§ [Mr. EMMOTT in the chair.]
§ (IN THE COMMITTEE).
§ Motion made, and Question proposed: "That a sum not exceeding £12,277,930 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, 1910, for the salaries and expenses of the Post Office, including Telegraphs and Telephones."
§ The POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Mr. Sydney Buxton)
Although a somewhat short notice has been given in regard to this Vote, I think I may take it that hon. Members are prepared to discuss it, and I observe from the Order Paper that several hon. Members are desirous of reducing my salary. I venture, in accordance with custom, to detain the House with certain observations before I actually come to the real business. I am sorry to say that for the first time for some years the revenue of the Post Office has not shown that elasticity which has marked it of late years, and during the last year there has been not indeed a falling off, but a want of elasticity in regard to the business of the Post Office. Whilst the actual revenue of the past year is practically the same as the previous year, it must be remembered that there was a loss of £160,000 for various postal reforms which were brought into force last year, and there has also been a loss of two days' revenue, which makes up the amount to about £300,000. Therefore, although the actual revenue does not look so satisfactory, as a matter of fact the revenue this year, as compared with the previous year, shows a growth of something like £300,000.
The Committee will remember that last year I ventured, in view of the falling off of the revenue, to suggest that I should be very glad to hear of any suggestions or proposals for increasing the revenue of the 188 Post Office. I have had a good many suggestions, but I am sorry to say that they are not of very great practical value. Some have said that they will wait to hear what payment I will make before they allow me to know what their proposals are. At present the Treasury are so conservative that they are not prepared to enter into speculations, and therefore I had to negative many suggestions. Other proposals seem to run very largely on matrimony or branches of that institution. One lady suggested that all offers of marriage should be made through the Postmaster-General by telephone at a special fee; and on the other hand I had a suggestion made from a gentleman that in the case of an action for breach of promise of marriage the plaintiff should not win his or her case unless he or she could show a written promise of marriage to which should be attached half-a-crown's worth of penny stamps. It appears to me that that lady and gentleman seemed to be suffering from much the same evil in different ways. I have had suggestions made that I should utilise the many thousand telephone and telegraph poles for advertising purposes, more especially for advertisements for soap and pills which seem at the present moment to be the two requisites of human nature. I think there is something to be said for them, but I do not think we have actually come to that at the present time, and I am afraid the æsthetic sense of hon. Members of this House would pronounce against those advertisements. I am afraid, therefore, that I must pronounce as a failure the sources of revenue suggested for my advantage.
Turning from that, and taking the individual branches of revenue, I will take first what I have described as the sheet anchor of the postal revenue, namely, the penny stamp, which I am sorry to say has not been very satisfactory this year. In these days of cheapness the halfpenny post has largely superseded the penny post. In addition a very large part of the correspondence which used to be carried on by the penny post is now carried on by telephone, and the telephone has not only interfered with the penny postage, but it has largely cut into the telegraph service as well, and has thus affected the only profitable class of this service, namely, short messages. The telegraphs from their inception have never been a real source of profit to the State. The telephone service shows a very fair increase of revenue, and I have been anxious to distinguish definitely between the telegraphs 189 and the telephone revenue. Whilst the telegraphs unfortunately are past praying for, the telephone system, I think, can be put and kept upon a paying basis. I have had correspondence with the chambers of commerce and others, and I am glad to have had the opportunity in the last two or three years of getting into intimate touch with chambers of commerce, borough councils, and other aggregations of public interest in postal matters. They have, of course, represented to me that the present rate is too high and ought to be reduced; but my answer to that has been—and I think in this I shall have the support of the House—that it is too early yet to consider any question of a reduction of telephone rates, and we must wait until we have taken over the Telephone Company and then see how matters stand. I think that will be the proper time to have an inquiry to see whether the charges ought to be reduced or increased.
A very large expansion has taken place in the telephone service this year. We have opened no less than 102 new exchanges, no doubt many of them small ones; we have opened 55 call offices in connection with trunk wires, and perhaps it will interest county Members of this House to know that we have opened no less than 230 new rural call offices, many of them in the fruit or hop districts, and I think these have been a real advantage to the industries in the particular areas. I am bound to say that these small exchanges and call offices are not, as a rule, whilst in the initial stages, worked on a profitable basis, but we look to their gradual expansion, and we are prepared to provide them in all suitable places, because we think that before very long they will expand in the ordinary way and will become profitable sources of revenue to the Post Office.
Perhaps it will be well in this connection, as a good deal of interest has been aroused both in this House and outside, that I should say a word or two in reference to the relations between the Post Office and the National Telephone Company. I am very anxious—as, indeed, it must be obvious I should be—to see if possible that the construction work of the National Telephone Company shall be continued uninterruptedly until the end of their lease. I say this upon two grounds. It is clear that that is the only way in which the telephone system when we take it over can be placed upon an efficient basis. The second ground is that I an 190 extremely anxious that the telephone construction staff under the company shall not be dispersed, and shall not be placed at the disadvantage of being dismissed from the service of the company even if they are afterwards taken on by the Post Office. I should like to say that for some time past we have been preparing the way for the handing over of the company to the Post Office, and we have done a good deal in that direction. We have done a very large amount of underground work for the National Telephone Company, and we have done a very large amount of overhead wire construction, amounting to £1,000,000 already. We have in many cases where smaller exchanges were being brought into operation provided that they should be placed at once on Post Office Premises. In all these matters we are preparing for the future. In addition we have of late had a Committee—a very powerful Departmental Committee—surveying, as specimens, certain towns in which the National Telephone Company are carrying on their work, with the view to the more rapid valuation of the plant and, if necessary, antedating the time at which the purchase may be effected. In addition we have had negotiations with the company in order to come to an agreement as far as possible with regard to construction work, and, I am glad to believe, with regard to a proportion of that work, such work as does not involve replacement, that we have come to a substantial agreement. We have not been able to come to agreement with regard to other work which does involve replacement, but I hope, with reasonable suggestions on both sides, we may come to an agreement with regard to that also.
There is a great deal of exaggeration and anxiety in the minds of many hon. Members and people outside in regard to rumours of a large number of dismissals by the company, whether we come to an agreement or not. I have inquired, and I understand from the company that they are not refusing the ordinary everyday offers of new lines, and so on, and that they have, of course, very naturally, a considerable amount of work. Their maintenance and construction staffs are interchangeable. Of course, there are vacancies on the maintenance staff, and they are filled by the construction staff. I was rather relieved a day or two ago on this matter. There was a meeting to be held in Manchester with reference to this-subject. I made inquiries as to how far 191 there had been dismissals, and I found that only one man had been given notice of dismissal, and that was probably on some personal ground. I wish to allay the natural feeling of anxiety in this matter—The Telephone Company must carry out a large amount of work during the next three years, and so far as possible we are endeavouring to meet the future by present arrangements for continuing on proper lines the construction work. I would venture to say to the Committee that the best solution of the question would be an earlier purchase of the company's undertaking. I have already ventured to raise the case to the company, but I think it ought to be understood that any purchase by the Postmaster-General ought to be carried out on the lines of the agreement of 1905. That is to say, that in the event of a difference at the price the question should be put to arbitration. Of course, we should be prepared to meet the company with regard to profits and goodwill for the intervening period. I must say a big operation of that sort antedating a statutory Parliamentary agreement could not possibly be carried through unless with the general approval of hon. Members, but I believe that support would be forthcoming from hon. Members.
I will say only one word with reference to the question of wireless telegraphy. That is an enterprise which is making considerable strides. I ventured to prophecy when the Berlin Conference was held, and the Convention come to and largely approved, owing to the policy of our delegates, that so far from being harmful to the extension of wireless telegraphy it would really be to the benefit of the Marconi Company. I am glad to think that since that Convention came into operation they have co-operated with the Postmaster-General, and that instead of their operations being diminished they have been largely increased. My hon. Friends will remember that they said it would be destructive of all their business, and that the Germans' system would go ahead of them if the Convention was carried through. It is rather interesting to know that while the Marconi Company had only 18 stations on German ships at that time, they have no less now than 36 stations on German ships. So far from having less, they have now double the number on German ships. Taking warning by the telegraph system and the telephone system under which the State allowed monopoly to grow up 192 which it subsequently had to buy, we do not intend with reference to wireless telegraphy to allow anything to grow up in the nature of monopoly as against the State. We have already had experimental stations. I opened a little time ago a commercial station at Bolt Head, and in 1912, when the period for which we have promised various licences comes to an end, it will be for the Postmaster-General and the Government of the day to say whether it will be an advantage to take the whole system over into their hands, or whether they should continue to license the various companies. I say to the Committee as regards the question of the future of wireless telegraphy we shall certainly keep the decision in our hands, so that no question of a monopoly can possibly arise.
Turning from revenue I come to expenditure. The expenditure has increased during the past two years. That is due to three causes—the ordinary natural automatic increase, a considerable increase in the staff, and a very considerable improvement in the pay and conditions of the postal servants. Those causes and the various postal improvements which I have carried through have resulted, I am sorry to say, in this: that the balance at the disposal and handed over to the Treasury as compared with two years ago, is one million pounds less than it was then.
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what proportion of money has gone since the right hon. Gentleman came into office to the benefit of the servants of the Post Office, and what proportion to the public in concessions to them?
§ Mr. BUXTON
In round figures the concessions due to the Hobhouse Report during the last financial year cost about half a million, rather more this year, and gradually increasing to £650,000, or £700,000. Under Lord Derby's revision there was something like £300,000 to be added to that. So that one way or another in the end those sums will amount to an addition of about a million of money.
§ An HON. MEMBER: Is that in four years?
§ Mr. BUXTON
When the changes have their full effect. Against that the sum which the Treasury has given me for the benefit of the public amounts to half a million in the last three years. 193 What I was going to say is this: I consider the Treasury in both of these matters have treated me very liberally, and with the unfortunate necessity for increasing taxation during the coming year I cannot press for any postal reforms during the coming year which would involve the expenditure of any very large sums of money. Otherwise there are various reforms which I and the House of Commons would like to see carried out. But in these matters we must to a certain extent cut our coat according to our cloth.
§ Mr. J. HENNIKER HEATON
Will the right hon. Gentleman give us some idea as to how the half million is coming to the public?
§ Mr. BUXTON
It is a little awkward, if I may say so, to answer these questions in the course of one's speech. I shall be very glad to answer any questions afterwards. What I am going to say will perhaps lead up to the information which the hon. Member desires. The principal portion, or a large portion, of this was due to the improvement in foreign postage. That amounts to about £190,000 a year, giving the weight of an ounce instead of half an ounce, and reducing the second charge that used to be 2½d. for a second ½oz. to l½d., so that whereas before a 2oz. letter cost 10d. to send abroad it now only costs 4d. Then there is the American penny postage—that will cost between £130,000 and £140,000 a year. I have never anticipated a very sudden increase of 100 per cent. or anything of that sort. What I do look for is a satisfactory and steady increase in the postal traffic of the two countries, and that I am glad to think has come about. There is a substantial increase in the number of letters written to America, and from America here. There is an old saying of Lowell's that "this bread cast on these waters comes back before many days and buttered, too, for certain." That is the case with postal improvements, I hope. What I think in these matters is that we want to place our postal reforms on such a basis that in the end they will prove profitable to the State. Then there is the question of Canadian magazine postage, and I am happy to state that that is really growing by leaps and bounds, and that for the last 12 months, as far as we can estimate, no less than 8¼ millions of British magazines have gone to Canada. It was once said that "a man who made 194 two blades of grass grow where only one was grown before" was a benefactor to mankind. I, however, shall be quite content to base my claim on a much lower standard, shall be quite willing—quite content—to go down to posterity as the man who caused two British magazines to be read in Canada instead of one American magazine. Then there is the insured box post, under which jewellery and gold and silver articles can be sent to various Continental countries. We have extended and improved the parcels post to the United States, to Egypt, and to the Argentine, and in regard to a new experiment made a few months ago, there is cash on delivery to various Colonies. Cash on delivery here gives rise to a great deal of alarm on the part of certain sections, and I have no intention, under the circumstances, of introducing or proposing it here. But this is a different matter altogether. This is cash on delivery between certain of our Colonies and England, and I am glad to say it is spreading, although it has only been in operation a few months. The last Return shows that 4,200 parcels were sent from Great Britain to these various Colonies concerned, as against 435 parcels received from them. Therefore, I think it may be said that this cash on delivery is introducing an outlet for British goods of small descriptions amongst our Colonies. On the other hand, there are certain matters in relation to which the Post Office have had to intervene by way of restriction. It was brought to my attention a short time ago that, in consequence of the increasing size of ladies' hats, the parcels post (although the limits were pretty liberal, because we allowed six feet for length and girth) was being infringed. We could not allow this infringement to continue, but I am glad to hear that since then—I do not say it is entirely in consequence—the size of ladies' hats has diminished. Therefore, I hope those who attend matinees and such-like resorts will at all events bless me in their prayers. One other matter: We have always endeavoured to do what we could to restrict the operations of those who send lottery circulars and letters of that character through the post. A Joint Committee was appointed last year, but it was unfortunate, in my opinion, that they did not recommend that greater powers should be given to the Post Office in this connection. However I am glad to think that, in spite of our limitations and restrictions, I made 195 a good haul the other day, when something like 150,000 circulars of a particular description were stamped for postage, representing to the Post Office something like £600, and I was able to confiscate every one of those 150,000 letters, to get £600 for postage, and to see that the morals of the community were protected. I am not going to say how I was able to bring that about. In the first place, I hope it will be a warning to those gentry; and, in the second place, if it is not, I hope to get some more hauls of the same kind. We have always our postal reformers, our postal Oliver Twists, who are always asking for more, and I think the postal reformers, if the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway will allow me to say so, are somewhat too much inclined to pose as hardworking and unappreciated individuals who have to encounter red tape, obscurantism, and general Departmental obstruction. I can assure them that it is not so. The Department is always willing to consider proposals for postal reform if they are of a practical character, but there is an old saying which runs1 to the effect that "anybody can find Genesis, but it takes an able-bodied man to turn up Hosea." Nothing is easier than to suggest reform, but it is much more difficult to carry it out. In the first place, it has to be worked out in detail, and, in the second, and this is a very important element, it has to be seen that it does not conflict with or injuriously affect the unity and simplicity which, after all, are at the bottom of our postal service, and by which alone you can give that regularity, efficiency, and rapidity, which I am glad to think we have got in our postal system. Then also—and this is somewhat important—we have to provide the cash, and I notice that the postal reformers are seldom daunted by considerations of cost or hampered by rules of arithmetic. I had the other day from a postal reformer a proposal suggesting that I could get a quarter of a million of additional revenue by the introduction of a service de luxe in regard to express delivery carried out on the same conditions as express deliveries are carried on now. That would be a very good suggestion if it was practicable, because I am always very glad of either a large or a small sum; but I worked it out, and found that while we have seventeen thousand messengers at present, and deliver somewhat under two million messages in order to make a profit of a quarter 196 of a million, the public would have to send a thousand million express messages in the course of the year, and we should have to employ a hundred thousand additional messengers. I am rather against boy messengers where I can avoid them, and I regretted that I could not accept that proposal. But, on the whole, we do welcome proposals of a practical character, and endeavour as far as we can, subject always to the Treasury—and most Members of the House know what the Treasury is, though I am bound to say they have been very liberal to me—but subject to the Treasury we are open to consider reforms, and I do think, if I may say so, as representing the Department, that the Department really has the confidence of the country both in regard to the question of reform and in regard to the way in which its duties are carried out.
I had a letter the other day, which I will venture to read to the House. It was written to me, but it was really intended as a compliment for the Department which I represent, but it is of a nature which any head of a Department likes to see, and it certainly gave me gratification for the time being. This letter is from a lady who writes from Liverpool, which is always a very intelligent place. ["Hear, hear."] I notice that the hon. Members for Liverpool cheer that assertion. This lady lost a parcel at Christmas time, and she writes:—I thoroughly appreciate the absolutely tremendous trouble you have, and especially at this time of the year. It is proverbial that the Post Office will simply do anything to please even beyond all reason, and wishes which are not executed are absolutely impossible. If the parcel cannot be recovered I am sure it will be an impossibility.I am glad to say the parcel was recovered, and that letter shows, I think, a thorough appreciation of the work of the Department. I think also the fact that the other day the House of Commons threw upon the Post Office very large additional work in connection with old age pensions shows the confidence of the public in the impartiality and efficiency of the Post Office. We had six hundred thousand pensions and more to pay a week, £150,000 to provide in silver, and an addition suddenly fell upon the Post Office of something like thirty million transactions in the year, and I am glad to think that that in no sense interfered in any way with the ordinary operations of the Department and the ordinary regularity and efficiency of the service, and so far as I am able to ascertain there have been no complaints made with regard to the matter at all. Then I should like to say, as I said the other day, when 197 it was stated that some of the sub-postmasters had objected to the work, that that is really not the case. Indeed, I have had many letters from sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses who are most intimately connected with the work expressing the real gratification that they have themselves shared in bringing some brightness and happiness into the lives and homes of these aged people. It is interesting, I think, also, as showing how public Departments are coming more and more to be utilised, and quite rightly utilised, for public purposes. In the Debate we have had in reference to the Board of Trade, we have seen a great increase of the various and multifarious duties, such as arbitration, conciliation, Labour questions, and so on, which have been thrown upon that Department; and, as regards the Post Office, that also is obviously expanding from time to time. We have had not only such large questions as the whole of the telephone system thrown upon us, but wireless telegraphy and insurance business. These are within the legitimate ordinary sphere of Post Office operations, but outside that sphere we have such matters as old age pensions transferred. Also, among other matters, we have the carrying on of the operations of local licences, and in connection with other matters, such as Labour Bureaux and other questions of social reform, certain duties will be imposed upon us; and, from a national point of view, I think it is an advantage that they should be carried out by the Post Office.
It is an advantage that the State should have selected such an institution as the means of carrying these matters through, so long as the primary duties of that institution are not interfered with, and that these public functions should be placed under its control and carried out by it. Of course, it thus becomes in a sense something of a monopolist institution, but I do not think that is a real disadvantage from a national point of view. It does, however, seem to affect a certain number of persons in the State, for I myself had a letter—I must quote one other letter—from an irate correspondent the other day, in which he spoke of me as a "bloated, irresponsible monopolist," and when I came to think of it, omitting one of the adjectives as superfluous, I am an irresponsible monopolist; because as Postmaster-General no one can bring an action against me, and I am liable in damages to 198 no single human being. That is the only disadvantage that I can see of what I think otherwise is the immense advantage of throwing these public duties on a public Department such as the Post Office. Let me also add one appeal. In saying that while we are doing what we can for the public, I have ventured of late on more than one occasion to appeal to them to assist me in improving the conditions of service of our postal servants in regard to such matters as earlier posting and earlier closing and later opening. I intend to appeal as regards the reduction of the time of opening for telegraph purposes on Sunday, by which the public would in no way be in danger of losing any of the advantages of the postal system, but they could do a good deal to improve the conditions of service of the Department.
I now want to turn to another aspect of the Question. I have dealt so far with the Postmaster-General as he deals with the public, but he is also a very large employer of labour—the largest in the country, and the Post Office cannot fail to have an influence for good or for bad on the labour market generally and the rate of wages, and I for one say that that influence ought to be for good and not for bad. There are two classes of servants, those under contractors and those directly employed by the Post Office. As regards contractors, so far as I have had any difficulties with them—and I am glad to say they have been comparatively few—the improved Fair Wages Clause will enable us to deal with them in a satisfactory way and to see that proper wages are paid. But I think I may just add this. There is another class in what are called the sweated industries in which there is, unfortunately, no fair rate of wage. I had last year to institute an experiment in regard to the clothing trade and in regard to the female labour in that trade by fixing a minimum wage, under which I do not allow any of them to be paid. I only introduced it, I frankly say, as an experiment. It is a very difficult problem to solve. It is very difficult to know what rate ought to be fixed. It was done after great consultation with the Board of Trade. I have been blamed for not putting that rate higher. I should like to put that rate higher, but it was admitted that the difficulty in a case of this sort is that you do not want to upset and disorganise the trade, and I think it better to go step by step and gradually improve the rate of pay in 199 those trades, and I am glad to know that the rates of wages received by the women working in those trades are very much larger, in some cases double, than they were receiving before. I really now feel that my effort is somewhat unnecessary, because of the House agreeing to the introduction of these Wages Boards in sweated trades, and it will be unnecessary to deal with this question by Government action. But I venture to say that I have to a certain extent anticipated their action, and the evidence and experience I shall be able to lay before these Wages Boards when they are instituted will be of value to them in arriving at a decision. Then as to the Report of the Royal Commission in regard to spreading the work over the year, I am glad to think that those proposals have been largely anticipated in the Post Office, and that at all events we shall endeavour to carry them out to the fullest possible extent.
Coming to the postal officials themselves, I have not very much to add to what I have said on at least two occasions. My right hon. Friend opposite asks the amount of advantage to the men from the Parliamentary Commission, and I have already stated that, taking the two Commissions together, about a million a year; but I think it ought to be remembered in this connection that it is not only a question of wages, but it is also to a large extent a question of improved conditions of service, which cannot be measured in money terms, but which in many cases are really more important than the money concerned. Last year we had considerable debate upon the question of classification, and I somewhat regret that I have to bring my Estimates on at the present moment, because I promised last year that I would look into special cases in which special hardship had arisen from the classification which had been proposed, and at an early date I am making a few alterations, especially in regard to some of those places where, under the system of classification proposed by the Committee, and adopted by myself, the result has been a reduction of 3s. These cases, at all events, should be favourably considered. Hon. Members have shown me circulars which they have received in regard to classification, and I have no doubt I shall hear something about it in the course of the evening, and I may have an opportunity, if necessary, of 200 saying a few words in reply. But I have endeavoured to carry out the recommendations of the Committee in regard to this and other matters. To judge by those communications which have been shown to me, it is implied that existing officers have been reduced in their salary. But that is not so. There is no reduction in the maximum of any existing officer. It only applies to a very limited number, and it is due to the particular classifications which had to be carried out, and it only applies to new entrants in the future, and of course all existing and future benefit from the various improvements in conditions to which I have referred already.
I have had during the past year a good deal of communication with the various associations of postal servants, and I am glad to think that with one exception my relations have been of the most friendly description, and further, the associations, have not only discussed various questions affecting conditions of service with myself, but they have discussed these matters also with what is sometimes called the secretariat, and sometimes the permanent officials, to the advantage of both, and in some matters, such, for instance, as telegraphist cramp, we have co-operated, the associations and the Department, in placing the matter before the Home Office, and I am glad to think we have had telegraphist cramp scheduled as a disease of occupation. I am glad to think, also, again in co-operation, we have had inquiries into such matters as cycling duties, the carrying of loads, stair-climbing, and so on, all of which are matters affecting some section of the service, and which are, in my opinion, far better settled by joint agreement and discussion rather than that there should be any antagonism between the Department and the association. One question which I have placed before the associations is the question whether they think it would be an advantage or a disadvantage to them if the Daylight Bill was put into force. That information I hope I shall get soon. I had a little Daylight Bill of my own in the Secretary's Department, because we asked the staff there whether they would like, instead of having their hours from ten to five, to have them from nine to four. It is interesting to know that out of 843 men on that staff 661 voted for earlier hours, and only 148 against, and 34 were indifferent. So far as we are concerned, though I do not very much 201 approve of the Bill as a Statutory measure, we have put a daylight bill into force ourselves in the summer months.
The Post Office of course is a business concern. It has a turnover of 22 or 23 millions, representing no less than 5,000 million transactions annually. We have our 40 million inhabitants, and, as I know, I have to deal with 670 Members who have constituencies. I think on the whole the public and the Members are satisfied with the way in which the work is carried out. I have, of course, complaints from time to time, some of them correct and some incorrect. I had a complaint the other day from someone who said he had telegraphed to Grimsby for one live lobster and he had received five. Of course I expressed my great regret. What became of the other four I have not been able to discover. Further than that, I wish to thank hon. Members for the great consideration which they have always given to me personally in regard to the various matters which they bring before me. I am glad to think they appreciate that the Post Office does endeavour to deal with their matters as promptly and efficiently as possible. I was recently told by an hon. Member that the Post Office more promptly acknowledge, sooner answer, and give fuller information than any other Department.
I am not always, unfortunately, able to meet hon. Members and do everything they desire. The system of the Post Office is very like a puzzle, and you cannot always deal with one part without disorganising or imperilling another, and sometimes I have somewhat difficult questions to solve. The other day I received two letters by the same post from a Member, in which he recommended two men for the same post with the full weight of his authority. That put me in rather a difficult position in regard to the choice as between them. Occasionally hon. Members consider that the Postmaster-General is not only a sort of walking encyclopædia of postal knowledge, but is also a sort of Daniel. I have had Members more than once come to me and say, "About that postal matter, have you been able to do anything about it?" I have said, "Will you just tell me where it was?" He has replied, "I forget the name of the place, and I forget the name of the man, but no doubt you will do what you can." In addition to that there is always a difficulty in regard to local matters, which hon. Mem- 202 bers themselves know full well give rise to so much agitation locally. There are always little questions affecting Little Pedlington, in which there are very large storms in very small teacups, which give rise to great difficulties, and I again desire to thank hon. Members for the great consideration they show in regard to them. I shall like to think if I may that in the time I have had the very great honour and pleasure of being Postmaster-General I have done something to improve the comfort and convenience of the public and the conditions of service of a large number of Government employés, and to bring about more cordial relations between them. I have taken some trouble in going up and down the country and looking into matters as the head of this great Department, and after three and a half years of careful experience I can say emphatically it is as a public Department a credit to the State, and a testimony to the efficiency and loyalty of the public service.
§ Sir EDWARD SASSOON moved
"That Item A (Chief Offices) be reduced by £500." It may seem rather churlish and ungracious to move the reduction which stands in my name, but the points which I wish to raise are obviously matter of public interest with regard to which I have had the privilege of receiving an overwhelming amount of support from both sections of the House, and from people representing various branches of the national activity. I am not animated by any sort of hostility to the right hon. Gentleman personally, nor to his Department, which has been able to achieve the impossible in so many instances. The right hon. Gentleman made some passing reference to the reduction effected under the Hobhouse Committee. That reduction has caused a considerable amount of discontent and dissatisfaction, not so much on financial grounds, but rather, as it is alleged—I do not put it higher than that—that the recommendation of that scheme has been carried out somewhat capriciously and arbitrarily. In my own Constituency I hear now and again distant rumblings of discontent. I cannot bring before the Committee any specific or concrete instances of grievances, but I understand that the hon. Members for Haggerston and Shoreditch are both well primed, and I hope and believe the Postmaster-General will be able to expose, if he can, the hollowness of the grievances which I understand exist very materially, not so 203 much in the South or the North as in the Metropolis, and that he will be able to express his intention of remedying those grievances if they really exist.
The second point I should like to draw his attention to very strongly and strenuously is the inability to do anything to reduce the 25 centime rate between us and France. A rate of 2½d. 200 miles from this country, when you can send a letter for a 1d. 11,000 miles to New Zealand, and when you have only recently reduced the rate to the United States to a 1d., seems an absolute anachronism, more especially as the Postmaster-General must know that the Chambers in Paris are burning with a desire to be met in this respect, and they certainly will reduce the rate the very day the British Government express their intention to do likewise. But the Postmaster-General and the Government say, "We agree that it would be a good thing to do," but they put their objection on the financial ground. I ask whether our national finances under our wonderful fiscal system have been brought to such a low pitch that for the sake of a comparatively exceeding trivial initial loss of something like £70,000 or £80,000 a year the Postmaster-General says he cannot give us this reform because it will cost the Treasury probably for a couple of years that paltry sum. I brought a deputation in June last year before the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. One of the arguments used by the Prime Minister then was this—a more jejune or a more unconvincing argument was hardly ever employed by a responsible British statesman in connection with an important matter of this description. He said:—We are perfectly willing to give this concession to France, but what about Holland, Belgium and Germany? If they all ask for similar concessions we cannot refuse.Surely if a small nation like Belgium or Holland is able to confront an initial loss of this description a great country like Great Britain, for the sake of consolidating international relations and goodwill, ought to be able to afford the comparatively trumpery figure of £70,000 or £80,000. I should, therefore, urge the Government to again consider this matter, and I urge on the Treasury the necessity of doing something so that the good disposition which is manifested to-day may not by that time have evaporated, and that both this country and France may have the advantage of a cheaper and cheapening postal system. 204 The third point, which I am still more interested in, is the establishment of an Atlantic cable and a State owned and controlled line. I am aware that personally the Postmaster-General is desirous of proceeding with the scheme as soon as he can. My object in pressing this matter upon him is not so much for the purpose of enabling the commercial community to obtain cheap facilities, but because I believe, and I think both sections of the House believe, that it would induce and conduce to the establishment of greater Imperial solidarity between the Mother Country and the Colonies. Of course, the question of cheaper cable communication is not a matter to be despised, but the principal reason why the Committee with which I have the honour to act are desirous to see this scheme carried out is that it will furnish a link in the system of the Pacific cable. The Pacific cable, as the Committee are aware, is an Imperial enterprise. It is due to the patriotic instincts both in Canada and Australia. The Committee would perhaps like to know whether that scheme has been financially a success So far, it has not altogether been a financial success, but I shall presently refer to that point. What I want to impress upon the Committee at the present moment is that if the State—the Imperial concern altogether—if the Empire went in for this Atlantic cable it would involve practically no risk to the ratepayers of the Empire. I will tell the Committee why: Because the price of cables is very much cheaper than it used to be owing to improvements, scientific methods, and so on. The second thing is that the cable would have enough, and more than enough, to do, so that I cannot conceive that a State cable between here and Canada can possibly be said to represent any risk, either to the British or to the Colonial ratepayer. But so far from representing a risk, I think it would be a benefit to the two classes of taxpayers. Although the Pacific cable shows a certain loss in its working, it does not show quite the loss which is apparent on the face of the accounts. If you link up the Pacific cable by starting the cable from Canada, which was the original idea, you will not only give the Pacific cable system a chance of showing what it is able to do on proper commercial lines, but you will give an impetus to the idea of an "allied" cable route which will be of enormous advantage.
I wish to refer to the financial prospects of the Pacific cable scheme. The present 205 accounts nominally show a loss of between £60,000 and £65,000 a year, but in that item is included no only interest at a substantial rate, but interest on a very substantial sum for the amortisation and sinking fund. I had a calculation made out, which shows that really and truly not more than a loss of £30,000 accrues upon the working of the Pacific cable. But you have to consider the enormous advantage which the co-partnery of this Empire have to gain in the establishment of this Imperial concern. Do the Committee know how much money is saved to the Colonies in the payment of subsidies to cable companies or to what extent the comparatively low rate of cableage has been brought about by the establishment of the Pacific cable. I would, therefore, urge as strongly as I can on the Prime Minister to meet in the promptest possible manner the advances made by the Canadian Postmaster-General. The Government are aware of the very important meeting that was held not very long ago at the Mansion House to which every self-governing Colony sent representatives, and which expressed the earnest desire that this Atlantic cable might be undertaken. Every single Colony is burning with the desire to be allowed to participate in the obligations and responsibilities, and to share in the privileges and advantages of this Imperial cable enterprise. I hope the Committee will not be terrified by the idea that I am suggesting that the State should go into a scheme for taking away the rights of the cable companies. No such thing as that is in my view. What I wish the State to do is, when in future granting landing rights to cable companies, to make such stipulations and provisions as will enable the State to gather into its hands, gradually, of course, the cables which are now managed by private enterprise. Can the Committee conceive of the Post Office handing over the carrying of letters to private companies? I think there is nobody who would suggest for a moment that it would be a good thing to hand over the administration of the Post Office to the hands of private companies. Then why should the question of cables, which are, after all, the nerves and sinews of Imperial consolidation, and after the magnificent response we had from the Colonies a few months ago, not only in regard to Imperial consolidation, but national defence—why should the matter of cables be allowed indefinitely or permanently to remain in the hands of private companies? That 206 is a thing which no House of Commons should contemplate with equanimity, I was very glad to see that the Postmaster-General is alive to the fact that unless he and his Department take steps in good time to safeguard the interests of the State he and his successors will find themselves in the same plight and sorry predicament which existed when the State bought up the telegraph lines of this country. It is a matter of common knowledge that the State had to pay two or three times what the telegraph lines cost because in the drawing up of the agreements by which these lines were allowed to be extended provision was not made with respect to the terms on which the State might ultimately acquire them.
I want to refer to the question of Indian deferred cable rates. An Interdepartmental Committee which inquired into this matter a few years ago strongly suggested a system of deferred cable rates between India and England. I understand that the India Office have communicated with the companies and made certain proposals on this matter. It will be my duty when a favourable opportunity occurs to ventilate the subject again in this House. I hope that the Postmaster-General, who has shown great energy in the administration of his Department, will signalise the occupancy of his office by enabling not only British magazines to be more largely read in Canada than at present, but that he will enable many humble homes in this country to send cable messages to their relatives abroad who may be their bread-winners, and to whom cabling at present is absolutely a matter of impossibility. I will only mention to the Committee that neither Germany nor France have shown any slackness in the making of provision for cheap cable rates. A cable message can be sent from France to the uttermost confines of Algiers at ½d. per word. Germany has done the same thing with respect to her colonies, as far as South Africa is concerned. I therefore beg the Committee to remember that the population of America is increasing every year by leaps and bounds. We in this country have to contemplate, unfortunately, no such accretion of economic wealth to the resources of our country. You send away every year some of the best of your raw materials—some of the most vigorous of the manhood and womanhood of the country. I wish you to make it worth their while to keep in touch with the Old Country by enabling them 207 to have cheaper and more regular means of communication, and when you have done so you will have builded better than you knew. I beg to move.
§ Amendment proposed: "That Item A be reduced by £500."—[Sir Edward Sassoon.]
§ Mr. T. SUMMERBELL
I wish to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the very interesting statement which he has made to-day, and on the information which he has given as to prospective reforms. We all agree that he is certainly in charge of one of the finest and most important Departments of State, which is by far the largest employer of labour, and I think you will agree that, so far as the staff of the Department over which the right hon. Gentleman presides is concerned, from an intellectual standpoint they are a staff worthy of every consideration. He has indicated here that the Postal Department is still handing over to the taxpayers of this country a very handsome profit in spite of the great depression. Though the Postmaster-General is able to indicate that for a period of something like six years the employés will have received an increase of pay equal to about £1,000,000 and the public will have received concessions equal to about £500,000—a matter at which we all rejoice—yet I hope neither the right hon. Gentleman nor this House will put forward the idea that the maximum has been reached so far as the employés in the postal service are concerned. When we have a man starting with a minimum of about 17s. a week with a prospect of attaining a maximum of 25s. I do not think anyone will be prepared to assert that it is an ideal likely to encourage the best young men of this country to enter the postal service.
§ Mr. BUXTON
It was in reference to the decision of the Parliamentary Committee I stated so much this year, and the maximum would be so much. I was referring solely to that and not to the general question of maximum.
§ Mr. SUMMERBELL
I quite concede the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman. He stated the ultimate result would be a million conceded to the employés. What I was saying was that I hoped this House would not arrive at a conclusion that, although that concession has been made, the ideal had been reached, and that as long as you had young men starting at 208 17s. a week in the postal service with a maximum of 25s. per week, we in this House could not consider such a state of things at all satisfactory. A very large profit is made every year. We have no right to pay these low wages, and to declare this profit as we are doing at the present moment. In regard to classification, I was very pleased to hear the right hon. Gentleman state to-day that he had intended, but time would not permit him, to make a statement to this House in regard to many of the post offices down in the country that had been subject to very severe reduction due to the Report of the Committee a year ago, but that in a short time he intended to make a statement to the House on the subject.
§ Mr. SUMMERBELL
I take it then I shall have the opportunity of discussing it, and I proceed now with my remarks in anticipation as to one or two items which I have got in my mind, and which will be at all events dealt with I hope when the right hon. Gentleman makes his statement to the House. The findings of the Committee I consider are most unsatisfactory. The Committee have decided in regard to, the payment of wages according to the volume of work on the unit system and the cost of living. These are the two grounds on which they decide what are the wages that are to be paid. I find that since the Committee's report was made, according to very reliable information, something like 900 post offices down in the country have suffered a reduction of wages. I do not know whether I am right or not. At all events there are a large number of Members in this House, and also many people outside the House I think, who, when the Committee made their recommendations, fully anticipated that instead of there being reduction there would practically be an increase all along the line. Whether that be right or not, we do know that something like 900 post offices have suffered reduction. Supposing you take the question of cost of living. The right hon. Gentleman in reply to a communication last year stated:—I may say yon cannot get an absolute denomination. You cannot reduce it possibly to an absolutely common denominator. We have gone on the system of putting up where the cost of living is specially high, and putting down where it is specially low.In regard to this cost of living they have taken the Board of Trade Report up and down the country. I am prepared to assert here to-day that so far as that 209 Report is concerned it is inaccurate in many cases, and easily proved to be so. The position is this. My own town is a case in point, and I can prove it to be inaccurate in reference to that town, especially in regard to the question of rent, which is one of the most important matters in the cost of living, and if I can prove it to be inaccurate in one particular it is fair to assume that it will be inaccurate in many other particulars. This Report, on which the wages are fixed by the Postal Department, I consider unfair in the extreme. Personally I think that before finally agreeing to the reduction of the wages of postal employés based upon this Report further investigation ought to take place. I asked that it should take place some time ago, but up to the present no satisfactory results have ensued.
There is one case in point which I may give so far as this particular question is concerned. In that Report it is stated that in the ordinary residential quarters of the town I represent two-roomed tenements can be got from 2s. 6d. to 3s. 6d. a week, and three-roomed tenements from 3s. 6d. to 5s. per week. Yet in the same Report reference is made to the slum area in which our corporation has carried out a housing scheme, and it is stated that the rents there are for two-roomed tenements 3s. 9d. to 4s., and three-roomed tenements 4s. 9d. to 5s. per week, an increase in both cases. These tenements are carried on at a considerable debit balance every year. Yet these tenements, which are stated at a higher price than what it is said you can get tenements for in the residential parts of the town, are not paying their way, so that on the face of it these other rents must be absolutely inaccurate which they are. This is the Report of the Postal Department as to the cost of living, as a result of which many of the postal employés up and down the country have suffered a most unfair reduction of wages. I know that the Postmaster-General lays great stress on the limitation of the employés to whom it applies, but in such a big system as the postal system you have got fresh employés every week since this Report was issued, and you have large numbers of employés who have suffered large reductions.
The unit system is a system that I cannot possibly comprehend, and I cannot understand why the Committee made such a recommendation to this House. So far as that is concerned, I may say that the right hon. Gentleman has got my fullest 210 sympathy for having such a recommendation placed around his neck, and having to put it into operation. The unit system or volume of work is, after the cost of living, the second guide in regard to wages that should be paid. A money order counts 10 units, as against one unit for a letter. Anyone can readily see that if you go to a naval or garrison town or port you will find probably in the Post Office in that particular town a large volume of work appertaining to money orders, and these count for 10 units as against one unit for a letter. Go to another town where money orders are few, and yet the clerk behind the counter is occupied as much every day as the clerk in the town where money orders are plentiful, and he works the same number of hours. Yet according to the unit system the one man's wages have gone up and the other man's wages have gone down. It is an unfair system altogether, and ought to be changed at the earliest possible moment. I cannot see why the men should be governed by such a system. I cannot see why the ordinary rules should not prevail, and men be paid for their work the same as in practically all walks of life.
Take another case, that of a place like York, which is not a very large town but is a receiving centre. It receives letters from Darlington, Middlesbrough, Stockton, Hartlepool, and all the towns round about. It means nothing extra to the man in the street. He does not handle them at all. The letters are received and sent on. I am not aware that there is any greater volume of work there, yet according to this system these men in York get credit for all these things received from other towns. Such a system is totally unfair. I appeal to the Postmaster-General not to be content with this system which has been placed on his shoulders by this singular Committee. He has got my sympathy, and I hope he will realise that the whole thing is most unfair, and is not likely to bring about that state of contentment that we know the right hon. Gentleman would like to see prevail. I ask at all events that this system shall be changed at the earliest possible moment. There is one other matter that I wish to refer to. I wish to make an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to see whether it is within his province to deal with the question of the civil rights of the postal employés. I stated a short time ago that the right hon. Gentleman presided over what is the finest Department of the State. Certainly he has got in his service as fine a class of 211 employés as any Department is in possession of at the present time. Many of them are underpaid; many of them work under unfair conditions; but to further penalise these men as they are penalised to-day in regard to their political freedom, I say is most unfair. I do appeal to the right hon. Gentleman and to this House to face this question, in order to give to the postal employés privileges similar to those enjoyed by those engaged in other walks of life, and that they shall have liberty to participate in municipal and political elections, and in reforms appertaining to their municipal or national welfare. I cannot see, and have never been able to see, why any Government should penalise men simply because they are employés of the Government, and that they should be denied what prevails among high officials, who do participate in local and national elections. I do not see why the humble workers should be penalised any more than those I have indicated. Then, in regard to the General Post Office messengers. I admit that there is not a large number of them, only something like 61, but their duties are somewhat varied and of a confidential character. Now, these men have had no change in their maximum pay for 40 years. They have made many appeals, but they have all been ignored. They have asked for an opportunity of stating their case before the right hon. Gentleman, and they petitioned in 1906, but there has been no response. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to give the representatives of this section an opportunity of stating their case before him, and I feel assured, if he does so, much friction will be removed and that greater satisfaction will prevail. There is also the question of sub-postmasters. I understand that certain alterations have taken place with regard to a large number of these men, and to remedy their grievances they ask that the items "letters delivered and parcels delivered" ought to be inserted in the new scale of pay, and credited to those offices dealing with such work. Further, they ask that instead of triennial examinations there should be biennial examinations, just as prevails with offices in our London area. In regard to the case of Mr. Dick, about whom another hon. Member intends to speak, I shall simply observe that I understand this gentleman was not informed as to the allegations against him, and that he was not given a fair trial, or 212 that, at all events, he was not allowed to state his case in defence. I would observe that if the statements given to me are correct—I am not prepared to assert that they are—then I hope the Postmaster-General will see to it that in all cases of a similar character where a man is being penalised, it should be seen that he is told the allegations made against him, that he should know the causes which have led to his being penalised, and that he should be given in every case an opportunity of making a statement in defence of himself. I will only conclude as I began, by expressing my appreciation of the very interesting statement of the Postmaster-General, and I only hope that the points which I have raised will receive his consideration.
Mr. SCOTT DICKSON
I join with the hon. Member who has just sat down in the sympathetic terms with which he referred to the able and interesting statement of the Postmaster-General. There are one or two points to which I wish to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman. They are connected with the staffs not only in Glasgow but in other large towns of the country. One point has reference to the maximum wages given to the staffs in some of the large towns. The complaint with reference to this is referred to in paragraph 214 of the Hobhouse Report. A general increase of 2s. was to be allowed to the London staff, and I have communications from six of the leading large towns of the country, and particularly Glasgow, pointing out that there has been no increase in their case from 1890, while, on the other hand, the cost of living is very considerably increased. While in London they agree that the cost of living is higher than in Glasgow by 6 per cent., yet there is a difference of about 16 per cent. in the wages which are allowed, and they ask, therefore, that the matter should at least be inquired into. I do not understand them to put it higher than that. They say that in the increase which has been given, not sufficient cognisance has been taken of the fact that there is a very considerable increase in the cost of living in the larger towns, and that, therefore, some increase should be given to the staffs in those towns, particularly to the staff in Glasgow. According to my information, there has been some increase given to the female employés, but no increase has been given to the male employés, and there is a sense of grievance in that respect, which seems to me to be 213 justified, if the figures given here are correct. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be kind enough to consider the matter if he has not already done so. I am quite certain that if he finds justification for complaint, a remedy will be given for it. May I also say that the question of civil rights, which the hon. Member below the Gangway referred to, seems not to be quite fully understood by members of the staff. I observe in the Hobhouse Report that paragraphs 10 to 14 state that the Post Office staff is treated in this respect just as are other Civil servants so far as interference in municipal or political elections is concerned. There is undoubtedly a feeling among the Post Office staff that in this respect they are treated more hardly than other members of the Civil Service, but, as I have pointed out, the Hobhouse Report shows that this is a misunderstanding on their part. Paragraph 11 of the Report states that the rules applicable to the Post Office service were exactly similar in this matter to those which apply to other Civil servants as far as municipal and national elections are concerned, and if that be so they have no ground of complaint. I have mentioned this point, because I do not think it is understood by certain members of the staff, who have made representations to me on the subject. Another point is this. There is a great deal of uneasiness on the part of clerical employés as to the arrangements which are likely to be made by the Telephone Company, but I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will do what he can in any arrangements made with the company to see that there are no serious dismissals of employés already on their staff.
Mr. SCOTT DICKSON
I mean that there shall be no serious dismissals by the Telephone Company of members of their staff. I have had communications with the right hon. Gentleman on the subject, and all I desire is that so far as possible he will use his influence in the event of any changes that may be made to see that dismissals from employment of members of the staff of the company will, as far as far as possible, be avoided. I do not raise the matter in any controversial spirit at all, because I am quite satisfied that the right hon. Gentleman is desirous of meeting the wishes of the staff in every reasonable way, and I trust that the matters 214 which I have brought before him will receive his favourable consideration.
§ Mr. MUNRO FERGUSON
In regard to the maximum wages in London and in Edinburgh in the telegraph department, I would point out that there is a very considerable difference in the maximum, the difference being £24 a year as against Edinburgh. It cannot be denied that the cost of living in Edinburgh is cheaper than in London, especially as to house rent, but the statistics of the Board of Trade show that living in London is only 2 per cent. higher than it is in Edinburgh. I think therefore, these facts do constitute a fair case for inquiry. The right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster-General stated that the chances of promotion had been worsened in the Central Telegraph Office, and this was the reason for granting an increase.
§ Mr. MUNRO FERGUSON
I understand that in the Debate the Postmaster-General quoted that part of the Report which said that the increase was given for that reason.
§ Mr. MUNRO FERGUSON
At any rate, I am told that in Edinburgh also the rate of promotion is very slow. There are about 50 men out of 153 with the maximum wage, and the number suitable for promotion annually is only two, which does not seem to be very fast progress in that department. I do not often bring up the question of remuneration of Civil servants in this House, and as regards the political treatment to which the hon. Gentleman opposite says they are subject, for my part I find that there is sufficient political freedom amongst Civil servants to enable them on all occasions to bring pressure to bear. In fact, I doubt whether any class of the community can exercise so much influence in a closely contested election as Civil servants. The ordinary working man is not in it with them. I remember that a former Postmaster-General said on one occasion that if his staff exercised so much pressure on candidates they would have to consider the question of disestablishing Civil servants. I think on that occasion I expressed my general approval of his remarks, and I do not know that since I have benefited much from the votes of postal servants in my Constituency. I 215 doubt whether political freedom is one of the most pressing necessities of the Post Office staff in respect of obtaining full consideration for any just claims they may have to make. I doubt whether any class of the community has such able advocates in this House as the staff of the Post Office. I only brought up this point because it is a matter between one district and another which I think may fairly be brought to the notice of the Post Office.
I should also like to ask my right hon. Friend whether there is likely to be any development of the underground telegraph system of cables to Scotland. I believe the cable is now on the point of entering Edinburgh. There was some divergence of views between the Post Office and Edinburgh as to the proper route to take which has unfortunately delayed the introduction of the cable. I trust that that difficulty may soon be at an end, and that we shall have the underground cable in the city. It is manifest that in Scotland more particularly, owing to the climatic conditions, that this matter of underground cable communication is of the most supreme importance to the business of the country. I would urge that the system should be carried further north, and I would ask my right hon. Friend whether he contemplates any further extension of the cable system northwards. I should like to thank him for what he has done in promoting the telephone trunk lines north of Inverness through the Highlands, and all the more because the extension of those lines in the thinly populated districts is of very great importance to the development of the country, particularly during the busy tourist season. I thank him for what he has done, and I would most earnestly press upon him to consider the great need for the extension of the cable system further north than is contemplated by the initial scheme.
§ Mr. JAMES O'CONNOR (Wicklow, W)
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon the very interesting statement he has made to the House. I wish to ask for some explanation of his proposal to reduce the wages of the postmen in 900 offices in Great Britain and Ireland. He made a passing allusion to the proposed reduction by saying that it would affect only future entrants to the positions. Future entrants will be coming on every day, and eventually they will number 8,000 men. I think it is a very serious proposal 216 on the part of the Postmaster-General to reduce the wages of 8,000 men, although the reduction will not take place all at once. Judging from the office in Ireland which the Postmaster-General purposes to reduce, I think there is hardly any justification for so sweeping a reduction in the wages of men whose wages are already goodness knows low enough. I know in Greystones and Rathdrum, and several other portions of my Constituency the postmen cannot afford to lose even a 1s. a week, while in some cases the reduction would amount to about 3s. per week. I should like to know from the Postmaster-General on what authority he has made or proposes to make these reductions?
Is there anything in the Hobhouse Committee Report to justify him in reducing the wages of 8,000 prospective postmen? I think in the whole of the report there is not the slightest suggestion that any such reduction should be made. On the contrary, I believe, and I think it will be borne out by some Members who are on that Committee, that it was the clear intention of the Hobhouse Committee that an increase of wages should take place rather than any reduction in the case of postal servants. If there is nothing in the Hobhouse Report to justify the serious reduction in the wages of those poor men, because a 1s. to a postman is a great deal more than 5s. to other persons employed in the service, there must be some reason, and I should be very glad if the Postmaster-General would tell us. I presume before those reductions were decided upon the Postmaster-General instituted inquiries in every one of those 900 offices as to whether a reduction might or might not be made in those places. I would ask him did he make inquiries, is it a fact that there were 100 postmasters asked, and that the great majority who were applied to decided that increase ought to be made instead of reduction? That is an important point which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will address himself to when he comes to reply.
There is another matter I wish to bring before the House. For some time past complaints have been made about auxiliary work in Ireland. I myself last year or the year before brought under the notice of the right hon. Gentleman the widespread grievance as to auxiliary labour that exists in Ireland. I think he promised to apply some remedy to it. I think he promised to reduce the amount of auxiliary labour, and I believe some feeble attempt has 217 been made to place auxiliary postmen upon an established basis, but very little in that way has been done. I suggest that he ought at least to reduce auxiliary labour in Ireland by 25 per cent. I hope before the Estimates come up next year he will be able to say he has reduced auxiliary labour in Ireland by at least 25 per cent. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give his attention to the points which I have made. First of all, was there any authority in the Hobhouse Report that a postman's wages should be reduced, and, secondly, is it a fact that the postmasters who were applied to to give their view of the necessity for reducing wages that the majority reported in favour of an increase. I hope as well that he will take care to reduce the auxiliary labour in Ireland.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
After all the kind things that have been said of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman I will endeavour to make my remarks as kindly as possible, as befits the speech. Before I deal with the case of Mr. Dicks I want to emphasise the point referred to by the right hon. Member for Central Glasgow in regard to the constructional staff of the National Telephone Company, and I want a little more satisfaction if I can get it in regard to the position of that constructional staff. The constructional staff in the National Telephone Company comprises nearly 6,000 men. I took the trouble to ascertain the nature of the employment of those men. A thousand of them are labourers, more or less skilled; 2,300 are linesmen, skilled hands; 700 firemen, 400 cable-joiners, 1,000 switchers and board staff, 400 electricians. Their wages range from 22s. to 50s. per week. They are a skilled staff and they are men who have been in the employment of the National Telephone Company for many years past. Their work has been formed for them, and they for the work. If they were thrown out of employment owing to the arrangement between the Post Office and the Telephone Company very great hardship would be inflicted on those men. I understand the late Postmaster-General, before I was in this House, when he made a statement relating to this agreement, distinctly laid it down he did not intend anybody should lose his employment in consequence of the taking over of the Telephone Company by the State.
Undoubtedly there was a certain number of dismissals last year. It is quite true, as the Postmaster-General told us a few months ago, referring to a meet- 218 ing at Manchester, that no dismissals have taken place during the last few months. The reason for that is this: that when the dismissals began in autumn of last year an agitation, and, I think, a legitimate agitation, sprang up amongst those men. Representations were made to the Postmaster-General and to the National Telephone Company, and the National Telephone Company agreed and decided that no dismissals should take place during the winter months. That is why the Postmaster-General was able to tell us that only one dismissal had taken place in the Manchester district during the winter months. The agreement was that no dismissal took place during the winter months, a period supposed to expire on the 31st March. If those dismissals are to take place there will be very great hardships on the men, who will not be able to get other employment, because there is only one employer for telephone work; there is no rival company. Nobody is putting up constructional telephone work. There will be very great hardship on the men who were entitled to no pension and cannot turn very easily to any other kind of work, and who will not be able to get anything like the amount of wage of 30s., 40s., or 50s. in any other business. The reason for this difficulty, as I understand it, is that the National Telephone Company is not going to undertake any new constructional work which will not show a profit before the end of 1911.
I put this to the Postmaster-General, that he, on behalf of the State, is responsible for the welfare of those men. If the State had not agreed to take over the National Telephone Company those men would have gone on working. All constructional work would have been continued on the National Telephone Company, therefore the State, in its agreement with the National Telephone Company, ought to have made some arrangement for the future of those men. I want to call the Committee's attention to the fact that in all other cases the staffs have been properly looked after. We heard the other day from the President of the Board of Trade, when he was discussing with the railway company forms of amalgamation, one of the things he was most careful about was that no man should be dismissed, no man should suffer in his employment, because of the amalgamation and a possible reduction of the staff. When the Port of London Bill was before us last Session distinct arrangements were made that the men in the employ of the various 219 dock companies should not suffer because of the amalgamation. Again, a few years ago, when the Water Board took over the work of the water companies, similar provisions were made. Whether it was an oversight or not I cannot say, but when the agreement between the Telephone Company and the Post Office was concluded no definite arrangements were made to take over the constructional staff of the Company. I venture to suggest that these men were worse treated than the plant itself, because arrangements were made for taking over the plant and machinery. The Postmaster-General has told us this afternoon that he desires to be a model employer. I agree that the State should be a model employer, but equally the State should be a model purchaser. We are all agreed now on the policy of the purchase of the Telephone Company by the State; but if the State is going to purchase, as it is, the works and establishment of the National Telephone Company, it should be a model purchaser, and make such arrangements as will safeguard the interests of these men.
May I also, as representing a commercial constituency, say a word in reference to the users of the telephone. If this constructional work between now and 1911 is to be modified—as we know it is, from the declarations of the chairman of the National Telephone Company—there must be a slackening off in the facilities afforded to the general public for the extension of the telephone system. That slackening has already begun, and it is bound to go on. A constituent of mine has communicated with me in regard to the difficulty of getting a telephone fixed to his house some distance outside Manchester. I wrote to the Postmaster - General—not personally, but to the Department—and, an inspector having been sent down, I had an official letter from the Post Office only ten days ago stating that nothing could be done for the extension of the telephone to this particular house until 1912, when the Post Office took over the constructional work of the Telephone Company. If that is the case in Manchester, I am certain that it is the case in a large number of other districts also. I have had the benefit of seeing some of the representatives of the National Telephone Company's Employés' Association. I asked them whether they would give me some instances (in order that I might put them before the Commit- 220 tee) where constructional work was being delayed owing to this arrangement between the company and the Post Office, but they replied—and I think the Committee will agree that they replied rightly—that they were confidential servants, and could not divulge facts which came to their knowledge confidentially. I admire them for declining to give instances; but, at any rate, I have given the Postmaster-General one case, and on behalf of the commercial community and of the 6,000 men concerned I ask that he should effect some arrangement on the point. It has been suggested that he should, if possible, ante-date the period for the completion of the purchase. I believe that that would meet with the approval of all sections of the House, as the men would then be taken over and would come under the model employer whom I see before me. May I also ask that when he is taking them over he should make arrangements so that the period which they have served with the National Telephone Company—which, after all, is a semi-national service—should be counted to them for pension as if they had been employed by the State? They have been doing the same work and receiving certainly not higher wages than Civil servants, and it would be only fair, when the State for its own purposes and to improve the system is taking over the company, that the staff should be put upon the same basis in all respects as if they had been for years past under the model employer.
Now I come to the more difficult question of Mr. Dick. Mr. Dick is a young man who has been in the employment of the Post Office for some few years as a sorter at Glasgow. He lived with his parents, both of whom are over 70 years of age; he bears an absolutely unimpeachable reputation, and has a character from the minister of his parish. But unfortunately for his position in the Post Office he cast a favourable eye on a young lady in the telegraph department. The eye was a perfectly moral eye and a perfectly justifiable eye; the feeling ripened into an attachment which the Committee will be pleased to know will very soon result in the young lady becoming Mrs. Dick. I will not give the name of the lady, but throughout the correspondence she has been called Miss M. Unfortunately Mr. M., the father of the lady, did not appreciate Mr. Dick as a son-in-law, and he wrote to the Postmaster-General complaining of the attentions of this gentleman to his 221 daughter. One day in October, 1906, Mr. Dick was called into his superior's office, when the following note was read to him:—The Postmaster-General views with displeasure Mr. Dick's actions to Miss M. and in writing two letters, one to her father, and one to her sister. He is to be transferred at his own cost to another office of similar scale as Glasgow on the first opportunity, Any further discreditable conduct will be dealt with severely.On that, he was transferred to Manchester, and thus the case came under my own personal knowledge. The transfer papers were headedFor discreditable conduct to Miss M., learner, Stirling, and for writing two letters, one to her father, and one to her sister.That is the charge against this unfortunate young man, who bears an absolutely good character, and for that "discreditable conduct" he is transferred from his home, sent to Manchester, and placed at the bottom of the class. Anybody who knows Post Office régime will understand what that means to a man. It is not merely a transfer from the pleasure of living in Glasgow to the pleasure of living at Manchester, but it stops his promotion, and he has against him that statement of "discreditable conduct to Miss M." After he had been at Manchester for some time Mr. Dick sought an interview, and asked what the discreditable conduct was. Unfortunately, Mr. M. was not satisfied with the transfer, because Mr. Dick chose to go on writing letters to Miss M. But is there any reason—I want to ask this question of the model employer—why Mr. Dick should not write letters to Miss M.? They are perfectly proper letters. I believe the Postmaster-General has them, and if there is a single improper sentence in the letters let him produce them, and say what is wrong. I am quite prepared to admit that Mr. Dick wrote a very fiery letter to Miss M.'s father, but I am quite certain that I should, and in all probability the Postmaster-General himself would have done the same under similar circumstances. When I put a question in the House last autumn the Postmaster-General stated that the circumstances were so well known that it would be a mere form of formality to comply with the Tweedmouth rule.
Here I come to a much more important matter than Mr. Dick and his love affairs, and that is the breach by the Post Office of the Tweedmouth rule relating to punishments. Mr. Dick's is only a case which has enabled us to find out how the Post Office is carrying out its own rules 222 and regulations. The Tweedmouth rule to which I refer is:—We understand that, before the punishment of an officer, the precise nature of the charges brought against him is explained to him in writing, and that he is allowed to make, on his own behalf, a written explanation. This rule, which secures officers from unjust treatment, should be strictly adhered to.In this case that rule was distinctly not adhered to. No statement of the charges brought against Mr. Dick was ever made in writing, nor was any opportunity ever given him to place before the Postmaster-General or the officials an answer in writing. He was simply called into his superior's office, when the note which I have quoted was read to him, and then he was transferred to Manchester. I need not weary the Committee with the correspondence between Mr. Dick and the Post Office, or between the Postal Clerks' Association, who took the matter up on his behalf, and the Department. But when I asked the Postmaster-General in October last whether he had complied with the recommendation of the Tweedmouth Committee, and whether he would give Mr. Dick a chance of answering these charges, even two-and-a-half years after his transfer, the right hon. Gentleman replied:—The rule referred to by the Tweedmouth Committee is still in force. The circumstances leading to Mr. Dick's transfer from Glasgow were of a kind so completely within his own knowledge that the application of the rule became a mere formality, which could not have affected the result. It should, nevertheless, have been complied with. The omission has since been repaired; and Mr. Dick has defended himself verbally and in writing without convincing me that he was treated unjustly.I hope that this evening we shall have an opportunity of ascertaining how the Postmaster-General was convinced that Mr. Dick was not treated unfairly. The reply continued:—Mr. Dick's conduct since his transfer has been satisfactory; and he was informed more than a year ago that I was prepared to sanction, under certain conditions, his re-transfer to Glasgow.That is rather curious, as Mr. and Miss M. are still living in the neighbourhood of Glasgow. What were the conditions on which the Postmaster-General was prepared to re-transfer Mr. Dick? First of all, he was to go back at his own expense; and, secondly, he was to have no more "discreditable conduct" with regard to Miss M. The "discreditable conduct," it must be remembered, means writing love letters. Therefore, apparently the Postmaster-General is going to establish a rule that postal clerks may not write love letters to the ladies of their choice. An hon. Friend suggests, except under the right hon. Gentleman's supervision. That 223 would be imposing upon him, model employer as he is, a far greater responsibility than I should have thought he would have cared to undertake. Possibly that is the reason why he is asking for the appointment of an Under-Secretary to assist him in his work. Doubtless the young gentleman who is appointed will have the supervision of the amatory department of the Post Office. But seriously—because it is a serious matter—the whole question has arisen because the Post Office chose to take note of a letter written to them by an outside individual regarding the outside conduct of one of their postal servants. What right has the Post Office to intervene because the father of this young woman chooses to come forward and say, "I object to this man paying attention to my daughter. I object to his meeting her in the street. I object to the influence he has over her." If this is to go on we shall have mothers writing letters, and saying to the Postmaster-General, "Mr. So-and-So has been paying attentions to my daughter, but he is not now coming forward. Will you kindly intervene in regard to this negative young man, as you intervened in the case of the rather too positive young man?" I want the House to note how the Postmaster-General has placed himself entirely in the hands of Mr. M. While Mr. Dick was at Manchester, miles and miles away from the object of his affections, Mr. M. went on writing to Mr. Dick, and in 1907 he sent him a letter of warning, as follows:—The postal authorities fully expected, now that you had been removed to Manchester, that my daughter might regain her freedom from your evil influence.That is rather strong.But so long as she continued to go between Stirling and Dunblane and frequent your people almost daily—So that this unfortunate young lady is not allowed even to go and see the father and mother of Mr. Dick—…should this not cease at once I will certainly report the matter to the Postmaster-General as requested.P.S.—A copy of this letter will be sent to the Postmaster-General along with my letter of complaint.In April this young man was sent a further letter from the Post Office. I would like to draw the Postmaster-General's attention to this:—Mr. Dick can be informed that a further letter has been received from Mr. M. complaining of his conduct in relation to Miss M. since his transfer to Manchester, and he should be warned that unless he can arrange his private affairs in such a matter that the Department is not troubled with them in future, the consequences to him may be very serious.224 Well, but really, it is a case when the Postmaster-General chooses to listen to tittle-tattle of this kind emanating from this Miss M.'s father. This young man was doing his work to the satisfaction of his superiors in Manchester, and he is to be warned that if Mr. M. cannot be kept quiet, the consequences to himself will be very serious. Well, now, the Postmaster-General—and I want to be perfectly fair in this matter—handed the matter over to one of his senior officials to look into it. The young man was brought up to London in November, 1907, and he was interviewed by Mr. Norway, who, I believe, is one of the senior officials at the General Post Office. Mr. Dick was courteously treated. He was asked various questions. Immediately after that interview Mr. Dick wrote down, as far as he could from memory, what had taken place. Mr. Norway put certain questions to him. He was asked: "Was there no ground for Mr. M.'s complaint to the Department?" You will notice the inquisitorial character of these questions put by the officials to the young Post Office clerk brought up from Manchester to be interrogated. "Was there any police case in connection with the affair (at Stirling)?" There is absolutely no foundation for that question. What right had any official of the Post Office to put a question of this kind to this young man? There was no police case. There was, I quite admit, a disturbance in the street at Stirling, in which Mr. Dick took no part whatever. This young lady was walking with Mr. Dick's relations, and I think her father and mother came up and tried to get her away. Mr. Dick himself had nothing whatever to do with it Then the next question was almost an indecent question, and Mr. Dick was told that he need not answer it unless he liked. The interrogator was good enough to say that. The question was: "I would like to ask you are you going to marry Miss M.?" What had that to do with a model employer? The answer was perfectly straightforward: "I am engaged to her." Then this gentleman had the indecency to ask the young man: "Is it not a fact that you are now a married man?" There was absolutely no foundation for such a scandalous question. Surely it shows to what a pass Post Office officials have come when in order to bolster up the case they thought it necessary to allow one of their people to ask this young man against whom there had never been the slightest breath of scandal: "You tell us you are going to 225 marry this lady. Is it not a fact that you are already married?" What do they mean by it? What is at the back of their heads? Are they confusing him with somebody else? This was the only opportunity that Mr. Dick had to put his case before the Postmaster-General, and this was the kind of question asked him. If there is any possible scandal that can be brought forward with regard to Mr. Dick let us have it out. The Postmaster-General stated in 1907 that the omission in the Tweedmouth Report had been repaired. I want to know how it has been repaired? The Tweedmouth rule is that a man should have a statement in writing of the charges urged against him. I should like to call the attention of the Committee to the fact that the Postmaster-General knows it should be in writing, and that within the last fortnight he has issued to his officials—I do not doubt it arose out of this matter—a circular distinctly pointing out the way in which the Tweedmouth Report is to be carried out. In this the Postmaster-General emphasises the fact that before an officer is punished for an offence, or an adverse entry is made in his record, the precise nature of the charge should be clearly stated in writing, and every opportunity ought to be afforded him to meet the charge. Further, if any adverse entry is made against any officer, the officer concerned is entitled to be given an extract from the record in which the exact form of the record made against him is shown. That is the Postmaster's rule, issued a fortnight ago. I shall ask him to apply that rule to Mr. Dick. I asked him in the House a week ago, and I put down this notice of Motion to reduce the Postmaster-General's salary; and I put down a further question asking him as to what were the exact charges against Mr. Dick. He has replied to my point in a very friendly way, but without, however, telling me what the exact charges were. I have left out a good deal of the case, but it is clear that the Postmaster-General knew, and has known the case. The reply of the Postmaster-General was that if Mr. Dick was not satisfied he was anxious, not only that justice should be done, but that any feeling should be removed, and he was reviewing the whole case at present. But that is a different question. I am not quite sure that that is what Mr. Dick is entitled to. Mr. Dick to-day is a condemned man—condemned, punished—an entry is made in his register without 226 having had the right which the Tweedmouth Committee gives him, without having the right which the Postmaster-General has given him; and I am not sure that it is sufficient for the Postmaster-General to say that he will review the case again. It will not do until he has put Mr. Dick in a position that he has asked for all along, that he should have the statement in writing to which he is entitled of the charges brought against him of discreditable conduct. I venture to suggest that the Postmaster-General, after the Debate this afternoon, should openly come forward and admit that a system has ruled in the Post Office during the last few years with regard to this unfortunate man, and that this matter ought never to have been raised. I may further say that any ordinary employer of labour would never have taken any notice of any tittle-tattle letter sent by Mr. M. from the outside. Unless there is any real case of discreditable conduct—and we all know what that means—what I think the Postmaster-General ought to say is, "I decline to entertain in this case these charges against Mr. Dick, and I decline to allow my great office to be used as it has been for harrying this young man, because he chose to pay his addresses to Miss M." To a certain extent I owe an apology—
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
For having brought the case of one man before this House, but personally I am not in the slightest ashamed of having done so. This is the only opportunity which a member of the public service has of getting his wrongs righted. The High Court of Parliament is the only court to which this young man can appeal. Any man in the public service, the humblest person in the Army or Navy or the Civil Service—and I am quite sure the Postmaster-General will agree—has a right, if he is unable to obtain justice, to lay his case before the representatives of the people of this House. On his behalf, and on behalf of a very large number of people who sympathise with him, and feel that he has been hardly treated, I do ask the Postmaster-General to review it, not with the idea that the young man is guilty, but, ab initio, as if he were innocent. If he is wrong I will wash my hands of the whole affair. If he is right I ask the Postmaster-General to reinstate him.
§ Mr. BUXTON
Under the circumstances, seeing this is a personal question, I think I should follow the hon. Member at once, and say a few words in regard to it. I have no fault to find with him for bringing it on. Quite obviously, rightly or wrongly, the case has attracted considerable attention, apparently from the point of view that there has been a miscarriage of justice. That being so, it will be well for me to say nothing till there shall be some further inquiry, which shall take place at the earliest possible moment. But I wish to say at once, as regards this case, I take the fullest responsibility on myself. I also want to say that I do not profess to be infallible. I do not in any sense object —where there seems to have been some misunderstanding or some mistake—I have not the slightest objection to the hon. Member, or anybody else, bringing it forward and criticising my action or that of my subordinates. As to the merits of the case, as to whether Mr. Dick has had justice, I do not propose to go at present, having undertaken to review the whole case. I assure hon. Members that I shall do it with an open mind, and, I hope, with absolute impartiality, as if it were an entirely new case. That being so, it would not be proper on my part to follow the various observations of the hon. Member, because that, in a sense, would be prejudging the case from the point of view of himself and Mr. Dick. But I would like to mention two things: The first step in regard to this matter is to fully and frankly admit the mistake which has taken place. Any charges against Mr. Dick ought to have been put in writing. Let me say this in regard to this matter: That, no doubt, was the recommendation of the Tweedmouth Committee, but to the rule there have been certain exceptions under certain circumstances. This was accounted one of them. I understood the hon. Gentleman to say he would not drag the names in here, because it would be rather hard to do so. I agree. I understand that was the chief reason why this matter was not put in writing at the very beginning. The officers in charge believed that Mr. Dick understood the charges brought against him (and I desire to say that they were not entirely of the nature indicated by the hon. Member). The desire to avoid, if possible, bringing the name of this young lady into the matter more than necessary was the chief reason why, in the first instance, the accusation or allegation was not made 228 fully in writing. I fully admit that it should have been done. I have endeavoured to repair that at all events, and in the future every case of any gravity in which anyone is accused of anything in the postal service the charge shall be given in writing to the person against whom it is made. It is only right and just. I say, in this particular mistake was made, and I take the fullest responsibility for that mistake, but the mistake will be repaired. I will repair it in this particular case, and I shall see that the charges in writing of the various allegations are given fully to Mr. Dick, so that he may give his explanation, and in every such case in future. That is the rule I have laid down. I think it is right that it should be done, and, of course, it will prevent such cases as this occurring in the future. That being so, I am sure the Committee would not desire me, under these circumstances, to go further into the matter. I made a further examination, and communicated with the association, who have taken the matter up, immediately after the holidays, and before I knew a discussion was to be raised in the House. After a review on my account of the whole case, I came to the conclusion, before I knew I was going to be asked about it in this House, or that there was going to be any criticism of this matter here, that the question should be reopened, and that being so, I think the Committee will not press me further in regard to the matter to-day. It is clearly a case that should be further investigated, and I, for one, am going to reopen it. But it is also clearly a case which the House itself is incompetent to try. At the same time, I have no complaint against the hon. Member for bringing it up. He is doing it, I presume, on behalf of Mr. Dick, who is entitled to ask his Member to bring the case forward after he had appealed to the Postmaster-General, and after the Postmaster-General had not met his appeal. I have no complaint to make, but I appeal to the House, after the explanation I ventured to give, and after taking the full responsibility upon myself, and after admitting that poor human nature is not always infallible, I ask them to accept my assurance that Mr. Dick shall have the fullest and most impartial inquiry at my own hands into all the circumstances of the case. I think that is necessary, and, what is of far greater importance, I think it is necessary that I should see that any miscarriage of justice, if any such took place, should be removed.
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
Whatever mistakes may have been made in the earlier treatment of the case which the Committee has just been discussing, I think every Member will agree that the course which the Postmaster-General is now taking is the right one. My hon. Friend quite as much as anyone else who took part in the discussion will, I think, recognise that the Postmaster-General, having taken the matter into his own hands, and being about to institute something in the nature of a judicial inquiry of his own, where he will exercise if not actually judicial, at any rate semi-judicial, functions, we must be content to leave it to him, and I would add my own opinion that it is at least as much in the interest of Mr. Dick if he is, as we hope he is, an ill-used and meritorious servant, that the matter should be left with the Postmaster-General instead of being left to this House to decide. Nobody can have listened to the discussion this afternoon, not merely to this particular part of it, without feeling that the House of Commons is attempting to deal with matters for which, in fact, it is altogether unfit. I think the statement of the case—and it was rather a difficult one to bring before the House of Commons—which was made by my hon. Friend, on the whole temperately, and certainly clearly, was treated with some levity which it did not deserve by some Members, and which it is shown not to have deserved having regard to the treatment which the Postmaster-General has himself found necessary to apply to the case. In the earlier part of the afternoon, apart from the large questions dealt with by the Postmaster-General, and by some hon. Members who have spoken, a good deal of our time was occupied with similar small personal grievances, not necessarily confined to single individuals, but arising in particular localities or among particular classes of the postal service. I do not rise to plead these particular grievances to the House, but if I do not do so it is not because they do not arise in the Constituency which I represent or in the district from which I come. Something has been said about the treatment of telegraphists in the six or eight senior provincial post offices—Birmingham is one of them, and Birmingham telegraphists are as dissatisfied with their treatment and with the Hobhouse Report as those of Glasgow or other great provincial cities. In my own Constituency I have more requests made to me to bring the grievances of indi- 230 viduals of a particular class of servants before the Postmaster-General and the House of Commons on this occasion than ever I had before in the course of the 17 years I have had the honour to represent this particular Constituency.
Why, in the first place, do I not propose to do what my correspondents ask me to do, namely, to take these individual grievances one by one and argue them with the Postmaster-General across the floor? I propose not to do so because I recognise I have not got and cannot get information for the full statement of both sides of the case. The right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster-General has all the information which went before the Hobhouse Committee in interpreting their Report. I am perfectly satisfied that this House, constituted as it is this afternoon or at any other time, is not the proper tribunal or the possible tribunal to try whether the scales of pay be what they ought to be in King's Heath or Bromsgrove Post Offices, or whether they should be so much more or less. We all know we cannot judge a case as we hear it stated by a hon. Member on behalf of their constituent and replied to by the Postmaster-General. We all know we cannot form any reasonable judgment upon a particular case put before us, and when we are arguing cases of this kind in this House in reference to complicated details of classification and scales of pay we are simply paying the tribute which we pay to our sense of duty to our constituents, to the political opinions of our constituents, to the value of their votes, or to our desire to stand well with them. But we ourselves know there is nothing more than formality in the recommendation which we sometimes agree to give, which we know will have no effect upon the advancement of the gentleman on whose behalf it is given, but we know it is easier to give a recommendation than to explain to the person that applies for it that nothing of the kind is of any use. That being so, I want again to call the attention of the Committee to the inefficacy of these discussions, to their hollowness, as affected not merely by what I have said, but by what the Postmaster-General says. One Member heartily recommended to him two gentlemen for the same post and by the same post. Another Member, who was earnestly anxious to know whether his little matter was arranged, but could not remember what place it referred to or who was the person concerned. All this is a hollow sham, and if we can relieve the 231 House of Commons of this hollow sham it would be a great service to the House of Commons and to the Civil Service concerned. We might perhaps put them face to face with something which would give them real redress for real grievance instead of something which only gives parade and show of grievances that may be real or imaginary, but which we, as a House, have no means of dealing with. I have brought this question before the Committee once or twice with regard to the Post Office, and I venture to call attention to it again to-day. Is it impossible for the Government with the general goodwill of the House to make some reform in this matter? I do not think it is possible to do any good unless you carry, I will not say everyone's assent, but I do say unless you have the general goodwill of the House and of all sections of opinion in the House. I have seen it suggested that you should have a kind of permanent Hobhouse Committee sitting in conjunction with the Postmaster-General to guide his hand and to countersign his minutes. I do not know where you would find the Members to serve in such a Committee, and I think you will not find a self-respecting Postmaster-General to take office or hold office on these conditions. It would be an intolerable position to the Postmaster-General, and scarcely a less intolerable position for the Committee, who were to be permanently sitting and to advise him. I talked to some Members of the Hobhouse Committee, Members not drawn from one side or another; I heard them speak here, I heard the hon. Member for Stoke, who represented the Labour party upon that Commission, saying from his place in this House that if he knew what the nature of the work of the Committee was to be he never would have accepted a seat upon it, and he would never sit upon a Committee of the kind again; and I do not believe there is a Member of that Committee, although they took great care and paid great attention to investigating the complicated questions laid before them, I do not think any Member of that Committee would claim that the scheme they produced was an ideal scheme, or anything like it. What are we to do for the future? Are we to have Debates of the kind which we have known year after year ever since I have been in the House of Commons in preparation for which all the political influence of the Civil servants is brought to bear at election times, and during the 232 intervening periods, in order to secure that hon. Members shall not merely represent their case, but deliver the verdict which they wish to see delivered. Party pressure in this way is brought to bear in order to secure a majority in favour of this verdict without any real examination of the case. When that pressure is too great, and when many hon. Members have given pledges that they will support a Parliamentary inquiry, are we to have that tempered by a new Hobhouse Committee sitting for a Session or two Sessions producing a new Report, and then the same laborious circle will have to be trodden once again? That seems to be the fate which lies before us unless we can find some new way of dealing with these matters.
Perhaps the House will pardon me dealing with a personal recollection which is germane. So impressed was I with this matter when we were in office that I made a proposal across the floor of the House that if we could carry with us the general goodwill of the House we would be glad to appoint a Committee not to go into Post Office grievances, but to inquire whether a tribunal could not be formed which would relieve hon. Members from direct and immediate responsibility for these matters; a tribunal in which public opinion would have confidence, and to which the civil servants would give a moral adhesion. We were defeated in regard to that proposal, but we did not resign at once. I was not in a position to follow up the negotiations, and I cannot criticise the then Opposition for not responding to that proposal, but even now when I am in Opposition I am not less anxious than when I was a responsible Minister to take these matters out of our Parliamentary life and out of party consideration. Of all things that threaten the democracy to have your democratic franchise used to promote particular interests at the expense of others is one of the most demoralising and one of the most dangerous things that threaten public life, and I am willing in or out of office to support any movement which can avert that danger and which will take these questions out of our Parliamentary life.
What is the practical suggestion I make as to the way these questions should be dealt with? I take a precedent from the action of the Government themselves and the party opposite. Some time ago they had to deal with another great service, or rather a series of services, namely, the railway services of this country. The railways were not controlled by the Govern- 233 ment, and yet the dispute which arose was of such importance to the life of this country that the Government could not treat it with indifference. The Government imposed upon the parties to that dispute—I do not use the word "imposed" offensively, because it was cordially accepted by both sides—at the instigation of the Government both sides accepted a proposal for conciliation boards, arranged with all the elasticity required by those widespread systems and diverse circumstances, and subject to the final decision of an impartial arbitrator if the boards of conciliation were unable to come to a unanimous decision. Why will that precedent not suit the public service? Why should we not have boards of conciliation within the Post Office for the wage-earning class of the Post Office and other great Civil Departments, with an impartial arbitrator, which would meet to discuss these things and advise the Postmaster-General what was right in regard to grievances as to wages and declare which were well-founded and which were illusory and ill-founded?
If you established a system of that kind for the Civil Service with the goodwill of the House generally, and not as a party measure, it might work with the same admirable results as it has worked in the case of the railways, and it might meet with the same general acceptance, thus securing for civil servants a tribunal in which they would have confidence. That would give to hon. Members of this House and the public at large what they require and need, namely, an assurance that there was a fair tribunal for the investigation of such grievances. This course would enable Members of Parliament to disclaim once and for all the claim that it is part of their duty to their Constituency to bring individual or class claims affecting a particular section of public service before this House, and to press them here without a full knowledge of the circumstances and without making, or attempting to make, a detailed comparison with other parts of the Civil Service in regard to the salaries paid for this particular class of work outside. Such a course would enable hon. Members to reply that a fair tribunal had been provided, and they could tell those who complained that if they had a real grievance they should take it to that tribunal and have it argued there. That would only be following a precedent created by the present Government. I submit this precedent in no party spirit, and I am sure I have not said a 234 word on this matter which will offend hon. Members. I ask the consideration of the Government and the Postmaster-General for this suggestion. If they can improve it, by all means let them do so; but do let us have a real tribunal in order to take these Civil Service grievances away from the purview of this House, which is not fitted to deal with them, and which ought to be taken out of the range of our party system.
§ Mr. THOMAS WILES
I should be the last person in the world to minimise the many reforms initiated by the Postmaster-General in the interests of the public and the vast army of workers under his charge. I think the workers in the service are very pleased with the recognition the right hon. Gentleman has given to the associations of the Post Office and his readiness in appointing a Committee which will be known in history as the Hobhouse Committee. But, notwithstanding the labours of that Committee, I think the right hon. Gentleman himself will agree with me that there is a large amount of dissatisfaction, and unrest, and discontent existing on the Post Office staff. I have heard with great pleasure the remarks made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite with reference to the formation of a new tribunal. I am a somewhat inexperienced Member of this House, and I should be very loth to mention what kind of tribunal would be the right one, but it does seem to me, having regard to the dissatisfaction caused by the Hobhouse Report, that what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman opposite is well worthy of the very careful consideration of the Postmaster-General and his colleagues. Everybody knows who has any connection with even a large business that its ramifications are often more than one man can control, but when you have a great service like this, extending to every part of the United Kingdom, when the Postmaster-General has an assistant, which I am glad to think he will have before long, even then it seems to me impossible that one man can supervise and control the wages, the hours, and the promotions which must be dealt with in that great organisation.
I must confess that if some tribunal, some conciliation board, such as has been suggested and which has been put in force in regard to the railways; if some committee could be set up to hear all the details of the grievances which these thousands of men have, it would relieve every hon. 235 Member of this House who naturally wishes to do the best he can for his constituents. That would relieve hon. Members of many troubles and would put the members of the Civil Service in a much more independent position. May I give the right hon. Gentleman two cases which I think could be dealt with by a tribunal of that kind much better than if those grievances continue to be brought forward once a year upon an occasion of this kind. I understand that in the regulations of the Post Office framed upon the recommendation of the Hobhouse Committee that any member of the establishment staff of the Post Office has a right to free medical attendance. That regulation seems to work in a rather curious way, because if a man in the Post Office service works in a district and is taken ill at home in another district, he cannot apply to the medical officer connected with his own district, although he may apply to another medical officer connected with the Post Office, but if he does that he only has the right to 8s. 6d. worth of medical advice per annum. I feel sure that the Postmaster-General would be the last person to say that is a fair carrying out of the Hobhouse recommendation in regard to free medical service, and I hope when the right hon. Gentleman comes to reply he will say that the man who has been unfortunate enough to be taken ill at home, and has availed himself of the medical officer in his district near at hand, will be able to have a proper medical attendance allowance in the same way as if he had lived nearer to the office in which he works.
Then there is another grievance, which has been mentioned I think twice during the last Session of Parliament, with reference to the telegraphists employed at the central office, and the telegraphists connected with the district office. At one office in Lombard-street 62s. is the maximum wage, and at the telegraphists' office on the Stock Exchange 65s. per week is the maximum. That is a case which seems so outrageous that there can really be no reason why people who send Stock Exchange telegrams should have a higher maximum than those who send the more important telegrams connected with Lombard-street. That seems to me a matter which would be settled better by a tribunal of the kind which has been suggested instead of being brought up each year in this House on the Estimates. 236 There is another class in regard to which I have frequently appealed to the Postmaster-General, namely, the postal porters. Most of them are ex-naval or military men, and they had their maximum wages revised as far back as 1882. At that time their maximum wages were raised from 27s. to 30s. per week, and no revision has taken place since. I think that is one of the cases where the Hobhouse Committee failed, and that after the lapse of years it is time that some tribunal should see that these men have their wages carefully inquired into. There is another matter which has given the Postmaster-General a great deal of thought and trouble. It is known as the "4 a.m. duty." I think that 4 a.m. is a very early time for any person connected with business to arrive in the City, and if any arrangement can be made whereby these men can be put back to 5 a.m. in the morning we should all be very glad. When the Postmaster-General put this 4 a.m. time into operation he said that it should be experimental. I believe that he finds that a large number of men make late attendances. These late attendances will go against a man for his stripes and promotion. When any new departure like that is instituted it does seem to me that a model employer would regard the attendances at the General Post Office or in Mount Pleasant at 4 a.m. as no ordinary matter. Do you know what it means for a man living at Tottenham or Enfield to have to arrive at the Post Office at 4 a.m.? It means that he has to get up at half-past two o'clock. He gets into the City. He delivers the letters, he returns home about half-past nine; he leaves again at 12.50, and he stays at the Post Office until five o'clock and gets home again at six. There is a Post Office regulation that every man shall have a fair nine hours at home. What these men who live some little distance from the Post Office have to do is a violation of that rule which says that they shall have nine hours' rest at home, and I hope that the Postmaster-General will consider again whether this 4 a.m. duty cannot be altered. A short time ago the right hon. Gentleman received a deputation from the men affected by this early duty, and he said in his usual considerate way that if they would put a scheme before him by which the letters could be sorted and delivered by the time they were required he would be glad to alter the hour back to 5 a.m. They did put a scheme before him, and it was re- 237 jected by the Department. I am given to understand that if a scheme can be put forward by the men which will give the same service of delivery of letters in the City the Postmaster-General will be glad to consider it. But, as I have said, when they did put forward a scheme the officials found that it would not work. The men have now placed another scheme before the Postmaster-General, and they are waiting to hear if something cannot be done to alter their hours of work. I understand that although these men begin to work at 4 a.m. that the service is very little better than it was before. One more important point affects the health and work of these men. Since this 4 a.m. duty was instituted the amount of sickness has been greatly increased. I understand late attendances, which are very serious to a postman who is anxious to obtain his extra stripe, are increasing. I hope the Postmaster-General will do all that is possible to find some method to alter this early morning duty and allow the men to begin at 5 a.m., which seems a reasonable hour. I should like to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to another matter, and that is the National Telephone staff. These men are in a terribly anxious state as to what their fate is going to be. Some consideration is due to them, and I am sure that the Postmaster-General will do all that is possible. If he can give the House some promise or idea of what is going to be done when the time arrives for taking over the Telephone Company, so that these men may know what is going to be their fate, he will do a great service. One of the complaints made is that a private contractor, in the case of a large hotel or factory, cannot put a telephone installation. In many countries private contractors are allowed to fit up switches, but I understand that the National Telephone Company make a large profit by themselves fitting up these extensions, and it would create a great deal of work if men were allowed to put up telephone fittings and switch on to the main extension. There is still another point to which I should like to call the attention of the Postmaster-General, and that is the question of Sunday labour in the country. It seems to me a most extraordinary thing that when London, Glasgow, Newcastle, Belfast, and 30 other large towns can do without a Sunday delivery that every village and hamlet in the country must have a delivery on Sunday. I should imagine that money would be saved by not having 238 these Sunday deliveries. Postmen have to travel many miles in the case of a Sunday delivery, and I do not think anybody would be inconvenienced if they were discontinued. I know that if any district applies to the Post Office to discontinue a Sunday delivery it will be discontinued, but districts do not take the trouble to do this. I hope that the Postmaster-General during his next year of office will decide to give the men a Sunday rest.
There is the question of Christmas-boxes. Last year I put a question to the Postmaster-General on this subject, and he gave me a reply. It does seem strange that at the present time in the twentieth century public servants should have part of their wages paid by gratuities. I have been told that the postmen do not want to give up their Christmas-boxes. Of course they do not want to give up part of their remuneration, but if they were paid a higher wage they would not care to solicit Christmas-boxes. If a telegraph boy under 18 years of age goes round to collect a Christmas-box he is immediately dismissed. It is a wicked thing for a boy under 18 years of age to collect Christmas-boxes, but a virtue for postmen over 18 years of age to collect them! The Postmen's Federation last spring passed unanimously a resolution in favour of doing away with Christmas-boxes provided they had a proper sum given to them in place of gratuities. I do hope that the Postmaster-General will see his way to re-consider this matter, and I also think that the abolition of Sunday delivery will be most popular throughout the country.
§ Mr. C. HAY
I do not propose to detain the Committee long, but I wish to refer to the matters which arise in connection with the administration of the Post Office during the past year, more particularly as during the past year the right hon. Gentleman has given effect to some of the recommendations of the Committee of which I was a member. No member of that Committee desired to see any postal servant suffer from any of its recommendations whether as regards the payment he receives or the conditions under which he performs his duty. I may remind the right hon. Gentleman that last year when this matter was raised by Members in all parts of the House he undertook that the new scale should apply, and that he would make careful inquiry in the different localities. Well, if the information which reaches me is correct it will seem that the inquiries which were made were of a perfunctory 239 character, merely a few questions being addressed to postmasters, no other investigations taking place from more independent persons than the postmaster. I believe that in almost every case the officials whom the inquiry dealt with were either surveyors or postmasters, and they recommended improvement in the scale of pay. And therefore it is obvious that the reduction had been imposed from headquarters. The right hon. Gentleman's treatment of this matter of postmen's pay is, in my judgment, entirely contrary to the best wishes and intentions and recommendations contained in the Hobhouse Committee's Report. I should like to refer for one moment to another grievance which, as far as I can gather, has been met in a way far from that desired by the Committee. The Committee laid down certain conditions as to what should be regarded as night duty, and the right hon. Gentleman avers that he has carried out those recommendations. The question at issue is whether men going on duty before midnight should be deemed to be working day duty if they work after 6 a.m. I am perfectly satisfied that no recommendation justifies the thought that such work should be regarded as day work if the men work after 6 a.m., having commenced at midnight. Then I must remind the right hon. Gentleman that there is a great deal of feeling among the East Central District postmen as to the 4 a.m. duty, which was referred to by the hon. Member who last spoke. It is obvious that the rule which entitles a man to have nine hours at home out of the 24 has been broken by the Department in respect to these 4 a.m. duty men. I quite believe the right hon. Gentleman has approached the matter in a sympathetic spirit, and I fully realise how difficult it is in view of the demands of the public service and the convenience both of trade and industry to avoid this 4 a.m. duty; but if the interests of the public service are such, surely rather than a hard and harsh application of this duty, he might make some exception so as to enable these men to enjoy nine hours at home. In all reason it is surely not too much to ask this for the men. Then last year the right hon. Gentleman gave a very definite assurance that he would see to it that the mail-cart drivers should have no cause for grievance in future. Well, I have been at pains during the last 12 months to look into the condi- 240 tion of these men, and I do not hesitate to say that a large number of mail-cart drivers working under contract for the Post Office are sweated. I am perfectly certain that any man who looks into the hours of work and pay, and the methods by which the men are made by those who employ them to say they are satisfied, will be convinced that these men are sweated, and that the Postmaster-General has not been correctly informed—not by his-officials but by the contractors who are ill-treating their men, and who ought not to be allowed to do so by a great public Department. Then I must refer to what is an old story, and to which the hon. Member who last spoke also referred, namely, the grotesque anomaly that a man who works in and belongs to the same grade, passes the same examination, and does the same duty should receive 65s. in Thread-needle-street, and only 62s. because he performs his duty a few yards away in Lombard-street. The sooner the Lombard-street men are put on the same basis as the men at the central office at Thread-needle-street the better. When these Estimates were under discussion twelve months ago the right hon. Gentleman said he was going to receive a deputation in respect of sub-engineers' pay. It is not necessary to go at length into their case. The sub-engineers, the right hon. Gentleman alleges, really have no grievance, because the Hobhouse Committee, according to his interpretation of its Report, made reference only to new entrants. Last year I took exception to his interpretation of the Committee's Report, and I am here to-day to repeat the view that I then expressed. The Committee made very definite recommendations, and they have all been set aside by the right hon. Gentleman. What were the recommendations of the Committee? They were surely that these men would be given that which an official appointed by the Post Office recommended was their due, whether it be as regards promotion or conditions of service, or pay, and I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to broaden his interpretation of the Committee's Report in this respect so that these men shall get their due. In the course of the Debate this afternoon, unless I am mistaken, not a word has been said as to the affairs of the sub-postmasters, and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to give the Committee an indication as to what he has done in this matter. With regard to the sub-postmasters, I do not 241 think they can be described as a body of men who are naturally discontented, but throughout the service, throughout the country, there is profound dissatisfaction among the sub-postmasters.
§ Mr. HAY
Rightly or wrongly the application which the right hon. Gentleman has made of the Committee's recommendations has not been received by them with approval. I notice that the right hon. Gentleman is inclined to dissent from the view I have expressed. All I can say is that the correspondence I have received from the gentlemen representing the Federation of Sub-Postmasters and from individual sub-postmasters is of a kind that if they can be described as giving approval of what has been done, it is the strangest kind of approval I have ever known.
§ Mr. BUXTON
I have been in communication with this association with regard to the bankers' orders, and I came to an arrangement with the association with which they expressed themselves as fully satisfied.
§ Mr. HAY
I am very glad to hear that. All I can say is, that within the last seven or eight weeks I have received a statement from gentlemen representing that body which shows they are far from satisfied. But I am quite ready to accept what the right hon. Gentleman says if I can make the sub-postmasters accept it, but if I cannot, I am sure he will allow me to bring the matter before him privately. Now I pass to a paragraph in the Report about which the right hon. Gentleman said something last year, and as to which we on the Committeee, without exception, held a strong opinion. It was with regard to the chief medical officer and the medical staff, for the administration of which he was responsible. The Committee did not mince their words as to that gentleman, and I shall be very glad if the right hon. Gentleman will inform the House that he now performs the work adequately and skilfully, and that he gives his whole 242 time to the Department. Then I have another very categorical question to put to the right hon. Gentleman. I think it was in clause 62 of our recommendations that we laid it down that the Committee was strongly of opinion that the Postmaster-General should be master in his own house, and not have to go cap in hand to the Office of Works to ask that repairs and other structural work should be undertaken by that Office for him, involving delay, expenditure, irritation, and great public inconvenience, as well as personal sufferings and great inconvenience to the staff. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out that a Committee of the two Departments was working satisfactorily, and that he had great hopes of their work, but that does, not suffice. What I wish to ask him is this. Has he during the last 12 months been taking into consideration the removal of all the work now undertaken for his Department by the Board of Works to his own office, and has he been in consultation with the Office of Works and the Treasury or the other Departments who have to be consulted before that step can take place? Last year we heard a great deal about Treasury control, and I should be glad if the right hon. Gentleman would likewise say whether any progress has been made during the last 12 months in the direction of freeing the Post Office from Treasury control. We all know how he and his predecessors in office have been "cribbed, cabined, and confined" by the unreasonable delay, which so-called Treasury control has involved, and inasmuch as the Post Office, next to the Army and Navy, is by far the largest spending Department, surely the time has come when the right hon. Gentleman should be responsible for his own Estimates, and for collecting and spending his own money, and not have to go to officials in some back room in Downing-street or Whitehall before he can undertake to decide questions as to the rates of wages of his employés or undertake expenditure which is for the public benefit or the benefit of his great Department.
I have only two other points that I should like to say a word upon. The first is as to a matter which has been very warmly debated in the country among the staff, and which was gone into very carefully by the Hobhouse Committee: that is the question of civil rights. We have had occasion to criticise the action of the right hon. Gentleman in respect of the treatment he has given to different members of his staff 243 with respect to the political organisations to which they have desired to belong. I do not wish to refer to that to-day, except to say that no one realises more than I do the extreme difficulty in which the right hon. Gentleman is placed in dealing with this question. I am aware that some more or less vague promise has been given by the Prime Minister to consider the whole matter of the civil rights of Civil servants, out has the Postmaster-General, by consultation with the Cabinet during the past 12 months, gone any further to arrive at a decision to deny altogether to Civil servants the full civil rights, or to make it clear that they will not be deprived of them. The present position is detrimental to the public service, and very harmful to the public officials, especially in the higher grades, as well as a source of difficulty to Ministers. Lastly, let me say that I support with all the earnestness I am capable of the general line laid down by my right hon. Friend the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his plea for the creation of a Board of Arbitration in respect of Post Office and other Civil servants. It may be within the recollection of the Committee that this is a subject which I have brought forward on various occasions in this House, and I am glad to think that now, with the evident sympathy of the right hon. Gentleman, the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend has brought us near the point where we may perhaps get to a common agreement among all parties, so that the House of Commons, individually and collectively, will be relieved of an impossible task and the public, Civil servants and the House will feel that a tribunal will be in existence, which will satisfy the legitimate aspirations of the staff, and at the same time claim the confidence of the public at large.
§ Mr. GEORGE WARDLE
I desire only to address a very few words to the Committee, but I should like at the outset, if I may, to bring back the Debate to the very powerful speech which was delivered by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer with regard to this matter of the Post Office. It seems to me that the whole question of Civil servants is involved in this matter, and I should like to make an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster-General to see whether he cannot consider, or consider with the Cabinet, the question of appointing a Committee of inquiry. As to the precise form which the 244 inquiry should take I do not at present wish to say very much.
§ Mr. BUXTON
Does the hon. Gentleman mean a Committee of inquiry as to the best measures to be taken?
§ Mr. WARDLE
Yes; I mean a Committee to consider the whole question of Civil servants and their relations to this House and to the public service.
§ Mr. WARDLE
Certainly; the best method of carrying out the suggestion which was thrown out. The right hon. Gentleman had something to say about the question of conciliation boards and he referred to the railway conciliation boards as an example which might be followed in the Civil Service. The railway conciliation boards at the present time are very new—they have only just been formed, they are in an experimental stage, and I do not think the experience which has been gained from them, so far, is quite sufficient to warrant us in saying that they are the best method which can be employed. The last speaker referred to the question of Civil rights, and it seems to me that if conciliation boards and arbitration boards do turn out to be, as I hope they may, a proper method of dealing with disputes as regards wages and hours in the Civil Service, then the question of Civil rights would practically be able to settle itself. There would not be the slightest difficulty in giving full Civil rights, provided the questions of hours and wages can be taken, at all events to some extent, outside the purview of this House. But there is another side of that question, and I should like to make an appeal, not only for conciliation boards or arbitration boards but for some court of appeal, which would have to deal with matters of discipline and things of that kind. For instance, the question with which the House has been troubled to-day is one which it certainly would not have been necessary to bring before this House. Some of the worst questions with which railway servants, Civil Service employés, and the servants of corporations and other bodies of this kind are brought face to face with are not questions of hours and wages, they are questions such as the one we have had brought before the House to-day. It is apparently thought that there was something uncommon about that case and that 245 it could not be paralleled in any other employment in the country. But may I be permitted to say that cases of that kind are not at all infrequent on railways, where outsiders do complain, and the men are punished without knowing anything at all about it. I was a member of the Hobhouse Committee, and I quite agree that it was a most thankless task. I do not want to say, as some have said, that under no circumstances would I serve on such a Committee again. The work was hard, it was dry, and I believe the Committee did to the very best of their ability give a decision which they thought ought to satisfy the Post Office and the servants in question; and may I say, that while it may be true and is true that some ground for complaint does exist with regard to the interpretation of the Committee's Report, even that is a matter which is not at all uncommon, for we have in the railway service at the present moment complaints of arbitration awards of a similar character.
Therefore this is no new complaint, but let me remind the Committee that after all it is not all grievance which was the result of the Committee's labours, for 4,411 postmen did get an advance in wages, and 20,206 of the postmen class have benefited by that Report, so far as actual wages are concerned. It is true, that owing to what I think is a very unfortunate interpretation of the Report, shall we say, about matters for which I am afraid the members of the Committee must accept some responsibility and the Department also some share, because the Report when it got into its final shape did not carry out what I believe was the intention of the Committee, and that was that not a single postman but should receive an advance except in the six largest towns. The scales prepared were intended to give an advance to all other persons, but although none of the existing postmen are to be reduced, yet in 157 head offices and 745 sub-offices, future entrants to these posts are to receive a reduction. That, I think, is very unfortunate, and it arises, it seems to me, from the form of the Report for which the Committee must take some of the blame, while some of it must be put upon the Department. I should like to ask the Postmaster-General just this question: This reduction has been based, we are told, upon reports as to the cost of living which are received or have been received from the Board of Trade, or have been made up by the Department from other reports, received from the Board of Trade. Some of 246 these men, the new entrants, will not suffer from this reduction for two or three or four years. [An HON. MEMBER: Several years.] Well, they will not suffer for it for several years, in the first place ranging from two to three or four years, and I would like to ask, whether in the interval before they suffer this reduction, there could not be a new inquiry by the Board of Trade, or some other Department, into the cost of living, which would give an opportunity of revision, and so prevent this feeling of dissatisfaction in the minds of these men which now exists? In my own Constituency—and I do not say this because I want to take up the position of criticising on behalf of the men, as I very much agree with the plea, that this House is not the place where we should seek to put forward our own constituents' rights and wrongs, although we are bound to do that now, and if the whole question could be removed from the control of this House by conciliation or arbitration boards that I think would be a much better thing. But in my own Constituency there are certain sub-offices which have come under this arrangement for future reduction in which I am told the cost of living is as high as it is in the town itself, and therefore the men feel that they are not being fairly treated. That is so with regard to the hon. Member for Newcastle's Constituency. There are certain sub-offices round about there—mining villages—where the cost of living is said to be almost, if not quite, as high as in the city itself, and where this proposed reduction is to take place. From all quarters that I can hear about, the men are not satisfied with the inquiries which have been made, and which are not of such a nature as to get at the real facts, particularly with regard to rents, and therefore there is good ground for asking for a further revision with regard to this question of the cost of living. Personally, I think the Committee did perfectly right in saying that the twofold standard of cost of living and the amount of work done should form the basis of the wages, but if that basis is to be carried out impartially we must have revision from time to time, and we must have an impartial body to inquire into what the cost of living really is. I hope we may at last have come within sight of a solution of this great difficulty with regard to the great Civil Service of this country, and the greater question of how to settle their grievances. If we have a concern for democracy itself, we must see that this 247 question is of supreme importance, and that some method must be found by which the very fount of democratic life may remain unimpaired, which I am sorry to say it does not seem to be at present.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
I wish to raise a subject of a different character from those which have occupied the time of the Committee. It is now some considerable time since the System of old age pensions was introduced in this country, and was commenced in association with Post Offices, using them as distributing centres. The Post Office is a very convenient method of dealing with and distributing the pensions; but I need hardly say a condition precedent to their usefulness was that the Post Offices should hold themselves rigidly aloof from all party political questions. I can conceive of nothing more dangerous than that the Post Office should be used for this purpose, unless that elementary consideration was observed. There have been very considerable reasons for supposing that deviations from that requirement have taken place in a number of districts. Instances have been given to me and some of my friends which are not confined to one particular neighbourhood; but it is extremely difficult to obtain in all cases complete proof that such practices have taken place. But I have one case which has been put before me, which seems to be very clearly verified indeed, and which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider worthy of attention. It is a case which is complained of in connection with Burnham Post Office, in Somerset, and I have here a declaration of a pensioner supporting the statement that, as the pensioners went to the Burnham Post Office to obtain their pensions, at the same time as they received them they had handed to them an invitation which was in these terms:—Burnham,January, 1909.Dear Friend,—To celebrate the inauguration of the Old Age Pension Act we heartily invite to tea at the Life Boat, on Friday, January 29th, at 5 p.m., when we hope all who have had the honour to receive a pension will favour us with their presence.Signed on behalf of the Officers of theMen's and Women's Liberal Association.P.S.—Kindly let us know on the enclosed card if we may expect you. If unable to walk a conveyance will call for you.The letter was, according to my informant, handed over the counter by the clerk at the Burnham Post Office at the 248 time the pension was given, and this is the statement made by the pensioner:—I attended at the Post Office at Burnham on Friday, 22nd January, 1909, when I received my pension. I was handed my pension by the clerk in charge of the Office, and I received at the same time from the clerk an envelope addressed 'Old Age Pensions.' I left the Post Office after receiving my pension and subsequently called at the Office in connection with other business I saw Mr.—and in conversation I told him what I had received, and handed him the envelope which he opened at my request. He read the invitation to me and asked me if I intended to go to the tea. I told him I did not, and he asked me if he might have the paper and the prepaid addressed post card which accompanied the invitation. I told him he might.and that is the invitation to which I have directed the attention of the Committee.
I recollect when a similar matter was raised by the Leader of the Opposition pointing to the danger of any practice of this kind, my right hon. Friend said if the experiment of obtaining old age pensions was to fall into the hands of political organisations they would produce one of the gravest political scandals possible, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who spoke after my right hon. Friend, agreed that it would be a great misfortune, and might easily become a disaster if a Bill of this sort was to be worked for the purpose of corruption. I am sure that will be the view of the Government, but I cannot help thinking the hon. Member for Newington has, I am sure only through thoughtlessness, given a little encouragement to a view of the object of the Act which I do not think the Committee as a whole would probably entertain. I have had given me a letter written by the hon. Member for Newington and franked by the Government, in which he dealt with the same matter writing to a pensioner:—It gives me great pleasure to be able to inform you and at the same time to congratulate you upon the fact that you have been granted an Old Age Pension, the payment of which will begin next month As I entered Parliament for the purpose of helping the people I am glad to find so many of my Constituents are now about to benefit by the efforts I had made during many years past on their behalf.The sentiments are beyond reproach, and no one in whatever part of the House he sits will quarrel with them, but on reflection the Committee will perhaps doubt the wisdom of a Member of the Government approaching in an apparently official character a pensioner in a letter couched in these terms. I am fully aware that the hon. Member intended to write nothing which was not proper for an official Member of the House to write, but I comment on it because I think that if that kind of attitude is adopted by Members of the Government who speak 249 with a deep sense of responsibility, it is quite certain that other persons not occupying equally responsible positions will abuse the official position, whatever it may be, that they enjoy.
I was trying to find out if the hon. and learned Gentleman accuses some Post Office official of having done something wrong in regard to this matter. The conduct of the hon. Member for Newington has nothing whatever to do with the Post Office Estimates.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
I will not pursue it a moment longer. The argument I was developing was that as this had been made public it was likely to influence the judgment of Post Office employés, but I will not pursue the matter further. With regard to the other case, I am sure, if the facts are as I have stated them, and I will give full opportunity of investigating them as I cannot vouch for them of my own knowledge, I am satisfied that no one would disapprove of them more than the right hon. Gentleman, and no one would be more prompt than he in checking any such practice in future.
§ Mr. G. HARWOOD
As the hon. and learned Member has had to go as far as Somersetshire to find a case of abuse, if it be abuse, it does not seem the fact that the Post Office has been very largely used for what we recognise would be an evil if it were true. I rise, firstly, because I understand, and I heard with great pleasure, that the Postmaster-General is thinking of hurrying forward the taking on of the telephone system by the Post Office. I want to press that most strongly upon him for two reasons amongst others. A business is carried on in a kind, of temporary condition when it is going to be taken over by someone else in a certain time. In the first place it is in a condition of suspended animation. We have heard how the ordinary extensions which would go on in this business, if it were meant to continue in the same hands, are not now being made. I have some experience of it. There is a backwardness of enterprise in the telephone system which is a very great drawback to the country and to the business requirements of the country, and the sooner it is ended the better. There is another evil, and that is that the system is really being allowed to go back. The instruments have not been kept up and so on, and that is why the same number of 250 people are not being employed in keeping it up who would be, if it was being kept under the same people. There is a lack of employment amongst the workmen of the telephone system simply and solely because it is starved, and I press upon the right hon Gentleman to bring this transaction to an end as soon as possible. It is a great drawback to the business community, and it is a great reflection upon us that our telephone system instead of, as in other countries, being developed year by year, is at a standstill to say the least of it, and, as a business man, I warn the right hon. Gentleman to take care that his capital value is being kept up, because I am afraid if not he will take over a concern which has been allowed to run down. The second point was the suggestion made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Worcester. There seems to be something taking about it at first sight, and those who have been in the House a good many years would be very glad if all pressure of this kind could be removed from us, and as Members of Parliament we could be saved from this sort of pressure from our constituents and others in the Civil Service. That is very desirable, but the House will be very careful that it does not make a mistake in what is acknowledged to be a matter of unpleasantness. After all, the Civil servants are our servants. We are their masters, and we are responsible for their condition, and I do think it would be a very great pity if this House delegated or abandoned its functions in this respect. It cannot do it, as a matter of fact, for we should still have to be appealed to. We have to find the money, and ultimately to find the control. The House should be careful not to constitute these arbitration committees and commit to them certain portions of its own duties. The House is rather under a shadow at present. I do not think it is thought as much of as it used to be. I do not mean any reflection on those who wield its powers, but I think it is more neglected by the public than formerly, because it is thought we have not the powers we had. If we are going to part with our powers and delegate them to juntas and committees I think we shall make a very great mistake, and we will derogate very much from our position and proper authority. After all, why should the postal servants alone be dealt with in this way? If you are going to begin with the postal servants where are you going to end? Are all the servants of the State to be handed over to certain committees to decide as to wages 251 and the rest of it? I think that would be a very large order indeed, and it would be an exceedingly unwise step for this House to take. I venture to press the House, although there may have been irritation associated with this particular matter, not to take so unwise a step. I think the House should not be inclined to accept too readily the suggestion that Members of Parliament are bringing forward these matters, because they are thinking of their constituents or thinking of some electoral calculations. I do not think that is true. I can speak in my own case. I have had no such electoral influence brought upon me. I have never seen a Post Office official in my life in my own town interfering in an election except as a private individual, and there is no town or place with which I am acquainted, where Post Office, servants have come forward and issued public documents, and taken part in elections simply as Post Office officials. I may have been fortunate in my experience. Therefore we are not going to be frightened from raising points affecting our constituents because it may be thought that we are doing it for electoral purposes. That does not weigh in my mind, and I wish to raise the case of my own Constituents, not because they are my Constituents, but because their case illustrates what I think has been a dangerous principle carried out in regard to the Hobhouse Committee's Report. It so happens that my own Constituency is one of those unfortunate places in which there has been a reduction of wages. There has been no advance. The maximum wage of the ordinary postman has been reduced from 26s. to 25s. per week, and there has been a reduction of 2s. per week in the higher grade. We have a right to ask why. I know of no case where the employés of the State have been reduced in any line whatever. Why should postmen be the only ones to suffer? Here you take one class of public servants, the most creditable class, if I may say so, certainly not the least creditable, you make them the stalking horses, and you make them suffer in the process, and no one else. Why? All the correspondence which I have had with the Postmaster-General shows his great kindness and courtesy in dealing with these matters, but still I am bound to raise the question here, because it illustrates what, I think, is pushing too far an unwise principle, and that is making a god of this 252 Hobhouse Committee. I was not one of them. The Members of the Committee who have spoken to-day have spoken most modestly of their efforts, and not with great gusto as to the enjoyment of the position. I think that any rule of that sort may be pushed too far. There are two things about the Report which should be remembered. The Report was never accepted by the Post Office employés as a whole as a satisfactory and final concordat in the matter. From the beginning they declined to accept it. The officials also declined to accept it as a complete settlement of the matter. I would ask the Members of the Committee who have spoken whether it is not the fact that it was not meant to bring about a reduction of wages? That was no part of the idea of the Committee at all. It is what I consider — I do not say the unfair, but the unfortunate application of the rules which has worked out in this disastrous way for a large number of the employés. I do not know what the exact number is, but whatever the number is, it is a large number. In regard to that I would point out that this making of the Hobhouse Report a sort of Decalogue, or law of the Medes and Persians, that cannot be changed, is carrying things too far. In regard to the cost of living inquiries have been made, but they do not seem to me to give an adequate view of the situation at all. When talking of the cost of living it is not enough to state what is the price of meat or bread in a place, but you must take into account the general style of living in a place. We in Bolton have urged the people to live high. We do not believe in teaching people to live low. Men cannot live in Bolton on absolutely the same amount of money as would suffice in some sleepy town or village. You have to take into account the general rate of wages in a place. It happens that in Bolton wages are high, I am happy to say. In a town where working spinners earn £3 to £4 a week, and where people have high wages generally, if you fix 25s. as the maximum for postmen after years of service—
§ Mr. BUXTON
It is more than that. The hon. Member has stated that the wages were reduced from 26s. to 25s. as the maximum on the scale, but I would point out that in addition to that the postmen get a very considerable amount both in cash and in other ways, such as medical attendance, boot money, and so forth, so that you must not think that 25s. is the 253 maximum. For instance, in the case of a man with something like 13 years' service the amount of these additions would come to 10s. 1d. per week.
§ Mr. HARWOOD
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the explanation. I was pointing out to the right hon. Gentleman that the wages of the lower ranks had been reduced 1s. per week. I do so not because it is the case of Bolton in particular, but because it illustrates a large problem as a whole. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider gravely whether there is call for any reduction of those wages, and whether he may not be pressing a little too tightly the recommendations of the Hobhouse Committee.
§ Sir F. D. DIXON-HARTLAND
I wish to call the attention of the Postmaster-General to a question of organisation with regard to the county of Middlesex. In that county there are places which were only villages not very long ago, but which have grown to such an enormous extent that now they have very large populations. I know of one district where three villages together have a population of 24,000, and the postmen have to serve that population. Therefore, these places are no longer villages. They are really towns, quite as much as the other towns in England. I cannot conceive why these places should be treated as if they were still villages, and put in the fifth class, which means a difference in wages of 10s. a week. I trust that the Postmaster-General will take this matter up with a view to placing the postmen on an equitable footing. People have moved into these districts, and they should no longer be put in the fifth class. The position of the postmen should be considered in relation to the size of the population they have to serve.
§ Mr. STEPHEN COLLINS
I desire to join hon. Members in thanking the Postmaster-General not only for his interesting speech, but also for the sympathetic tone he adopted. I think we are all very much indebted to him for his practical sympathy. I wish to refer to the London district I have the honour to represent. As the result of the Board of Trade inquiry into the cost of living Kennington has been put into the second division, and I fail to understand how that is. In Kennington the cost of living is not less than in other parts of London. A petition was sent to the Postmaster-General eight months ago by some of the Kennington postmen pointing out the lack of justifica- 254 tion for their district being put in the second division, and no reply has yet been forthcoming. I daresay there is some good reason for that, and I hope a reply will soon be given. Since I have been in the House I have heard that other districts have been put into the second division as well as Kennington. In regard to house rent, which we know is one of great expense, if we compare Kennington with Bethnal Green and Chelsea, which are in the first-class, we find that three rooms can be obtained in Bethnal Green at from 7s. 6d. to 9s., and in Chelsea three rooms can be obtained at from 7s. to 9s. per week. In Kennington it is no cheaper for three rooms. There you pay from 7s. 6d. to 9s. a week. As regards house rent, you pay in Kennington for five rooms from 11s. to 13s. 6d. In Bethnal Green for a live-roomed house it is no more. Chelsea, which is under the same favourable conditions, has the advantage of the London County Council dwellings. Another matter that is difficult to reconcile is that postmen delivering on the Lambeth-road have a maximum of 35s., while those doing, the same kind of duty on the Kennington-road have a maximum of 33s. Another instance I might give is that of men doing the same kind and same amount of work in different offices. Five men in one office go to 33s. a week maximum, and others for the same amount of work go to 35s. I hope that the Postmaster-General, as he said he would endeavour to rectify any little grievances, will include these matters to which I have referred. I most heartily agree with the remarks of the hon. Member for South Islington, in connection with the Sunday work in the country. As one who knows a great deal about country districts, and was brought up in the country districts, I believe it would be a great boon to poor country postmen and postmistresses, and I do not think the squire, the clergy, and in fact, anyone scarcely would complain. I believe they would be very glad to relieve the country postman, and give him also the one day's rest which he so heartily deserves.
§ Mr. F. B. MILDMAY
We all recognise the readiness of the Postmaster-General to give consideration to matters brought before him, and the great trouble which he takes to look into all complaints. Speaking for myself, I think we owe a deep debt of gratitude to him for the personal attention which he has given to the comparatively small matters which we often bring before him. The right hon. Gentleman 255 below me who was once Postmaster-General, deprecated any allusion to local instances just now. I think we should all welcome the establishment of a body such as we wish to see sitting to deal with these matters. But I have the same doubts that have been expressed by some Members of this House, as to whether that body should be on the lines of the body which deals with railway matters. Though the right hon. Gentleman deprecated allusion to local instances, at the same time, as long as the present system endures, we must bring before the Committee of this House instances which we think are typical instances of what goes on over the country, and I think that it is only natural that I and other Members should ask that the country districts should not be forgotten in the consideration of matters with regard to classification. There must be many Members, like myself, who have the same difficulty in understanding the principle which has governed the recent classification of small offices under the Hobhouse Reports. The Regulations which have been laid down may seem in theory, to those who have laid them down, and to whom the local conditions are not known, to be good ones; but to those who, like ourselves, have some knowledge of local circumstances, and watch the results in practice, there seems to be the most extraordinary inequality.
I only allude to an instance in my Constituency because, as has been said by other Members, an instance is typical of what takes place in other parts of the country. I allude to the small towns in the country districts on the edge of Dartmoor as typical. I would refer the right hon. Gentleman to the case of the two small towns, Buckfastleigh and Ivybridge. Buckfastleigh has been placed in the class which begins at 15s., rising to 21s. Previously it ranged from 17s. to 22s. Other sub-offices under the new methods, which were previously on the same scale, including the town of Ashburton, which is comparatively close by, have been raised to Class IV., and the scale ranges from 17s. to 23s. The town of Ivybridge has been reduced from a maximum of 22s. to 21s. We who know this district thoroughly cannot understand how these differences are created, for in Ashburton, which has increased, and where the postal employés are paid at a higher rate, house rent is cheaper than in Buckfastleigh, where they are paid on the lower scale, 256 and, of course, the cost of commodities is the same throughout South Devon. If I remember rightly, when this was put that there could be no grievance, as no that there could be no grievance, as no present employés would suffer any decrease of pay. But surely if there is a man in the immediate neighbourhood of these towns who ought to have an increase of pay in justice, how in justice can a similar increase of pay be denied to the men in these other towns working under the same conditions and living in identical conditions where the cost of living is, if anything, slightly higher?
I daresay that the Committee is aware that holiday-makers are finding out in an increasing degree every year the charms of Devonshire, and I should like to recommend all hon. Members who wish health-giving surroundings after the Session to go there. Of course, we welcome this accession of strangers to Devonshire, because they contribute to the prosperity of the district undoubtedly. But what is the result to these little towns on the edge of the moor? The cost of living is continually going up, and rents are always rising. This has occurred within the last two or three years. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give consideration to cases such as these. I welcome the fact that he has said that all these cases where there has been a lowering of the maximum will be taken into consideration very shortly, and I hope he will not forget the small towns in the country districts, and for this additional reason: I imagine that the inequalities, which in my opinion are hardly justifiable, may be in some measure due to the fact that there can be no Board of Trade Returns of the cost of living in these small towns. The Post Office authorities have more difficulty in judging what would be the cost of living in these places.
There is another small point. We all recognise the desirability of old soldiers having an opportunity of getting employment on the Post Office. We all know that that acts rather hardly sometimes among the telegraph messengers who have to be discharged, and it is an unfortunate result that these boys should have to be turned out at the most inconvenient age when there is very great difficulty in obtaining further employment. I am not going to allude to particular cases, but I do know of such a case where such a boy has been turned out and has been unable to get employment. He has been acting as holiday and sick substitute for postmen 257 whenever required. Recently be applied for a situation as assistant town postman—a permanent position—and received this answer: "It has been decided that the vacancy at this office for assistant postman is due to a soldier candidate." That I can understand, but it is hard to understand what follows: "We have also been instructed that ex-telegraph messengers must not be employed in the Post Office in future in any capacity."
§ Mr. BUXTON
I understand from what he read in this particular case that the vacancy happened to be allocated to an ex-soldier, not as regards the ex-messengers our object is to keep the greatest possible number in the service. So, if I have gathered aright what has been said, there must have been some misunderstanding as to the practice.
§ Mr. MILDMAY
I thought there must have been some mistake, and I am glad to have elicited that information. I will not say more except to express the hope that he will regard my former appeal to him, and that he will take into consideration the case of the small towns in the country districts where he will not be able to have the guidance of Board of Trade statistics to help him, and where the cost of living very often is continuously increasing, so that the reduction from the highest to the low standard of those employed in these towns can scarcely be justified.
§ Mr. J. P. NANNETTI
I thoroughly agree with the suggestion that has been thrown out by the hon. Member for Worcester, and also with the suggestion as to the advisability of establishing some Committee to deal with questions such as we are considering here to-day. Yet, until that happy period arrives, hon. Members must take the only opportunity placed at our disposal to bring the grievances they have to bring before the Committee. I had the unpleasant duty a short time ago of bringing before the House the case of 258 the Irish postal clerks, and the unfortunate friction that has arisen between them and the Postmaster-General. I do not blame the Postmaster-General because that friction has not been settled. I know he has done everything it was possible for him to do. But since I had the opportunity of speaking to him, when I thought from the conciliatory manner in which he spoke that everything would be smoothed away, and that there would be the most happy relations established between himself and this Department, unfortunately a libel action has been begun, arising out of the proceedings which I had to bring before him on that occasion, and while that unfortunate action is going on I am afraid there will be very little hope of arriving at a friendly settlement.
§ Mr. NANNETTI
I am sure that the Postmaster-General is anxious to see friendly relations established, but since my intervention in this matter we have this unfortunate action, and I am sure if the Postmaster-General only gave a wink to the individual who is the cause of this trouble he would see his way to remove immediately the stumbling block that at present exists and bring about the happy results which we all desire. I have risen with the object of seeing if possible whether after friendly discussion a modus vivendi can be arranged in reference to the grievances of postal servants in Ireland. I hope the right hon. Gentleman may find it possible to do everything he can to establish that modus vivendi, so that the unfortunate lawsuit which has been standing in the way and stopping all chance of a settlement between the Postmaster-General and the Post Office employés may no longer prove an obstacle. I myself have individually taken a good deal of trouble to bring about a settlement, and in the interests of peace to remove that obstacle so that we may get back to the friendly relationship which existed between the right hon. Gentleman and this unfortunate body which represents the whole of the postal clerks of Ireland, and any step that can be taken for bringing an end to these disputes which have arisen should be taken. I know that the right hon. Gentleman himself has a sincere desire to see such a result accomplished.
§ Mr BUXTON
Do I understand that some time ago one of the officers of the Post Office brought an action for libel? 259 If that is so, I am afraid that is a local question which is out of my ken. But I considered that these friendly relations were again existing, and that it was for the association to approach me.
§ Mr. NANNETTI
The association has a perfect right to offer the olive branch to the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. NANNETTI
In this way—that while it goes on it prejudices their case. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that if this libel action is cleared out of the way he will be able to effect that friendly settlement which I am sure both he and I desire. With reference to the reductions it is really a very serious matter. We cannot understand why there should be any reduction among the class of persons upon whom it is made. They are the very poorest class in the service. Their wages are small, and to take a shilling off the wages of these men would be a very great hardship. Whenever a reduction is to take place it is always in the case of the very poorest classes of employés, and never in the place of those who are highly placed and highly paid. The reductions are always in the case of men who have not a living wage as it is, and who are on the brink of starvation—trying to exist—it is not living—on the miserable wage which is given. I am not going over the whole question of the cost of living in various parts of the country, but I can assure hon. Members that the cost of living is as dear, if not dearer, in Ireland than in England. House rent is dearer in Ireland and provisions are dearer, because they are scarcer in Ireland than here. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] The hon. Gentleman says "No," but we who live in both countries at different periods of the year are entitled to be credited with wider experience of the matter than those who live only in the one country, and I venture to say that I am right in what I state and that the hon. Member is wrong. There is another question affecting postmen in Ireland. Some time ago a revision of their duties was promised; it was stated that they would be rectified. Nothing has been done for two years.
§ Mr. NANNETTI
In Ireland. Of course it is from Dublin I get my information, but I am speaking of Ireland generally.
§ Mr. NANNETTI
The facts are sent to me from Dublin, but I am speaking of Ireland as a whole. I stated that a revision of the duties of the men had been promised some time ago, and I am given to understand that many of the auxiliaries outside have not been given employment, and at the present time they are overworking the unfortunate men who are employed. Then there is the question of strike adjustment—a matter which has given a great deal of trouble. Nothing, however, has been done, and I do hope that the matter will receive attention. A further question relates to the employment of reserve men, who are taking the place of telegraph messengers. I have not one word to say against the soldier or his right to employment if possible, but in a country like Ireland, where employment is so scarce and where men are going about without any pension or means of subsistence, it is really very hard for them to find being, taken by other men places to which they feel that they themselves are entitled. They are there waiting for employment, and they cannot possibly get it. This is becoming a very serious question in Ireland, for it is seen that the civilians are gradually being weeded out, and that everything in the country is being done by military men. Only the other day linesmen and other men in the south-eastern district found themselves shifted, and military men were brought to take their places. There is the strongest feeling in Ireland with reference to the conduct of this Government in importing military men, not into the Postal Department alone, but into every Department in Ireland. I say it is a scandal that we in Ireland should pay our taxes, and that our people should be thrown out of employment for the purpose of making room for military men, and, mark you, these military men are not out of employment, because they are in employment in England, and they are transferred to Ireland, with the result that the civilian in that country is put on one side. Only the other day in Cork a very big meeting was held in protest against this system. It is my duty to bring it before the House, and it is very serious indeed, in view of the position in which we are placed in Ireland, that such a system as this should be allowed to continue. The hon. Member who last spoke drew attention to the discharge of tele- 261 graph lads. I think it is one of the great scandals in Ireland that you should employ lads up to the age of 16, and then throw them out at a time of life when they are practically unfitted to take up any other employment. From the business point of view the telegraph messenger, when he has reached the age of 16, 17, or 19, as the case may be, is really of service to the State; he is a valuable asset to the Department; he knows the business. But it is at the very moment when he gets to know his business that he is dismissed, and a new staff of lads is brought in. As a manager of men myself, I think my employer would not keep me very long if I took in apprentices and taught them to be useful, and then, having done so, dismissed them and brought in other boys to begin the whole work of training afresh.
When we get these boys into our service and train them up to a certain age they should know that they have before them stepping-stones to promotion, and that they may go from the position of telegraph boy to that of postman, and then to that of sorter. By the adoption of such a system the Post Office would be carried on in a proper way. I cannot understand the existing policy of training these lads to a certain age and then throwing them out of employment. It is a cruelty to them to induce them to come into the service and then to dismiss them. I blame the fathers and mothers, but unfortunately the fathers and mothers do not know what is coming, and they are anxious for the few shillings a week which the lads are able to earn. As it is the boys are kept there until they are 16, and then they are thrown out on to the world. In Ireland they have no trades, no large sources of employment, no big factories, where these boys might possibly obtain work, but, having given five or six years of the best period of their life, they are thrown out of work and they may enlist or emigrate; and all I can say is that the result of this policy or of this system which is being carried out will cause the boys to enlist. Another point which has been emphasised very much tonight has reference to the operators in the Telephone Department. I wish to impress upon the right hon. Gentleman that anything he is doing here in England with reference to the Telephone Department and the operators there employed might be extended to Ireland. In that country I am told that skilled men who understand the business are gradually being weeded out. "When you come to take over the Department in 1911 you will have to get in 262 efficient operators to conduct the work of the Department. From the point of view of the workmen that is a state of things which should not be tolerated, but it is of still greater importance so far as the Department itself is concerned, because the fact of these skilled men being weeded out leads to the works getting neglected, and when they are taken over you will find the system starved, and you will have to pay much more money than you would otherwise if you now see to it that this company carried out its obligations to the Postmaster-General, and sees that the telephone service is kept in a state of the highest efficiency.
I have a certain amount of diffidence in bringing this matter before the Committee after the statement of the right hon. Member for East Worcestershire, but the only way of dealing with grievances in any part of the country is for the Member, as well as he can, to state them to the Postmaster-General. Two days ago I had a communication from the Post Office employés at Erdington, which is a place in my Constituency with a population of 43,000, and I was asked to bring their grievance before this House. I then and there wrote and gave the information to the Postmaster-General, and I ventured to inform the House what the facts were, and I felt certain, from the sympathetic way in which the Postmaster-General spoke, that he would give attention to this grievance. An extraordinary state of things exists in Erdington, where there is a sub-post office, where the postmen are paid at the rate of 25s. per week. In the neighbouring places—
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 was postponed without Question put.