§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £15,151,830, 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, 1915, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Post Office, including Telegraphs and Telephones." [NOTE.—£11,000,000 has been voted on account.]
§ The POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Mr. Hobhouse)
The expenditure of which I have to ask the Committee to approve amounts to no less a sum than £26,150,000, 1888 which is a very large increase, almost, I think, one of the largest increases that has ever taken place upon the current expenditure—an increase of £1,770,000 upon last year. This increase is caused in the main by a rise in the salaries and wages of postal employés. The engineering establishment only accounts for £500,000. On the other side, I expect a revenue this year of £31,750,000, which is a large increase on that of last year.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
I will come to that later. On the other hand, debt has gone up very largely. It amounts to £31,600,000, on which we pay interest amounting to £943,000. The Postal Department is divided into three chief Departments, one of which pays very considerably, on one there is a considerable deficit, and on the other a moderate profit. The postal service proper requires for its maintenance the sum of £15,500,000, and provides towards the revenue which I have mentioned a sum of £21,750,000, leaving the large profit of £6,250,000. Telegraphs provide us with an income of £3,150,000 leaving a deficit on their working this year of £350,000. Similarly the telephones require £6,600,000, and they provide £6,900,000. leaving a profit of £300,000. It will be seen, therefore, that the telegraph and telephone income and expenditure may be set off one against the other, and the whole profit on the Postal Department really arises from the postal service proper. The net revenue to the Exchequer is £5,200,000. taking into account the services rendered to other Departments. I thought it proper to indicate the sums total of the large figures of income and expenditure which it has to provide every year.
The chief internal event of interest in the postal year must, of course, be the Holt Committee Report. This is the second Select Committee which has been set up by the House of Commons in the last eight years to deal with this subject. Of the first of such Committees I happened to be the Chairman, and that Committee increased the wages of postal servants by an immediate sum of £450,000, which sum is expected to rise ultimately to £690,000. The Holt Committee made an award which, added to what the Treasury and the Post Office between them have conceded since then, amounted to £640,000 immediately, with an ultimate cost to the taxpayer of £1,250,000. The net 1889 result, therefore, of the two Committees is that in eight years a sum of £1,100,000 has been added to the wages of postal employés immediately, which will rise ultimately to a total cost of £1,940,000, a very substantial increase to the wages of postal employés, of whom there are about 160,000 within the scope of the Holt Report, and something like 230,000 altogether. I think it is worth while noting that not only in the appointment of the first, but in the appointment of the second Committee the postal staff insisted, and I use that word deliberately, upon the reference of their case to the adjudication of Parliament. The chairman of what is called the National Joint Committee of Postal Servants, speaking in September, 1911 I am sure the Committee will forgive me for quoting the exact words, because they are important—made use of this language:—We ask that the Committee of Inquiry shall be a Select Committee of the House of Commons. The reasons are that, as we are State servants, the House of Commons, seems to us to be the proper tribunal, and it is obvious that the House can best proceed by way of a Committee. We do not think the Government will be likely to assent to a condition which would set up a body outside the House of Commons, and we do not regard that as desirable or advisable. We are State servants and we claim consideration direct from the State.That was an appeal to Parliament. That appeal the House of Commons responded to by setting up a Select Committee, and I think, therefore, the House of Commons, having set up this Select Committee and selected the members of that Committee with great care—representatives of all parties in this House, nominated not by the Government, but by the parties which compose the House—it is only fair that the House should accept their verdict. The reference to that Committee was not a restricted or a narrow one. It gave the Committee full power to increase the charges, to settle all the conditions of work, to limit if they so chose the hours of labour of postal servants, and it in no way restricted or diminished their freedom of action. There was, indeed, only one difference as to the terms of reference, and that related to whether or not the Committee in making its inquiries, and framing its Report, should or should not have regard to the conditions of labour outside. The House of Commons decided that the conditions of labour outside should form part of the reference to the Committee, and should be a guidance to them in framing their Report.
The inquiry was not a hurried one. It lasted twelve months. It embraced, I think, 1890 every class of postal servants except very small ones, and the consideration of the evidence occupied the Committee something like three months. Neither the inquiry was hurried nor was the verdict given hastily, and it was almost a unanimous verdict. There were, I think, only six occasions on which the Committee felt themselves so bound by force of argument on one side or the other as to be obliged to go to a Division. I think it can, therefore, be said on behalf of the Committee—I do not know that I am necessarily bound to hold any particular brief for them except to explain the circumstances—a Committee representative of all sections of the House—that having most carefully considered the voluminous evidence—for it is, indeed, voluminous—which was set before them, they came practically unanimously to the decisions which, on behalf of the Post Office, I set out in a Post Office circular on 3rd April last, and the Estimates which I now present for the consideration of the Committee embody those decisions of the Committee almost as they were given. There have, indeed, been one or two variations, nearly all the variations being favourable to the staff. In particular, whereas in regard to some classes of the staff the Committee recommended that the hours of labour should be increased, the Department of which I am the head for the moment decided—the decision practically of my predecessor, which I confirmed—that it would not be wise to vary hours which had long been maintained, and which were well recognised both by the Department and the staff as satisfactory, and they, therefore, did not insist on that increase of hours, which they otherwise might have done.
I think the main criticism which will probably be made upon the recommendations of the Committee is that though the sum of money which is recommended to be spent in increased wages by the Committee is large, yet the gain to the individual postal servants is but small. I think that is inevitable when you have regard to the great number of postal employés that there are. On the other hand, I think it would not be well to ignore the great relief which is given to classes. I have said there are 160,000 within the scope of postal servants, 94,000 of whom will gain immediate relief by the recommendations of the Committee. I have here a list of a great many of those recommendations and I have adopted them all, and I am 1891 not sure whether I should weary or displease the Committee if I read briefly, almost brutally, to them the results as they affect the various classes. Take postmen in London. Above twenty-two years of age the increments on the new scale are larger, the maximum on the new scale is 2s. a week higher, and the maximum under the new scale is obtainable after nineteen years instead of twenty-five years. In the case of postmen in the provinces the maximum is 1s. a week higher in Classes I., II., and III., and that maximum is obtainable after from seventeen to nineteen years' service instead of twenty-five. In Classes IV. and V. the maximum is 2s. a week higher. The increment of all the classes above twenty-two years of age is larger. In the case of auxiliary postmen the rate of pay in Class V. post offices, where 75 per cent. of these postal servants are employed, is raised a 1s. a week, and twelve working days' leave, with pay, is granted. I could take the Committee through the whole list. There are forty or fifty or perhaps even more classes which are benefited in a similar way, and I think it ought to be realised that there is hardly any class of the postal service which is not in some measure or other benefiting by the recommendations of the Committee.
There is, however, one particular class of postal servants which the Government thought had not benefited as much by the recommendations of the Committee as they might have done, and we have been struck by the fact that whatever may be the value to the individuals or the cost to the State of those recommendations, they leave a considerable number of postal servants at a wage which we can hardly consider adequate to meet the necessary expenditure in maintaining a home and a growing family. It is quite clear that the addition of a 1s. a week to the maximum will increase comfort in a much greater degree than it will increase the expenditure upon necessities, but when a man enters the service that 1s. a week is much more valuable in providing necessities than it is in adding comfort. We have considered this question very carefully and we think it is not possible for the lower paid officials of the postal service on an income of less than 22s. to make that income go, as it ought to go, to provide the modest comforts and requirements of life. And we propose, therefore, in the case of full-time male postal 1892 servants of twenty-three years of age and over, which may be taken as the age of marriage, to provide an overriding wage of 22s. per week for all those whose incomes from the State are less than that sum. [An HON. MEMBER: "Is that in London only?"] No, all over the country wherever it applies. This will affect about 25,800 men. It will cost approximately about £75,000, and it will yield on the average an increased wage of Is. 6d. per individual. As in the case of other Government Departments, this will apply to Ireland with such modifications as the lower cost of living justifies. That includes the full-time people—postmen, temporary postmen, engineering labourers, stores and factories, cleaners, and various miscellaneous persons.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
If the hon. Gentleman will only contain himself for a moment I will deal with that. I was reciting the full-time people, and auxiliary postmen, as the hon. Gentleman knows, are not full-time people. Half - time employés—auxiliary postmen, cleaners, allowance deliverers, and a few miscellaneous persons, making about 22,800 persons; and; there are other persons I have not recited, making 25,800 in all, half-time employés, being paid pro rata. I come back to the Holt Report, and I should like to say a few words upon the reorganisation of the clerical classes. No announcement has been made by the Post Office on this subject for these reasons. The clerical classes have been held over for consideration until after the Report of the Royal Commission. That Report has only recently coma out—I think in the last ten days or a fortnight—and we have not yet had time to study its facts and to apply its remarks and recommendations on the clerical classes. The Holt Committee has given us one very valuable recommendation that the whole class of clerical labour in the Post Office—recruitment, pay, and promotion—which was organised on rather a haphazard scaled with many grades overlapping, and that all should be swept up into one large clerical class, with every member liable to serve in every branch of the service. That does not apply to the Savings Bank, Accountant-General's Department, or Secretary's Office, but for the rest of the service they will give us a large, unified, and 1893 mobile class, which I think will be of great advantage to the postal requirements. As to the wireless staff, they have given us a reorganisation which in the case of officers entering between the ages of twenty-one and twenty-four will put their wages up to 32s. a week, and give them a chance of rising, after passing certain technical and linguistic tests, to a maximum of 70s. These detailed charges are all set out in the Post Office circular of 3rd April, with the contents of which I suspect most of the staff are intimately acquainted, and, therefore, I need not trouble the Committee with further reference to them.
I should like to draw the attention of the Committee to the Return showing the changes in wages and conditions of postal servants which was issued to the House about a fortnight ago. I think a careful study of that will reveal how much has been done for them by this Report, and will show that they have been substantial gainers by it. I should like to say a word or two, returning to the consideration of general postal topics, about the Telegraph Department.
§ Mr. GOULDING
You said just now that the auxiliary postmen would be advanced, pro rata. Can the right hon. Gentleman explain to the Committee how many pence that would be in the week on the personal wage of an auxiliary postman?
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
I am afraid I cannot de that off-hand, but before the Debate closes I shall see if I can answer the question.
§ Mr. BUTCHER
May I ask if the right hon. Gentleman can tell us how much per hour that increase is to auxiliary postmen in London and in the provinces?
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
That is precisely the same question in a different way, and if I could not answer the one I could not answer the other, but I promise to see whether I can get the information, and if I can it will certainly be given to the hon. Gentleman opposite. I wish to say a word about the Telegraph Department, because it is the least satisfactory of the Departments of the Post Office. It has been carried on at a great loss for a great number of years. In the last forty years the excess expenditure upon telegraphs has amounted to the very large sum of £22,000,000. The greater portion of that excess expenditure is due entirely to the action of the House of Commons. In 1894 October, I think it was 1885 or 1886, the House of Commons insisted upon having a sixpenny telegram. Of course, it was a very great convenience to the individual, but inasmuch as the ordinary sixpenny telegram cost on the average elevenpence to transmit and deliver, it is quite clear that the House of Commons was inflicting a great loss on the postal service for the convenience of the individual sender of telegrams. I do not say that is not a justifiable course, but the result has been that, whereas the telegraph service was at that time struggling into solvency, it has been involved ever since in hopeless bankruptcy. It is carried on at a loss of £350,000 a year—a deficiency which docs not include the interest on the original purchase money, liability for pensions of the employés, or amortisation of the original purchase money. It is not satisfactory either altogether from the point of view of the persons employed in it.
The expansion of the telegraph service, owing to the competition of the telephone—and now, I suppose, wireless—is not as great as it is in other parts of the Department, and though the remuneration, taking into consideration what was given in 1908 and now, is, I think, adequate for the work done, undoubtedly the work of the operative section of telegraphists is much more monotonous and wearisome than that of other postal employés. The finance is not in a satisfactory condition. It seems to me that an inquiry into the organisation of telegraphs would do something to make good the loss to the Exchequer which is involved by the present service, and might, I hope would, increase the efficiency of a service which I should be the last person to decry, but which I think might be more economically and better performed; and, finally, by the establishment of a Post Office laboratory on a much larger scale than anything we have got at present, and by thus admitting of much more extensive and close research into telegraphic problems, I hope the Committee of Organisation, plus closer research into the problems of high speed and other matters of telegraphy, may enable us to set this Department on a much more satisfactory footing than at present exists. [An HON. MEMBER: "What is the loss on Press telegrams?"] Undoubtedly it is a very serious loss.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
There are many statistics which I could have given to the Committee. That did not occur to me. [An HON. MEMBER: "You have given the sixpenny wire."] I am afraid that accounts for a great part of the loss, but I am coming to Press telegrams in a moment from another point of view, namely, the telephonic point of view. I wish to refer to the subject of telephones, in which there has been a good deal of interest shown everywhere. We spent in purchase from the National Telephone Company a sum of £10,685,000, and we spent on the development of our own telephones a sum of nearly £18,000,000, making a total expenditure upon telephones of £28,262,000. They are valued at the present moment, making account for full depreciation of these telephones, at about £23,000,000. Perhaps I ought to mention at this point that there is a small sum outstanding which is receivable in respect of the Hull Corporation purchase of the telephone of £100,000. Despite all complaints which reach me in varying quantities from the public, and despite even cartoons in the illustrated papers, I think there is a very considerable and happy development of the telephone service. It is a very serious rival to the telegraphs, and I think it is quite possible that the point mentioned by the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway that some of the expenses now borne by the country in respect of telegraphs will be lifted off its shoulders by the replacing of this service by the telephones. But the telephone development at the present moment is very great. Constantly Members and others of the public are writing to me and saying, "We applied a month ago, or two months ago, or even three months ago, for a telephone. You promised it and sent your inspector to inspect the roof, and we have not got our telephone." It is not altogether our fault, it is a difficulty which must occur in every expanding business.
We have got under our charge at the present moment nearly 2,000,000 miles of telephone wire, and we find it impossible to procure the services of skilled and trained workmen in sufficient numbers and with sufficient skill, not only to maintain this great amount of existing wire, but to lay down new wires required by the public service. We have a large number of schools in London and the provinces for training telephone workmen, and we hope to turn them out at the rate of something like 3,000 or 4,000 a year. Perhaps the Committee would 1896 like a few brief details as to what is being done in respect of telephones both in London and the provinces. In London there are nearly 243,000 telephones, an increase on last year of over 14,000. I hope this year or next to be able to open four new exchanges, and I intend to spend this year on the extension of the telephone system in London about £750,000. In the provinces there are about 480,000 telephones, an increase on last year of nearly 29,000. I propose to spend in extending the service all over the provinces £1,650,000, which I hope may procure a more rapid development of the system than has yet been possible. There is one kind of telephone which may interest agricultural Members. It has been found possible to provide in the country what are known as rural party lines for telephones. They were looked upon at first with great suspicion by farmers. Conversations could be overheard. Persons who used them were afraid lest their neighbours should know what their prices and their hopes of profit were. They feared lest when they were talking exclusively to one another their conversations should be overheard by someone else. A great deal of those fears have been dissipated by the facts. There are now 2,300 of such telephones constructed or in course of construction, which represents an increase on last year of over-1,400, and the demand for them, I am glad to say, is spreading very rapidly and very extensively. I hope to be in a position to meet all the demands which may be extended to the Department this year with rapidity and with satisfaction to the subscribers. Another aspect of the telephone system which I might mention is the creation of an inter-town communication. At the present moment Liverpool and Manchester can talk to each other not as formerly, as if they were on different exchanges, but as if they were on the same exchange. It may interest the Committee to know that 70 per cent. of the calls which originate in one or other of these towns are now satisfied within less than a minute. This system has given the greatest satisfaction to men of business in both those towns, and I hope to be able to extend it between Leeds and Bradford at a very early date, and eventually to spread it all over the country. It would do a great deal to quicken up business communications.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
I hope that that will be done also. My hon. Friend does well to call my attention to these places, and I will do what I can to meet his wishes as early as possible. Within the last few years they have adopted in America a system of automatic exchanges, of which we in this country were exceedingly shy when it was first brought to our notice. In Germany they have adopted the automatic exchange on a large scale. I saw the other day an exchange in Berlin which was operating, I think, 4,000 lines, and in Dresden, I think, they have two with 17,000 lines, and they have a system on a larger scale in Munich. Here in this country we have not been so quick to adopt this system. There are only two in existence at present, and they are on a very small scale—Epsom, with fewer than a hundred lines, and the official switch at the General Post Office. The machinery is very delicate and complicated. It requires very skilled and expert workmen to manufacture it. But the result has been uniformly good wherever the system has been tried, and I propose to extend it on a very considerable scale in this country as soon as possible. I hope at a comparatively early date to supply Accrington, Darlington, Dudley, Grimsby, Newport, Paisley, Ports-month, Stockport and Leeds with automatic exchanges. [An HON. MEMBER: "Stafford."] Stafford is not yet ripe for an exchange of this sort. If they prove successful at these places, as we believe they will, I am sure that it will be found to the advantage of all concerned that they should be introduced rapidly all over the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
There are three principal manufacturers of automatic telephone machinery. We give orders to these three in turn. Some of these places will be served by machinery manufactured by one company, and others by machinery made by one of the other companies.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
There is also a semi-automatic exchange system which can be provided. London will, no doubt, be dealt with as opportunity occurs, but we have to consider the number of lines, as in these automatic exchanges there are much greater complications than 1898 in an ordinary telephone exchange, so that this system can only be developed very slowly. I can make no pledge about individual exchanges in London. When it is possible to apply the system to London, I shall certainly desire to do so. I am sure to be asked in the course of the Debate what about telephone tariffs. I think that my predecessor was challenged on this point more than once. I had hoped to be in a position to make an announcement upon it not only to-day, but even at an earlier date. But though I am in communication with the Treasury upon the point, I have nothing definite to say to the Committee beyond this, that the net profit of the telephone system being only something like £300,000, it is impossible, looking to the great number of telephone subscribers that there are in the country, to give an individual subscriber any hope of much reduction. But what I think will be done is, that there will be a great readjustment of charges, and more particularly I hope to be able to introduce a system of a measured service rate which will get rid of many of the present anomalies and differences, and I hope, though I do not want to excite too much hope on this point, that I may be able to accompany that measured service rate with a subscriber's meter, which will enable subscribers to check accurately the number of calls which are made on the telephone.
Whether having a check on the number of calls made upon his telephone will make the subscriber more happy than he-is now, I do not know, because our information goes to show that an enormous number of calls is made upon various individual subscriber's telephone, far more calls than the subscriber is aware of, and all sorts of conversations take place upon the telephone of which he is absolutely unaware. Therefore, while I hope that they may give satisfaction to the subscriber, I am not altogether without hope that they may be a source of profit to the Post Office as well. The hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. Jowett) has said something about Press telegrams. A certain number of Press telegrams is occupied with the speeches of prominent Members of this House, and the telephone is a very dangerous rival to the telegraph in this connection. The commencement of the speech which was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bootle (Mr. Bonar Law) in Belfast in 1912 was actually being sold in print in Liverpool and Leeds before he had ended the speech in Belfast, the first portion 1899 having been sent to those places by telephone. In the same way, the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon (Mr. Lloyd George), delivered in Bedford last year, was distributed in places so far apart as Swansea and Aberdeen by telephone, and it never went over the telegraph wires at all. The speech made by the Prime Minister in Fife the other day, was telephoned by the reporters from their shorthand notes to London, and redistributed over the country by telephone, without passing over the telegraph wires at all. This new mode of transmission saves a great deal of time and a great deal of money, and gives universal satisfaction, and I am very glad to have a testimonial from the press associations as to the case and rapidity with which these speeches are now transmitted by telephone.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
I am not aware of that, but I will make inquiries. Perhaps I may say a word about the position of wireless. There are two aspects of that: one internal and the other external. I am not all all satisfied that the distribution of the internal wireless stations is all that it ought to be or might be. There are nine ship to shore stations. A new station is coming into existence at Valencia, and the plans are ready for the erection of the station at Stonehaven, which it is intended to maintain in case of accident to the telegraph system, so as to keep communication with Dundee and Aberdeen, which was so seriously interfered with last year. I am not sure as to whether the rearranging of wireless internal communication might not lead to a more extensive development of the wireless system in this country, and to a quicker and easier means of communication. With regard to external wireless communication, and what is known as the Imperial wireless chain, the Committee may like to know the position. There are two stations in England—one at Leafield and the other at Devizes. The sites are purchased. At Leafield, which is near Oxford, the erection of masts has already begun to take place. We are considering the power plant, but we have not yet settled details of the wireless plant. The second of the stations includes one near Cairo, in Egypt, for transmitting, and one near Ismailia for 1900 receiving wireless messages. The sites have been acquired, and the masts are in process of erection. There is only this difference between the statement made by my right hon. Friend and what is being done, that the station in Egypt will be what is called a three-way station instead of a two-way station, and will communicate with India and East Africa.
The third of these stations is at Poonah. In regard to those three stations, which have been approved by the House of Commons, they are being erected and established by the Marconi Company. With regard to the other three, in East Africa, South Africa and the Straits Settlements, although the Marconi Company has a lien on the erection of those three stations, their claim does not go beyond the lien, and the Post Office may give notice at any time before their completion that they intend to hand it over to another company. I myself feel that there is not enough competition in wireless with the Marconi Company, but it is very difficult indeed to obtain competition. The Marconi Company are closely related to or in a dominant position with nearly every other wireless corporation. Some they have acquired, and some desire to be acquired by them, and the consequence is that in whatever direction you look you find that you are up against a very extensive and powerful corporation. Personally, I think that competition in everything is good, in order to keep down the price which a nation has to pay for its necessities. There is at the present moment, as far as I can see, in this country only one serious competitor of the Marconi Company, and that is the Poulsen Company, which has a station in county Kerry, and I understand that they have got a contract with the Canadian Government to supply a service at the rate of 400 words a minute.
If they can demonstrate their ability to give us an efficient service, and I am bound to lay great emphasis on the word "if," we would gladly give them a licence and let them at least try their service. But I am waiting at the present moment, and I have been waiting ever since I was first appointed to the office of Postmaster-General, to get a test which will satisfy us as to their ability to carry on this service. It has always been promised to me, but the promise has never been fulfilled. I will gladly receive a demonstration of their ability to enter on commercial conversations and communications, but, until I am 1901 in a position to sec that they can actually enter on such communications, I, at all events, on behalf of the Post Office, cannot avail myself of their service. I only desire to say a word or two upon another point. I have said nothing about the postal department, which is, as I pointed out to the Committee, the most profitable portion of our enterprise. Some hon. Gentleman asked me what has been the increase of the Post Office personnel this year. It has gone up by 11,000, and that is some measure of the expansion of our business. Perhaps I may indicate, in a few sentences, how quickly the service extends. There is a daily sale of stamps to the value of £81,000, which yields an enormous revenue for the year. We deal with 3,471,000,000 letters a year, which is an increase of 3,250,000 per week. That gives some concrete idea to the Committee of the vastness of the expansion of the postal service. Last year we took on a thousand more men for Christmas work than we did the year before. This year we have a surplus of deposits over withdrawals in the Savings Bank of 12,000,000. We do that not as in the old days, at a loss, but with the substantial profit of £160,000 a year. I think it reflects enormous credit on the present Controller of the Savings Bank, though I do not wish to make too much of that profit, because with a substantial rise in Consols probably a great portion of that profit might disappear, but it has removed what has been a great burden on the Exchequer, and turned it to a profit.
My predecessor made mention last year of what are called postal drafts. They are provided for the purpose of enabling approved societies to make payments to their members, and while making those payments at the same moment to secure the receipt for that payment. I propose to issue very shortly four fixed denominations—one of 30s., one of 10s., one of Vs. 6d., and one of 5s.; and in a fifth denomination, any person can fill up any amount he desires to remit up to 10s. We calculate that we shall use about four and a-half millions every year for this purpose alone. We know that it is desired to utilise them for naval allotments, and we expect they will require them to the extent of two and a half millions a year. I have no doubt that cooperative societies will desire to make use of them, and that we shall use them for our own payments as well. It will afford a ready means of transmitting smaller sums of money to many per- 1902 sons who find difficulty in getting cheques cashed, however small. It will give to the payer an absolute receipt, and will show that the person to whom he has sent the money has received it and acknowledged payment. It will enormously simplify the work of approved societies, and will prove, I hope, a boon to the person who receives as well.
There is only one other matter on which I wish to say a word before I sit down. It is this: That I have received a great deal of correspondence which points to the existence in this country, of which we were fully aware before, of an enormous amount of literature employed in the service of bookmakers, moneylenders, and touts, and lottery promoters of every description. A great deal of this business is carried on abroad. It is carried on, as I think, to the detriment of this country which receives these touting communications. The power of the Post Office to deal with literature of this sort has been greatly over-rated. I am continually getting letters pointing out that so-and-so has received a great mass of literature from these touts and bookmakers in Geneva, and it is asked, "Why-do you not put a stop to it?" The power of the Post Office to deal with this matter, as I have said, is very greatly over-rated. We have no power to deal with it unless it comes to us in open envelopes, and we can claim that it is injurious to the morals of the staff to have this literature transmitted from those who post it to those who receive it. We guard their morals as jealously as we can in this particular, but, of course, an enormous amount of this literature slips through our fingers. The House of Commons has always been, and I think very rightly, very jealous for the absolute sanctity and inviolability of letters and messages handed to the Postmaster for transmission. Last year my right hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland (Mr. Herbert Samuel) drafted a Bill to prevent the use of the Post Office in connection with business carried on abroad, which, if carried on in England, would be illegal, whether in respect of letters going to or coming from such persons, but time did not permit of the pursuance of the subject, or of bringing the Bill to the notice of the House of Commons. I should like to give some idea of the volume of this sort of literature. Take the advertisements posted and addressed to people in this country on behalf of 1903 people resident abroad. There is the Turf Pool Syndicate of Geneva, who for their sweepstake on the Grand National this year, posted 184,000 circulars. For the "John Bull" sweepstake on the Derby of last year there were posted 72,000 circulars, and this year, no doubt encouraged by the success of last year, there have been posted 115,000.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
I think it is, in order that the danger may be clearly recognised. Two other people posted circulars—one 28,000, and the other 24,000. But worse than that because this points to what is effected by these people, the replies to those advertisements posted in the month of January at a particular place in London, numbered on 3rd January, 20,000; on 10th January, 35,000; on 17th January, 37,000; on 24th January, 38,000; and on 31st January, 47,000. All these replies, I will not say all of them, but a very considerable portion of them, no doubt, contained remittances either in anticipation of bets or payments of results. The harm done to the country is very great and is increasing. I believe that legislation can be introduced into this House, and ought to be introduced in this House, of an entirely nonpartisan character. I hope and I believe that if I were in a position to put forward such legislation I might secure support in every quarter of the House for it. There can be no question, I think, of the harm that is done, and done especially to the working classes of this country, by this sort of advertisement. I do not think, however, the Postmaster-General ought to have the authority to originate legal proceedings. That is not his sphere of action at all, but I do think he ought to be in a position to prevent his Department from being the agency for this kind of rascality and for distributing these advertisements wholesale throughout the country. It is not the purpose for which the Post Office exists. It cannot have any beneficial effect at all, and I do not think the House of Commons could be better employed than in preventing its continuance in the future. I have dealt with a great number of topics, and I hope that I have presented them clearly.
§ Major DALRYMPLE WHITE
Can the right hon. Gentleman now state on what basis the postal wages will be considered, 1904 whether on the cost of living or proportion of population? It is rather important in discussing the rate of wages.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
I do not quite understand the hon. Member. The Report of the Holt Committee indicated that both of these factors were taken into consideration by them. It is upon their recommendation that I have based the decisions which I have come to and submitted to the House.
§ The CHAIRMAN
Hon. Members had better take their opportunity in Debate to raise their various points, otherwise they might cross-examine the Postmaster-General for the rest of the day if they adopt the method of asking questions.
§ Question put, "That a sum not exceeding £15,151,730, be granted for the said Service."
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ I do so not because I desire that the right hon. Gentleman shall have less emoluments than he possesses, but because this is the means by which I may criticise, as I wish to do, the statement he has made. I wish to begin by saying that I do not think, and I am sure both sides of the House will agree with me in this, that we have been treated quite fairly, because the object of both sides of the House has been for many months to secure a discussion about the Report of the Holt Committee. The statement which the right hon. Gentleman has made is extremely interesting and full of fresh matter for consideration. But the tendency is to divert the attention of the Committee from the Holt Report which has been the matter of grave consideration and anxiety on the part of postal workers throughout the country, and, what is just as important, of anxiety on the part of those of us who represent the workers throughout the country. I do not think it is quite fair that the Prime Minister did not appoint a day in which, without having to consider anything else or any new proposals, or the work of the Post Office for the year, we could discuss in how far the Holt Committee, as it is called, adjusted the grievances of the postal servants of all kinds and grades, and in how far the Postmaster-General has carried out the recommendation and awards of the Holt Committee. 1905 I must confess it is with some surprise I learn at this moment, in answer to a question of my hon. Friend behind (Major White), that the Holt Committee had the power, and that it was in their terms of reference that they should, as it were, consider and decide upon the matter of the classification of districts, and the classification of postal servants in relation to districts whether by population or in any other way. I do not find that in the consideration of the Holt Committee that that was very thoroughly entered into, and if we are to judge by the Report of the Holt Committee I am bound to say that it is extremely unsatisfactory.
§ The right hon. Gentleman has to-day made a concession. I do not want to say that the right hon. Gentleman has made the concession because of political pressure, because I think it a loathsome idea myself that Members of Parliament should be subjected, where the Civil Service of this country is concerned, to political pressure, and I intend before I sit down to make a proposition which I believe will haves the assent of the greater part of the Committee. The right hon. Gentleman has made a concession of £75,000, affecting 25,800 postal workers of all classes, and, so far as the postal servants in my own Constituency are concerned, I want to thank the right hon. Gentleman for that concession, but I hope the Committee will not think that that concession ought to prevent us from putting forward the grievances which no party in this House presents, but the grievances which postal servants present to us, who, under our present system, they are justified in approaching in order to redress their grievances. The postal system of this country is, I think, and I am sure we all believe, the best postal system in the world. I think that we have the most efficient system that exists. Anyone who has lived in any other country realises the extraordinary efficiency of our postal system—how a person can receive a letter in the morning, reply to it, have an answer by six o'clock in the ordinary way through the post, and send a reply to that letter which is delivered by half-past nine at night. That does not occur and cannot occur in any other country in the world. What has made that system so efficient? It is partly due, of course, to the organising ability of the British people. It is also due to the wonderful sense of duty which our postal servants represent in our national organisation. All that is to the good, but I am bound to say under our 1906 present system the fact that postal servants have to approach Members of Parliament in order to secure adjustment of wages, in order to induce reclassification upon a just system, is bad from every point of view. I am certain that the postal servants do not like it, and I am certain that we do not like it.
§ This Committee is fairly well filled today. I would not like to seareh every heart, but I am quite certain that most of us present have come here, as I have come here, in the first place, because we have a vivid sense that the well-being and comfort and welfare of the workers of lower and higher grades in our national servies is a matter of the deepest interest, and ought to be a matter of the greatest responsibility for everyone in this House. But also, I confess, I um here, and most of us are here, I relieve, because of the political pressure brought to bear. Both of those things play their parts, and the Postmaster-General himself I do not think represents solely the idea of benevolent and kindly consideration for the welfare of the postal servants. That is no diminution of appreciation of his qualities. He has made to-day a concession which I venture to say is the result of political pressure. I hope the right hon. Gentleman does not think I am trying to do him an injustice, but it would be a most surprising thing if the Postmaster-General was not affected by the political pressure which is brought to bear on him, and it would really be a reproach and a stigma upon the influence which we possess in this House. I am afraid, if it is not the result of political pressure, that the postal servants will think very little of us in the future. The right hon. Gentleman has given us a very flourishing account of the affairs of the Post Office, the profits of which are greater than they have ever been before. The telephone gives a profit and the telegraphs a loss. He has accounted for all. The right hon. Gentleman, or the Government, or no Member of Parliament, can properly give the reply that if the postal servants deserve higher pay, or, if it hung in the balance, that it should not be given because of the enormous expense attached. The Post Office is the milch cow for the Government. It is the business concern that is earning money for the Government every day in order to pay expenses of administration which we, every one of us, would have to pay out of our pockets if this milch cow of the Government did not give the necessary pail of financial milk.1907
§ If it can be proven that the Holt Committee did not do justice, the right hon. Gentleman cannot fall back upon the position that the country cannot afford it. The country can afford it, because I, for one, believe that the Post Office should not be a purely commercial organisation for national profit, and from that standpoint I think the right hon. Gentleman would not have an adequate case. We have had continual unrest and dissatisfaction, and it has become chronic. The Hobhouse Committee, which represented a vast amount of work on the part of the right hon. Gentleman and fitted him, if I may say so, for the high position which he, has attained, produced a Report which was unsatisfactory. There were constant protests, constant claims made. The Holt Committee produced a Report which gave advantages, as the awards of the Hobhouse Committee gave advantages. Is it not an extraordinary thing that the bitterness that has come since the production of the Holt Committee Report, and the application of its awards by the right hon. Gentleman or his predecessor, has been greater than it was after the Hobhouse Report? There must be something wrong, and there is, as I believe, something absolutely wrong in our system. The Holt Committee's Report to my mind is a monument of industry and of devotion and of indefatigable care, as the Hobhouse Report was. The Holt Committee, however, to my mind shows in its conclusions how difficult it was to digest the whole of the evidence, to organise their conclusions, when you had in connection with that evidence representatives from so many bodies in connection with the postal service; and with all the grades and all the ramifications of the postal service, one can realise how absolutely impossible it is for any Committee like the Holt Committee within a few months to unravel the series of grievances, and testimony bearing on those grievances, and to adjust its awards fairly and equitably in all directions.
§ I believe it to be humanly impossible, and to throw the responsibility upon the Postmaster-General, how much more impossible! He is here to-day, another one will be here to-morrow. He has replaced one who was in power for a couple of years, and who also replaced one who was in power for a couple of years. What is the Postmaster-General? He is the manager of a great commercial concern. He is at the head of a great scientific organisation. He has his Parliamentary 1908 responsibilities. He governs telephones and telegraphs. He has to keep his great organisation in the same condition as a great store like Harrods or Self ridge's, with this difference, that he has a thousand branches, or five thousand branches, which are under his immediate directions, and it is impossible for him to be the judge, the final and adequate judge, of the adjustment of wages and at the same time to perform his duty as manager and administrator. The Holt Committee's Report I regard as unsatisfactory, in spite of all the good work done by the Committee, in the sense that its award was not in accord with the rules which it laid down for its own guidance, namely, that it should consider the cost of living, the standard of living, and the value of the work. The result is that the Holt Committee has, in effect, awarded 4½ per cent. for the present, and ultimately 7 per cent. after twenty years. The Committee very properly took into consideration the Report, of the Board of Trade that, in regard to eighteen articles of consumption and rent, the cost of living had increased by 11.3 per cent. since the last Committee's Report. It looks unfair on the surface, if the cost of living has increased by 11.3 per cent., to grant only 4½ per cent. now and 7 per cent. in the course of twenty years. It has been proven throughout the country that the cost of living cannot be contracted to those eighteen articles of consumption and rent alone. I do not think that the Holt Committee took sufficiently into consideration other expenses and the increased cost of living in other directions. There was the matter of clothing; there was also the matter of rates, which the working man has to pay, directly or indirectly.
Sir G. PARKER
I do not think that that is the case exactly. I know that the Holt Committee concluded that rates were included, but it is not the case in all directions. Nor did the Committee take into account gas or coal. I have cut out a report from the newspaper of a meeting at Bishopsgate yesterday, at which it was stated that the cost of the weekly washing for poor people has increased by 25 per cent. That is only one item. Every man in this House knows that, no matter how humble the household, there has been an increase, not only in the cost of those articles dealt with by the Holt Committee, but also in the whole expenses of domestic life. Every Member 1909 knows that, no matter what his income may be. What I venture to suggest is, while finding no fault with the Holt Committee—it represented both sides of the House and all parties—that if it had to reconsider the matter now, in the light of subsequent criticism, many of its awards would be more satisfactory. In the light of subsequent criticism it would probably have given a larger percentage of increase directly than it has given. I know that postal servants have asked for an increase of 15 per cent. But we all ask for more than we are likely to get. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] I think the postal servants themselves recognise, when asking for 15 per cent. increase when the cost of living in regard to certain articles and rent represents only 11.3 per cent., that they are little likely to get it from this House, not from any lack of sympathy, but because the cost to the taxpayer under the award of the Holt Committee would be immensely greater, and, as I think personally, much too great. At the same time, the gap between 15 per cent. and the 7 per cent. ultimately to be given is very great indeed. The standard of living in this country for all classes, and particularly for those on the lower levels, has gone up. There is not a working-class family in which, largely owing to the spread of education since 1870, the standard of living has not gone up—that is to say, there is a demand for a higher scale of living.
I do not think that the Holt Committee, in its conservative view of the situation, took that quite sufficiently into consideration. I suppose the members of the Committee said, "Postal servants have continuous employment; therefore, a certain percentage must be deducted for that. Postal servants have better conditions as to pensions, and some percentage must be knocked off for that." I agree that these are considerations, but I do not think that they are adequate. I think the Holt Committee might well have gone further in view of subsequent criticism, which has shown that there are large numbers of men on the lower levels who, under the Holt Committee's Report, receive no advantage whatever. May I cite a few? There are 2,000 men employed in the Factory and Stores Department who have no increase in pay. There are 2,000 on the engineering side of the Post Office, thousands of sorting clerks and postmen, a large number of supervisors of grades and overseers, and more than half the salaried sub-postmasters, who get absolutely no increase, 1910 or, as in the case of supervisors, only a very slight increase. There are thousands of men who get no increase whatever, in spite of the fact that the Holt Committee in making their award were to take into account the fact that the cost of living had gone up by 11.3 per cent. The Postmaster-General gave us a list of benefits conferred by the Holt Committee and his awards upon the recommendations of that Committee. I have given a list of those who receive no awards of any kind from the recommendations of that Committee. There are some 2,000 male telegraphists in the Central Telegraph Office who get no increase of their maximum. There are women telegraphists and sorting clerks, approximating to 6,000 in number, who receive no increase of any kind. I have already mentioned about 12,000 who get no increase. To-day a concession has been announced. I cannot say on the spur of the moment what is the absolute value of that concession; I doubt whether any member of this Committee can say what its value is; but I do say that it comes very late. It is only after threats of a most serious kind—threats to stop a public service entirely.
Sir G. PARKER
I am going to put it as the right hon. Gentleman wants it to be put. The concession is only given after threats of that kind, which I am bound to say were discountenanced by the leaders of the postal servants, and it was decided not to have a national strike. But it was after that kind of threat, which I am absolutely certain was the result, not of mere agitation based on the desire to get something more out of the Government, but of the feeling that they had been treated unfairly—however unwittingly, still unfairly and inequitably. It was because of that that the bitterness was engendered. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has made this concession because of the threat of a national strike; he was not in power at that time; but I do say that as a result of this intense agitation, culminating in a threat most dangerous to the interests of the State, followed up by pressure of a serious kind upon Members of Parliament and upon the Government itself, the right hon. Gentleman has made a concession to-day, for which we say "Thank you." But like all people who have received gifts which are inadequate to their needs and deserts, we ask for more. I have read out a list to 1911 the right hon. Gentleman. In addition to those to which I have already referred, there are some 3,000 auxiliary postmen who until to-day have had no increase under the Holt Committee's Report. It must be borne in mind that it is the Holt Committee's Report we are discussing. I do not want to discuss these Estimates, nor the reason of the concession which the Postmaster-General has made. In the provinces there are 6,000 auxiliary postmen who have had no increase of pay under the Holt Committee's Report. This is the case in spite of the fact that the cost of living on certain articles has gone up by 11.3 per cent., and I venture to say that if you take into account other things you will find that the cost of living has gone up by at least 13 per cent. Moreover, the Holt Committee were supposed to have taken into consideration the increased standard of living, the larger demands made in the matter of education, recreation, and all those things which the working class ought to enjoy as far as possible. More than half the salaried sub-postmasters receive no advantage, as only those in receipt of £100 a year or less will obtain any benefit whatever.
I do not know whether these figures are correct or not, but they have been put before me, and if they are correct hon. Members need not feel any compunction in pressing any just claims on the part of auxiliary postmen, supervisors, engineers, and other branches which demand an increase. In 1905 the wages of postal servants in relation to the total revenue was 48 per cent.; in 1913 the percentage was 47.23, while profits have advanced from nearly £4,000,000 to nearly £6,000,000. It is true that the expenditure of the Government has been great, and administration has developed; but the argument need not be used that any extra concession will alter the proportion of profit which the right hon. Gentleman can hand over to the Exchequer to help pay the cost of the administration of this great community. Before I sit down I want to say a word or two on the system of which I complain. I believe the system to be wrong. I believe that in the system of classification—hon. Members on both sides of the House I think will agree with me—you have got, for the purpose of adjusting wages, the greatest anomaly is the postal service. Take Birkenhead and Liverpool. You have postal servants there in equal communities, as it were, receiving different 1912 wages. You have got postal servants in Liverpool getting higher wages than the postal servants in Birkenhead, although in many cases the Liverpool postal servants live at Birkenhead. The whole classification I believe to be bad. I believe the unit system to be bad. I think it really an extraordinary thing—it is not done in any other commercial organisation—that you pay postal servants according to the amount of profit made by the individual post office in which they are. Let me take an example, which has been handed to me to-day by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester. Take Colchester and Ipswich. At Colchester you have got sorting clerks and telegraphists belonging to Class III., Provincial. They receive a maximum of 50s. per week. About 50 per cent. of them receive the maximum. The remainder get 48s. They now get nothing.
It takes sixteen years to reach the maximum. The cost of living applies to seniors as well as to juniors. The complexity of the work has increased, not only in Colchester and Ipswich, but in other places—the work of postal servants has generally increased. At Ipswich, which is in Class II., because they had more work in the office—that is because more profit goes to the Exchequer from the office—the maximum is 54s. per week, against 50s. at Colchester. The amount of work is, in effect, identical. The postman has to cover the same ground. He has to fulfil the same number of hours at his work. I venture to say that any honest working-man would rather be busy to the full during the hours he is at work than not busy during those hours, if he is a real sportsman—as I believe most working men are at their work. You have that intolerable classification at Ipswich whereby sorting clerks and telegraphists get a maximum of 4s. higher than in Colchester, while the cost of living is higher in Colchester than in Ipswich. Colchester is classed at 105, whilst Ipswich is 99, according to the Board of Trade classification. What I am saying about Colchester applies, I think to numberless other places; to scores and scores of places throughout the country, and that is why I say I believe this system of classification to be radically wrong. I do not think there is a member of this Committee to whom this grievance has not been put by the postal workers in his own district, not for himself necessarily, but for the whole class of postal workers.
I am going to suggest that the Government should take into consideration 1913 the question of a new kind of classification entirely—classification according to the value of the work done. It ought not to be that the wages of a postal servant should be decided by the amount of profit which his particular branch turns over to the Exchequer. Is it not clearly absurd that there should be seven different scales of payment for the London district? The postal servants are asking, and as I believe soundly and fairly asking, for the same wages to be paid throughout the twelve mile area, which corresponds to the building trades' area, while the county council have a twenty miles' area around London. I am only a layman—I am not an expert: most of us in this House are not experts—but our poor limited intelligences are unable with such information as we have, and from any explanation Ave have received, to grasp why there should be seven different scales of pay in what ought to be the London area. It seems to me that in all the surrounding suburbs the cost of living is practically the same. I do believe that the Post master-General would not only be well advised, but would be doing what is fair and just if this anomaly was put right. In my belief, you will never get an absolutely fair adjustment under the present system. There will be the same trouble five years from now as there is to-day. For myself, I favour the idea of a Permanent Statutory Commission outside this House, as there is in Australia, which would take note of every change from day to day, from week to week, and from year to year, in the cost and standard of living and other pertinent considerations. If a Labour Government ever came into power in this country, I believe they will do what the Labour party did in Australia— establish a Statutory Commission—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—and so remove this question—
Sir G. PARKER
I do not want now to outer into that. I am putting what I believe to be a most important question for this Committee and for this country to decide: Not for the purpose of being relieved from political pressure—
Sir G. PARKER
I think it is a custom in this House when an hon. Member makes a statement on his honour that it should be accepted.
§ Mr. JOWETT
The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood my interjection. I did not mean that he was putting forward his suggestion in bad faith, but that the reason that actuated the suggestion at its source in Australia or elsewhere is the one which the hon. Member repudiates.
Sir G. PARKER
I do not advocate it in order that we may be relieved of political pressure. I believe that political pressure is a bad thing for the Civil Service. It is bad for this House, for I am absolutely certain that concessions are sometimes given hastily on the Front Pencil opposite. The result is that other interests are disturbed by that hasty decision to give a benefit, and that decision is not of real value under such circumstances. I am going to make another suggestion. We cannot have that at once. That must be the decision of the whole Parliament. It means a radical change in the whole organisation of the Post Office; but I believe when it does come that this anomalous system of classification will disappear and greater justice will be done to the postal workers. I have only pointed out a few of the anomalies that still exist after the findings of the Holt Committee. There are hon. Members on both sides of the House who could present a series of grievances and injustices since the Holt Committee reported.
Sir G. PARKER
I do not want to enter further into that question. Personally, I certainly should not if the service were removed from the immediate responsibility of this House. There are enormous grievances which the right hon. Gentleman has not dealt with at all. The Post Office Estimates ought not to have been put down; we ought to have had the Holt Report quite independently. I do hope the right hon. Gentleman will deal with the grievances which have been poured into his hands by the score, and perhaps he will reply to myself and other hon. Members. Agitation will go on after this discussion to-day in spite of the £75,000 granted to all grades of the postal service, and the situation of the Government will 1915 be just as unsatisfactory to-morrow as it is to-day, unless one thing is done. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should appoint a Committee of three persons, consisting of the Chief Industrial Commissioner, a representative of the Post Office, and a representative of the postal workers, to consider in how far the Holt Committee have failed to meet the grievances of many of the branches of the postal service, and to consider also in how far the awards already made by the Postmaster-General either meet the recommendations of the Holt Committee or have failed to meet the grievances which still exist after the awards of the Holt Committee. I suggest that for this reason, that it may do something—I believe it will do much—to show the Postmaster-General that he and his predecessors so far have been unable to see the very complicated nature of the whole business, and that there still remains a vast number of inequalities which have not been adjusted. I am not now speaking from my side of the House; I am speaking upon my own responsibility. Whatever is done, I think that ought to be done. Meanwhile, as these things stand at the present time, the grievances, well known and well understood, of the postal servants have only partially been adjusted by the Holt Committee and have only partially been met by the Postmaster-General. Unless satisfaction is obtained in the case of these luminously flagrant injustices, the agitation which has begun will go on. There are many of us in this House who are so convinced of the justice of certain of the claims made by the postal servants that since we are Members of Parliament, and since pressure might be brought to bear upon us now, we will continue to make it difficult for the Postmaster-General to lead a quiet and happy life. We will do this in the interests of the workers of this country. I make that threat because I am absolutely certain that on both sides of the House the spirit behind my threat is shared by most Members of the Committee.
I desire, in the first place, to join with the hon. Member who has just resumed his seat in regard to what I believe was the promise made by the Government as regards the discussion in which we are taking part to-day. I think I am not mistaken when I allege that the undertaking given to us was that we 1916 should have a day for the discussion of the Holt Report. I make the claim that that, statement and promise has not been fulfilled. This can in no way be said to be a day for the discussion of the Holt Report. I know, of course, it is the intention of the Government to deal with the Holt Report, and I dare say every Member who wishes to take part in the Debate desires to deal with the subject-matter of the Holt Report, but that does not make it a discussion of the Holt Report, and the reason I say that is because there is a real difference in regard to our power and freedom of discussion under present circumstances. What we wanted is not to discuss or criticise particularly, except in so far as we think it deserves it, the action of the right hon. Gentleman in giving effect to the Report—what we wanted to do was to express an opinion upon the Report itself free from any trammels or Government pressure. What is the position to-day? The position, I take it, is this, that many Members of the Liberal party who feel very strongly about the Report and the result to the workers will be somewhat frightened, or at least tied up by the question of party loyalty, so much so that they will not want to express themselves, I will not say dare to express themselves, certainly not quite as freely as they otherwise would do. I protest against that alteration because I believe it is a serious departure from both the letter and the spirit of the promise given to us.
I, for my part, want to deal with the question mainly from the standpoint of the cost of living. The hon. Gentleman who preceded me has already argued upon these lines, and I want, if I may, to supplement and amplify the arguments he has used. Before I do so, I would like to make one or two general remarks in regard to what I may call the operative parts of the Report—that is, Clauses 14 to 17, which lay down the general conditions of wage basis. One of the counts in the terms of reference is that comparison shall be made with those in outside employment, and I was rather interested to find that the Committee say:—The Committee found it extremely difficult to compare the condition of Post Office servants with those of any outside employment.I was not in the least surprised to read that, but I was a little surprised to read the next paragraph, which runs:—In spite of several challenges to the witnesses on behalf of the staff, no evidence was adduced to support the proposition that Post Office servants suffered any disadvantage in the matter of wages as compared with persons engaged in other occupations.1917 That is to say, that while the Committee themselves were totally unable to act up to that part of their instructions which had to do with the comparison of the conditions in which the Post Office men work with those outside, they felt still free to indulge in a vote of censure upon those who gave evidence before the Committee because they were unable to do that which the Committee themselves failed to do. That, I think, is rather peculiar and worth noticing, because it does appear as if the Committee recognised quite well that the task set to them, so far as comparisons were concerned, was not an easy one, but they did not like to admit defeat without having a fling at someone else. I am most anxious to deal with the cost of living. I am not actuated in the least by any political pressure, but the idea struck me rather forcibly when I first heard it that we were discussing this matter to-day because of political pressure, and not because of any innate justice of the claim the men were making.
Sir G. PARKER
Perhaps the hon. Member would allow me. What I did say is this: That I was convinced my self that most of us were here because of the justice of the claim, but in order to make my future proposal clear, I was saying that I thought it was advisable that political pressure should not be exercised in the case of Civil servants, but that they had no other course under the present system, and that we were here, as we ought to be here, under that political pressure.
I do not wish to misrepresent anything the hon. Gentleman has said, and since he assures me that that is not what he meant, I withdraw the suggestion contained in my remarks that he said anything of the kind. But I know this position is held, that this question is taken up because it means votes. I have heard quite recently suggestions of that kind, although I did not, of course, think that I should be called upon to make any remarks in regard to that. As far as I am concerned, the thing that weighs with me is not how many votes it may mean, or any political considerations of that kind, but simply that the party to which I 1918 belong and with whom I work have been for many years past pointing out, when; hon. Members of both sides of the House were denying it, what we believed to be the fact, namely, that the cost of living was rising very considerably, and one of the things the Committee had to decide was how far it was justifiable to give Post Office employés a rise in wages because of the rise in the cost of living. I suppose every member of the Committee has read the Report, or, at least, the preliminary parts of the Report. If any Member has not, he has unlimited opportunity afforded' him of gathering all the points upon which the postal servants are complaining in regard to this Report. Paragraph 15 points; out quite clearly, so far as the prices of standard commodities are concerned, that there has been a rise of 13.7 per cent. When that is weighed with the rent paid it comes out at a rise of 11.3 per cent. Now the whole complaint of the postal servants centres round that point, namely, that here you have a Committee which, dealing with Board of Trade figures—figures, of course, for which they are not responsible, but since they have adopted them they accept the responsibility—admitting an increase in the cost of living of 11.3, and then proceeding to give recommendations which register an increase, not of 11.3, but of 4½ approximately, though ultimately probably rising to 7 per cent. in seventeen to twenty-one years hence. The position would be open to doubt as to what the Committee meant if they had-been less explicit, but they tell us quite clearly why they have done it. They say in the succeeding paragraph:—It must also be borne in mind that the increased prices do not affect the whole expenditure of the individual.This is a point, I think, of the utmost importance, because, observe, what is the suggestion in that phrase? If it means anything at all, it means this: That outside the articles covered by the 11.3 you have articles which are stationary in price-or falling in price. I Venture to say there is no one in this Committee, when the-matter is put in that plain way, who would venture to defend such a proposition for a moment. We have, however, some little guidance in this matter, because we have it on the authority of the Board of Trade, which issued, if my memory serves me-right, in September of last year, an important and very illuminating Report dealing with the rise in the cost of living, the rise in rents, and also in wages. May I say with regard to certain remarks made 1919 by the hon. Member, I think he was in error with regard to his statement about rent and rates. I think in this Report rent and rates were taken as one figure, and treated as falling and rising together, for the purpose of the Report, so that the Committee, in dealing with that point, would naturally take the figure and system of grouping adopted by the Board of Trade.
Fortunately, as I say, we have some guidance in this matter. The Board of Trade, in the document to which I referred—Command Paper 6995—pointed out that so far as eighteen articles of food: are concerned, they covered 61 per cent. of a man's income—that is, taking the average wages that may be applied to Post Office servants, the amount they spend upon the eighteen articles scheduled for food covers 61 per cent. of the man's expenditure, leaving, of course, 39 per cent. to be still accounted for. If I understand the attitude of the Committee aright, it is this: That the 39 per cent. covers articles which are not rising and which, of course, the inference is, may be falling. I want to prove by a simple illustration that that is a contention which cannot be supported in any way. I have taken out of the White Paper just issued in regard to questions of wages and conditions of service in the Post Office two of the scales. I had no particular object in taking these two particular scales except that they were moderate wages and were the first I came to. The wage that I took is a maximum of 37s. per week, and then I calculated what 61 per cent. of 37s. was, and I found, of course, it came to 22s. 6d. Now that covers eighteen articles of food in the wage of a man who is earning a total of 37s. Then I said, "That man will want coal. That is not covered by these eighteen articles," and I put down what I thought—and, of course, these Were arbitrary figures—would be fairly representative and typical for a man of that wage, and I put down 2s. 6d. for coal per week. That is one of the articles in the margin. No one can suggest coal has not gone up in price; we all know by experience the exact contrary is the fact. Then I put down 4s. for boots and clothing I think hon. Members will agree that for a married man, even if he has clothes found, 4s. for boots and clothing is certainly not an extravagant estimate if he has a wife and two or three children. I 1920 know the price of clothing is going up, whether the price of boots is going up or not I do not know. The Report shows that clothing during that period has advanced by 14 per cent., therefore we have two items which have rapidly swallowed up the margin which the Committee have contemptuously ignored—perhaps, that is too strong, and I will say that they have set that matter aside, although there still remains the important point of rent and rates. Taking those two as one item, I have put down 6s. 6d. for that. Hon. Members will not think that is unreason-bale for the weekly rent of a man earning 37s. per week. It happens to be the rent I paid when I was getting a shilling more than the wage I am actually dealing with. That brings us to 35s. 6d. out of 37s., leaving a margin of 1s. 6d.
Wittingly or unwittingly, the Committee, have been treading on very dangerous ground, and they have decided upon principles and by methods which after careful consideration cannot commend themselves to Members of this Committee. I will take the wage of 29s. and follow the same procedure in regard to it. I take 61 per cent. of 29s., and that is 17s. 6d., and that covers the eighteen food articles which we have in mind. In this case, instead of 2s. 6d. for coal, I put down 2s., on the assumption that the man who earns 29s. would in all probability not pay quite so much for coal as a man who has 37s. per week. Similiarly, when I come to boots and clothing, I put down 3s. instead of 4s. as in the other case, and rent and rates I lump together at 5s., that being a very reasonable amount, and, if it errs at all, it is on the side of modesty. Here, again, you get a total of 27s. 6d., every copper of which is spent upon items which are rising and none of which are stationary, leaving just 1s. 6d. to cover incidentals. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about travelling?"] I have not counted travelling at all, because one of the difficulties is to know how the wage is made up and how it is expended. I once tried to live on 22s. a week for two years, and I am afraid I made a miserable failure of it.
The difficulty is, when you divide and sub-divide, to know how these people really exist at all on a small wage and pay their way. The Committee, in dealing with the margin which is not swallowed up by those articles and commodities which are rising in price, have unwittingly destroyed the effect of their finding, and 1921 have put themselves in this peculiar position, that they have not followed up their recommendations or their findings in regard to the rise in the cost of living by embodying it in the recommendations they make with regard to increased pay. I want to deal briefly with one or two points which were mentioned by the hon. Member who preceded me. One of the remarkable parts of the Report is that such a large body, and sometimes entire classes, have been left out, and have had no advance of any kind whatsoever. For instance, there is the London telegraphists counter clerks, who have not had any advance at all. I know there is an idea abroad that the pressure behind this demand comes from the higher ranks of the service. For my part I am not so particular whether that is so or not. I make no difference between the lower paid and the higher paid man, except that I have a natural sympathy for the bottom dog. I always have had, and I cannot help it, because it is part of my nature as well as part of my creed. But that apart, I do not know whether the pressure is coming from one place or the other. What I suggest is that all employés of the Post Office have alike suffered by reason of the rise in the cost of living, and if all have suffered all ought to be taken into consideration and relief offered where necessary. I am not exactly upon weak ground in making that claim. I want to refer the Committee to a statement which F extracted from a Report of the Board of Trade, and it is as follows:—Any percentage increase in wages owing to a rise in food prices and rent should be, roughly, in inverse proportion to income the income of increases in pay going to the lower rank.I associate myself with that in its entirety, and I have the authority of the Post Office employés representative when I say that they recognise that as a perfectly logical, fair, and equitable basis upon which to proceed, for the simple reason that the more a man's wages and the bigger the percentage, the bigger is likely to be the margin which is left after necessities have been provided. Therefore, it is only equitable that the lower paid men should be treated rather more generously than the higher paid men if there is any difference at all. I do not think that justifies the Committee in saying that the higher paid men shall have no relief whatever, and that they ought to be left out of the calculation altogether. Take the London telegraphists. As far as I have been able to gather they have had no advance, and this is the peculiar part of their case. They were asked to submit evidence as to 1922 how their conditions compared with those of a similar class outside. They willingly, and I should rather imagine joyously, came forward to the Committee and submitted their argument. It was to the effect that cable and telegraph companies outside, such as the Eastern Telegraph Company, who employ men doing similar work to the London telegraphists, were paid a maximum of £270 per annum, while those in the employ of the Post Office Department had £165. That is a diference of £105. I do not think any hon. Member will suggest that that is a reasonable difference to be observed between employés of a public Department, even if they do get pensions and free medical service, and one or two other perquisites of that kind. No one can suggest that that is a reasonable margin to observe between those two classes. In my earlier remarks I pointed out how the Committee said that none of these classes had been able to establish the fact that they were unfavourably situated as compared with outside men. Here at least was one case, and it is rather significant that there is no reference to that evidence in the Report in any way whatsoever. These men have to submit to an increase in the cost of living just as other people have.
I think one of the most important parts of the Report, so far as the advance in wages is concerned, is that which deals with the women. I do not know whether I am quite right or not in saying that none of the women, either in London or the provinces, have received any consideration whatsoever. Whether the argument is that women, not having families to support, do not come within the disabilities of the rise in the cost of living, I do not know, but what I have stated is certainly the case, so far as I have been able to observe. There is another point which ought not to be lost sight of, namely, the rise in the cost of living. If there is to be any claim by the Committee that they have met that point in any degree whatsoever, I think they ought to be able, as a result of the consideration of this Report, to establish, firstly, that all members of the postal service had been able to get an advance; and, secondly, that they were able to get that advance now. The peculiar part of it is that in no class no present advantage is to be received, but the advantage is to be given on the maximum, and the maximum is to be reached from the time of entering the service, from thirteen up to a period of twenty-one years. There are whole 1923 classes and whole blocks in classes that have been in a way, I will not say singled out, but the net effect of what has been done is that they get no present relief. It would not be so bad if the increment going up to the maximum was a yearly increment, but in most cases, if not in all, it is the three years' increment. It is quite possible that while thousands of Post Office servants to-day are reading in their newspapers that they have been so wonderfully and generously treated by this Report, they know from their own experience that not another penny is coming into their pockets, and probably will not do so for another two years. That, I submit, does not justify the Committee in claiming so very much when so much of it is in the sweet by and by. Like other people, Post Office servants want to live in the present, and they are not concerned overmuch with the future in making comparisons with their present needs.
I want to say a word or two about the auxiliary postmen. This is a very unfortunate class. I observe that there are five classes. The first of them receive a wage of 5½d. per hour, and that goes down until you reach 4¾d. per hour. That class are going to receive one farthing per hour advance, and I hope those people will not go delirious with joy all at once at having been treated so handsomely. I would like to emphasise the point that 74 per cent. or 75 per cent. of the auxiliary postmen belong to Class V., who are working for 4¾d. per hour. I believe that the Postmaster-General in his generosity has granted certain relief to certain of the low-paid workers, and, if I understood him rightly, the auxiliary workers are to receive advantage pro rata. I believe that when they have got their pro rata advance, they will be in receipt of the magnificent sum of 5.08d. per hour. I want to say this without offence, if I can. It is a scandal and a disgrace for a Government to employ men at 5d. per hour. Personally, I am sick to death of hearing the phrase, "The Government, a model employer." What better ambition could a Government and a State Department have than to make themselves the model to which private employers could approximate? I was rather struck by the revelation of the Postmaster-General—I do not know whether it struck him in the' same way—when he gave us those figures telling us that 25,800 of the lower-paid servants of the Post Office are 1924 to be raised to a minimum of 22s. I do not know whether the full significance of that statement was understood by him. It means, I take it, that there are at the present time 25,800 persons working for less than 22s. That is one in nine of the total staff of the Post Office. It means that one in nine of those employed by the Post Office will, even when the increase has taken place, be working under conditions of sweated labour. It is nothing at all to be proud of.
I was rather interested to find in the hon. Gentleman opposite a modern equivalent of Oliver Twist. He said, "Yes, we thank you for this, and we ask you for more." I should think we do ask for more when there is an attempt to satisfy us with a miserable 22s. per week as the minimum of 25,000 workers. There are many other classes to which I want to refer briefly, because it all emphasises the fact that the grievance is not an isolated one, and does not refer to a few men here and there. It seems to refer more or less practically to every grade. I find that the Engineering and Stores Department, the department in which I surmise the majority of those 25,000 persons, or at least a big proportion of them are to be found, are to be treated in various ways. Some of them are having allowances stopped, and others are having to submit to a reduction in the hours of labour, which brings a reduction in the total weekly wage. Here is a man who ordinarily before the Holt Committee reported worked 50½ hours per week at a rate of 6½d. per hour. That, of course, was a wage of £1 7s. 4d. There is nothing very extravagant about that. He would not be able to go to Monte Carlo on the money, though he might, with strict economy, muddle through somehow. That man, instead of working 50½ hours, is dropped to 48. I am a believer in the 48-hour week and do not want to put any obstacle in its way, but I suggest that the Post Office have taken a niggardly view in saying to that man, "We will compel you to have a 48-hour week, but you must sacrifice your wages for the odd 2½ hours." It is a thing of which this Committee ought to express its disapproval. It means a reduction of Is. 4d. per week.
I can quite understand the representative of the Post Office saying, "Yes, but he is not in that position now, because we have given him 1s. since." Yes, they appear to have been so ashamed of this and the Report on which they are acting that from 25th November of last year they have 1925 been giving the extra shilling, and the man now, instead of losing 1s. 4d., is losing 4d. per week. There is, with regard to this class a serious complaint of a reduction in the lodging allowance. When working away in other districts and unable to get home at night they had an allowance of 28s. per week, but that now is graded down to 7s. 6d., a loss, if a man is working away from home for a week, and cannot return at night, and has to depend upon the lodgings he can get, of 20s. 6d. per week. The meanest thing is this: We know what wages the labourers are getting, because the right hon. Gentleman has informed us this afternoon that some of them are below 22s., and on the average, I think he said, the rise in wages will be Is. 6d. Some of them therefore are working for 20s. 6d. per week, and I believe that they get it once a week. These people had a night-lodging allowance of 10d., but now it has dropped down to 9d. I do not know whether the Department are proud of being employers of men whom they treat so handsomely that they have to go to the common doss-house if they are to get a night's lodging anywhere.
I must say a word or two about the telephone employés. These people have a very serious complaint, because they were transferred only a very little time ago—I think in January, 1912—and they had a guarantee, when they were transferred from the old National Telephone Company to the control of the Post Office, given them by the late Postmaster-General, that they would not in any way suffer by reason of that transfer. They have suffered in every conceivable way. A year-after the transfer a deputation went to see the Department, and their grievances were so many and so important that the Department gave them three days in which to formulate them. Two thousand separate cases were formulated, and up to the present time not one of them has been settled to the satisfaction of the people who are complaining. Wholesale reductions in scales are to be found. For instance, the male clerical staff are graded up to £150, whereas under the old order they had £182. It is so right throughout. Some idea of the scope may be gathered from the fact that there are men to-day who have been regraded and reclassified by the Post Office who are receiving a bigger wage than the maximum of their own class and of the class above in addition. I can only assume that regrading has gone on with 1926 the one object, that now entrants shall come in at a lower scale, but the older and transferred men have to keep the wage they had, and they are graded to a class to which they do not properly belong, and have a bigger wage even than the class above that in which they serve.
There is only one class left, and that is the sub-postmasters. They have none of the privileges and perquisites which apply to the ordinary established worker. They have no holidays, no pensions, no sick pay or free medical attendance, or anything of the sort, and I have only to mention one fact for everyone to see that they come within the scope of the argument based upon the rise in the cost of living, just as other people. They have to keep up their offices, either buying premises or paying rents; they have to pay rates and all the rest of it; and all the incidentals in the rise in the cost of living really applies to them. One of the difficulties of the postal service in regard to the interpretation of this Report is, as we heard advanced this afternoon, the saying that the aggregate amounts of the present increases is £640,000. The postal service, reckon it how they will, cannot make it come to that or anything like it. They have applied to the Department several times for the particulars as to how this huge sum is made up, and they have been told that they would be supplied, but the figures are not forthcoming. That promise has been made several times. I could not help being reminded of the promise when, with regard to the Poulsen system, the Postmaster-General said that they had often asked for a demonstration, and it had often been promised, but it had never been given. That seems to be the position between himself and the Post Office staff.
I have here a rather illuminating letter, dated 7th October of last year, sent from the General Post Office to the General Secretary of the Sub-Postmasters' Federation. It sets forth particulars of the increases the Department are going to bear on account of the sub-postmasters. It starts off with a statement that the conversion to salaried sub-officers will cost the Department £10,000, but it is obvious, if you are going to convert a scale office, where a man works by himself upon the conditions referred to, into a salaried office where he has to pay a salary to a young man and a young woman assistant, the sub-postmaster is not going to get very much out of it, 1927 although it may be true that it is costing the Department £10,000. The Postmaster himself, as a matter of fact, has reduced that by £8,000, He says now that the benefit accruing to sub postmasters will only be £2,000, although the extra cost of £8,000 will be thrown upon the Department. The national insurance work is put down as £23,000. I submit that ought not to be counted. It is entirely new work. It is not work which they have been doing for long years past, and therefore it ought not to come within the purview of those things which are advances to the staff. There is an item of £50,350 for telegraph work. I am assured by the sub-postmasters that the alteration from the Morse telegraph as a means of conveying messages to the telephone is going on so rapidly that in a few years' time there will practically be no telegraph instruments left. The telephone is taking its place, and is much easier and cheaper. These people, therefore, out of that £50,000, will get perhaps £5,000. Out of the £140,580 which the Post Office declare it is going to cost them to make the changes, the poor sub-postmasters themselves will receive less than half of it, £64,260. That is rather remarkable, because it does show there is a good deal of indecision, and a good deal of misconception about this matter. I think Post Office servants of all ranks have good reason for feeling anything but easy about their treatment in the future.
I want to support the suggestion made by the hon. Member opposite. It came, of course, from the postal servants themselves. They are most anxious to find a way out of these difficulties. They have no desire to create any friction, no desire to threaten strikes, or anything of that kind. All their desire is from what they believe to be justice and fair treatment. It may be argued, of course, that the right hon. Gentleman did argue, that they had had two Reports—the Hobhouse Report and the Holt Report. The first did not suit them, and neither does the second. That was, briefly, the position which the right hon. Gentleman outlined. It looks a rather formidable indictment, but when you have a Committee which puts boldly into print that the cost of living is so much, and then proceeds to recommend an advance on the wage scales altogether different, and very much lower, there is at least some excuse for the postal servants being in a state of dissatisfaction. I want to make it quite 1928 clear what it is they want. If the right hon. Gentleman will turn to paragraphs 14–17, he will see their point quite clearly. It may be divided into three parts. First, they say here is a statement that the cost of living is so much, but we have not been treated on that basis. We have been treated on some other basis. Secondly, we make a claim that, whether the cost of living has gone up this percentage or that percentage, there is one thing that cannot be denied, and that is that the standard of desire has risen very much more quickly than our standard of attainment. That is very clearly expressed in paragraph 16, which says, "The ideal of family life" ought to be within the reach of everybody, and that the present generation should be able to live in better style than their grandfathers. The Committee put that in black and while, but, so far as I can see, they have not made one single attempt to realise it in the programme they have laid down or the recommendations they have made. That is the second point that they want to have reconsidered with these two things in view. The third thing they want is the point raised by the hon. Member opposite that wages should be based on the value of work done. I want to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to give that proposal his very serious consideration. We do not press it with a threat. We simply bring it forward frankly as a suggestion and somewhat as a compromise. We want justice done, and I wish to state that I am authorised by the postal servants to say this, that if an Arbitration Board is set up in the way suggested by the hon. Member opposite, constituting of a representative, each of the Board of Trade, of the Post Office, and of the staff, they agree to accept the findings of that Arbitration Board upon the points that I have submitted, the points which are contained in paragraphs 14 to 17.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
Let me get a clear impression of what that offer means. The hon. Member opposite spoke of two Committees, one a statutory or permanent Committee, and another an Advisory Committee. Which Committee is the hon. Member now speaking of?
It is the second Committee mentioned by the hon. Member opposite. He suggested, first, a statutory Committee, and then went on to say that at present such a Committee might be unattainable. I am not so much concerned 1929 about the difficulties of the future. I wish to deal with those of the present. The idea is this. Here are certain points specifically laid down. The first is that your percentage does not agree with the percentage found by the Committee to represent the actual rise in prices; the second is that the ideal of family life and higher standards has been altogether left out of account; and the third is that wages should be based, at least partly, on the value of the work. As I was saying, I am authorised to state that if a Board of Arbitration is set up for the purpose of giving consideration to these conditions, the postal servants will agree to be bound by its findings thereon, and they, for their part, would expect the Department to also agree to loyally abide by any decision arrived at by the Committee. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to meet us in that way. There is one other point. It may be said that if the Post Office are to have a man on the Committee the Treasury must also have one, because its findings may involve an expenditure of money. If that be so, then the Post Office servants would like to have a second representative on the Committee, not so much because of any consideration of party voting or anything of that kind, but the right hon. Gentleman must see that if there are expert men—one from the Post Office, another from the Treasury, and still another in the chair from the Board of Trade, it would be a matter of infinite difficulty for the postal servants to put their points of view forward, as they might be overwhelmed by the weight of argument and have no chance whatever. That, briefly, is the position, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give it very serious and kindly consideration.
§ Mr. CHAPLIN
It is impossible to avoid a feeling of sympathy with the kind of appeal to which we have just listened. I am intervening for but a few moments, not for the purpose of dealing with general questions, but merely to say a word in support of that part of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Sir G. Parker), in which he called attention to certain anomalies still in existence. My hon. Friend spoke of anomalies in the payment of Post Office officials at Colchester and Harwich, two places very close together, where the amount and character of work was practically the same. A still more striking case was the disparity between Liverpool and Birkenhead. I should like to call attention to the case of two 1930 other offices, Carshalton and Wallington, both in the county of Surrey. They are no great distance apart, and the officials of these two offices are urgently demanding that they should be paid a shilling per day more than they receive at present. And why? They have a very good reason. These places are near to the town of Wimbledon, and the postal officials in that town are in receipt of 7s. per week more than those at Carshalton and Wallington! What is the reason for this distinction? It is that Wimbledon is within what is called the London district. But is that any reason why the officials in the other two places should be so much worse paid? I really see no justice whatever in it, and I am moved to intervene on this occasion in order to point out the injustice, which is only symbolical of what exists in a great many other places.
Then there is the case of the auxiliary postmen. They, too, are demanding that they should be paid a 1s. per day more than they at present receive. What is the answer to their demand? It is that the Post Office do not employ, and ought not to employ, people of this kind unless they are satisfied that they have other means of livelihood which would make their position as good as that of the other postmen. Is the Postmaster-General going to tell me that there are no auxiliary postmen appointed, and now employed by the Post Office, who are not in that position? If so, I think he is entirely mistaken, for there are great numbers of auxiliary postmen to be found who are not in that happy position, and unless the right hon. Gentleman can contradict me I shall continue to believe that that is the case. I think there is a distinct injustice in these men not being paid on the same scale as others, and it is one which I am sure the House will agree calls for a remedy. Another hardship is emphasised by the fact that there are many districts not very far from London where there is a growing increase in the rents which the people have to pay for their habitation, and there continues also to be a considerable increase in the cost of living. These things taken together show the necessity for doing away with the anomalies to which the hon. Member for Gravesend has called attention—anomalies which I have supplemented by instances drawn from my own personal knowledge, and I hope that they will receive the earnest attention of the Postmaster-General. I apologise to the Committee for having intervened in a debate on the work of a department with which I do not pretend 1931 I am specially familiar, but I felt that I was justified in thus supplementing what was said by my hon. Friend behind me.
§ Mr. HOLT
(who was indistinctly heard): I may have to trouble the Committee for some little time in the observations I shall address to them in defence of the findings of the Select Committee, over which I had the honour to preside. A great deal has been said against the Report of the Committee, and this is the first time on which the Committee has had an opportunity of speaking publicly in defence of their Report. I hope I may be able to show that, in some respects at any rate, if not in all respects, the criticism of the Committee is not well-founded. First of all, I would draw attention to the reference to the Select Committee. It was appointedto inquire into the wages and other conditions of employment of the principal classes of post Office servants, of the unestablished sub-postmasters, and of such of the smaller classes as the Committee may think necessary; and, having regard to the conditions and prospects of their employment, and, as far as may be, to the standard rate of wages and the position of other classes of workers, to report what alterations, if any, are desirable.It is very important that this Committee should have in their minds the exact terms of reference. It should also be remembered that that reference was passed by the House. It was, indeed, passed twice, because the Committee had to be set up on two occasions. It was passed without a great deal of discussion, and mast be taken as having been accepted by the House. Several criticisms have been made with regard to the Report of the Committee which seemed to have entirely failed to consider what the reference was. I submit that any criticism which is based on the proposition that the Committee ought not to have acted in accordance with their terms of reference is unfair. That criticism ought to have been raised at the time the reference was made, when every hon. Member had an opoprtunity of raising it if he thought fit. I saw a criticism in the public Press, which I rather think emanated from the hon. Member for East Northamptonshire (Mr. Chiozza Money), that the Committee ought to have taken into consideration the increasing wealth of the Income Tax paying class.
§ Mr. CHIOZZA MONEY
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend so early in his remarks, but may I ask him whether that consideration was excluded by the House?
§ Mr. HOLT
I think it is perfectly plain that the reference meant that the Committee were to consider the wages in accordance with the usual standard of payment for that class of work. The Committee were not entitled to go out of their way to find a totally new and different standard of wages for Post Office servants. If the House had intended the Committee to recommend wages based on some considerations totally different from those on which wages are usually based, then it was the business of the House to have said so explicitly in the reference, and it is not a duty which any Select Committee ought to arrogate to itself. First of all, let me refer to the question of the comparison with other work. It is quite true that it is very difficult, except in one or two isolated cases, to find anything like an exact parallel between Post Office workers and other classes of workers, but, so far as any parallel can be drawn—I shall draw attention to that later the Committee-were entirely of opinion that there was no ground for the general allegation when the sittings commenced that Post Office workers are badly paid as compared with other members of the community. My personal view is that, compared with persons doing work of a similar value and in similar positions in life, the Post Office workers are, on the whole, a very well paid class. I shall dwell on that later on. As regards the cost of living, the figures have been quoted. They were obtained by the Board of Trade, and they are not seriously disputed. The figures for rent include' rates. There is no doubt about that, for the Board of Trade were asked about it and they said they were included. I would like to remind the Committee that rates are spent for certain purposes. Persons who pay more rates presumably get more value in exchange for them. They either get this or select local authorities which waste their money for them. You cannot have it both ways. Either the money is spent for their profit, in which case the inhabitants get the profit, or else it is wasted through their own foolishness.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
Has the hon. Gentleman taken into consideration the fact that 1933 a great increase in rates is not for local purposes at all, but for national purposes?
§ Mr. HOLT
I am dealing with whatever purposes rates may be for. I suppose the hon. Member refers to education. Who gets the education? The children of these very people get the advantage. Either the money is wasted, or there is an advantage, and if there is an advantage, these are the people who get it. Therefore, I am not prepared to accept the proposition that because rates have risen, as indicated, there has been an actual loss to the people concerned. On the other hand, there has been a benefit. I ask the Committee to remember that this was in many respects a semi-judicial inquiry, that is to nay, Post Office servants came forward, made their own case, presented their witnesses, who were examined and cross-examined, and the Department did the same thing. We asked the Post Office servants what was to happen—this is a question which has to be faced—if the cost of living falls. Are wages to be raised every time the cost of living goes up, and are they not to be reducible at all? II that is to be the case, it is quite obvious there will be no limit to the scale at which wages may ultimately arrive. I ask the Committee to remember that the cost of living has not been rising for all eternity. Since statistics were first taken, the cost of living, in round figures, was, on the whole, steadily falling until 1897 or 1898, and the rise has occurred since that time. It is not a steady rise. The Committee will not fail to appreciate the fact that 1012 was a year of great prosperity, when prices were high, and any person would be very foolish indeed if he took it as a typical year, or as one showing a level of prices which are likely to remain normal. So far as I can make out from figures I have seen published in the "Economist" newspaper, on the whole, the cost of living is now showing a tendency to fall. There is no reason to believe that it will not fall in the future. Secondly, I would like to draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that the Post Office servants themselves were by no means ready to base their claim entirely on the cost of living. They had very good reason for not doing so. They asked for an advance of wages which was out of all proportion to any figure which could possibly be justified by the cost of living. Perhaps I may read one or two questions and answers on that point. Question 5977, put by the hon. Member for the Richmond 1934 Division of Yorkshire (Mr. Orde-Powlett) to a very capable witness, Mr. Ammon, was:—Yon wish that the cost of living should be the prime factor?—No, I do not; I am glad to have the opportunity of making' that clear. The reason I raise the question of I he cost of living here, in the first instance, is that it shows an actual decrease in real wages to us as over 1897; to that extent our wages, we say, have been reduced. Our wages have always been based on the value of our work. I hope that is clear.There was another witness, Mr. Frampton, who was asked, in Question 4818:—Does that mean that you put forward cost of living as the sole basis on which wages should be assessed?—No; I make that clear later when I say that that in itself would be a sufficient reason why a rise should take place: but I do not base, that at all as a reason for an advance in my own particular case. As a matter of fact, I am rather opposed to the cost of living taking any place at all in the regulation of our wage.That was a witness put forward as the official representative of the Society of Postmen in the East-Central District in London. He expressly repudiated the idea that the cost of living was to be the basis of the wages.
§ Mr. HOLT
No, there were no witnesses who took the view that the cost of living-was the principal basis of their claim. One reason I will mention for that is that their claim could not possibly be justified on any basis of the cost of living; and, secondly, none of them were prepared to admit that they ought to be reduced if the cost of living fell.
Sir G. PARKER
I am sure the hon. Member does not wish to misrepresent them. I believe that Mr. Stuart plainly said that if the cost of living fell, of course, on that principle, wages also should fall. I have the statement here.
May I point out that, rightly or wrongly, Mr. Stuart did make that point. Whether he was in line with other witnesses I am unable to say now, but he certainly made that statement. This was the question asked:—At any rate you are quite ready to recognise that, a falling off in the cost of living might justify a reduction of wages?—Most certainly. We cannot have it both ways.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. HOLT
I quite accept that, but the fact remains that many of the other principal witnesses did not take that view. What actually happened? The Post Office servants came to this Committee—the Committee listened to them most patiently—and made claims of a very considerable character. They claimed that 1935 they did not get enough. They now come to the House with a new claim, totally different from any claim presented to the Committee, and are trying to get the House to put forward that new claim and adopt it, namely, a claim for an all-round 15 per cent. increase in wages. It is a very unreasonable and unfortunate proceeding that any body of men who have elected to submit their claims to a Select Committee should, after those claims have been disallowed, put forward a totally new claim. I do not think that is a legitimate manner of proceeding, because it means there cannot be any sort of finality about it, if, immediately one claim is disallowed, they put forward another. The 15 per cent. all round is in itself an unfair thing. It would clearly give most to those persons who deserve it least. That, I think, will be admitted. It also assumes that no person whatever, before this claim was made, was getting more than he ought to have done. I want to ask the attention of the Committee to another consideration. Supposing the wages of everyone are raised in consequence of the increased cost of living, how is anyone going to be better off? What claim have the postmen more than other workers? If the wages all round are raised in proportion to the cost of living, the cost of living naturally goes up again, because everyone has to pay more for everything he consumes. The effect of raising the postmen's wages would be. I suppose, to prevent the remission of taxation, and so far to increase the cost of living to other persons in this country, and every rise of wages, unless it is accompanied by greater efficiency of work, must have the same result, and in the long run it must cause the cost of living to keep on rising.
I want to turn next to the particular case of the postmen. The claim they originally made was this: they asked that persons under twenty should have 20s. a week, persons over twenty 24s., rising by 2s. 6d. a week, with double increment after twenty-five years, with a maximum in London of 62s., and in the provinces four different classes of 50s., 46s., 42s., and 38s. I do not know what the Committee think of these figures, but it seems to me that they can hardly be described as erring on the side of modesty. It is a very considerable and a heavy demand to make. What is a postman? A man who goes 1936 round and collects and delivers letters. Can anyone contend that a postman is really a skilled man? I do not believe there is such a thing as unskilled labour at all. There is no sort of work that a man who has never tried it before can go and do as well as a man who is practised at it. When you consider the amount of skill involved in the duty of a postman, surely it will be admitted that it is very small, and in the rural districts it is very small indeed. It is one of the least skilled occupations that I know. On the other hand, it must be remembered that the postman is required to be an exceptionally steady, regular, and respectable man. Also it is a 48-hour week, which is not by any means a long week for persons to engage in manual labour. He is not in an unfavourable position compared with other persons. I should now like to call attention to the wages actually recommended to be paid to postmen, because I think there is some misconception on the subject. I will take the highest class and the lowest. The postmen in the central district in London, who are the highest paid, come in at eighteen years of age at 19s. At nineteen they get 20s., at twenty 21s. 6d., at twenty-one 23s., at twenty-two 24s. 6d., and then by increments, 27s., 29s., 31s., 33s., 35s., 37s., 38s., 39s., three years at 40s., three years at 41s., three years at 42s., and then at 43s. I submit that compared with the usual payments made for work of anything of a comparable kind these are decidedly generous wages. There is nothing mean about that at all.
I will now refer to the least well-paid class. That is to the postmen in Class V. districts in the provinces, which are the most purely agricultural districts. The postman at twenty-one gets 19s., at twenty-two 20s., then 21s. 6d., 23s., 21s., and on to 29s. Compare these wages, for a 48-hours week, with those paid to the agricultural labourer in the same district—a man who is certainly doing work much longer in duration and, in my judgment, which requires more skill. Certainly the postman seems to me, making that comparison, to have a more fortunate position within the community in which he lives. In addition to that, the postman gets Bank Holidays and three weeks' holiday on full pay, uniform clothing, and a guinea a year boot money, and he avoids what must be to the labourer one of the most tremendous anxieties—all risk of unemployment. His employer is 1937 not going to leave the country, he is not going to change his residence or become bankrupt, nor will he die. His position is absolutely assured. When he has served to the age of sixty or slightly over, he retires on a pension very much more than 5s. a week—a pension, roughly speaking, of half his pay. He gets free medical attendance and the benefits of the Insurance Act without paying for them. That is not a bad position as far as the postman is concerned. The comparison that they themselves made, when they were pressed for a comparison, was with the police force.
I cannot help thinking that the bulk of Members of the House, and of the public will consider that of the two the policeman is the more important character. The policeman has work which is certainly arduous and more dangerous than that of the postman, and as he has considerable possibilities of interfering with the liberty of the subject, I should have said that his work is of a good deal more responsible character. I find that the wages paid to a policeman in the City of London range from 27s. a week to 38s. a week. The policeman, on the other hand, has 3s. boot money monthly, as against a guinea annually, and the policeman receives other allowances which are not specified. Making the comparison, it seems to me that it is difficult to say that the postman is underpaid. And, remember, that the postman is allowed to receive one valuable perquisite, and that is the Christmas box. The Committee will be astonished at the value put upon the Christmas box by the postmen's representatives. It averages 2s. 6d. per week per man throughout the whole service. I think it is in the town in which I live that I am told there is a postman who receives as much as £70 in Christmas boxes, and I am told there are undoubtedly cases of persons receiving from £50 to £60. It would not be proper to take that into consideration in fixing the amount of wages, but one cannot blind one's eyes to the fact.
§ Mr. POLLOCK
In the Report it is stated that the Christmas boxes are taken into account in fixing wages, therefore the Post Office cannot claim that that is an addition to the wages. On page 44 it says: "In support of this claim it was stated that Christmas boxes were considered in fixing wages, and the Post Office admitted that they should not be abolished without compensation." If so, 1938 the Post Office cannot claim that they pay their men on a liberal scale, and that in addition they get Christmas boxes, because by this statement it is admitted that in fixing the wages they take into account the fact that they are going to receive Christmas boxes.
§ Mr. HOLT
The reason I made the statement about Christmas boxes is that it was made to the Committee in evidence by the official representatives of the postmen. That is the only authority I got for it. It may be quite untrue for all I know, though I do not think it is, but it is their own statement. There was a circular statement sent down to Members of the House which contains a paragraph dealing with postmen, to which I should like to draw attention, it is under the heading of "Increment and length of service to each maximum":—In the case of postmen and one or two other classes a triennial incremental system has been introduced at a certain point, which causes the period before reaching the maxima to vary front seventeen to twenty-one years. The period is not only too long but is unjust, having regard to the incremental system of other classes where the increments are annual.Who would believe from that statement that the triennial incremental periods were in substitution for the quadrennial incremental periods which took place under the stripe system. One is entitled to complain of a controversy of that kind. Attention is drawn to the fact that the maximum is reached in from seventeen to twenty-one years. I think that is probably true, but at any rate it is reached in six years less than before the Committee sat, and there is no reason for that at all. That paragraph sent down to the House would undoubtedly convey to hon. Members a false impression of what is done.
May I draw attention to the question of the length of the period taken to reach the 1939 maximum. I have sat on several inquiries into the Civil Service—not only the Post Office, but the Customs and Excise—and there are in different Government Departments and different branches, cases where there is a longer scale, and it takes a considerable scale to reach the maximum, and there are cases where there is a short scale, and you get to the maximum very quickly. If it is a long scale, you will be told by the servants that it is too long, and that one's life is nearly spent before getting to the maximum. If it is a short scale, you will be told that it is too short, and that the servants reach the maximum immediately, with the result that there is stagnation in the Department and no room for promotion. What is certain is that whatever scale you have it is the wrong one, and that you can only alter it by increasing the wages of the classes concerned. Therefore, if Government servants can induce you to alter a scale, they will do so. I would ask hon. Members not to pay too much attention to that complaint. If hon. Members study all the complaints which come from all the classes and endeavour to find out one which commends itself to everybody, they will be disappointed, for they will find that there is no such scale in existence.
With regard to auxiliary postmen, the Committee will not think me enamoured of that class. It is not a satisfactory thing to have half-time or quarter-time workers. They are, however, a necessary class, and they have been recommended for an advance. The proposal which my right hon. Friend made to-day, namely, that of increasing the wages of postmen who are twenty-three years of age and over to a minimum of 22s. per week is one which I think will have the sympathy of everybody. The servants in the Engineering Department and the Stores Department will get an increase, and these men are quite as deserving as those in some of the more highly organised classes. I come now to the question of the classification of offices, of which a good deal has been said to - night. The first proposition I wish to advance to the Committee is that classification in some form or another is absolutely necessary. Suppose you have no classification, and say, "We are going to pay people the same wages all over the country," see how absurd that would be. You would be committed to this, that you would be giving the same pay in London as in the outer Hebrides, 1940 or in Ireland, or in Dorset. That is the effect of no classification. It is clear that you would be giving the same rate of pay all over the country. That proposition has only to be stated in order to see how absurd it is. If you are to have a classification, you have to draw the line somewhere.
The postal servants are themselves advocates of classification. The postmen's claim, which I laid before the Committee just now, calls for classification. One of the largest societies in connection with the postal service in the United Kingdom say, "We are against classification, but we ask to have London treated separately." But I would point out that in asking that London should be treated separately, they have admitted the principle of classification. Once you have admitted that there ought to be classification of some kind, I think if you take the most important town, which is London, and compare the condition here with those of less important places, the fact will at once appear that there is an immense difference, and that what is appropriate in the case of London would not apply to other places. It is like a line white at one end and black at the other, and which gradually shades down from light to darkness. It is impossible to say where the line should be drawn in any system of classification. That applies to every kind of classification you can possibly think of. There will be places just on the line where the scale of payment varies. I think the Committee will have no difficulty in seeing that the proposed classification is a reasonable one. I must say that the comparisons which have been made are ingeniously made for the purpose of proving a particular grievance. The hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir G. Parker) said that the classification was ridiculous, or, at all events, he used some strong language in regard to it. I admit at once that it is not logical, but I do not believe that a logical classification can be made by anybody. It must be more or less a rough and ready plan. We hold that this plan is superior to anything which has been put forward in competition with it. Certainly to classify offices in relation to the comparative cost of living in different places would put the Committee in an absurd position. I do not know whether hon. Members have studied the incidence of the cost of living. The cheapest places are those from the Midlands rising up to the Mersey, while the 1941 dearest are the small districts south of London, and to suggest that the wages in Manchester and Liverpool should be on a lower level than those at Epsom and places of that character really seems an absurd proposition. I do not think it is a proposition which anybody, having regard to the standard of wages in the country, could possibly get up and justify.
The state of trade in a town may be taken as an index of the postal activity in that town. If the postal activity in a town is great, it means that there is a great deal going on, that trade is brisk, and that wages generally are higher. It is not a bad rough and ready test whether wages in that place are high or low. I say that we have got a system which, on the whole, is fairly reasonable. I believe that any hon. Member who will patiently investigate the facts will come to the conclusion that the system of classification is a fair one. I would ask the Committee to be very cautious indeed how they change it. It is extremely objectionable to make a change unless you are certain that you are going to get a decided improvement. In my opinion it is an unwise thing to do. Something was said about London and other places in the neighbourhood. The claim has been made that everything within a twelve-mile radius of Charing Cross should be treated as London. There is not, so far as I can see, any basis for that proposal, except that it is the basis accepted by the building trades organisation. There is only one way of deciding the area of London, and other large towns, and that is to do what has been recommended, namely, to have something in the nature of a Boundaries Commission in which both sides will be represented to settle what the boundaries of a town are. The only way in which you can do that is to have regard to the particular circumstances of each case. When that has been done, you will still have hard cases brought forward. That is absolutely insuperable from being on the other side of the line.
§ Mr. GOULDING
Can the hon. Gentleman justify a difference in the wages of men in Liverpool and Birkenhead?
§ Mr. HOLT
Yes, Sir, I will with the greatest possible pleasure. Liverpool is a town in which there is a great deal of postal activity, while Birkenhead is a town which has a postal activity, having regard to its size, which is extremely small, for 1942 the reason that the bulk of the persons who live in that town spend their whole time in Liverpool, have their business there, and post their letters there.
§ Mr. BIGLAND
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that half of the men in the Liverpool Post Office live in Birkenhead? If they live there, why should not the men in the Birkenhead Post Office, who live along side, get the same wage?
§ Mr. HOLT
If the Post Office were to undertake that kind of investigation, they would be told that they were making an unwarrantable interference with the liberty of their servants. No Government Department can regulate wages with regard to the places where the servants live. If you did that, and if you told the servants where to live, it would be bitterly resented. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman opposite is one of those who sleep in or about Birkenhead, and do their business in Liverpool. I would suggest that he should carry on his commercial correspondence in Birkenhead instead of Liverpool. Another charge brought against the Committee is that they have not increased the wages of women in the same proportion as the wages of men. I do not know whether the suggestion of those who make that criticism is that because you do something for men you should do the same for women pro rata. If that is so, the suggestion does not seem to me to be based on very sound logic. Women are only employed in respect of work of certain classes. They are not employed as postmen or on the engineering staff. They are engaged almost entirely in clerical duties and in the indoor classes. The bulk of the money which is being spent on the recommendations of the Select Committee is being spent on the postmen, the engineering staff, and other branches of the Post Office. And how could we, if we are going to benefit mainly the postmen, the labourers, and the less well paid persons, when there are no women doing work of a similar character, give them increased pay? The proposition to do so is one that is incapable of being made good.
I would draw the attention of the Committee to a fact which very materially influenced the judgment of our Committee. At the moment we were sitting the Government had just taken over the National Telephone Company. That company employed a very large number of telephone operators who were women. Those 1943 women were doing exactly comparable to that of the Post Office servants. The wages that were paid to the female telephone operators by the telephone company in London Mere from 10s. to 20s. a week, and the average actual money received was 15s. 1d. I do not think that anybody with experience of the telephone is going to say that the Post Office operators are better, more skilful, or more generally acceptable than were those of the National Telephone Company. The wages that are paid to the telephone operators in London begin at eighteen years of age at 16s. They go on to at nineteen years, 18s.; at twenty years, 19s.; at twenty-two years of age, 21s.; and then they go on by 1s. 6d. a week to 28s. The reference directed us, as far as possible, to have regard to the wages and conditions of any other employment outside. How could we as a Committee, when we found this outside corporation paying people who did exactly similar work 20s., say that 28s., with much superior conditions as regards pensions, was not adequate? I do not think that any body of men, with the reference before them, could, in face of those facts, have come to any other con-elusion except that the Post Office servants were adequately paid. Remember that at least half the telephone staff were therefore themselves actually receiving a very considerable advance. That is an argument which, I think, is entirely conclusive, having regard to the reference.
§ Mr. D. MASON
The hon. Member refers repeatedly to the reference. He knows better than I do that the reference is in two parts. The first is to inquire, and the second part is in regard to the comparative wages paid by other bodies.
§ Mr. HOLT
That is exactly what I say. I am speaking of the comparative scale of wages. The National Telephone Company was paying up to 20s. as a maximum. The Government are paying up to 28s., with much superior conditions as to pension and oilier things. Roughly, half the Government's telephone servants received at once, in consequence of amalgamation, a very substantial rise in their wages, and I do not think that any reasonable person could have recommended the Government to pay more.
Mr. MacCALLUM SCOTT
With regard to telegraphist work, in which both men and women are engaged, I notice that the recommendation is that there should be 1944 an increase of 3s. in the maximum for men and no alteration in the maximum for women. Would the hon. Gentleman explain why there is this difference?
§ Mr. HOLT
That is exactly the point that I was coming to. The argument which weighed with the Committee was this: The Committee had also got to consider the relative value of the work of female telephone clerks and female telegraphists. If the hon. Member will look up the wages at present paid to female-counter clerks and telegraphists he will see that they are very much in excess, something like 10s. a week, of the wages of telephonists. It appeared to us that in those circumstances we had got a line of comparison. The female counter clerks in London go up to 40s. as compared with telephonists at 28s., and it appeared to us that that was more than sufficient additional pay for the telegraphists as compared with the telephonists. There was not the difference in the character of the work sufficient to justify any further increase. That is how the case presents itself to us. I now come to the engineering staff. The Committee recommended that the hours of labour of the casual labourers on the whole engineering staff should be reduced from fifty and a-half to forty-eight hours a week. I believe that this Committee will think that we did wisely in doing so. It was not the intention of the Committee that any of these persons should earn less in the forty-eight hours than they did in the fifty and a half hours and the Committee raised the minimum of all these persons by a farthing an hour, and that, taken over forty-eight hours, comes to about the same as the full wage for the two and a half hours which had been taken off, so that the lowest class, according to the recommendation of the Committee, gets precisely the same wages for forty-eight hours as they were getting previously for fifty and a half hours. The Committee still more substantially raised the rate of wages for the better paid class because it did appear to us that some of the best workmen were probably not getting enough. We did not say in terms, but we did intend that each person serving forty-eight hours should earn as much as he previously earned in the fifty and a half hours. I have consulted my colleagues on the Committee only yesterday, and I have their authority to say that that was clearly in the minds of all of us, and I hope the Post Office will determine the recommendations in that respect in this sense 1945 that no one should earn less in the forty-eight hours than he would have earned in the fifty and a half hours. That was our intention. Of course, if that is done, a very substantial benefit will accrue, especially in the summer months, when they will be paid for two and a half hours additional at overtime rates.
There is another point for which the Committee have got no credit. I am afraid that if we want to get any credit we will have to hire our own trumpeter. I would draw attention to the very large number of persons in this Department whom the Committee have transferred from being hourly servants, paid at an hourly rate, into established servants paid at a weekly rate. I find that after the Hobhouse revision of 1908 there were 1,017 of the engineering staff established, that is to say, on weekly wages, with pension rights and other privileges. An amalgamation of departments was made in 1911 which raised the number of established persons to 2,323. The National Telephone Company staff raised that number to 4,606. Under the award of the Select Committee there are 7,500 persons on the establishment getting better wages, and, in most cases, pension rights. No inconsiderable benefit has been conferred on no inconsiderable number of persons. When complaints are made against us of not having done enough for these labourers I think that that might be remembered, and a certain amount of credit might be given to the Committee. Before the Committee sat these servants who were being transferred from the unestablished to the established list were getting in London a maximum which worked out at 32s. 7d. per week, but a certain class had been put on the established list as Class IL, and get a scale of wages of 28s, rising by Is. 6d, to 38s. The position has been very substantially improved for a considerable number of people. The hon. Member for Sheffield made a complaint as to the manner in which servants transferred from the National Telephone Company have been treated. That was a matter which has been very carefully considered by the Committee, and we certainly came to the conclusion that the whole of those complaints were ill-founded. I do not know whether any hon. Members have done the Committee the compliment of reading what was said, but what we find is this: that, first of all, the promises made with the authority of this House, to the telephone servants at the time of the transfer 1946 —and those were the only promises in respect of which there was consideration— were very considerably amplified by the late Postmaster-General at the time of the transfer. They have been fully kept we are satisfied.
Of course it has been a matter of very great difficulty to take over the engineering staff of the telephone company, which was organised under a different system from that of the Post Office, and put every person into exactly his right place. What has been done is that the position of every individual person and his proper rate was considered by a Committee of the Post Office staff and some of the servants of the late telephone company. Everything was most carefully and properly considered and the best decisions, as far as we can make out, have been arrived at. No one can guarantee that no mistake has been made on the subject, but every effort has been made to avoid mistakes. I would like to draw special attention to this, and I think that the best thing would be to read the actual words of the Report, because those words have been carefully considered:—The cumulative effect of these concessions is that the National Telephone Company employés joined the Post Office on either their former scale of wages or on those of the corresponding Post Office classes, whichever benefited them most, a remarkably liberal arrangement. The complaints made against the execution of this arrangement are that many of the officers have lost prospects of advancement, and that many have been placed in a grade of Post Office servants lower than that to which, having regard to the character of their duties, they ought to have been admitted. The first of those complaints, which was largely based on a classification published by the Telephone Company made in the year 1910, only a year before the transfer, and therefore to the knowledge of all parties incapable of talking full effect, your Committee consider to be unfounded. Ever since August, 1905—as they have already observed— the prospects of the servants of the Telephone Company were to become Post Office servants on January 1st, 1911, and to accept Post Office conditions from that date, neither more nor less—and this, and more than this in some instances, they have received.The claim is based on a classification which was made only a year before the transfer. They knew that the promises of the Telephone Company were incapable of fulfilment, and promises not capable of fulfilment are not binding on any standard of morals. When a person makes a promise which he knows cannot be fulfilled to a person who knows it cannot be fulfilled that promise is not one the fulfilment of which can be claimed. The Report goes on to say:—As regards the second complaint, owing to the fact that the organisation of the Telephone Company was not identical with that of the Post Office, many of the Telephone Company's servants were performing duties not wholly identical with those of any class of Post Office servant, and it has been in some cases a matter of 1947 real difficulty to decide in which particular class an ex-telephone servant should be placed. It must not be forgotten that, while it would he unjust to the transferred staff to place them too low, placing them too high would involve an injustice to the pre-transfer Post Office staff, whose prospects of promotion would thereby be materially damaged.That is a very important consideration, for if the telephone staff were to get more it would have to be taken from other Post Office servants: it would be taking it from one set of Post Office servants and giving it to another. The Select Committee were quite satisfied that every effort had been made by honest and well-disposed persons, who knew what they were about, to do justice in regard to each particular case, and I do not think it is possible for this Select Committee, or anybody else, to go further into an extremely technical and difficult matter of that kind. I now turn to what is probably a small subject, namely, the treatment of the K Company of Royal Engineers. The Committee recommended that the Company should be treated for pension as Civil servants, and they were to be treated not as military, but entirely as Civil servants. That was the unanimous opinion of the Committee. There was no shadow of doubt in the mind of any one of us, after hearing the evidence, that the whole of the service of the K Company ought to be treated as for pension as Civil servants, and that the men of that company must be treated not as military, but as Civil servants. If that is not done, the K Company would be justified in making a charge of bad faith, and if legislation is necessary to make that good it ought to be passed. I think this House should pass a Bill to remedy what is a clear case of injustice. I should have thought that a small measure of that kind might be carried by agreement. I must now turn to the question of the scale payment sub-postmasters. It is an extremely difficult subject, and I would ask hon. Members to be careful not to form a very hurried judgment upon it. In our view, the scale payment sub-postmasters should be put on a proper basis, and if a post office is doing business which requires the whole time of an official, then it ought to be taken over by a proper salaried officer under Government control. But mostly these sub-postmasters are really agents, who only give a small portion of their time to the business of the post office, and it is almost impossible for anybody to unravel how much time and energy is spent by the sub-postmaster on 1948 the business of the post office for the money he receives. I will direct your attention to the evidence on the subject, because it is really quite interesting. What I am about to quote has reference to the postmaster at Overstrand, in Norfolk, who was a grocer at a place eighty yards distant; he acted as a house and estate agent, he was an agent of the Royal Insurance Company, and had several other occupations. This question was put to him:—You being apparently independent altogether of a post office, may I ask yon why do not you resign the appointment altogether?—Well, that is putting it in rather a bold way, but for two reasons. In the first place, as you will notice in Clause 7, we were the means of establishing the office in the face of great opposition.Opposition by whom?—from people in the parish who would not sign the paper. Even the old rector of the parish would not sign the memorial. He said it would be useless; he had been talking with Mr. Arthur Blackwood, and he said we would never get a post office. Then I brought it to the notice of the G.P.O. myself.Then apparently you have brought your misfortunes on your own head?—No, I do not call it misfortune but after having had the office for twenty-five year we are not going to give it up without a struggle.At any rate the position was not forced upon you by the Post Office?—Certainly not.A little further on the witness admits that the getting the post office in the first instance was the means of establishing the whole of the rest of his business. Nobody can deny that the position of a post office is a most important advantage in competition with other trades. It brings customers to a shop, and it means, admittedly, the establishing of the whole of the rest of his business. He had gone out of his way to get this post office, and when he obtained it he built up the rest of his business on top of it, and nothing in the world would induce him to give it up. There is another witness who gave evidence in relation to a post office in Banffshire. He was not only a postmaster, but he was also a coal merchant, bootmaker, and harbour master, and nobody can say that, with these various pursuits, he could properly devote his attention to the post office. I think that substantially the scale of payment to sub-postmasters, where they are bonâ-fide agents, is quite enough, and if it is not quite enough, then they can be left to themselves to bargain or to refuse the office. It is not possible, I can assure hon. Members, for a Committee to go into this question whether or not the payment to a particular sub-postmaster is according to the work done. The recommendations made by the Committee will mean a very substantial advance on certain payments to postmasters, taken as a whole, 1949 and I am afraid I cannot say very much more than that.
We have heard a great deal about the allowance made in respect of the work done under the Insurance Act by Post Office servants. It should be borne in mind that the average value of a transaction represented by the sale of insurance stamps is 5s. 6d., while in the ordinary case they are represented by 4d., so that obviously the percentage for transactions of a total of 5s. 6d. should not be as high as for transactions of a total of 4d. There is one more subject to which I must draw the attention of hon. Members. I think that the Post Office may be fairly criticised for want of foresight, or for want of taking a sufficiently sanguine view of the future expansion of business in the Department. It is quite clear that in many cases overtime to an improper extent has been worked, and it would appear that an insufficient view of the expansion of business is taken. The same observation applies to new buildings, where again an insufficient view is taken of the probable expansion in the Post Office business in towns or districts where it is very likely to increase. The result is that buildings are erected on an inadequate scale, and in a very short space of time it is found that the new accommodation is insufficient. That is a criticism offered to the Post Office which I hope the Assistant Postmaster-General will repeat to his chief, and it is one which the Committee agrees is thoroughly well founded. I want to express my great obligation to the members of the Committee for their assistance during the long period the proceedings continued. We were very harmonious. We only had five divisions, of which two were as to more liberal treatment of Post Office servants, and were successful. With regard to the recommendations I may almost say that they were unanimous from the Committee. In many cases there was compromise, as there ought to be, but substantially the Committee was agreed. I do suggest, that being so, the Report of the Committee ought to come to this House with some authority. If the Report of any Committee is capable of having authority, that Report ought to have some authority. I think it is rather hard under those circumstances that the hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir G. Parker) should have accused the Committee of assenting to "flagrant injustice," I think he called it. I think that is rather 1950 hard language to use towards a Committee of this House which, at any rate has done its very best for eighteen months., and the members of which are themselves satisfied that they have not assented to anything like flagrant injustice, and would not have done so.
Sir G. PARKER
The hon. Gentleman will do me the justice to remember that I said that the task of the Committee was an overwhelmingly difficult one, and I did not blame the Committee for this injustice directly, but, through the confusions, that there was confusion of judgment, I had not the slightest doubt, from the mass of evidence they had to consider.
§ Mr. HOLT
I do submit that this House ought to be very careful in its dealings with public servants, how far they allow public servants to squeeze us and, through us, the taxpayers, whom we are bound to represent in this House. I have no hesitation in saying what I think everybody knows, and what I think everybody almost would say, that there is a real danger to our country in the immense amount of pressure which various bodies of public servants do bring upon Members of this House. I must say frankly, yielding to that pressure, unless you are really satisfied in your mind and from your knowledge that the demands made by public servants are themselves just and fair, but simply for conciliatory purposes, is in-essence the same as trying to conciliate voters by the distribution of half-crowns which do not come out of our own pockets. I think there is a real danger that we may be induced by this pressure to sacrifice the interests of the many in this country who are not organised in this respect to the interests of a very few, a comparatively small number of persons, who are skilfully organised and bring severe pressure to bear upon us. I hope that Members in all quarters of the House will unite 1951 to resist this pressure. I do hope that in whatever quarter of the House we may sit that we may agree amongst ourselves that we will not be parties to proceedings in the constituencies trying to force pressure upon candidates who oppose us or upon Members who may sit for particular constituencies. I would make a most serious appeal to the House not to allow themselves in any shape or form whatever to yield to that pressure, which I think is very unfair pressure, and not to allow themselves to be parties, in treating the Post Office servants, who are a liberally and very generously paid section of the community for the work they do, to take from the taxpayer, and from many struggling taxpayers, moneys to be handed over to people who have. I think, received very ample recognition from the State.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
Though many of us may have come here rather to blame than to praise the conclusions of the Committee known as the Holt Committee, yet there is not one of us but would offer our tribute of praise and admiration to that Committee for all the good and useful work which it performed. It has been the means of placing much information at our disposal, and if we pay that tribute a very large share of it indeed would go to the hon. Gentleman who presided over that Committee and who has displayed this afternoon such very intimate knowledge of the case which he undertook to treat, and evidently displayed great powers of industry and, may I also say popularity, in getting on almost all occasions the Committee to agree in the decisions to which they came. I must join first of all in the complaint which has been made from more than one quarter of the House against the Government for their treatment of this case. I think it must be obvious to the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster-General that there ought to have been an entirely separate day set apart for the consideration of this Report, and that we ought not to have mixed up our debate upon this Report with the debate on the general subject of the Post Office. It is not fair to the Report and it is not fair to the Estimates, and it is unfair to the Committee. We shall continue now until eleven o'clock hunting a hare and the fox. There never was a kill under those circumstances, and nothing that contributed to either sport or any other form of agreeable enterprise or industry. I hope 1952 the right hon. Gentleman may be convinced before this Debate closes that the Government ought to give another day for the consideration of this very important case.
The Postmaster-General brought before us many very interesting features and new developments as regards the Post Office which we might like to praise or blame. I should like at once to say how much I appreciate the novel enterprise and activities which have been shown in the Post Office, as I think the Post Office has always shown. They are being shown particularly in the direction of bettering our telephone system. That is a matter which we have all had in our minds for some time, and we all hope that the Postmaster-General will succeed, as he rather thinks he will do, in very much improving the telephone system. We should have liked to make comments on many other things. I was particularly interested in what he said towards the end of his speech, and I hope he will persevere, and that the House, without any party feeling, will back him up in his efforts to prevent the Post Office being used, as it has been used for so many years past, as an agency for carrying on the malpractices of foreign gambling shops. Those are matters as to which I think we might legislate without any division of party at all. I have a Bill which succeeded in getting upstairs, and there is only one hon. Member who has shown any opposition to it. He put down out of the silliest of Amendments to it. There is also a form of betting known as the coupon system on football results. Those are matters on which we might well join in trying to promote legislation. I believe this day was to be set apart rather to criticism of the Holt Report than to the criticism of the many matters which might usefully and very properly be criticised in connection with the Post Office. Therefore, I will confine my remarks to my criticism of the Holt Report. The. Postmaster - General commenced his speech by pointing out to the House and to the country that the postal service had succeeded in obtaining, either through the Hobhouse Committee or through the Holt Committee, increases of wages which will amount, when they are worked out, to nearly £2,000,000 per year. He seemed to think that the House and the country and the postal service ought to be very amply satisfied with having got that increase, but I think he rather damaged his case when he went on a little later to inform us that there were 25,600 postal servants. 1953 who, at the age of twenty-three, had only succeeded in obtaining a wage of 22s. per week.
The bare recital of that one bare fact does show after all that however much attention we may have been giving to the grievances of postal servants, and however many Committees may have sat to investigate those grievances and to frame some remedies, that there is still a very large number of State employés in the Post Office who are at the present time only in possession of a wage which is far below the standard which, I believe on all sides of the House, we should admit ought to be the minimum standard for men of twenty-three who do their work satisfactorily in every possible way. It may be that the standard has risen or that we have become more conscientious in these matters; but whatever the cause, I am quite certain that on every side of the House we are at the present time not influenced only by what the hon. Member who has just spoken called the political squeeze, but that we are touched in our hearts and in our minds by the revelations of these wages compared with the increased cost of living which we see all around us, and which has been proved by the inquiry of the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
I quite agree with the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden), who himself has been instrumental, if not, indeed, more instrumental than any other man, in pointing out this grievance in connection with low wages and the high cost of living. I quite agree that I and others were not troubled or sufficiently alarmed by these facts, but they have borne in upon us now as the result of Committees which have inquired into this question. I quite agree with that, but one would be a sorry individual if one were not capable of adjusting oneself to new ideas, but were to stand still and to say that what was good enough for our fathers was good enough for us. What I am going to plead for is that this may be taken out of the party category altogether, and that we might have some new system by which we could come to conclusions more just and fair as regards the wages which are to be paid and the conditions of labour generally in our services. After all, if some of us were remiss in past years, that is no reason 1954 why we should not alter that with which we were content in former times, when we are touched by the facts which are borne in upon us by these Committees which have been set up at one time and another. The right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster-General does say that we ought to be content with the results and conclusions of this Holt Committee, and the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of that Committee, who laboured so long and so patiently in many ways as its Chairman, also seems to be thoroughly well satisfied with the conclusions of that Report. Without following the hon. Member into all the details and all the classes and sections and grades which confront every investigator of this question, which is a most elaborate and complicated question, let me say the conclusion to which I have come I have come to after some careful investigation of this question and meeting more than one deputation, trying to penetrate into this very difficult question, that the Committee did not live up to their conclusions, and that the general results of the Holt Committee are not really consistent with the premises, which they themselves admit. Take one sentence alone—paragraph 17:—Your Committee are of opinion that all the considerations to which reference is made above"—That is, increase in cost of living, the desire for a higher standard of living, and the value of work—are relevant in fixing the remuneration which should be given to Post Office servants, and attention has been given to them in the recommendations which your Committee have made.As my hon. Friend the Member for Graves-end (Sir Gilbert Parker) argued in respect of that, not sufficient attention has been given; and while these premises were admitted unanimously by the members of the Committee, yet there are thousands of postal servants left absolutely untouched as regards their wages by the Committee, although every one of those three premises applies to them just as it does to those more fortunate members of the service who have obtained some increase in their emoluments. That is what my hon. Friend alluded to as a flagrant injustice. I would prefer, perhaps, to say that the Report erred on the side of parsimony. It certainly did not err on the side of generosity. I expected that the Postmaster-General would be far more elaborate in his defence. In my opinion, his speech was most unsatisfactory. I had hoped that he would take these demands one by one, and say, 1955 for instance, on the question of classification or the question of area that to have the postal servants on one grade in an area of twelve miles from Charing Cross would cost so much, and therefore he could not give it. But he did not give a single figure. We are entitled to have these figures, and until we have them we shall not be really in the best position to form a judgment as to the different claims which remain unsatisfied at the present moment. There is the demand that the increases should be annual, and not triennial, until the maximum is reached. I should like to know what that would cost. I should like to know what the demands, of each of these sections, classes, categories, or grades would cost. That is information which can only be obtained from the Post Office, and we have a right to ask that that information should be given by those who are responsible for this great Department. After all. I was Secretary to the Treasury for a time, and to a certain extent I still take the Treasury view. I was too long connected with the Treasury not to do so. I say that neither I nor anybody else would be wise in giving adhesion to certain claims unless we knew approximately what would be the cost of each claim. I hope before this Debate concludes we shall have some figures from the Post Office, particularly in regard to the claim of the lowest paid classes, whose income is more affected than that of any other class from increased cost of living.
The Chairman of the Committee said that there must be some classification. I admit that; and whatever classification you make, I quite agree that there will always be cases just outside the boundary which will always be represented as hard cases. There are always hard cases in life; but the fact that there are hard cases ought not to prevent you from making the very best rules possible, and from getting as many people inside those rules as you possibly can. What I say about the classification is that it is anomalous and an anachronism as regards London. In London there are practically seven scales of payment in an area where the rent, the cost of food, and matters of that kind are very much the same. These scales might have been justified when they were made, but I very much doubt whether they can be justified to-day. Different scales of wages are given to postmen according to the office in which 1956 they serve and the area in which that office is placed. There was a time when, postmen had to live very close to the office owing to lack of means of locomotion, and things of that sort. But now all that is changed. Postmen can live in different parts of London. They can choose their own place of habitation, and there-is not the same reason for having different grades according to rent and cost of living. I believe that if the Postmaster-General will look into this matter he will-see that, while these different scales may have been perfectly justified when they were originally fixed, they are no longer justified, in view of the great changes in the means of locomotion, which enable men to live further from their work, and that the time has come to reconsider the whole of this classification. I will give one instance of what the Holt Committee recommends as regards London—that the only offices outside district offices which can come into-Division I. are those situated in boroughs where the rent unit is 110 or more. That has resulted in Maida Hill, Netting Hill, Highbury, West Brompton, and West Kensington being actually reduced to Division II. I do not believe that that can possibly be justified. We want to know what all these things cost.
That brings me to the general principle which ought to govern the fixing of the wages of postal servants. We have had some very strange doctrines enunciated by the Chairman of the Committee. One of the strangest doctrines I ever heard was that if you raised the wages of postal servants because the cost of living has gone up, you must raise the wages of all other State employés, consequently you would have to raise wages all round, and, therefore, they would not be any better off, in fact, they would be worse off than they were before. That is a most extraordinary economic theory. Why should not the hon. Member argue the contrary of that, and say that to do the men good you will decrease their wages, you will then decrease wages all round, and the men will be better off. When I heard the hon. Gentleman enunciating that extraordinary economic doctrine or theory I began to wonder whether he was quite the proper man to have been Chairman of a Committee of this kind. The Postmaster-General suggested that we ought to accept the Report of this Committee, because the Committee was appointed by the whole House, and was drawn from all quarters of the House. Really, I must beg leave 1957 to differ. I have been a Member of the House for twenty-four years, and I am not at all prepared to give my adhesion to the doctrine that because a Committee is chosen by the House therefore I have no choice in the matter; but that if the Committee is unanimous I am bound to accept its report. I do not. I am very grateful to it for putting many facts and figures before me, but I intend to exercise my own discretion and judgment as to how far I accept its conclusions. Without any desire whatever to disparage the members who gave much time to the consideration of this Report. I must confess that when the Committee was appointed I was a little surprised that it should have consisted of only nine members, not one of whom I believe came into the House before 1906, and quite one-half entered the House in 1910. I think half of them only came into the House in 1910. It was rather an inexperienced Committee, I think, for so very big a question.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
I could not say. The hon. Member may be in possession of information as to his own side of the House.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
That is rather, I think, an ignorant interruption. I think, I repeat, that it was rather an inexperienced Committee in view of the very great and grave matters to be looked into. At all events, we in this House have always the liberty to exercise our own judgment on all matters that are reported upon by a Committee of the House. As to the attitude of the Holt Committee to the cost of living as well as the rates of wages, I do not think anybody would say that you must keep on continually adjusting wages up and down to the cost of living. I do not say that; I do not think it. For my own part I do not believe that you would ever reduce wages because there has been a reduction in the cost of living. Therefore, because I do not believe that, and because I do not think it would be a wise 1958 thing to do, I think that you, perhaps, might fairly say, "We cannot increase wages up to the full extent of the cost of living, we will have to compromise: we certainly shall not reduce your wages if the cost of living should come down, so you cannot expect us to take the entire cost of living into account, and then add the difference between the increased cost of living and your present wages. While you do not have the whole benefit on the one hand, on the other hand you shall never be subject to a reduction." I believe that would be a sensible system.
How far, again, should profits be taken into account? If the Post (Mice were a commercial concern entirely, the profits would have a good deal to do, I think, with the wages that are paid. In some businesses in which I am very intimately connected before any dividend is declared all the wages and salaries are reviewed every year automatically. So I think here. When the Post Office is making £6,000,000 profit, wages and salaries may be reviewed partly from that point of view. Profits must have something to say in these matters. But, at all events, this may be laid down—I am sure this doctrine will be followed by everybody—that the Government should be in the very first rank of good employers. I have often thought the Government should be a little bit in front of every other employer, partly because we do well to relieve ourselves of any political pressure. If we knew that we were doing justice, then we should not be subject to this political pressure, at all events to the extent that we now are; and if we knew we were doing justice and were subject to political pressure, one could always feel that one could reply better to that political pressure.
That brings me to make a suggestion which I made ten years ago, and which was then received with some favour. I think the whole of this present system of dealing with, or trying to do justice to the employés in the Post Office, is a most unfortunate system. Just look at the history of it. We have to-day heard of two Committees within the last eight years. There was another Committee before these. There was a very powerful Departmental Committee, presided over by Sir Edward Bradford. That Committee was appointed by the right hon. Gentleman who was then Postmaster-General and who afterwards became Chancellor of the Exchequer—and who may possibly become Chancellor of the Exchequer again. That Committee 1959 recommended increases of wages to Post Office servants to the extent of £1,500,000 per annum. Those recommendations were not adopted by the Post Office, except, I think, to the extent of something like £500,000 per year, or just a little under. We have thus had three Committees in eleven years. We have had the Departmental Committee, the Hobhouse Committee, and the Holt Committee. After all that there is great dissatisfaction, great unrest, great disturbances. Those of us who go into these matters—and I am quite sure we are not influenced only—I do not say to a certain extent—by political considerations—have become alive to the fact that we were wrong before. These Committees all recommended increases of wages which were resisted for some time, then given—not the whole of them—and they were adopted with the consent of all parties in the House. It is perfectly obvious, therefore, that we were hardly right before in resisting those demands. Are we quite sure that we are quite right now in resisting these demands?
My hon. Friend below me (Sir G. Parker) made a suggestion to-day that we should adopt a method which has been adopted in the Commonwealth of Australia, that we should set up a Statutory Commission, outside this House altogether, to deal with the wages and condition of labour in this great Government Department. With great respect to my hon. Friend, whose knowledge is great on this subject, I very much doubt whether this country would ever consent to part with its control of this great Department, and whether this House of Commons would ever give up its control or its power to fix the wages and the conditions of labour relating to the Department which employs something like 230,000 persons. At the same time, I think that the present system is perfectly detestable. I believe it is demoralising to the men. It is demoralising to us to a certain extent. I do not believe that they like it. We certainly do not like it. My suggestion for what it is worth is this: As I said, it was considered once before and met with a certain amount of favour. It is that at the beginning of every Parliament, and every Session of Parliament, a large and strong Committee should be formed from all sides of the House, from all parties and sections in the House, to deal automatically with these questions of the wages and conditions of labour, not to wait until there is agitation or until some claim is put forward, not to wait 1960 until we are pressed in this direction or the other, but that this Committee should be set up just as the Public Accounts Committee or the Selection Committee is set up now. It would have to be a large Committee, must be a large Committee, because it would be a very important Committee. In all probability the same process that is adopted now of choosing a chairman from the Opposition would be the best process to be adopted.
What advantages would this Committee give? I believe there would be enormous advantages. I believe that a Committee of from twenty-one to thirty members, chosen from amongst some of the older Members of this House, and from all sections of the House, reporting on matters of this kind, would carry enormous weight with the House. From the point of view of the postal servants themselves—I have never asked them and have never put it before them—I cannot help thinking that they would be pleased to know that there was a strong Committee before which their grievances could be put. They would be more likely to have justice done to them by a Committee of that kind than in any other way. If a Committee of that kind were to refuse their claim, they would probably recognise themselves that the claims which they had put forward were claims that they ought not to have made, or not made in the form in which they had made them, or to the extent to which they had made them. I believe that would be much the best way of settling this question of wages and other matters in our great postal service. The thing would be be taken out of party hands altogether. Matters would come as a recommendation from that very powerful Committee, and would, of course, have great weight with the House, and also, I hope, have very great weight with the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself. What would be the position of the Postmaster-General and of the Chancellor of the Exchequer? They would still have the discretion to take part of that Committee's Report or the whole of that Report. The Chancellor of the Exchequer would still ultimately decide the amount of money that must be raised for the taxation of the country. He would still ultimately decide what amount of the profits of the Post Office ought to be given back to the men, because he might have to place new taxes on other sections of the community. But I cannot help thinking that if he had his hands forced, his hands would be 1961 forced by the House itself. That Committee would be responsible to the House itself, and, being composed of Members of Parliament having to seek re-election, would have to justify their conduct before the electors. I think, at all events, some scheme of this sort is worth while thinking about, and worth while discussing. I am confident of this: there is no Member of the House who does not believe that the present method of settling these controversies between ourselves and this great body of employés is thoroughly unsatisfactory and thoroughly unwholesome, has led to bad results in the past, and is not likely in the future to produce justice or contentment in a great public service.
§ Mr. WILES
I think the hon. Gentleman on the other side rather misunderstood me when I interrupted him a while ago. I thought he was complaining of the way in which the Committee was formed. I believe it was formed in the usual way, and I thought he criticised it for having so many young Members on it. It seems to me that that was rather an advantage than otherwise. I think some of the ways of the House of Commons in dealing with these matters want reforming, and I am very glad he suggested that younger men who come into this House with fresh ideas should be put on those Committees. I want to join with the hon. Member for Gravesend and with the hon. Member for Sheffield in making an appeal for another day, because I quite agree that the two things open for discussion to-day are quite different. Many of us are in business and want to criticise the management of the Post Office and the telephones, and we want to know about the deplorable loss on telegrams. That is a very serious thing, and I shall ask very shortly what is the cost of sending these long Press telegrams so frequently over the State wires. I think it is a very important thing that we should find out the cost of Press messages and estimate whether the amount received by the Government is sufficient, but it is understood that we should have a Debate only on the Holt Committee's Report today, and I join with other Members in asking for another day in which we could discuss Post Office matters.
I have taken part in every Debate since I have been in the House for the past seven or eight years on Post Office matters, and during my short experience it is quite new to me to see such a living interest taken in the conditions of Post Office servants. Two or three of us for many years 1962 have voiced this question with very little assistance from the powers that be. But I think we have made a great step forward to-day when we get so many Members upon all sides of the House pressing the Government to become model employers. I am sure I am very pleased that the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has had his heart touched, because I feel now we shall have hearts touched in every part of the House, and that we shall soon have a response from the Postmaster-General in the way that we all desire. I am sorry the hon. Member for Gravesend is not in the House, because at the commencement of his speech he spoke of the very serious threats that were abroad of a strike, and I am afraid I do not quite agree with him in that, because my feeling is that the patience which the Post Office staff have shown has been very great. They have been very patient, and they have taken no extreme measures at all, but have put their case forward in the most constitutional way, and they have put forward such a case that I think those who are not versed in Post Office matters and those who are not experts in those matters, can easily understand. Half a million or so, which is going to be given in increases of wages seems a very large sum. We have often seen it boasted that a whole half-million is going to be given in extra wages, but when you come to look at the enormous staff and the enormous business done, and the enormous responsibilities which are every day increasing, I think you will find that it is a very small sum.
There is another point which the hon. Member spoke about, and that is that he would like to know what the profits of the Post Office really are in comparison with a private business or a limited company, I suppose. I think it would be a great advantage to us if we knew the amount of capital invested in the Post Office, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham, who has had some experience of the Treasury—and I am sorry he did not reform it when he was there—must know that it would be easy for business people to understand Post Office accounts if they were presented in a modern reasonable form. Then we could see some relation between profits and outlay and establishment charges, and the amount which is paid to that excellent body, the experts, who work the whole thing from top to bottom; and I believe a great many of the difficulties of these Debates would be got over if the Post Office—and I hope the hon. and gallant 1963 Gentleman the Assistant Postmaster-General will take this very seriously into consideration—presented their accounts in a more businesslike way, and if we knew the accounts were kept in a way that we might see the amount of capital involved, and judge to some extent whether they really do pay the same rates of wages or salary in proportion to the great profit made that an ordinary businesslike insurance company or cable company or business of that kind pays.
These four paragraphs of the Holt Report—paragraphs 14 to 17—are those which give rise to all this dissatisfaction among the different classes in the Post Office, and not only the Reports of the Committee, but the carrying out of that Report, ought to be criticised. There is the figure of 11.3. and nobody has disputed it, which shows the rise in the cost of living; and I think it is generally admitted that the rise given by the Post Office only amounts to something like 4 per cent. over the whole of the staff, which in the course of some years will rise to 7 per cent. Several speakers have agreed, and I think it is agreed on all sides of the House, that the returns of the cost of living did not cover the whole of the expenditure of the individual. There are many other things which have also gone up besides. We have the question of clothing and rates and coal and other things. The whole cost of living has gone up to a most tremendous extent. The Chairman of the Committee complained that comparisons were not given to him with other businesses. It has been pointed out time after time that it is very difficult to get these comparisons, but we could get these comparisons provided that the Post Office would give us their accounts in a more businesslike way and more like an ordinary business, and then it would be much easier to get the comparisons. The cable companies pay much higher for experts in telegraphy than the Post Office. I am informed that the recruits for the cable companies mostly come from His Majesty's Telegraph Service, and it seems to me that we are training men to go into the cable companies' offices because they pay better salaries. I do not see why the Post Office should pay lower salaries than the cable companies. I am informed that out of the 70,000,000 telegrams only 11,000,000 are foreign, and a large number probably come in code, so that the work is very synonomous with that of the cable companies. The staff complain not only of the increase in the cost of 1964 living, but they also ask to have a question considered which seems to me not to have been sufficiently considered by the Holt Committee. That Committee does not seem to me to have considered sufficiently the standard of living. To-day the Post Office staff is educated in a very different manner—and they must be in order to carry out postal work—from what was the case ten, fifteen, or twenty years ago. Not only that, but the ideals of the men in the Post Office are higher. We have a man in the London Post Office service who has got a picture in the Royal Academy. He has spent his evenings in painting; and there are also very many clever musicians amongst them. The men have much higher ideals, and they want to lead a higher life altogether.
Not only is there this question of education and these higher ideals, but the men desire a better life for their children. This is so through all ranks of employés like the Post Office, or as similar as we can get it; and why should not postal servants be allowed to spend the same kind of life which other men spend in a similar position? There is another point which I do not think has been touched upon very much, and that is the value of the work done. The work needs far greater intelligence now. The educational test is far higher and so is the standard of efficiency. With the machinery, and with all the improvements which are made in the telegraph, telephone, and postal services, the complexity is also much greater. Then there is the speeding up of the Post Office work. If you notice the great increase in the number of letters in the telephone work, and the work of the telegraph clerk, you will find that the percentage of work to the men is much higher than in the past few years. I would not like to say that the Post Office is being Americanised, like, I understand, the chairman of the Great Eastern Railway Company is Americanising that system by having an American manager; but in the competition to-day the Post Office must speed up. AH round more is expected, and I believe the staff do a great deal more than they did before. All these are good reasons for showing that the recommendations of the Holt Committee do not satisfy the Committee at the present time. A further complaint is made by the staff, and it is not only as to the interpretation of the Report, but as to the irregularities of that interpretation. In the new scale of pay for the London postmen the triennial increment in wages for the postmen and porters is adopted; while 1965 many of them have been getting an increase before at certain times, they get it now only every third year, whereas the bulk of the other classes in the Post Office service get an increment every year. Every good firm should and does, if it wants to keep its staff contented and efficient, consider every year the position of its staff, and every three years is too seldom for a man to have his increment considered. Some of the irregularities are so great that I know two or three cases where men under this new alteration will not reach their maximum until they get their pension. I think it shows a great irregularity where men arrive at their pension before they arrive at the maximum under the new Regulations.
Although we are very glad that the Government have seen their way to increase the payment to the new entrants, and have raised the minimum wage with which a man starts, I think that the time when a man reaches his maximum should be earlier. At present an ordinary postman does not arrive at his maximum early enough. The time when a man wants most money is between thirty and forty, and it ought to be possible, if he is worth the maximum sooner, for him to arrive at it earlier. A man will probably be most efficient from twenty-eight to thirty-five years of age, and I think that is the time he should receive his highest payment. There is one other example I should like to put before the House, and it is the case of the unestablished men in the Electric and Engineering Departments. That is an extraordinary case. Prior to the Report these men worked 50½ hours at 6½d. per hour, and they earned £1 7s. 4d. per week. It is true the Postmaster - General can say that he has granted forty-eight hours, but at what cost? The present position is that the men work forty-eight hours and only earn £1 6s., and that is a reduction of 1s. 4d. Including the immediate increase promised, that means an actual loss of 4d. It seems to me that the Post Office might employ more established men than it does. Its business is so large and so certain and sound in every way that I would like the Assistant Postmaster-General to tell me if it is not possible to reduce those large numbers of unestablished men. I admit that you must have some unestablished men, and it is impossible to run the Post Office business without a certain number of them, but I think the proportion employed is much too great, and I appeal to the 1966 Postmaster-General to give the Committee some promise that in the future an endeavour will be made during the coming year to reduce the: number of unestablished men. The hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir G. Parker) proposed a Standing Committee. He wanted a Permanent Committee, or something of that kind. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham (Mr. Hayes Fisher) proposed a Standing Committee of twenty-one members to be formed every Session to deal with this question. I cannot understand for the life of me how we should then be in a better position than we are now. I cannot see the advantage of it, because any Committee which the House of Commons thinks it wise to appoint must be responsible to the House, and we should want to keenly criticise that Committee. We should have the same application and complaints from people employed in the Post Office to Members of Parliament. I am anxious for a solution if we can only come to one, but I fail to see that we should be any nearer to the end we have in view. Neither do I think that the Standing Committee of officials foreshadowed by the hon. Member for Gravesend as his ultimate wish would bring us any nearer. I, for one, should be sorry if the power of dealing with these matters were taken away from the House of Commons. The House of Commons has to find the money and is responsible, and it is its duty to see that the servants of the State are treated in a proper and fair way.
I should be glad, however, having regard to the dissatisfaction and discontent which this Holt Committee's Report has given throughout the postal service, and, I think this Debate has shown, throughout the House of Commons, if the Postmaster-General could consent to a small Advisory Committee. I do not care what it is called. I know that many traditions are cherished in this House, and perhaps such a thing has never been done before; but let us get over that by calling it some name which will not interfere with the ancient traditions of this House. Let us call it an Advisory Committee, or whatever you like. I know that the postal servants have pledged themselves to accept the findings of this small Committee, consisting, I think, of perhaps one member selected by the Board of Trade, possibly two selected by the Postmaster-General, and one selected by the postal servants themselves. I do not see that this House would damage its position in any way if it asked this Committee to go into this question.
1967 It is too great a matter for the House to go into all the details. If one talks to any Member of the Hobhouse or the Holt Committee he says they were swamped with the tremendous details. It is more than an ordinary Member of Parliament can do to study its intricacies. Hon. Members on the other side have been studying it, and they have found the difficulties of this complex question. I feel that something which would get over the difficulty would be acceptable, and I therefore make an appeal to the Government to give us another day for the discussion of this question. It is, I think, the wish of the whole House that we should have another day to continue this discussion; and then I appeal to the Postmaster-General and to the Government to consider whether they could not give us this Committee, which I believe would, without any party feeling, be carried by an enormous majority in this House. I make a most earnest request to them to grant the appointment of this small Committee, because I believe, with those Members who have spoken before me, that it would settle, not permanently, because the question of wages can never be settled permanently, but for a considerable time, the difficulties which have arisen with the servants of His Majesty's Government.
§ 9.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BRADY
Let me assure the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down that the Holt Committee has not, entirely disappeared. I would also make another admission, which will satisfy the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham (Mr. Hayes Fisher), and that is that I was one of the inexperienced Members of the Committee who came into the House in 1910. I can, however, claim for myself, and indeed for every Member of the Committee, that what I lacked in experience I brought in the shape of fairness and a desire to get at the very bottom of this question. I recognise that my services on the Committee were not of very great value, but at the same time I look back without regret on the two years which I had the privilege of serving on the Committee, in the earnest hope that with the other Members of the Committee I may have done something at least to have improved the conditions of the postal workers. I may say at once, speaking for myself, that nobody is more pleased than I am that this opportunity has been given to us to-day of discussing what has come to be popu- 1968 larly known as the Holt Report. I was the Irish representative on the Committee, and I welcome the opportunity of making my position clear in reference to some matters about which there is not a little misunderstanding. May I remind the Committee that in appraising the justice or otherwise of the Committee's Report one or two main facts must be borne in mind. Of course, I know it is quite unnecessary to remind Members of this Committee that in the case of a Select Committee, such as that of the Holt Committee, a Minority Report could not be submitted, but it is right that public misconception on that point should be removed, because I have reason for believing that in Ireland, at any rate in some circles, there existed the belief that it is possible on a Committee of this kind to make a Minority Report. Let me say at once that had it been possible there might, at least have been one Minority Report. I do not wish for one moment to be taken as suggesting that there were any profound differences between the other Members of the Committee and myself in any of the essential matters, but I think that hon. Members will agree with me that in a vast and immense question of this kind it would have been very difficult, indeed, for nine hon. Members to take exactly the same view and express their minds in exactly the same language in a single Report. There is no Member of the Committee who asserts that the Report is all it ought to be or that it might be, but, as an ardent sympathiser with postal workers, I have no hesitation in declaring that the Report would be substantially different if I alone were responsible for it. I hope, however, hon. Members will not think me presumptuous in saying that. I am giving expressions to my own views from my own standpoint, and I want to do it temperately and justly. So far as the Report goes it-confers many valuable benefits on the rank and file of the Post Office service. Members of the Committee, whose aim it was to improve the condition of postal workers, endeavoured to make recommendations of such a nature as would' secure their being given practical effect, rather than as representing the mere aspirations of the men, aspirations which in the nature of things could not be achieved.
Acting with that, purpose it was not practicable for us to take a presumed 15 per cent. increase in the cost of living and act upon that. A great deal has been 1969 urged this evening in regard to the cost of living. I do not propose to traverse that ground, but it would be very easy to unduly emphasise the importance of that principle in a selected period as the sole basis of a proportionate increase of wages. Any such position would be untenable, and it would have been unwise to assume it in the best interests of the workers themselves, because it would have involved a reduction of wages in the event of any reduction in the cost of living, and it would have infallibly disturbed that security of settled income which is one of the main attractions of Government service. It would, in fact, be open to an unfriendly Government to set up a comparison between the cost of living in times of hardship with an existing lower cost of living and upon it justify a reduction in wages. The representatives of the postal workers recognised this danger, because they did not like to be pinned down to the question of the cost of living as the sole determining factor in ascertaining wages. As a friend of the workers I see great danger in the universal application of this principle of the cost of living. I am convinced that the strength of the case of the postal workers rests on a much more solid foundation. It rests, in fact, on the increasing complexity and arduous nature' of the work which they perform so well. There is another disadvantage under which postal workers labour in that regard, and it is the want of growth of superior posts proportionate to the huge expansion of the rank and file. During the existence of the Committee I was privileged, like the other members, to see the postal service in active operation, not alone in this country and in my own country, but both on land and on sea, and I was struck on every occasion by, I will not say the universal complexity of the work, but, at any rate, by the character of the work, which undoubtedly calls for the exercise of great vigilance and constant attention to duty. My experience naturally quickened my desire to work for the improvement of the condition of these men. Lawyers will agree with me it is sometimes dangerous to get a too friendly jury, whose sweeping verdict often defeats the end in view. I think I may say that the one consideration which the Members of the Committee had before them in determining these questions was the anxiety not to prevent too drastic and too sweeping a Report, which could only defeat their object, which was to remedy certain grievances.
1970 Having stated these general principles. I want very briefly to refer to one or two matters of very great importance to the Irish staff, and that is the principal reason why I have intervened in this Debate. One fact impressed itself on my mind during the lengthy progress of this Committee, and that was the real and honest difficulty of persons not personally conversant with Irish affairs in appraising at their true value Irish grievances in postal matters. I recognise, however, that the Chairman and every member of the Committee had a genuine desire to give the most patient and sympathetic consideration to the claims of Ireland. But however well-intentioned they were in this respect there were questions necessarily of deep interest to the Irish postal service which from time to time it was found impossible to consider under the terms of our reference. For some time past a burning question in Ireland has been one in connection with the Stores Department at Dublin and the difficulties we had in the Committee in dealing with that arose purely from the nature of our terms of reference. Until comparatively recent years the Secretary of the Post Office in Ireland was, in substance as well as in name, the chief administrative officer in Ireland under the Post Office system. All the correspondence with the public in Ireland passed through his hands, and it was an axiom of the service that he should be consulted on all matters affecting Post Office policy in Ireland. Owing to the centralisation of the work in Dublin all recommendations from subordinate officers passed before him for review before being forwarded to headquarters in London. In 1906 the first blow at the influence of the General Post Office in Dublin was struck, and the control I have indicated as being vested in the Irish Secretary was transferred from him to the Comptroller of Stores in London, and from 1906 recommendations respecting Post Office printing and such questions as uniform, and so on, could reach the Secretary's office in London without the Secretary in Dublin being aware of their purport. This was bound to have an adverse effect on the interests-of Ireland, because the views of the subordinate officer, of whom I wish to speak with the greatest respect—I mean the officer in charge of the Dublin stores—could not carry anything like the same weight as a recommendation coming from the Irish Secretary. In 1907 the Hobhouse Committee issued its Report, and, with, the permission of the Committee, I pro- 1971 pose to read a passage from that Report in reference to the point I am making as to the difficulty of bringing certain matters within our terms of reference. By the way, no officer from the Irish Department gave evidence before that Committee, but facts were disclosed which amazed that Committee, and they expressed their opinion in the following terms. I am very glad to see the Postmaster-General is in his place, and I have no doubt he will bear me out in this. The Report said:—Your committee have considered with care the relations which exist between the headquarters of administration in London and the superior provincial officials, as well as those which prevail between the higher grade of the latter. Your Committee are convinced that some considerable decentralisation of authority is required, in order to prevent waste of power and loss of efficiency.They conclude with very significant words:In the same way the Secretary of the Post Office in Scotland or Ireland has extremely limited powers. These officers are obliged to refer to London many questions touching the countries under their nominal control, which are never referred to the Postmaster-General or to the Secretary to the Post Office, but are settled by assistant secretaries of no higher rank or pay than the referer. The position of the Department is that this is done, not because local secretaries are meapable of dealing themselves with the questions referred, but in order to maintain administrative uniformity.The Committee refused to accept the view that any administrative uniformity was secured by that. The point to which, perhaps, I am somewhat laboriously coining as this: I tried to raise the point before the Select Committee, and I was lucky enough, perhaps in a moment of absent-mindedness on the part of the chairman, to elicit one or two replies from Sir Alexander King, the Secretary to the Post Office. What happened? On the very next morning, when the evidence appeared, I was somewhat surprised to find that my questions and Sir Alexander King's answers were not there. The chairman ruled, and very properly ruled, if I may respectfully say so, that those were matters outside the scope of our reference, and that we could not go into them. That is one instance of the difficulties under which we laboured in bringing before the 'Committee admitted Irish grievances. If I had been a little less inexperienced than I was when the Committee was first set up, and if I had any voice in the settlement of the terms of reference again, I should certainly be very vigilant to see that they were wider in scope and admitted, from the Irish standpoint, many other considerations which we were debarred from bringing before the Committee.
1972 I want to bring to the notice of the Committee another Irish grievance on which we feel so deeply, and on which, unfortunately, I found myself rather in disagreement with my colleagues on the Committee—the question of promotion. I quite recognise that it is a very delicate question, and I do not wish to press the point an iota further than justice and fairplay entitle me to do. I am satisfied that the Irish sorting clerks and the telegraphist staff in Dublin have a genuine grievance in the matter of promotion. I am not going to trouble the Committee by quoting the evidence, which went a long way to show that a largo number of these men were frequently passed over for promotion when a higher post became vacant, apparently without good reason. In some cases as many as 100 men were passed over when a vacancy came to be filled. I want to be perfectly fair to the Department in this matter. The Departmental answer was that all of these men, or many of them were men who had come into the service under the old system of nomination, as distinguished from those who had come in later on under the system of competitive examination. When we come to analyse the cases, as I did with a great deal of patience and care, as it was my duty to do, I satisfied myself that many men were passed over who had entered by competitive examination. Here again, to be perfectly fair to the Department, the official answer was, "Oh, yes, but we selected the best man. We may have passed over a 100 or 120 men, but we selected the best man." In this matter I think too high a standard of efficiency has been set up. I tried to persuade my colleagues on the Committee that the case was somewhat similar to that of the ecclesiastical authorities who, being anxious to secure a good parish priest, insisted on appointing a man who was brilliant enough to be a bishop or an arch-bishop. That principle has obtained un-duly in the selection of telegraphists und sorting clerks. They look for too brilliant men, and good men are passed over— who would be able to adequately discharge the onerous duties of sorting clerks and telegraphists.
I am sorry the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Holt) is not in his place, because I was speaking to him yesterday on this point, and he quite agreed that my memory does not serve me wrong. I actually wanted to press an amendment to the Report whereby greater importance would 1973 be attached to seniority than at present obtains. I am far from saying that a man should be chosen merely because he happens to be the senior officer, but I said then, and I am still convinced, that greater attention might be paid, without any disadvantage to the service, to the question of seniority, coupled with efficiency. The hon. Member for Hexham pointed out to me, and I could not challenge his argument, that the Committee was against me on that point, and that I should only be wasting time by formally moving the amendment. In deference to that view, I did not formally move the amendment, but I regret I did not do so, because, at any rate, if I had not secured one supporter for my amendment, I should have placed on record my conviction that the Dublin men had not been treated fairly in this matter. I wish to refer to the question of auxiliary labour. Let me tell the Committee that the question of auxiliary labour presses with exceptional severity on Ireland. I am on very strong ground in making that statement, because I can refer to the Hobhouse Committee's Report, and the very words I have used are to be found almost verbatim in the Hobhouse Report, on this question. I recognise that auxiliary labour in the Post Office cannot be done away with entirely, but I say that much less of it could be employed in the Post Office than is employed to-day, and that that is especially the case in Ireland. I am glad to think that this question has been dealt with in our Report, and we are very hopeful—and I hope I may succeed in impressing this upon the right hon. Gentleman—that while auxiliary labour cannot be dispensed with entirely, it will be very largely reduced in the future.
That remark also applies to the question of overtime. What I have in my mind is the case of Belfast. A very remarkable state of things is found to exist as regards overtime in the postal service in Belfast. In the case of Belfast, the need for an additional staff existed in the opinion of the Belfast postmaster nine months before the full supply of the established staff was granted. That was justified by the figures which were then available and which were supplied to the Committee. The Committee was strongly of opinion that the Postmaster-General had not got a sufficiently free hand in increasing the number of the established staff. I recognise that here again the right hon. Gentleman and his predecessor had to get 1974 over the Treasury difficulty, but when such an unanswerable case as this has been made out by the Post Office to the Treasury, it is the bounden duty of the Treasury to see that overtime on such an enormous scale has not been resorted to in a great public Department.
I wish to make a very brief reference to one point. A short time before the Select Committee was set up, much interest was created in the minds of Irish women clerks employed in London by a report that it was contemplated to make a large reduction in the number of women clerks, and to set up an entirely new and inferior grade, to be known as women assistant clerks. This would have been a very serious matter for the large number of Irish women employed in London in the postal service. These women have been patiently waiting for vacancies in Dublin and throughout Ireland, and if the report was true that this inferior class was to be set up, there was little or no prospect for many years of their returning to their native land. I can quite recognise that the Post Office is an Imperial service, and that if a person selects to enter that service, he must serve wherever he is sent; but in the Post Office service we apply common-sense rules, and we know that as far as possible the authorities facilitate the return of these women to Ireland as soon as opportunity occurs. The point I am making is that if this subordinate class were set up, the chances of these people returning to Ireland would be greatly decreased.
There is another important reason, and here, happily, it is not merely an Irish grievance, but one common to all parts of the United Kingdom. The previous Committees found that the minimum salary for women clerks should be from £55 to £65 a year, and one of the chief reasons why they found that these people were entitled to the salary which I have named is the fact that it was impossible for them to support themselves in London with lower pay in a manner befitting their position. I do not want to exaggerate their position, but the Hobhouse Committee were unanimously of opinion that it was essential, if these people were to live in a condition befitting their position in life, that they should get a salary of £55 to £65 a year, and, as a matter of fact, in many such cases, certainly in the case of Irish women living here, away from their friends, their salary had to be supplemented by grants from 1975 home. It was urged, truly, that if this new class was created it would follow that no woman who was not residing with parents or friends in London, at a minimum of expense, could afford to seek one of the new posts, and that grievance would not alone press on Ireland, but on provincial England, and, of course, on Scotland, and the result would be that there will be a ring-fence round London, and that these positions will be reserved for people living in London or in the vicinity. I am happy to think that the Committee, of which I was a member, made a very distinct finding on this question, and they did not consider that there was any need for the intermediate class, and the intention of setting up this new class has been abandoned. I wish to say this, as an expression of my own personal opinion: When the immediate dispute has passed away, whatever be the shortcomings of the Holt Committee—and I suppose we were not infallible— I believe the work and efforts of the Select Committee will have met, at any rate, with some gratitude, and that it will be regarded as the work of men who did their best under very difficult circumstances. When these increases come into operation, as they have already begun to operate, many hundreds of thousands of pounds will be added to the Post Office wages bill, a well-deserved benefit to a body of servants loyal to the State, and devoted to the convenience of its people.
§ Captain GILMOUR
I should not have intruded in this Debate but for the fact that I was one of the Members of the Holt Committee. A good many hard things have been said of the Holt Committee, and I am well aware that, with my colleagues, we had a problem to face, the magnitude of which I think must have already become apparent to hon. Members who have listened to the Debate. I do not pretend to claim that the Committee in exercising their judgment have always solved problems, or even gone the length that they would desire to have gone, but at the same time, while I am speaking only for myself, I may speak also in the name of two other hon. Members on this side of the House who were associated with me on the Committee, that we take full responsibility for this Report, that we felt that no body of Members of this House, composed as we were of very divergent political views, could have been more amicable in the discussions which took place, nor could we, I believe, have 1976 expected under any circumstances to be more unanimous than we were. It has been said, among other things, that the result of this Report means that there is a greater bitterness existing among the employés of the Post Office than existed before it was brought about. I should be indeed sorry to think that that was so. We had not only to make ourselves conversant with the conditions of work, and the conditions of employment, but we honestly, I believe, took into our consideration not only the cost of living, but the circumstances under which the employés in the Post Office might reasonably expect to live, and we had, in forming our conclusion, to take such opportunity as we could of comparison with outside employment, and while we have admitted that it is difficult, and I think hon. Members who have studied the question will admit the great difficulty, we did our best, and we hope that the Post Office employés will recognise that they have got a great deal which strengthens their position, which gives them substantial advantages, and which, I hope, would add to the efficiency of the Post Office itself.
There were one or two particular points in which as an individual I took a peculiar interest. Criticism has been directed against the system of classification. I think the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Holt) has placed our view as a Committee on that point very clearly before this Committee, and, for myself, I am in agreement with the view which he expressed. It is inevitable in any case of this kind that there will be individual hardships, and that there will be cases where the hard and fast lines which are bound to be drawn will necessitate difficult and hard cases. In regard to this classification, there was one point which dealt more particularly with the Scottish interests, and which now under a recommendation will bring the question of living in England and Scotland on to a common basis. That, I think, will be an advantage which the postal servants in Scotland have long desired, and I hope that in the working of this scheme it will be found that the general advantages of the new departure will outweigh any small disadvantages which may go with it. I wish to say a word with regard to the question of K Company. I feel very strongly upon this point, and I would press it upon the Postmaster-General, because I do think, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me, 1977 that, so far as his Department is concerned, there is a just and proper claim upon the Treasury to meet this particular case. Having been associated to some ex-tout with the Service, I have gone so far as to say that I thought the time had even come when the larger question which was outside the purview of our particular Committee ought to receive the consideration of the Government of the day, and that some steps should be taken whereby a man who has served his country in one Department of the State might, when transferring to another, be able to count the years he has served.
There is only one other point to which I wish to refer in connection with the investigation which we had to make as a Committee. It was our duty—and I confess one of the most interesting of the duties which we had to perform—to investigate the housing conditions under which the men work when carrying out their daily duties in the service of the State, and I am bound to say that I think there is distinct room for improvement in the matter of inspection. I would press upon the attention of the Postmaster-General those parts of the recommendations of the Committee which deal with that matter. I believe that, with the best intentions, the Department has failed on more than one occasion to look sufficiently far ahead in making provision for expansion in certain districts, and have been too niggardly in making those alterations and improvements which are desirable, not only from the point of view of the staff, but from the point of view of carrying out the work of the public service to the best advantage. Let me say that there is no member of the Committee, and indeed I believe no Member of this House, who, in judging of these questions, and in settling any matter in connection with the service of the State, would not desire to give as fully and freely to those servants as lay in his power. While the Committee were earnestly desirous to meet, so far as they could, the just and fair demands of the servants of the State, they had at the same time the duty, in my opinion, laid upon them to keep in view their duty to the general taxpayer, and their responsibility to this House. I do not think that there is any hon. Member who has served on such a Committee as we have had the honour of serving upon, and who has had to face the difficulties and criticism we have had to face, but will believe me when I say that it is very desirable that no body of men should have their hand forced, so 1978 to speak, by pressure from outside. I would only say for myself that, while having every sympathy with the staff, and every honest desire to meet them in a fair and proper manner, I yet felt it to be my duty to resist what I may call extravagant demands, because I believe that in the long run any Committee which has to deal with this subject will find that it will pay them, as it will pay the country, and, indeed, best serve the interests of the staff, if they place these things on business principles, and not be led away by feelings of sympathy into committing themselves to a policy which would be disastrous, not only to the finances of the country, but to the interests of the public service. I thought it my duty to express from this side of the House our complete agreement with the Committee, and particularly with the manner in which the Chairman (Mr. Holt) conducted the business of that Committee, and also to express our appreciation of his services and at the same time to say what a pleasure it was to serve on the Committee.
§ Sir ALFRED MOND
No one who has studied at all the very difficult and complicated question which occupied the attention of the Committee, for which the Chairman spoke in such an interesting way this afternoon, will doubt for a single moment that their task was a difficult and invidious one. There is nothing more difficult than to arrive at what is a reasonable basis of fixing wages. That difficulty is certainly enhanced when dealing with a special business in which there is no comparative standard such as the Post Office, but I must confess that after the defence made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham I am not convinced that the Committee went as far in considering the matter as the terms of reference permitted them to go. Nor do I consider that they adopted the right method of approaching the subject. What I should have considered the right principle for approaching this subject is that the State as an employer ought to set an example to other employers, and give better conditions than those given by the private employer. We sometimes advocate a minimum wage, and say what other people ought to pay, and I think that as a State organisation we ought; at any rate, to say that we are paying a good living wage to our employés. The argument at page 2 of the Report is that they could get men to do the work at even lower wages. That argument has always 1979 been employed by all those who pay low wages. It has been introduced against all our minimum wage legislation. After all, we are dealing with a state monopoly and not with a competitive business. We are dealing with a State monopoly which makes a large amount of money for the taxpayer. Surely in the first instance the Post Office exists to provide postal facilities for the community, and it ought to pay good wages to its employés, who are contributors to the taxation.
I think that it is rather the opposite view, which is so often being taken, that these sums are so large that therefore the amount which the taxpayer will receive will be diminished. That vitiates the standpoint from which this question has been approached so often. It is no part of the business of the Post Office to relieve the general taxpayer, and certainly not at the expense of these working men. How far has this Report, or the conclusion of this Report, gone to meet the purpose for which the Committee was appointed? On the 7th December, 1911, the Prime Minister stated that the Committee was appointed because of the recent increase in the cost of living. The increase in the cost of living was the fundamental basis from which to approach the work. It was admitted on all sides that the Board of Trade figures—I might say in passing that whenever I have had an opportunity of investigating those figures I certainly think they are rather on the low side than on the high side—show that the increase in the cost of living has been 11.3 per cent. The hon. Member for Hexham argued at considerable length that the rise in wages in 1897 and 1898 had been considerable and that if you went back a considerable number of years you would find that there had been a large fall in prices since 1884. We know those figures. But, after all, no private employer in the country has been able to deal recently with wages on that basis. No private firm of employers who have had to increase their wages within the last three years on the ground of increased cost of living would have been able to argue that, because wages in 1884 were low and prices were high; therefore, the present rise in prices is not to be taken into consideration.
§ Sir A. MOND
I do not suppose that any private employer would bind himself 1980 not to reduce wages subsequently. My own experience is that the reduction of wages, when they are once raised, is a very doubtful proposition. Besides that, the hon. Member stated that a number of witnesses were not ready to agree to anything in the nature of a sliding scale, but he cannot get away from the fact that Mr. Stewart, who, after all, represents the largest number of men involved in the postal service, or a very large percentage, was ready to accept some condition of the kind. But that does not seem to me to-be a justification for raising wages about 4 per cent. where the cost of living has gone up 11.3 per cent., nor does it seem to me a justification for leaving maximum rates entirely where they are. After all, what is the grievance of the people with maximum rates I They are actually receiving to-day 11 per cent. less effectual wages than they received before the rise took place. Although they are doing the same or perhaps more work they are receiving less money than it was thought to be worth before the rise in prices took place. I cannot say that that seems to me to be a very happy conclusion to arrive at. I cannot see that it is fair to leave these people with no increase whatsoever in their wages because they happen to be at the maximum.
It would take too long to go over a great deal of this now familiar ground, but there is a certain number of points which have been put before me by those engaged in the postal service in my district about which I would like to say a few words. One was the question of classification. The Member for Hexham said that the present system of classification was not perfect, but that it was probably as good a system as they could obtain. I beg respectfully to differ from him. The present system of classification is grossly unfair. Take the case of my own Constituents and their position on this index number. London is 100, Swansea is 95, Cardiff 93, Manchester 88, and Birmingham is 87. That is the index number of the cost of living. Cardiff, Manchester, and Birmingham are in the first class. Swansea is in the second class. Therefore, a man in Swansea is receiving pay on a much lower scale, though the cost of living is considerably higher. That results from the curious idea of units of work. A postman in Swansea who is occupied for eight hours a day carrying letters does as much work as the postman occupied for eight hours a day carrying 1981 letters in Birmingham and Liverpool. If there was more work in one place than the other there would have to be more postmen.
§ Sir A. MOND
He may do different kind of work, but he is doing the same number of hours of work. That was my point. After all, you have the men doing the same number of hours work, and the point that indoor work is more difficult is one as to which some doubt was expressed by the people themselves, because some of them are prepared to do more indoor work. But you fully employ the man, and the cost of living is higher, and it seems to me quite unfair to say that he is treated fairly by paying him the same wage as a man whose work is just the same, and the character of whose work is very similar, though not exactly similar, but who lives in a place where the cost of living is lower. It seems to me that a much fairer method of arriving at a result would be to take a combination of the cost of living and the average rate of wages paid in that district; because there, again, the hon. Member for Hexham said that he thought the Committee had come to the conclusion that the rate of wages which were paid were about the same as were being paid for a similar class of work in the district. I can assure him that, as far as Wales is concerned, that is not the case. I can assure him that the unskilled labourer at the age of twenty-two, doing anything like the same amount of work as a postman, would certainly be obtaining more money than 22s. 6d.; and if you go a little out to towns which I know very well you will find postmen aged twenty-two obtaining 20s. a week when I know that the lowest for which a private employer can get unskilled labour is 25s. a week, in my own experience.
My criticism of the whole scale of pay laid down is that it is much too low in the earlier years. The rate of growth is too slow to deal with the present acceleration. It is too little to give a man of twenty-one in Class II. 21s. a week. A man cannot marry and feed a family on 21s. a week in these commercial centres. When a man is young and creates a family he wants a reasonably high wage, and it is no use asking him to wait until he is middle-aged before you put him to a really comfortable higher wage which he would not consider unreasonable. I think that this scale ought to be revived in the opposite 1982 sense, making it higher when people are young and bringing the maximum into-operation at an earlier date. Though something has been done, as the hon. Member said, in that direction, it seems to me that the maximum is still a long way off, and the people who have already reached the maximum are in a very poor condition indeed. I must confess that I am not at all impressed by the hon. Gentleman's defence in regard to women telegraphists, whose wages have not been increased at all. Apparently the fact was that the wages were compared with the wages of the women in the telephone service, and that, consequently, it was thought that they were getting enough in comparison. That, after all, is very inconclusive. The women telegraphists are working at a certain salary which is not comparable to the salaries that men telegraphists receive, and I submit that women telegraphists, in view of the work they do, are entitled to-be paid pro rata with other employés in the Post Office, having regard to the work they do. It is not a very large class of whom I speak, and I hope the Postmaster-General will see his way to remedy what-is a very grave injustice to women who-are working in the telegraph service. I was very glad to hear from the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Holt) that the-Committee over which he presided do not desire that the man who works forty-eight hours should have a reduction-in his wages. But that is what is actually taking place. Instances have arisen in-which men whose hours have been reduced have been informed that they may work overtime in order that they may get back the money they had before. A more topsy-turvy idea I have never heard of than that a man whose hours are reduced is to have his wages decreased, and that he may work overtime to get back those wages. As I understand the Committee intended that a decrease of hours should not involve a decrease of wages, and I hope, that intention being quite clear, that the Postmaster-General will give attention to what is a serious grievance among the engineering staff and other men employed under those conditions.
In regard to the telephone staff, I have received a complaint from a man who says that he is receiving to-day a much lower salary than he received when he was under the National Telephone Company, and that he is now receiving 27s., whereas formerly he was receivig 33s. Though we know what was the general intention, one 1983 can imagine that there are cases in which that intention has not been carried out in a manner in which that intention was stated in the House of Commons. I can only hope that the case of the telephone staff, particularly the non-established staff, will receive the consideration of the Postmaster-General. It is, of course, a most difficult and responsible task to deal with these very complicated and very difficult questions. Giving the subject the best attention I can, I do feel that there is still a considerable upward movement possible from the point at which the Holt Committee left it. I certainly think that the Post Office servants have still grievances which require to be remedied, and I would like to support the suggestion which has been made that a small Committee should be appointed which would arbitrate on those points and those grievances which still remain. I am sure that the Post Office servants are, on the whole, very loyal both to the public and to the State. I am sure the last thing they desire is to inconvenience the public or the service to which they belong by coming out on strike; but there is no use disguising the fact that there is a good deal of general discontent among men who have been long in the service, men who are reputable and respectable, and who feel that their case has not been met as fully as it ought to have been met. I trust, therefore, that the Postmaster-General will be able to see his way to appointing a small Committee to arbitrate upon and deal with a number of questions which still await investigation. No Member of Parliament can possibly enter into all those points, and it would certainly relieve the minds of hon. Members if the Postmaster-General appointed such a Committee; otherwise, I am afraid, many of us will find some difficulty in supporting the Report of the Committee, and the recommendations that have been based upon it.
§ Mr. GOLDMAN
Like other Members of the House who have preceded me, I feel considerable regret that only one day has been allocated to the discussion of this Report. Judging by the interest displayed in the Debate, and by the large number of Members who wish to speak on the subject, I do not think it unreasonable to ask the Government to give us another day for the discussion of the Report. I am informed that a definite promise has been 1984 given. May I ask the Postmaster-General whether the Government have decided to give us another day for this discussion?
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
So far as I can gather, my hon. Friends behind me and hon. Gentlemen opposite generally desire that a second day should be allocated to the Post Office discussion. We have had a very full Debate, if not entirely, almost entirely, on the Holt Report, and a number of very interesting speeches have been made on both sides of the House, both of attack and defence. If another day is given for some further discussion of the Holt Report and for any criticisms or remarks Members may desire to offer on the Estimates pure and simple, I think that ought to satisfy the reasonable wishes and desires of the House. If that is the desire of hon. Members, on behalf of the Government I shall be very willing to give a second day.
§ Mr. GOULDING
May I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that a very large number of Members desire to take part in this discussion? They have been sitting here the whole day, and only a few speakers have addressed the Committee on the subject of the Report. Very few private Members have had an opportunity of speaking.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
It is precisely for that that I am giving a second day, though not exclusively for the discussion of the Holt Report, but also for the discussion of the Post Office Estimates. I think that quite recently there was a similar discussion upon the Report of the Committee of which I was the chairman, and on that occasion only one day was given.
§ Mr. SANDERSON
I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that something like fifty Members want to speak upon the Report. The right hon. Gentleman and a few other Members have occupied four hours of the time, and very little has been left to Members of the Back Benches.
§ Mr. FIELD
I would like to remind the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster-General that a great number of new subjects have arisen since the issue of the Hobhouse Report, and on this occasion there is scarcely a Member of the House who is not interested in asking him that another full day should be given for the discussion of the Report. I have had numerous letters, deputations, telegrams, and all that kind of thing, but we are absolutely dummies in this House.
Mr. TYSON WILSON
I do appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to give another day for the discussion of the Report, because a large number of Members desire to speak.
§ The CHAIRMAN
Perhaps I can assist the Committee in this matter. If another day is given for the Vote now under discussion, clearly hon. Members who catch the Chairman's eye, can speak on any subject in connection with the Vote, and there cannot be restriction of subjects as long as there are matters that appertain to the Vote.
§ Mr. REMNANT
It is some years since we had any chance of taking part in a discussion on these questions of the Holt Committee and the Hobhouse Committee, and I do appeal to the Government to give us another day to deal with this matter exclusively. A large number of Members are anxious to speak on it.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I must point out that the Government have no power in this matter. The fact is that it rests with hon. Members themselves as to what subjects upon which they may address the Committee, and there is no limitation in that respect except what hon. Members like themselves.
§ Mr. POLLOCK
There are two important subjects, one the Holt Committee, and the other the question of the telephone. Both of those might well occupy debate for a day each. We claim that we should have the opportunity of a lull discussion of the Holt Report, and we say that the Government cannot shelter themselves from escape from criticism on the question of the telephone. They are both very important matters from the public point of view, and I hope that the Government will give us a full day for the Holt Committee, and also an opportunity of discussing the question of the telephone.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
Is it not the fact that the Government never settle what Supply goes down on Thursday, and it is an exceedingly bad precedent for this Committee to appeal for any Supply day. Supply is always arranged through what is commonly known as the usual channels, and if we desire two or three days for the Post Office Vote, that depends on the usual channels of arrangement.
§ Mr. GOLDMAN
I am exceedingly sorry that the interruptions have not resulted in a more satisfactory answer from the right hon. Gentleman, and that adds one more to the thousand grievances that exist in connection with the telephone and Post Office service. I am sure the House sympathises with the disappointment that the Chairman of the Holt Committee must feel, that the conclusions his Committee arrived at have not met with the general acceptance either of the postal servants as a whole or of the large body of opinion in the House of Commons. I think it will be some satisfaction to him to know that there is not one Member in this House who does not view with sympathy, and who does not acknowledge the great complexity of the problem with which the Committee was faced, and those who have given the subject some attention, and who have studied the grievances and the aspirations of the Post Office servants, will, I am sure, give unfeigned admiration to the care and the consideration which the Committee have given to those grievances. I do not wish to make a general attack upon the conclusions of the Holt Committee, although I and some of my Friends do feel that in its incidence justice has not been done to many classes of the Post Office servants. I submit that whatever basis you may adopt as the foundation of the revision of your scale of increase, that that basis should operate equally and fairly among all classes of postal servants. I do not wish to argue that the conclusions are just, or that they are not just, but I do feel that in a number of cases in their operation, and in their incidence, they discriminate unfairly as against certain classes of the Post Office servants.
Let me take an instance, the case of the indoor supervising staff. They number approximately 3,950 men. They are drawn from the rank and file of the Post Office servants. They have rendered faithful service to the country and are chosen from the fact of their exceptional capacity for their work. You have among this class postmasters and supervising superintendents, who are receiving and enjoying some of the plums of the profession and are holding important posts with very substantial salaries; but, on the other hand, you have got this great body of men, 2,494, who are only eligible for salaries varying, according to the office in which they work, from £140 to £190, and in the case of the supervising assistants, Class II., from £180 to a maximum of £260. 1987 There are therefore only 469 officers out of the total of 2,963 who can ever hope to arrive at a scale above £260. It is, of course, true that promotion takes place from the lower levels, but I would like to point out that those posts are exceedingly few in number, and the tendency is to decrease them while there is an increasing number of candidates for those posts. The result is a decrease in the rate of promotion. In the case of the overseers, and the assistant superintendents Class II., there is a steady decrease in their promotion. Between 1892 and 1896 the average number of years an overseer had to wait in order to get his promotion was only fifteen years, and now it is nearly twenty-two years, while the time an assistant superintendent Class II. had to wait at the same period has increased from twenty-two years to twenty-five years; the prospects have thus steadily decreased before their eyes, and they are feeling a bitter and continual disappointment of their hopes. Five-sixths of these overseers have already reached their maximum, and as far as I can judge, they are never likely to reach a higher level. It is obvious that those people want a mitigation, an immediate, mitigation, of the disadvantage they are suffering from rather than an increase in the remuneration of the position to which they are never likely to attain. The Holt Committee seem to have adopted the more unpopular Biblical maximum, to him that hath shall be given. Four assistant postmasters who were receiving from £520 to £600 are to receive from £550 to £650, and three who were receiving from £410 to £500 are to receive from £450 to £550, and four who were receiving from £360 to £450 are now to receive from £380 to £450. I have nothing to say against those gentlemen, and no doubt they have rendered very useful service. But the contrast between the generosity shown to these higher grades and the treatment of the overseers is very great. Of these officers, 1,135 will receive no advantage whatever from the increases under the scheme, and a great majority of the others will receive only infinitesimal amounts. Take the case of overseers: the only increase given to them is £5 on their minimum; and, so far as numbers are concerned, only twenty-two will receive any benefit under this heading. With regard to assistant superintendents, Class II., the minimum is raised by only £10. This will mean only a sum of about £100 a year in 1988 respect of these men. I make an appeal that this particular case should be reconsidered. In a number of cases these overseers and supervisors, who are exercising authority over the rank and file, are actually in receipt of salaries less than the maximum of those who are in lower grades than themselves. The cases of Bournemouth and Grimsby have been referred to, and the Postmaster-General has admitted that there are a large number of others where those in authority are receiving smaller salaries than those below them. The very fact that they are in positions of authority necessitates a higher standard of living, which is not compensated for by the salary they are receiving. Reference has been made to the transferred staff of the telephone service. I was sorry to hear that the chairman of the Committee did not see that there was any justice in the case of grievance which they have tried to establish. The Postmaster-General was under a pledge that they should not suffer through the transfer.
§ Mr. GOLDMAN
I do not say that they have suffered in the matter of their immediate salary; they are receiving the salaries that they had when they were transferred; but their prospects have been materially interfered with in consequence 6f the classification under which they are being incorporated. They are placed in post offices where the units are graded by the amount of general post office work, and not by the standard of the telephone work. You may have men who have been receiving a high salary relegated to-offices where they have a small amount of general post office work and an accumulation of telephone work, and in these cases they get a small salary as compared with the post offices, where there is a large amount of general post office work and very little telephone work. I would give as illustrations Barrow and Carlisle. At Barrow you have comparatively little post office work and a great concentration of telephone work. It is on the lower grade, and the operator gets 24s. for his work. In Carlisle, where there is a great deal of post office work and very little telephone work, the operator gets 25s. The classification affects the prospects of advancement of these telephone men, because if they are graded to a lower office than that to which their salaries entitle them their promotion is I slower than it would otherwise be. 1989 It operates unfairly in the way of classification and grading. A man may be receiving 45s. He is brought from a much lower grade. Over 2,000 men are affected by this who are relegated to a much lower grade, where the men are getting only 25s., 26s., or 30s. a week. If these men of the lower grade get promotion it does not affect them at all, because they are only to get an increase if their maximum of 45s. has been reached. If there is promotion and they are promoted to a higher grade, and that higher grade maximum is under the 45s. which they are receiving, they still come in for no benefit, although their responsibilities are very largely increased. That system in itself is ample justification for the suggestion to do away with the classification between postmen, telephone people, and telegraphists by separate offices for post office, telephone, and telegraphic work.
Finally, I should like to make reference, and briefly, to the case of the sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses. I was, indeed, very sorry to hear from the Chairman of the Holt Committee that he could feel no sympathy whatever with this class, which represent 22,000 men and women in the country. I admit that a large number of them are, or have been, in a fair way of business, and that they have only taken the Post Office work as an auxiliary. We are told, however, by many of the sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses that the now services that have been imposed upon them by the Post Office are accumulating vastly, so much so, that their appoinments are really full-time work, and that at present they are working eight hours a day for the Post Office. The right hon. Gentleman opposite shakes his head. I could give him many illustrations. I do not suggest for a moment that the Committee have dealt unjustly with this class. On the contrary, they have suggested that between £140,000 and £150,000 per year should be given to sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses. If they get that amount, it would be an average of £7 10s., which in itself would be satisfactory. But as the hon. Member for Sheffield has pointed out, there are considerable reductions to be made which cannot be taken into consideration at all. Sounding instruments have been, and are rapidly being, done away with, and are being replaced by the telephone, and that will amount to £45,000 out of the £140,000. References have also been made to the National Insurance work. Twenty-three thousand 1990 pounds is alloted for that. As has been pointed out, that is not an increase, that is for services rendered. In fact, there is this great complaint, that they are not receiving per unit sufficient for the work in connection with the Insurance Act.
It is admitted, as the hon. Member mentioned, that on the unit scale it takes much more time to sell a pound's worth of stamps for insurance purposes than for ordinary purposes, and these men will tell you that the work for insurance purposes is much more intricate, because they are accustomed to people buying a shilling's-worth or sixpence worth of ordinary postage stamps. But that is not the way they have to deal with insurance stamps. Halfpennies come into the calculation, and there are 4½d. and 6½d. stamps, and the business is more intricate and they are more liable to losses than when dealing with ordinary postage stamps. That is brought to our notice frequently. When these people get a sheet of insurance stamps the postmaster is immediately debited with the full amount, and he has to account for that amount. In many cases the difficulty of accounting for the sale of insurance stamps accurately is so great that in one London post office the postmaster sold over £6,000 worth of these stamps and for that the emoluments allowed him was £5, but he actually lost on account of the sale of these stamps £4 so that for the whole of his hard work he had only £1.
There is this feature in connection with these sub-postmasters which I should like to refer to: Sixty per cent. of the sub-postmasters in this country only receive £1 a week—£50 a year. I might mention the case of a man in my own Constituency, a sub-postmaster who only receives £60 a year, though he has been in the service of the country for forty years. He carries on no other business than that of sub-postmaster. He has had to find suitable premises to satisfy the Post Office authorities; he has bad to pay for the whole of the furniture; he has had to pay rent, lighting, and heating of the shop. He has had to pay for pens, paper, blotting paper. He gets no sick allowance, no pension, and if he is ill he has to pay a substitute. And if he cannot find a substitute and applies to the Post Office, and they send down a man, he has to receive payment at the rate of his ordinary pay. These men have to find their own clerks to carry out their own telegrams. In my own case I live up a hill, 1991 and I have had considerable sympathy when I saw that man, especially before the election and after the election, having to bring telegrams and deliver them himself. I do not wish to emphasise the case further, except to say I do believe there are legitimate grievances in the case of these people which ought to be redressed. I think that in deciding how we should deal with these cases no better suggestion could have been made than that made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend, when he suggested that a small Arbitration Board, composed of a Member of the Government, a representative Post official, with possibly the Industrial Commissioner as Chairman, should be appointed to inquire and decide whether the standard which the Holt Committee set up for arriving are adequate or not to the conditions laid down. I hope the suggestion of my hon. Friend will receive general acceptance both by the House and the Government.
§ The ASSISTANT POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Captain Norton)
Not infrequently hon. Members rise in all parts of the House and claim the indulgence of the House, but I think I may do so with very good reason, because I am placed in a somewhat exceptional position. Many years ago I was an advocate in this House of the grievances of Post Office servants, and through my endeavours the Committee known as the Hobhouse Committee was appointed. At that time I was given to understand by the employés' officials that they would be perfectly satisfied if they could have an appeal to their employers, and that in the event of the House of Commons being allowed to deal with their case that would, in all probability, settle the question. That was what I was authorised to say at that time. After about five years had elapsed a demand was made for another Committee. Let me say that the postal officials were at the time very well satisfied with the result of the Hobhouse Committee, but nevertheless they approached the late Postmaster-General and asked for another Committee. I used my influence with my right hon. Friend in favour of granting that Committee, and it was appointed by the Members of this House, but now hon. Members wish to throw over the recommendations of that Committee. The case made here to-day is not against the Department or against my right hon. Friend, but it is against the Committee of 1992 the House of Commons appointed by the House. In face of that we are asked by the hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir G. Parker) to form an outside Committee of a certain character. Is there any probability that a Committee outside would give greater satisfaction than a Committee inside the House. On this point my right hon. Friend has already quoted the spokesman of the officials, who stated distinctly that they wished to have a Committee of this House. Therefore I cannot see that any of the suggested Committees would have a better result. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham (Mr. Hayes Fisher) suggested that in every Parliament at the beginning of every Session a Committee of twenty-one should be appointed to deal automatically with this question. Again I fail to see that a Committee of twenty-one would have a greater chance of success than the Committee of nine which has been formed.
Sir G. PARKER
Really the hon. and gallant Gentleman must be fair. Not a single hon. Member of this House has suggested that the Holt Committee's Report should not be accepted. What we have stated is that there are certain omissions which ought to be put right, and that there are certain inequalities in their awards which ought to be adjusted. No one has suggested that the Committee's Report should be repudiated, because many of the awards are perfectly satisfactory.
§ Captain NORTON
I rather took it that hon. Members opposite were severely criticising the Holt Report, and were not satisfied with it, and that practically amounts to a rejection of the Report. The Report must either be accepted or rejected. The hon. Member for Gravesend spoke of Post Office profits, and on this point I should like to read a statement made by my right hon. Friend to the postal officials. He said:—The Post Office is not like a private business. Parliament has established a monopoly and fixed certain rates of postage. If Parliament chooses to relax that monopoly or reduce those rates, the profit would disappear. It does not do so because it desires to retain for the Exchequer the profit so made.Precisely so. If we were to act in a converse manner, seeing that there is a great deficit for telegrams in consequence of sixpenny telegrams having been introduced, the converse would be the case, and we should have to reduce the wages of the men and women employed in the tele- 1993 graph service. I scarcely think the House of Commons would approve of that. Then the hon. Member for Gravesend also spoke of the question of areas, and mentioned Colchester and Ipswich. I find, as a matter of fact, that at both places the maximum is increased by 2s. Then I come to the question of classification. That question of classification was acknowledged by the Holt Committee not to be perfect. It is based, as was explained, upon the unit system, that is to say, the volume of work in conjunction with the cost of living and the general standard of living. The Holt Committee recognised that there must be some system of classification, and my right hon. Friend has now the matter in hand, and is reorganising or recasting the whole of the outdoor classification. That will make a very great deal of difference practically throughout the country. That will be done within two years of the Holt Committee's Report. My right hon. Friend is now engaged on that. My hon. Friend the Member for Attercliffe Division (Mr. Pointer) went at great length into the cost of living. We in the Post Office do not deny, nor do the Holt Committee, nor would anyone in this House deny the fact that the cost of living and the standard of living have gone up all over the country. It is true that the cost of living, as taken from the Board of Trade, has gone up a little over eleven, and that the amount granted by the Committee is four and a decimal, but the cost of living may be taken out in various ways. We in the Post Office take it out on a slightly different scale, but everybody in dealing with his own individual town, or his own individual constituency, if he were permitted to draw his own conclusions, would bring up the cost of living to whatever figure he might fancy. Therefore, we must go upon something definite, and in order to do that we had to fix upon a certain standard, and we must seek the co-operation of the Board of Trade. Therefore, this system of classification cannot be introduced as rapidly as hon. Members might think. My hon. Friend also compared our telegraphists with the telegraphists in cable companies. They do quite a different class of work, and they work at very high pressure. Let me point out that our telegraphists occupy an excellent position. Their maximum goes up to 60s. per week, and those who have certain technical qualifications, and linguistic qualifications, go up to 70s. per week. Those cannot be said to be poor wages.
May I ask how the hon. Gentleman proves that the cable work is altogether different, since practically the whole of the cable telegrams are either handed in at the Post Office, or end there.
§ Captain NORTON
There is a great difference between serving a private company and serving the Post Office. The Post Office officials have certain statutory rights. They have a great number of privileges which are not given to these men who serve private companies. Moreover, and the most important feature of all, they have continuity and certainty of employment.
The hon. Gentleman has missed the point. I understood him to say the type of work performed by telegraphists in the postal service was totally different from that done in the Cable Companies' service. I asked him how he proved that, seeing that the cables dealt with by the Cable Companies' servants usually originated in or came through the Post Office,
§ Captain NORTON
They work in the Cable Companies at a slightly higher pressure, and in consequence they get the very best men. The question of auxiliary postmen was raised by my hon. Friend, who also complained that certain established postmen only got 22s. a week at the age of twenty-three. We contend that the men getting these wages are men who work in rural districts and out-of-the-way places, where 22s. is considered a fair wage and compares very favourably with the current wage in the locality. There are large numbers of men employed, not only as agricultural labourers, but as gardeners, and in other fairly important employments within a hundred miles of London who are very glad to get wages of 22s. a week. Then as regards the engineering staff. I need not go into details with reference to these matters, as the Chairman of the Holt Committee (Mr. Holt) has already done so, but I may point out that whereas formerly we employed a large number of unskilled men who were unestablished and some skilled men also who were unestablished, we have now diminished the number of unestablished men by no fewer than 2,500. We are, in fact, gradually doing away with the unestablished man as far as possible, and bringing him on to the establishment where, of course, his position is far better. He gets all the advantages of 1995 being on the establishment, and also slightly increased wages, and therefore we are bettering the whole class.
§ Captain NORTON
How much further we can go is a matter for consideration. I am only pointing out that as a result of the Holt Report we have quite recently reduced the number of unestablished men by some 2,500. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Chaplin) drew attention to the difference between the scale of pay for Liverpool and Birkenhead. That was dealt with by my hon. Frend the Chairman of the Select Committee. The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the disparity between Wimbledon and Carshalton. I would point out with reference to the London area that it would be an extremely difficult thing to put the entire postal staff within the 12-mile radius on one basis. I recollect that many years ago the pressure for house room in London was very great indeed, in consequence of the growth of London and the absence of the rapid communication which we now have by means of tramways and motor omnibuses. As an advocate in this House of Government employés generally, and knowing' the difficulty the London police had in finding house room sufficiently near their stations, I succeeded in obtaining for the police what was known as a "rent aid." That rent aid was fixed upon a double basis; the men who lived in the central portion of the metropolis had a rent aid of 2s. 6d., and those who lived in the outer ring received a rent aid of 1s. 6d. Shortly afterwards the extension of the London tramways enabled a large number of the men to go into the outer districts, but almost immediately the authorities were confronted with a new demand. Men who had formerly been my own Constituents, and who had moved into the outer circle, complained most bitterly that they were very much worse off in the outer circle than in the inner circle. They said, "When we were your constituents we could walk into the Walworth Road and buy everything we wanted at the cheapest possible figure, whereas now we are in the position that we, or our wives, or some member of our families are obliged, in order to do our housekeeping on Saturday, to pay a tram 1996 way fare into the centre of London and a tramway fare out, otherwise we are obliged to buy our provisions on the spot and to pay ever so much more." Therefore, it will be seen that the difficulty of drawing any line that will give complete satisfaction to employés in this respect is immensely difficult, and the most we can do is to form more or less arbitrary boundaries.
§ Mr. HARRY LAWSON
Why is it not possible to have one uniform scale for the different areas in the county of London and round it?
§ Captain NORTON
For the very good reason that if we had a uniform scale it would not give satisfaction. Again, the line of demarcation would be extremely difficult. You would alter the character of the work, you would increase the difficulty of the allocation of duties, it would involve a complicated variety in the scales of pay, and you would not get rid of the borderline anomalies.
§ Captain NORTON
Whether you take the London police area, the four-mile radius, the twelve-mile radius, the London Metropolitan radius or the London telephone radius, any one of those radii would involve the same difficulties. That must be apparent to the hon. Gentleman, who knows London so well. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hayes Fisher) asked what would be the cost for all the claims which were laid before us by the employés if we acceded to them. As nearly as we can calculate it would come to about £10,000,000 sterling annually.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
What I asked for was that the hon. and gallant Gentleman should supply figures of what it would cost to meet each of these claims individually, because we recognise that some of these claims are much more just, and that much more can be said for them than others.
§ Captain NORTON
I quite understand. I think that can be done, and that we shall be able to supply them. I was only pointing out that in the aggregate they would amount, I think, immediately to the large sum of £10,000,000 a year, 1997 which would swallow up the whole of our surplus and leave us with a deficit of £5,000,000 or therabout. My hon. Friend (Mr. Wiles) asked that we should have another day. My right hon. Friend has already conceded that demand.
§ Captain NORTON
I am afraid my right hon. Friend could not promise that. That must be left to be arranged through the usual channels. He also asked with reference to Press messages in connection with telegraphs. It is true that the Press has a very great advantage, and that Press telegrams do not yield much to the postal exchequer. I may add that quite recently the late Postmaster-General received a deputation from Press representatives pressing for still greater facilities, but it must be remembered, in justice to the Press, that they serve the public. This is for the public convenience, and it is only just and right that they should have greater consideration shown to them.
§ Captain NORTON
I think that would be possible. My hon. Friend also asked what was the Post Office capital and what was the rate of interest. I have consulted the Treasury authorities, and they tell me that they have never been able accurately to fix what the Post Office capital is, and as a consequence they have been unable to fix the rate of interest. The hon. Member (Mr. Brady) spoke on the question of decentralisation in Ireland. The Postmaster-General entirely agrees with him and is most anxious to decentralise as far as possible. Then he touched upon the question of promotion. This is a most difficult and delicate question, and the Postmaster-General and the officials at the General Post Office who have to deal with those matters gave the most careful attention to it. We did our very best, but it is almost impossible to give satisfaction in the matter of promotion. You cannot deal with promotion 1998 altogether by seniority. You cannot deal with it altogether by merit. It must be dealt with on the basis on seniority tempered by selection. That is the only true method of promotion, and we endeavour to do that, so far as in our power lies.
With reference to the question of auxiliary labour which was raised by the hon. Member for Stephen's Green, I may say that we are doing all we can to diminish gradually auxiliary labour and to form what we call full-time posts, but that necessarily takes a certain amount of time, because we are unwilling to do injustice to any individual postal servant. It is also very hard to take away a man who has been doing his duty successfully and to remove him from duty through no fault of his own. There are many cases, where we hesitate to make full time duty, because if we did we should be obliged to put on an established man and do an injustice to a man who has served for many years. The hon. Member also referred to the question of overtime. I may say that it is our duty to reduce overtime everywhere as much as possible. But let me put this point: In many instances it not only suits the working of the Post Office to have a little overtime, but it is a great boon to many of the postal officials, and they would be very sorry to lose this overtime. There are cases of men who, practically in the prime of life, with large families, and being full of energy, desire to work; and it is a great boon to them—perhaps having no great desire for leisure—to be able to take this work in order that they may get the wages at a time of life when they need the money most.
§ Captain NORTON
No; I think that was an exceptional case. My hon. Friend also asked about female assistant clerks. The class to which he referred is not at present going to be established in Ireland. Therefore, the grievance he feared does not arise. The hon. Member for Renfrewshire (Captain Gilmour) drew attention to the question of K company. My views are entirely his. It is extremely hard that these men, who are practically doing Post Office work, though as soldiers, when they automatically come into the Post Office should cease to get credit for the work they have done for the Post Office. I was very much delighted that the hon. and gallant Gentleman spoke also of the larger question. When I was 1999 at the Treasury, prior to holding my present appointment, I had previously taken a special interest in the case of men who had served as soldiers and passed on into the Customs or the Post Office. I endeavoured to see if something could not be done for them when I went to the Treasury. It is a matter that can only be dealt with by legislation, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will see his way to bring forward legislation. I think it is a scandal—if I may use so strong a word—that the larger question is not dealt with. It is not dealt with 2000 for this reason. When I went to the Treasury they were quite willing and thought it quite fair—
It being Eleven of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next, 4th May.
§ The remaining Orders were read and postponed.
§ Adjourned at Five minutes after Eleven o'clock.