§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a third time."
§ Mr. HUGH BARRIE
In rising to call attention to the action of the Postmaster-General in the appointment he made to a sub-postmastership in Ballintoy, county Antrim, I venture to think the House will recognise I am only discharging a public duty, however unpleasant it may be. I think it is only right to say that in all other matters with which I am brought into contact with the Postmaster-General I have invariably found him ready and willing to listen to any suggestion for improvement of the Service in my own Constituency, and it is therefore with all the greater regret I have to say in this matter that I have respectfully to submit that he has perpetrated a gross injustice on an individual and has at the same time broken, with full knowledge, two important rules of his Department.
Towards the end of January last the Sub-Postmaster of Ballintoy, Mr. Donnelley, an old and trusted servant of the Post Office for 32 years, died, and a vacancy took place. It transpired that his daughter had been in full charge of the place for a period of no less than 18 years, and immediately upon Mr. Donnelley's death the Belfast Superintendent of the Post Office placed Miss Donnelley in full charge of the business, which was a tribute to the record that Miss Donnelley had as a postal official. I understand the usual custom of the Department is that when a vacancy takes place an official from one of the larger towns is sent down and placed in complete charge until a successor is appointed to the vacancy. In this case such was the confidence of the local Superintendent in Miss Donnelley that she was at once placed in full charge. The next step was 823 an advertisement of the vacancy, and I desire to call the attention of the House to the wording of this advertisement. I think it has an important bearing upon what has since transpired. The terms of the advertisement are as follows:—Political influence must not be sought; the appointment will be made solely with a view to the efficiency of the Service, and on an impartial comparison of the qualifications of the different Candidates.The candidates were, first Miss Donnelley, an expert postal servant o£ 18 years' standing, and the owner of the premises specially built a few years ago for postal purposes in this growing district; the second candidate was Mrs. Kelly, who I understand is the wife of a small farmer and who knows absolutely nothing about Post Office business. The whole community expected Miss Donnelley would be appointed as a matter of course. She never thought of asking anyone to use political influence on her behalf, not deeming it necessary. Miss Donnelley was, however, puzzled a little at the delay in receiving her appointment, but she went on discharging the duty without complaint and to the entire satisfaction of the Department. Mrs. Kelly, the second applicant, had never dreamed of enjoying the honour of entering the Postal service until her clerical adviser called upon her and insisted that she should apply. On the same reverend gentleman's demand the sitting Member for the Constituency backed her nomination. All this was done very quietly, and it was with astonishment, on April 26th, Miss Donnelley received intimation that Mrs. Kelly had been appointed. It was rather a cool request in the circumstances, but Miss Donnelley was asked by the official of the Department who called upon her and informed her of Mrs. Kelly's appointment to continue the duties of the office until Mrs. Kelly had fitted up a premises for a pest office. Miss Donnelley consented to do so. And now comes one of the most remarkable facts in this strange transaction. After Mrs. Kelly had made efforts to obtain a qualified assistant and had employed a tradesman to equip the premises of which she was apparently the tenant, it transpired that she was not the tenant of the premises, and in great haste the Department officials had to go down to Ballintoy and declare that Mrs. Kelly was not qualified according to the regulations. The Postmaster-General, across the floor of the 824 House, in answer to a question on Monday, said it was not collect to say that Mrs. Kelly had ever been appointed, but the fact that Miss Donnelley was asked to continue to discharge the duties until Mrs. Kelly could have the premises prepared upsets that statement, and I should be glad to hear the Postmaster-General's explanation as to why he came to state to this House, apparently, what is in contradiction of the facts. What becomes of the terms of the advertisement in face of appointing an admittedly unqualified person? What becomes of the impartial investigation of all the qualifications of the applicants? After this remarkable circumstance, one would have expected that the Postmaster-General would at once have admitted his mistake and appointed Miss Donnelley as the only qualified candidate, and put her in full charge of the office. No, that would not suit the clerical dictation under which the Postmaster-General has been acting. This clerical gentleman determined, that whoever might be the future postmistress it must not be Miss Donnelley; and the right hon. Gentleman, instead of at once proceeding to make this appointment of the only qualified candidate before him, allowed additional delay to take place, which was most extraordinary in the circumstances, and he permitted this local reverend gentleman to make a fresh nomination. To the surprise of everyone concerned, this second nomination received the approval of the Postmaster-General, and a few weeks later, O'Callaghan, who conducts a local public-house, was duly appointed, and Miss Donnelley was passed over for the second time. On Monday last, the Postmaster-General described Mr. O'Callaghan as the proprietor of a good-class hotel. I fancy Mr. O'Callaghan would smile when he read this description of his humble abode; and I was not surprised when the hon. Member for Westmoreland (Mr. Leif Jones), with that zeal for temperance reform which we all so greatly admire, inquired if the Postmaster-General had insisted upon a second entrance being made to this public-house for the transaction of postal business. The Postmaster-General evidently felt that the question was inappropriate, and he asked that notice should be given of it.
§ The POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Mr. Sydney Buxton)
I did not say that. What I did say was that it would be a condition of the appointment that there should be a separate entrance.
§ Mr. LEIF JONES
Perhaps I may be allowed to confirm what the Postmaster-General has said. I noticed that the OFFICIAL REPORT was wrong. What I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say was that it would be a condition when the transaction was completed that there should be a separate entrance.
§ Mr. BARRIE
The hon. Member did not ask for such information as that. I will read to the House exactly what is recorded in the OFFICIAL REPORT:—
§ "Mr. LEIF JONES: Is there a separate entrance to the post office, so that people need not pass through the public-house?
§ "Mr. BUXTON: I must have notice of that question."
§ Mr. BUXTON
I did not say that. I said there would be a separate entrance. Not only did I say that in answer to the supplementary question, but at the end of my answer to the main question I said, "Care has been taken that persons approaching the post office shall not pass through, or near, the premises where drink is sold."
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If Ministers and hon. Members would address the Chair, instead of each other and the Bar, they would have a better chance of being heard by the Official Reporters.
§ Mr. BARRIE
If the hon. Member was so satisfied with the answer which the Postmaster-General gave him, why did he proceed to put another question on the subject. Evidently the answer of the right hon. Gentleman had not the value which he now seeks to place upon it. This post-office is in a very small building. I understand that a second entrance is being made into the bar of this public-house leading into the dining-room attached to the bar, and no stipulation has been made by the Postmaster-General that the communication between the dining-room and the bar is to be closed up. And so we have this strange development, that where we have a qualified postal official of 18 years' service offering to accept this appointment the Postmaster-General prefers to yield to local clerical dictation by appointing one of the small publicans in this village. The result is that we shall have children who 826 have occasion to go to this post office coming in open contact with the public-house bar; the old age pensions will be paid on one side of the room and I regret to say that probably a part of those pensions will be left in another form in the public-house before the recipients of those pensions retire from the premises. I regret that it is necessary to bring this matter before the House, but I do it only from a sense of public duty. If the Postmaster-General bad been anxious to avoid yielding to this clerical dictation, he could have had at least half a dozen suitable applications from people in the village, who are in no way connected with the liquor trade. We understand that in this practically Protestant village the local Roman Catholic priest has said, "You can only appoint my nominee, and I will approve of no other." It amounts to this—that we find the head of a great postal department who is a member of a Government which claims to be one of the most Protestant Governments we have had in this country for many years yielding to Romanist dictation in Ireland. All this takes place in a Protestant district, and that is what makes it all the more remarkable. Our protest is that the Postmaster-General has yielded to what is simply a piece of clerical intolerance, which is most unworthy, and we ask for any justification which he can reasonably offer us. Our objection to this appointment would be exactly the same if Miss Donnelley had been a Roman Catholic, and had been displaced in favour of a Protestant. During recent years two chief postal appointments in my own constituency have gone to Roman Catholics, who replaced Protestants; and no protest was made because we recognised the appointments were made on merit, and were given to men of approved qualification; but here the efficiency of the Postal Service is made a secondary matter to clerical dictation of the most sordid kind, and we have very respectfully to discharge a public duty, and to protest that a Minister of the Crown should have so unworthily yielded to this clerical dictation whereby every inhabitant of Ballintoy has been made indignant.
§ Mr. W. MOORE
I know Ballintoy very well, and I also had the honour of meeting the late Mr. Donnelley, whose family has been penalised in this way. It is not a question really of the personality of Mr. Donnelley, who was a man whom everybody desired to honour, or of his daughter, or of this Roman Catholic 827 publican, who has been found at the eleventh hour to oust out Miss Donnelley. I would go further than the particular interest of these particular people. The Postmaster-General described this matter the other day amid the plaudits of a large mass of his followers as a mere storm in a teacup. It may be here where we have larger interests to think of, but he will find it is by no means a storm in a teacup in the north of Ireland. It is not merely a question of Miss Donnelley being a Protestant, and being passed over in favour of a Roman Catholic. If Miss Donnelley had been a Roman Catholic, and a Protestant had been appointed, I should still say she had been most infamously treated. Let the House consider the facts: In these small villages where the remuneration is only some £20 or £30 a year, you have to have the post office in private houses, and I believe for 25 or 30 years past the house of the family of Donnelley has been recognised as the post office of the village. The work has been carried on there without complaint, and Mr. Donnelley's daughter was brought up as his assistant, and was a qualified telegraphist. She was her father's sole assistant for 18 years, and when he died she was there in her own house, the recognised post office of the village. What evidence was there in the absence of any complaint of any necessity for a change? It was, as the right hon. Gentleman's own case shows, almost impossible when he ultimately arrived at the decision to do what his advisers wished, and to get rid of Miss Donnelley, to get other accommodation in the village, and he was so far at his wit's end to know where to get a new post office that he had to go to a publican. I agree the Postmaster-General has other things to look after, but I do not think he could have been conversant with the facts. I would have been quite content to have left the decision to his judgment if he had been, because I am sure this action could not be tolerated by an impartial Englishman. Mr. Donnelley had at one time belonged to the Roman Catholic Church, but for reasons of his own, to which he was quite entitled, he had become a Protestant. When Mr. Donnelley died the priest of Ballintov went about saving whatever happened his daughter should not be allowed to continue in the post office because her father had left his church.
Whether this is intolerable or not, it is not a doctrine to which the head of the 828 Post Office should lend himself. Those threats were publicly made; and I ask the Postmaster-General, in the first place, what reason there was which necessitated a change? The only explanation the inhabitants of the village have had is that the priest said this lady was to be removed. About two months afterwards, no reason being assigned, and no complaint being made against this postal servant, who had for 18 years given satisfaction, and who was living in her own private house, which was the post office, Miss Donnelley received notification that Mrs. Kelly, a member of the priest's congregation, had been appointed. Mrs. Kelly, as a matter of fact, was not qualified. She had not a house, but, such haste has there to get Miss Donnelley out, that before discovering Mrs. Kelly had not a house, they actually sent down an official from Dublin to notify Miss Donnelley that Mrs. Kelly had been appointed, and to ask Miss Donnelley to hand over the accessories to her. Even this Government, however, cannot carry on business without premises, and that appointment had to be cancelled; but for some reason Miss Donnelley was not to be allowed to continue, and notification was sent out for a new appointment. The Postmaster-General may get up and say he knew nothing about them, but these facts cannot be contradicted. I submit it is his business to know something of them. The facts are all public; they have been published in the Press, and there have been indignation meetings about them. I asked the Postmaster-General, thinking he could not really know what had gone on, if he would allow an independent inquiry into this case. I was at once laughed at and sneered at, as if I had asked for a Royal Commission. I do think when a public scandal has taken place, it is not unreasonable to ask for a public inquiry. I am quite certain if the Postmaster-General was not bound by esprit de corps and by the necessity of defending his own officials, he would say this appointment could not stand for a moment. This reverend gentleman went about saying this woman was to be got rid of, and applications were invited from candidates. One of the rules of the Department is that sub-postmasters must not be engaged in the spirit trade. That debars ordinary publicans from applying, but this gentleman evidently had information from his principal supporter, the priest, who got up a petition signed by the school children, that if he applied he would, not- 829 withstanding that he is a publican, get the appointment. In every other case he would have been disqualified, and he would have been in this case if he had not had the priest at his back; but he is employed as the instrument by which this lady is to be put out of the post office after 18 years' service. This is a village in which it is very important, I submit, that the public-house and the post office should not be combined. I will tell the House why. It is a village, the local population of which is not large, but through which there is a tremendous tourist traffic during the summer. There is an extensive system of motor cars and mail cars, and the House would be surprised to know how many tourists pass through this village, which is only five miles from the Giants' Causeway, and is a recognised stopping place for the traffic there. Tourists are naturally attracted to the post office, and owing to the choice made by the right hon. Gentleman this traffic will be thrown straight into the arms of the publican. I am told there is a general rule against publicans holding postmasterships. Are we to understand that it is to be relaxed in the case of new appointments? The Postmaster-General ought to explain and justify his action in this case. What complaint has he ever had against the existing postal premises, which have been in use for 30 years, which made it necessary to transfer the post office to a public-house? What complaint was ever made against Miss Donnelley, who acted as her father's assistant in connection with the transaction of postal business—the lady who was actually asked to continue the work of postal administration for six months. Surely it was a very strong position for the right hon, Gentleman to take up. There have been public meetings in the village as the result of this surprising appointment, and gentlemen on all sides of political opinion have taken objection to the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman. The facts have been advertised in every Ulster town. They have caused a feeling akin to consternation among those engaged in the public service; they have given rise to the impression that when a postmaster dies, the question of appointing his successor is not governed by a desire to choose the fittest, but may be dependent on the fact whether he is a Protestant or may have incurred the animosity of the Roman Catholic clergy. The action of the right hon. Gentleman has in fact caused a feeling of insecurity; it 830 amounts to a scandal, and even at the eleventh hour I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to appoint a small commission of impartial people to inquire how this thing has been brought about. Publicity should be given to every stage of the proceedings. In the meantime we can only protest against an arrangement which is a most unfortunate one for the Service, and by no means a storm in a teacup, as the right hon. Gentleman tried to describe it.
§ Mr. LEIF JONES
I rise for the purpose of associating myself with the protest made by the hon. Members from Ulster against the appointment of Mr. O'Callaghan as postmaster of Ballintoy. I do not do this for all the reasons which animated their action. I cannot enter into local disputes as to the merits of particular candidates. I do not know whether Miss Donnelley or Mrs. Kelly or Mr. O'Callaghan had the greatest qualifications as officials of the post office, but I want to join hon. Members in their protest on the general ground, which I feel sure will receive a sympathetic answer from the Postmaster-General—that it is exceedingly undesirable to place a post office in a public-house. I always understood it was against, not perhaps the rule but the practice of the Department to do so, and my right hon. Friend has repeatedly assured me it is his policy to separate, as far as he can, post offices from public-houses. On Monday I was considerably surprised to learn from a question put by an hon. Member opposite that another case had occurred in Ireland in which a publican had been made a postmaster. I at once put a supplementary question as to whether separate entrances would be provided for those who went to the place on postal business and those who went to the public-house to drink. My right hon. Friend said there would be separate entrances when the matter was finished, but I did not gather whether the separate entrances had been made or whether they were in process of being constructed. I do not think this action of the right hon. Gentleman can give satisfaction. I recognise the difficulty which the Postmaster-General has in finding suitable premises for post offices in Ireland. We who live in this country heard on Monday with surprise that in Ballintoy it was not possible to find premises except at a public-house. On Wednesday we were told that at Collinstown the only place available was a pigstye.
§ Mr. LEIF JONES
The conflicting explanation given by hon. Members from Ireland as a reason why these things are done are even more perplexing than the facts themselves. I should have thought that sanitary reasons would have precluded placing a post office in a pig-stye, and that social reasons would have prevented the Postmaster-General giving his sanction to the Ballintoy arrangement. In this place, as we have been reminded, there is a great tourist traffic, and many tourists find it necessary to use the post office. Again, children are frequently sent to post letters or buy stamps, and they are thus brought into contract with the drink traffic. Furthermore, old age pensions are paid at the post office, and I cannot conceive any more undesirable place in which to pay these pensions than in the close neighbourhood of a public-house. It has always been the aim of temperance reformers to separate the sale of drink from that of other commodities, and certainly nothing could be more desirable than to separate the post office from the liquor traffic.
§ Mr. G. N. BARNES
I wish to raise a point in connection with the administration of the Old Age Pensions Act, which comes within the Department of the Postmaster-General, and lo elicit some information regarding it. The Act passed last year is defective in several respects; it contains disqualifications which penalise people for being poor and sets up distinctions between means and merits. But the House must be perfectly well aware of the limitation of the Act, and must be content until such time as it sees fit to amend it. My complaint is that by regulations, and in some cases by administration, great trouble has been caused owing to interpretations, which, I think, are somewhat harsh, and which ought to be avoided as far as possible in the future. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland (Mr. Summerbell) will perhaps speak after me, and I know that he has one or two very hard cases to bring forward of people who have been penalised for accepting Poor Law relief at the last moment, but I will mention one case, which shows a defect in the Act and the partial administration of it. I was struck with a case mentioned in a question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Keir Hardie), 832 who put the case of a woman in Scotland who was qualified in every respect for receiving an old age pension. She was 79 years of age. She had certainly received some Poor Law relief some years ago, when her husband was ill, but that was before the beginning of last year, and had no bearing upon her claim, but I am told by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil that this woman, in prosecuting her claim for a pension, had to go to a different parish to that in which she was living, and being in bad circumstances, she accepted some money from the parish authorities, as she thought in the way of a loan, and, would the House believe it, on the paltry plea that this old body had received parish relief, although that parish relief was given after she had applied for the pension, when she applied for the pension, although she was otherwise qualified, she was disqualified on that ground. I have another case mentioned to me by a friend who is on the distress committee at Camberwell of a woman who had gone into the infirmary there, and, of course, medical relief being under the provisions of the Act exempted from the operation of the disqualifying clause in regard to pauper relief, that did not disqualify, but owing to the pressure upon the infirmary, so I am told, this old woman was removed by the authorities to the workhouse while she was still practically ill. There, again, that old woman has been deprived of her pension because she is receiving parish relief. I say that the Act, defective as we think it is, is made infinitely worse by this harsh administration of it, either under the regulations of the Department or under those of the local authorities.
Another matter I would allude to, is the mode of ascertaining income, where the applicant is entitled to an old age pension. In these cases, one would think, it would be sufficient for the old age pension officer to ascertain how much the man or woman was earning at the time the application was made. But that is not so, and, as a matter of fact, it is usual for the officers to ascertain not only what the man is now earning, but they have gone back to past years in several cases which I could cite—one from the West End of London, where the man was earning practically nothing, but the pension officer had to be satisfied what he had been earning in previous years with a view of finding out how much he could earn if he were employed this year. There, again, I say, that interpretation of the 833 Act is altogether contrary to its intention, and makes the statute even more harsh than it otherwise would be. I have done with cases of that kind, which for my part I think will arise, must arise, as long as these defects are in the Act, and I ask the Government that some statement should be made, which would relieve the minds of thousands of people throughout the length and breadth of this country, as to whether the Government intend to fulfil and redeem the pledge, given more than once I believe, in regard to wiping out these disqualifications by a Bill to operate next year. I hope that something may be said in the House to-day which will relieve the minds of many hon. Members, and of many people outside the House in regard to this matter. Coming to the matter appertaining to the Department of the Postmaster-General, with which I hope he will deal, it has reference to the payment of sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses for the distribution of old age pensions. There seems to be a good deal of misapprehension on the subject. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) and another hon. Member pleaded for more money being given to the Inland Revenue Officers, but if they compare the payments made to them with those made to sub-postmasters and sub-post-mistresses they will see that the claims of the latter ought to be dealt with. An extraordinary statement was made that these sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses had a payment of 1s. for each old age pension, and they would be satisfied if they got a portion of that, but it is more likely that they pay 40 to get a shilling.
As a matter of fact, I believe I am right in saying that these Government servants are paid at the rate of 30s. per thousand claims paid for the first time and after that at the rate of £1 per thousand. Let the House understand how this works out. I have had a letter from one of these sub-postmasters who pays 200 pensions a week, and gets paid for doing it the miserable wage of 4s. A large number of these old people are sick, and cannot come to the post office to receive their pensions, and many of those who do come are infirm, and have to be helped in many ways. No less than 50 out of the 200 cases at this particular post office are sick, and therefore certificates have to be made up in respect of every one of these claims before the payment is made. I made an estimate with regard to those 200 claims. 834 Supposing it was possible to satisfy 20 claimants per hour, that means 10 hours' rather hard work for the sum of 4s., and then the accounts have to be made up afterwards, and I do not know how many hours' work would be involved altogether in the payment of these 200 pensioners. I think, however, the House will agree that 4s. is an altogether inadequate sum, and I would ask the Postmaster-General to revise these payments, and make them more in harmony with the duty performed by these officials. I hope, moreover, we shall have some statement as to the intentions of the Government in respect of amending the Old Age Pensions Act. It may be slightly out of order to refer to the new legislation, but I think I have shown by one or two cases the hardness and the harshness of the Act itself, and also that a better interpretation of it is necessary, but however generously it may be interpreted there will be hard cases as long as the Act is as it is, and I hope, therefore, it will be amended as soon as possible.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I want to draw attention to the great increase in the expenditure of the Civil Service. I find for the year 1895–6 the expenditure was £19,874,000 whereas 14 years later it is £40,370,000, or more than double. Five years ago it was £27,599,000, as against £40,370,000 now, showing an increase of £13,000,000 in round figures. These five years practically correspond with the number of years which the present Government have been in office. We all know that economy was one of the reasons which induced the country to return the present Government to power, and that they have endeavoured to economise in two branches of the Service, in which, in my opinion, no economy should be effected—the Army and Navy. But they are not content to economise in what, in my opinion, is one of the branches in which the most effective economies can be made, economies which will injure the nation less—that is, the Civil Service. Instead of there being any economy there has been an enormous increase. I do not want to say a word which can be twisted into anything derogatory to the English Civil Service. I believe it is one of the best services in the world, and that its members give the whole of their energies in a whole-hearted manner to the service of the State. But it must not be forgotten that in eight out of ten Bills brought in by the present Government provisions are taken for increasing the Civil Service, either by inspectors or 835 in other directions, and consequently this tendency is bound to increase so long as we are inflicted with the presence of the party opposite on those benches. It is very hard to reduce the Civil Service when once established. These people are giving the best of their time and ability to the service of the State, and the sympathy of everyone is with those whose employment is to be taken from them. The ordinary clerk is of a class which finds it harder than any other class of the community to obtain employment if he happens to lose his berth. If we continue to increase the Civil Service in this way, and we find that economy and retrenchment is necessary in our expenditure, and when we remember that our expenditure is now higher than it has ever been before in time of peace— £162,000,000—whoever is at the Treasury will find it very hard to make economy in that Department in which it ought to be made, namely, the Civil Service.
I attempted to raise this question one day in Supply, and the Secretary to the Board of Education replied that I had forgotten that the Post Office was included in the Civil Service, and that the great rise which had taken place in the Post Office was accountable for the rise in the Civil Service. The hon. Gentleman was quite mistaken, because the Post Office is not included in the Civil Service, but in the Customs and Inland Revenue. The Chancellor of the Exchequer will have the support of many hon. Members on this side if he will endeavour to economise in that direction. Perhaps he might be able to put a little pressure, if necessary, on the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. It is perfectly clear that it is not to the general interest of the country that this great increase should go on. Once started, there is a tendency for this increase to grow. If I were given a post under the Government I should consider myself worthy of a greater reward than that which the Government gives. That is human nature, and the more you increase these offices the greater will be the tendency to demand higher pay and less work, and that kind of thing is very difficult to counteract. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give me some assurance that this increase has not been lost sight of, and that they will do their best in the future to curtail these Estimates and to give up that fatal habit, whenever they bring in a Bill, of providing posts for new Civil servants.
§ Mr. PATRICK WHITE
I wish to say a few words on this very important question of the postmastership of Ballintoy, which has roused to such a tremendous extent the ire of hon. Members from Ulster, who have given us a complete argument in favour of Home Rule by taking up the time of the House at this time of the year, when all-important business is to come before the House, with a minor appointment in Ireland. Hon. Members from Ulster are always at their best when some question of appointment arises, whether that of a Lord Chancellor, a county court judge, or even the postmaster of Ballintoy. When they accuse Members of looking for places I would point out that those who are in search of places are hon. Members above and not below the Gangway. The hon. Member (Mr. Leif Jones) referred to public-houses in Ireland in regard to Post Office appointments. But the public-house in Ireland is quite a different institution from the public-house in England. The publican in England carries on business in the sale of alcoholic liquors only. In Ireland it is quite different. Government after Government have admitted that it is generally a store, and that the portion where drink is sold is only a small portion of the premises. The people are accustomed to go there, and could there be a more convenient place for a post office? The hon. Gentleman would tax the publicans out of existence. He would tax them to pay for "Dreadnoughts." If he does, he ought to give them leave to live. The hon. Gentleman should really have a little mercy. I would not have intervened in this Debate but for the position taken up by hon. Members from Ulster. They were indignant because a Catholic got an appointment. They have been so long accustomed to place and power that they cannot bear that a Catholic should get an appointment as a sub-postmaster.
The real objection which we on these benches have in this matter is to the principle at the back of the appointment that has been made at Ballintoy. The hon. Member (Mr. White) said that the Ulster Members were wasting the valuable time of the House when there was more important business to come on. It may be so, but are we to sacrifice everything for business which, after all, can be transacted later? The opportunities come seldom for drawing attention to such gross injustice as arises in cases of this sort. The Member for 837 the constituency is not here to take part in the Debate, and anyone representing a constituency in the North of Ireland may give the Postmaster-General the advantage of his opinion on the scandal that has arisen. We are bound to take notice of this as a serious matter from the point of view of principle, apart altogether from the injustice that has been done to the lady in question. The Postmaster-General, in answer to a question the other day, said that on account of a disturbance which arose, or of the local feeling, it was impossible to appoint either of the other two, and therefore the appointment of sub-postmaster at Ballintoy was given to this man. For years the Donnelleys have been connected with the post office in the district, which contains a population of 5,000. The Postmaster-General says that what was done in this case was to save local squabbles. He laid aside the best, and in fact the only eligible candidate for the position, and gave it to a local railway man who has retired on a pension, and who owns a public-house. The hon. Member for North Meath (Mr. White) is also wrong in regard to the nature of the public-house. It is purely a public-house, and not a store, and it was to put the post office in this place that the Postmaster-General went out of his way to pass over the deserving lady who should have received the appointment. The only feeling that was raised on the subject at all was raised by the local priest. Pressure was brought to bear on the right hon. Gentleman in order to have an unsuitable nominee of his appointed. I cannot conceive of anything worse for the Postal service than to give in to such ridiculous pressure. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that there would have been no trouble if Miss Donnelley had been appointed. I think the Postmaster-General would do well to pause before he goes further in the particular attitude which, I do not say he, but his Department, adopted in this case.
I wish to ask the Postmaster-General a question in regard to Collinstown. I have drawn attention to this case again and again. Here it appears that the Master of the Horse brought influence to bear on the right hon. Gentleman. The course pursued in the case was very sordid and ridiculous. Several most suitable sites were offered for the post office. One of the houses offered is a cottage which has the reputation of being the best in the neighbourhood. The Postmaster-General could have got one of these at a rent of £5 10s. per annum. After months of 838 correspondence the Postmaster - General eventually said that the officials had decided not to put the post office in this miserable little pigstye about a quarter of a mile outside the town, but yesterday, instead of supporting his own former decision, to our astonishment, he said that it is not to be put in the portion of the building which is used as a pigstye. That is one of the most ridiculous quibbles I have ever heard used in this House. At one time the right hon. Gentleman decided to have the post office at a place which would be convenient for all the villagers, and he promised to have the necessary alterations carried out, but afterwards, on account of some pressure, he goes out of his way to neglect the convenience of the people and to place the post office at a point which they can only get to by passing along the edge of a dirty, lonely lake. I have often had occasion to acknowledge the kindness of the Postmaster-General in carrying out much-needed reforms in my own Constituency, and I do not wish it to be thought to-day that I am casting any reflection on his courtesy. I thought the two cases to which I have referred so gross that I could not allow them to pass. Even at the eleventh hour I would urge him to rise superior to pressure and do the sensible thing by making Miss Donnelley postmistress at Ballintoy.
§ The POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Mr. Sydney Buxton)
I will deal first with the point raised by the hon. Member for Black-friars (Mr. Barnes). The question of what should be the proper remuneration of sub-post-masters for payment of old age pensions has been under consideration. The only reason for the delay was this, that it was impossible to say at the beginning of the working of this Act what would be the amount of work thrown on the various sub-postmasters with regard to the payment of old age pensions. We gave, therefore, provisionally a payment of a shilling for each pension, and we took the payment as a conditional payment. The matter now has had careful consideration. It has been referred to various surveyors throughout the country, and we have now laid certain propositions before the Treasury, and later on we will introduce a new scale which will date back to 1st January, so that sub-postmasters will not suffer any loss by the delay which has taken place. The delay has been due solely to the desire to get information. As far as my information goes, the amount of work involved in the payment of these pensions has been 839 somewhat exaggerated. The matter has been considered in the light of the information conveyed to us by the various surveyors throughout the country, and I hope that it will soon be settled by the Treasury.
In reference to the questions raised with regard to the sub-post offices at Ballintoy and Collinstown, I have no quarrel with the hon. Members who spoke on these subjects, either for raising them or for the way in which they raised them. In the Ballintoy case the hon. Member practically accused me of two things: First, that I did not appoint the most suitable candidate to the sub-post office; and, second, that I had placed the sub-post office in licensed premises. My practice since I have been in the Post Office has been to reduce political influence with regard to appointments as far as practicable. I do not think it is absolutely possible to eliminate it altogether, but all hon. Members who have had anything to do with post offices during the last three years, at all events, know that that is the policy which I have endeavoured to pursue. In this particular case the hon. Gentleman said more than once that I had in this matter given way to clerical dictation. I received memorials of various sorts and representations and credentials on behalf of the two candidates in question, but as far as I am aware—and I have been looking through the papers again— certainly I have no recollection of receiving any communication or any pressure from the Roman Catholic priest to whom allusion has been made. Therefore, as far as that is concerned, the matter was decided on the memorials before us. I take full responsibility in the matter, but, obviously, it is very difficult for me, sitting in my room, to decide in these matters. I am bound to say, on such information as has been conveyed to me in relation to what the hon. Member (Mr. Barrie) has said to me to-day, that if the matter was still one between the qualifications and suitability of Miss Donnelley and Mrs. Kelly I certainly would personally look into the matter again to see whether justice had been done in regard to the suitability of these two candidates. But, fortunately or unfortunately, that position does not now exist, because, in consequence of Mrs. Kelly being unable to fulfil the conditions necessary with regard to premises, her appointment was cancelled, and, therefore, as regards the first point of the hon. Member that I selected the less suitable of the 840 two candidates, I do not wish to say in every case I am able to appoint the most suitable candidate, yet I endeavour to do so, and whenever there is reason for reconsidering the matter, I do look into the qualifications if the question is still in existence. The second point made against me was that I appointed as sub-postmaster a man whose premises were in connection with licensed premises. In spite of what the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway (Mr. P. White) said, I am very much averse to having post offices on licensed premises wherever it can be avoided.
§ Mr. SYDNEY BUXTON
That really is quite a side issue. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to make my statement. With regard to sub-post offices we do not, if possible to avoid it, have them in licensed premises. But the hon. Member says that I have absolutely broken a rule of the Post Office. That is not so. The general rule of the Post Office is that officers of the Department are forbidden to be connected directly or indirectly with the ownership or management of a canteen, public-house, or establishment on licensed premises. But the second part of the rule says that, while it may sometimes be necessary to appoint as sub-postmaster a person holding a licence for the sale of drink, nobody in the service of the Department can receive a licence, so that the cases which do occasionally arise are dealt with by that rule, and the particular action which I have taken was provided for by that particular rule itself. I therefore deny altogether that I have in any sense of the term broken the rule of the Department. The question is one which must be considered on its merits. The position which existed after the disqualification of Mrs. Kelly is perhaps rather difficult to convey to the House. There were only two candidates in the field. As far as I could discover there were no other candidates. The position had unfortunately become very acute during Mrs. Kelly's candidature. A very considerable amount of political or, still worse, religious feeling had been aroused—so much so that Mrs. Kelly herself was practically boycotted during the time it was thought she was going to' be a candidate.
§ Mr. SYDNEY BUXTON
That is what I thought, that perhaps the hon. Member 841 was not quite aware of what really took place. There were resolutions passed in regard to this, saying that if Mrs. Kelly was appointed practically the post office would be boycotted, and feeling was equally strong on the other side. The hon. Member said that there was no question in this matter of religious feeling as between the two religious denominations. It seemed to me, as far as I could judge with the information before me, that that unfortunately was not so. I would be very loth to bring these matters into discussion in this House, but as my action in regard to this matter has been challenged, I feel bound to read this extract from a letter from the Rector of Ballintoy, who was a most active supporter of Miss Donnelley, who practically wrote out petitions and wrote out letters in regard to this matter.
The Rector of Ballintoy, on 20th May, 1909, wrote a letter, in which he said:—I now deem it ray duty to tell you why there is so much feeling evoked in this matter. A few days before the late postmaster, Mr. John Donnelley, died, a messenger interviewed him and asked him to turn to the Roman Catholic religion. He refused. Another messenger tried the same, but his daughter, Miss Jane Donnelley, protected her father, and ordered the messenger to leave the room. Hence it is that Miss Donnelley is now persecuted. By whom? The Rev. B. Murphy, the Roman Catholic priest, and his little clique of bigots.I am not blaming one side or the other, but I had to consider the circumstances, and see whether it would have been the right thing to have appointed Miss Donnelley, whatever her personal merits. I have nothing whatever to say against Miss Donnelley, but, from the public point of view, the Post Office Service ought to be free from political or religious controversies, and it was necessary for me therefore to appoint a third person—Mr. O'Callaghan. I brought the best judgment I could to bear on the matter, acting bonâ fide with regard to it, and without any communication or testimonial or memorial on the part of O'Callaghan, or of Roman Catholics or others. I think, under the circumstances, that I took the best action that was open to me. I appointed him under the conditions I have already stated to the House, namely, that he should have a separate access to the post office, and not through the public-house. Though I admit it is very difficult in regard to these matters to know what is the best course to pursue, yet I considered the case most carefully, and I came to the conclusion that in this instance local feeling was so acute that public opinion would not be satisfied if I appointed Miss Donnelley. That was the only ground on which I 842 acted in regard to it. Under these circumstances I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman that I should make a searching inquiry into the matter.
§ Mr. LONSDALE
On what ground did the right hon. Gentleman propose to disturb Miss Donnelley at the outset?
§ Mr. BUXTON
I think that I have already dealt with that. I stated that in every case of a vacancy there is a public announcement, and anyone can apply.
§ Mr. BUXTON
This was a case of a new appointment, and, in the case of new appointments, they are advertised, and anyone can apply. This was done in the ordinary course, and there was no exceptional circumstance with regard to it. Notwithstanding the information brought to me, if there still had been this question as to Mrs. Kelly and Miss Donnelley, I should have certainly looked into the matter further, but that does not arise now. Therefore, I think that, under the circumstances, I did the right thing. My hon. Friend may think differently; but, I can assure him that I have considered this matter very carefully.
§ Mr. HUGH BARRIE
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves this particular matter, may I ask him why he told me last Monday that he never appointed Mrs. Kelly?
§ Mr. BUXTON
Mrs. Kelly was appointed on information which was before us. It came to our knowledge afterwards, however, that she was not qualified, and therefore her candidature ceased. That is really the position.
§ Mr. HUGH BARRIE
Why did the right hon. Gentleman tell me last Monday that Mrs. Kelly was never appointed?
§ Mr. BUXTON
If I said so it was a mistake. We afterwards found that Mrs. 843 Kelly was not qualified, and her candidature was not pressed. As regards Collins-town, it was stated that we had placed the post office in an unsuitable place. There were certain candidates for the vacancy, and one was appointed. Colonel Smythe owns the whole of the district, and the lady who was appointed had to find premises. She herself was personally popular. She made an arrangement with a neighbour to let her have a house, but Colonel Smythe declined to give his leave to her having the premises in order to prevent her getting them for a post office. It became necessary to obtain premises. The only premises which were not under the control of Colonel Smythe were those to which the hon. Member has referred. Colonel Smythe then offered to let her have premises at a rental of £5 10s., which was raised to £8, but after some negotiations was reduced to £5 10s. again, but Colonel Smythe and his agents declined to give her anything more than a weekly tenancy, and that, of course, being of no use where the Post Office service is concerned, we could not consent to such an arrangement, so that this lady was driven back again to the only available premises. It was a case of Hobson's choice.
§ Mr. BUXTON
If he is a Member of the Government I can only regret that he does not show a more liberal spirit. For the time being, and as a temporary measure, this lady has taken these premises. I would like to say also that the premises offered to her by Colonel Smythe, I am assured, were not only distant from the town, but were in a more or less ruinous state. The whole matter is a very simple one. She was not allowed by the landlord, who owned the whole of the village, to have them, and it was not until she had come to an arrangement with this other person that then he tried to get her for his premises. It is only a temporary arrangement, and if it is possible to come to better arrangements, I can only say that the Post Office would be very glad.
§ Mr. T. SUMMERBELL
I think there is a feeling all round that we ought to try and get home as quickly as possible to-day, and therefore I will be as brief as I possibly can. I desire to bring before the Secretary to the Treasury a case mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackfriars (Mr. Barnes) 844 in regard to an old age pension. It is the case of an old man, and I would claim that there ought to be exceptional consideration given to such a case. This old man came to the town I have the honour to represent to see about his old age pension. Unfortunately he was without means, and found himself stranded in the town on this particular night. He went to the workhouse, and he distinctly asked the workhouse official, and the facts are not denied, if the fact of his entering for lodgings for a night would prevent him getting the old age pension. He was told it would not, and on the strength of that he entered for the night; and then afterwards he lost his old age pension. I do say that those facts are worthy of consideration, because if the man had been told he would run the risk of losing his old age pension he would not have entered the workhouse at all, but remained outside. For anyone to say that this case should be dealt with on all fours with other cases where persons have knowingly accepted relief is not administering the Act as fairly as it ought to be administered. The old man was given the pension, and it was taken from him on appeal. I have got letters bearing on the case, and I do ask the Secretary to the Treasury to give this matter his consideration, and also, if it is possible, to tell the House as to whether the Government do intend to amend the Old Age Pensions Act in order to take away the hardships that exist-throughout the country.
§ Mr. SUMMERBELL
There is also the question of the remuneration of the pension officers. I do think those men have been unfairly treated. Speaking as a member of an old age pension committee, having attended the meetings in, the Recess at the end of last year, we had those men continually in attendance giving all particulars in regard to the applications. Anyone who has served on a committee knows that they are the men who do all the work appertaining to the applications, who have got to go into all quarters of the town and sift out information and lay it before the committee. We find that those men have been the least remunerated of any official that has to do with the administration of the Act. We have got the town clerk who sits in the committee giving his decision from the legal standpoint, and who 845 receives more money than the man who has to sift all the information. We have got the postmaster, who receives comparatively more also. Although the Treasury may have decided that up to the present they cannot give more, I do ask the Secretary to the Treasury to reconsider the claims of those men, with a view to giving them more adequate remuneration, which I consider they richly deserve. I am speaking from experience.
Then there is the position of the men of His Majesty's Customs. In the first place I have to thank the Secretary to the Treasury for his courtesy when on my application he was kind enough to give a deputation of the men the opportunity of stating their case before him. That was 12 months ago, and up to the present time no answer has been given whatever with regard to the appeals of those men. The result is that there is a feeling of anxiety and uncertainty in regard to their position from every conceivable standpoint. We have at present a Committee that has been appointed to go into the question of amalgamation of the Customs and Excise, and we have got floating in the air the threatened amalgamation of the Customs and coastguards. I think everyone will admit that the case I have stated time and time again on the floor of this House as to the men, shows that they are a deserving body of men who have really responsible duties, which they carry out with credit to themselves and the State. In asking the Secretary of the Treasury as to whether there will be the possibility of a reply to the appeals of those men, I venture to think I am not asking too much in view of the fact that it is now twelve months since they laid their case before him. They ask for extra remuneration between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. also overtime pay. I do not know any profession that work at night that does not get extra remuneration. Considering their duties, I think those two points ought to receive favourable consideration. Their work is performed during the night, in all kinds of weather. They have got to board vessels arriving from abroad, enforce the law as to infectious diesase, the Aliens Act, examine passengers' baggage, collect duty payable from passengers and seamen, supervise the landing of animals, examine goods landed in bulk, and various duties under the Merchandise Marks Act, also the port regulations, &c. Those are duties requiring intelligence and tact, and ought to be compensated for in something like an adequate 846 manner. The rate of pay for the upper section is £160 at the start, rising by annual increments of £7 10s. to £200. The lower section begin with £95, rising by annual increments to £150. The lower section are recruited from the ranks of the preventive men after passing a qualifying examination. A man generally serves 17 years before he is able to qualify for £90 a year, and another 12 before rising to £150; so that he has to serve something like 30 years before he receives £150 a year. In many cases men are 55 years of age before they reach that stage; while, inasmuch as the Civil Service age for retirement is 60 or 61 years, it is easy to see that a large number may never have an opportunity of obtaining the handsome salary of £150 a year. Officers and men ought, I think, to receive extra remuneration for Sunday work, and the preventive men ought to receive a higher wage than that at which they start. No doubt there are plenty of applications; but that is no guarantee that the rate is a just one. To give a young fellow coming to a place like London 18s. a week is to render him always open to temptation, as offers are often made by people who want to smuggle goods. The remuneration for overtime, which is mainly worked on Sundays, is 8d. per hour. But the men are allowed to charge merchants 1s. 6d., and if a merchant has to pay 1s. 6d., why should the Treasury only pay 8d.? I hope the Secretary to the Treasury will be able to make a satisfactory statement on the points I have raised, and thus allay the anxiety which exists among these men.
§ Mr. MUNRO FERGUSON
The subject I wish to raise is an urgent matter connected with the finance of the county of Ross, with which I am closely associated. In the island of Lewis the rating of the parishes has reached an extraordinary figure. Exclusive of the Burgh of Storno-way, the rate in Uig is 19s. 2½d. in the £, in Lochs 27s. 1½d., and in Barvas 28s. 10d. That is really an impossible state of affairs. It has continued for two or three years. The whole county to some extent suffers in respect of the county rate, but throughout Scotland it is felt that this is a state of matters which, if it is not met by general legislation, ought to be met by some temporary expedient on the part of the Treasury. An administrative crisis is inevitable in the island of Lewis, unless some steps are taken without delay. Moreover, this huge pressure of the rates renders the solution of the land question in Lewis, 847 which is a very urgent matter, almost impossible. It practically puts an insuperable bar in its way. The remedy is to be found in the Minority Report by Lord Balfour of Burleigh's Commission, which Report was powerfully supported by the joint Minority Report of Sir George Murray and the late Sir Edward Hamilton. The Report of those two gentlemen ought to carry great weight with the Treasury. It was issued about seven years ago, but nothing has yet been done upon it. Owing to the legislation of this House, the cost of the public services in districts with poor agricultural land, like Lewis, becomes absolutely intolerable, and it must remain so if this House insists on those services, as I think it must, so long as the burden of the rates is levied to fall on realty alone to so great an extent as at present.
It will require further legislation to alter that. The hon. Member must confine himself to what can be done administratively.
§ Mr. MUNRO FERGUSON
I want to show that I realise the difficulties in the way of meeting this case by general legislation, and to urge that some temporary relief should be given. If the Government mean to act on the Report of Sir George Murray and the late Sir Edward Hamilton, I will not press the point. But unless some such assurance is given, I think all concerned in the welfare of the poorer districts in Scotland must feel the greatest anxiety that the Government should appreciate fully, and admit much more frankly than they have hitherto done, that this case has become a scandal, and cannot continue indefinitely. The fact that these rates have been allowed to remain at this level for the last few years is no argument that they should be allowed still to continue. It is the impossibility of allowing them so to continue without making any provision to meet the exceptional burden that the Government will have to consider. I do not wish to elaborate the point at all. I think the time has come when the Scottish representatives have a right to expect that some more serious attention will be given to this matter than was promised in another place the other day, and to insist that the onerous rates in the island of Lewis should be reduced within tolerable limits.
§ 2.0 P.M.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Hobhouse)
The hon. 848 Member for the Blackfriars Division of Glasgow, speaking on the administration of the Old Age Pensions Act, referred to the case of a woman 75 years of age, who, he said, in the belief that she was accepting a loan from the Poor Law authorities, took a grant, and thereby deprived herself of the right to receive an old age pension. He has no doubt given us the facts as they were reported to him, but I confess, from a considerable experience of Poor Law relief, I have never known a loan made to any person who has applied to the Poor Law authority. I am afraid the evidence of the would-be pensioner in question must not have been altogether in accordance with facts. I am unable, as representing the Treasury, to deal with the administration of the Poor Law. It is my duty to see that money for such pensions as are to be paid is forthcoming. The administration of the Poor Law is under the Local Government Board. The hon. Member for Sunderland quoted another case—and I may deal with both subjects at once—in which a man went into the workhouse at Sunderland quite casually for a night's lodging. It was purely a temporary measure, the man having made, first of all, inquiry as to whether or not such action of his would deprive him of his pension. The case seems to be one of very considerable hardship. I will gladly make inquiries into the circumstances, and if the facts are as have been stated—it has been perfectly plainly put— I will endeavour to see whether the matter cannot be put straight. In all these cases there are, and there must be in the administration of any great service of this sort, occasional—having regard to the great number of persons concerned — hard cases. While it is quite clear we cannot escape in the administration of any law these hard cases, I think, when they are of an exceptional nature, they should be looked into, and I am glad to say that in three or four similar exceptional hard cases we have been able to step somewhat beyond the strict, and what ought to be maintained as the strict, letter of the law. The hon. Member for the Leith Burghs (Mr. Munro Ferguson) raised the question of the rates of Lewis. He told the House quite correctly that they ranged from 25s. to 28s. in these three unfortunate parishes of Uig, Barvas, and Lochs. That is a state of affairs which fortunately is very exceptional, though I think my hon. Friend knows perfectly well that in the parishes on the West Coast of 849 Scotland the rates are exceedingly high. They press unduly and very hardly upon the inhabitants of the outer counties and islands on the West Coast of Scotland. But the Treasury, to whom he appeals for assistance, has a double duty in this case. No doubt there is some moral obligation upon us to do what we can in exceptional cases of this sort to come to the relief of distressed districts. On the other hand, we have to remember that it will be very easy to quote assistance given in exceptional cases as justifying assistance being given in certain other cases not so exceptional, and certainly not so worthy. Pecuniary assistance by the Treasury must be to exceptional cases, and must be justified by some extreme facts of the nature indicated by my hon. Friend. In this particular case the Treasury, as my hon. Friend knows very well, has guaranteed the authorities in the island of Lewis, by their letter of 11th February, the sum of £200, while by their letter of November last year the sum of £1,000 each was given to the three parishes named. So that we have from the pockets of the general taxpayer given exceptional assistance to these three localities. The real fact of the matter is, if my memory does not mis-serve me, that the whole of this trouble arises from the impecunious position of the proprietor—
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
I beg your pardon; the impecunious position in which the proprietor is placed by the fact that the persons resident in the islands are something like £7,000 or £8,000 back in their payment.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
To the local authorities. I call that an impecunious state for the proprietor to be in.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
I do not know what the reason is. He is impecunious when there is £7,000 or £8,000 due to the local authorities. If he was in a satisfactory pecuniary position he would not be indebted to that extent to the local authori- 850 ties. Thai is the real position. But if that position is unsatisfactory to the proprietor it is still more unsatisfactory to the local authorities, and more than unsatisfactory to the Treasury, who have to guarantee the deficiency in the present state of affairs.
§ Mr. MUNRO FERGUSON
Of course, I have accepted the general position as described by the Secretary to the Treasury; but I think he must admit also that it would be fair to remember that this position of affairs arises from the fact that Sir George Murray's recommendations have not been carried out.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
No; I do not say that it arises from that fact. It is that the gentleman has not paid his rates. That is a condition precedent to reform. I should like to point out one effect of the Old Age Pensions Act in this particular locality, which, in the past, and still more in the future, will be of extreme assistance to the inhabitants. The pensions have already been relieving the poor-rates to the extent of at least £100, which is a very important sum in that small locality. The inhabitants, too, have been able to do what they never did before with the £1,600 in cash they received. The money has stimulated prices and given the people actual coin, and so enabled them to pay such rates as they are obliged to do. I think that was very considerable assistance from the Treasury.
To return for one moment to the point raised by the hon. Member for Sunderland as to the Customs officers. It is quite true, as he said, that a deputation came to me a year ago, a deputation that I was glad to receive. They gave me some valuable information; but I have been unable, as he says, to give him any answer since that time. For this reason: The House has sat almost continuously since that deputation of his friends came. The points involved will entail very close and uninterrupted examination into the circumstances of the services of the two Departments; but until the inquiry is concluded into the conditions of the upper ranks of the Excise and Customs Service it is impossible to give an answer to his friends.
§ Mr. SUMMERBELL
Am I to under-I stand with regard to the inquiry that is I now going on that on any points appertaining to the position of these men they will I have the fullest possible liberty to state; their case before this Committee?
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
No; the hon. Member is not to understand that at all. What I said was that it was impossible to inquire into their case until the other Committee had examined into the upper ranks of the Customs and Excise Services, and had reported on them. Until that is settled I cannot go into the other. I am sorry there should be delay in this matter, due to no lack on the part of myself or my colleagues to go into the question.
§ Mr. JOHN AINSWORTH
I should like strongly to confirm all that has fallen from my hon. Friend the Member for Leith Burghs, and I should like also to express my feeling of satisfaction at the sympathetic attitude of the Secretary to the Treasury in regard to the rates. The right hon. Gentleman talked about an impecunious proprietor, but I must remind him that it is not only a question of an impecunious proprietor, but it is a question of everyone else as well who have to pay these heavy rates. How can anybody help being impecunious when they have to pay such enormously heavy rates?
§ Mr. AINSWORTH
How can they be paid? How can anybody afford to pay rates which are so high? The Government are interested in this question. Now how are you to deal with that portion of the United Kingdom where the social conditions are in such a state as they are in some of the Highlands of Scotland at the present time. The only way to do it is by aid which will enable the community to support itself. We all know perfectly well—for we have had the question before us in every Session—the cry in all parts of the Highlands—is "Give us more land." The man with a small holding wants it increased to make it economic. And the man who has no holding, but who has been resident in the country—he and his predecessors—for hundreds of years, whether he be a labourer or a fisherman—asks to be given some land for a small holding. These questions are well knowrn, and I think we are entitled to ask the Scottish Office to give us some assurance that something will be done not only before the end of the present Session, but as soon as possible; that they will be prepared to recommend some steps or to take some upon their own initiative so as to deal with the existing condition of affairs. I might remind the House that we have in the Highland's at the present moment a machinery for deal- 852 ing with these questions. We have the Crofters Commission and we have the Congested Districts Board, and I would remind the House the Congested Districts Board is in a position of having control of certain funds, and if they were made the legal owners of the property which they hold they could raise on chat property a very large sum of money. Therefore I say that this financial question is really in the hands of the Scottish Office at the present moment, and having the machinery for dealing with the question, I think we are entitled to ask to have that machinery brought into play so that these questions might be dealt with more seriously and immediately. The small holders of all classes in the Highlands are affected, and that shows that it is a matter that will not brook delay. I do earnestly hope that we shall hear from the representatives of the Scottish Office that they are prepared to deal with it as early as possible.
§ Mr. A. C. MORTON
I should like to say with regard to this land question of Lewis that the state not only of the landlord, but also of the Crofters is most sad. Unfortunately it would be out of order if I discussed the real remedy, which is this, that the land question in Scotland is not and never will be settled until the State steps in. There is no doubt that the Congested Districts Board and the Crofters Commission have got money, and I should like to hear some explanation from the Solicitor-General for Scotland why it is that all this money goes to one particular county? How is it that Ross and Lewis and Sutherland and other counties are left out of the reckoning altogether? It may be that Inverness is a very poor district, but at any rate this money ought to be divided among the crofting counties. What extraordinary influence is brought to bear upon the Scottish Office by which the money goes to Inverness is more than I can understand. But it is most unfair that the Scottish Office should allow that money to go to one county. If the Government can do anything to assist the people of Lewis and elsewhere they certainly ought to do so. Unfortunately, Lewis is a congested district, and is very largely populated more than other parts of the crofting districts. Possibly that may be one reason, but in the meantime something ought to he-done by the Scottish Office to relieve the people there. I hope after this discussion the Scottish Office will do something to 853 deal fairly between the parties without regard to any influence which might be brought to bear upon them.
I wanted to ask a question of the Postmaster-General, but he has gone. I wanted to ask him whether he has got any application with regard to penny postal service between this country and Turkey. I am not blaming the Postmaster-General, because I might say that he is the only Member of the Government who has done anything for us in Sutherland in the way of improvement. A question was raised today about clerical influence in Ireland. That does not apply to Ireland alone. It applies to England and Scotland as well. As far as I can understand, the Cardiff Railway Bill passed its second reading owing to such influence. Last year the same thing damaged our Scottish Education Act, and in the most mysterious way. Whether that influence is for good or evil I am not prepared to say. The Articles of the Church of England say the Pope has no jurisdiction in these realms. That is quite wrong. He wields it in all parts of the United Kingdom.
§ Sir EDWIN CORNWALL
I am very anxious to hear the hon. Gentleman's argument in regard to the penny post in Turkey.
§ Mr. A. C. MORTON
Then, perhaps, my hon. Friend will bring in the Postmaster. What I want now to speak about is old age pensions, and here, again, I find that the Secretary to the Treasury is gone. When I raised this matter on the second reading I got no reply, and therefore one must only take every opportunity until one gets an answer. On that occasion I specially raised the case of the Inland Revenue officers, especially in Sutherland, who have to travel very long distances at great expense to themselves to carry out their duties in connection with the Act. The complaint is that they only got £20 for this service compared with £160 odd which was paid to the secretary of local committees. That seems to me to be unfair, and I want to ask the Treasury whether they mean to reconsider it. It is not fair treatment for officials who do their work so well as the Inland Revenue officers do, and who are not too highly paid. The other point I wished to make was with regard to the fine which had been inflicted on some of the officials for giving informa- 854 tion to the Press last autumn. A number of those officials say distinctly that they did not receive the circular warning them, that they should not give information, and they had forgotten about some old regulations that applies to these cases. I do not want to argue in favour of breaking regulations. Regulations must be kept, and are absolutely necessary to the public service. But to fine these men £20 is rather hard. A reprimand would have been quite enough, and I should like to know from the Treasury whether they will reconsider these cases with a view to mitigating the penalty. I want to get some information with regard to the Amalgamation Committee in connection with these officers. The Secretary to the Treasury tells us he has nothing to do with that, and we find it impossible to learn whether the Committee is to be empowered to inquire further into all these questions. I think the officials would be perfectly satisfied for the moment if they knew their case was looked into, and if they were heard, if necessary, upon it. I hope the Government will consider this matter, and that they will tell us what the reference is, and whether it will cover the officials and their complaints about which I have been asking. These are public servants who are not well paid, and they are now feeling that they have not been treated fairly, and an inquiry into the matter would be of great use. I hope the Government will do something in that direction. I think Ministers ought to be here to answer our questions when they are put on the Appropriation Bill. We are entirely in order in bringing these-questions up, and the Minister ought to be here to answer them, because they are paid to give us answers. Cabinet Ministers ought to understand that they are our servants and not our masters, and I do not think that at the present moment we are being treated with courtesy.
§ Mr. JOSEPH PEASE
May I be allowed to say that I did communicate with hon. Members in order to ascertain what subjects they desired to raise. If the hon., Member for Sutherland had given, me-notice that he intended to raise any question I would have seen that the Minister in charge of that particular Department should have been here. It is almost impossible on an afternoon of this kind, when hon. Members may introduce 20 or 30 different subjects, to have every Minister in his place during the whole of the afternoon in order to answer some point which maybe raised.
§ Mr. A. C. MORTON
The right hon. Gentleman has given himself away entirely. I gave notice last night that I was going to bring up this question, and therefore it will not do for the right hon. Gentleman to say that he has not had notice. I gave notice to the Scottish Whip, who is the man to look after us, and therefore the right hon. Gentleman has entirely given his case away by stating what is not correct, namely, that I have not given notice. I trust the Government will bear these things in mind. I wish to draw attention to this £164,000,000 Budget, which will probably be £200,000,000 next year. My complaint is that in regard to our expenditure we get few opportunities now of considering questions of economy. The only hon. Member of this House who appears to be doing anything in that direction is the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury). I know the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Stewart Bowles) endeavours to help in a small way in that direction. Under the old system of conducting our business we used to have an opportunity of considering every item of Supply at some time or other, but under the, new arrangement the Government combine with the Opposition Front Bench, and arrange to stop Debate altogether with regard to matters of economy and other questions. I think it is our absolute duty to study the Estimates closely in regard to economy. If we do not get an opportunity of considering those questions, how can we carry out our duty? With regard to Scotland, I suppose, with a view of preventing discussion, some official takes care that we never have an opportunity of considering, except only in a small way, Scottish questions at all. Undoubtedly, some steps will have to be taken in the near future whereby Members of this House shall have more opportunities of considering Supply, both in regard to economy and other matters. Outside the specific questions of the Navy and old age pensions, the expenditure of the Government is continually increasing, and I do not think the present Ministers care much about economy. I have known of occasions years ago when a member of the Government thanked me for bringing these questions forward, because it strengthened his hands in dealing with the permanent officials. It is not for me to say how all this is to be regulated in the future, but I do say that it is getting worse and worse, and we have less control and more extravagant expenditure. Probably I shall be told that the Public 856 Accounts Committee look after all this, but they can do nothing at all, because they do not consider anything until after the money has been spent, and that is too late. What is more, this House takes care that those who understand these questions are kept off that Committee.
§ Mr. A. C. MORTON
In conclusion, I wish to again express my regret at the discourteous way in which we are treated by the Front Bench in these matters. However humble an hon. Member may be, he has a right to raise questions on this occasion, and he ought to receive answers to them. Unless we get an opportunity of bringing these questions forward our grievances can never be remedied. I hope that next Session steps will be taken by which the expenditure of all Departments of the Government in this country may be properly considered, and that hon. Members will, in some way or another, be given an opportunity of considering all these questions, not only in regard to their own particular grievances as affecting their constituencies, but also with regard to economy in the expenditure of public money.
§ Mr. YOUNGER
I wish to bring before the attention of the House the question of the high rates in certain districts in the Western Highlands of Scotland, which has now become a great public scandal. In the districts to which I allude—Uig, Lochs and Barvas—as the hon. Member for Leith has already told the House, the rates have risen up to as much as 19s., 25s., and 28s. in the £. The Secretary to the Treasury said to-day that the whole 'difficulty arose from the fact that the principal proprietor in these districts was impecunious. In view of the taxation he will be called upon to pay I think we shall require some other word besides impecunious to describe the position of that proprietor. It is not a question of the impecuniosity of the proprietor. Credit has been taken by the Secretary to the Treasury because on two occasions last year the Treasury guaranteed the sum of £200 on one occasion and £1,000 on another to carry on the local government of those districts. It is true they guaranteed the money, but they never paid it. I am not sure if the Solicitor - General knows whether legal steps have been taken to enforce payment at the instance of the 857 parish councils against the defaulting ratepayers. At present the Treasury is sitting bight, in the hope that they will be able to extract a little more blood from these stones. The time has come when undoubtedly this question must be faced. I do not think the Scottish Office is in any way to blame. I have often had occasion to blame the Scottish Office—sometimes it is useful, and sometimes it is a useless institution—but in this matter I do not think it is at fault. Upon this question I think the Treasury is to blame, and not the Scottish Office. I am strongly inclined to think that the Treasury will find that the difficulty is becoming so acute that they will very shortly have to do something. The rates are not levied, and they are not payable till something like the month of November. For the first half of the financial year the public bodies have to borrow money to carry on the business of their parishes and burghs until the rates become due. I should think they will find it very difficult to borrow at all, and administration must come to a standstill. I hope Parliamentary pressure will be brought upon the authorities concerned to do something to remove this gross public scandal.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL for SCOTLAND (Mr. A. Dewar)
The House will not expect me to detain them at any great length in dealing with the various questions raised with regard to the management of Scottish affairs. I desire, first of all, however, to thank the hon. Member for Ayr Burghs (Mr. Younger) for his generous acknowledgment that in this serious matter of rating the Scotch Office is not to blame. It is no new problem. It has been there for many years, and has existed through many Governments. The serious burden of the rates not only exists in the Lews, but in other parts of Scotland as well. We have here, however, a dramatic instance of one individual being hardly pressed. It is not only the great landlords who are greatly pressed, but many poor people find serious difficulty when the collector comes round in finding the few shillings necessary. I feel it is necessary something should be done, but the proper way is not to ask the Treasury to put its hands into the bag and assist this man, and that man spasmodically. The hon. Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Ainsworth) referred to the Scotch land question. The Government, as he knows, have made various attempts to settle that. It is a great question on which he will not expect me here and now to say more than that I will com- 858 municate what he has said to the Secretary for Scotland (Lord Pentland), and I have no doubt he will give the question the attention which he always gives to suggestions of Scotch Members. The hon. Member for Sutherland (Mr. Morton), unlike other Members, did not give me personal notice, and I had not the remotest idea that he was going to speak. I do not complain about that, but I am sorry he should think he was treated with discourtesy by the Treasury Bench. The hon. Member I am sure is far too reasonable to expect that all Ministers shall be here on every occasion he speaks.
§ Mr. A. C. MORTON
I made no complaint at all of the hon. Member. I have not given any notice to him, and I did not know this land question would be raised to-day.
§ Mr. A. DEWAR
I was not defending myself, I was really defending the Front Bench against the hon. Member's charge of discourtesy. I am quite certain if my hon. Friend had taken the trouble to inform a, Minister he was going to raise any question, that Minister would have been here to have answered that question. His chief grievance was with regard to the Congested Districts Board. The Congested Districts Board, as he knows, have no power to subsidise any class at all. Their power is to administer. They can purchase land and they have power to give certain assistance here and there, but not in cash. I do not think it is quite fair to say they confine their whole attention to Inverness-shire. Wherever they can be useful, they are there; and I do not think the hon. Member has any complaint to make with regard to his own constituency. It is, quite true that the Lews is suffering, but it is suffering in a manner with which the Congested Districts Board, as at present constituted, cannot deal.
§ Mr. MORTON
Surely, as you have actually bought land in Inverness-shire and let it to the crofters, you could do the same in the Lews?
§ Mr. A. DEWAR
The Congested Districts Board have no compulsory powers to purchase at all; they must have a voluntary arrangement. If the hon. Member would read the Congested Districts Board Act, he would see some of the difficulties with which we are beset.
§ Mr. E. G. PRETYMAN
I do think somebody who is not a Scotchman should say one word on the general importance of this Lews case, because it is a positive 859 scandal to our civilisation that individuals should be ruined and made bankrupt by a rate of 28s. in the £. Really, considerations of the highest importance arise out of this case. Here we have a district where there are very primitive social conditions, and it is attempted to set up a standard of the highest civilisation. The cost of maintaining that standard is thrown upon a district totally incapable of bearing it. You have a system in Scotland whereby the landowner nominally, pays half the rates, but the crofters are exempted, and that in this case involves the whole of the burden of the rates falling upon the landowner. You, therefore, have a proprietor of an area of land forced to pay for public requirements, and the whole of his income, and 8s. in the £ beyond, is demanded from him to fulfil those public requirements. He is unable to pay that money out of his income and he is obliged to borrow money to pay the rates. There, of course, comes a moment when that process must automatically cease, because it is obvious people will not advance money without security, and it is only a question of time when the owner of that land is forced into the Bankruptcy Court and ruined. Is it tolerable that a public burden should be placed upon a subject of the Crown which is to ruin him and force him into the Bankruptcy Court? It seems to me cases like this demand an immediate remedy. I am perfectly aware the Scotch Office have had this case in hand some time, and I entirely appreciate the force of what the Solicitor-General has said about the difficulties of dealing with it. I share his view as to the most objectionable character of the policy involved in giving special grants, but that does not do away with the fact that we have a man being ruined by a public burden, and that it is the duty of the State to deal with such a case. What would be the position of the Government if the owner of this property is forced to bring his land into the market and is made bankrupt? It is a question of national and not of Scotch honour; it is a question of the responsibility of this House to see that a subject of the Crown is not ruined by burdens imposed upon him by our action. The responsibility in the main, of course, rests primarily upon the Government.
We see in this a lesson of wide application. We see that there is an end to the money which can be obtained by taxation, and we see that it is possible to demand 860 requirements which are beyond the resources of the area over which the rates are levied, whether they are the resources of the owner or of the occupier. I think that should be a lesson to this Government and to the country that there is a limit to the resources which are available for public purposes, and that when you reach a certain point in taxation, however desirable your object may be, you will defeat that object and ruin the district, and cause national bankruptcy if you endeavour to carry it out by imposing a burden greater than can be borne. It is with the object of pointing that moral, and of calling attention as publicly as possible to the responsibility of the Government to see that the owner of this property is not ruined by the burden placed upon him, that I have ventured to intervene in this Debate. The responsibility is none the less because one man only is involved, and I would urge the Government to take some action immediately so as to stave off the ruin of a man who has done his duty. The question does not affect England primarily, but it does affect the legislature and the Government, and it is of real national importance.
§ Mr. A. DEWAR
The hon. and gallant Member will know that the Government has tried to introduce both land and rating legislation which would provide a remedy for this state of things.
Mr. T. F. RICHARDS
I should not have raised the question I am about to raise once more if I had got anything like reasonable satisfaction when this Bill was before the House on the last occasion. Every Member, when he brings forward matters in which he possesses particular knowledge which is likely to benefit a particular Department, ought to be able to claim some consideration from that Department, but when I was told by the Secretary of State for War (Mr. Haldane) that his hon. Friend was going to wear two different pairs of boots to test the difference between hand and machine-sewn boots, I thought it was almost a ludicrous way of dealing with the subject. I have made many inquiries since I last raised the question, and I am satisfied I did not overstate the case so far as the shoe of the soldier is concerned. I regret exceedingly that the Government should have preferred to make a change without first of all making adequate and reasonable investigation and trial. I sug- 861 gested that a battalion of men should be permitted to wear, one part of it handsewn and the other part of it machine sewn boots; and, if they felt that was not a wise proceeding, that at all events the hon. Members in this House who have acquaintance with the leather business, should be requested to give this matter their earnest and serious consideration. We appear to be able to make no impression upon the Government. I regret exceedingly that they should have been hurt because I made a reference to their method of procedure as being an inducement to sweating. I will prove my case rather than make any statement. When I was on a visit to a certain district a few months ago I received a deputation from a number of our men, who gave me a memorial, which I still have in my possession, asking that the union to which I belong should allow them to scab or blackleg my society by working under price in order to satisfy the claims of the Government, which demanded boots at less than 10s. 6d Is it a fair proceeding that a contract should be obtained under certain conditions, and that then the Secretary of State for War should say he does not bind himself to accept the lowest tender? I challenge the representative of the War Office here to give me a solitary instance in which they have not accepted the lowest tender. Then the firms which do not get the contract are told that they can have work if they will come down to the other man's price. I say that this is neither honest nor fair dealing, and that it is not right that firms should be told they can have an order if they will come down to the level of the lowest tender. Anyone who knows anything about leather knows that it has gone up in price, whereas the Government are to-day paying less for boots than they ever before paid.
What is more, their method of treating the soldier is not a wise one. They buy the cheapest possible boot. It is no concern to the authorities because they do not have to wear them. The last time, when I was attending some manœuvres, I was told by one of the three greatest men in our British Army that boots are quite as important as rifles so far as soldiers are concerned. One can readily understand that in connection with men on the march. We know that during the South African war the boots gave out simply because the War Department had not sufficient sense to keep an adequate stock, and they are not doing that to-day. They have not a sufficient stock to-day to boot the whole 862 of the British Army. I am not taking into account the Cawnpore boots. I am talking of British-made articles—boots made under proper conditions and guaranteed to wear. I am informed by officers of the Army that when they are on the march they abandon their own dress boots and take a pair out of stock because of their comfort and ease. That bears out my statement, that the hand-sewn boot, owing to its construction, its durability, and general roominess, is the best possible boot this country has ever been able to produce. I regret exceedingly there should be any attempt to interfere with the supply of such boots. I think it is about time the Government turned their attention to this matter, and ceased buying the cheapest article simply because they are not concerned with the repairing of the boots, the cost of which has to be borne by the soldier himself out of his meagre pay. So far as new boots are concerned, the Government formerly took the responsibility of giving out to each man two pairs of boots. Now they only give out one pair, and they offer a man not 12s., but 8s., if he will undertake to make or repair his boots out of his own pocket. If the Government want to boot the soldiers as they ought to do they should see that these men always have two pairs of boots by them. The Government ought to take the responsibility on their own shoulders of keeping the boots in repair. In other words, while the man is wearing one pair, the other pair should be at the repairing establishment. That would be more economical in the long run. I am concerned as to the durability of the boot. There is an attempt being made to force into the industry of which I happen to be a humble member a cheaper and nastier article—boots which can be obtained for a little less money than they have been accustomed to pay in the past. It has been suggested that it is a cheaper and more durable article, but I am satisfied that that is not the case. I do not ask the Government to accept my personal views. They may think I have my own axe to grind, and I recommend them to put themselves into communication with Members of this House who are boot manufacturers, or let them institute an inquiry and consult the Kettering Board of Arbitration—a body composed of manufacturers and workmen engaged in this particular industry.
Suggestions have been thrown out to I firms that they should give out as much 863 work as possible in the winter time. Let the War Department in this matter practice what it preaches. Let them give out their orders for the winter so that the work may be undertaken at that period of the year, when our men cannot go into the hay or cornfields or spend their time in the allotment gardens. There are very few of our people who are not allottees. Why should this Army boot trade be busy in the summer and slack in the winter? Here is a Department which can, if it chooses, find a lot of employment for the winter time. I shall have to keep on drawing attention to this matter until I have persuaded the War Office to accept and act upon these views. I have referred to the boot which was made in India. I should like to know from the War Department what has been the loss on the Cawnpore boot. I think we shall find that there has been a considerable loss. The Government ought always in my judgment to carry a large stock of Army boots. Every man in our trade knows fully well that at the present time the Government are carrying a very small stock indeed. What need is there for cutting the stock down? Of course, ideas may differ as to what is a large or a small stock, but I say emphatically that during the last five years the stock has been smaller than it was ever before. Inquiry ought to be made into this matter. We all know that boots do not deteriorate in the first two or three years. If they are kept under proper conditions they are much better than if they are worn straight off after leaving the manufactory. While, as it is said in our trade, they are green or wet, they are not fit for use. They want to be thoroughly dried and to be kept in a proper place for at least 12 months. Why have the Government taken the trouble to reduce these particular stocks? There have been charges of sweating made against the War Office Department in their treatment of men who for a great number of years have been making hand-sewn boots and who are rot yet old enough to claim old age pensions. These men want an opportunity of working for the Government. But simply because the authorities have got certain ideas they have introduced a new policy, with the result that they have already ruined one or two firms. They have told us they do not want a ring of manufacturers to get hold of these contracts, but, as a matter of fact, a ring has already done so, and everybody in Northamptonshire knows full well that the mem- 864 bers of that ring get the orders. Unless the Government are prepared to give this question proper attention I shall persist in raising it on every available opportunity. I do not want to complain of the Secretary of State for War, but I do not think it is altogether courteous for him to try and get rid of this question by saying that his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is trying the boots. Now, the Under-Secretary, like myself, is not a very heavy man. It would take him at least 18 months or two years to wear out a pair of these boots, and we are not prepared to wait for that long period before we get a satisfactory answer to our complaints. This subject ought to be taken up seriously. I know the Secretary for War has his time very much occupied with the question of Army organisation, but there are others in his Department who might fairly be expected to give consideration to this matter, and I believe that if the right hon. Gentleman himself would only give a few moments' serious attention he would come to the conclusion that some inquiry ought to be made in order to remove the complaints which people engaged in my own industry bring against this Department. I shall renew my protest until I get satisfaction, and the sooner the inquiry is promised, the sooner will the subject be dropped.
§ 3 P.M.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the WAR OFFICE (Mr. F. D. Acland)
If the object of the hon. Member is to induce the War Department to go back to the old state of things under which the War Office were never able to get an adequate supply of Army boots, under which also they could not get sufficient contractors, I do not think he will get what he is aiming at. The makers of these hand-sewn boots in the small villages have never been able to produce an adequate supply of Army boots, and it is because we have never succeeded in obtaining that supply that we have had to change our policy. It was in consequence of the shortage of stocks at the time of the South African War that we had to get boots from India, and the Department would never have dreamt of getting a single pair from that place if the articles could have been produced in this country. We have only been able to make up our stocks by accepting machine-closed boots. The hon. Member has suggested that there has been a want of consideration in regard to this matter. I do not think his complaint is well founded. The hon. Member accompanied a large 865 deputation, which talked to us for four hours on this very subject. He is himself continuously talking to me about these boots. I do not know how many hours I have devoted to the subject with him. I do not think a week has passed in which I have not had the pleasure of at least one hour's conversation in regard to it. He is constantly complaining of the machine-closed boots, but, as a matter of fact, he has not been able to bring forward a single case in which complaint has been justified. We have given exhaustive trials to these boots. We have had to be satisfied by the most rigorous tests before giving orders for machine-closed and machine-worked boots, and it is only in recent years that a machine has been discovered the work of which has been proved to be absolutely satisfactory. The only complaints that we have had for the last year of any boots at all have been those of hand-sewn boots, and that being so, we have been able to get a perfectly satisfactory article, and we cannot go back upon it now, simply in the interests of the hand-sown trade, which never could produce, whatever the price may be, a supply which was anything like adequate to our demand. The only other argument the hon. Gentleman used answers itself. He said we were getting an article which was cheap and nasty, and yet he admitted that the inspector rejected his own boots and at once took these cheap and nasty boots.
§ Mr. ACLAND
They are not hand-sewn now, they are machine-sewn, and I challenge the hon. Gentleman to detect, in an ordinary pair, the difference between hand-sewn and machine-sewn. He could not do it; the one is exactly like the other, and there is nothing in his complaint except an impossible desire to get a monopoly for those who could never give us anything like an adequate supply. Therefore I am afraid the hon. Gentleman must go on raising this Debate at every opportunity that he can. I have endeavoured to get good boots for the soldier, and never was the soldier so satisfied with his boots as those which he gets to-day, and never have we had a list of such a decent number of contractors with whom we can place our orders. It is only by the introduction of machinery that we have been able, for the first time in recent years, to get a guarantee of an adequate supply in times of pressure, and that being so, we are now getting a perfectly good boot at a reason- 866 able price, and we are getting by the machine-sewn a sufficient number of contractors. I say that the Army boot supply is in a satisfactory position, but the hon. Gentleman says we are in the hands of a "ring." I say we are not in the hands of a "ring." The last order that I gave I took care to spread it as far as possible, and that was admitted in the "Leather Trades' Review," which stated that the Government had been placing a few of their orders in the district, but only a few-places could take the work, as succeeding generations did not think it paid them to learn this branch of the business.
§ Mr. ACLAND
This is the last issue of the "Leather Trades Review." It is the current monthly number, and the trade journal says that succeeding generations did not think it paid them to learn this branch of the business. It is therefore impossible for me to restrict our orders to that particular branch of the business, and therefore I am sorry to say that I cannot do it.
§ Mr. W. W. ASHLEY
I think the House will say, with the Financial Secretary to the War Office, that he must get his boots as cheaply as possible provided the quality is good, both in the interests of the nation and of the soldier too, but I think the point made by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. T. F. Richards) was rather this, that there were a large number of men who had been at this hand-sewn work all their lives, and who were now becoming old men, and who, owing to the Government taking these machine - made boots, were thrown out of work. They were not old enough to have an old age pension and nothing remained to them but the workhouse, and I am sure that the House does not want to bring a change of trade by which middle-aged men are thrown out of work, if they can produce an article as good as that which is made by machinery. Therefore, I do support the proposal of the hon. Member that the Government should, as long as these elderly men are not entitled to an old age pension, give the making of boots to them as much as they can to keep them employed and out of the workhouse.
§ Mr. ASHLEY
I did not gather that that was so, but I did not rise to bring forward that point, but to refer to the 867 complaint of the Inland Revenue officers as to the way in which they had been overworked and underpaid in connection with old age pensions. This matter has been brought forward by one or two hon. Members, and it was put, if I may say so, with great strength and clearness by the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Summerbell), and my own personal experience from talking to these men leads me to think that the Government who had to get forward with their scheme as rapidly as possible, and were obliged to engage a quantity of extra workers have, as a consequence, given rise to a complaint on the part of these officers that they have had their work increased and not decreased, and that their work is very much enlarged. I do think that the Government ought to give a substantial increase of pay, because at present it has not been increased at all, or, at all events, to a very small extent. These are men who have done a great deal of good work in the past and have done their work extremely well, and I wish to bring this matter to the attention of the Treasury.
§ Sir FRANCIS CHANNING
I represent a large portion of the district which supplies the articles to which reference has been made to the War Office, and I wish to traverse one statement made by the hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the War Office as to the capacity of that district to supply boots. It can provide any amount of boots, which may be necessary, if given orders. I happen to know that several villages that I represent have been suffering from serious unemployment in the last two years, simply owing to the fact that the orders which the hon. Gentleman says they are unable to carry out for the War Office have not been given. There are villages where Army boots have been supplied for years, and there are firms of competent contractors in those villages, and they have been out of work during the last two or three winters owing to the failure of the War Office to give a fair chance in those districts to the contractors who employ the men. I think it is fair to those whom I represent to make that statement. In reply to the statement which my hon. Friend made, doubtless based on facts and figures placed before him at the War Office, I venture on behalf of those whom I represent most emphatically to traverse and to contradict it. During the stress of the South African war and the 868 expedition to Egypt and the Soudan, it was perfectly true it was necessary to go beyond this district and get machine-made boots, and some of the makers of machine-made boots devised new types of boots suited to hot climates. And as regards the ordinary supply of the War Office, a temporary arrangement was made by the War Office during the war to obtain a supply from India; but it was a temporary arrangement, and even at that time there were many contractors in Northampton-shire who could have supplied a larger number than they were asked for by the War Office. I must say that the statements which have been made by my hon. Friend, both in regard to the employment of the hand-sewn workers and also in regard to the facts which have been placed in his hands, are, I think, misleading with regard to the ability of the contractors of those districts to supply admirable Army boots. I wish to take this opportunity—I was unaware that the matter was coming up—of emphatically expressing the opinion that the facts that he has laid before the House are not correct.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.