§ Postponed proceeding on Question proposed on consideration of Question, "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, 1312, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Post Office, including Telegraphs and Telephones."
§ Which Question was, "That Item A (Salaries, Wages and Allowances) be reduced by £100 in respect of the salary of the Postmaster-General."
§ Question again proposed: Debate resumed.
§ Mr. WATT
I wish, like previous speakers, to express my sense of the courtesy with which the Postmaster-General always receives any case which Members of the House bring before him. If there is an exception to that rule, it is in relation to the unfortunate part of the country which I have the honour to come from, namely, Scotland. I am led to think that the Post Office, along with many other Government offices, treats that country as a step-bairn, and treats it ill. The point to which I desire to direct attention is the cost of the unit of living in Scotland. By an extraordinary line of reasoning the Post Office authorities have come to the conclusion that living in Scotland is much cheaper than in England, and by a more extraordinary line of reasoning they have come to the conclusion that living in Scotland is cheaper even than in Ireland. The result of that delusion is that in using this unit of the cost of living when dealing with the wages of Post Office servants they have put them on a lower level than in the other two countries. An influential deputation of Post Office servants recently came to London and saw Sir Matthew Nathan, the permanent Secretary of the Post Office, and in the course of conversation that distinguished gentleman tried to lead the deputation to believe what they did not believe before, that the people of Scotland live principally on oatmeal porridge, and that they seldom see butcher meat.
I am not aware whether Sir Matthew Nathan has ever visited Scotland. No doubt he has seen it on the map once or 2224 twice, but perhaps his knowledge of the country extends only to that. Whether that is so or not, his statement as to the cost of living in Scotland and as to the habits of the people was absolutely incorrect. He also referred to the fact that the people of Scotland of the working class live in tenement houses, and that the rents charged for these houses are cheaper than for ordinary cottages in England or Ireland. In that statement he fell into another error. It is a delusion upon which I desire to enlighten him. When the Woolwich workers were to be taken from that place to Greenock they were staggered at the rents they were called upon to pay in Greenock—so staggered indeed that some of them refused to go from Woolwich, and by so doing were thrown out of employment,. On both these points—the cost of living and the rents of houses—the Permanent Secretary of the Post Office was absolutely in error. I have here a statement of the wages paid to agricultural labourers. In Scotland the wages are for that class of workers 19s. 7d. a week, in England 18s. 4d., and in Ireland 11s. 3d. These figures indicate exactly what the cost of living is in the various countries. I therefore hope that the Postmaster-General will reconsider his position in dealing with the Scottish servants of the Post Office, and that he will not treat them as he hag treated them in the past by paying them at a lower rate than is paid to their confrères in the other two countries. I venture to think that although the Permanent Secretary took such a biassed view against our nationality that he, as an official under this Government, so widely supported from Scotland that it could not indeed exist but for Scotland, will not malign our nation and will not malign the Post Office servants by telling them that we feed on oatmeal and live in cheap tenement houses.
§ Mr. FLETCHER
I wish to call attention to the arrangements for the delivery of letters in the morning in Hampstead. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take the matter into consideration. In some parts of Hampstead my Constituents do not get their letters for business purposes so early as in some other districts. A large percentage of the Hampstead people have to be in the City, or may be at the Law Courts, and remain away all day, and it is an irritating thing that about five or ten minutes after they are obliged to leave their home their letters arrive. I appealed to the late Postmaster- 2225 General on this subject, and he told me that Hampstead, being a subordinate district, could not get any relief in this matter. I should have thought that Hampstead would not be subordinate to any other part of London, and that it was worthy of a higher designation. Down in Buckinghamshire, about twenty miles from London, I get my letters about 7 o'clock in the morning, and at a house in Surrey about the same distance away they were seldom later than 7.30. At Hampstead they arrive at about half-past eight, and sometimes as late as a quarter to nine. I really think that for a district so important as Hampstead the Postmaster-General should make arrangements that letters should be delivered about 8 o'clock in the morning. If he can carry this recommendation into effect the people of Hampstead will be very grateful.
§ Colonel YATE
There are three small questions to which I wish to refer. The first is as to taking over the telephones. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he could not give us some little assurance with regard to the position of the employés of the present Telephone Company. The anxiety on this subject is very keen throughout the country. I know that he has told us that he is not going to enter into any details to-day, but I would like if he could tell us that no one at present in the employment of the Telephone Company will lose his employment, that persons taken over will be treated in a perfectly just and fair manner, and that none of them will be put in a worse position than they are now. A statement on this point would allay a great deal of anxiety among the existing staff. The second point is this. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that half the vacancies in the Post Office for postmen and porters are given to old soldiers and the other half to telegraph messenger boys. But I think he told us that 1,600 boys were taken on this year, and only 1,300 old soldiers. Under those circumstances, the rule has not been carried out.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
That rule applies to postmen and porters, but for sorters' work and other posts of higher grades old soldiers very often are not suitable.
§ Colonel YATE
But boy messengers should not be allowed to compete for examination with old soldiers who are already employed as postmen, porters, and so on. What on earth has a tele 2226 graph boy done for his country that he should be allowed to compete against these old soldiers for the post of sorter? These old soldiers have put in their seven years, and then this competition against them by telegraph messengers is allowed for these much sought after appointments. The too early promotion of a telegraph boy is unjust both to the boy and to the old soldier. It is unjust to the telegraph boy, because when he is promoted at the ago of eighteen he gets the appointment of a postman. I believe that under the terms of the postal service that boy gets some small annual increment for about twelve years. The result is that at the age of thirty he comes to the top of the tree and he remains a discontented man until he is sixty; whereas the old soldier who comes in after seven years' service, and knows how hard it is to get employment, would be thankful to get the position and would be content with his salary. I will beg the right hon. Gentleman to take this question into consideration. In France every old soldier is entitled to employment, and there is no doubt that we ought to have some better system here in England. Would it not be better for the Post Office openly and honestly to say to the telegraph boys, "If we keep you on after sixteen it is on the understanding that you will enlist and put in your seven years' service, and then," as the right hon. Gentleman stated, "you shall have a preference over all others for employment in the Post Office?" The third question I would ask is whether the right hon. Gentleman would not permit the pensions of the old soldiers to be paid weekly, instead of quarterly, as at present, in the same manner as the old age pensions are paid? The terrible distress we see among old soldiers in the country is very often due to this payment of the pension quarterly. The friends and acquaintances of the magi know when lie gets his pension, and they all bleed him, and the pensions go quickly. If the pensions were paid weekly the man would give the money to his wife and family, and a great deal of distress would be stopped.
§ Mr. MORTON
I would like to back up the appeal which has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for the College division of Glasgow (Mr. Watt) on behalf of Scottish Civil servants, whether in the Post Office or anywhere else. The present Government are very fond of Scottish Liberal Members, but they all seem to unite in acting unfairly to the Scottish 2227 people. Very large profits are made out of the Post Office, and, therefore, there cannot be any excuse made on that account for the unfair treatment meted out to Scottish officers. I hope that the statement as to the sneer of the Postmaster-General with regard to Scotsmen living on oatmeal is incorrect. I should like to tell the right hon. Gentleman that there is no better food than that, if he does not know it already, and that it has been found out even in England, because you will find in all the best hotels now that they give you oatmeal porridge for your breakfast. Therefore I hope that the Postmaster-General will give his attention to the point to which I have referred, without sneering at the Scottish people.
§ Mr. MORTON
Very well, if the Secretary said it instead of the Postmaster-General, all I have to say is that he is responsible. I always objected to Ministers turning off their responsibility to officials. We have heard of that within the last week in other cases. All we have to do is to make the Postmaster-General responsible if he will take care to see that these officials do not say these things, that may clear his own character. Otherwise it will not be cleared. I have a few complaints to bring forward on my own account with regard to the county of Sutherland. I am sorry to have to repeat exactly what I said twelve months ago. The first matter to which I wish to call attention is the necessity of telegraphic communication between Rosehall and Elphin. The distance is about twenty miles, and it is very inconvenient for the people of Elphin if they want a doctor to be without telegraphic communication, as they have no other means of sending notice. Last year the Postmaster-General told us that he would consider the matter, as he had an open mind about it, and that he would go and see the neighbourhood. Now all I have to say with regard to that, is that he has done nothing at all. Our complaint is that while he wants a large sum of money for what he calls the loss, about £100 per annum, he refuses to take two-thirds of the guarantee as they do in practically all other cases. I pointed out to the Committee twelve months ago, and I have pointed out in a number of letters to the various Postmaster-Generals I have had to do with, and their officials, that the pre- 2228 sent Prime Minister, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, told the House in his Budget speech that., generally speaking, the Government would take two-thirds of the guarantee as to the loss occasioned by these telegraphic lines save in exceptional cases.
Ours is an exceptional case, no doubt, in the other direction: it is one of these places which ought to be made an exception, and where the Post Office ought to do the work altogether. The other case I wish to mention has reference to the mails between Lairg and Lochinver. The mail leaves at ten o'clock in the morning; the English mail does not get in until about one o'clock; consequently the letters, instead of being taken on at once the same day, have to wait twenty-four hours before they are forwarded. In some other cases they do not start till about two o'clock, but get in on the same evening. I think the same practice might be followed in regard to Lairg and Lochinver, at least in the summer months. I do not see any difficulty about it excepting the difficulty of moving the Postmaster-General. These are the two special cases which I desire to bring to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman. There are a great many others, but I do not desire to trouble the Committee by going through them. Our difficulty is to make the Department understand what was said by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman that we should "Colonise our own country." Those who know anything about colonising in America, Australia, or anywhere else, know that one way to colonise is to establish telegraphs, postal services, good roads, and facilities of this description; but we cannot get either a Liberal or a Tory Government to understand that: they do not mind spending millions on the blacks in Uganda or elsewhere, but they appear to object to spending money in their own country. What have been the causes of the depopulation that is going on in Scotland? One of them at any rate, is want of postal facilities, and the right hon. Gentleman is mainly responsible for the depopulation in Sutherland, because he refuses to give us those facilities. It is all very well to laugh, but it is the fact all the same.
This matter does not affect me personally, but it is my duty on behalf of my Constituents to insist upon the Post Office doing something for them. The Postmaster-General has done nothing of importance. He continues to write letters, but he refuses to do anything else. I want to 2229 know why he refuses to carry out the condition laid down by a previous Chancellor of the Exchequer with regard to taking two-thirds of the guarantee? Another promise, which was made on a previous occasion, was that in all parts of the country there should be at least three deliveries per week. We cannot get that. There are places in which there is only one delivery, and other places where there are two. The promise of three deliveries a week, however, was made without any exceptions or conditions. I want to know why the Postmaster-General does not carry out that promise? I do not want to make unnecessary complaints about the postal service, we are all very proud of it, but we want it to be carried out in all parts of the country. I know that the reply will be made that certain services do not pay their expenses. I have tried to make the Department understand that the cost of a service in any particular district has nothing to do with the matter at all. The idea of a universal penny post is that the good districts should pay for the bad, but if the doctrine is to be carried out, that the Post Office is only to be called upon to perform services which pay, then the Postmaster-General has no right to charge a Id. in London, Glasgow, or any of the big cities and towns, because it does not cost him one-fiftieth of a penny to deliver letters. Still, the people of our big cities are quite willing to pay their share of the general cost of the Post Office services, but I cannot get the Department to understand that. It is no answer to say that a particular service in a particular district does not pay. I have written many letters to the Postmaster-General on this subject, but I cannot hope to get much. I do not care to divide the House on this matter, but I do trust that the Postmaster-General will understand that we want to colonise our own country by means of the improved postal facilities, otherwise there must he laid at his door the depopulation of Sutherland unless he does something.
I have only done my duty, and that without any personal feeling, in calling attention to these matters. But before I Sit down I want to ask the Postmaster-General one other question, and that is in regard to a penny post with France. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman said anything about it in his speech, as I was not here the whole time ho was Speaking, but I have noticed in 'the newspapers lately some fresh news 'with regard to a Penny post between this 2230 country and France. To keep up the 2½d. post between here and France is nothing less than a public scandal. You can send letters to China, India, or Australia and through the Colonies for a penny, but twenty miles across the Channel the cost of sending a letter is 2½d. In this instance, again, it is said that the reduction of the rate to a penny would mean a loss. I am not able to believe that. I do not believe there would be any loss at all upon a penny post. If you look at the Post Office accounts, revenue and expenditure, you will see that during the last fifteen years, in which period we have done something for the penny post with the Colonies, that at any rate there cannot possibly have been any loss caused to the gross revenue, which is more than ever it was before, and, after allowing for all expenses, the net revenue is increasing every year. Therefore, if you take it in one lump you cannot argue that there is a loss in respect of a particular service, because we should always take the whole service and judge by that. Taking these accounts, therefore, it is seen that there has really never been any loss arising from the partial adoption of the penny post. It has been said, I know, that if we adopted the penny post system it would be asked for by other countries. It is very probable that Belgium and Germany might ask you for it if you gave it to France. It is a curious thing that for a long time, as we are told, the French Government and people have been willing to adopt the penny post, but it is this country that is blocking the way. And so with regard to the United States of America. Our own Colonies made us carry it on. I am sure I should like to know whether something is going to he clone shortly in that direction, because I think it is due to the people of this country that as soon as possible we should adopt penny postage all over the world. The Coronation year would have been an excellent occasion to do something in that direction. I hope the Postmaster-General will be able to do something also as to the other matters I have mentioned. Last year I mentioned that the Postmaster-General had done something, but this year I cannot say so. I hope the hon. Gentleman the Assistant-Postmaster-General will use his influence with the Post Office people to get some thing done. I have no doubt it is the permanent officials who block the way. They have always blocked the way in every reform. It is curious that from the time of Rowland Hill's penny postage down to the 2231 present moment no good has ever come from the postal officials. They opposed penny postage, and always objected to reforms from the outside. Every reform in the postal service that we have had in this country has come from the outside. I am sorry that we have lost the former hon. Member for Canterbury Mr. Henniker Heaton who did so much for postal facilities. That man was absolutely hated at the Post Office because he was endeavouring to get them to do something. Possibly a little discussion in this House may induce these officials to endeavour to help us in the country with regard to postal services. I do not wish to make personal complaints against postal officials, because undoubtedly, especially with regard to many of the inferior officials, we have an excellent service of which the country is proud, and I am making no offiensive complaints of that sort. If I fail to get what is promised by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer I shall have to go to him who is the master, or supposed to be, and ask him to compel his officials to do their duty and carry out the promises made. I trust that the Post Office will try and understand that if you want to stop depopulation and to improve the conditions especially of the rural classes, you must do everything you possibly can to help them both in telegraphs, telephones, and postal facilities. I am sure that in every case that they do so they will find in the long run, as in the case of the penny post, that it would financially pay them better than to go on as they do at the present moment.
§ Mr. HUNT
I wish to direct attention to the mails of the Outer Hebrides. Those mails are delivered over about twenty miles of rough roads, and there are two over arms of the sea. All that is quite unnecessary, because there is a steamer that goes close by. There is another disadvantage—that in the case of parcels. They are changed three or four- times across boats, and the condition of those parcels is deplorable, which is not a matter to be surprised at. The mails are a day later, both in despatch and receipt, than if they were landed by the boat where there is a harbour and a pier and a road to the harbour, which were made by the people of the island so that boats might call there. The Postmaster-General was kind enough to write me a letter about the matter, in which he refused to do anything, because of 2232 the existence of no proper lights there. I believe it is the fact that the Secretary for Scotland is authorised by Parliament to expend whatever is necessary for the improvement of communications from the annual grant which he gets of £35,000 within the Congested Districts Board area. Therefore he could very well find the money to provide the harbour lights for this port in Benbecula. The mail-boats go by this port within two or three miles and. there should not be any difficulty about it. It would be an enormous advantage to the inhabitants. The present contractors, Messrs. D. MacBrayne and Co., have now had a monopoly of the trade of the Outer Hebrides for a good many years, and will not do anything unless there is competition. I would ask the Postmaster-General whether he has ever invited tenders for this part of the postal service from anybody else. If he has not how can he possibly tell that the cost would be anything more than it is at present. If you have a monopoly, and never ask anybody to compete, you cannot tell whether you could get the thing done or not as cheaply, and expense is the chief excuse of the Postmaster-General in his response. There is another matter I should like to point out. The present contractor uses for this particular service the smallest, slowest, and least seaworthy boats, which can go only about eight or ten miles an hour. The sea is often very rough, and you want good boats. Even if the contractor used only his second-class boats the mails should be delivered at Benbecula and Lochmaddy earlier than at present. But he uses these rotten old tubs, which really are not very safe. I have been in one of them myself, and they roll about terribly. These people are very badly served, although matters could be easily altered. The owner of the boat rules the roost to a very large extent. The Postmaster-General says that if the boats called at Benbecula it would make them later at other places. But they are already often hours late. It would be of great advantage to the island if the boats called at these places, because the people have to take their goods twenty miles before they can get them on board ship in order to send them to the market at Oban. I hope the Postmaster-General will give his attention to this matter, as it is by no means right that the present state of things should exist.
I wish also to refer to the men who put up the posts and telegraph wires. Their complaint is that the Government makes 2233 them travel overtime and does not pay them anything for it, although it is much to the advantage of the Government, because they are thereby enabled to begin work earlier the next day. Moreover, the labourers when away from home in country districts are only paid 6d. a night for lodging allowance. They cannot get accommodation at that rate, and they have to make up the difference out of their own money. I do not think that is right. I understand, further, that when a man is working less than twelve miles away from headquarters he gets an allowance, if he is working twenty-four miles away he gets an allowance, but if he is twenty-four and a half miles away he is allowed nothing at all. That does not seem to be fair. He also has to travel in his own time. I hope the representative of the Government will be able to give me a satisfactory reply on these points.
§ Mr. HUDSON
We are all very pleased t o hear both of the reforms which the Postmaster - General has already put into practice, and of those to which he intends to give effect as early as is practicable. I wish to put one or two questions in regard to a body of men who are deeply concerned about their position, namely, the engineering department of the Post Office. In 1904 a Memorandum was issued notifying that a different system of recruiting would be adopted. Shortly afterwards it worked out to the extent that 25 per cent. of the appointments made would be made from the University. That I believe was put into effect a little over three years ago. These appointments from the University, I understand, are made to the second-class clerkships in the Department. Consequently those who have been recruited in the ordinary way would and have got up to third-class clerkships find a stagnation in the matter of promotion, and they are deeply concerned. I am informed further that the University men not only get second-class positions, but also have the advantage of a course of lectures and special training which is not open to the other men. It is estimated that the University men recruited in this way will cost the Government, including salary, at least £1,000 each. The men recruited under the old system get none of the advantages of lectures or of training. They have to provide them at their own expense. I understand that a provision is contemplated whereby no man shall be able to go from the third-class to the second-class after 2234 reaching thirty-five years of age, and that consequently for the older men in the service the opportunity for promotion will be entirely gone.
This is naturally a case of deep concern to the men. I have several times been approached, as representing one of the largest cities, upon the subject, and I should like to put it to the Postmaster-General as to what are his intentions in regard to these men, who have been recruited in the usual way from the telegraphists department, who have been selected to take the various positions, who have endeavoured to train themselves, and who in the past have proved that they are successful men in the engineering department. What opportunity are they to have in the future? They ask that an inquiry should be held into the whole of the circumstances of the case, and on the face of it it really seems as though it is demanded. After serving a considerable time, and endeavouring to qualify themselves, to have their opportunities cut off is naturally a very important matter to them. I would ask the Postmaster-General to be good enough to look very closely into this important matter. If it is necessary to bring in individual men up to a certain percentage, so far as technique, so far as engineering ability is concerned, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to see that they all have equal opportunity of passing an examination for engineering positions, so that one man should not have the advantage of being trained at the expense of the State while another man has to train at his own expense; and also not have the opportunity, by an age limit being fixed, to graduate to the higher positions.
§ Mr. HOHLER
There are two short points that I would like to impress on the attention of the Secretary to the Post Office. First I would like to call attention to the post office accommodation at a place called Gillingham in Kent. Gillingham is one of the largest towns in the county; it has a population of between 50,000 and 60,000 people. The post office accommodation is three broken-down cottages which have been made into one. Nobody lives on the premises. The accommodation is wholly inadequate. There are a great number of weekly pensions paid there too. The present state of affairs has resulted in two robberies within a period of under two months. In the one case about £200 disappeared, and has never been traced. In the other case £400 was carried off, but owing to the 2235 ability of the police and some of the postal staff from Chatham the thieves, luckily, were arrested in London, and most of the money recovered. I have carefully looked over these premises and it is lamentable that a town of the size should only have this accommodation afforded. Really it is no accommodation at all. The postal authorities cannot pay much rent for the present premises. They could, I think, well afford to erect suitable premises in a suitable position for this great and growing town.
The other point that I wish to call the attention of the Postmaster-General to is that of the personal grievance of an employeé. I am particularly interested in the Army reservists. The case to which I ask the attention of the Postmaster-General—that he will give his personal consideration to and investigate—is that of a man named Taylor. This man served twenty-one years in the Army, and was discharged with a very good character, and a pension. He was two and a-half years in the post office. He was dismissed, it being alleged that he used obscene language in answer to a subscriber on the telephone. The man denies the charge. There is nothing clear but the allegation of an irascible doctor at the other end of the telephone, ringing up somebody late at night. This doctor is named Taylor, too. But we all know that it is quite possible to ring up the Exchange for some distant number late at night, and if a wrong number is given for the person who has been rung up to be angry, and perhaps to use strong language. It seems to me that merely on the allegation of the doctor, who could not tell for a certainty whether the words he said he heard came from the operator or a man at the other end of the line, to dismiss a man is rather hard. It seems to me a matter for inquiry. The matter was hung up at the post office from 21st November to 1st December last. The man absolutely denies the alleged offence. I am sure the Postmaster-General would not like to do an injustice in this matter, and I should like him, if he would, to inquire into it and see if some mistake has not been made.
§ Mr. BYLES
There is a small grievance, Mr. Whitley, that I have against my right hon. Friend the Postmaster - General, although as a man I give way to no one in my general admiration of his character, the way he discharges the duties of his 2236 high office, and the liberal manner in which he has entertained important postal reforms which widely affect the nation. But I must ask leave to bring before the Committee the case to which I refer. It is that of the borough I represent. Salford is an ancient and Royal Borough of 250,000 inhabitants. It is indeed one of the largest municipalities in the country. It so happens that there are three or four villages in the land bearing the same name—that of Salford. I have, through questions in the House, elicited the fact that some 15,000,000 postal communications pass through Salford Post Office every year. I have tried to find out how many postal communications pass through these three or four trumpery villages but so small are they that no return apparently is kept, and I have been unable to get that information. I have asked the Postmaster-General whether he will not issue a regulation that Salford without the addition of Manchester or Lancashire or anything else should be a sufficient address for these 15,000,000 communications which go through that borough every year. He refused me on the ground that the comparatively small village of Salford, Chipping Norton, or somewhere else which has a dozen communications in the year, or perhaps twenty-five, would have to write to Chipping Norton with Salford, and therefore he makes my friends and constituents and their correspondents go to the labour of writing the word Manchester 15,000,000 times every year in order to save these Chipping Norton people. I say that is unreasonable. I have asked him to issue a regulation and he has refused, and so now I have to bring it before the Committee and to ask the Committee to join with me in reducing the salary of the Postmaster-General by £100 as a proper rebuke for his refusal.
Many years ago I lived at Bradford, which has quite as many virtues as Salford. It is about the same size, and an enlightened Postmaster-General of that day issued a regulation that all letters addressed to Bradford should go to Bradford, Yorkshire. There is a Bradford-on-Avon and a Bradford near Manchester, and a Bradford in Wiltshire, yet anybody in Manchester who wrote to Bradford had his letters sent to Bradford in Yorkshire and not to Bradford near Manchester or Bradford-on-Avon. Anyone who wrote letters in Wilts had his letter sent to Yorkshire and not to Bradford in Wilt- 2237 shire. All I ask is that the same sensible arrangement should be made with regard to Salford as to Bradford.
§ The ASSISTANT POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Captain Norton)
Perhaps I might be now allowed to reply to the questions put to me by hon. Members. I may say I am sure my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General and the officials of the Post Office must feel very grateful for the kindly manner in which the various Members who have drawn attention to subjects with which they were not satisfied have spoken of what the Postmaster-General has done. An hon. Gentleman has asked me a question as to farmers' telephones. I have to say where sufficient subscribers used a line jointly there will be no extra charge for distance. As to automatic telephones we have experimented, and we have already asked for tenders for four.
§ Captain NORTON
Yes; for the sum of £3 a year they will have unlimited calls on their local exchange. With reference to the question of post-cards, some hon. Members seem to think we are doing a great injustice to the trade. The trade generally will be very little affected, because their trade is principally done in picture post-cards, and post-cards which will not be used by us. An hon. Gentleman suggested that we should not sell these cards in large numbers. I fail to see how we could do otherwise. Firms which wish to obtain large numbers of these cards would only have to pay a small boy to come in and out of the Post Office every other minute asking for five or a dozen at a time until they had got the quantity they require. A question was raised by the hon. Member for South Islington (Mr. Wiles), to whom the Department owe something for taking such an interest in stamps and supplying us with such valuable information. In that connection, I might mention, an hon. Member suggested that the Post Office never took advice from outside, and that any such suggestion met with opposition from the officials. But a little later in his remarks he pointed out that the late Member for Canterbury, Mr. Henniker Heaton, had introduced great reform in the Post Office service.
§ Captain NORTON
Then as regards the question of the marking of registered letters, that subject will be considered. With regard to the staff of the National Telephone Company the Postmaster-General has already given a pledge that that staff will, broadly speaking, be taken over as a whole. On the question of split duties no efforts are spared to reduce the attendances of postmen, and within the last four years the number of three attendance duties has been substantially diminished, and four attendances are abolished. For example, in 1906 there were 6,996 postmen, and 60 per cent. of them had three or four separate attendances each, whereas in 1911 there are 8,009 postmen, of whom 38 per cent. have three attendances and none have four; and the number of postmen having only one attendance has been nearly doubled since 1906, so I hope that will give satisfaction to hon. Gentlemen. Coming to the question of the promotion of postmen, the Hobhouse Committee not only did not recommend that they should have further promotion, but actually took away a certain amount of promotion. The Central Telegraph Office employées were given special pay because they were at a disadvantage in a certain way, especially as regards holiday.
The hon. Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool (Mr. F. E. Smith) brought forward the case of a boy who was dismissed. I can only say that most of these discipline cases come before me, and I have no knowledge whatever of that particular case, and neither has the Postmaster-General. If the hon. and learned Member will-lay the case before me I will make inquiry into it and see that justice is done. I can assure the Committee, as they doubtless well know, these cases of discipline are most carefully considered, more especially in connection with boys, from whom such a high state of discipline is not expected, as from the older employées. The hon. and learned Member also dealt with the case of the Liverpool telegraphists. I can only say the Hobhouse Committee went carefully into the case of the telegraphists all over the country, but it is only natural that the hon. and learned Gentleman would like to see Liverpool placed in a superior condition to that of all other towns in the country. That is no doubt the feeling of every hon. Member. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about Salford"] We are constantly hearing of these cases in which Members urge the claims of their own constituents.
§ Mr. LESLIE SCOTT
If I may say so, as a Liverpool Member, I entirely dissent from that proposition. I may also say that all the Liverpool Members think the Liverpool telegraphists have not been treated fairly.
§ Captain NORTON
Then the blame lies at the door of the Hobhouse Committee. The telegraphists have always maintained that they were dissatisfied by any decision given by a Departmental Committee. I have for a dozen years in this House championed their cause, and they assured me that once they received a Committee of the House of Commons to deal with their case they would abide loyally by the decisions of that Committee, and the decision would be binding upon the whole service for a period of at least ten years. The Hobhouse Committee went most carefully into this question. They had witnesses "brought before them of almost every class with the exception of some classes which were too small to deal with; the cases were gone into with the greatest care, and the Hobhouse Committee decided to give those employed in the Central Telegraph Office pay not only above Liverpool but above every other part of the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Tyson Wilson) spoke of boys being punished for trivial offences. I can assure the hon. Member that the very greatest care is always taken as regards these boys. As to the suggested fresh inquiry, I think the Postmaster-General will deal with that point himself. As to the interpretation to be placed upon the Report, the only case of real weight has been referred to the Law Officers of the Crown, and my right hon. Friend was guided by their interpretation.
§ Captain NORTON
The question of the basis of classification whether the units of work and the cost of living were to be considered as a whole, or whether the units of work were to be considered and then the cost of living was to be added to that.
§ Mr. J. WARD
Did the Department submit to the Law Officers of the Crown the interpretation of the Committee's decision as to the whole of the locality or just a section of it?
§ Captain NORTON
I do not think that was considered by my right hon. Friend of sufficient moment. The only question which involved any doubt was submitted to the Law Officers, and they gave a decision with which I think everyone will agree. The hon. Member for Malden (Sir Fortescue Flannery) raised the case of the sub-postmasters, and suggested that they should have the option of deciding whether they would go on under the old scale or the new. Some of them went on under the old scale and some of them under the new scale, and now that they have found that the old scale was to their advantage they desire, after a certain time, to go back to the old system. With reference to the question of bags passing through their offices, may I point out to the hon. Baronet that those letters are not sorted; they are simply passed on, and, therefore, the amount of labour entailed is infinitesimal. The desire of the sub-postmasters seems to Inc to be a case of "heads I win, tails you lose." The hon. Member for West Nottingham asked a question with reference to the factories at Nottingham. I am afraid the only answer I can give is, "Wait and see," because the Factory Committee is considering this matter, and they have not yet arrived at a decision.
The hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Gardner) asked a question about way-leaves. The Postmaster-General naturally will have the rights he now possesses over the public roads. I think that is one of the reasons why the whole telephonic system should be under the Postmaster-General, in order that the public at large may derive the greatest benefit from the system. With regard to what has been said about the new Committee, of course the Postmaster-General can give no pledge about a matter of that kind, and I would point out that it is only three and a-half years since the present Committee gave its decision, and that Committee took no less than two years to consider the matter. Consequently, to suggest that a new Committee should be now appointed is suggesting a course which I think my right hon. Friend can scarcely adopt. The hon. Member for Sutherland (Mr. Morton), with whom I had much communication, wants a great deal done for Sutherlandshire, and he has pointed out that nothing has been (lone for Scotland. All I can say is that Scotland has got the Premiership and the Lord Chancellorship. [An HON. MEMBER: "They get everything."] Scotland has 2241 recently sent to another place the Secretary of State for War. If the Postmaster-General did everything which hon. Members desire to be done for Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and other parts of the country, the result would simply be that the £4,000,000 we now produce for the revenue of the country would not be forthcoming. It has been the decision of Parliament that the Post Office, whilst giving certain facilities to the public, shall be a revenue-producing Department; and in the face of that we cannot do more than we are doing for Scotland. With regard to the special point as to the telegraphic extension referred to by the hon. Member, may I point out that it was only in exceptional cases that this privilege was granted, and it was only granted on the condition that the deficiency was made good.
§ Captain NORTON
The arrangement made in the case of the Budget of 1906 was that unless the Post Office assumed two-thirds of the liability the condition would not apply.
§ Captain NORTON
Yes, the hon. Member has sent me a good many communications. I can promise that I will go most carefully into the points he has brought before me, and if it is at all possible to meet the hon. Member I will use my utmost efforts with the Postmaster-General.
§ Captain NORTON
The hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Hunt) raised the question of the mail routes in the Outer Hebrides, and he pointed out that the Secretary for Scotland had a fund at his disposal for meeting cases in connection with these poorer districts. I would suggest to my hon. Friend he should endeavour to deal with he Scottish Office, because they are a people who have the fund, and not the Post Office.
§ Captain NORTON
No; the Scottish Office is not under our control. The Secretary for Scotland would not dispose of any of his fund directly to the Post Office, and the hon. Member's best method of proceeding would be to apply to the Secretary for Scotland. With regard to the allowances of the gang hands and their being obliged to travel in their own time, we deal most fairly and most generously with all the line men and others in the Engineering Department, but if the hon. Member will bring any special case of grievance or any special case of a man who is not getting the allowance to which he is entitled I will carefully investigate it. The hon. Member for Newcastle-on-Tyne (Mr. Hudson) asked about promotions from third-class clerks to second-class engineers. Those who enter the Service and rise to be third-class clerks are obliged to pass certain examinations in order to qualify for the higher position. The age fixed by the Engineer-in-Chief, who has special knowledge in these technical matters, was thirty-five. Many second-class engineers enter from the university, and their limit of age is twenty-four. It was thought that the age of thirty-five for those who entered in a lower capacity was a fair arrangement. The hon. Member for Chatham (Mr. Kohler) is anxious for a better post office at Gillingham. If the hon. Member will write to me and give full information about the office with which he is dissatisfied, I will carefully inquire into it and see that the postal branch which deals with buildings investigates the matter. With regard to the case of the retired soldier which he raised, I can assure him I went roost carefully, and, as an old soldier myself, most sympathetically into that man's case and, not only did I do so, but I passed it on to my right hon. Friend, who also investigated it, and we both came to the conclusion that the case had been fairly proved against the man and that no injustice had been done. My right hon. Friend will deal with the remarks of the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Kyles), and I hope he will be able to give the hon. Member satisfaction.
§ Mr. NEWTON
Before I come to the small grievance with which I have to trouble the Committee, I should like 10 be allowed to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon his speech this afternoon. I listened to it with very great pleasure. It was the most businesslike speech I Lave heard in this House during the short time I have been a Member of it. With regard 2243 to the agricultural telephones which he mentioned in the course of his speech, I think he deserves congratulation for making that departure. I ask him not to be discouraged if in the early stage of the experiment it does not perhaps meet with a very great amount of success. I believe success will undoubtedly come after it has been tried some little time. Any person who has travelled in Denmark must have been struck by the great use to which the telephone is put amongst the farmers there as an integral part of the co-operative movement which flourishes so extensively in that country. I recognise it is unfortunate we should have to raise grievances on behalf of small bodies of our constituents, but I do desire to raise one small point as to two petitions which the right hon. Gentleman has received from the indoor and outdoor staff of the Harwich post office. The claim, of course, in this case for revision is based upon the usual ground of an increase in units of work and in the cost of living. The cost of living has undoubtedly increased all over the country, but I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to bear in mind that Harwich is rather in an exceptional position.
The cost of living there has, I think, increased more than elsewhere for two principal reasons. One is a geographical reason. Harwich has the sea upon one side and the river upon the other, and there is really only a small area of land for the cultivation of vegetables and such like, and the price of those commodities is undoubtedly high. When in addition it is remembered you have, there a seaside resort to which many visitors come, it is obvious that during the season at all events prices are rushed up much too high. There is another cause. The Admiralty are declaring the port of Harwich as a naval base. That brings a great deal of extra work to the Post Office, and it also has a disastrous effect on rents. The right hon. Gentleman, I hope, has been told, either by myself in a letter I wrote to him, or in one of these petitions that the cost of cottage accommodation in that part of the country is enormously high. There is one particular case which I think will convince any Member of the Committee of that. There is to-day working in the Harwich Post Office a man recently transferred from a town in the same grade as Harwich. In the town he left he was 2244 paying 2s. 6d. a week for a very good cottage with a garden, but he has had to pay in Harwich 10s. 6d. a week for less accommodation without a garden. That is an increase out of that man's wages for lodging of 7s. 6d. a week. Rents have increased enormously quite recently in Harwich, and they will undoubtedly increase still further. The rates are going up, and they must go up further. I do ask the right hon. Gentleman therefore to give a sympathetic hearing to the petitions presented to him on behalf of the indoor and outdoor staff and the workers of this town of Harwich.
§ Mr. DENMAN
It would not, I think, be right if those of us who are interested in the Boy Labour Committee did not thank the Postmaster-General for his remarks under that heading. We are all specially interested in the problem of dealing with our boys and girls. We have always recognised that the Post Office was one of those employers which had a position of special difficulty, and at the same time a position of especial influence. We welcome the cooperation of the Post Office in our Commonwealth. Of course our ultimate claim is bound to be that the Civil Service, as a whole, is a sufficiently large employer to have no excess of juvenile labour at all, and that it must so arrange employment that it can give adequate employment to every juvenile employed in the service, subject, of course, to suitability of character and qualification. We recognise the great progress made by the Postmaster-General and by Sir Matthew Nathan, the Chairman of the Committee', which is investigating this subject, and we will do our best here to make their scheme successful. We are grateful indeed to the Postmaster-General for the observations he has made.
There are one or two other subjects on which I feel I must detain the House. I do not wish to introduce personal grievances, but I am afraid that one of the symptoms of this Debate has been the introduction of the personal clement. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool (Mr. F. E. Smith), who the other night moved the rejection of the Motion for the Third Reading of the Parliament Bill, this evening has found occasion to introduce by name a telegraph messenger to the attention of this Imperial Parliament, and to point out that he was dismissed for infringing the regulations of the Post Office. The hon. Gentleman suggested that this was a case of very harsh 2245 treatment. Of course, the House is perfectly entitled to advertise names, but I am not convinced that this is a very excellent form of raising these questions. I do not know why the Post Office should be put in an exceptional position in this matter. I do not think it is good for the employées of the Post Office that this sort of personal advertisement should be given. We do not hear the names of railway servants used in this House when a man is dismissed, but in this Debate on the Post Office we have had three individual names introduced. We have had the name of Mr. Webb, to whom apparently the Post Office owed £23; we have had the name of Mr. Taylor, who also had a grievance. I do not know whether that is the best way to educate the Postmaster-General on these subjects. I rather think it would be better to get shorthand typists to set these matters forth.
I should like to say a few words on a really vital question, and that is the subject of wage adjustment in the Post Office. Every year we are impressed on all sides with the futility of present methods. We get six or seven hours of discussion upon the entire Post Office organisation, and at the end of that time we are certain of an amount of public opinion in favour of the course we advocate. The problem is as to what would constitute a really suitable period for the consideration of the Hobhouse Committee's Report, and what would suffice for a consideration of the points therein raised. The problem is as to what would constitute a suitable period during which the Hobhouse Committee Report was to suffice. I very much doubt if the Postmaster-General's statement today can be taken in support of the Hob-house Committee's recommendation. In January, 1910, the Postmen's Federation put forward one scheme and the National Joint Committee put forward another. The National Joint Committee scheme was, I think, a Standing Committee of this House, which should be in permanent session and should be in a position to advise the Postmaster-General. We were invited to pledge ourselves to support this special Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry. I do not want to comment at all on the relative merits of these two schemes. I am perfectly certain, so far as some members are concerned, that they are pledged to both proposals. There is no kind of scientific decision on this subject unless the Government will devise some permanent machinery by which at regularly stated intervals the ques- 2246 tion of Post Office wages will be dealt with in the manner in which they were dealt with in the past. The whole history of Post Office agitation is spasmodic pressure resisted for years and then a rather ignominious surrender. I say ignominious surrender because it must always look like it whatever may be the motives of it. It has the appearance of surrender by a Minister of the Crown to pressure. It may be he thinks there is justification for it, but still it always looks as if he was obliged to give way to pressure put upon him in Parliament and in other ways by the Post Office Association.
In the Post Office you have an exceptional position no doubt. There is no danger of a strike in the Post Office. The Association will not agree to a strike, and I think their sense of the public importance of their work is too strong to permit Post Office officials to strike. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is the reason why the strongest consideration should be shown them."1 I was only reasoning with a view of showing that they have not that simple device which other employées have. For instance, I believe the railway servants are not convinced that a strike is an impossibility, but so long as the Post Office Association feels itself really debarred from using the weapon of a strike the officials must have some other natural means of a settlement of wages periodically, and I would ask the Postmaster-General earnestly to consider whether he cannot devise some regular machinery that would be worthy of British statesmanship under which questions of this sort could be settled. You can lay down certain definite reasons for revision. You can say that it should be held when the general level of wages changes or the nature of the work performed alters or there is a change in the general cost of living. All these factors may give a reason for a revision, perhaps every seven or ten years, and you will find that those three causes have operated and given substantial reason for an addition to the wages and an improvement of the position of Post Office servants after periods of that kind. Let us therefore have some machinery which will bring this question up at stated times and prevent it coming up with this slow, persistent, and ineffective pressure which is put upon us annually in these Debates. I venture to think that the result would be more satisfactory to hon. Members, more satisfactory to the Post Office, 2247 far more consonant with the dignity of the House of Commons, and certainly with the good conduct of the Post Office and its servants.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Mr. LESLIE SCOTT
Representing as I have the honour to do, a constituency where there are a large number of important commercial bodies I want to call the attention of the Committee to the view taken by commercial men upon some of the important Post Office questions which have been only just touched upon tonight. I have had the privilege recently of several interviews with the Postmaster-General in introducing deputations to him, and I join with those who have preceded me to-night in expressing, on behalf of myself and on behalf of most influential commercial deputations from Liverpool, the very highest appreciation of the most businesslike and courteous treatment that he extended to the views of the commercial gentlemen that I had the honour of introducing to him. It is, therefore, with no feelings of pleasure that I join in supporting a Motion to take away from the right hon. Gentleman any part of that salary which we all agree he has earned every penny of, but such is the unfortunate method by which the procedure of this House rules that these matters have to be discussed. It has to be, and it raises a point of general importance, which I am going to claim the courtesy of the Committee in discussing in a moment. I want, however, first of all to deal with one or two minor points which have been raised. First of all, as regards the Liverpool telegraphists, I join with the lion Member for Walton in the view which has been very forcibly pressed upon all the Liverpool Members by representative deputations of the Liverpool telegraphists. They are extremely dissatisfied with the rates of wages which they receive at the present time, and their point, be it good or be it bad is this: that their wages have remained the same, unrevised in any particular, since the year 1890. It is possible there may be some error about that, but I am quite certain that the Postmaster-General will, in spite of the Hobhouse Committee's Report, and in spite of any number of Committees' reports, deal with that matter and look into it, and that is what we Members for Liverpool think ought to be done, and that is all we ask.
2248 The Liverpool postal officials are, unfortunately, in fact to a large degree dissatisfied with the existing conditions, not only in respect to wages, but in respect to other matters also. There is the question, for instance, of the methods adopted in regard to promotion in that office. I have complaints before me and particulars in my hand, but I agree with the hon. Member for Carlisle that it is undesirable to deal, if it can possibly be avoided, with individual cases in the Committee of this House. Therefore, by the leave of the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster-General I will bring these particular cases to his attention in private, and not trouble the Committee with them now. In regard to that class of complaint of which we have had many here to-night it is obvious that it is most undesirable that the Committee should be troubled with the details of these minor complaints, whether they come from the extremity of Sutherlandshire, or whether they come from one of our big cities. They are, to a great extent, trivial and unimportant personal complaints. They have great importance locally, but ought to be dealt with in a way which will not occupy the time of the House, which has already been much curtailed for dealing with important business. The solution, of course, is some provision by which local complaints can be brought before some kind of representative body of men who to some degree represent the different districts of the country, but not before this House. It is from that point of view that the commercial community of Liverpool and of many other cities in this country who during the last few weeks have been following the example of Liverpool are anxious that there should be some arrangement made by which the Post Office can have the advantage of some kind of Advisory Committee of a semi-representative character, upon which there shall be commercial representatives, business men, coming from different parts of the country, before whom all these minor complaints, which at present can only be brought up on this one occasion in the year in this very ineffective way, can be adequately discussed and disposed of without wasting the time of the House. That is one point of view from which the proposal is relevant.
Take as an illustration of that: the existing telegraph system. The telegraph system in this country from many points of view is very good, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not think I am in any 2249 way reflecting on the good administration of our telegraph system by the Post Office if I criticise it, but we all know that, telegrams take a very long time in passing in this country. If one was asked how long he would say is the average time a telegram takes to get an answer, he would say an hour or an hour and a-half—a very appreciable time. For commercial purposes telegraphic communication is of very little use unless it is a matter of minutes. It is not a question of payment, but of time. Let me take an illustration. Liverpool men, wanting to telegraph in a hurry to London, very frequently do it via New York, because cabling to New York and from New York back to London you can get a telegram delivered in London, as a general rule, in about ten minutes. To telegraph direct from Liverpool to London will probably take twenty minutes or half-an-hour or more. I have had, as the Postmaster-General will agree, put before him as instances the details of a certain number of telegrams which have passed between Liverpool and London simply as a test of the time taken. Commercial people are dissatisfied with that degree of telegraphic facilities, which are quite insufficient for their business. If we had some kind of advisory body, composed of commercial men, to whom these matters could be referred, we should find that in fact greater facilities would be afforded by the Post. Office and that, as in most commercial matters, the provision of greater facilities would result in a greater demand and the greater demand in an increase of profits. These are the kind of views with which commercial men are thoroughly suited to deal and which can be adequately discussed in a committee of that kind, and which cannot, I submit, be adequately discussed in this House. Take that as an illustration. To go into the question adequately and deal with it means the obtaining of a very large number of statistics going into the whole question of the provision of facilities and what amount of extra wires, and so on, are necessary in order to cope with the increase of business. We cannot deal with these questions here. We are not experts, we cannot have expert reports before us, and the time, apart from anything else, is totally inadequate to permit of the House dealing successfully with such topics as that.
Take another illustration—the proposed transfer which is coming off in a few months of the telephone system of the National Telephone Company to the Government. Under that system we trust and 2250 hope that the Post Office will improve the telephone system of the country. We all know how very much room there is for improvement at present. Trunk telephoning is at present to a large extent a mere luxury, of very little use for business purposes. How long does it take to get on with a telephone call from London to Liverpool or Manchester? One goes to the telephone and is told there is a delay; it may be very often half an hour. That is quite an ordinary time. Before I went with the deputation to the Postmaster-General the other day I telephoned to Liverpool in order to get some information for the Postmaster-General. There was a delay of forty minutes. What use is that to business men? In America you get through in three or four minutes on long distances. That is notorious to all business men. That is the kind of thing upon which business men are thoroughly qualified to advise the Department. A committee of business men will say, "Give us the facilities and we will tell you the response you will get from business men, the amount of calls that you will get, and the amount of use, and from that we can make a calculation as to the rate which will pay, with the provision of sufficient facilities to meet the demands of business men." This is not, of course, the occasion to argue in detail the question of the conditions under which the Post Office should be allowed to take over the National Telephone Company's business, and so on, and the best method of administration. The proper opportunity will be when the Telephone Bill is introduced. But this Debate, I suggest, illustrates in a striking manner the futility of the notion that Parliamentary control, though necessary, though good and valuable for certain purposes, is of much or any value for the purpose of effective criticism of the effective administration of a complicated Department.
Criticism of administration can only be brought to bear effectively by men who are in permanent touch with the administration, who can have experts before them, and can receive returns and be advised by the administration, and who, therefore, would be qualified not only to offer criticism from time to time on rare occasions, but to argue it out, to follow it up meeting after meeting. That is the only kind of criticism of an administration which can be permanently effective. I do not for a moment suggest that Parliamentary control is not essential and is not valuable for other purposes on big 2251 questions of policy, but for pettifogging details, such as many of the questions raised to-night have been, the whole Committee will agree that if this House could be relieved of the necessity of going into these details, and they could be transferred to some other body equally representative, where the views of the different localities could be made effective, this House would be immensely the gainer by the change. Under the present system it is not a waste of public time that they should be raised, because there is no other method of raising them. But compared to the alternative that I suggest I submit most strongly that it is a lamentable waste of valuable public time.
§ Mr. CASSEL
I should like to join in the universal chorus of appreciation of the right hon. Gentleman's very interesting, able, and businesslike statement. I wish in that statement lie could have avoided referring to those whose views my hon. Friend (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) and myself are representing to-night as a selfish and interested agitation. I think if he was doing, what undoubtedly he is doing, an injury to the stationery trade he might at least have refrained from adding insult to the injury. I am afraid we are all rather selfish when our interests are attacked, and if by selfish and interested agitation he means that this trade is protecting its interests against a wholly unjustifiable and unwarrantable attack of a Government Department, I think those words are in no sense condemnatory. The free distribution of these post-cards and letter-cards was attempted to be justified by the hon. Member for South Islington air. Wiles) on the ground that the Post Office made a profit on the actual transmission of the post-cards and letter-cards, and that that profit was sufficient to cover the cost and still leave a profit to the Post Office. It seems to me that is an utterly unsound point, for this reason. In the carriage of post-cards and letter-cards the Post Office has an absolute monopoly, but in the supply of post-cards and letter-cards it is brought into competition with private traders. I rest my objection to this on the broad principle that no Government has a right to give away anything for nothing where it is brought into competition with private traders. You cannot justify it any more than you can justify the bringing of prison-made goods into competition with goods made in the ordinary course of trade. That principle, which is applicable 2252 generally, applies with special force, where the very trade with which the Postmaster-General is in competition has been built up on the faith of statements made by his predecessors in office that no such thing should be done as the distributing of such cards free.
As long ago as 1881 a Liberal Postmaster-General said that as a matter of justice and policy a small charge must for the future be made for the card itself. Even if the policy has changed, the justice of the position surely has not changed. On the faith of that statement and on the faith of other statements made by Members of the same party as that to which the right hon. Gentleman belongs, that industry has been built up, and the amount of official cards has increased very largely, while the amount of post-cards supplied by the trade has also increased very largely. Mr. Fawcett recognised that that had been an advantage to the Department. On the strength of the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor that it would be unjust if the Department entered into competition with this trade without making some charge for the cards they have built up their trade, and I say it is a gross injustice to them now for the right hon. Gentleman to turn round and say, "Notwithstanding the statement made by my predecessor, we are going to supply these postcards free." The right hon. Gentleman brought forward only two arguments in support of that position. One was that it was a convenience to the public. No doubt that is true. It is always a convenience to the public to get anything for nothing. [An HON. MEMBER: "They seldom do."] This is going to be one of those rare occasions. The Post Office will find that this is bad policy, because it is of the highest interest to the public that the rights of private traders should be respected.
The other argument which the right hon. Gentleman brought in support of his policy was that this is the practice of all foreign nations. I was rather surprised to hear that coming from the right hon. Gentleman, because if it weighs with him so much I shall soon expect to see him a supporter of the tariff policy, as that same argument could be used with equal force in order to support the view that we ought to adopt the tariff policy. For myself, I may say that I have never put that argument by itself as a reason for adopting a tariff policy, because you must look at the 2253 conditions of those other countries for the purpose of seeing whether the same conditions apply. But as that would apply in the case of Tariff Reform so I say it applies here too, and you have got to see whether in those other countries those conditions exist which apply in this case, and whether in those other countries you have got the fact that a large private trade has grown up, and that capital has been expended on the faith of representations made by the predecessors in office of the right hon. Gentleman; and I say that it is nothing short of a breach of faith with this trade that after these statements have been made that policy should be abandoned.
§ Mr. J. WARD
I happen to have been a Member of the Hobhouse Committee, and would like to say a few words in defence of it. I was rather surprised at the lecture delivered to the House by the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Denman) a little while ago. It is not often that one Member instructs the House how they should attend to grievances, and it was more remarkable to hear his statement, holding as he does a somewhat semi-official position, that, if he gave any advice whatever to Members with reference to grievances in the Post Office from his inside knowledge, he would suggest it would be better for them to type their speeches and send them through the ordinary channels to the chiefs of the Department than to ventilate their grievances in this House. That was not, very complimentary to the Department, and I should have thought, at any rate, that the criticisms by Members of this House of the Department of what has been described as pettifogging details should receive attention, and from my own observations I would say that they do receive attention from the chiefs of the Department concerned. During the Debate the Financial Secretary of the Department stated that a question had been submitted to the Law Officers of the Crown as to whether, in deciding the status of a certain locality or branch office as the case may be, the cost of living should be taken into account in connection with the volume of work in the district, and I understood that the Law Officers of the Crown advised the Department that the two things should be taken into account. So far as I am concerned, as one of the Members on that Committee, we had no hesitation on that point at all, and we never thought that there would be any difficulty about it.
2254 We know that it was not a question of locality, but of volume of work and the cost of living. We had previously decided what the wages or the standard or status of a particular district should be for pay or emoluments connected with the Department over which the right hon. Gentleman presides. Certain cases were brought to our knowledge in which the political influence of Members of this House had been sufficient, apart from any other consideration, to secure advantages. Things of that sort had grown up, and it was decided that there should be a common denominator, some standard, that could be applied generally, apart altogether from the representation of the locality in this House or influences which might be brought to bear in other ways. And we fixed upon these two considerations—volume of work in the locality and the cost of living—as the deciding factors of payment. I think if that standard had been honestly and straightforwardly applied in the way intended by the Committee it would have been found that no better way, in spite of all the criticism which has been bestowed upon it in this House since the Hobhouse Committee reported, has yet been developed. It has been suggested to-night that, there should he some sort of local consultative committee, but I do not think it would meet the case. It has been suggested that there should be another Committee of this House. Those who are of that opinion had better serve on the next Committee. I have not the slightest objection to a Committee of this House being appointed to inquire into this subject even next week. If the Postmaster-General chooses to suggest that it should be done I should vote for it to-morrow, but with this proviso: that under no circumstances would I ever serve upon it. So long as that is understood, I have no objection to someone else serving on the Committee.
For myself I do not interfere with the suggestion. I do not oppose it, I do not support it, I do not do anything with it; I merely say that I am not going to be one of the Committee. The next thing I wish to point out, and which I think has caused the most trouble to the department, is the question of volume of work. In regard to this point, the intention of the Hobhouse Committee was this—and let the right hon. Gentleman never mistake what was their intention—as to the volume of work and cost of living. The right hon. Gentleman, I am sure, has never heard an observation from a single 2255 member of the Hobhouse Committee in this House, with the exception of the Chairman it may he—I make that reservation—to show that the suggestion to which I now call attention was not always in our minds. Take a district which the Post Office regards as a suitable illustration of our suggestion. You take the whole of the postal work in that area, and you then have, as it were, an indication of the importance of the locality to the Department. You are enabled to some extent to decide the standard which the district occupies, taking into account the cost of living in the locality, as well as the volume of work. In the case of Brighton, owing to the fact that it is a seside resort, it may be that he cost of living is high, though in certain times of the year the volume of work may be comparatively small. These two things, therefore, should be taken into account. But unfortunately this is what the Department has done. So far as the interpretation of the Hobhouse Committee's suggestion is concerned the Department has gone right, but when it has come to the volume of work in a particular district, they have excluded certain kinds of work — work done under certain conditions. The work is done in offices directly under the control of the Department, or under some postmaster.
I take my own locality into account only because I know it. There may be others which are in the same position, and I expect it is similar. For instance, I go down the High Street of Stoke-on-Trent, where the great proportion of the work is done. I discover that the office there is on the standard of what is called a sub-office. Of this I know, because I have asked questions about it in the House. It is in the centre of the town, and does the large work of the locality, and would greatly enhance the status of the locality if it were included but merely because it happens to be work done by a sub-post office it is not included at all. One can quite imagine that if the right hon. Gentleman gradually transferred more and more work to sub-post offices he could lower three parts of the localities of the whole country. I think it will be seen at once that that is a grievance, but that is not the result of the Report of the Hobhouse Committee, but it is the result of the narrow and niggardly way in which the recommendations have been interpreted by the Department itself. What we assumed naturally was that you would take the 2256 whole work of the district into account, that you would properly balance it up, and also take into account the cost of living, and that when you had approximated those two things you could decide, almost with mathematical accuracy, what the standard of a particular district ought to be in reference to wages and working conditions. That is what we decided, and I believe if that had been carried out in the way we really intended it should have been done a great many criticisms we have heard of to-night could not have been launched against it. I am making no complaint as to my own locality. I am not bringing forward any grievance with reference to my own district. That they have grievances I have not the slightest doubt. I would prefer before any officer should deal with our own locality that the right hon. Gentleman should reconsider the interpretation of that section of the Committee's Report which stated that the whole volume of work in the locality should be taken into account, irrespective of sub-offices, whether it had been done by direct officers of the Department or whether done in an indirect way by a sub-office. The whole work of the district should be taken into account before you could arrive at the correct standard that the locality should be placed in.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
Several of the points that have been raised in this Debate were answered in anticipation in the remarks which I addressed to the Committee this afternoon. For example, with respect to the sale of post-cards and letter-cards at face value the Committee will recollect that I dealt at some length with that question before the hon. Member moved the reduction which is now before the Committee. I will only add with respect to that a few words in reply to the remarks which have just been made by the hon. and learned Member for West St. Pancras (Mr. Cassel). He said that the action I had taken in this matter was in effect a breach of faith with the stationery trade if you take into account that as long ago as 1881 Mr. Fawcett, the then Postmaster-General, had declared that it would be a wrong thing to sell those articles at their face value. If we go back to 1881 let us go back to it altogether, for at that time the stationery trade were not allowed to sell post-cards at all to pass through the post with adhesive stamps on them. The conditions obviously were entirely different, and besides, as the Committee very well knows, every postal reform 2257 which is carried into effect has been refused by some Postmaster-General or other in the days when it was first advocated. If no Postmaster-General is ever to carry out reforms which once had been refused by his predecessor there would be no progress in the Department over which I am called on to preside. The hon. Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mr. Leslie Scott), in a very interesting speech, suggested that the affairs of the Post Office would be better managed if there were a Committee of business men continuously in session to advise on such matters as telegraphs and telephones.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
A standing Committee, at all events. Would he consider that such a Committee would be able to do just ice to the needs of the great City of Liverpool, if it contained on it no representative of Liverpool?
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
The hon. Member says that with much courage Lecause he has a shrewd suspicion that no such Committee is likely to be appointed in the near future. If Liverpool were excluded from such a Committee complaint would certainly be made that the special interests of Liverpool could not receive adequate representation. It is obviously impossible that on a Committee of that character you could have representatives of every great city in the country, still less of the smaller towns; nor would you be able to include a representative of, say, Sutherlandshire—
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
Or representatives from the remoter districts of Ireland and other outlying parts of the United Kingdom. If you have upon the Committee representatives of the large business houses, you must also have representatives of the smaller commercial men, whose interests might not be the same. You must have representatives of the shopkeeping class. Also, if it is to deal with the questions of the remuneration of labour, you must have representatives of the working classes on it. In fact, your Committee, if it were truly representative, would be as large as the House of Commons itself. My view is that there 2258 is no place where you can secure representation of all the interests and of all the districts entitled to be represented, except in this Chamber of which we have the honour to be Members. As for the consideration of details such as those over which the hon. Member says the House of Commons cannot exercise adequate control, I would point out that we do receive at the Post Office now day by day and week by week many representations from the very interests to which he has referred. The two deputations which lie was good enough to bring to me only a few days ago were a striking instance of that. There we had the specific interests of Liverpool business men brought in the most direct fashion to the attention of the heads of the Department. Owing to the representations made several improvements have been carried out in the system of telegraphy between London and Liverpool, the delays which previously existed have been much reduced through various devices that have been employed, and other improvements are being effected. Similarly we get representations from other parts of the country, and, on the whole, I think the system works not unsatisfactorily.
The hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. J. Ward) suggested that the Department was generally right in its interpretation of the Report of the Hobhouse Committee, of which Committee he was an active member; that in the method of calculating units of work and the cost of living we had in general carried out the desires of the Committee; but that we were in error in not including in the units of work the work done at the sub-offices. I have dealt with the point before; but in respect to the particular case which he mentioned I may say that it would make no difference to the classification of the office if the work of the sub-offices were included in the total units of work. I have gone into that point, and I know that it is so. Taking the country generally very few of the offices would have their classification in any way altered if the exceedingly small number of units of work which the sub-offices are able to contribute were included in the head office total, but since the hon. Member desires it I will look into that point again. The hon. Member for West Houghton and others have raised points some of which I endeavoured to deal with beforehand. With respect to the misunderstanding that has arisen among the associations of the staff who consider that I gave a promise 2259 to reopen the recommendations of the Hobhouse Committee and now decline to do so, I would point out what the question was that was asked me by the deputation from the Trade Union Congress, now more than a year ago. I was asked—after the conversation had turned on the relations between the Trade Union Congress and Postmasters-General — whether I would discuss questions of wages. I replied "Yes." I had in mind the fact that the question of wages was not to be ruled out, that it should not be thought that no one under any circumstances was to raise the question of wages; but that they could be considered as hours, conditions of employment, and other things are considered. But I had no intention—and I made it clear immediately afterwards—that while I was willing to consider any question of the interpretation of the Report of the Hobhouse Committee—and discuss such questions with deputations—that while I was quite willing to consider any question of wages that had not been dealt with by the Hobhouse Committee's Report—I was not, tor reasons that I gave, in a position to throw again into the melting-pot all the results and work of that Committee and review the whole of the main wage scales of the chief classes at the Post Office as though that Committee had never sat and adjudicated upon the question.
That was made abundantly clear to several deputations more than a year ago; and also in writing. Any misunderstanding that had arisen at the outset ought to have been immediately removed, if indeed misunderstanding there was. To suggest that a question of interpretation should be referred to an outside committee, or some other authority, would be to destroy in a large measure the administrative authority with which the Postmaster-General is necessarily invested, and would be to reopen an enormous number of questions of classification of offices, questions affecting an exceedingly large number of classes of Post Office servants, and it is a proposition which I regret I cannot see my way to accept. One or two specific questions were raised by hon. Members. The electric lighting staff -was referred to.
§ Mr. CHARLES DUNCAN
Does the right hon. Gentleman rule out the Advisory Committee of the Board of Trade?
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
It is much the same. They could not enter into it. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade says that it would be perfectly impossible to add this enormous task to their already excessive work, which they have, I understand, great difficulty in getting through. With regard to the hours mentioned by one hon. Member. The men spoken of have been transferred to the engineering department, where the hours of work are those that he has stated, fifty and a-half per week. Those hours were authorised by the Hobhouse Committee. The hon. Member is misinformed when he says that the hours have been increased without any increase of wages. The wages certainly have been increased in proportion to the increase of hours.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
I think the proportionate increase is being paid all round. I will certainly look into that matter. My impression is so, but I dealt with this case some time ago. I did not know it was coming up to-day, or I would have looked into it beforehand. It is not the policy either of the Department or of myself to increase the amount of casual labour or of temporary assistance employed by the Department. I should be most grateful to hon. Members if they will bring to my notice any specific cases in which this is alleged to have been done. So far we have only had vague statements, except in the case of Hull. If there are any instances he can bring to my notice of cased where temporary assistants are being employed where established staff ought to be employed, I shall be glad to look into them. Work in the Post Office fluctuates from time to time; there are certain great seasonal stresses, and you cannot keep men employed all the year round in order to have them at hand to deal with that particular kind of work. Therefore an amount of temporary assistance is necessary. I am anxious to keep it at the lowest possible level, and where employment can be given to men kept at work all the year round it is given. The standing instructions to surveyors and others are that wherever possible established officers shall be employed and casual labour shall not be increased.
I was asked to make a definite statement as to the period that should elapse before another inquiry is undertaken. I cannot do that. I am not in a position to 2261 pledge my successors. I do not know how long I may be at the Post Office. Postmaster-Generals are a fleeting race, and would not be justified in mortgaging the future. The question is not an immediate one, and the Committee will agree that since the new scale of wages are only in force a little over three years it is clearly too soon yet to undertake the great task of a general revision. We will consider later on when the time shall be ripe for another general revision of Post Office wages and conditions of employment. [An HON. MEMBER: "In the sweet by-and-by."] I should not like to prescribe the precise number of years. The hon. Member for one of the Glasgow Divisions quoted sonic remarks made by the Secretary of the Post Office—remarks which I but very dimly recognised in the manner in which he presented them and with the gloss he put upon them—with regard to the question of the Scottish standard. That is now under consideration. It is not a matter wholly within the province of the Post Office, but one which also affects the Board of Trade, and whether we have arrived at the right standard for Scotland is a matter now under review. The remarks referred to were merely incidental inquiries in the course of a long conversation in which my colleague the Secretary was asking particulars on which he might form a judgment.
The hon. Member for Westmoreland raised the case of the Ambleside Post Office, which is now under consideration. I admit that there is a certain case for inquiry there. In respect to the desire of the hon. Member for Hampstead as to the later delivery of letters, I will make inquiries and see if anything can be done. The hon. Member for Leicestershire raised a certain question in respect to the telephone employées. I prefer to postpone any definite statement on that head beyond what has already been made until I come to introduce the Telephones Transfer Bill after the Whitsuntide recess. It has been already stated that the staff, with few exceptions, will be taken over by the Post Office, and will be placed in the grades of Post Office employment proper to them, and, of course, they will receive fair and just treatment in the allocation of their places in the ranks of the staff. He suggested that the soldiers of the State had a better claim to positions in the Post Office than boy messengers. Here again we are thrown back upon the old question of what we should do with our boys. [An HON. MEMBER "Enlist them."] I certainly 2262 cannot for a moment accept the suggestion that we should tell all our boys, "You shall only be kept on condition that you enlist in the Army." After all, the Post Office is a civilian institution, and should not be made a party to a form of conscription of that character. The hon. Member also raised another point of great interest to Army men as to the way pensions should be paid. That is a matter for the War Office and not for the Post Office, which is simply the agency for distributing pensions. The matter rests with the Secretary of State for War and the hon. Member's representations should be addressed to him.
I come now to the hon. Member for Salford, who raised the sad case of the Royal Borough of Salford, for which he says the word "Salford" is not a sufficient address, and he asserts that I require the addition of the word "Manchester" on the 15,000,000 letters delivered there every year. The hon. Member is under a misapprehension. I have told him on many occasions when we have discussed this question, not without a little acrimony, that this is not so.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
I know that this is the only cloud that has come between us. I have endeavoured to point out that the word "Manchester" is not necessary, and that millions of letters are delivered at Salford without the address of Manchester upon them. What the hon. Member wants to do is to say that any letter, no matter where it is posted, if it bears "Salford" upon it shall be sent to Salford near Manchester, although it may be addressed within a mile of the village of Salford, near Chipping Norton, to a person whom everybody in the district knows lives at Salford, Chipping Norton. The hon. Member says this letter must go all the way to Manchester, and be delivered at Salford, and then come back as having been wrongly addressed, with the words written upon it, "Try Salford, Chipping Norton."
§ Mr. BYLES
The proper address of such a letter is "Salford, Chipping Norton," and the man who addresses his letter improperly in that way should suffer the consequences. A letter addressed to Salford only, and intended for Salford, Manchester, is not adequately addressed. The 2263 Postmaster-General told me that Salford is a sufficient address for a telegram but not the correct postal address for Salford, near Manchester, and that Manchester must be added to be accurate.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
Generally speaking, I said that Salford was a sufficient address, and there is only the rare exception to which I have referred. I have to consider as well the interests of those residents in what the hon. Member called trumpery villages, and they are entitled to some consideration. I have made inquiries at Manchester and Salford, and I am told there are no complaints. If my hon. Friend will give me a specific instance of a real grievance I will reconsider the matter, but so far no specific instances have been reported to me. I am afraid I am not able to deal with the case of Harwich now, but I will investigate it later. The number of units is far below that necessary to bring the office into a higher class, even though the cost of living were considerably higher than the normal. I listened with much interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Denman), who made some suggestions worthy of consideration for handling these difficult staff questions. The Postmaster-General stands at a point where three interests meet and frequently clash; the interest of the public at large whom the post office exists to serve, the interests of the taxpayer, to whom the post office belongs, and who is concerned to see it yield an adequate return for the money which lie provides for it and is not run at a loss; and the interests of the staff, on whose work its operations depend.
§ Mr. HAROLD SMITH
And the in-factors have to be taken into consideration, and whoever holds the somewhat arduous office which I have the honour to fill has to take them all into account, and to do, so far as he can, equal justice to the three. That must be my effort, as it has been the effort of my predecessors, and I must leave it to the Committee to judge how far I have been able to hold the balance justly as between the interests of the staff, the public generally, and the taxpayer. If the Post Office is conducted efficiently, and if it meets with the approval of this House, as many kind expressions voiced to-day lead me to believe is the 2264 case, the Committee is well aware—and no one is better aware than I am—that the credit is by no means due to the man who happens for the time being to preside over the Department, but is due entirely to the able and devoted staff at the head-quarters of the Department, and in the offices of the Department throughout the country.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
I do not propose, as the Postmaster-General has met so many of the points, to divide, and I would like to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ Mr. MORTON
It appears to me that the Committee ought to have another night to discuss Post Office affairs, and there ought to be no attempt to rush this through. In my opinion, the Post Office ought never to be considered a party business or to be dealt with from a party point of view. We ought to have the fullest opportunity of discussing them, and I want a little more time to get answers to my questions. There appears to me to be a disposition on the part of some hon. Members to think we ought not to discuss matters here or to criticise the Postmaster-General and other officials, or dictate to them. I do not want to dictate at all, but it is undoubtedly not only our right but our duty to criticise all Ministers and officials too if we like.
§ And it being Eleven o'clock the Chairman left the chair to make his report to the House.
§ Committee report progress; to sit again upon Monday next (22nd May).
Adjourned at Six minutes after Eleven o'clock.