HC Deb 19 October 1908 vol 194 cc755-60

I beg to ask the Postmaster-General whether he is aware that, owing to the Government shortly completing the purchase of the National Telephone Company's undertaking, hundreds of men have been discharged; and whether he is prepared to take some action in the matter, in view of the fact that 6,000 further discharges are threatened.

The following Questions on the same subject also appeared on the paper:—

MR. WATT (Glasgow, College)

To ask the Postmaster-General whether he I is aware that about 6,000 men (many I of whom are resident in Glasgow) of the National Telephone Company are being dismissed by that Company on account of the fact that satisfactory arrangements cannot be made between his Department and the Company as to the taking over of plant in January, 1912; that unemployment in Glasgow is widespread, and that the addition of these skilled workmen to the number I is a serious matter; and whether, in view of the fact that these workmen I will be wanted by his Department at a time when they have become scattered over the country, he will make an arrangement with the Telephone Company to prevent their dismissal.

MR. HART-DAVIES (Hackney, N.)

To ask the Postmaster-General whether he is aware that the National Telephone Company have suspended all new constructional work owing to the approaching acquisition of the telephone service by the Government, and that in consequence there have been, and will be, extensive dismissals of telephone employees, amounting before 1911 to about 6,000, according to the figures of the President of the Company; and whether some means could be devised by which the capital expenditure of the Company could be controlled by the Government during the few remaining years of the Company's existence, and the value refunded on the acquisition of the system by the Government, so as to obviate this increase to the general want of employment in the country.


To ask the Postmaster-General whether in the negotiations that are proceeding between him and the National Telephone Company, he will secure that practically no man who is on the construction staff I of the Company will be put out of employment in consequence of the pending transfer of the Company's plant to the Post Office; and whether he will also secure that no interruption shall take place in telephone construction work and that it shall be carried on so as to provide as much employment as possible.


To ask the Postmaster-General if, in view of the fact that the Post Office will take over the property of the National Telephone Company on 31st December, 1911, and that this circumstance is leading to the discharge of members of the staff of the Telephone Company's construction department, he will himself take in hand the new construction work that is required or authorise the Telephone Company so to do, so that these men may not join the ranks of the unemployed.


To ask the Postmaster-General with reference to the transfer to his Department in 1911 of the business of the National Telephone Company, Limited, whether he is aware that the latter at the present time, by curtailing their staff and refusing extensions in every direction which are urgently demanded by the public, are seriously adding to the ranks of the unemployed; whether he can state how many of the present staff, 6,000, will be retained and how many dismissed between now and when the transfer matures; and, in the latter case, whether they will receive compensation or not.


Perhaps I may be allowed at the same time to answer all the Questions on this subject. It is not a fact that the National Telephone Company have suspended their construction work; but they have stated that it is not to their interest to undertake the construction of new plant which would not be likely to be brought into use before the end of their licence; and I have been informed by them that in consequence they will find it necessary to make some reductions in their construction staff. The question of providing for the proper development of the telephone system, and the continuation of the work of construction, has received careful consideration. Under an arrangement come to in the purchase agreement of 1905, considerable systems of underground wires have been, and are being, constructed by the Post Office and leased I to the Company on rental terms until 1911, so as to facilitate the due extension of the telephone system, while at the same time making provision by new construction to meet the public requirements after 1911. This policy is being pursued as actively as possible, and will to some extent meet the difficulty. I am at present discussing with the Company what further arrangements can be made, so that the necessary work of construction may be continued uninterruptedly. I may add that a special arrangement for the proper development of the telephone system in the Glasgow area by the Company and the Post Office in co-operation has been nearly completed. I understand from the Company that the discharges which have so far taken place, apart from those due to misconduct or incompetence, or to the termination of temporary employment or employment for certain special purposes, have been mainly caused by an exceptional falling off in orders obtained from the public consequent on the recent depression of business throughout the United Kingdom. Arrangements are being made to give employment in the Post Office Service to competent workmen discharged from the Company's service when they can be usefully employed. The whole question, which is a difficult one, is receiving the most careful consideration.


asked whether the right hon. Gentleman would see that the National Telephone Company did not scamp the necessary expenditure on capital account simply because of their agreement with the Government.


replied that under the terms according to which the system would be taken over all these circumstances would be taken into account, and if the Company scamped the work they would receive less money.


asked whether applications made to the Company for an extension of telephonic communication were being refused daily because the system was going to be taken over by the Post Office in 1911, and whether the right hon. Gentleman would discourage the policy of discharging men to add to the ranks of the unemployed.


said that this point, as well as others, was covered. The Company so far had not found it necessary to discharge any of their constructive hands because of their refusal of orders; if men had been discharged it was through want of orders.

MR. CURRAN (Durham, Jarrow)

asked how many servants of the Company had been discharged up to date, and how many of those who had been discharged had been employed by the Post Office.


said that he was in communication with the Company, but as yet he had not been furnished with full information.


asked whether it was possible for the right hon. Gentleman to enter into some arrangement with the Company to prevent further discharges owing to the state of the labour market.


I am in communication with the Company, and I am very anxious to do what I can to prevent discharges.


asked whether it was not the case that the system was at present being starved on account of the arrangements made with the right hon. Gentleman and the Company.

MR. KEIR HARDIE (Merthyr Tydvil)

asked whether it was not a fact that under the agreement of purchase there was a special provision made for the Post Office to take over the staff of the Company, and whether that clause had now come into operation.


Until the agreement comes into force the clause does not operate

MR. CHIOZZA MONEY (Paddington, N.)

asked whether it was not the case that the Company were pursuing a deliberate policy of starving the system till 1911.


That Question should be addressed to the Company and not to me.


Is it not the right hon. Gentleman's concern whether the service is left in a state of efficiency or not?


said that any evidence brought before him to show that the service was not to be left in a state of efficiency would be considered.


Any further Question must be put down.