§ Postponed proceeding resumed on Question proposed on consideration of Question, "That a sum, not exceeding £13,808,950, 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, 1913, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Post Office, including Telegraphs and Telephones."[£10,000,000 has been voted on account.]1654
§ Which Question was, "That Sub-head A (Salary of the Postmaster-General) be reduced by £100."
§ Question again proposed. Debate resumed.
§ Mr. MORTON
I have a few remarks to make with regard to trunk telephones, and I trust that every consideration will be given to this matter as far as it affects the North of Scotland. I should like to see postal affairs in Scotland dealt with on a quite independent basis. We shall be told that we Scottish Members have not much courage, and that if we adopted a different attitude we should be much more likely to secure our ends. Some time ago, when the present Prime Minister was Chancellor of the Exchequer, I think it was in 1906, a promise was made that there should be a delivery in every district to the extent of at least three deliveries per week. Now in Sutherlandshire, with which I am particularly associated, there are many places in which we have only one or two deliveries a week, and I should like to claim that the promise to which I have referred should be fulfilled. I think, at any rate, in the North of Scotland, we ought to have at least three deliveries per week. With regard to the delivery telegrams, we were told that they had to have a guarantee of at least two - thirds the cost. So far as Sutherlandshire is concerned, the exception is all the other way, and therefore we ought to have a further allowance. We especially ask for a telephone in the neighbourhood of Rosehall. It is of great importance to the people there to have a telephone, especially if they want a doctor. For some years I have been demanding that something should be done. The Postmaster-General refused to guarantee any of the loss, and he insisted that the local people should guarantee the whole loss of fourteen years. Last year we got a little further, because the Postmaster-General, or the Assistant Postmaster-General, said that he had applied to the Treasury, and that it was the Treasury that was to blame. The Treasury Bench is here to-night, but not the Treasury, and so far as the Treasury is concerned I shall have to take some other opportunity of dealing with the matter. I admit that the Postmaster-General did say that he had been to the Treasury, and that they had refused to find the money. Prior to that Postmaster-Generals have always implied, if not said, 1655 that they in these matters were the Treasury. There is no reason why we should not get these reforms in Scoland.
Within the last few weeks I got an answer from the Postmaster-General as to the revenue and expenditure of several departments in Scotland. I find that, after allowing for a deficiency of £52,000 in the telegraph service, the estimated profit of the present year is £449,000. Therefore it cannot be said that the Post Office Department has not got the money. There is the money waiting to be spent, and it ought not to be used for other purposes than Post Office and telegraph reforms if we want them. There is no question about their being wanted. I hope the Assistant Postmaster-General, who has now arrived, will try to give me some satisfaction with regard to the postal reforms that are wanted in Sutherlandshire especially. I am sorry to say that in the United States and in Canada they do more in the direction of benefiting the people than we do in this country. I noticed in a speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the Canadian Government some twelve months ago that he stated—and I hope our Post Office Department will take this to heart—that the more reforms and improvements they gave to the people of Canada, the better the Department paid. The same thing, I am quite sure, is true with regard to the British Post Office, if we could only get them to see things in that light. It is an unfortunate fact that all reforms down to the present time have had to be forced upon the Postal Department. No man did more in forcing these things forward than Sir J. Henniker Heaton, and I am sorry we have lost him. They did not like him at all on that account. I hope the Post Office Department will try to do something in the directions I have indicated for the people generally. I have shown that in Scotland there is plenty of money, and although in some parts of the country the Post Office does not pay, there is a balance to the good of nearly £500,000, and my demand is that that money should be used in improving the postal service in Scotland. I wish to refer to the depopulation that is going on in Scotland. That depopulation is largely occurring through the neglect of the Government to do their duty towards Scotland. I am not speaking in a political sense. The Government appear to think that all Scotland has to do is to find seats for them when they cannot get 1656 them anywhere else. The late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, in 1905, told the people of the country that we should colonise our own country. The first thing they do in the Colonies is to carry out postal reforms. I should like to see a little attention paid to our own country instead of many millions being spent in looking after the blacks 11,000 or 12,000 miles away. I hope the Government will give us another night besides this to consider these postal questions, which are intimately connected with the business and welfare of the country generally. These discussions are the only means we have of forcing improvements upon the Government, and we ought to have rather more than less opportunities of discussion. All of us are most anxious to do the best we can for our country and our people, and I therefore hope that the Scottish Members, along with myself, will demand what is our right, namely, that in future we shall have more attention from the Government, and especially from the Post Office Department than we have ever had before.
§ Sir JOHN SPEAR
It was my intention to urge upon the Postmaster-General the desirability of developing his proposal with reference to telephonic communication in the rural districts, but the case was so fully put by the hon. Member for the Wilton Division (Mr. C. Bathurst) that I will content myself with endorsing the appeal he made and his contentions, which, I think, were of the greatest value. There is a great deal in the suggestion that greater facilities should be given for sending agricultural produce by parcel post. I know it is a difficult question, and that the collection of parcels is a somewhat serious undertaking, but I cannot help thinking that it would contribute something to check that rural depopulation which the hon. Member who spoke last complained existed in Scotland. We who live in this country know that a similar evil exists here, and by giving facilities for sending small parcels of agricultural produce to provincial towns and the bigger centres through the Post Office I am satisfied it will be good for the rural districts. I think it could be worked by the Post Office without any serious loss of revenue. I want to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to tell us what arrangements he proposes to make with reference to recouping the local spending authorities for the loss of revenue which they sustain through no longer receiving the rates paid by the National Telephone Company. 1657 That company has in many localities contributed a considerable sum through the rates towards the cost of the local services, and it would be a very serious matter for the localities if, through a change of ownership of the telephone system, they were deprived of that source of revenue. I should be glad if he would tell us how he proposes to hand over to the local authorities a contribution in place of that which they have lost. I feel sure his sense of fairness will compel him to hand over a sum of money equivalent to that which they have hitherto received. I hope in coming to a decision he will not be content merely to hand over a commuted sum on the present earnings from the rates of the company, but that he will rearrange the sum that he proposes to pay over according to the increased earnings of the telephone service. I press this point because local bodies have suffered very severely and feel a little anxious about the action of the Government on a matter of this kind, because the Government commuted the carriage and motor licences on the earnings of three years ago and returned to the public spending bodies a sum of money not at all equivalent to the earnings of those licences in the present day. Having regard to the great increase of the rates and the increased cost of the maintenance of roads and education and police and other matters we appeal to the right hon. Gentleman that these contributions shall be not only commensurate with the sum paid to-day, but that for any increase in the development of the system there shall be an increased contribution to these local bodies. It is only fair that such consideration should be shown.
May I say how much I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's system of securing that there is a greater possibility and probability of telegraph boys being continued in the service. I have many time noticed promising lads induced to enter the service and, after a few years, dismissed. They have missed the opportunity of learning a trade and have started on a very agreeable occupation to find after a few years that they have been thrown on the streets. That has been disastrous to the lads and injurious to the system altogether. I am glad to hear that the right hon. Gentleman has arranged that the greater part of these lads shall be continued in the service of the Post Office. I would ask his consideration to a somewhat similar difficulty that arises with reference to men 1658 who are temporarily engaged in the rural districts as assistant postmen. I am fully aware that when they are engaged they sign a document acknowledging that they are liable to be dismissed at any time, but it often happens that after faithfully carrying out their duties for eight, ten, or even twelve years, they receive an intimation that their services are no longer required. They have incapacitated themselves from the ordinary methods of earning a livelihood, and it is a most painful position for these men to find themselves, very often on reaching an age of something like forty-five or fifty years, thrown out of employment. Following up the wise principle which the right hon. Gentleman has shown with reference to telegraph boys, I hope he will do his utmost to see that those men who have proved their fitness for their work shall have every possible opportunity of being engaged as established men. I know it is most important that we should do what we can to find work for men discharged from the Army, but I am quite sure that these men who have acted as postmen for six or eight years, have an equal claim on the consideration of the authorities, and that an effort should be made to continue them in the service where possible. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman has done what he can to meet the complaints of the employés in the Post Office, but there are still men who are underpaid, and I am sure he will consider their case in a spirit of justice and with a determination to remove every possible grievance. We owe a deep debt of gratitude to the postal service of the country. It is marvellous to find the work done so thoroughly well as it is. It is a remunerative service, and I am sure the whole country side desires that the men who carry out this work with such great efficiency should be well remunerated for their service.
With reference to old age pensions, I believe that Department of the Post Office system has been well done, but in the rural districts there are some old age pensioners who live three or four miles from the post office, and when they are infirm they cannot get to the post office. Could the right hon. Gentleman arrange, in those specific cases only, that the pensions might be delivered by post? Precautions would have to be taken, and there would have to be a definite appeal from the infirm pensioner, and it would have to be examined to see that it wag reasonable. 1659 Could the right hon. Gentleman devise some plan whereby the postman could deliver the pension to him in his home? It would be a great convenience, and if due precautions were taken I do think it would be incapable of any abuse.
I wish to mention another point, although I am not sure whether the Postmaster-General will be able to meet the difficulty. We are deluged with appeals from the moneylending fraternity through the Post Office. They offer on misleading terms to lend money. I do not know whether it would be possible to detect that imposture, which is working awful mischief among young people by pretending to lend money on most favourable terms. It gives an opportunity for the ruin of a young man or girl, as the case may be. If the Postmaster-General could devise a scheme whereby that miserable traffic could be prevented through the Post Office, I think it would be of great service to the public. I know how difficult it would be to deal with it, because some of the appeals come in the shape of invitations to "At homes." It is working great evil in the community, but whether it is a matter for the Post Office or for some other Department I hope the Government will consider the advisability of putting a stop to the miserable traffic. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman when he replies to say in what way—for I am sure he desires to be just—he would suggest that the local authorities should not be deprived of the reasonable contributions towards the upkeep of the service in their districts, because they lose the rates they have hitherto had from the telephone service. I shall be glad if the right hon. Gentleman can show that the local spending authorities shall lose nothing in consequence of the transfer of the telephone service to the State, and that they will receive from the Government a contribution towards the expenses they have incurred at least equal to that which they received from the rates paid when the telephone service was in the hands of a company.
§ Mr. C. E. PRICE
I wish to know whether the Postmaster-General can state how far underground telegraph communication has been extended in Scotland. Some time ago there was trouble in connection with this matter with the Edinburgh Corporation, but that has now been overcome. That was the excuse given for the delay in extending the system. I should like to ask how far north it has 1660 been extended. As everybody knows, when there is a severe snowstorm in the North of Scotland the telegraphic system often gets put out of gear with the result that little or no communication can take place with some of the outlying districts. Therefore, we are anxious to see the underground system extended as far north as possible. One reason, I understand, why the Post Office is not going forward more quickly in this matter is that the telegraph service is not paying. I am told that one of the reasons is, not that the ordinary telegraph service is not paying, but rather that the low charges for Press telegrams make it a non-paying concern. I do not know if that is the case, but that is the explanation given in some quarters for the loss which takes place. I have been in communication with the right hon. Gentleman as a result of letters which I received on the question of promotions in the Edinburgh office. I should be glad if he would make a statement that no favouritism has been shown in the promotions which have taken place there, because there has been a good deal of unrest among some of the staff on account of what they believe to be the favouritism shown in some departments, and also because for some time promotions have been delayed in order to economise. Whether the complaints are justified or not I cannot say, but if the Postmaster-General will state that the charge of favouritism is one that cannot be maintained, I shall be very glad indeed. Complaints have been made with regard to the delay in providing offices. That matter has been pressed upon me, but I recognise that the Post Office has to be carried on as a business concern. I should like to take this opportunity of thanking the right hon. Gentleman for the prompt attention he has given to matters with respect to which I have communicated with him privately.
§ Mr. HUNT
I think an unanswerable case has been made out for an all-British cable with all the countries of the Empire overseas, I have been told that the real reason for the opposition is that some of the big people in this country have got money in the present cables, and that they are afraid their shares will go down if they have to compete with another cable. I put that matter quite frankly and plainly to the right hon. Gentleman, and I venture to hope that he will look into it, for we certainly ought not to be prevented 1661 from having a British cable because certain people are afraid they may lose a certain amount of money through competition.
Another matter to which I wish to refer is the mail service of Benbecula, about which I have questioned the Postmaster-General on different occasions. May I say that there is contempt and disgust among the people of Benbecula at the way they have been treated by the Postmaster-General. They consider that the people of Barra, Skye, and Lewis have succeeded in getting what they want by violent agitation, and I am not surprised that they are beginning to think that the only way with the present Government is to take the same measures, although they would regret it very much. The right hon. Gentleman should consult and be guided by the Admiralty, who have surveyed Peter's Port, instead of always consulting Messrs. McBrayne, who have, of course, a monopoly, and of whom the Post Office are afraid, because the Department does not know who else they can get to carry their mails. Surely there are plenty of other people who might be got to do it, and a great Service like the Post Office ought not to be dominated by a single steamship company like Messrs. McBrayne. This question has been for a long time before the Department, and the people are now getting tired. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman could learn from the Admiralty that there is no difficulty in delivering mails and taking them off at Peter's Port, at all events in the summer. The mail steamers go within two or three miles of Peter's Port. I think this really ought to be done at once. Take the case of Barra. It is about the same size as Benbecula. About £30,000 was spent in Barra lately on such things as small holdings. Why is Benbecula to have nothing at all? The least that might be done is to let the mail be delivered in the summer months. Messrs. McBrayne's boats are very old and very slow, and not sufficiently seaworthy in many cases to go out in really rough weather. The right hon. Gentleman said the other night that they could not call at this port because it might make them late for the mail, but with anything like reasonably modern boats there would be no difficulty whatever. I do not know why these people alone of all the North-Western Islands should suffer. They supply something like a hundred men to the Army and Navy every year, and nothing is done for them while Barra, for which so much has been 1662 done, supplies hardly any men at all. The mail boats go within about three miles of Peter's port when going to the other places, so that they would only have to call there. Of course, this may be a little more expensive, but the right hon. Gentleman has told us how much more he is getting out of the Post Office. My connection with the North of Scotland is mostly from having served them up there, and I had hoped that the hon. Member for that Division (Sir J. A. Dewar) would be here to-night to back me up. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman considered these poor people. They have always been quiet respectable people, but if they had kicked up a row no doubt the right hon. Gentleman would have taken more notice of their grievances.
Mr. J. ALLEN BAKER
I feel it my duty to make some criticisms with regard to the telephone service and to read an extract from the letter which I have received from a firm in my own division. Before doing so I wish to express my very warm appreciation of the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman in introducing the subject this afternoon. Everyone who heard him must appreciate the enormous work which he has in hand and the many improvements that have been carried out. The hon. Member for Sutherland (Mr. Morton) criticised the Postal service and made comparisons with the United States and Canada. I think in regard both to the postal and telegraph service there is absolutely no comparison. We are far ahead of them. But when it comes to the telephone I do think there is probably cause for criticism. If we take a Prairie Province in the North-West you will find that for one-fourth of the money paid here a complete and unlimited service is given. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether we could not have such a system as prevails in the province of Alberta, where the entire province has a provincial service with automatic connections of the most complete character, the cost of which is only about one-fourth or one-third of the amount charged in this country. The letter from which I am about to read an extract will give the right hon. Gentleman a concrete case in refernce to installations and the complaints made as to inefficiency. In doing so I recognise the enormous difficulties which attended the taking over of the National Telephone service and the many improvements that had to be made, and that great allowance 1663 should be made on that account. But as this letter from a firm of contractors to His Majesty's Government gives a concrete case, I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will look carefully into the matter. They say:—At the beginning of March last we gave the Post Office instructions to transfer the private telephone existing between this address (Finsbury-square) and Burdett and Tenter-street South, Whitechapel, from this address to Burdett-road, Stepney. The order was acknowledged, but the work not being put in hand we wrote them and they sent a representative to say that the form used, though supplied by the department, was an out of date form, and we must fill up another, which we did. Hearing nothing in a week or two, we again communicated with the department, and it was stated that the matter had been overlooked, and would be put in hand at once. We left it a week or two longer, and ascertained that the work had not been started, but had an absolute guarantee that the work would be finished by the end of the week. Nothing further was done in the matter. We again took it up and received in response a circular acknowledging our communication, but nothing more was done until the department's inspector called upon us and stated that everything was now in readiness, and the work would be completed immediately. A fortnight ago four workmen called at Burdett Wharf and informed our works foreman that we might think ourselves lucky if we had a telephone in a couple of months' time.This is the letter which has come to me and to which I wish to direct the attention of the right hon. Gentleman. They add:—On one day last week on no less than four consecutive occasions our connection was interrupted.I have no doubt that the matter will be carefully considered by the Department, and I thought it might be of some service if the right hon. Gentleman had a concrete case of the difficulties and delays which occur.
§ The ASSISTANT POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Captain Norton)
In days gone by I suffered so often from the verbosity of hon. Members speaking from this bench that I shall endeavour to confine my remarks as much as possible. But it is almost impossible for me to cover the whole of the ground, and if there are any points of importance with which I fail to deal they will be dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General a little later in the Debate. The hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Mr. Goldman) made some complimentary remarks about my right hon. Friend, and expressed the desire that his salary might be raised. I am very grateful to the hon. Member, because I am in hope that if the Postmaster-General has his salary raised, that mine will be raised correspondingly. As regards the fact that we do not secure in the Service the very best people, personally I think that is a reflection upon the staff of the Post Office which is by no 1664 means justified; because a large number of men enter the public service who certainly cannot be bought by money, and whom no salary would induce to do better work than the work which they already do. The hon. Member called attention to the changes that have taken place in connection with the telephone system. The only changes which were made were changes absolutely necessary, and the work was certainly not impaired in consequence of them. It should be remembered that in dealing with London we are dealing with the largest telephonic area in the world; we are dealing with some six millions of inhabitants, whereas no other city in the world has anything like that number to serve. The hon. Member referred to the case of the Avenue and Westminster Exchanges being still under our control. It is quite true that they are still under our control, but we are rapidly dismantling them, and all that remains to be done is to remove the two standards on the roofs of the two buildings. He asked how much has been spent by us outside London in anticipation in connection with the transfer from the company. The reply is that we gave them all they asked for; we gave them large sums in anticipation; we gave them £50,000 for spare plant, and their staff were thoroughly employed. It would have been impossible for them to have done anything more, owing to the fact that their staff were engaged in taking stock of that plant and handing it over to us. We provided them with no less that 217,000 miles of wire. The hon. Gentleman referred to Germany.
Our information goes to show that the service in Germany is slower, and that the short distance calls are not nearly so good as here. He spoke of the amount of interest paid on the undertaking, but the should be recollected that the telephone company had the pick of the market, and they only put their system into all the large and profitable places. Further, the hon. Gentleman referred to the automatic system being tested at different places. It is being tested at the General Post Office West. With reference to the Exchanges at Truro and Middlesbrough not being open all night, he is in error; they are open all night. My hon. Friend the Member for South Islington (Mr. Thomas Wiles) referred to the penny postage with France. As regards that question, my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General will deal with it specially. He also referred to rolls of stamps. These rolls of stamps are about 1665 to be issued, and my right hon. Friend has authorised me to say that the expense of these rolls, which is thought by some persons to be somewhat excessive, is a matter which he will look into, and, if possible, endeavour to see whether he will be able to make some slight reduction. I am glad to be able to state to my hon. Friend the Member for South Islington that the stamp books, in which he took so great an interest, and in connection with which he has furnished us with some very useful suggestions, have turned out a success. Whereas formerly we issued some 1,000,000 per annum, we now issue 3,000,000. As regards books containing 5s. worth of stamps, that matter is also under consideration. He made complaint with reference to the state of telegraphy between England and Ireland, and wondered why Ireland was in such a bad way. It has been due to the fact that there has been recently an immense amount of traffic between the Stock Exchanges of Dublin and Belfast and the Stock Exchange in London. The question of a new cable wire, I may add, is under consideration. The hon. Member for Grimsby (Sir G. Doughty) spoke mainly on two matters, namely, the question of the French postage and the question of cable communication. With both those matters my right hon. Friend will deal.
The hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Croft), who also dealt with the question of the cables, seemed to ignore altogether the fact that wireless telegraphy is about to play a very great part in future. I will not enter into that matter, which will be dealt with by my right hon. Friend, further than to say that a good deal was stated about warlike operations; but, in the event of war, as those who have studied military matters know, cables are likely to be cut or tapped, and really it will be impossible to provide a cable which will be absolutely, if I may use the term, warproof. The hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Wardle) also dealt with the matters of penny postage to France, and the question of female assistant clerks. With reference to the question of the hours of labour of female clerks, that is a matter which my right hon. Friend will consider. As to the question of trade union recognition, I would point out that the number of memorials has more than quadrupled since the recognition. In regard to delay in dealing with the matter of the Fair-Wages Clause, I can assure my hon. Friend that at least half a dozen cases of this kind came before me personally, 1666 and not a moment was lost. In every instance which was brought to my notice that the company was infringing, or was thought to be infringing, the Fair-Wages Clause, I immediately sent inspectors to investigate the case and to obtain information first hand. I can assure the hon. Member we have done all in our power to see that the Fair-Wages Clause is properly carried out. The Member for Greenock (Mr. G. P. Collins) spoke of the immense loss on the telegraph service, and at the same time he wished to have greater facilities; in other words, my hon. Friend wished to have his cake and eat it. In regard to Press telegrams, they cost £205,000 a year, but I would point out that if the Press telegrams are charged, as it were, upon the funds of the Post Office, they are also of great value to the public. We have been indirectly giving facilities to the public, which is perfectly justifiable.
The hon. Member hoped we should not be as unfortunate in connection with telephones as we were with telegraphs. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will take note of that, for "once bitten twice shy." But I may say that the only way you can make the telephones more productive than the telegraph would be by raising the rates. It is quite clear that a large number of members of the Committee desire that the rates should be reduced. They cannot have it both ways, and our duty will be to hold the balance. The hon. Member for Central Finsbury (Major Archer-Shee) also raised the question of cables and the possible tapping of wireless telegraphy. Our Naval Department have special codes and special methods of their own, and I doubt very much whether it would be possible to tap the high power stations and to interpret them in the easy manner in which the hon. Gentleman suggested it could be done. It is very difficult to decode wireless messages. The hon. Member for the Otley Division of Yorkshire (Mr. Hastings Duncan) suggested that we should take local bodies into our confidence when we are about to buy land for the purpose of erecting post office buildings. From past experience we know that when by some accident it is discovered that we are seeking to buy property for the purpose of erecting post office buildings we not infrequently have to give up a site fixed upon and seek another, because when it is known that the Government is about to buy the price is always raised. A Departmental Committee is about to sit to consider the question whether it would pay the Department 1667 better to buy or to lease, because it not infrequently happens that it is not possible to adapt the existing building to our new requirements. That constantly occurs where there is a great growth of population. The hon. Member for South Birmingham (Mr. Amery) also dealt with the cable question. The hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Pike Pease) drew attention to the question of sorting clerks and telegraphists. I do not think the hon. Gentleman made it quite clear what his case was, but I think it must have been that sorting clerks and telegraphists are called upon to do what they consider to be postmen's work and vice versa.
I was chairman of a Committee which dealt with this question of sorting, which is a very burning question as between the postman and the sorting clerks. It has been the custom in a considerable number of offices throughout the country for postmen to do what sorting clerks and telegraphists consider their proper work. What is known as primary sorting has been the custom at many offices, but at certain offices it has been the custom to do a little more than that. We went very carefully into the question, and our decisions will come up before what, I presume, will be known as the Holt Committee which is now sitting on postal questions, when some definite decision will be come to on all points in connection both with primary and secondary sorting. The hon. Member for Enfield (Mr. Newman) drew attention to the question of the factories. I was also chairman of that particular Committee. We decided to bring the factories under the stores department for the reason that we found small departments invariably did not attract the best men, since if a man got into a very small department there was no outlet for him. We also found that it was imperatively necessary to abolish construction, but the hon. Member was under a misapprehension when he thought that there were going to be any dismissals. We shall now, with the development of the telephone system, require practically the whole of the staff which were formerly required for construction to carry out repair work. He referred to the danger of "rings." We carefully considered that question in our Report, and from all the evidence that was laid before us we could see that there was no danger whatever of "rings," more especially as we have retained in our service all the best and highly finished mechanics, who act as 1668 examiners, and would in every instance be able to protect us against any possibility of those "rings" taking advantage of our position.
One of the main reasons why we did away with construction was that we were unable as a Government Department to carry on that factory on a business basis. As hon. Members will know, we could not dismiss men in large numbers, nor could we employ female labour or boy labour in the same way as private employers are able to do. It would have been very unfair on our part if we did not give a certain share of constructional work to outside factories, more especially as we encouraged the development of those factories in order to bring to this country as much as possible of the industry of making telephone plant. With regard to the factory at Mount Pleasant, being done away with, I may say that the men are about to be transferred to the Holloway factories, and to be employed there on repairs. Moreover, we require the space of Mount Pleasant for other purposes, because the postal service is constantly developing, and there are certain portions of it which it is imperatively necessary should be close to headquarters. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutherland (Mr. Morton) spoke of the extension of the trunk line to Wick. I should be delighted to extend both the telephone and the telegraph services over the whole of my hon. Friend's constituency, but the cost of extending the trunk line to Wick would be something like £6,000, and coupled with that would be many hundreds of pounds per year to maintain it. As regards the question of extension to Elphin, that is a district where the number of inhabitants is, I think, 160. I am well aware that if it was extended further on there are certain hotels, and that during a certain portion of the year there might be some business done, but really the expense would be so great that even were we to recommend it many times over I feel perfectly confident that the Treasury would not sanction our plan. There were also the questions of rural lines and parcels post, with both of which my right hon. Friend will deal. With reference to the suggestion that the State should continue to pay rates for telephone wires just as the private company which preceded it did, I can only say that my right hon. Friend is not likely to renounce his statutory powers, and he is not prepared under any circumstances to do what was suggested.
§ Sir J. SPEAR
What I suggested was that a sum of money equivalent to the rates should be paid in lieu of the rates.
§ Captain NORTON
Equivalent to the rates that have been paid. That is going to be done. But that is another question. I thought the hon. Member referred to future rates.
§ Mr. MORTON
As I understand, you are paying the same rates as the old company paid, but that is only a temporary arrangement.
§ Sir J. SPEAR
My suggestion was that the right hon. Gentleman should not consider himself absolved from liability by paying on the present basis, but that in regard to future developments there should be an increased contribution.
§ Captain NORTON
That is exactly what I stated originally, my right hon. Friend is not prepared to do. The hon. Member also suggested that we should consider the case of the auxiliary postmen, and in the same breath he gave us credit for behaving as we ought to behave towards the boys. The two things are incompatible, inasmuch as there are 17,000 auxiliaries, and only 1,300 vacancies for established postmen annually. It is not in our power to do what he suggests, because a previous Government decided—very rightly and properly I think, as they did it on my suggestion—that ex-sailors and ex-soldiers should be given one-half of those vacancies. It is therefore quite impossible for us to do more than we are doing for the auxiliary postmen. In special instances when an auxiliary has been a long time in the service, and there is not an ex-naval or ex-military man forthcoming, we sometimes give the post to an auxiliary. I may point out, however, that the auxiliary postmen know perfectly well when they undertake the work that they do so without hope of promotion. Furthermore, they are given to understand that they must have other work to do, and that they are only, as it were, part-time servants. The hon. Member's suggestion with regard to pensioners is a very valuable one. My right hon. Friend entirely sympathises with it, and will, if possible, carry it out. As regards money-lending circulars, we have had the question under consideration over and over again. But money-lending is not illegal, 1670 and we have no power to open letters broadcast for the purpose suggested. I should be glad if the hon. Member would make some suggestion. I entirely sympathise with him, but I do not see how we can remove the grievance of which he complains. The hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Price) asked how far we were extending the underground line in Scotland. It has been extended to Glasgow and Edinburgh, but as the cost is something like £l,500 a mile we have to be very chary of extending it at that rate.
§ Captain NORTON
My right hon. Friend assures me that there was no promise of the kind. With regard to promotion by selection, I have had considerable experience. Promotion by selection usually means that the best man in the opinion of his superiors is selected, but that every man who is not selected considers that he has been treated unjustly, and that it is a case of favouritism. As regards delay in filling up offices, I am very surprised to hear that there has been any. Delay very seldom occurs, except the delay that is necessary to sift the cases thoroughly and to avoid the favouritism of which complaint is made. The hon. Member for East Finsbury (Mr. J. A. Baker) referred in a very complimentary way to our postal and telegraph arrangements. I am very grateful for his statement, because I have frequently declared outside the House that there is no country in the world which from the point of view of the postal and telegraph service can compare with ours. I am glad that someone who has had experience in America and other parts of the world should bear me out. It is a fact that in America the telephone, especially in the Prairie Provinces, is very much developed. That is partly in consequence of the introduction there of the automatic and semi-automatic systems. We are now testing those systems here, and so far as we can judge they are likely shortly to be considerably developed.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The Postmaster-General stated this afternoon that there was no easier way of raising a cheer in the House of Commons than by promising to 1671 effect economy, but that when a Minister came down to a concrete case and proposed that a certain economy should be effected, immediately he had the whole House against him. I do not think any truer words have even been spoken. I have listened to almost the whole of this Debate, and, with the exception of the very statesmanlike speech of the hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. G. Collins), every single speech was asking the right hon. Gentleman not to economise but to spend more money. One hon. Member said that the Postmaster-General ought to construct a cable to Canada. When he gets the cable to Canada it is to be with the object of reducing the charges made by the cable in existence which are in private hands. It is the first time I have ever heard on this side of the House a policy advocated which in effect means—if it means anything—that the money of the State is to be spent in destroying private enterprise. That is a most extraordinary policy to be advocated. Look at what would happen. The right hon. Gentleman having made this cable is immediately to lower the rate and compel some other cable company in competition to lower their rates. Where then would the profit of the State be? The State would be carrying on the undertaking at a loss. Consequently—and Members of the Labour party will excuse me for endeavouring to take an interest in the particular class which they claim to represent—I do think that in this case it would be very hard on the working classes to be asked to contribute out of indirect taxation in order that some rich man might be able to send a telegram more cheaply to Canada. Even on that ground alone, I trust the right hon. Gentleman will not accede to that request.
Another of my right hon. Friends said that £300,000 a year for penny postage to Trance—what did it matter? I should have thought that that was exactly why it did matter. If my hon. Friend had come forward and said the taxation was very low, the expenditure of the country was very low, and therefore we could afford to spend a little money on this particular thing, perhaps I might have been with him. But when we are spending £180,000,000 a year to come forward and to say, "Oh. £300,000 a year does not matter," is, I say, the very worst view that you could take of the situation, and is less likely than anything else I know to inculcate habits of economy in hon. 1672 Gentlemen opposite. I originally came down to vote for the reduction of the salary of the Postmaster-General, but the arguments of my hon. Friends on this side have turned me into one of his supporters. But I have one little fault to find with him, and that is with regard to the administration of the telephones. In my Constituency there are a very large number of telephones used. My Constituency embraces a most intelligent and long-suffering body of men, yet they have inundated me with letters of complaint about the telephones. I do not complain of the way in which the right hon. Gentleman, the Postmaster-General has received my complaint. He has received them most courteously. Certain excuses have been made by the right hon. Gentleman which appear to amount to this: The right hon. Gentleman took over the system of the Telephone Company on 1st January. Some seem to consider that because we have taken them over that it naturally means that the system under the State is, going to work worse than under the Company, because, prior to the right hon. Gentleman taking over the system I believe there were very few complaints of the working of the system. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh."] Well, that is my impression. I have a telephone in my private house. Before the right hon. Gentleman took it over it was not a very great nuisance. At the present time it is a very considerable nuisance. I gather that the experience of my friends in the City is much the same as mine. I do not quite see why, when the State with all its resources has taken over the telephone system for some four or five months, that the system should be so bad. I suppose the explanation is that the State can never manage things so well as they are managed by private enterprise. That is a very strong argument against having cables all over the world under the management of the State. I am really surprised that hon. Members on this side who complain about the management of the telephones should come down here and ask the State to extend its operations still further afield. My own idea is that the State—I do not blame it because there are various considerations which must arise—has a difficult task. There are the customers or consumers, who expect to get things done for nothing, so long as they belong to the State; there are employés who, immediately a thing belongs to the State, expect their wages to be 1673 raised, and object to have any superintendent or foreman hurrying them up. Therefore these two subjects alone are quite sufficient to show that it is quite impossible to manage economically or efficiently any service of the State. I do not think it is necessary for me to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, because, as I have said before, he has been extremely courteous in receiving the complaints made by my constituents in the City. I have not forwarded them all to him. Some of the writers have been so extremely angry that I thought perhaps it would not be advisable to forward their complaints on, and I have kept their anger to myself. But I trust the right hon. Gentleman will do his best to remedy those inconveniences which undoubtedly exist at the present time. The right hon. Gentleman says he is going to run a tube railway. That rather filled me with dismay when I heard it, but I presume he only means a small sort of tube down which parcels are shot, and that of course is not a very serious affair. I trust the venture will be a successful one.
There are a few items I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman one or two questions about. He had a, very old ship, forty years old. I see (p. 54) there is placed to one side for the purchase of a new ship, £65,000. That, I suppose, is to replace the old ship. I see that there has been a considerable increase in the redemption of advances under the Telegraphs Act. That is an extremely good thing. I do not agree with my hon. Friend below the Gangway who suggested that the Postmaster-General was paying off capital too quickly. If he is paying off capital quickly it is a very good thing, and I wish the Chancellor of the Exchequer would bear his example in mind when he is disposing of the £6,500,000 about which there has been considerable discussion lately. As to the telegraphs, there is undoubtedly a very large loss upon them. I interposed a question when the Postmaster-General was speaking earlier in the day, which I think was a little misunderstood. I did not mean for a moment to suggest that he should not do his best to develop the telephone system now that he has got it. But I did mean to say that in developing the telephone system he must remember that he will—at least it is more than probable—further increase the loss on the telegraphs. Therefore, the telephone system must be developed or carried out with the knowledge that there will be a further loss on the telegraphs. 1674 Both of these systems are the property of the State, and the loss on the telegraphs should be made up by the profit on the telephones. That is one of the disadvantages of the State taking over these undertakings. If the telephones were the property of a private company and events happened that something superseded them they would have to take the rough with the smooth. When a thing of this sort is the property of the State upon which the State has spent large sums of money, and some new invention renders it of less value, then the State in the interest of the taxpayer must see if it cannot out of the new invention put something by to make up for the loss.
I do not think that there is anything further except a question of accounting which occurs upon page 56 of the Estimate. There is a sum of £900,000 there which was apparently paid by other Departments, and ought to go to the Post Office. I think the right hon. Gentleman said that that was so shown, but it would be simpler if the whole of the accounts of the Post Office were made out on one page, and that this was included. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will explain that later. The only other question is in reference to a little correspondence which I had with the right hon. Gentleman upon the condition of the Post Office horses. He replied to the criticisms in my letter, and told me that there was no doubt some fault was to be found with their condition at the present moment, but he gave me some reasons. I have not had a reply to my last letter yet, but I do not want really to question now if the right hon. Gentleman will give me a promise to bear the matter in mind. No one in this House would wish to see His Majesty's mails drawn by horses in a bad condition, and there is no question but that was so during the last few months. That is all I have to say, except this: I presume when the right hon. Gentleman said there was an increase in profit of half a million that was after deducting the loss on business. He said that it was a net profit, which I presume was after allowing for interest on capital advanced to the Telephone Company and loss on the telegraph system. If the House goes to a Division I shall be compelled to vote for a reduction on the right hon. Gentleman's salary on account of the failure of the telephonic system, but in so doing I must say that I have sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman, because I think he has been unfairly attacked by speakers on 1675 all sides of the House, as far as I understood it, for economy, which I think in these days is so very necessary.
Sir GILBERT PARKER
I do not rise to continue the Debate upon the telephone system, but I should like to say, as one of the many sufferers, that I do not agree with my hon. Friend beside me, who said that the trouble began with the taking over of the National Telephone system by the Government. I wished for years before that took place that I had the gift of Balaam, because the service has been as bad and perhaps worse than any other in the world. I am in the position of having supported the right hon. Gentleman often because I believe sincerely that he has instituted and carried out reforms in the Post Office. But that reform has not been carried out in the telephone system is evident to everybody who has suffered as I have from morning until night, having a good deal of business to do over the telephone wires. There has been nothing said to-day in criticism of the telephone system which is not abundantly justified, because if you go to the utmost corners of the world you will find a better system in existence than is to be found in this country, and particularly in London.
I rose for another purpose, and I feel sure that I shall have the support of the right hon. Gentleman. He will remember that some years ago I, and others on this side, interested ourselves in the case of the retrenched Civil servants in South Africa. It was a struggle, as we thought then to get the Government to take up the case of the retrenched Civil servants. I am happy to think since that the Colonial Office and the Post Office and other Departments have absorbed some of those retrenched Civil servants from the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony. At present there is a considerable number of them employed at the Post Office, but at wages which are not a living wage. Some of them have no pension from the Governments that employed them, and they are now earning below a living wage. Letters have come to me from many parts of the country in which it is pleaded, as I think very fairly, that their case should be considered by the Select Committee now sitting. If these men are doing good service for the State, even though they were taken on out of compassion originally, and if they are not supernumeraries, and if they are regularly doing the regular work of the Post Office, then I think it is beneath the 1676 dignity of the Department the right hon. Gentleman so worthily represents in this, House that these men should be employed at wages given to boys and girls in the postal service. I do not say that that is the case with all of them, but it is the case with a number of them. I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has considered the case of these men, and whether he has received communications from them, and whether the Select Committee inquiring will not take into consideration the case of these men who entered upon Civil service in South Africa with the full belief that they would be continuously employed They were retrenched from that service and they were thrown upon the world-Many of them never got any employment at all, but such of them as are employed by the General Post Office, grateful as they are for that employment, feel that after a number of years of service there ought to be some revision, and that their case should now be revised by the Select Committee. I sincerely hope that the right hon. Gentleman who has done so much for the postal service, though not for the telephone service, will not turn a deaf ear to this appeal for humanity and fair play.
§ Mr. PETO
I want to remind the right hon. Gentleman of two or three points with regard to rural telephones, which I raised about a year ago. I really want to know whether it is the intention of the Post Office to make these rural telephones a success. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman there are two or three absolutely essential conditions if they are to be a real success and are to be taken up in the country. I want to put before him the real wish of farmers, great and small throughout the country. The first is, that the area of these rural districts in every case should include the nearest market town in which the farmers do their business, and that that town should be included in the group system for rural telephones. The second is that in every case the area should include the nearest efficient fire brigade station, and as a corollary to that, that by one means or another every subscriber should be able during the whole twenty four hours of the day and night to communicate with the fire brigade station. In these rural areas as a rule there is only the ordinary rural post office, and no arrangement whatever is made to get switched through to the fire brigade station once that post office closes. All our farmers realise fully that if the telephone is to be of any real use to 1677 them they must be able to communicate with the fire brigade station just as well, if their ricks catch fire at 8.5 p.m. or after that hour, as if they catch fire at 7.55 p.m. The third condition is that if these rural areas are to be of any use it is necessary that every subscriber should be in communication with a town where there is a competent doctor and a veterinary surgeon. Every one of these points are absolutely essential to a successful rural telephone system. This difficulty will not be met unless for a definite and small annual payment some reasonable facilities which subscribers have a right to demand are given, putting them in communication with their market town, their fire station, their doctor, and their veterinary surgeon. They do not want to use the telephone for gossiping with their next-door neighbour. If they want to do that they can go across the street. They want it for the purposes of their business, and unless you introduce a system on those lines, I do not believe it will take in this or any other country. With regard to the telephones in the City, there are a great many cases where a very large aggregation of people, live practically under one telephone number. I may mention a concrete case of a particular spot within a few minutes' walk of this House, namely, St. James' Court, where there are 250 people living, and they have only one telephone number unless each of them chooses to pay £1 1s. a year, not for telephone communication, but for the privilege of having their name inscribed in a book.
I have been in business all my life, and have never been very strongly forced into the advertising business, but I have never heard of any business run on the opposite principle that so tries to hide its light under a bushel that it makes it impossible for its customers to come to it. That is the position of the right hon. Gentleman. I got an answer when I wrote about this matter, and I was told this very high charge for the privilege of insertion in this priceless volume was made to prevent business people inserting the same name fifty times over for advertising purposes Ever since I played the game of cross questions and crooked answers I have never had such an experience as that. I was endeavouring to point out that every name in that book meant so many calls, and if you are doing away with the flat-rate system and going to charge a general rate per call, obviously it is to the advantage of the telephone system that when people 1678 look for a name in the book it should be there, and therefore I should have thought you would have made it as easy as possible in order to get as many names in as you can, because every one of them might mean three, four, five, or six calls per day, which would mean so much money in the coffers of the Post Office. This is no question of an advertisement at all, but simply a question of charging one block of tenants £260 for the privilege of putting their names in the book to pour revenue into the pockets of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. KING
I wish to assure the Postmaster-General that the Post Office telephone system is very much appreciated in the country, where we now have an opportunity of getting telephones such as we never had before. In fact, in that part of the country in which I reside we have the telephone system at last, but so long as the National Telephone Company went on there was no prospect of getting any telephonic communication. I have no hesitation in saying that for the country as a whole the acquisition of the telephone system, and its development by the Post Office, is a very great benefit. It may be modified for a time by the inconvenience of the change, which, of course, arises most of all in London; but for the country at large the advent of one system, and that the Post Office, I am sure is a very great benefit. I want to give a little advice, if I may, to the Postmaster-General in the way of what seems to me a fertile suggestion in connection with the cheapening of the postal rate to France and the Continent. He spoke of it as if the only alternative was either the present 2½d. postage for letters to France or a penny postage. Why is it not possible to reduce the postage gradually from 2½d. to 1d. through the various stages of 2d. and 1½d.? It seems to me if some such method were adopted, we should lose probably so little in the first year that it would be more than made up the next, and that would prepare the way to reducing the rate by stages until we get it down to one penny. In my opinion, and I believe it will be the opinion of most practical business men, it is not merely an object to reduce the postage rate to France, but to those civilised countries which are not far distant, and with which we have the greatest amount of postal traffic. I hope we shall, at any rate, reduce the postage to Germany as much and as soon as we reduce it to France. There is a good deal 1679 really of political feeling behind these proposals. I do not mean to say there are political objects and preferences expressed or felt by the Postmaster-General in this connection; but I am perfectly sure that a political object would be observed and brought to light by some persons who saw we were reducing the postage to France before we were giving the same facilities or opportunities in connection with the postage to Germany. It seems to be probable, therefore, we shall not get a reduced postage to France, at any rate a penny rate, for some time to come, and I trust the Postmaster-General will take up the idea of reducing the postage to other countries, perhaps to a less extent than from 2½d. to 1d., so that by creating a sort of competition between foreign countries as to which will be the first in the field to reduce their postage along with us by mutual concessions we may make advances upon this most desirable line. There is one other point upon which I wish to say a word and that is the new postage stamp. The Postmaster-General told us a year ago he had a most beautiful design for postage stamps above the value of ½d. and 1d. But samples of these designs have not yet reached the Tea Room. I think it is hardly creditable to our country that this delay should have taken place. It may be there has been so much pressure in the printing of stamps that there is adequate reason for the delay, but I trust the Postmaster-General will give a promise that we shall promptly have the new stamps of higher value.
§ Mr. NIELD
I want to call the attention of the Postmaster-General to a system prevailing at Mount Pleasant with regard to tenders. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman can have any real justification in relation to the matter as to which I have been in correspondence with him. I am alluding to an answer given in this House by the right hon. Gentleman regarding the cancellation of contracts made by the Telephone Company which surely should be binding on their successors. There was a quibble in the High Courts of Justice some years ago, and an injunction was obtained against the Telephone Company to prevent them infringing the Postmaster-General's right under the Telegraph Act. But telephone poles and wires have been put along the towpath of the Lea Conservancy in return for a definite rental, and now we are told that, acting on the decision of the Court, the 1680 Postmaster-General is claiming to exercise a right with reference to telephone poles that will put him on the same basis as the company. The revenue which has been derivable from this particular wayleave granted by the Conservancy, is reduced by one-half, if not more, by the contention put forward by the Department. I submit to the Committee that that is not creditable to a public Department. An agreement, when taken over, should be observed, and if the agreement is fair as between two bodies, one a public body and the other a quasi public body, it having been arrived at for the benefit of the public, I submit that the Department ought to continue it, instead of sheltering themselves behind a decision many years old, given upon a totally different point and for a totally different reason.
§ Mr. NIELD
The agreements are made for a term of years. It is true they are determinable, but no notice has been given to determine them. I sincerely hope that the Postmaster-General will not consider these remarks are made other than in pursuance of my public duty as a member of a public body, who feel very deeply the position taken up by the Departmental officials, and that he will endeavour to do justice without recourse to the position in which, for other purposes, the telephones have been put.
§ Mr. BAIRD
I wish to say a few words about the telephones in London. I think the transfer of the telephones to the Government has been a proof of the calamity of pushing upon the Government the control of a monopoly upon which the comfort of the public depends. After a considerable experience of telephones in a great many countries, I have no hesitation in saying that there is nothing, even in Abyssinia, half as bad as the telephone service in London to-day. If any one has been in Abyssinia and can prove that the service is worse there than here, I am willing to sit down. I guarantee there is nothing in the world approaching the farce of the present service. I will give a few instances. This is a matter which affects Home Rule essentially, a subject with which the right hon. Gentleman has concerned himself to the detriment of the business of his own Department. There is no doubt that at the present moment the 1681 telephone service, so far from assisting Home Rule, or conducing to the happiness of the home, is a curse to anyone who has a telephone. If you ring up a number you are, three times out of four, given a different number. You go home at a late hour from this House, and, perhaps, sit reading. About one o'clock you are rung up. You reply, and you find nobody wants you, and that they have rung up the wrong number. When the telephone was controlled by a public company there would have been a public outcry and a demand that this company, which was exercising a monopoly vitally concerning the public comfort, should be efficiently controlled by the Government. You made them hand it over. What has happened? It is run on lines that are absolutely disgraceful. I believe this Motion is for the reduction of the salary of the right hon. Gentleman. I trust he will not think I am in any way offensive, but, so far from reducing his salary, I should be in favour of taking it away altogether, and putting someone in his place who could run the telephone service efficiently. It is an extremely important service. The other day I was called up at twenty minutes to nine o'clock. I went to the telephone, but could get no answer. I asked what number had called, but they did not know. Eventually I got on to the number which I thought had called, and found it had called me, but I was told it was engaged. I then got into a taxi and went to the house, arriving there a quarter of an hour later, to find the gentleman who had been endeavouring to get through to me for twenty minutes, still trying to get to me, I having been told that he was engaged, and he having been told that I was engaged. It sounds farcical, but after all, when this is run by a Government Department which makes it possible for anyone to obtain redress by dealing with some other firm in the same line of business, it becomes a very serious thing for the country, and I hope hon. Members below the Gangway, who are so anxious to nationalise every kind of monopoly, will take the lesson to heart. I will refrain from multiplying instances of the extreme inefficiency of the Department, but when, in answer to a question, the right hon. Gentleman announced, as an extenuating circumstance, that the Government had installed something like 300 new telephones since they had taken the thing over, the thought passed through my mind, "Poor wretches, who are going to be added to the existing number of subscribers!"
§ Mr. BAIRD
That makes it worse still. That makes 350,000 a year. Great Scott! That is turning this Government monopoly into a regular torture. Since the days of the Spanish Inquisition nothing has been attempted equal to it. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will find some time between wrestling with the finance of the Home Rule Bill and his endeavour to negotiate cheaper postage with the countries with which we are on friendly terms—both of them important jobs, the latter more than the former—to devote his attention to the humdrum but necessary business of putting the telephone service on a businesslike and proper footing. It was fairly good before, though not as good as in a great many other less important countries, but now it is perfectly intolerable, and I trust the right hon. Gentleman will see his way before he goes into grandiose schemes of telephone extension, to persuade the people under his orders to be able to work the telephones they at present have.
The hon. Member (Mr. King) trusted that the Government would not stop at a reduction of postal rates between this country and France, but that there would be a cheapening all round with other countries. That comes very badly from hon. Gentleman on that side of the House. They are introducing a federal system by bits, they are disestablishing the Church by bits, and they might just as well do a good thing by bits, and, if they can enable us to have a cheap postal service with one particular country, let us have the advantage of having it, without awaiting the issue of other negotiations.
§ Mr. BAIRD
I do not think I misinterpreted the hon. Member, but, as I understand the negotiations with France are in a satisfactory position. I trust they will be brought to fruition without delay. This question of the telephone service wants serious attention. It is a perfect disgrace to civilisation, and certainly a disgrace to the Department.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
I feel sure that those who are connected with the National Telephone Company have never 1683 realised how great their virtues have been until they have passed from the scene. De mortuis nil nisi bonum, and nothing but good is spoken of the National Telephone Company now that no one any longer has cause to complain of any defects in its service. The extreme exaggeration of the criticisms to which we have just listened—
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
The hon. Member, among other things, said three out of four numbers asked for were wrongly connected. If the hon. Member's experience is confirmed by any other Member I shall be very greatly surprised. There is no use introducing heat or controversy into the matter. I will only repeat that the hon. Gentleman's criticisms, although I have no doubt they have some foundation, which I have already admitted and which I am anxious to remove by improving the service, are of themselves of the most exaggerated type.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
With respect to the speech of the hon. Member for Falmouth (Mr. Goldman), who opened the discussion, I have to say that some of his points have been dealt with by my hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General. The hon. Member urged that the present system of delimitation of areas is inconvenient, and has become obsolete through the amalgamation of the company's system with that of the Post Office. I agree to a great extent with the hon. Member, and we are considering how best to redefine the boundaries of the exchange areas. I believe that we shall have to proceed on the basis of distance, and that existing boundaries should be reconsidered. The hon. Member for Wiltshire also raised the question of areas. The distribution of areas which the Department contemplate will, to a large extent I think, meet his views. We shall endeavour to have a natural centre in each district. I am not sure that an exchange district should include in all cases a fire brigade station, because if a farmer's rick or house was on fire the owner would not grudge to pay the twopence, or whatever was the amount for a call to the fire brigade if there were no fire brigade 1684 station in the exchange centre. We ought to place the exchanges where they will be most useful, and to say that they should never be situated except in towns where there are fire brigades would mean that many exchanges, which might have been opened in villages, would not be opened at all, and the extension of the telephone system would be hampered.
I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman opposite that it is of great importance that a day and night service should be given wherever possible. The Post Office is largely extending its continuous services in the rural districts. With respect to the criticisms in regard to the thirty-four years' life of the plant, the figure quoted was arrived at a good many years ago at the time when the Post Office telephone installation consisted to a considerable extent, so far as capital expenditure is concerned, of underground conduits, which are very durable and have a long life, and that very much raised the average life of the whole of the plant. That figure is not now admitted by the Department, and, as a matter of fact the period of the life of the plant corresponds very closely with the period of repayment of capital expenditure. The hon. Member for Ealing raised a legal question. It is by no means a legal quibble which enables the telephone to be considered in the same light as the telegraph. On that legal decision of many years ago rests the whole of the Postmaster-General's monopoly with regard to the telephone, the licence granted to the Telephone Company, and the royalty they paid. Telephone wires have been treated on the same footing as telegraph wires for many years past; indeed, ever since the Post Office had telephones at all. It is quite impossible to treat future telephone wires with regard to way leaves on a different footing from the general telegraph system of the Post Office. The hon. Member for Wiltshire asked some questions with regard to rural party service lines and inquired to what extent the system has been adopted. Several hundred agreements are now being negotiated, and the number is increasing rapidly of farmers and others in rural districts who are prepared to take the telephone on the very low terms now offered. The offer is limited necessarily to exclude the first half-mile from the exchange, because you cannot distinguish in effect between a farmer and any other rural resident. Though these are called farmers' telephones that is only a nickname 1685 they are intended to be used by rural residents generally, who are willing to use a party-line service, and if you gave the right to use these telephones to farmers within a radius of half a mile of the exchange you could hardly refuse it to other persons within the radius, and the consequence would be that there would be no exchange nucleus. These party lines do not pay of themselves. It would be impossible to open an exchange merely to supply these party lines to farmers, the reason being that they allow no profit of any sort. They merely pay for themselves, but yield nothing for the staff and general expenses of the exchange. It is therefore necessary to have a certain number of subscribers at ordinary rates. You must have a nucleus before the exchange can be opened. A farmer living within a half mile can send a messenger or go to the village where the exchange is situate. We supply these telephones at very cheap rates for farmers who are living in isolation, and who need the benefit of them. The hon. Member also raised the question of the parcel post, and the inclusion of the weight of the wrapper in the weight of the parcel. There again you cannot discriminate what you do in the case of butter and fruit from what you do in the case of other parcels. That would mean in effect raising the postage weight permissible for 3d. from 11b. to 1¼lb. The 3d. rate already is barely remunerative, and a general extension of the weight allowed has been considered to be unjustified. If we are able to cheapen the carriage of parcels then possibly we might consider in future some revision in the direction of reductions for parcels.
This Debate has been remarkable for two speeches, that of my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Mr. J. Collins), and that of the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury). Never before during the years in which I have been listening to Debates on the Post Office Estimates have I heard a speech advocating economy in any shape or form. The hon. Member's speech was unique, until rendered no longer unique by the speech of the hon. Member for the City of London. It is refreshing to find from some representatives some regard for the taxpayer. The hon. Member for Greenock criticised the form in which the Post Office Estimates are presented on the ground that they did not include the services rendered by other Departments to the Post Office. The reason why they are not 1686 included is that they are not borne on the Post Office Vote. The Office of Works Vote bears the cost of Post Office buildings; the Stationery Vote bears the cost of Post Office printing; the Treasury Vote bears the cost of rates on Post Office buildings. These items must necessarily be included for Parliamentary purposes in the Votes of those several Departments, but in the commercial accounts of the Post Office, in the Postmaster-General's Annual Report, allowance is made for this fact, and that is all set out, though perhaps in too small type, at page 56 of the Post Office Estimates. I will consider whether we might not modify the type. On the other hand, the Post Office renders services to other Departments, and takes credit for those services in its commercial accounts to the extent of between £400,000 and £500,000 a year. In the figures I gave the House to-day in introducing the Estimates I made allowance for all these things. I stated the actual profit to the State of the Post Office business after making allowance in that way for services rendered by other Departments to the Post Office, the charges for such falling on their Votes, and, on the other hand, for the services rendered by the Post Office to other Departments.
The hon. Member and others following him spoke of the loss incurred on the telegraph service. The reasons for that are several. In the first place a very large sum was paid forty years ago to the telegraph companies for their equipment and plant, a matter which I hope will not recur when we pay for the Telephone Company's plant. It is the case that Press privileges are very remunerative to them, although they are very unremunerative to the State, costing the Post Office £205,000 a year. But those are statutory conditions which are not within my power to alter. The opposition of the Press was mitigated at the time of the transfer of the telegraph companies' plant to the State in 1870, by conferring upon them by the State of certain rights which they now enjoy, and to which I must necessarily submit. The sixpenny telegrams which were pressed upon the Post Office by the House of Commons a good many years ago are not remunerative. We have made many extensions into the rural districts, and we deliberately did that for the sake of adding to the amenities of those districts. Some years ago there was a large Post Office surplus, and it was deliberately decided to spend some 1687 portion of that surplus in extending the telegraph service into the rural districts, and that loss, intentionally made, now contributes to the loss of a million a year. Lastly, the advent of the telephone system has eaten up a large amount of business of the telegraph service—short distance messages—leaving to the telegraph service the long distance messages which are not of a remunerative character. These are the reasons that account for the loss on the telegraph service.
I dealt earlier to-day with the question of a State-owned Atlantic cable, and I also dealt with it on the occasion of the Easter Adjournment. Hon. Members who have spoken to-day used arguments which have not brought conviction to my mind. If we were presently engaged in war, a State-owned cable would not be more immune than any other cable from being cut. On the contrary, in all probability the very first thing would be that the enemy would cut the cable because it was a Government cable and laid very largely for strategic purposes. In the second place, from what I have been able to learn, I by no means agree that the British Government cyphers are so easily deciphered as has been represented. They are not based on keywords, or anything that could be easily guessed. So far as the commercial aspect of the question is concerned, hon. Members have indicated that the loss to be borne is very inconsiderable—some £10,000 a year—and in the next breath they advocate that the first thing the State-owned Atlantic cable should do would be to reduce the rates, thereby largely decreasing its revenue, unless it attracted an equivalent amount of traffic. A reduction of the rates must increase the initial loss which would certainly fall upon a State-owned Atlantic cable. True, we have given subsidies in other parts of the world; true we have shared the expense, with other Governments, of the Pacific cable, but in those cases there were no cables at all, and if the Government had not come forward at last to establish those services, no telegraphic communication would have been possible in those cases. I look forward to obtaining some result from a control of the rates charged, and to get some reduction without any investment of the capital of the State, or any annual loss.
As to Anglo-French Penny Postage, I have dealt with that question frequently 1688 in this House, and I have not time to deal with it fully now, except to say that the position in France is much the same as here. The French Government realise, as we realise, that you cannot establish a penny postage rate between the two countries only, and they see quite well that if they had penny postage with England it is necessary to extend it to Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, and Spain, the neighbours who adjoin to their frontiers. The hon. Member for North Somerset (Mr. King) suggested that there would be more hope of a speedy advance in this direction if hon. Members would advocate a slighter reduction in the first instance, perhaps a postage rate of l½d. M. Chaumet, the French Postmaster-General, who was in London a few days ago, made a similar suggestion. Perhaps hon. Members would consider that, and it may be the prospect of persuading the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be better if there were some more moderate proposal of reduction, at all events in the first instance. There are a number of other questions that have been raised. Assistant women clerks have been discussed often, and I am afraid I have not time to add anything. I will only say that no addition has been made to the number of assistant women clerks in contradiction to the pledge which I gave. None have been appointed in substitution for women clerks or for doing work which has been previously regarded as work of women clerks. I will certainly give further consideration to the question of eight, hours. As to the question of retrenched Civil servants from the Transvaal, a difficulty arises from the fact of the starting pay which being fixed by the Hobhouse Committee as being suitable for persons of the age of twenty-one. These, of course, are men much older than twenty-one. To give them special pay would involve raising the whole question of the pay of ex-soldiers and sailors, and, as that raises a very large question indeed, I am obliged to refer it to the Select Committee.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
The Select Committee will go into this matter, and I hope they will be able to effect some solution. I am much obliged to the House for the favourable reception which has been given to the Estimates.
§ Sir W. BYLES
I for one cannot agree that the Post Office is right in making a profit of four or five millions per year. The right hon. Gentleman says if they did not make that profit that they would have to put a duty on tea or increase the Income Tax. I do not see why those of us who use the Post Office should pay in order to give the tea drinker his tea more
§ cheaply, or save the Income Tax payer from the weight of taxation which properly ought to fall upon him.
§ Question put, "That a sum not exceeding £13,808,850 be granted for the said Service."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 45; Noes, 139.1689
|Division No. 90.]||AYES.||[10.58 p.m.|
|Agg-Gardner, James Tynte||Eyres-Monsell, Bolton M.||Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlington)|
|Aitken, Sir William Max||Fletcher, John Samuel (Hampstead)||Peto, Basil Edward|
|Amery, L. C. M. S.||Hall, D. B. (Isle of Wight)||Rees, Sir J. D.|
|Anson, Rt. Hon. Sir William R.||Hamilton, Lord C. J. (Kensington, S.)||Royds, Edmund|
|Baird, J. L.||Henderson, Major H. (Berks)||Sanders, Robert Arthur|
|Baker, Sir Randolf L. (Dorset, N.)||Herbert, Hon. A. (Somerset, S.)||Smith, Harold (Warrington)|
|Balcarres, Lord||Hewins, William Albert Samuel||Spear, Sir John Ward|
|Banbury, Sir Frederick George||Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||Sykes, Mark (Hull Central)|
|Bathurst, Charles (Wilton)||Houston, Robert Paterson||Terrell, Henry (Gloucester)|
|Bigland, Alfred||Hunt, Rowland||Ward, A. S. (Herts, Watford)|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||Locker-Lampson, G. (Salisbury)||Wheler, Granville C. H.|
|Burn, Col. C. R.||Macmaster, Donald||Wood, John (Stalybridge)|
|Carlile, Sir Edward Hildred||Magnus, Sir Philip||Wright, Henry Fitzherbert|
|Cave, George||Newman, John R. P.|
|Chaloner, Col. R. G. W.||Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr. Goldman and Sir George Doughty.|
|Dalrymple, Viscount||Nield, Herbert|
|Abraham, William (Dublin Harbour)||Goldstone, Frank||O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)|
|Acland, Francis Dyke||Greenwood, Granville G. (Peterborough)||O'Grady, James|
|Agnew, Sir George||Grey, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward||Palmer, Godfrey Mark|
|Allen, Arthur Acland (Dumbartonshire)||Guest, Major Hon. C. H. C. (Pembroke)||Parker, James (Halifax)|
|Allen, Rt. Hon. Charles P. (Stroud)||Guest, Hon. Frederick E. (Dorset, E.)||Pearce, Robert (Staffs, Leek)|
|Armitage, Robert||Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose)||Pease, Rt. Hon. Joseph A. (Rotherham)|
|Baker, H. T. (Accrington)||Hardie, J. Keir||Pointer, Joseph|
|Baker, Joseph Allen (Finsbury, E.)||Harmsworth, Cecil (Luton, Beds)||Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H.|
|Balfour, Sir Robert (Lanark)||Harmsworth, R. L. (Caithness-shire)||Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central)|
|Baring, Sir Godfrey (Barnstaple)||Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, W.)||Pringle, William M. R.|
|Barran, Sir J. N. (Hawick)||Hayward, Evan||Radford, George Heynes|
|Beale, W. P.||Henderson, Arthur (Durham)||Raffan, Peter Wilson|
|Beauchamp, Sir Edward||Higham, John Sharp||Rea, Rt. Hon. Russell (South Shileds)|
|Benn, W. W. (T. H'mts, St. George)||Hinds, John||Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)|
|Boland, John Plus||Hogge, James Myles||Redmond, William (Clare, E.)|
|Bowerman, C. W.||Holmes, Daniel Turner||Richardson, Albion (Peckham)|
|Brace, William||Holt, Richard Durning||Roberts, G. H. (Norwich)|
|Brady, Patrick Joseph||Howard, Hon. Geoffrey||Robertson, J. M. (Tyneside)|
|Brunner, J. F. L.||Hughes, S. L.||Roch, Walter F.|
|Bryce, J. Annan||John, Edward Thomas||Rose, Sir Charles Day|
|Burns, Rt. Hon. John||Jones, H. Haydn (Merioneth)||Rowlands, James|
|Buxton, Noel (Norfolk, N.)||Jones, W. S. Glyn- (Stepney)||Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)|
|Byles, Sir William Pollard||Joyce, Michael||Scanlan, Thomas|
|Carr-Gomm, H. W.||Keating, M.||Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton)|
|Cawley, Harold T. (Heywood)||King, J. (Somerset, N.)||Seely, Col. Rt. Hon. J. E. B.|
|Chancellor, H. G.||Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade)||Shortt, Edward|
|Chapple, Dr. W. A.||Lansbury, George||Simon, Sir John Allsebrook|
|Clough, William||Lawson, S. W. (Cumb'rld, Cockerm'th||Smith, Albert (Lancs., Ciltheroe)|
|Clynes, J. R.||Leach, Charles||Strauss, Edward A. (Southwark, West)|
|Collins, G. P. (Greenock)||Lewis, John Herbert||Tennant, Harold John|
|Craig, Herbert J. (Tynemouth)||Low, Sir F. (Norwich)||Thomas, James Henry (Derby)|
|Crooks, William||Macdonald, J. Ramsay (Leicester)||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)|
|Crumley, Patrick||Macdonald, J. M. (Falkirk Burghs)||Toulmin, Sir George|
|Dalziel, Sir James H. (Kirkcaldy)||Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J.||Ward, John (Stoke-upon-Trent)|
|Davies, Timothy (Lincs., Louth))||Macpherson, James Ian||Warner, Sir T. C. T.|
|Dawes, James A.||McKenns, Rt. Hon. Reginald||Watt, Henry A.|
|De Forest, Baron||M'Laren, Hon. H. D. (Leics.)||Webb, H.|
|Denman, Hon. Richard Douglas||Markham, Sir Arthur Basil||White, J. Dundas (Glasgow, Tradeston)|
|Doris, William||Marshall, Arthur Harold||Whitehouse, John Howard|
|Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness)||Mason, David M. (Coventry)||Wiles, Thomas|
|Duncan, J. Hastings (York, Otley)||Mooney, John J.||Williams, Penry (Middlesbrough)|
|Elibank, Rt. Hon. Master of||Morton, Alpheus Cleophas||Wilson, Hon. G. G. (Hull, W.)|
|Elverston, Sir Harold||Munro, Robert||Young, W. (Perthshire, E.)|
|Essex, Richard Walter||Nicholson, Sir Charles N. (Doncaster)|
|Falconer, James||Nolan, Joseph|
|Flavin, Michael Joseph||Norman, Sir Henry||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr. Illingworth and Mr. Gulland.|
|Furness, Stephen||Norton, Captain Cecil W.|
|Gladstone, W. G. C.||O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.)|
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ And, it being after Eleven of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair, to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again to-morrow (Tuesday).