§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £15,682,445, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1912, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Post Office, including Telegraphs and Telephones."
§ The POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Mr. Herbert Samuel)
When I introduced last year the Post Office Estimates the sum for which I had to ask the sanction of the House of Commons amounted to nearly £20,000,000. The total Vote this year is somewhat over £21,000,000; the increase on the year is a million and a-quarter. I think it is right that at the outset I should explain the cause of this somewhat large growth in Post Office expenditure. If is chiefly due to the fact that on the 1st January next the Postmaster-General will take over the business of the National Telephone Company, and that the working expenses of the first quarter of next year, which, of course, is the last quarter of our financial year, have now to be sanctioned by this House. The working expenses for the National Telephone Company for those three months are estimated to amount to £480,000. In addition there are expenses connected with the inventory now being taken of the National Telephone Company's plant, amounting to £131,000. There are, too, certain expenses for the rearrangement of telephone equipment (which do not fall on capital expenditure) of £187,000, so that the total expenditure which the House of Commons is now asked to sanction arising from the telephone transfer at the end of this year amounts to £798,000. In addition to that there is an allowance for the normal growth in Post Office work, which this year is estimated at £343,000, and there is an increase in the telephone capital repayment charges of £62,000. These various items altogether amount to a sum of just over £1,200,000. There is also certain expenditure for a new cableship and an increased estimate for the payment in respect of the West Indian Mail Subsidies, 2167 and some smaller items. I think the Committee will see that this increase of one and a-quarter millions in the Post Office expenditure can be sufficiently accounted for in a manner to which the Committee is not likely to take exception. The estimated revenue to meet the expenditure of £21,000,000 of the Post Office will be a sum of £25,740,000, showing an increase, I am glad to say, of nearly £2,000,000 over the corresponding estimate of last year. Of this, £850,000 is new revenue in respect of the first quarter of the next calendar year's telephone business—revenue which now goes to the National Telephone Company, but which will in future come to the Post Office. Rather over £1,000,000 is due to an increase in receipts in other directions, and the estimated Post Office profit for the year will be £4,658,000 on the Post Office Vote, showing an increase of £686,000 compared with last year. But it should be remembered that there are certain other items which do not figure in the Vote of my Department, and they have to be taken into consideration each year. The Post Office renders various services to other Departments and receives no payment in respect of them, but on the other hand other Departments render services to the Post Office and no item figures for these services in the Post Office Vote. Particularly is that the case with the Office of Works, which has a large amount voted each year for new Post Office buildings and the maintenance and alteration of existing buildings. On balance there is each year a sum of over £600,000 which is really Post Office expenditure, but which does not figure in Post Office Votes, and the actual profit on the Post Office services for the coming year may be calculated, not at £4,658,000, as it appears on the Post Office Estimates, but at about £4,000,000, at which amount it would appear if all the estimates of the various Departments were taken together.
So far with respect to the financial aspect of the Estimates which I now lay before the Committee. I have announced during the course of the last twelve months, on various occasions, several improvements in postal and telegraph services, and one or two other contemplated improvements which I shall be able to communicate to the Committee to-day, and which will, I trust, add to the convenience of the public and the improvement of communications. I am sure when 2168 I am making these announcements the Committee will remember that several of them have been advocated in previous years by one who was for a very long period a member of this House, but whom we all miss to-day in discussing on these Estimates—Mr. Henniker Heaton —who has for a very long period stood in much the same relation to the Postmaster-General as His Majesty's Opposition stand to His Majesty's Government. He has been a watchful, and industrious, and a public spirited critic of postal administration, and has done very much to direct public attention to the improvement of postal and telegraphic communication, and to reforms in many directions. I feel sure I am speaking the sentiment of all quarters of the House when I say that we all miss his presence to-day, and especially regret the ill-health, which is the cause of it. I have already announced that on Coronation day I propose to introduce a reform which has for many years been desired—the sale of thin post-cards and letter-cards at a halfpenny and a penny respectively, the face value of the stamps upon them. As I understand the hon. Member for Brentford (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) proposes to make some remarks on this subject, I think it is necessary that I should say a few words with respect to the opposition to this proposal which has come from the stationery trade.
The hon. Member, I believe, is of opinion that steps should have been taken before announcing this concession to the public to have ascertained what view had been taken of the sale of these articles at the face value by the stationery trade, but it was, of course, obvious what view would be taken by that trade. Their opposition was foreseen, and it would have served little useful purpose to have gone to them beforehand and asked them whether they would desire to see Post Office competition with their business extended to the comparatively small extent as I think it is which this reform involves. The reasons why I am carrying out this alteration are as follows. Under a new and much more satisfactory contract which has been entered into by the Government for the production of stamps and Post Office stationery, the cost of these articles to the Post Office has been very greatly reduced, and the actual cost of the thin post-card to the Post Office will be one fifty-eighth of a penny. It is impossible to defend the charge to the public 2169 of one-fourth of a penny—of a farthing—for an article which costs us only one-fifty-eighth of a penny. It would mean that the Post Office was making a profit of 1,300 per cent. on its expenditure, and if you take packets of eleven post-cards and consider the charge of a halfpenny made for the material of those packets the Post Office would still be making a profit of 150 per cent. on its expenditure. It is clearly impossible for any Postmaster-General to defend a profit so exorbitant as this, and as a satisfactory margin of profit would still remain on the halfpenny and the penny respectively in view of the cost of handling these articles and taking them from the place where they are posted to their destination—as a satisfactory profit would still remain, even although the actual cardboard was given away gratis, I felt I was unable to resist the desires expressed in this House and outside it that we should do what every other country in the world does, with the single exception of Holland, and sell the post-cards at their face value.
Similar considerations apply with respect to the letter-cards, and I would point out that the principle is no new one, even for this country, since for very many years past we have been accustomed to purchase from the Post Office foreign post-cards for a penny, and to pay nothing at all for the stationery value of the card itself. I would add that the trade which is now enjoyed by the stationery industry in private postcards for the use of the public is a completely new trade, and was only rendered possible by a concession on the part of one of my predecessors in the year 1894, when he allowed plain correspondence cards to be used as post-cards with a halfpenny adhesive stamp attached to them. Previous to that only cards which had been officially stamped were available as postcards, and I think it is no great demand for the Post Office to make upon the stationery trade to recall, if we do recall, some small portion of the business which has been really placed in their hands owing to a concession of the Post Office itself only a few years ago. I do not think the trade need have any great alarm that any large proportion of their business will be diverted. There will no doubt be some growth in the sale of official post-cards and letter-cards at the cost of the sale of private post-cards and letter-cards, and, possibly, to some small extent, of stationery, but I do not think that there will be any large transfer of busi- 2170 ness. Very many people do not like the thin post-cards, but like the larger card with their address stamped on it Many of them do not wish to use a card and lose a halfpenny in case that card should be spoiled—a consideration which, I think, appeals particularly to the ladies, who have always been assumed to be the more extravagant half of the community, but who undoubtedly are, of course, by far the more economical.
Nor need the trade feel alarmed that this may be a precedent and that before very long halfpenny wrappers and Post Office stamped envelopes may also be sold at the fact value. There is no contemplation of steps in that direction. The halfpenny newspaper post and the packet post is unremunerative and in a very different position to the post-card and the letter-card post which can be profitably carried at a halfpenny and a penny respectively, but the newspaper, which is much more bulky and weighty, is unremunerative to carry at a halfpenny, and the Post Office would not propose to increase its loss by selling the wrappers at the face value. Nor is there any good reason why official envelopes should be sold at face value. I certainly have no intention of proceeding in that direction, and though J cannot pledge my successors, I suppose the, same considerations would weigh with, them also. I propose to make two alterations in the present practice with a view to meeting the objections of the stationery trade. The present post-cards are sold not only singly, but in uncut sheets, for the convenience of printing and distribution. I see no reason why the Post Office should supply post-cards at face value for these purposes and give special facilities for wholesale firths to obtain their stationery for nothing in this way, and consequently I propose to discontinue the practice or selling the thin post-cards in uncut sheets.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
Yes. I have made arrangements, however, to allow, under certain conditions, the free stamping of official stamps upon any post-cards privately manufactured and which are presented for stamping, so that any stationer or stationery manufacturer who has a private order for post-cards can get them stamped if he desires with the official stamp. That would be an advantage to the trade-and to the Post Office, because we should pro tanto be saved from supplying an equal number of post-cards. I propose that, 2171 these facilities should not be limited to London but to make arrangements for the stamping in Edinburgh, Dublin, and Manchester, as well as in London. I believe that neither public opinion outside, nor the Members of this Committee, will support what is an avowedly self-interested trade agitation against the conferring of an advantage upon the public which has been very long desired, and which will be of great utility. The reform will therefore be carried out on Coronation Day. At the same time I propose to place upon sale the books containing stamps which have previously been sold for the sum of 2s., but which have only contained 1s.11½d worth of stamps, the other halfpenny being charged in respect of the cost of manufacture. I propose to place in these books the full 2s. worth of stamps. I am glad to say that the Government have been able to arrange for the cheapening of the manufacture of these hooks, and I have also made an arrangement for an increase of the advertisements contained in them, so that the cost of manufacture will be fully covered by the revenue which the books themselves will bring. I anticipate a very large sale of these books when they contain full value. At the same time, on Coronation Day, the public will be able to obtain most of the new issue of stamps bearing the effigy of King George. Most of them have been designed by the distinguished Australian artist—Mr. Bertram McKennal—and some have been designed by a designer of great ability, Mr. Eve, and I trust the public will regard them as an improvement in appearance on the issues which have preceded them.
At the same time, I think it should be pointed out that in this country to some extent we sacrifice appearance, in stamps as in so many other things, to utility. Our stamps in some respects present rather a less satisfactory appearance than the stamps, for example, of the United States of America, not on account so much of inferiority of design as of the process in printing which is here used. We use the process called surface printing, and the reason for that is that the other process, which gives a somewhat handsomer appearance to the stamp, the process of printing by engraving, is open to objection on the ground that the stamp, which is cancelled by writing across it, as our revenue stamps are, can in some cases be cleaned and used by fraudulent persons 2172 a second time. In the United States postage stamps are not used for revenue, and therefore they are able to employ the process of engraving for the production of their postage stamps. Here our stamps up to the denomination of half-a-crown are used for revenue purposes and it is essential, therefore, so far as the present development of this art has extended, that these stamps should be printed by the surface-printing process, which does not allow quite so good an appearance. I hope that will be taken into account by members of the public when they criticise, as no doubt they will, the new stamps, which will shortly be before them. For the first time, I have provided in this issue that the value of the stamp shall appear on every stamp, both in words and in figures, but I have been unable to adopt the suggestion that the name of the country should appear upon the stamps on account of the difficulty of knowing what the name of the country is. Clearly we cannot put upon our stamps "England," for since the annexation by Scotland that is obviously out of the question. Nor could we place "Great Britain," for Ireland then would be excluded. Nor could we put upon our stamps "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland," for, in the first place, that would be an inscription so long that it would occupy a very great deal of the small space available, and in the second place it would exclude the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, which are part of the country for postal services, but are technically not part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and whose feelings no doubt would be much hurt if they were excluded from the designation upon the postage stamps which they use. Consequently, I have adhered to the previous custom of leaving the stamps anonymous, so to speak. After all, this country was the first country in the world to have postage stamps, and perhaps it is not unduly arrogant that our stamps should remain anonymous amongst those of the other countries of the world, believing, as I think we are entitled to, that they are sufficiently identified by the effigy of the Sovereign which appears upon them and by the language of the inscription.
I propose, on the occasion of the new issue of stamps and letter-cards to improve the perforation both on the stamps and the letter-cards, in respect to which there has been in the past some complaint. When the pressure of work owing to the production of the new issue is over, 2173 I propose also to place upon sale postage stamps in the form of rolls, instead of only in the form of sheets, for the convenience of persons who use automatic machines in their offices and elsewhere, and also, I believe, very likely in private houses in many cases the rolls might be found more convenient for use. A few months ago I announced in the House of Commons that if there was any demand for the facility from Chambers of Commerce and Chambers of Trade, I should be glad to make arrangements for the supplying for each of certificates of the posting of letters. There are many persons who do not wish to go to the expense of registering a letter at a cost of 2d., which insures special care in its handling and compensation in case of loss, but who desire to be able to have in their possession some proof that they had posted a letter to a particular person which might be produced in the event of a dispute. In several trades that facility is much desired. I have received many representations from Chambers of Commerce and Chambers of Trade to the effect that this facility would be found of great use, and I propose, therefore, in the near future to place upon sale in post offices these certificates of posting, which anyone can obtain on handing the letter to the clerk and placing an adhesive ½d. stamp on a form which will be supplied to him. It should be understood, however, that this is not an alternative to registration, and that any one who desires special care to be taken of his letter or compensation in the event of its loss will still need to have that letter registered at the existing fee of 2d.
There is another change which I propose to effect very shortly. The rates charged in the foreign parcel post have been in my opinion somewhat too high. Our foreign parcel post is now an agency of very great importance. We export every year through the parcel post over £5,000,000 worth of goods, and the amount exported has very rapidly increased. In the last seven years it has increased by 60 per cent., while at the same time Tariff Reformers will rejoice to hear that there has been an exceedingly small increase in imports by parcel post. This great increase has been effected in spite of the somewhat high rates which are charged, many of which are rather higher than those charged by our great trade competitor, Germany. We are all anxious, so far as it is possible within the province of each of us, to do what we can to assist our merchants in the expansion of national trade, and I feel sure a reduction in the 2174 foreign parcel post rate would be generally welcomed. I should explain that, unlike the postage on a letter, which is a fixed sum carrying a letter any distance for 1d. or 2½d. as the case may be, the whole of which is received by the country in which the letter is posted, the parcel post rate is a composite rate made up of separate sums, each sum being in respect of the service rendered by the country which handles the parcel in the Course of its passage. For instance, if a parcel were going from here to Italy overland there would be a charge for the cost of handling in England, a charge for the sea postage, and a charge in respect of the conveyance through the countries through which it passes on its way. Each administration is entitled to its share of the postage rate charged on each parcel. Consequently the rates which are under my control here are merely the rates charged for the handling of parcels in this country, both parcels despatched from here and received here. The present English portion of the foreign parcel post rate is 5d. for a parcel up to 3 lbs., 10d. up to 7 lbs., and 1s. 3d. up to 11 lbs. There are variations in particular cases, but as a rule these are the charges. I propose a reduction of about 20 per cent. in these rates, which will enable a very appreciable reduction to be made all round in the great majority of our foreign parcel post rates. It will involve a present loss to the Revenue of about £19,000 a year, but I feel confident that that sum will very soon be recouped by the growth of business which may be expected to ensue.
I received some time ago a deputation of Members from Ireland, representing both parties in this House—Nationalists and Unionists—urging the acceleration of the mails between London and Queenstown in order to promote, so far as possible, the use of that route for mails to America. It is a remarkable thing that, so rapid and so uniform is now the speed of the great vessels which carry the mails across the Atlantic, we have to make our arrangements no longer on a basis of days, but on a basis of hours, and it is a matter of real importance that the mails should be a couple of hours earlier in Queenstown than they have been previously. I have been able to effect that acceleration. The mails now arrive at Queenstown two hours earlier on Sunday morning than before, with the result that the "Lusitania" and the "Mauretania" are usually able to deliver their mails in New York on Thursday evening in time to catch the night- 2175 mails from New York, and the acceleration, which we have effected at this end of two hours has enabled an acceleration of very often twelve hours in the delivery of the mails on the American side. I have no control over the ports of call of the ships which come from the United States to this country, but I did make representations to the Cunard Company, and they were good enough to arrange that all the packet-boats coming from New York to this country should, with the exception of the "Lusitania" and the "Mauretania," resume the call at Queenstown, which they had previously dropped, and the effect of that has been that the mails for Ireland have been very considerably accelerated in respect of these vessels, except the two ships I have mentioned. The only other point, I think, which it is necessary to mention in respect to postal facilities is that a few days ago, on 1st May, I had the pleasure of receiving and sending messages of congratulation from and to the Postmaster-General of Australia on the coming into operation of the penny postage rate from Australia to the United Kingdom, and the Committee will be glad to know that the adoption of that rate by Australia now completes the whole system throughout the Empire of Imperial penny postage, with the exception of a very few small and unimportant island possessions in the Pacific.
During the past year I have been giving the closest attention to the character and to the cost of our cable communications. Situated as this country is, with commercial interests in every quarter of the globe, with a greater foreign trade than any other nation, with our ships on every sea equalling in their number the ships of all the rest of the world put together, and with an Empire covering one-fifth of the whole of the land surface of the earth, the speed and accessibility of our telegraphic communications throughout the world must always be a matter of profound national importance. And whoever holds the office of Postmaster-General must necessarily give to these considerations a foremost place in his thoughts. The question of the rates charged for cablegrams is so important that both my predecessor, now President of the Board of Trade, and myself have felt that they could not be left permanently to the uncontrolled discretion of the Cable Companies. At the same time he felt, and I feel, that the legitimate interests of the companies and of their shareholders 2176 Should be safeguarded, seeing that these companies have provided a large amount of capital, often at great risk, and have built up what is a highly efficient service, of which England is the centre, and which is of great National and Imperial value. In view of these considerations, I have adopted the policy that control over rates should be secured by means of the licences which are required by the cable companies for landing their cables on our shores. These licences are granted for limited periods. They come up for renewal from time to time, and I have adopted the policy that from this time forth these licences shall contain a Clause to the effect that if, in the opinion of His. Majesty's Government, the rates are excessive, objection may he made to them, and that, if the company disagree and regards its rates as reasonable in view of the interests of the shareholders and of the circumstances of the case, any difference between the company and the Government should be referred to the arbitration of an impartial tribunal to be specified in the licence. I think the Committee will probably realise that this is a very important departure from the existing arrangements, and one which may be of great value in future. I anticipate, however, that as a matter of fact, as far as we can at present foresee, these new powers will be rarely used. I have found very great willingness on the part of the cable companies to adopt suggestions made to them by the Post Office, and I think they deserve great credit for the response they have made. Particularly in one direction they have consented to effect a large reduction in the rates harged—for plain language deferred telegrams, that is to say, telegrams which are not in code, or of an urgent character, and which may be deferred in transmission for a period of not more than twenty-four hours. Code telegrams already may often be sent at no very excessive rates, for a good many words may be expressed in a short phrase. Codes may be of various kinds. I remember hearing of an Archbishop who was travelling abroad and, wishing to communicate with a friend, sent him a cablegram containing only five words: "John, Epistle 13–14." His friend to whom the cable was addressed looked up the text to which reference was made and found these words: —I had many, things to write, but I will not with ink and pen write unto thee:But I trust I shall shortly see thee, and we shall speak face to face Peace be to thee. Our friends salute thee. Greet the friends by name.2177 I think the Committee will agree that this ecclesiastical code, which condensed so much for the payment of five words in a cablegram, is a most remarkable instance of ingenuity in this regard. But the commercial codes are capable of still greater compression than the ecclesiastical code. I have seen a cablegram containing only two words, the translation of the two words being: —Have bought ex-dividend Hull Corporation Stock (First Issue) £1,000 nominal amount at par. Have cancelled purchase of Glasgow irredeemable stock.By the manufacture of artificial words, each two letters of which have a special significance, it is possible to arrive at a result so remarkable as that.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
There are many people who are not able to use codes, and they are to be enabled to get a considerable reduction on the rates charged for cable communications. Friends travelling abroad are put to very great expense, if they are at a distance, in sending messages of any length. These cablegrams are frequently not of a character so urgent that any serious inconvenience would be caused if they were placed behind messages of an urgent character. I have been negotiating with all the cable companies of importance having communications with England—both Atlantic and Eastern companies—and they have agreed to reduce by 50 per cent. the charges for cablegrams in plain language which will be liable to a delay, not exceeding twenty-four hours. This reform would have been carried out before now were it not that certain difficulties were raised by the French Government, which under the Telegraph Convention is interested in the matter, but negotiations are proceeding with that Government, and a conference is to be held in Paris in a few days, when I hope a satisfactory settlement will be arrived at, so as to secure what will be a very great advantage to the public at large. Arrangements are also being made for an accelerated telegraphic service between here and the Continent by the greater use of quadruplex and other appliances. New cables will be laid where required.
The past year has seen a continuous and rapid expansion in the use of wireless telegraphy. The Committee is aware that my right hon. Friend (Mr. Sydney Buxton), 2178 when Postmaster-General, purchased the stations round our coasts belonging to the Marconi company and to Lloyd's, and they are now being worked by the Post Office. That purchase is proved to have been a wise and far-seeing one. The traffic is great and it is increasing. During the year the number of British ships fitted with wireless apparatus has more than doubled. A year ago there were 130, and the number is now 290. Many of the smaller passenger ships and cargo boats are now being fitted with wireless apparatus. During the last few months the number of telegrams sent and received show an increase of 60 per cent. compared with the corresponding figures a year ago. I said a year ago that there would be removal of certain stations to more convenient points, and that improvements would be effected in other directions. These alterations are now being carried out, and I propose to set up a new station at or near Newcastle-on-Tyne to deal with the traffic of the North Sea, and another at Valentia to deal with the increasing traffic off the South-West of Ireland. It is rather a remarkable coincidence that wireless telegraphy has been brought prominently before the notice of the great mass of the population by its use in the sensational murder case in which Dr. Crippen figured. It is a coincidence, because in the early days of telegraphy by wires precisely the same thing occurred. Little interest was taken in electric telegraphy when it was first established. It was regarded as little more than a scientific toy until a murder was committed at slough, and the murderer, who was identified, escaped by train. An experimental telegraph line had been set up along the Great Western Railway, and a telegram was despatched to London, with the result that the murderer was arrested as he left the railway carriage at Paddington. From that time forth the public took a real interest in electric telegraphy, and what had previously been regarded as little more than a scientific toy rapidly attained the position of an instrument of general utility. I thought the Committee might be interested in that as showing a remarkably close parallel to that incident which occurred in the course of last year in regard to wireless telegraphy.
In regard to telephones, I do not propose to enter into the general question of telephone policy or the steps taken in anticipation of the transfer of the company's business to the Post Office. Nor shall I enter into the 2179 alternative arrangements proposed by certain chambers of commerce and others. Nor do I propose to deal with the question of the conditions of the transfer of the staff to the State service. Within a few weeks—I hope shortly after Whitsuntide—I shall have to introduce the Telephone Transfer Bill dealing with these questions, and I think the Committee will consider it more convenient that they should receive the full and separate attention which the importance of these great problems requires on the occasion specially allotted to that purpose, rather than that I should deal with them to-day, together with a large number of Post Office questions which properly come before the cognisance of the Committee. I would mention in regard to the telephones that there has been during the year a satisfactory increase. In the Post Office telephone system, during the twelve months there has been an increase in the number of telephones of no less than 13 per cent., and the number of trunk Gals has also increased 13 per cent., while the revenue from the trunk wires has increased 15 per cent., showing that people are using the trunk wires more and more for conversations. There has been a large and continuous capital expenditure on telephones throughout the country. Another interesting feature of the year so far as the telephone is concerned has been the laying of a submarine cable between England and France of a new type. It is furnished with what the engineers call inductance coils, the effect of which is greatly to increase the power of transmission of a cable. I have spoken on the old and new cables between this House and Paris and the difference is remarkable. The effect of the alterations will be to extend considerably the range of telephonic communications between England and the different parts of the Continent. I mention this because I think the engineers of the Post Office are entitled to much credit for having devised and elaborated what is a new departure in the science of submarine telephony. I am awaiting the construction of land lines on the Continent to communicate with this cable, and also the laying of a French cable which the French Government have undertaken to lay. When these additional facilities are available and ready to cope with the increased work which may be anticipated, I shall be able to reduce by 50 per cent. the charges for telephonic 2180 communication between this country and France, which, I am sure, will be very satisfactory to the commercial community.
I have endeavoured to develop in this country what has already been developed in America, namely, a system of farmers' telephones—cheap lines in the agricultural districts. In the United States there are as many farmers' telephones as all our telephones in this country put together. There are several instruments to one line, and they are supplied at a very cheap rate. I am now offering to the agricultural districts the unlimited use of a telephone for £3 per annum to any farmer who is willing to join with his neighbours. There must be no fewer than five on a line subscribing to the telephone system on these terms. If this system is used, it will lessen the isolation of country life, and it will also facilitate the transaction of business by farmers, and what is not less important, it will greatly ease the operations of agricultural societies and organisations. The system of co-operative societies and other organisations can only be worked to the best advantage by taking full advantage of the telephone. By its means farmers are put into communication with the central creamery or depot. The system has been tried in England at Brandsby, in Yorkshire, where a number of farmers have got the telephone at these rates and conditions. It has been a complete success in every way. I have had drafted a leaflet describing the advantages of the scheme, not in stereotyped official terms, but in the more attractive language in commercial use. I have enlisted the support of the agricultural organisation societies of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and with their co-operation I trust to be able to develop the system to a very large extent. I hope that all those who are interested in the development of agricultural industry, and especially in the development of agricultural co-operation, in this House and outside it, will cooperate with the Post Office in inducing farmers throughout the country to obtain the advantage of this very cheap rate of telephonic communication.
The coming year will see the jubilee of the Post Office Savings Bank. Its 50th anniversary will fall in September. It has been, as we all know, an institution of immeasurable value, which now has charge of no less a sum than £165,000,000 of the savings of the people. I hope it will be possible to signalise the jubilee year in one very satisfactory manner, and that we shall be able to witness the final disappear- 2181 ance of the annual deficits on the Savings Bank Account, which have been decreasing year by year and have now been reduced to very small proportions. By certain changes in the accounting and management which I have in view I hope that the deficit will be wiped out altogether within the next twelve months. On the day in September on which the jubilee falls I hope also to be able to introduce the home safes which I described to the Committee twelve months ago. The money-boxes, which will be in the possession of the depositors, while the post office keeps the key, can be opened only on presentation at a post office, so that the depositor, under a temptation to spend, will be obliged to wait until he visits a post office before he is able to expend the money which he has succeeded in accumulating. These safes will be supplied for a registration fee of Is. each and a deposit of 2s., but the deposit will be returnable when the safe is returned to the post office. The manufacture of them is now proceeding. A hundred thousand of them have been ordered, and I anticipate that they will be as successful as a means of feeding the Post Office Savings Bank as they have been found to be in regard to private savings banks and in other countries.
During recent months much has been written in the Press with respect to the desirability of popularising Consols, and giving facilities to the people to obtain Government securities with ease and in small amounts. The question of the issue of small bonds to bearer and similar matters lie in the Department of the Treasury and are not in my province. But I would like to remind the Committee that the Post Office does now give these facilites which are asked for to a very large extent. Anyone at the present time can buy any form of Government Stock he wishes in any amount from is up to £200 in the year, by the simple process of going to a post office and paying his money into a Savings Bank account. The opening of a Savings Bank account costs nothing. The commission that is charged on the purchase of the Government Stock is only 9d. for any sum up to £25. Then it rises by steps up to a sum of 2s. 3d. for the investment of £100, and then by stages of 6d. per £100. The Committee will recognise that these rates of commission are exceedingly low. Anyone who wishes to buy £100 worth of Consols can do so by going into a post office and paying 2s. 3d. commission. He gets the Consols at, the price of a succeeding day. He is able to invest as much as 2182 £200 in one year, or £500 in all, through the agency of the Savings Bank, and interest is paid to him through his Savings Bank account. When he reaches the limit of £500 the investment can be transferred to his own name, and he can begin, if he so wishes, to invest further amounts through the agency of the Post Office. One hundred and sixty-four thousand people now avail themselves of these facilities, and hold, through the Savings Bank account, Government Stock to the value of £23,000,000. Twenty-five per cent. of these holdings are under £25 each. Nearly another 25 per cent. are between £25 and £50 each. I think it is very advisable that it should be made as widely known as possible that these cheap facilities do exist for the investment of very small sums in our Government securities.
What I have been saying to the Committee will lead them to see that this Department is by no means swathed in routine or lacking in enterprise, that there is no dead hand of official apathy to be witnessed in the Post Office, and that there is an active life pulsing through all the vast ramifications of our system. The Post Office may take pride, and does take pride, in continually increasing its utility to the nation which it serves. I now turn to another group of questions which interest many Members of this House, those questions relating to the internal organisation of the Department itself, and the conditions of employment of the staff. The Hobhouse Committee recommended that there should be a certain amount of decentralisation of the Post Office system. They came to the conclusion that the work was too much concentrated at head-quarters. The Committee appointed by my right hon. Friend and predecessor, and presided over by Sir Henry Babington Smith, a previous Secretary to the Post Office, after prolonged inquiry, presented a report on this subject. It made clear to us that there was in the Post Office a certain amount of delay through matters being dealt with at head-quarters which could properly be dealt with locally, and that there was not only delay but that sometimes work was done twice over both in the localities and at head-quarters, which might properly be left to the local offices. For reasons into which I do not enter I did not see my way to adopt the recommendations of the Committee with regard to a complete re-division of the country into different areas suggested by the Committee, but I have adopted to the full their proposals with 2183 regard to the devolution of powers, and recently powers which used to be exerised by the head-quarter staff have been transferred to the surveyors in different districts and to the Secretaries in Scotland and Ireland, and powers which used to be exercised by the surveyors have been transferred to the larger postmasters, so that local officers are now allowed greater discretion than hitherto; and I believe the result will be more economy and more despatch in the transaction of Post Office business without any loss of efficiency.
With regard to the conditions of employment of the staff I have been able to carry out from time to time a number of minor improvements designed to promote the comfort and better treatment of the vast body of men and women of whom the Postmaster-General is the employer. And I have received a great number of deputations and memorials, as any one in the office of Postmaster-General does. I need hardly assure the Committee that it is a matter of profound satisfaction to a Postmaster-General if he is able while doing justice to the public interests to carry out any measure which will produce better treatment of those whom he employs. I have, however, during the past year been pressed from certain quarters to reconsider the main scales of remuneration laid down by the Committee of this House, and brought into operation at the beginning of 1908. The Members of this Committee who are acquainted with the history of this question will be aware that for very many years the associations of Post Office servants advocated and pressed for a Committee of the House of Commons to adjudicate upon their grievances, and after many refusals that Committee was at last established in the year 1906, and it sat during that year and the year 1907. It made a most prolonged and laborious inquiry, and made a vast number of exceedingly detailed recommendations. Those recommendations have been carried into effect by my predecessor at a cost to the Exchequer amounting to about £680,000 a year. I am now asked by representatives of the Staff to reopen this question, and to review not merely questions of interpretation of various paragraphs which may be thought to be ambiguous in this Report, but to open the main scales of remuneration laid down by a Committee of this House, viewed either as a whole or in respect of particular classes. I have not 2184 thought it consistent with my duty to accede to that request
It has been suggested to me, for instance, that the telegraphists in the six largest towns have a legitimate grievance because the Hobhouse Committee gave them no advance on their previously existing maximum of 56s. per week, and they urged that I should depart from the specific recommendation in that regard, and press the Treasury for an increase of remuneration. I may point out to the Committee with respect to the established servants of the Post Office that the money wage is not the remuneration. The remuneration is considerably more than the money wage, and that 56s. paid to the Post Office telegraphists does not correspond to the 56s. paid to a workman, say, in ordinary employment. The Post Office Servant has his pension rights. He has not got to provide for his own old age as the man in other employment has, and the actuarial value of these rights is frequently as much as 10 per cent. of the wage. He has also full pay in times of sickness, and he has annual leave also on full pay. The actuarial value of these supplementary advantages, putting aside postmen who have uniform and boot allowance, is sometimes as much as 20 per cent., and can rarely be taken as less than 15 per cent. of the wage. And the telegraphist who is receiving a money wage of 56s. a week would be in effect receiving a total remuneration of about 65s. a week. The Members of the House, therefore, who take an interest in the rates of pay of the Post Office servants should always bear in mind that the wage-scale is not the total remuneration of these officers.
If I reopened the question of these telegraphists in these six towns, I should at once be pressed to reopen the question of the London sorters, who number many thousands, who also were not given any advantage by the Hobhouse Committee's recommendations, and of all the other towns which are on a carefully graduated scale; and any interference with one part of that scale almost certainly would have an effect upon the others in this question of remuneration. Therefore, it is impossible to pick out one class and to treat it in an isolated manner. It will be necessary if there is a revision to have a general revision. That would mean that a Committee should be again called upon to go into the question of remuneration and conditions of service of the Post Office staff who now number 217,000 persons, and who 2185 before the end of this financial year, with the addition of the National Telephone Company's employés, will number 236,000 people. I fully agree that the recommendations of the Hobhouse Committee cannot stand for all time, and must necessarily after an interval be subject to review. But I would point out to the Committee that they have been in force for a period now of little more than three years, and it is not only my own opinion, but the opinion of the Government as a whole that it is considerably too soon to ask the House again to undertake so difficult and laborious an inquiry. There are two specific questions I should like to refer to, before I terminate my remarks; they relate to employés, and they have been receiving special attention during the last twelve months. One is as to the telephone operators, with respect to whose health some sensational statements have been made in the newspapers, and some of which have been too lightly accepted in various quarters. One speaker at a conference of the Postal Telegraph Clerks' Association, held at Nottingham, declared that in one exchange which was mentioned, out of thirty-six girl operators, on a particular day, no fewer than 30 were carried out either fainting or suffering from hysteria, owing to the extreme pressure of the work. So far as I have been able to investigate the matter on the information supplied to me—and I have asked for further information, which has not yet reached me—in that exchange on no date was more than one operator so affected, and the daily average rate was one-tenth of one per cent. It will be seen that very reprehensible remarks are made, which are quite unsubstantiated by the facts, with regard to matters such as these. However, there is no doubt that the work of the telephone operators does on occasion impose a certain strain upon the nervous organisation, and it is very necessary that whatever steps are possible should be taken in order that the operators generally may do their work with the minimum of detriment. I have carefully considered the report of the medical officers appointed by my predecessor to hold an inquiry into this matter, and I propose as speedily as may be to carry out certain improvements in the conditions of the employment of telephone operators.
Some of them are employed on a system of what is called long and short duty. They work on a basis of an eight-hours day, but 2186 instead of working eight hours on each day, they work ten hours on one day and six hours on the next, in order that the organisation of the particular exchange may be facilitated to suit the work that is to be done. The period of ten hours, however, is in my opinion too long for an operator to be exposed to the continuous strain of telephone work. As quickly as the conditions will allow, this system of long and short duty for telephonists will be abolished. There are in contemplation other provisions as to hours of attendance which will further improve the conditions of employment. Improvements will be made in the headgear which is used so as to make it more easy for girls to wear; and we are experimenting with different types of chairs which will be more suited for their work. Rest rooms are being provided wherever possible, so that supervisors will not be subjected to long periods of continuous standing. Further, it is proposed in future to have more careful discrimination among candidates for entrance into the telephone service, in order to ensure that those who are accepted shall not be persons who are liable to nervous instability. The other class of employés to whom special and continuous attention has been given is the class of boy messengers, of whom I spoke at some length to the Committee a year ago. During the last twelve months much has been done to carry out the policy which I then foreshadowed. I have presented to the House the Report of a Standing Committee—presided over by the Secretary to the Post Office (Sir Matthew Nathan)—which has been dealing with this subject with the purpose of devising means by which the Post Office may be freed from the reproach of taking into its employment great numbers of boys to whom it can offer no permanent employment, and who at the age of sixteen years or thereabouts are thrown on to the labour market without any training for any skilled employment.
In these days we have come to recognise that the main hope for the future lies in the children, and public opinion has come to realise more and more that our efforts for the education of the boys and girls should continue during the years of adolescence, which are as important, and even more important, than the years up to the age of fourteen. Efforts are being made both in Parliament and out of it to secure that boys and girls when they leave school shall be directed into employments which will offer to them as secure a liveli- 2187 hood for the future as the industrial conditions of our country allow. It is a clear inconsistency, while the public and Parliament are making those efforts, and while public attention is directed to that end, that the Post Office, which is by far the largest employer of labour, should itself give the most conspicuous instance of blind alley employment. My efforts have been directed to terminating that condition of things. The Post Office is employing 15,800 boys, of whom 4,000 are dismissed every year, in addition to those sent away for misconduct or for special reasons, such as want of habits of regularity or of discipline. These boys have not been trained for skilled employment. We already absorb about 1,600 boys a year for continued service in the Post Office, while dismissing about 4,000. We also take into the Post Office service about 1,300 old soldiers and sailors. I am not disposed to terminate that arrangement with the War Office and Admiralty. After all the prospects of a man who leaves the Army for civil life are even worse, in the view of securing proper employment, than those of the boys in the Post Office service. Our practice is that men who in their youth entered the Post Office, and afterwards have enlisted in the Army, should, when they leave the Army and wish to return to the Post Office, have the preference in the choice of old soldiers. That system will still be continued. We shall be enabled in the future to increase the number of 1,600 previously arranged for, by absorbing annually in the Post Office service a larger number of boy messengers. I have arranged that an additional number shall obtain employment at the War Office as engineers, or in other skilled employment of that character, but the main hope of being able to absorb these youths lies in keeping the boys for a longer period. If you keep them to the age of eighteen or nineteen instead of the age of sixteen, you will require a smaller number of boys.
If you have a smaller number of boys you will have fewer dismissals. Our efforts are being devoted to that particular arrangement to enable the period of employment of each boy to be lengthened. This cannot be brought into operation all at once. If you keep boys up to the age of nineteen—I mean the whole of the boy staff—you will be simultaneously taking on a great number of young boys at one time. The system has 2188 to be worked out gradually; it will take a period of two years to come into full operation. In the twelve months from next July, I hope to reduce the number of dismissals at sixteen years from 4,000 to 1,700, which is in itself a very large reduction, and in the period of another twelve months I hope it may be reduced again. It is not possible to give precise figures, but, at any rate, to very small proportions; indeed, we shall then be within sight of a solution of this very difficult and complex question. There is one other point with regard to the boy messengers. In future the recruitment of boy messengers will be a matter of greater importance if they are given, in the majority of cases, lifelong employment. Therefore it is very necessary to get the right class of boy, and to make sure there is no favouritism in the selection of boys who are to be continued in the service. So far as it is possible to do it, I should like to have the assistance of the Juvenile Advisory Committees now being set up in a great number of towns by the Education authorities in co-operation with the Labour Exchanges. Where those Advisory Committees do not exist we will use the Committees appointed by the Education authorities alone to give advice to parents in the training and employment of their children. A second point is this, that many of the telegraph messengers now voluntarily attend classes in the evenings for the improvement of their education after working hours. In future it will be a matter of even greater importance than hitherto to maintain a high educational standard. The Consultative Committee of the Board of Education, in their well-known Report, recommended compulsory continuation classes and the Scottish Education Commission made a similar recommendation, which has lately been authorised by Parliament in the Scottish Education Act.
I propose—it does not require legislation—to use the administrative powers with which I am vested to make it a condition of employment for the future entrance into the Post Office service that the boys shall attend continuation classes, and for the first two years of their service —it is a modest proposal—they shall devote four hours a week, from September up to April, to these continuation classes, and that then they shall be subjected to an examination to see what profit they have made by their studies, and in order to show their ability for continued service in the Post Office. After 2189 the second year they would be subjected to further educational requirements, but the details of the system are not yet worked out. We are making arrangements, further, at some of the offices where the pressure of work is not continuous, that books shall be available for the boys to read during their spare time. All these new schemes for the benefit of the boy messengers require so much supervision that I thought it necessary to appoint an officer of my Department to give all his time to the supervision of such arrangements, so that they may be properly and effectively carried out throughout the country as a whole.
The Post Office will be called upon during the coming year and succeeding years to take a great part in the scheme of National Insurance which has lately been laid before Parliament and the country by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It has been a great satisfaction to the staff of the Post Office as a whole, to its officers from the highest to the lowest, that they have been privileged to take a share in the old age pensions scheme which is now in such successful operation through the agency of this Department. I am quite certain that I am expressing the opinion of the whole Post Office staff when I say that they will be not only ready but proud, to take their share in the organisation and working of this great scheme of social amelioration which is, we all recognise, a momentous part of the world-wide movement of social reform which is the distinguishing and ennobling feature of our time.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
I beg to move to reduce item A (Salaries, Wages, and Allowances) by £100. After the important and interesting speech of the Postmaster-General, it seems most ungenerous to move the reduction of his salary. I therefore move this Amendment as a mere matter of form in order that we may obtain a discussion of certain questions which have arisen in connection with the administration of the Post Office during the last year. Before in any way quarrelling with the right hon. Gentleman, I should like to express great satisfaction with the various reforms which he 'mentioned, and which I am sure will be received with appreciation by the commercial community, especially in regard to the certificate of postage, which is a very great improvement. This certificate of the Postmaster-General will be of great service to those of us who desire 2190 evidence that letters have been posted. There is then the reduction of the price of the postage of foreign parcels. I do not intend to be led into a discussion on Tariff Reform, although the Postmaster-General rather invited one. Any reduction in the cost of parcels post, whereby we can export articles to foreign countries will be very much welcomed by our trading communities. Before I enter on a subject, of complaint, I must refer to the latter part of his speech as to reduction in the number of boys who will be dismissed, and the ultimate extinction of that number which I think follows, according to the Postmaster-General, in two or three years. It has been the crying evil, and one which has been the despair of philanthropists for many years past, what to do with this large number of boys dismissed from the Post Office at the age of sixteen without any trade or business, and without having served any apprenticeship. I certainly, for my own part, do appreciate most heartily the effort the Postmaster-General has made and is making in order to reduce that number dismissed from the Post Office. I look forward to the time, as the Postmaster-General appears to look forward too, when the entry of a boy into the ser vice of the Postmaster-General will be take provision for a permanent career, so that he may go on step by step until he becomes a full-blown member of the Post Office staff.
I desire to ask one or two questions on points mentioned by the Postmaster-General. There is, understand, to he a very small charge for farmers' telephones, namely, £3 per year. But the right hon. Gentleman did not mention if there is to be a charge for installation in country districts those of us who desire to use telephones very frequently have to pay a considerable stun, if we are some distance from the Exchange, for the installation of the telephone. We should like to know if those farmers' telephones will be installed free of charge. I do not propose to discuss the Telephone Transfer Act at the present time, but I am quite sure that the Postmaster-General will remember the pledges made by his predecessor two years ago with regard to doing his very utmost to take over all the employés employed by the National Telephone Service in order that none of them may be thrown out of employment, because there is nowhere else except the Post Office where those men could possibly obtain employment. I should like to know 2191 whether there is likely to be any improvement in telephony from the point of view of the automatic telephone. It is now being used in the United States, and I should like to know, amongst all the improvements that the Post Office is now making if the right hon. Gentleman can see his way, at all events for experimental purposes, to introduce automatic telephones.
In the midst of those wonders which the Postmaster-General has been putting forward, in a speech against which I am bound to say very little adverse criticism can possibly be directed, I regret I am compelled to put forward a point which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned in the earlier part of his remarks, and that is in reference to the sale of post-cards and letter-cards at ½d. and 1d. respectively without charging for the paper or the card. I regret it all the more so because I know from the cheers with which his remarks were met that I am putting forward, from many points of view, an unpopular proposal. I agree that it has been detrimental to those of us who wanted to buy halfpenny post-cards to have to go into a post office and pay three farthings. I should not in the least object, and I do not think anybody in the stationery trade would in the least object to the reform of the Postmaster-General if it were confined to the needs of the poor man who wanted to buy one, two, or three post-cards from time to time. I quite agree, when post-cards can be produced fifty-eight for ld., that it is not right to charge a man a farthing for a post-card, but it is quite a different thing to have the Post Office again entering into competition with an established trade, and giving away wholesale post-cards and letter-cards without charging anything for them. I am not in the least degree interested in the stationery trade, and I have been merely asked to put the views of the stationery trade before the Committee. There are some 20,000 retail stationers in this country who have been in the habit of supplying millions of people with post-cards and letter-cards. This is a departure from the practice of the Post Office. The Post Office has hitherto, with the exception of the year 1872, when postcards were first introduced, confined itself to the transmission of mails and the transmission of parcels, and has not provided free the post-cards or letter-cards in which those mails are to be sent.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
I agree that recently foreign post-cards have been provided free in order to make our arrangements run on parallel lines with foreign countries. I am bound to say I do not think that the provision of foreign postcards is really an argument in favour of allowing the wholesale provision of free post-cards and letter-cards, not merely to the poor man who wants to send one or two or three, but also to the large wholesale firms. My point is that we are going, at the expense of the taxpayer or really the poor man, if you like, to provide large firms such as banks, insurance offices and all kinds of advertising firms with free stationery, free post-cards and free letter-cards. That is quite the contrary of the old Liberal doctrine of some thirty years ago, when Mr. Gladstone was Prime Minister. In 1872 it was decided that a charge should be made for the paper and the post-cards. That charge was made because they felt that it was not right to give to the people, and it was a Liberal Government then considered the question, something for nothing. The duty of the Post Office is to carry the card when it is there for or the letter-card at ld., and deliver it to its destination. The Secretary to the Treasury in 1872 desired that the people in the stationery trade should take this question in hand, and in Hansard of 1872 the statement is given: —this will give opportunity to the stationers to devise a variety of cards differing both in quality and design for general use, and all classes will participate more or less in the accommodative.In 1881 the point again came up when Mr. Fawcett, I think, was Postmaster-General. He directed a letter to be written declining to accede to the proposal, made by the Postmaster-General to-day, on the ground that as a matter of justice and policy a small charge must be made for the card itself. That was the action of a Liberal Postmaster-General. I am going to submit to the Committee it is not merely a matter of policy, but a matter of justice that you should charge people, I do not say a farthing, for that is obviously too much, but something for the card and the letter-card.
§ Mr. JOYNSON HICKS
The right hon. Gentleman will remember that as to the poor man who goes in and gets one or two or three cards I said I would not haggle, 2193 even about a question of principle. Let him have his card for the stamp value. My point is as to large firms who may want ten or twenty or one hundred thousand cards, and who are now going to have them for the stamp value, whereas hitherto they had been in the habit of going to their stationer or printer and ordering them to be printed. Banks, insurance companies, railway companies, and all big employers of labour use very large numbers of post-cards, which they buy to-day from the stationers, and for which they pay the value. My objection to this proposal is that they will be able to go, at the expense of the general public, and buy those cards in any number they like and have them printed, merely paying the face cost of them. There has been a very large increase in the number of post-cards sent through the post during the last few years. I venture to suggest that these free post-cards of the right hon. Gentleman would enormously increase the number of cards, and more especially the number of what one may call official postcards. In 1894, which I believe was a crucial date, for, as the Postmaster-General said, that was the date when adhesive stamps were first allowed to be put on post-cards for the convenience of the general public. The stationery trade were more or less told at the time that they could build up a trade. They have built up a trade to the advantage of the Postal Revenue. In 1894 there were 197,000,000 official post-cards supplied by the post office and passing through the post office, and only 37,000,000 private post-cards. Last year there were 753,000,000 private post-cards passing through the post office, and the number of official post-cards had diminished to 85,000,000. That shows that the stationery trade had not been backwards. They did meet the enormous public demand, and increased the number of private post-cards from 37,000,000 to 835,000,000.
I venture to submit to the Postmaster-General that it is inevitable, if you arc going to give the public post-cards for nothing, that that vast trade which has sprung up of 838,000,000 post-cards made and sold by the stationer; must enormously diminish. Your commercial firm is not likely to order its hundred thousand post-cards from the stationer when they can be get from the post office for nothing. I venture to suggest further, that there is nothing in the statement of the Postmaster-General that he was not going to include envelopes and newspaper- 2194 wrappers. But why not? If I can go to a post office and buy a packet of 100 or 1,000 packets of post-cards or even more at their face value, the analogy is complete. If I can buy 100,000 letter-cards, why not stamped envelopes for nothing? The postage is exactly the same for a letter-card as it is for the envelope, being 1d. in each case, and I am to have a letter-card given to me for nothing, and I have to pay for the envelope. The same applies to the newspaper-wrapper, which, I should imagine, costs less than either the postcard or the letter-card. The Postmaster-General assures us that we are still going to be asked to pay for the newspaper-wrapper, and I quite agree that we should. But I feel certain that pressure will quickly be put on the right hon. Gentleman, and that in another year or so we shall have people probably rising and saying, "You have given us free postcards and letter-cards, and surely you are not going to make us pay 1d. for twenty-five stamped envelopes. Surely you are not going to make us pay anything for the newspaper wrapper?" It will be the rich consumer who is really getting the benefit, and not the poor man. The argument of the Postmaster-General in his speech and in his letter six months ago when he foreshadowed this reform was on behalf of the poor man, whom it was-unfair and undesirable to charge for postcards. But the same argument applies to the poor man who wants to send a newspaper, and I feel sure that, in the course of a year or two, having once given way on the matter of the post-card and the letter-card, the Post Office will have to give free the newspaper-wrapper and, sooner or later, the envelope. If the Postmaster-General will accept the suggestion which I have made to limit the free cards to small numbers, and not allow them to be bought in wholesale fashion, it would be much better.
It is true that the concession applies only to thin post-cards. But what rational difference is there between providing thin post-cards for nothing and providing cards a little thicker? The thin post-cards are the best adapted for using in typewriters, and when you can get them for nothing they will be the cards which the ordinary business firm will use for advertising purposes. The whole country will be flooded with thin post-cards, and, as a taxpayer, I object to advertising firms, instead of having printed stationery for which they have to pay, having their announcements 2195 printed on Government cards which they get for nothing. Although the cost—fifty-eight for 1d.—seems very small, I believe the Post Office will experience an appreciable loss. Thirty years ago the Postmaster-General estimated that there would be a saving to the Government of about £15,000 through charging for post-cards. Owing to the enormous increase in the number of post-cards used, I believe that, if my expectation is anything like fulfilled, the cost of this concession by the Government will work out at £30,000 or £40,000 a year. I see no reason why the Post Office should pay that sum, not for the benefit of the poor man, but in order to put it in the hands of well-to-do advertisers, while at the same time inflicting a serious hardship Upon stationers, wholesale and retail, who, in accordance with the suggestion of the Postmaster-General in 1894, have built up their business and increased it by 300 per cent. I suggest that the Postmaster-General should reconsider his proposal somewhat on the lines I have suggested. I beg to move.
Question proposed, "That Item A (Salaries, Wages, and Allowances) be reduced by £100."
§ Mr. WILES
Members in all parts of the House will join in congratulating the Postmaster-General on the splendid result of the year's working of his great undertaking. Everybody will be glad also to hear of the improvements which he has announced. I do not think that many Members will agree with the complaint of the hon. Member opposite in regard to the reduction in the price of post-cards. It seems to me that it is a reduction in the cost of carrying the post-cards. It is impossible to sell a post-card for less than a halfpenny, and so the Postmaster-General is giving the card in as a reduction in the postage. I do not think that people in the stationery trade will lose much in the sale of post-cards. They will retain the trade for luxurious post-cards and picture postcards, which I believe represent the bulk of the trade done by small stationers. The large stationers will not be affected to any extent, because they can tender for the supply of post-cards for the Government. On the whole, I do not think that any loss will accrue to the stationery trade; but I believe that more post-cards will be used, and that the concession will be a great boon to the business community and to poor people as well.
2196 I am glad also that the Postmaster-General is selling stamps in rolls and reducing the price of foreign parcels. Those of us who send many foreign cables appreciate the action he has taken in reference to the cable companies. For some years there has been no competition between the various companies. They seem to have come to a common agreement about the charges to be made and the facilities to be given for cablegrams. I am glad the Postmaster-General has found a way of putting a little pressure upon them, in order to get a reduction in the charges which, generally speaking, have not been revised for some time. A remark was made in reference to the code books being very expensive. I have always found that it is the sender of the cablegram who has to pay for the code book; therefore I think the cable companies will not suffer in any way, but the sender of the cablegram will get a great advantage. I must also congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on giving us facilities for buying stamps in books to the face value of 2s. I raised the question on the Estimates last year, and am rather disappointed that it has taken the Postmaster-General twelve months to give the public this boon. It having been ascertained that advertisements could easily be obtained to cover the cost of the hooks, we ought surely to have had them in use before now. I had hoped to have been able to suggest that, a trial having been made of the stamp books, the right hon. Gentleman should be prepared to issue other books, at 1s., 2s. 6d., 5s., 10s., and 20s., because I believe he will find that selling stamps in this way is a very economical method of dealing with them. Not only will it be economical to the Post Office, as they will he able to take stock easily, and to count their stamps much more readily, but it will be very popular with the public when they get into the way of buying stamps in this manner. I hope that before the Estimates come up next year the Postmaster-General will have found that the 2s. books have succeeded, and that he is able to extend the system.
The certificates for letters posted will be a great advantage to people generally. There is, however, one point in reference to the old plan of marking registered letters by a blue line. In the City people, such as housekeepers and others, have been in the habit of putting registered letters in some particular place where they were under special care until 2197 wanted, and they were easily able to pick them out because of the blue line. Now, however, registered letters are often mixed up with other correspondence, and it is much more difficult, not only for the housekeepers and others, but for the Post Office, to deal with them. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us what advantage he derives from substituting the small stamp in the corner for the blue line across the envelope as an indication that a letter is registered. In regard to the transfer of the National Telephone Company's undertaking, the Postmaster-General has told us that a Bill will be introduced, and upon that the House will have an opportunity of discussing the matter. There is a certain amount of nervousness, not only on the part of the users of the telephone, some of whom fear that the charges may be put up, but also on the part of the 12,000 members of the staff, who are to be taken over. If the right hon. Gentleman had been able to tell us clearly that none of these men will suffer when they come into he service of the State it would have given a great amount of satisfaction. I wish to say a few words about some of the Efferent classes of men whose work goes so largely to make up the success of this great undertaking. A demand has arisen for the earlier retirement of men in the postal service. This demand was put before the Tweedmouth Committee, but it made no recommendation; at all events, no change was made. It would be an advantage to the postal department, as well is to the staff, if the Postmaster-General would give careful consideration to the proposal that postal servants should be allowed to retire earlier if they desire to do so. I do not mean that they should all be forced to retire earlier. Optional retirement after thirty years' service would, I believe, conduce to better work and to greater efficiency.
§ Mr. WILES
I hoped it was one of those matters which the right hon. Gentleman could deal with in the administration of his office. As it requires legislation, I must 2198 leave the matter. I should like to bring forward a question which has been discussed before, and that is the question of split duties which are worked by the postmen, especially in the London offices. Since the Hobhouse Report, when it was recommended, I think, by the Committee that split duties should be reduced as much as possible—I can refer the right hon. Gentleman to the passage in the Committee's Report if he likes — nothing practical, I believe, has been done to carry out the recommended reduction in the London districts. For instance, in the South-Western District nothing at all has been done, I believe, to reduce the split duty. In that office, I understand, the periods covered by some of the men are as long as fourteen hours. This means three attendances. It cannot be good for the men, or for the post office work, when they have to make three attendances during the day, lasting as long as fourteen hours. Some time ago the right hon. Gentleman had a deputation, or there was a deputation to his predecessor, on this question. He suggested that the men themselves could possibly bring up a scheme for reducing the split duties. I believe a scheme was submitted. It was returned with the assurance that a new scheme for reducing the split duties was in preparation. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us that the scheme will soon be prepared and brought into force.
§ Mr. WILES
The South-Western District. I would like also to say one or two words about promotion. The Hobhouse Committee suggested that more opportnities should occur for promotion generally. At the present time at the chief office four men are working as substitutes, and have been doing so for five years, at assistant head postmen's duties. After all that time there seems no prospect for them to get appointments as head postmen. If these positions as head postmen could come more often there would be more opportunities for promotion. I hope the Postmaster-General will try to encourage the men who do this humdrum work in every way, because I believe the more he encourages them to work towards promotion the better work will he get from the staff. One other matter. I am afraid the Postmaster - General will think it rather a hardy annual. He has 2199 told us that he cannot have another inquiry at the present time. At the same time I cannot believe that he is unwilling to consider any unfair differences which have been suggested in the terms of the Hobhouse Report. Telegraphists have a grievance, and that is that certain of their number in one part of London, doing the same class of work, are paid on a different scale from other telegraphists. It has often been mentioned in this House that the men at the Lombard Street post office are paid lower wages than those who send the Stock Exchange telegrams. I do feel that this is such an absurd difference that if the right hon. Gentleman will remedy it it will give great satisfaction to the staff over which he presides.
§ Mr. WILES
No, no. I argue that the men who send telegrams for the Lombard Street bankers are quite of as great importance as the men who send telegrams for my friends of the Stock Exchange. In fact, I might argue that the bankers' telegrams are far more important than those sent from the Stock Exchange. Therefore I would suggest that the Lombard Street telegraph clerks should have their wages raised to the Stock Exchange standard. There is one other small class to which I would refer, and that is the Tube attendants, who number about 120 men—the men who manage the pneumatic tubes in the Post Office. They are the only men in uniform who have not any advantages of stripes and stripe pay. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that he should bring this class of men into line with those other classes who have the advantages of stripes and stripe allowances, so that all these small bodies may be treated on the uniform scale. Some of these matters may appear very small in a great organisation like the Post Office, but this is the only time when Members who are interested in the Post Office and the Post Office Service have an opportunity of speaking about them. Therefore I hope that my right hon. Friend, when he replies, will be able to make a promise that he will remedy some of these matters.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
I only desire the indulgence of the Committee for a very few moments to call the attention of the Postmaster-General to two matters affecting the districts which I represent in this 2200 House. The first of these cases is a matter which I regret I did not mention to the right hon. Gentleman when he was good enough to ask what the subjects were in relation to which I had put down a Motion to reduce his salary. The facts are extremely short. They relate to the circumstances under which a boy named Edward Davies, a telegraph messenger, of Liverpool, was recently dismissed. I can tell the facts, I think, so that they will be very readily appreciated by the Committee and by the right hon. Gentleman. The lad was dismissed last Christmas for an alleged breach of the rules. The rule the lad was alleged to have broken is a rule—and a very salutary rule—which forbids employés in the Post Office to solicit gratuities, Christmas boxes, and the like. The lad was employed at the Corn Exchange (new block) of the Central Office. The practice has existed there for twelve years, I am told, of "pooling" all the Christmas boxes which are given by the firms around the Corn Exchange.
There are a very large number of important business firms who carry on their business in the immediate neighbourhood, and a resolution of the firms, I am told, was that these Christmas boxes should be "pooled" and distributed amongst the Corn Exchange boys who worked in that office. This boy neither solicited, nor received, a single penny from any one of these firms. It is true that at the time the charge was made against him a collecting book was in his possession, but I am informed that he afterwards contended that he had not received a single penny. His own statement is that he had not solicited a single penny. I am informed that there is no evidence existing, or procurable, that he had solicited a penny from anyone. His record was an excellent one. His superior officer stated that he had never had a better boy under his orders. I may also say, in passing, that the boy had studied very hard, and very successfully, to pass the fourth examination for boy-messengers. This charge was brought against him. He was given no opportunity of any kind of making a statement. He has not up to the present been afforded such an opportunity, although his father has asked, and representations have been made to the proper quarter. He has been summarily dismissed.
I need only add this point: that he is now disqualified by reason of his dismissal from competing for any similar appointment. As showing the view which 2201 has been taken of this treatment by his fellow clerks, I can tell the Committee that they took the matter in hand, and after a thorough investigation unanimously, I think, recommended that representations of these facts should be made to the Postmaster-General, and some attempt made to obtain justice for the boy. I can hardly think that the right hon. Gentleman will refuse my very reasonable request that some opportunity should be given to this boy to make an explanation—at least he ought to be allowed a hearing. If the facts are as represented to me, I can only suggest to the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman that the treatment that the boy has received is very harsh and unwarranted.
The second matter is one that has certainly aroused very considerable attention in Liverpool, and I am given to understand in a number of other large centres in the country where the conditions and grievances are identical. This concerns the rate of pay of the telegraphists in Liverpool—for I will confine myself to Liverpool. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman, in the course of his interesting speech, said that it was too soon to review the recommendations of the Hobhouse Report, and he gave some figures indicative of the increase of the rate of pay over the whole of the country which was recommended by the Hobhouse Committee. The statement of the right hon. Gentleman is a little irrelevant to the grievances which have been pressed upon his attention by the Liverpool telegraphists. Before I state the grievance may I be allowed to say, as I have said before in this House, that I do not like, any more probably than the Postmaster-General, the system under which Members of this House are driven, in order to obtain the discussion of grievances that are entertained by sections of Government employés among their constituents, to raise the matter here. I agree with what was said here a year ago, that it is an undesirable method, and a method that in many cases leads to unreasonable and undesirable pressure on the Member. But until another system is adopted, such as the Committee which my right hon. Friend the Member for East Worcestershire advocated a year ago—his proposals were, think, very favourably commented upon by the Prime Minister—until, I say, some such Committee is set up no other method is open to us of raising questions which are felt as grievances by our constituents.
2202 Having stated this point, I have satisfied myself that there is some basis for the grievances. What is the position? So far as the Liverpool telegraphists are concerned no addition has been granted to the maximum pay since 1890. In 1890 Mr. Henry Cecil Raikes granted an increase. A very great deal has happened since then very materially modifying the position so far as the Liverpool telegraphists are concerned. In the first place increases in salary have been granted to the staff in London and most of the provincial centres. The observations which the right hon. Gentleman made in reference to the recommendation of the Hobhouse Committee entirely ignored the point made by the Liverpool telegraphists. They did not desire in any way to alter the general nature of the recommendations of the Hobhouse Committee. What they say is this, that the Hobhouse Committee made certain recommendations for increases in salaries that applied to the London area and a number of other areas as well. An increase was given in the London area, but no similar increase was made in Liverpool, although all the circumstances exist in Liverpool which were made the pretexts for an increase in London. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if it is not a fact that the Hobhouse Committee recommended an increase of pay for male telegraphists in London on the ground that the cost of living in London had gone up. I think the right hon. Gentleman gave me an answer to that effect.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
If it was decided that the conditions of employment were exceptional, was not the increased cost of living taken into account?
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
There was no increase for the London sorters; there was an increase granted to the telegraphists of 3s. on account of the special conditions of work in the central telegraph office, but there was no increase to London sorters on the same scale, nor to provincial sorters and telegraphists who are on a somewhat lower scale.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
What I am trying to point out to the right hon. Gentleman is that the position of the telegraphist in London—I agree the sorters are excluded —is exactly corresponding with the position of the telegraphists in Liverpool, on 2203 whose behalf I speak. I am informed that the position of the telegraphists in Liverpool and Manchester who discharge the same functions as those discharged by the telegraphists of London, are almost identical. I was under the impression that the right hon. Gentleman himself said, in the course of these Debates, that the consideration of the cost of living had been one of the considerations that weighed with the Hobhouse Committee or himself. If he states my recollection misled me, I accept his word, but I desire to point out to the right hon. Gentleman that in the last twenty years rent and rates and cost of living have increased enormously, and there has been a general increase in the rate of pay for Government employés. I press upon the Government the case of the Liverpool telegraphists on its merits, and I say that there is an analogy between it and the case of the London telegraphists who received the increase recommended by the Hobhouse Committee. I venture to invite the Government to relieve the anxieties of those who are concerned about this question, and to show how he distinguishes between the case of those telegraphists in London, to whom an increase was granted, and the telegraphists in Liverpool and Manchester, who have had no increase. If the right hon. Gentleman will do so, he will render a useful service to those of us who have to hear complaints. I should be glad if lie would point out in what respect the general character of the duties of the Liverpool telegraphists differ from those of London, and if he would explain why differentiation has been more than once advocated on the question of the cost of living, and if he would, having regard to the increased cost of living, grant the increase which I am now pressing on him.
Mr. TYSON WILSON
I listened with very great interest to the statement made by the Postmaster-General and to one of his remarks with regard to the great facilities he is now offering to the public in regard to stamps. With regard to what the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down said with reference to the discharge of boys for trivial offences, one or two cases have been brought to my notice where boys have lost their positions for very trivial offences indeed. One of these was a case in Yorkshire, where a boy was discharged for having kicked a stone twice in the street. It. may seem a small matter to dis- 2204 charge a boy, but it should be remembered that it affected his after-life. Some employers will not take a boy after he has been discharged from the Post Office, and I think the Postmaster-General ought to issue general instructions that boys should not be dismissed for trivial offences and thereby handicapped in their endeavour to secure future employment.
I am somewhat concerned about the question brought before the Postmaster-General in reference to an appointment of a committee of inquiry. As I understand him he is not prepared to appoint another committee to go into the grievances of the postal servants. The Hobhouse Report contains a statement that the finding of that Committee should stand for a considerable period, and that a considerable time should elapse before another Committee should be appointed. I should liked to have heard the Postmaster-General say what is meant by a considerable period. The postal servants would not be sending complaints to Members of Parliament, if they knew their cases were to be reviewed on a given date. The next Committee whenever it is appointed need not be so elaborate as the last one.
I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that seeing that there is a great difference of opinion as to how certain recommendations of the Hobhouse Report should be interpreted, the questions in dispute ought to be referred to an outside authority. The right hon. Gentleman might avail himself of the services of the Advisory Board in connection with the Fair Wages Resolution, or of the Trades Boards, or he might appoint a small Committee of this House to whom the grievances of the postal servants might be referred. The Hobhouse Committee sat not exactly with judicial functions, but as a jury investigating certain complaints. The postal servants were the complainants and the Department was the defendant. What is the position now? The Committee came to a certain decision and made certain recommendations upon certain questions. The Department, which was in the position of a defendant at the inquiry, are now interpreting the recommendations of the Committee as they think best. I say that is most unfair to the other side which has as much right to claim to interpret the decision of the Committee as the Department have. I say, therefore, there ought to be a Court of Appeal to decide the nature of the recommendations made by the Committee. There is one particular recommendation which has not 2205 been acted upon, and that is the fixing of wages or salaries upon the cost of living and units of work. Personally I think the wages ought to be fixed upon the cost of living and that there should be no reference whatever to units of work unless in some places where men are working at extremely high pressure. The Postmaster-General knows there are many anomalies in connection with fixing wages on units of work and cost of living.
Another complaint of the employeés is that the Hobhouse Committee decided certain points without having sufficient evidence. The Board of Trade had not completed its inquiry on the cost of living, and the Committee were not in a position to give quite a just decision on one of those points that arises in connection with the fixing of wages. I hope the Postmaster-General will in future at least consider the cost of living as a more important question than the units of work. We are told the Hobhouse Committee did not injure anybody. I am informed on credible authority that there was something like 3,000 sub-postmasters injuriously affected. They have to do a considerable amount of extra work before they become entitled to any increased remuneration. Another question arises. I am given to understand that the present Postmaster-General promised one of the Post Office Associations that the question of wages would be discussed with a deputation and that later on he refused to meet them and discuss the question. They have a grievance in that direction and therefore it is another reason why in my opinion the service of some outside authority should be brought in to decide who is the right and who is the wrong in connection with two or three important matters. I am inclined to think that some of the recommendations of the Hobhouse Committee have been interpreted most ungenerously so far as the employés are concerned.
I remember some time ago, shortly after the right hon. Gentleman took up his present position, reading an announcement that the Postmaster-General intended giving thirteen stamps for one shilling, and that a considerable number of people went to the Post Office and bought a shillings worth and got eleven penny stamps and two halfpenny stamps. I am inclined to think that the postal servants have been treated something like that under the Hobhouse Committee Report, and although 2206 there has been a change in the system they are getting just about the same value as they received before. I hope the Postmaster-General will consider carefully the suggestions I have made. I think he should let the Committee know what he considers is a reasonable period before another committee of inquiry should be appointed, and lie ought to say whether he is prepared to refer those outstanding grievances to some authority outside the Department altogether. We know that when a judge or a jury have given a decision they generally stick by it, and are not likely to reverse their own verdict. That being so, in the best interests of the Department, the public, and the Postmaster-General, I think it would be better if the right hon. Gentleman referred those questions either to a small Committee of this House or to the Advisory Board. That course would give great satisfaction to every Department of the Service. If any such concessions are made I am sure they will be repaid by better service rendered to the State.
§ Sir FORTESCUE FLANNERY
I am glad the hon. Member who has just sat down has called attention to the grievances of sub-postmasters. Those who render service in the post office may be divided into two classes, those who give the whole of their time and those who combine the postal business with other occupations. It is to the latter class, who are principally shopkeepers in villages and small towns, that a grievance arises under the new scale established by the Hobhouse Committee. May I remind the Committee what that new scale means? Under the old scale of payment a sub-postmaster might be a village grocer, or might be following some other such occupation, and he would be remunerated under a minimum scale. Under the new system an attempt was made to make the payment according to the amount of work done. Consequently, the ordinary work in country post offices and in small town post offices was divided into units, four units being allowed for a telegram, one unit for a postal-order, and so forth, the object being to make the payment consistent with the amount of work which passed through the office. In small offices, in order that they might not be prejudiced unreasonably for having only a. small amount of business, the scale was proportionately greater. The pay for 10,000 units was £2 per thousand, therefore the small offices would receive for 10,000 waits of work of that character £20, 2207 per annum. When you come to larger offices in the country you have a reduction to £1 per 1,000 units, so that upon the scale of 280,000 units for the year the office would receive about £280, that is, one-half the amount which a smaller office would receive. In the larger offices the ordinary commercial business is confined to postal business, and there you have a reduction in the scale of business from £1 to 12s. 6d. per thousand, that is to say, in offices which have 780,000 units of work the scale is reduced to 12s. 6d.
The point I wish to put for the consideration of the hon. Gentleman who will reply is that, whilst the attempt to make the payment of those offices which combine the postal business with grocery and other trades proportionate to the work by a fair extra allowance to the small offices is perfectly good, it nevertheless works a very serious hardship upon some of the offices which are not of the smallest character. I suggest that the scale per thousand units should not be put so low as 12s. 6d., but that the minimum scale should be at the rate of £l. If that is not possible, having regard to the recommendations of the Hobhouse Committee, at least the option should be given to the sub-postmasters to choose whether they will continue upon the old scale or upon the new scale. I mean that they should have the option of selecting the scale they should go upon, that in the first instance they should have the option of electing upon which scale they will stand. Just to show where the hardship comes in, I will point out that under the old scale an allowance was made in proportion to the number of letters sorted and handled, with an additional payment in regard to the number of bags dealt with. Under the Hobhouse scale the payment is made according to the number of sacks of letters dealt with without regard to the number of letters contained in each sack. I think I am correct in saying that under the new scale no cognisance is taken of the number of letters in the sacks and payment to the sub-postmasters depends entirely upon the number of sacks.
It is quite obvious that in a small country office you may have as few as twenty letters in a sack, whilst in some of the offices in the larger villages and small country towns you might have as many as 2,000 and in extreme cases even 3,000 letters in one sack. Where the grievance 2208 comes is that there is no extra remuneration of any kind in the case of the larger offices dealing with these sacks containing 2,000 letters as compared with the small village offices where the sacks contain as few as twenty letters. That is a real grievance which I think should be set right, and this could be easily done in the manner I have indicated without doing any injustice to the small offices. The Post Office should do what is fair and right in proportion to the number of letters dealt with. The whole of this grievance, I am advised, might be remedied if the sub-postmasters had the opportunity of electing whether they should continue on the new or old scale of remuneration. I do not suggest that the postmaster should be allowed to say at every triennial revision, "I shall go on the new scale now, and three years hence I wish to go back to the old scale." I do think, however, that the option should be with the postmaster rather than with the Department. I think the system adopted is quite contrary to the spirit, if not to the letter, of the Hob-house recommendations. At the first triennial revision the sub-postmaster should have the opportunity of electing whether he will go on the old or the new scale; at the next triennial revision the Department should continue his option. If this very reasonable concession is granted, I am sure it will remove a grievance from the country districts, where I know the sub-postmasters carry on their business in a way which is satisfactory to the public. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will give this matter his careful consideration, and if in the interests of the public service he can see his way to carry out the suggestion I have made I believe he will have the general support of the Committee on both sides of the House.
§ Sir JAMES YOXALL
I think the Committee will have heard with great pleasure the steps which have been taken to deal with what I may call the blind alley employment, of the Post Office which has been an evil in the past. I am also pleased to hear from the Postmaster-General that he proposes to use his position as an employer of labour to set an example to employers of juvenile labour in regard to employment during the winter months. For this and many other signs of intelligent activity and advance I am sure the Committee will be thankful. I should like to refer for a moment to the Postmaster-General's promised effort in the direction of devolu- 2209 tion and decentralisation. In regard to my own Constituency in Nottingham, I hope that this decentralisation may remove an act of centralisation from which the City of Nottingham has suffered considerably in the past. Nottingham was turned from the rank of being a centre to a kind of sub-centre or semi-centre. I acknowledge quite freely the Postmaster-General has carried that out most loyally. Nottingham is a very big place, and the Mayor and Corporation feel themselves aggrieved by what has taken place. I venture strongly to recommend him, now he is upon the line and tack of decentralisation and devolulion, to again consider whether he cannot restore Nottingham to its former position as a centre of postal engineering.
Some remarks have been made with regard to the transfer of the National Telephone Company's service to the State, and we have been promised a full statement upon that subject when the Bill is introduced. In the meantime, I should like to make one remark. The Assistant Postmaster-General has been down to Nottingham, and I am told his proceedings there are regarded with some suspicion. They fear his visit and his general attitude on the matter may mean a transference from Nottingham also of the great and important manufacture of telephone machines carried out in that city. Again, a change of that kind should not take place for a most serious reason. Nottingham is an important place, largely populated, producing very good work, and there can be no reason at all why any transference of that kind should take place to some other district. I pass from purely local considerations to what may be regarded by the Postmaster - General as a smaller matter still. It has reference to that class of postal servants of whom mention was made by the last speaker. Sub-postmasters are an exceedingly useful class of postal servants, and to my mind they do not receive full justice from the great institution which they serve. It cannot be said of them that in pension, uniform, and leave on full pay they receive any benefits whatever. They confer great benefits upon the public, they provide a cheap and easy way of opening a sub-post office, and they enable the Postmaster-General to provide a better post office supply in the suburbs of our great cities and in smaller towns and villages than he would otherwise be able to do.
There is a sub-postmaster named F. R. Webb, with an office situated at Hyson 2210 Green, Nottingham. When he had provided the house in which the sub-post office is carried on, when he had provided the necessary amount of help required by the local supervisor, and when he had provided accommodation for telegraph boys, the rate of remuneration according to which sub-postmasters are paid left him with a net reward of 15s. 9d. per week. Yet £20,000 worth—not 20,000 units—of postal business was transacted in that post office in the year. A public servant who carries out public business represented by £20,000, and who is only remunerated to the extent of 15s. 9d. per week cannot be considered well paid, and I beg to recommend my right hon. Friend to look into the case. Mr. Webb was so convinced he was ill-treated that he resigned his office, but he considers he has two claims against the Postmaster-General. He says there is a sum of about £20 due to him for pension work and a further sum of £3 due to him for providing accommodation for telegraph boys. Sub-postmasters in general have reason to be dissatisfied with the way in which they are treated by the Post Office. They are a body not very well organised, and they cannot present so strong and united a front as some other postal servants do. I am aware my right hon. Friend has every desire to do what is just and fair; in fact, I have had recent experience of that. I made an appeal to him on behalf of a small class, and he met me in a very kindly spirit. I do not therefore in the least complain, but I give him this case in particular, and ask him to inquire into it and to see whether there should not be some reconsideration of the remuneration of sub-postmasters and of the reward they receive for serving the State.
§ Mr. GARDNER
I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question as to the position those who have hitherto given facilities to the National Telephone Company to put poles on their land will be in when the Government take over the service. I am informed private owners will be in the same position as they have been hitherto in everything except where posts are put up alongside the high road, but I should like to know if several others have rights over a road which actually runs through private property—whether that will be considered a case in which the owner has the same right as he has now in dealing with the National Telephone Company.
§ Mr. NEWMAN
Everybody who looks at the Post Office Estimates must be at once struck by the enormous cost of administration of the Post Office Savings Bank, and, to a certain extent, it is obvious it must be so. You have small sums taken in and taken out continually by small people. Books have to be kept, and kept accurately, and you have to pay for the keeping of them. Some years ago an ingenious Amercian inventor put on the market a small thing known as the home safe. I have one of them here. It is a very ingenious little toy, and not an infernal machine. Here you have a slit for putting in the money, and here an orifice or hole for small American notes. Of course, in this country you would not want to provide for notes. The idea is this. Take the case of a slate club, with thirty or forty members. Each member has one of these small safes, numbered, but he has not a key, the master key being kept by the secretary or treasurer. The man or lady holding the safe puts in a contribution week by week, or day by day, and at the end of three or six months lie or she takes the safe to the secretary or treasurer, who unlocks it, places the amount to the credit of the individual, and then returns the safe. It is perfectly obvious an invention of this sort would save a lot of bookkeeping in the Post Office Savings Bank. Somewhere about this time last year they put out tenders, as an experiment, for about 5,000 or 10,000 of these small boxes.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
No; they were asked to tender for any amount up to 100,000, with different prices if they liked for different numbers.
§ Mr. NEWMAN
Of course, I accept the right hon. Gentleman's statement, but at any rate the result was that twenty-five firms tendered, and the two best tenders in the opinion of the Postmaster-General, who, I think, saw the safes himself, were those of the Bankers' Service Corporation, who were, I understand, an offshoot of a concern known as the Corbin Cabinet Co., which itself was an offshoot of a corporation in America, and of another firm calling itself C. O. Burns Co., itself an offspring of the Corbin Cabinet Co. The tender of C. O. Burns Co. was accepted at 2s. At some later date a Post Office official, I understand, saw Mr. Burns, or a friend of his, and asked him at what price they would supply 100,000 of these safes.
§ Mr. NEWMAN
Of course, I bow to what the right hon. Gentleman says, but at any rate the C. O. Burns Co. knocked down their original tender to 1s. 10½d., and also arranged to have this particular safe manufactured in England, and not in America. So far so good. But meanwhile our friend Mr. Burns had got into trouble in New York. He had been in trouble some time apparently, and on 16th February he had to file his petition in bankruptcy in New York. I need not trouble the Committee with details. He failed for a substantial sum in New York on the 16th February. But he was a prudent man in his way, and, on the very same day in which he went bankrupt in New York he formed a limited liability company in England. It was a very limited liability company. It consisted of only himself and his clerk. So far as I can understand they never held a meeting, and never even applied for capital. But a request was made that the contract for these safes be transferred from the C. O. Burns Company in New York to the Fiscus Company in England. He got that, and then the order was sub-let to Kynochs, Limited, who undertook to supply the safes at 1s. 7d. That gave Fiscus and his clerk a nice little profit of £1,450 odd, and I hope that that money went into the pockets of some of his creditors in America. Hearing what had happened the Corbin Cabinet Company asked to be allowed to tender at 1s. 8d., but they were told that they could not do so. That is my short story. My suggestion is that fresh tenders ought to have been called for. It was avoided by a mere subterfuge. Why waste the ratepayers' money in this manner? Why allow Kynoch's, Limited, or anybody else to get this great sum? I can only suggest there should have been fresh tenders. I ask the Postmaster-General for an explanation on this point.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
Perhaps I May be allowed to answer at once. This is an allegation of unfair treatment on the part of the Post Office in regard to the acceptance of a tender in which considerable sums of public money are involved. I may say at once that the hon. Member is misinformed in several particulars. I should like to give the facts precisely as they occurred. The home safes were introduced to the Post Office, and forms of tender were advertised in the usual way. Any 2213 British firm which wished to tender could have done so. Indeed, several British firms did tender. There was no secrecy at all about the matter. A large number of safes were tendered for. Prices were asked for at the rate of 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, and 100,000. There was the question, of course, of having a standing order. We wanted, of course, the best possible safes. We had to consider the cost. One of the safes offered to us was that manufactured by C. O. Burns, of New York. Another was offered by the Bankers' Service Corporation. These matters are usually confidential, but, as the hon. Member has referred to the price quoted by C. O. Burns, I hope he will not mind my quoting the price given by others. C. O. Burns tendered at 2s. 2d. for the first 5,000, and 1s. 11d. for 100,000. The Bankers' Service Corporation quoted at 2s. 6d., and made no reduction for a higher number. I went closely into the matter, and we were all of the opinion that the safe offered by the C. O. Burns Company was the better safe.
There was this further point to be considered that by taking a large quantity we got the safe at 1s. 11d. instead of the 2s. 6d. demanded by the Bankers' Service Corporation. As a matter of fact, if I had accepted the offer of the latter company in our opinion we should have had a slightly inferior safe, and it would have been at least 25 per cent. dearer than the other safe. Of course my duty was to accept the offer for the best safe at the lowest price. I was anxious that these safes should be manufactured in England, and the C. O. Burns Company volunteered to have them made in this country. Under these circumstances we accepted their tender, and we had no reason to think but that they would be in a position to carry out their contract. It is the fact that subsequently C. O. Burns, in America, went into liquidation, but that was after the Post Office had already undertaken to accept an assignment of the contract to an English Company. It should be borne in mind that the contract included a clause which made it possible for the Postmaster-General, if he so desired, to terminate the contract. We had no reason to think that the English Company to which the contract was assigned would not be able to carry out the contract. The Company offered a guarantee, which was accepted, as proof that they were in a position to carry out the contract. We therefore had 2214 no reason to terminate the contract, and, indeed, we should have been acting wrongly if we had said to Mr. Burns: "We are going to take the contract away from you, and we are going to give it to an American Company, which is to charge us 25 per cent. more for the safes."
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
I can only say we were anxious that the safes should be made in England. There has been no preference of any kind for C. O. Burns. They agreed to supply us with the safes within the period we desired them, and I saw no reason to take any further action.
§ Mr. CHARLES DUNCAN
I desire to raise a point connected with employés in the Post Office. I want to deal with the question of another inquiry into the conditions of service in the Post Office. The statement made by the Postmaster-General seems to me to have closed the door on this point of a further inquiry. It was, we are told, understood that the Hobhouse Report was to stand for a considerable period. But I think there is sonic justification for asking for some idea when the whole question may be reopened. We do not want hon. Members to be perpetually bombarding the Postmaster-General with questions on postal grievances, and it would be well to have some indication of some reasonable period of time being allowed to elapse before the case could be reopened. After all, there cannot be any doubt about this, that the Hobhouse Committee and the whole of the members of it must have been quite new to the business, and that they would have very little experience, if any, of Post Office work. Therefore, there can be no doubt that they were to a large extent in the hands of the officials of the Post Office. After all, it is the man who knows, who directs the course of a ship, and in the course of the inquiries of the Committee, there can be no doubt that the advice and assistance of the paid officials who figured before this Committee went a very long way towards determining its findings. I want to deal with this matter from another point of view, for I have had a good deal of experience in 2215 connection with the grievances of men connected with the, trade union movement, although I do not pretend to speak for a union covering so large a number of men as are in the Post Office employ.
The Postmaster-General has told us that his Department, roughly speaking, covers 217,000 men and women, and the point I want to make is this, that there is no employer in the country who is not every day and every week and every year meeting representatives of the men, settling grievances and making advances of wages and giving other benefits, and it seems to be assumed by Ministers in this House, who represent Departments, that they are labouring under some hardship because some Members of the House of Commons have been voicing some grievance with regard to somebody in their employ. I am inclined to think that Ministers at the head of large Departments get off very easily indeed as compared with any large employer. They are not troubled with any disputes in the sense that other employers are, and they have not got to call in a conciliation board to settle them, and in that way I think the different Government Departments get off quite easily as compared with the ordinary employer of labour. Therefore I want to suggest that after a period of time has elapsed, and the period of four or five years has passed by since the Report of the Hobhouse Committee, the men have some right in reason to ask that there should be another inquiry to enable them to put forward their particular grievances and have them attended to and settled in as satisfactory a way as can be expected in human nature. Another point which I wish to refer to has reference to the interpretation of the Committee's recommendations about which there has been some difference. I think it will be obvious to every Member in this House —even to the Postmaster-General, who has a very fair grip of these matters—that there are always two sides to a question, and I think he will admit, too, that there might be two interpretations of a Committee's Report.
It is sufficient for me to know that there are two interpretations, and I think the men are perfectly justified in making a complaint—a very well-grounded complaint—of the interpretation of the officials of the Post Office Department, who, after all, are in the position of witnesses, counsel, judge, jury who give the verdict, and the gaoler who carries out the sen- 2216 tence. It is obvious that in this case differences of interpretation must, and will, arise, and do exist to-day, and in the interpretation of the Hobhouse Committee's Report there is no doubt in my mind that a very considerable body of dissatisfaction exists in the postal service. I am anxious that this dissatisfaction should be met in a reasonable way. So far as interpretation is concerned, I suppose the Post Office officials think they are right, and I suppose, on the other hand, that the employés think they are right also. This again is very natural conduct. In all disputes the employer thinks he is right and the men think they are right, and it is a very difficult thing for those who take part in settling these matters to form a judgment as to where right and reason come in. It is only as a rule where there is negotiation and compromise between workmen and their employer by the intervention of a third party, and where there is agreement for an arbitrator, that the difficulty is met. I, therefore, suggest that, inasmuch as this strong difference of opinion with regard to the interpretation of the Report of the Hobhouse Committee does exist, that this matter should he referred to the Advisory Committee.
The Advisory Committee, as I understand, is a Committee composed of representatives of seven Departments of the State and dealing with the Fair Wage Clause in Government contracts. Of course, you have the chief representatives of the various Departments there, so that if there is really any trouble in one Department, the other Departments have in a sense the solution of the difficulty in their hands, and they are able to bring to their service the Board of Trade, which has a very wide and very lengthy experience in all these matters, and a very wide knowledge of variation in the conditions of labour and the rates and wages of labour up and down the country. I think that is a very reasonable and a very fair suggestion. I have never heard any objection to it, and, personally, I see no other way out of the difficulty, unless the Department is going to continue to ride roughshod over the views and opinions held by numbers of people who are employed by them. The other point I want to put is with regard to the bases on which the whole thing rests. I do not desire at all, and I think it is probably a little bit out of order for Members of this Committee to expect or to ask that the findings of the Hobhouse Committee should be upset. I do not think 2217 the Postmaster-General has power to do that, and therefore it seems to be a waste of time for hon. Members to bring complaints forward as to the working of the Hobhouse Report, feeling, as I do, that the Postmaster-General has not the power to upset the findings of this Report, but the very complaints that they make strengthen the point that I am putting to the Committee that there should be at no distant date a further investigation into this matter, so that the complaints made by the hon. Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool (Mr. F. E. Smith) and others might be inquired into and solved upon a satisfactory basis.
With regard to the bases on which the whole situation depends, they are the cost of living and the units of work, and of them I have no knowledge. The basic principle on which you found the rates of remuneration of the men and women in the Post Office employ, I am quite prepared to admit I do not know, but what I want to consider is what weight is going to be put upon those particular points which form the bases of the conclusions which have to be arrived at. With regard to the cost of living, I think it will be obvious to the committee that that is a basis which implies naturally a bare subsistence level, and whilst it is right to take it as a point of guidance, you can only take it on this understanding that there must be some figure over and above that cost of living which must come in as an element of the finding, and be incorporated in the final decision. Then with regard to the units of work it seems to me that that suggestion has a very strong business flavour. I am rather inclined to think that the individual who made that suggestion has an exceedingly keen, pointed nose for the business end of the stick. After all, I can understand the application of that where a man is engaged under an employer and can, by his business ability, assiduity, and attention to business increase the units of work; but, as I understand, in a Post Office it is not within the scope of the ordinary man employed there to increase the units of work. If a man were employed in a draper's shop, behind the counter, he might be able to bring a certain amount of custom to the establishment, and thereby increase the turnover of the business, and would be entitled to expect to receive some amount of extra remuneration for the extra service which he puts in, but I venture to say that in the Post Office system that is only possible to a very microscopical extent.
2218 8.0 P.M.
There is another point which I should like to allude to, and that is with regard to the position of these telegraph mechanicians. I understand that the hours of these men have been increased from forty-eight hours to fifty and a-half hours. I understand that the hours of these men were altered under a previous Liberal Government, namely, that of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, and that their hours were reduced, and I cannot understand upon what lines the hours of these men have been raised, inasmuch as they have already been settled at forty-eight by Government enactment. But I understand that they have been raised to fifty and a-half hours without any increase of wages at all, the pay being about the same as they received for the shorter hours. I certainly think these men have some grievance. The last point I wish to deal with is with regard to the casual labour in the Post Office department. From what I can understand there seems to be a tendency now, after the Hobhouse Committee's report, inasmuch as it did not lay down any line with regard to rates of wages for these men who are casually employed, to employ people who probably do not want to have continuous employment, and in this way to get hold of a number of men who will be almost the same as the men employed on the dock side in London, who are only employed either for a short period in the year or for a short period in the week.
§ Mr. CHARLES DUNCAN
I understand the complaint is that the tendency is to increase it. I am quite prepared to accept the statement of the Postmaster-General if he is prepared to assure me that there is no desire on his part to increase it, but to keep it down to the lowest conceivable limit.
§ Mr. CHARLES DUNCAN
That might be acceptable to those who have stated the case to me. I am only giving the information that has been given to me, and the men imagine that there is something in this. I feel sure, however, that if the Postmaster-General will give a public assurance on that point, it might ease the minds of those men.
§ Colonel CHALONER
I wish to emphasise the appeal which has been made to 2219 the Postmaster-General on behalf of the telegraphists. They feel that they have been rather left in the cold. Unlike their comrades in London, who, I believe, have been more generously treated, they have had no rise in their salary now for many years, whereas during that time the increase in the cost of living has been considerable. Many of them are married men, who find a very great difficulty in making both ends meet. I honestly think that the claim they have put forward is a strong one. The cost of food, groceries, clothing, rent, everything they have to spend their salary on has increased. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give sympathetic consideration to the appeal which has been made to him.
§ Dr. ADDISON
I wish to thank the Postmaster-General on behalf of the Post office employés for the very kindly attention which he has given to cases put before him in the past year. Whilst thanking him very warmly for what he has done in the past in connection with those who drive our Post Office mail vans, there is one point of criticism that I should like to press a little further on him. Some of these men are on duty at about a quarter to two in the morning, at various hours during the day and at nine o'clock at night, and they are paid 4d. an hour. I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has increased it to 4½d. Certain others who previously worked at 4d. an hour are now paid 5d. Nevertheless, the total earnings of these men amount to not more than 21s. or 22s. a week on the average, and they have, of necessity, to be available for duty at all events for a very large number of hours each day, in the case of the odd men beginning at about two o'clock in the morning. One can well imagine what the domestic conditions of life are under these circumstances of the considerable body of men who have to be up at these hours in the morning and hang about several hours during the day on the off-chance of getting a job. This state of employment in a great Department of the State is exceedingly unsatisfactory from all points of view.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman very warmly for having decided that in future contracts a minimum wage of 6d. shall be paid to these men. It is a very great advance, and marks a departure in a State Department of insisting on a minimum wage. But whilst that will be an im- 2220 mense boon to these men, at the same time the conditions under which they work are, in my opinion, unnecessarily undesirable. I know what the Postmaster-General will say quite well. He will say it is desirable that this work shall be done and that it is impracticable for the Post Office to undertake the big initial expense of setting up depots for mail vans, and so on, that it will be financially unremunerative and will not be a right thing to advise the Post Office to undertake. I have studied the conditions of the life of these men very carefully, and I certainly believe it will be quite possible to arrange a system whereby a great deal at all events of this waste of time and unnecessary loss of sleep and meal times could to a great extent be avoided. I find it difficult to convince myself that when a contractor can undertake this work and find it remunerative it is not possible for a Government Department to do the same.
There is one small point in respect of new contracts that I hope the Postmaster-General will bear in mind. It is that these men should only be dismissible by the week. It is a very considerable hardship that many of them, for trivial matters, may be dismissed at a moment's notice. It would be better, especially in view of the Insurance Bill, that they should be employed by the week. It will tend to regularity of employment, and will be in all ways very desirable. Another point, to which, also, I am afraid one knows very well what the right hon. Gentleman's reply will be, relates to the question of the cost of living. I placed before him last year, and he gave it a very sympathetic attention, although his response was not satisfactory, the fact that a considerable number of men have been on the same wage practically since 1882. Of course during that time, as in the case of the porters, various allowances which have been made have increased the value of their weekly wages by 4s. 10d., but that is not really a sufficient consolation. The postmen, for instance, have received weekly benefits to the extent of 8s. 9d., and sorters to the extent of 17s. The maximum wage of these porters is only 30s., and during this long period many of the expenses of living have increased, and the cost of necessaries, at all events, has materially enhanced. I think the case which these men make has a great deal to commend it. I hope the Postmaster-General will agree to the constitution of some Board to which differences of interpretation of the Hobhouse Report, which 2221 is really the point in question with this class of workers, can be referred, and I feel sure that a fair consideration of all the facts of the case relating to these men as compared with others similarly employed will lead in the near future to some alteration in the conditions and in the maximum pay. At all events, I feel confident, knowing what the Postmaster-General has done in several other matters during the past year, that he will give this subject fair consideration.
§ Mr. SANDERSON
I also desire to acknowledge in the fullest manner the way in which the Postmaster-General considers all the cases which are put before him. I desire to thank him for his consideration and his unfailing courtesy in these matters. I rise to ask him if he will give me any assurance with regard to the case which I put before him some considerable time ago with regard to the case of the Amble-side postmen. I do not intend to go into the details of the case. For one thing I do not think this is the time, and for another I have already put them before him in considerable detail, and I am perfectly certain lie has given them his consideration. I am glad to know I have the advantage of the fact that the Postmaster-General has personal acquaintance with the locality. The point of the case is that the postmen at Ambleside are in a class which is lower than the postmen at another place some five or six miles away; and whereas the other place, which is Windermere, is close to the station, Ambleside is five or six miles from the station. The result, I am informed, is that the cost of living is appreciably higher at Ambleside than at Windermere. Coals have to be carried all the way from the station, and, of course, there is a considerable charge in respect of each cart of coals, which has to be drawn all the way. The strength of the case is that it is possible to compare the two places. I am informed that the duties are very much the same in both places, and the nature of the locality is very much the same. I should be exceedingly glad if the Postmaster-General has not already come to a conclusion in the matter if he can assure me that it will receive his fullest consideration, and if he can tell me to-night that it will receive favourable consideration I shall be even more grateful.
And, it being a quarter-past Eight of the clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of 2222 Ways and Means, under Standing Order No. 8, further proceeding was postponed without Question put.