of order.
§ *MR. J. D. WHITE (Dumbartonshire)
said he desired to direct attention to the case of sub-postmasters in what were sometimes called shop post offices. In such places as he had in mind, namely, some of the watering-places on the Firth of 423 Clyde, and particularly one in his own constituency, very high rents were charged for very poor accommodation. The accommodation might be adequate at other times of the year, but in the summer months the great influx of summer visitors tended to upset all the post office arrangements, and the people employed in these sub-post offices had to work from early morning till late at night for a remuneration which in his opinion was utterly inadequate to the circumstances of the case. He understood that the case of the sub-postmasters was being considered by a Select Committee, but having regard to the fact that this particular class were especially hard-worked during the summer season in certain Scottish watering-places and were working under different conditions, he desired to direct special attention to their case. He therefore took this opportunity of bringing it before his right hon. friend for favourable consideration.
§ MR. BOWLES (Lambeth, Norwood)
referred to what he described as an extraordinary and wanton piece of red-tapeism on the part of the Postmaster-General. The right hon. Gentleman had enacted, for the first time, that, in order to be entitled to the halfpenny postage rate, trade orders must be written not, as at present, on a plain sheet of paper, but upon a printed form. He asked for an explanation of what seemed to him to be an unreasonable and indefensible change, which prejudicially affected an enormous number of small traders throughout the country.
§ MR. MITCHELL-THOMSON (Lanarkshire, N. W.)
said he associated himself with what had fallen from the hon. Member for East Edinburgh. With regard to the underground wires to Edinburgh, he was extremely disappointed that the right hon. Gentleman had not seen his way to give more practical sympathy to the hon. Member who moved the reduction. No doubt it was a question of money, but if it had been an Irish matter instead of a Scottish matter, in all probability the money would have been forthcoming. If Scotsmen were not so out-spoken as hon. Members representing the sister isle, it was no reason why they should not be treated fairly in these matters. He hoped 424 the right hon. Gentleman would be able to inform the Committee when he anticipated that the underground wires would be completed between Glasgow and Edinburgh. He trusted that the Postmaster-General would give thorn an assurance that the question of subsidy to the West India mail service would be considered in a practical and sympathetic spirit. The telegraphic service to the West Indies was at present conducted by a cable partly foreign, telegrams from Trinidad to Demerara having to pass by the West India and Panama Company's line through Cuba up to Key West. There was a proposal for an extension of the British cable, the Halifax, Bermuda, and Jamaica route, which would give an all British communication. The connection between this country and Demerara was often interrupted, and in the interest of British Guiana it was important that knowledge of the state of the markets in London and New York should be at all times available, which it was not under existing circumstances, and he hoped the Postmaster-General would consider with a sympathetic spirit the extension of the all British cable from Halifax to Trinidad.
§ *MR. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)
acknowledged the services of the hon. Member for Canterbury in connection with postal reform, and complimented the Postmaster-General upon the courteous and energetic attention he gave to all administrative matters brought to his notice. He could not say the same of permanent officials at a distance from headquarters, and he complained that in the Highlands too much attention was given to representations of landlords and sporting tenants, those officials taking the information from them instead of from the people and local representatives of the people. He trusted the right hon. Gentleman, on further inquiry in those matters which he now had in hand, would consider the wants of the people first and those of the landlords and sporting tenants second. He thanked the Postmaster-General for carrying out the simplification of withdrawals by depositors in Post Office banks—a great advantage to depositors and a saving of official clerical work. He directed attention to the practice of postmasters in country districts of appointing girl telegraphists. In the great central districts these places are 425 filled by competitive examination, but in the country districts the postmaster was in the habit of putting in whoever he chose; he might put in his own daughter or some relative, or if he were a bachelor, what was more natural than he should put in, say, the younger sister of his fiancée. Again he urged that a better steamer service should be provided for conveyance of the Stornoway mails. This was an old grievance. The Stornoway mails for many years had been carried by an old steamship that had been subsidised to carry these mails between Kyle and Stornoway. The service was inadequate and for many years past a better steamer had been asked for. Years ago they had been told that the correspondence and parcels dealt with by this service were not sufficient to warrant the postal authorities in paying an extra £1,200 or £1,500 a year. The number of letters and parcels had, however, trebled in the last few years and he trusted, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman would approach the Chancellor of the Exchequer and get the additional money, or take it out of his balance before he handed it over to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ *MR. NIELD (Middlesex, Ealing)
said that he recognised the unfailing courtesy of the Postmaster-General in dealing with the complaints which had arisen during the past official year in the Ealing Division, but there was one subject which was a most pressing and urgent one and upon which there was in the borough of Ealing a strong feeling. In population and importance it should have better postal facilities and not be subjected to the delay caused by mails being distributed from Paddington, and continue to be a sub-office to that district. Letters posted in the division for delivery in the neighbourhood were sent up to Paddington only to be there sorted and returned. This was the cause of considerable delay and inconvenience and created much dissatisfaction in this district. He hoped that the subject would receive the sympathetic consideration of the right hon. Gentlemen. He also called attention to the delays that a rose in consequence of the arbitrary division of the north and north-west London districts. If the hon. Member for the Scotland Division was bold 426 enough, with his past experience, to embark upon the promotion of fresh legislation and to deal with newspaper-postage anomalies there were other subjects which deserved his consideration, but he would suggest to the Postmaster-General that he should himself introduce a Bill on postal matters and require that all letters of a certain class should have the name and address of the sender upon the envelopes. Professional money-lenders sent out letters in every conceivable form, so that one would think that one was receiving an invitation to a social at home, and some of them bore crosts or other marks, all being clothed in a style which compelled one's attention. On opening those communications one found that they contained a most seductive circular offering aid to anyone in temporary difficulties on exceptional terms. If the Postmaster-General could see his way to compelling those gentlemen to put their names and addresses on the envelopes, they would all go direct into the waste-paper basket, as they deserved to do. Another class were the betting fraternity whose communications might be similarly, distinguished.
§ *MR. REES (Montgomery Boroughs)
asked if any reduction was contemplated in the telegraph rates to India. As he understood, three or four years ago it was decided that the reductions then made were to last for two years longer. As the matter was one of very great importance, if the right hon. Gentleman could see his way to give them any information it would be very acceptable, because speedy and cheap communication with India was a necessity and at the present moment the necessity was more evident than usual. Another question was this. He found that there was great difficulty in getting communication in Africa to Blantyre. Frequently the wires were down for between a week and a fortnight. He did not know how far this was under the right hon. Gentleman's control. He believed the line was the property of the British South Africa Company, and no doubt there were great difficulties with the line towards Nyassa Land. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would be able to give him some information, as the matter was of importance to a good many people.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
said with regard to the last two questions it was not a matter for the Post Office, and the same answer really applied to one or two other questions which had been raised. In regard to the Colonial service he very much regretted what had occurred. They were now in negotiation with the Treasury and the Royal Mail Company, and he hoped that they would be able to come to some arrangement with regard to that important service. There was a very considerable grievance as to the way in which that service had been conducted. He had been asked about the Cable Company; that again was a matter over which he had no control. The hon. Member for Ealing had asked him a question about the Ealing Office. It was very much a matter of jealousy, a matter of rivalry in the district, and he was afraid that under the circumstances he could hold out no hope, but he would take the Ealing case into consideration. The hon. Member for Ealing had asked him about certain classes of letters and circulars which were sent through the Post. A number of concessions had been made in regard to the quantity and variety of documents which might, be sent through the post, and the number of letters and circulars sent had greatly increased. In connection with the particular form of letter to which the hon. Member referred, it would be very difficult to detect, and though the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman might be possible in some cases yet it might give rise to some disadvantage. Looking at the matter all round he did not think that there was cause for complaint because generally there had been a considerable extension of the documents that could be sent through the halfpenny post. He would keep the matter under his consideration as he would like to give a little more attention to it, but at the present moment his view was that the concessions which had been made were too important to be withdrawn. He was quite prepared to look into the matter again; but he could see the difficulty in which it would place a number of persons. The hon. Member for Ross-shire had addressed to him a question about the telegraphic withdrawals from the Savings Bank, and he was glad to see that it had not led to fraud. As far as he could recollect there had been scarcely a case in which there had been fraudulent appropriation, 428 and he thought that the plan was a great success. As regarded the question of the learners he quite agreed that the system of minimising nominations should continue. With regard to Stornoway his recollection about that was vague.
§ MR. WEIR
said the postal business at Stornaway had increased during the last few years. The population of the island was 31,000, and they wanted very badly indeed a larger subsidy in order that a better steamer might be provided for the service.
§ MR. SIDNEY BUXTON
said he recollected the fact, and he would see what could be done with regard to Stornoway. In reference to the point raised by his hon. friend the Member for Inverness Burghs, all he could say with reference to it was that they were pressing on with the money at their disposal as rapidly as they could, on the system to which he had referred. That must be completed first before they could decide what would be the next step to take. He could assure the hon. Gentleman that the Aberdeen line and the other lines would certainly be treated with the utmost possible consideration. He quite appreciated the great importance of those towns and the great commercial disadvantages to which they were subject, in consequence not only of big storms, but of the other causes to which his hon. friend had referred. They were not negotiating with regard to Indian telegraphrates. His hon. friend knew that a few years ago there was a very considerable reduction of rates, and those were public companies over which he had no control. His hon. friend for the Scotland division had raised a very important point. He had said that the present state of the newspaper law was chaotic. He wanted to point out to him that the circumstances to which he referred were not under his control at all. They all came under the Act of 1870, which was passed at the instigation of the newspaper proprietors at the time. He could only say that be was not prepared to introduce legislation with regard to it. He thought his hon. friend would understand that he could not make any promise on behalf of the Government; to add to the number of Bills, seeing that they 429 had already had two all-night, sittings on a Bill of the hon. Gentleman would be a very risky thing to do.
And, it being a quarter past Eight of the clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means under Standing Order No. 8, further Proceeding as postponed without Question. put