§ 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.]
§ Mr. GOLDMAN
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £200. I propose this reduction in no personal or party spirit; I hope the Postmaster-General will accept my word that no such thought even crossed my mind. My purpose is to criticise one section of Post Office work, a Department which, in my opinion urgently needs discussion and examination, namely, the Telephone Department. I regret that the arrangement of public business gives us only a short day for the discussion of this most important Government Department, dealing as it does with 250,000 persons, and having a gross revenue of £30,000,000. We are given only five hours to discuss problems connected with telephones, telegraphs, wireless telegraphs, postal contracts, parcel post, savings bank, and the innumerable details that arise in connection with the work of a Department closely associated with the private and business life of every person in the United Kingdom. When it was proposed to take over the National Telephone Company the Postmaster-General of the day advocated the reform on the ground that it was of the utmost importance that a service of such vital necessity to the community should come under public control, and that in the hands of the Post Office it would receive in the House of Commons effective control and criticism. It is no exaggeration to say that the Post Office Department, ever since it assumed control of the telephones, has given no facilities, but has steadily prevented us 716 from exercising that informed criticism which a service of this vast description deserves. Last year we appealed for two days for the discussion; four hours were granted, and the then Postmaster-General did not give us the courtesy of a reply to any of the criticisms that were delivered.
Even to-day we are not in a much better position, because not only is the time limited, but the information at our disposal is of a very limited character. We have to deal with accounts more than fifteen months' old. When they were presented they did not contain a single telephone account of any form or description. We had to wait another three months for the White Paper containing those accounts. The National Telephone Company made up their accounts half-yearly, and they were published within a fortnight of the expiration of the half-year under review. I do not expect the Post Office to proceed on such business lines as the National Telephone Company did; but what I do think we can reasonably claim is that when Post Office matters come up for annual review we should at least have some statement of the work of the past year. Take the speech that the right hon. Gentleman delivered in April. He made not a single reference to his expenditure during the past year. He gave us no indication whatever of the financial position that had been created during the past year. He made not a single reference to the reports we are considering to-day, and which require a great deal of illumination, seeing they are so confusing and difficult to understand. The Postmaster-General did give us figures of expenditure which he intends to incur in the coming year, but as regards the past year he gave few figures, and these he dealt with in a general way by saying there had been a very considerable and very happy development of the telephone service. That may be the experience of the Post Office Department, but it is not the experience of telephone users and the public generally. The predecessor of the right hon. Gentlman last year devoted a good part of his speech to ridiculing the complaints that have been made. I agree with him that you cannot arrive at any definite conclusion of the value of a service based on individual complaints. It is for this reason that a Parliamentary Committee has been engaged in a most exhaustive and most systematic inquiry against the greatest users of the telephone 717 in London, to get a comprehensive idea of how they regard and how they value the service.
§ Mr. GOLDMAN
The right hon. Gentleman must be aware that there is a Parliamentary Committee in existence.
§ Mr. GOLDMAN
Consisting of Members of this House. We have made this inquiry. The result of it has been that far from the telephone users being satisfied with a happy development to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, 60 per cent. of the telephone users say that the service has actually deteriorated as compared with the service given by the National Telephone Company. We sent out 2,500 forms amongst the largest users of the telephone in London and the City of London. These were sent out to firms of stockbrokers, to the great warehouses, the great merchants, the great shipbrokers, railway companies, hotels, and clubs. The answers we have received show in the most effective manner what they think of the system. Those to whom we addressed these inquiries took a very considerable interest in the matter and went to a considerable amount of pains and trouble to make their investigations correct and complete. They allowed their departments to keep records and to make tests before they forwarded the results to us, and as I have just said, the result is that 60 per cent. of these replies—and we have received over 1,000—say that they consider the service has deteriorated. Twenty-seven per cent. believe that matters stand practically where they did; only 13 per cent. admit the happy development upon which the Postmaster-General prides himself so much. Less than twelve amongst the whole of the thousand find any satisfaction at all in the system. Three of these are not trunk users, and probably would arrive at a similar opinion in any case. We saw from the papers that only a few weeks ago that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had an experience with the trunk service; ultimately he gave it up in despair after waiting for an hour to get a connection.
Let me analyse the general results of our inquiry and replies. Seventy-one per cent. of those concerned find that the practice of contracts and the rendering accounts most unsatisfactory; 29 per cent. only find it 718 satisfactory; 44 per cent. find difficulty in getting the exchange at all; 39 per cent. find the lines and instruments are frequently out of order and neglected; 69 per cent. frequently get the wrong numbers; only 13 per cent. experience no difficulty; 65 per cent. report that they are frequently cut off, and only 13 per cent. say that they are not, 68 per cent. frequently get rung up by the wrong numbers; and only 15 per cent. say not; 43 per cent. experience difficulty in getting the operator again after getting the wrong number; 45 per cent. experience a large proportion of the daily calls ineffective; 61 per cent. consider the charges unreasonable; 13 per cent. consider them excessive; 26 per cent. consider the rate considerable; 69 per cent. prefer efficiency to the lowering of the rates; 25 per cent. ask for efficiency and the lowering of the rates, and only 6 per cent. ask for reduced rate.
§ Mr. GOLDMAN
Yes, but they ask for efficiency! The result of this inquiry seems to lead to one of the chief and important points that we have to consider, and that is that, notwithstanding these complaints from subscribers, and in spite of the indifference and apparent inability on the part of the Telephone Department to reach a standard that has been attained by other countries, notably by the United States, the Post Office Department still assumes an attitude of smug complacency and self-satisfaction.
§ Mr. GOLDMAN
It was made about three months ago, but the stream of replies is still daily flowing in. I think over 85 per cent. of the replies give us liberty to use their names and the full details, and I shall be very happy to supply the Postmaster-General with any information that he desires. I do not want to detain the Committee by going in detail through the information, but I can tell hon. Members this, that we have received replies from some of the biggest warehousemen, like Harrods, who make 500,000 calls per year. Harrods express their dissatisfaction in very strong terms. I have also here a letter from the Liverpool Street Hotel of the Great Eastern Railway Company. They have taken the utmost pains to check the calls, and find that on the average 20 per cent. are ineffective. 719 A large number of the calls at Harrods are ineffective, the trunk service particularly is inefficient, and there is no check upon the accounts. The Peninsular and Oriental Company's experience is that the lines and instruments are frequently out of order, and that a large proportion of the calls are ineffective. The London and Southwestern Bank, which covers over a hundred branches, is in much the same case, and say that the position is one of constant irritation and inefficiency. The same observations apply to Peter Robinson, and Derry and Toms. The British Thomson-Houston Company complain of getting the wrong number twice out of every five calls. Messrs. Brasch and Rothenstein, the largest forwarders in the world, complain of getting constantly "cut off" in the middle of a conversation, and of the unsatisfactory nature of the Post Office contract. The Brooklands Club have a private line from their office to the track costing about £140 a year, and they have had to give notice to terminate their agreement owing to the continued breaking down of the line. The Anglo-Austrian Bank, Lombard Street, with twenty-five private extension lines, were "held-up" for four days because a breakdown was not properly attended to. The Bank of Adelaide report complaints.
§ Mr. GOLDMAN
I do not know what the hon. Member desires particularly to infer from that unless it may be that the attendance of the Members in the Unionist Whips' Room is not as regular as it might be owing to the telephone service. I want to point out that in practically the whole of these cases the larger the user the more bitter is the complaint. We have piles of them. Leading stockbrokers, merchants, solicitors, and warehousemen, all couch their letters in one vein—that of despairing complaint.
§ Mr. GOLDMAN
No, we dealt only with London. London is the greatest business centre in the world, and we assumed that it has the largest and best telephone service. Looking through the Report there is no indication whatever on the part of the Post Office Department of treating 720 this problem adequately and as seriously as they should. In the case of London it takes eighteen and a half days for new subscribers to get telephones laid in. That is the official reply. I can show you later that applicants have had to wait two and three months in London before they were able to get a connection. In Manchester it takes forty days; in Birmingham fifty-one days; and in eight cities there are 800 applicants waiting for three months to get a connection. What does the Postmaster-General tell us in reply to these complaints? He tells us it is a difficulty which is inherent in many expanding businesses. My complaint against the system is that it has not expanded to half the extent that it would if the Post Office recognised their responsibilities and duties towards the great commercial community. Let us take the case of an expanding business in an expanding country like the United States. What was done there last year? They increased their service by over 700,000 telephones in one year—more than the whole system of the United Kingdom—and the longest time it takes for applicants to have telephones installed is seven and a half days in the City of Buffalo—less than half the time it takes in London; and in New York the average time for getting a connection is only four days.
The Postmaster-General also tells us we cannot increase the extension of our business more rapidly for the reason that we have not got skilled workmen to do the work. Why have we not got the skilled workmen necessary to do the work? The reason is that it never occurred to the Government, though it was impressed upon them again and again by the telephone company, to provide the skilled workmen which would be necessary when the system was transferred to the Post Office. The result is we are still going on at the same jog-trot pace as years ago; the Post Office is not armed with the activity necessary for the development of the service, and the result is that instead of going ahead we are going backwards. In 1906 the combined extent of the Post Office telephone and National expenditure was £1,900,000. For the year under review the Post Office spent £990,000. In other words, under an automatically accelerated service—because the uses of telephones create users—is the expenditure on telephone development was twice as much in 1906 as in the year 1912–13. The result is that the demand has fallen off, showing more clearly than any criticism 721 the dissatisfaction which exists in this country against the service we are receiving from the Post Office.
In the provinces we find the same tendency of slackening activity. In 1911–12 there were 110 new exchanges opened, and in 1912–13 only fifty-two exchanges were open. I admit that call offices have been added, but this only shows how slowly the telephone as a regular institution is making headway, and that much should be done to make people realise its utility. The same is the result in the question of stations. In 1906 there were 53,212—that is, 13 per cent. on the number of telephones in existence in that day. In 1912–13 there was an increase of only 28,113. In other words, the accelerated system shows only an increase of 4 per cent. on the number of telephones in existence. I should like to say a few words on the whole question of reports and accounts. It is extremely difficult, unless a man has technical knowledge and experience, to follow the accounts and reports. In 1911–12 the annual report shows that in the provinces there were 471,972 telephones. The report for 1912–13 shows there were 455,086, and then it goes on to claim an increase of 20,000 on the year before, when, in reality, there was 20,000 less. How they can reconcile the statement that there was an increase of 20,000 it is impossible to understand. I can give it. These figures do not match, and you cannot reconcile them.
§ Mr. GOLDMAN
We want something better in connection with telephones. Let me take the case with regard to accounts. Look at what happened in the Post Office. Not only is the account twelve months old, but the balance sheet, which is the most important document of all, is not audited. There may be technical reasons why business accounts should be audited, and why it is not necessary in case of the Telephone Department, but that only shows that the telephone accounts are not kept in the same way as ordinary business accounts, and even if they were audited that in itself would not be a guarantee that they were correct. We had an experience last year which has not been cleared up to the present time. A mistake was made on a total revenue of £2,000,000 of £550,000. That was not detected by the Postmaster-General or the Auditor-General. He passed that account 722 and gave his signature to it, and we have had no explanation. I think the Postmaster-General will find it difficult to explain a clerical error of half a million on a revenue of £2,000,000, and how that occurred.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
Does the hon. Gentle may say that last year's accounts, that is the account up to the 31st March, 1913, have not been audited?
§ Mr. GOLDMAN
What I said is that the balance-sheet, which is the most important account, has not been audited. The auditor has audited everything but that, and there must be some explanation, why the balance-sheet is not audited. If the right hon. Gentleman refers to page 26, he will find a note from Mr. H. J. Gibson to the effect that the accounts have been audited, but he has not audited the most important item, which is the balance-sheet.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
Do I understand the hon. Member to assert that there is a specific statement to the effect that the balance-sheet has not been audited?
§ Mr. GOLDMAN
I make no complaint, and I am asking for information. I am asking for some reason why the balance-sheet is not audited. The accounts are equally unsatisfactory, because they contain items which are novelties even to those who have the weary task of following these matters. Take the question of depreciation. The accounts for 1911–12 are finished and disposed of. In the account for 1911–12, £700,000 was written off for depreciation or paid back in redemption of Treasury annuities. This year we find that the accounts for 1911–12 are revived. We also find another item of accrued depreciation of £1,800,000, and there is £650,000 without clue. There is no clue as to how this amount is arrived at. There is no explanation as to the basis on which this sum is formed. We are not told what period it covers, and yet the fact remains that for the same year in which they also wrote off £700,000 they have written off another £1,800,000. This makes a total depreciation of 31 per cent. Let me point out what that means. The capital value of the telephone plant was £12,320,000, but this has been reduced by depreciation to £9,848,000. The total valuation of the Post Office plant was £22,993,000. The net revenue during the year of the telephone service was £2,746,000. That means that it produced 723 12 per cent. on the capital of the company, which has been very heavily depreciated. Twelve per cent. is the profit on the net revenue. From this amount we have to deduct £358,000 for pensions liability, which, in my opinion, is a working charge, and should be deducted from the profit, and this represents 1.55 per cent., and this brings down the net revenue to 10.45 per cent. Depreciation is 6 per cent., leaving 4.45 as actual interest on capital.
Allowance has to be made for interest on capital from 3 per cent. to 3½ per cent., and then we arrive at the net result of the working of the telephones at a net profit of 1.47 per cent., as against 6 per cent. made by the National Telephone Company. This is the result in two and a half years of the Government monopoly of this system. The revenue to the Exchequer is only £300,000, actually an amount £50,000 less than the royalties which the National Telephone Company used to pay. What is the result? Not only have the profits of the National Telephone Company been largely dissipated, but the subscribers are no better off. [An HON. MEMBER: "They are worse."] The Treasury is also the loser, for not only have they lost the amount paid previously for the licence, but they lose a sum of £36,000 which used to be paid by the National Telephone Company in Income Tax and heavy way leaves. Nevertheless the company were able to pay 6 per cent. as against the 1.4 per cent. which is the result of the Government monopoly. Let me remind the Committee that although you are making under 1½ per cent., the Government are able to borrow their money not at 6 per cent. like the National Telephone Company had to pay, but 3½ per cent. Surely there must be something wrong somewhere when you get such a result. In the case of the trunk system the result is even much more unprofitable. The trunk service shows a loss last year of over £15,000, which I think is unique in the management of the telephone service in spite of interest being charged on capital only at 2.7 per cent.
The result, therefore, is, in my opinion, unbroken and continuous failure, inefficiency, and what is most serious of all, it has produced the alienation of the subscribers and the alienation of the staff. I do not wish to discuss the question of the staff, except in so far as it affects the efficiency of the service. I have gone to a considerable amount of trouble to in- 724 quire into the working conditions of the staff and the grievances they have set up. Here you get a dissatisfied staff, and they are almost in a state of mutiny—perhaps I am exaggerating when I say mutiny, but at any rate they are very dissatisfied with their conditions, and I am satisfied that some of their grievances are justified. There is another sin to be laid at the door of the Post Office, because if there is one axiom with which we all agree it is that unless you have a contented staff you cannot get an efficient system. If the staff consider themselves overdriven, or harassed, or disheartened, if they are dissatisfied with their life and conditions, consciously or not, it must affect the work and the service must suffer. That is the result which has been produced by the change from a decentralised commercial system to the bureaucratic system under which we are working. In this way progress has been hindered and interfered with; there is no encouragement for zeal and efficiency, and there is a tendency to sink to the low level of mediocrity which has hopelessly failed in the case of the telephone service. What is the moral we are to derive from these criticisms? It is that we have to introduce a breath of new air into the antiquated system of the Post Office organisation.
We have pleaded and worked for an inquiry into the whole circumstances of the staff organisation and other matters, and this has been denied us. Hon. Members on this side of the House as well as hon. Members opposite have asked that a Board should be appointed similar to the Advisory Board under the Board of Trade, but this has also been refused. The Chamber of Commerce have passed resolution after resolution on this subject, and it has been endorsed by the staff that the telephone service should be separated from the Post Office service. We now feel driven, at least I do, to go one step further in the reform that is necessary, and I mean to plead it inside this House and outside it, and up and down the country wherever I can. We want to create a business board. We have a Business Board in the case of the Port of London Authority, and I do not see why a similar system should not be introduced in respect of the telephone system. The Postmaster-General would retain his suzerainty in the same way as the Board of Trade exercises its control over the Port Authority, or the Home Secretary over the Prison Commissioners. In this 725 way we could restore the service to a business enterprise, and I hope that the Postmaster-General will give us some assurance which will at least recover to some extent the confidence which is being lost by a large body of public subscribers in the ability of the Post Office to deal with an adequate service such as this country requires.
Mr. HAMILTON BENN
We have listened with the greatest interest to the most able and convincing speech just delivered by the hon. Member for Falmouth (Mr. Goldman). I had intended to address my remarks mainly to the question of charges which are being levied at the present time by the Post Office, but I realise that question pales into insignificance compared with the exasperation of the public at the inefficiency of the service. It is most humiliating to think that this great business country, a country that claims to be at the head of the business community of the world, should have a telephone service so inferior to that which exists in the United States or in Canada, or even in small countries such as Norway and Sweden. Anyone who has had experience in using the telephone of those countries will know that the telephone in every one of those four countries is a boon and a blessing. It is one of the comforts of life. Here it is the most profitable source of revenue to the nerve specialist. I would like to ask the Postmaster-General what was the intention of the Government in taking over the National Telephone service. Was the object to make a profit for the State, or to cheapen, expand, and develop the telephone service for the benefit of the public generally and the trading community in particular, because the trading community has a very special interest in this matter? If the object was to cheapen and expand and improve the system, certainly those who expected anything of that kind must be woefully disappointed.
I have never been much in favour of the idea of national or municipal trading, but anyone who has any feeling towards the nationalisation of railways must feel particularly sore at this exhibition of how things are done under a Government Department. Let us remember that the telephone business has much greater opportunities to-day for expansion and development, and for showing good results and profits than the railway system of this country, which is in a highly developed condition. It must be very unsatisfactory 726 to the large users of the telephone to find that instead of getting an improved and a cheaper service they are getting a worse service and a much dearer one, many large users of the telephone having to pay between 30 and 40 per cent. more for the service they are getting than they did under the National Telephone Company. It is beyond question that the Post Office is raising a larger revenue from subscribers by higher charges than the National Telephone Company did, and it follows that either they are making a larger profit or that the system is extravagant, uneconomical, and wasteful. I venture to quote the experience of one large user of telephones. The charge made by the National Telephone Company to the Port of London Authority was at the rate of £10 1s. per annum per instrument, and the amount paid at that rate amounted for the year ending 31st December, 1911, to £2,534. Under the Post Office régime the rate has been raised to £14 per annum, and the amount paid for the year ending 31st December, 1912, was £3,398, and for the year 1913 it was £3,715 for the same number of instruments.
Mr. H. BENN
There may be some few telephones more used by the Port of London Authority to-day than there were two years ago, but at all events the increase for the same number of instruments comes to about £1,000 per year. Is it to be supposed that anyone but a monopolist or a Government Department would treat its biggest customers in that manner? I have mentioned the Port of London Authority, but I have heard of similar experiences by other large users of the telephone. Such a thing as this could never happen in a country where there is freedom in connection with the telephone service. It could never happen in the United States or in Canada. I might point out in passing that not only are the Government charging more for these telephones, but it must be remembered that the National Telephone Company had to pay 10 per cent. royalty to the Government on their gross earnings. Therefore, the telephone system in this country has always been somewhat hampered by the grip of the State upon the service. The National Telephone Company itself was more or less a monopoly working under the authority of the State, which levied upon 727 it a royalty in exchange for the monopoly it gave. The good service in the countries which I have named is largely due to the fact that telephones have been free and open to all kinds of competition from different companies. They have had in the States and Canada at least two large companies competing for business, and the principal telephone company has been exceedingly successful, not only in giving a good service, but also in making money for its shareholders. The Postmaster-General will probably reply that he cannot give a lower rate per instrument to a large user who takes 200 telephones any more than he can to the small user who takes two. It does not seem to me to be a very good business argument, but even if it were admitted to be so, surely if the rates have to be raised to large user, they should not be raised to the top notch charge to the small user. If a larger revenue can be obtained by charging everybody on the same basis of rates, it should be possible to reduce the rates for the telephones all round. I am perfectly willing to admit the strength of that argument is considerably reduced when we hear from the Member for Falmouth (Mr. Goldman) how sadly the profits of the telephone system have fallen during the past two years.
It is not only on the question of actual charges that the users of telephones and people in touch with the telephone system in this country have to make complaint. They have, at the present time, a considerable grievance at the way in which the Post Office is treating them in connection with wayleaves. Take the case of the Port Authority once more. The National Telephone Company paid that authority 10 per cent. of the gross receipts at public call offices on dock property. The Post Office are now offering only 5 per cent., although at the present time it is paying some of the railway companies 20 per cent., and giving them a guarantee of £5 per box. On the subject of way-leaves the Post Office have cancelled all agreements with the dock authority, and a new contract is suggested, the basis of which is to be a payment of £50. But what are the Post Office to get for that? I find that on the dock property there are no fewer than 993 poles and standards, and 2,278 attachments to buildings. There are 574 cables, aerial and underground, and 1,595 other easements. The total number of wires on dock property is 58,000, of 728 which 6,299 are used by the Port Authority itself for its own convenience. Thus for the 50,000 wires on the dock company's property which are there for the benefit of the Post Office, the Post Office only proposes to pay £50 for the use of them. On the subject of charges, I wish to say that, speaking as a member of the general public, one of the most annoying features of the method of charging is in connection with the limited service for £5. Under that system you are subject to having an account rendered every few months for additional calls, and on it there is no possible check. I tried a check, being convinced that I was being charged 25 per cent, or 30 per cent. more than was justifiable, and in some cases much more than that. I instituted in my own house a system of having every call put down at each instrument. When the account was sent in I checked it, but, although I had a long correspondence with the Department, I only got the reply that their's was the right charge, and that my figures must be wrong. It was no use talking about it. I had to pay, and, so now like everybody else, I pay the account, and am afraid to look lest I should be annoyed.
Mr. H. BENN
I think a level rate is preferable on the whole, although I think it would be a hardship for people who use their telephones comparatively little—who wish to have a telephone in their houses, but seldom use it. The right hon. Gentleman asked me a question, and I can only say off-hand I think it would be unfair to the small user to say he shall have to pay, whether he has a large number of calls or not. What I am complaining of is that there is no check on the system of charging, and, when one comes to consider that one probably gets a wrong number once in every three calls, and the chance is one is charged on the wrong number as well as on the right, it is not unnatural to find that the charges are excessive.
On the subject of trunk calls, I have to say that one of the reasons why the trunk service is so unsatisfactory, and is not used more than it is, is that no effort is made, either by the telephone authorities or by telephone operators, to make it a practical and useful service. In the United States and in Canada, and in other 729 places, if you require to speak to someone at a distance, the method adopted is to tell the operator you want to speak to Mr. So-and-so, at a certain time, and ask him to make an appointment for you. The operator will do that, he would tell you at what time to make the call, and no charge is made for getting you the appointment. Neither is a charge made, either in the United States or in Canada, unless it is an effective call to the actual person to whom you have to speak. In this country, however, they only get you the number, and that is all they expect to do, and you pay whether you speak to the actual subscriber or not. In countries where the telephone is really run well they adopt quite another system. No charge is made unless you speak to the person you want, and consequently people do not hesitate to use the trunk service for important calls. The fact is that the telephone authorities in those countries are really desirous of working up a business, and encourage the public to use the telephones. Here it is quite the other way, and it is treated as if a favour is being done in allowing you to use the telephone.
In view of the criticisms which have been and will be levelled at the service in the course of this Debate, I would ask the Postmaster-General—as it is unquestioned that the service is inefficient compared with that in other countries—to tell us what is the cause. Is it that the telephone exchanges in this country are defective in design and were not well laid down at the beginning, or is it due to the inefficiency of the telephone staff? I am very unwilling to believe that an English man or woman is inferior to the man or woman in any other country. Is is that our telephone operators are not sufficiently technically educated in the work, or, as many think, is it due to the fact that the staff are dissatisfied and indifferent, owing to their being underpaid? I have heard a good many answers to these questions, but the one which appeals to me most from my experience is that there is not sufficient or effective control, and that there is not proper or sufficient supervision of the staff. Any subscriber who uses the telephone much knows the length of delay which occurs in getting one exchange to answer another exchange. After waiting at the telephone for what seems an interminable time he hears his own exchange calling the other exchange and getting no reply, or he hears 730 the other exchange calling his exchange and his own exchange making no answer. That surely means insufficient supervision of the exchanges.
§ Mr. GODFREY COLLINS
No one will question the industry of the hon. Member for Falmouth (Mr. Goldman) in this matter. His speech divided itself into two parts: he criticised, first, the character of the telephone service; and, secondly, its financial results. I would like to remind him that when the State took over the telegraph service forty-four years ago there were many complaints regarding the service after 1870, but he will now agree that the telegraph service is satisfactory, and we may well expect that the present defects in the telephone service will be righted in due course. It is easy to criticise the working of a great business, and to criticise the working of any State Department. I would remind the hon. Member that the spirit which animates Government Departments is more conducive to efficiency than to economy. Public criticism at once finds expression in the House of Commons, and Departments and the Ministers responsible for those Departments are naturally jealous of their good reputation, and will take steps at the earliest possible moment to rectify any abuses which may exist in the system. My only fear is that in so doing they may jeopardise the successful financial working of the concern. Before turning to the financial results of the State telephone service, may I refer to the financial results of the State telegraph service? Two years ago in this House I drew attention, not only to the form of the accounts but to the large cost thrown upon the shoulders of the taxpayers through the results of that service. This year, for the first time in forty-four years, the Post Office has presented the telegraph accounts in a manner similar to the balance-sheet of a trading company. Undoubtedly the results are very unsatisfactory. According to this Paper there is an annual loss, which is borne by the taxpayer, of £1,175,000, and the Postmaster-General requires to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to find that money by taxation to wipe out the loss. The annual income is insufficient to meet the annual expenditure, even without taking into account the interest on the capital employed, the amount required for depreciation of the plant, and the amount required for the pensions of employés in future years.
731 If the State telegraph service had been bought for merely £1,000 or £2,000 in 1870, and since that date no money had been spent on that service, the annual income to-day would be insufficient to meet the annual expenditure. In that connection I would like to ask the Postmaster-General what steps he intends to take to wipe out this large and growing loss, which has continued for many years. Only a State trading Department can afford the luxury of selling its services year by year under cost price. They have, apparently, the inexhaustible reservoir of the British Exchequer, into which they may dip their hands and find the money necessary to wipe out their large loss. I hope the Government will take some steps to rectify this grave abuse. Whether the fear of public resentment, registered at the ballot-box, may prevent this Government, as it has prevented Governments in the past, taking steps to rectify this loss, I do not know, but I certainly think the future prospects of State paying will be jeopardised until this loss is wiped out. The hon. Member for Falmouth also criticised the financial result of the State telegraph service. It is distinctly unsatisfactory. It is difficult or almost impossible to make an exact comparison between the present accounts and the State telephone service before the State took over the National Telephone Company, but perhaps I may be permitted to give just a few figures to make the point that the present result is more unsatisfactory than it was two years ago. According to the House of Commons Paper, No. 328, issued in 1911, there was a balance of £653,000 available from the working of the telephone service for profit and depreciation in the year 1910. If we allow a sum of £300,000 for depreciation, which is the figure based upon the same percentage as the present depreciation, we find that the profit in the year 1910 amounted to £353,000.
Let us look at the matter in another way. In that year the State received a sum of £320,000 from the National Telephone Company by way of royalties paid by the company. In that year we were given to understand that the State telephone service yielded a profit. If, for the sake of argument, we allow only a small profit of £10,000 and add to that the sum of £320,000 received by the State from the National Telephone Company, the total sum received into the National Exchequer in 732 1910 amounted to £330,000. If the profit was more the figure would be larger. What was the result last year? According to the accounts just issued by the Postmaster-General, the total profits received by the Exchequer, after paying interest on capital, amounted only to £303,000. In other words, the profit is less to-day than it was three years ago. I do not think this result is satisfactory. No business-could continue to prosper if its profits were so small. I know no reason why a State trading Department should fix its rates and manage its business on different lines from an ordinary trading concern. To-day if the Post Office were unable to raise money at a low rate of interest with the security, as they have, of the British Empire, they would be unable to show any profit on the year's trading, and if rates were lowered, as the Postmaster-General is frequently urged to do, undoubtedly the present meagre profits would be wiped out. I trust the Postmaster-General will take this fact into consideration if he is going to lower rates in any degree.
An examination of the telephone accounts reveals one rather important point, that the chief part of the cost of working the telephone business does not consist in the wages paid to the operating staff but in the amount of money required for carrying on the business. In other words, an increased number of telephone users would lead to increased yearly charges. Therefore a reduction in the charges for telephones, thereby leading to an increased number of telephone users, would not help the Postmaster-General in his balance at the end of the year. I bring out that point to warn the Postmaster-General not to lower rates until a few years have passed in which he will be more able to gauge the position correctly. In connection with the question of fixing rates, I should like to urge this consideration upon the attention of the Postmaster-General: After paying all charges the rates should be so fixed as to yield a return of 10 per cent. on the total revenue which will pass into the coffers of the National Exchequer. It may be asked why I mention 10 per cent. This was the amount exacted from the National Telephone Company by the State in former years, and it was the sum paid by the Government to the Marconi Company for the use of their patents, and I hope the Postmaster-General will give this point consideration when he fixes rates in 733 future years. State trading and further developments of State trading are on their trial. We have in the Estimates at present before the House three examples of State trading—the Post Office, the telegraph and. telephone services. I desire, in conjunction with Members on all sides of the House, to see further developments of State trading, therefore I am anxious that these three examples should be placed upon a sound basis.
It may be said that the large profit made in the carrying of letters is to wipe out the loss in the working of the telegraph and telephone business, but I do not think the Postmaster-General would urge this as a reason or excuse for the loss on the telegraph service and the meagre profit on the telephone service. It may be argued also that because the Post Office are successful in the business of carrying letters, therefore in time they will be successful in the working of the telephone and telegraph services. I think these three departments are on quite a different footing. The telephone and telegraph service is a highly technical business for which large sums of money are required, and it remains to be seen if a State Department can spend public money to the public advantage. At present the tendencies point in the opposite direction, but I hope the Postmaster-General will take steps to safeguard this matter in future years. Further developments of State ownership and control of monopolies will depend upon the successful working of the State telephone business. Success or failure will depend upon management. I hope the best directing brains that money can purchase will be applied in this business, and I hope that large salaries will not be grudged. But if these services have not room for development, and in addition this House insists upon fixing rates below the true economic level, opponents of State enterprise will have good cause to point out the defects of State trading. Germany's success in State trading has often been referred to, but the conditions in the two countries are very different. Germany is governed by a bureaucracy slightly tempered by public criticism. In this country the House of Commons can bring great pressure to bear upon the Department, either to right the conditions of employment or to lower the rates which are levied upon the public. Little pressure is ever brought to insist upon sound financial results in State trading. The theoretical arguments in favour of 734 State ownership and the control of monopolies are overwhelming, but cast-iron rules and regulations dealing with the working of the staff in these Departments and bad financial results transpiring year by year in the Departments, will undoubtedly tend to delay further developments in State control. I hope the Postmaster-General will take steps to remedy these grave defects and place the telegraph and telephone business on a sound financial footing.
§ Mr. GOLDSMITH
I think that Members of the Committee on both sides agree that an efficient telephone service is of the utmost importance to the business community, and I only regret the fact that this House during the last two years has had such limited opportunities of discussing this important question. Both the hon. Member (Mr. G. Collins) and my hon. Friend (Mr. Goldman) referred to the unsatisfactory state of the telephone accounts. I entirely agree with them that when we look at the accounts of the Postmaster-General we find that no mention is made of the telephone accounts at all, and the only accounts which we have were published a few months ago, fifteen months after the end of the financial year to which they refer. When we examine these accounts we find that there is an actual loss on the working of the trunk lines, and that on the working of the whole system there is only a surplus of £313,000—that is to say, 1½ per cent. on the capital. It has already been pointed out that the National Telephone Company paid £360,000 a year to the State, that they had to pay Income Tax as well, and that they were able to declare a dividend of 6 per cent. When we consider these facts we must come to the inevitable conclusion that the Postmaster-General is endeavouring not to show too large a profit on the working of the telephone system so as to be able to resist the claim which has been made by, I think, nearly every chamber of commerce in the country that the telephone rates should be reduced. I wish to refer to one or two other grievances of the subscribers to the telephone system. It is not only the question of high rates they complain of, because in the very interesting replies we have had in answer to a circular sent out by the Parliamentary Committee, we find that it is not so much the high rates as the inefficiency of the service that the subscribers complain of. One of the main complaints is as to the 735 way in which the records of calls are kept at the present moment, and the inequitable nature of the contract between the subscriber and the Post Office. The subscriber, by signing the agreement, places himself entirely in the hands of the Post Office. He has no legal remedy or right of appeal. The Post Office places itself above the law. In the contract it is stated that the expression "certified" means certified by the hand of an appropriate officer of the Post Office, and that any such certificate shall be conclusive evidence. The Postmaster-General must know that the present system of registering calls causes the greatest possible dissatisfaction. He must also be aware of the fact that his Department have time after time to make allowances and reductions to subscribers, and also that inaccurate accounts are not the exception, but the rule. The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Hamilton Benn) said that most people pay their telephone accounts although they have reason to doubt their accuracy. In London we find that 12 per cent. of the accounts sent in by the Department are actually disputed, and that inquiries have to be made about them. Twelve per cent. is much too high, and I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that it shows there must be a bad system. What I think the right hon. Gentleman ought to do, and what I think he hinted in his last speech he would do, is to try to find some other system by which calls could be registered so that the grievance of subscribers could be removed, and by which his Department could be relieved of the trouble of investigating this enormous number of disputed accounts. It is an interesting fact that only 29 per cent. of the subscribers expressed themselves satisfied with the present system of registering calls, while 71 per cent. said they were not satisfied. That is an unsatisfactory state of affairs, and it is one that ought not to be allowed to continue.
I think the late Postmaster-General told us three years ago that he was going to start a great new scheme of telephones for farmers in agricultural districts. We find that up to 31st March last year 900 of these cheap lines for farmers were provided or were being provided, and this year in his speech the right hon. Gentleman prided himself of the fact that 2,300 cheap lines for farmers had been provided. That really is not a very large number for three years' working of what was to be a 736 very great and important scheme. I believe the development of this system has been retarded both owing to the fact that the Post Office requires guarantees against loss before giving a connection in many cases, and also because of the great difficulty and delay in having applications dealt with at the General Post Office. The right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster-General said, in answer to a question, that they had the necessary facilities for giving an immediate connection for rural applicants. But these facilities apparently are not made use of, because in one case brought to the notice of the Parliamentary Telephone Committee, nine applicants in Cornwall applied three years ago, and their applications have not yet been dealt with. In the United States of America there are something like 2,300,000 farmers' cheap lines—one telephone practically to every two farmers. Let me point out that the average cost to the American farmers is about £2 6s., which is considerably lower than the terms offered by our Post Office.
Another grievance which is especially felt in rural districts is with regard to the boundaries and areas which were created at the time of the National Telephone Company. A subscriber may be in one area, and another subscriber whom he rings up may be over the border. He may be only a quarter of a mile over the border, and yet the other subscriber will have to pay 3d., or perhaps 5d., as a junction fee. If that man were in the London area, he could telephone ten or twelve miles at the cost of a penny. That is an absurd system. These areas were only created in order to confine the National Telephone Company, and to keep their areas distinct from the areas provided for by the Post Office. When the Government took over the National Telephone Company these areas should have disappeared automatically, for they really are a great grievance to many subscribers in the country districts. A grievance which has been referred to is that when a member rings for a call, the answer which the subscriber receives from the exchange is "Number engaged." I have been told, and I think the late Postmaster-General informed a deputation, that these answers "Number engaged" are really due to the fact that the exchanges are overcrowded, and also the fact that there are not sufficient facilities for the junction work. The late Postmaster-General in answer to a deputation which waited on him in July, 1913, said that the Museum 737 exchange would be provided by the end of 1913, and that two new exchanges would be provided by the end of 1914.
§ Mr. GOLDSMITH
This is in London. The deputation was received by the Postmaster-General on the 4th July, 1913. He said that before the end of this year we should have two more new exchanges, each of 10,000 lines, which would be called Charterhouse and Tottenham. I am now informed that the sites have only been acquired, and I suppose that it will take another two or two and a half years before these exchanges are opened. The right hon. Gentleman has probably also received complaints with regard to continuous service. It is absolutely essential for an efficient telephone service that it should be continuous. There are still something like 400 exchanges in the country in which continuous service is not given. I believe that I am right in saying that the National Telephone Company did give continuous service. That is a matter into which the right hon. Gentleman might inquire. Another matter is the position of the staff. The staff of the National Telephone Company were taken over on the 1st January, 1912. They were given assurances time after time that they would be in no worse position than they were under the National Telephone Company. They were even told I believe that they would be better off under the State than they had been under the old company. The transferred staff have now had two years experience of the change, and very large numbers have found that instead of being better off they are worse off than they were under the National Telephone Company. The telephone system is a system which perhaps more than any other depends upon the good will of the staff. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to look into the position of the staff, and give them a more satisfactory answer than he has been able to do on the many occasions on which they applied to him. My hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth (Mr. Goldman) has given us most interesting information, as indeed he did last year and the year before, on the whole telephone system. I hope that this year we shall have a reply from the right hon. Gentleman going into detail on the various questions which have been raised. Last year we were only 738 given four hours to discuss the whole of the Post Office Estimates, and as far as I remember we had no reply from the right hon. Gentleman. I hope that this year he will be able to reply in detail on the different points which have been referred to.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
I hope that my right hon. Friend has an unusual command of phrases this afternoon. I am sure that he will need them all to deal with the steady flow of criticism which has marked the course of this discussion. I wish to divert my criticism into a gentler channel. I am bound to say that my experience does not bear out the heavy indictment made by the hon. Member for Falmouth in a speech whose fervour and command of detail did equal credit both to his heart and to his head. I hope that we are not going to attach undue weight to the criticism which are hurled at the telephone service, and which has become more vocal since the service has been taken over by the State. There are a great many things which we would have borne with such patience as we could command before this Department came into the hands of the State as to which we now feel that we have a right to denounce them as vocally as we can. I am sure that the Postmaster-General is learning that while gratitude is dumb criticism is exceedingly vocal, not only in this connection, but in almost every other. Personally, I have found delight in getting more prompt service than I did before, and I have not had the difficulty in hearing which some hon. Members appear to have had. The courtesy of the staff is beyond praise. There certainly has been no falling off in that respect. But having said that much my right hon. Friend will not be surprised to find that I have reached the end of my congratulations. I want to make a suggestion to him, which he may regard as critical, in reference to the point about the Port of London Authority which was raised just now by the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Hamilton Benn). There you have an instance in which I think it is established that large users are substantially worse off under Government control of the telephone than they were, under the National Telephone Company.
In the case of the Port of London Authority there is an increase in cost of 40 per cent. per instrument per annum. That is a very serious increase to one of the largest users in the country. I believe 739 that the reason given is that the Post Office are prevented by Statute from giving preferential terms to the large users. Whether that is so, that is not a satisfactory state of things. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will find some way by which he can give his best customers terms at least equally good as those received from the National Telephone Company. I hope that my right hon. Friend will not be carried away by what I think was the mistake made by the hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. G. Collins), who said that the increased use of the telephone did not mean increased profit. I have not gone into the accounts with sufficient closeness to be able to follow him on the point which he made, but I should be very much surprised if the telephone business proved to be different from almost every other business in the way which the hon. Member mentioned. In my opinion there is room in this country for someone who would do for the telephone service what Rowland Hill did for the Post Office in this country. We want to see telephone charges substantially reduced. At present they are heavy, and there is no reason why they should be. This ought to be an exceedingly easy country to work, and a country in which we could carry on business at reasonable charges, and I hope therefore that my right hon. Friend will try to do for the telephone what was done for the Post Office, for I am not yet convinced that when he does that and makes the telephone really cheaper in this country, he will not be rewarded with the extra revenue which he will receive.
§ Lord H. CAVENDISH-BENTINCK
I wish to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster-General to the grievances of the Post Office engineering staff. In 1911, I understand, a revised scheme was carried through, by which the Post Office engineers were divided into a higher grade and a lower grade. The higher grade was made up of executive engineeers and assistant engineers; the lower grade was made up of chief inspectors, senior inspectors and ordinary inspectors. The result of that reorganisation was that a new class was created, and where the grievance comes in is that very many of the second class engineers existing before the revision scheme were told that they could not be admitted to the higher grade, and, moreover, that they were to be regarded as redundant; but after some 740 remonstrances, forty-four of the degraded men, following upon the Report of the Advisory Committee, were admitted to the new class, and about forty others were informed that the Postmaster-General was unable at present to admit them to the higher grade, but that he would admit them as occasion arose. But, in regard to sixty others he stated that he was unable to modify the position—in other words, he divided the de-graded men into a hopeful class and a hopeless class.
What makes the grievance all the more difficult to bear is that young men who had only been two or three years in the service, and some even only a few months, were placed over the heads of those for whom I speak and put into the higher grade. So it came about that these degraded men, who had passed the examination, who had always done their work satisfactorily, who had long experience, and who were actually teaching these young university men their work, when the reorganisation scheme was brought about found that these very young men were placed over their heads and put into the higher grade. It is not surprising that these men feel that they are suffering from an intolerable hardship and grievance. The most extraordinary thing about the whole proceeding is that it does not seem to have been followed by any corresponding advantage to the public service, because the chief engineer, when examined before the Holt Committee, was bound to admit that these young university men had not come up to anticipations. That was confirmed as the result of a question by my hon. Friend below me to the Assistant Postmaster-General, who admitted that the Department were not getting a very reliable class of men from the universities. I really do hope that the right hon. Gentleman will look once more into what I think is a genuine grievance. It is clear that these men were doing very good work, and were well thought of by the heads of their department; they had passed the necessary examinations, yet they are superseded by young men who are brought in on an examination; but the important point is that that examination has not included telegraphy and telephony. Another point is the scale of pay of sub-postmasters, which, I understand, still remains un-remedied.
I think it is admitted that it is a very cheap service, and, as the Committee well knows, it is done on the contract system. 741 I cannot help thinking that the cheapness is rather overdone, and results in what almost amounts to a deal of slipshod and unskilled service by the sub-postmasters. I have never been able to understand why the sale of insurance stamps is only put down as two per 1,000, while the sale of postage stamps is put down as eight per 1,000. I believe the sub-postmasters are asking for an increase of remuneration by about 10 per cent. I have very considerable sympathy for their demand, because their work is a great deal more complicated and arduous than may be thought, and no doubt the cost of living has greatly increased. I may say that there are deplorable results in connection with the scale payment of sub-postmasters, which affect not only themselves, but the sub-office assistants, who are also disgracefully underpaid. There are 23,000 scale payment sub-offices, with 15,000 assistants. The report of Mrs. Bernard Drake, who is a member of the Women's Industrial Council, gives an interesting statement with regard to this matter, and with the permission of the Committee, I would like to read how she describes the position of the sub-office assistant:—She is not a post office clerk; hence, she has no privilege of a post office servant; no standard wage or a eight-hour day, no sickness benefit or marriage bonus, and no guaranteed holidays; and she has no security of tenure; and little or no chance of promotion. And she is not a shop assistant; hence, whenever it suits the public convenience, she is outside the provisions of the Shop Hours Act; and she has no assurance of a half-holiday in the week, or of a whole holiday on Sunday, or of the three quarters of an hour for dinner, and half hour for tea, which are the inalienable rights of the shop assistant.Mrs. Bernard Drake goes on to say:—Verily, the sub-postmaster's assistant is a pariah among her kind; and in her low wages, her long hours, and her oppression, we discover to what mean state an exceptionally intelligent, independent, and self-respecting class of worker is reduced, in the absence of all legal and trade union protection.No doubt the position of these women is absolutely a disgraceful one. For instance, in the provinces, it is only very rarely that one of these women earns a salary of 24s. per week. In the provinces the sub-office woman of three or four years' service, and doing responsible duty, is merely working for a pittance of 7s. or 8s. 6d. per week, and never, or very seldom, I think, more than 12s. 6d. per week. She very often works seventy hours a week, and what is more has to put up with risks of loss. I should again like to read what Mrs. Bernard Drake says on this:—And, in an understaffed, scale-payment sub-office these risks are by no means negligible. A senior clerk, having a wage of twenty-two shillings, or twenty-three 742 shillings, sometimes has as much as £1,000 passing through her hands in small sums during the day, and the risk to the junior clerk is no less in proportion. On a recent occasion, a young girl having a wage of only sixteen shillings, and having paid over the counter £400 in money orders alone, had a shortage at the end of the day of 25s., which she referred to the dishonesty of a savings bank client whom she was unable to check at the time. Nevertheless, out of her meagre wage, she was compelled to make good the full amount herself. The fine imposed on a similar occasion in an established office never exceeds 10 per cent. of the value of the wages being paid.The right hon. Gentleman, or his predecessor, was approached on this question by a deputation, but he washed his hands entirely of this class of workers. I do not think that is a thing that can be done, or ought to be done. We have responsibilities with regard to those people. They are doing the work of the nation, and I say that the nation ought to pay them a decent wage and see that they get the benefit of limited hours and work under better conditions altogether. I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman has not heard very much of what I said, but I do hope he will look into this matter and adopt a more humane and responsible attitude towards this very large class of sweated workers.
§ Mr. HARRY LAWSON
The Post Office, as the Committee has already been reminded, is the great and shining exemplar in this country of State ownership and State control of what is called in America public utilities. It is State Socialism applied on a scale for which we have no parallel in these islands. I think the state of the House and the condition of this Debate shows what is the value of Parliamentary management, or even of Parliamentary control, of great business undertakings, and I am bound to say it is a curious comment on those Members of the House who are supposed to have Socialist opinions or, anyhow, very near to them, that they are always on these occasions conspicuous by their absence.
§ Mr. HARRY LAWSON
My point is, that those who are State Socialists are not here to consider the case of State Socialism.
§ Mr. HARRY LAWSON
If that is so, that answers the only purpose of my reference. The Post Office is really the only test in this country of State Socialism. What the control of this House over this enormous branch of national expenditure and of national undertakings amounts to the Committee can see. As a business man, I am sure you will appreciate that, whilst we deal with details of Post Office work, there seems to be no opportunity, or at least no opportunity is taken, of a general survey of the Post Office as a business undertaking such as would happen in the case of any parallel industry in private hands. I am quite well aware that the National Accounts Committee is responsible for any departures from financial correctitude. The National Accounts Committee would, of course, point out any particular item of expenditure in excess of authority. The Estimates Committee, which sits upstairs, no doubt also looks into the projected expenditure of the year. But that is all done on stereotyped and official lines. There is not, and there cannot be, and I think it is a very great misfortune, a general survey of this enormous organisation such as ought to be given, and such as would be given if there were a body of shareholders interested in it as there are in private concerns. This is the third day of the Post Office Debate, and two days have been given over to the labour question. I am far from underrating the labour question, but I do not think the Post Office really ought to be considered in terms of labour only. It has to deal with the national organisation of a national business in a very large and important sphere.
My belief is, that at the present moment the fabric of the Post Office has entirely outgrown its frame. I think that it is weak in the head, but on the whole that it is strong in the body. The right hon. Gentleman knows that that is not an allusion personal to himself, but it is an allusion to the headquarters of the Post Office. I submit that there is no proper division of work, and no proper system of control. It is time that this House insisted on a general inquiry into the postal organisation at headquarters. St. Martin's-le-Grand is being, as we all know, rebuilt, but I think rebuilding is required not only in the material sense. The time has come when, considering the vast additions and accretions that have been made to this 744 great business department of the State, there should be an attempt to reorganise it on business lines. I do not know anybody who has a larger interest in effecting that than those who specially claim, and who no doubt in a sense specially represent the interests of the labour employed. The Post Office is a house of many mansions. You have added to it department after department. Beginning with postal affairs proper, you have added the telegraph and the telephone, and you have all the illimitable extensions of wireless telegraphy and now of national insurance. The consequence is that you have all the disadvantages of an organisation which was constructed on a small scale and for relatively small things, and has now to adapt itself to a new order of vast proportions. If that be true, it is quite time that Parliament took stock of the Post Office and saw to it that as it is a business organisation so it should be managed on business principles. I do not believe that in the Post Office there is any definite line between labour questions, commercial questions, and the scientific questions with which it has to deal, and I am quite sure that whilst there is too much centralisation at one end, so there is too little control at the other. The principle which should obtain is decentralisation in matters of routine and in matters of limited and local concern, and thoroughly efficient and capable control in the principles which govern the working of the machine. I do not believe that that is secured at the present moment.
There is no industry to start with, working on the scale on which the Post Office works, in which there is so little money spent on the headquarters. If we undertake, as we do in the Post Office, to run a concern which has a revenue of thirty millions and employs a quarter of a million of servants, it is poor economy to think that you can get the proper talent for management at the rates we pay now. I am far from saying that the State has any reason to complain of its first-division clerks, but I do not think that you can run a business concern of the gigantic stature of the Post Office altogether on the ordinary lines of the Civil Service. I think it was a Latin poet who said that in high fortune common sense is rare. I am saying nothing in the least derogatory to the Civil Service when I say that in official circles business capacity is rare. That is only natural and true. What I should like to feel is that the Postmaster-General was 745 prepared to recommend to the House that there should be a committee having as its principal object the reorganisation of the headquarters of the whole postal service of the country. It ought not to be so difficult as it is to satisfy and to keep both efficient and contented the enormous staff employed in the various classes of labour. In fact, the Post Office ought to have special advantages in that regard. In the first place, all the different branches connected with it, all the many chambers of the house, are more or less cognate and allied. It has not to group different sorts of business in its organisation. Having so vast a staff, it ought to be able to fit men into their proper spheres of work without the constant friction of which we have too unpleasant experience in this House now. Most of the questions raised in connection with the Post Office are concerned only with the conditions of labour.
I believe myself that, if there were a more comprehensive system of management, there would not be the labour difficulties in the Post Office that there are. Those who are at its head do not want to enter into the details of particular cases as they have to do now. They should be more like the board of management of other great industrial concerns, laying down sound principles, and seeing that those principles are adapted to special cases, but not undertaking, as they do, to watch every revolution of every wheel in the machine. There is at the Post Office now infinitely too much attention paid to details, and too little account taken of general principles. I admit that it was very difficult that it should be otherwise, but now, with the great expansion of duty which falls on the Post Office, is the time for a thorough reorganisation of the whole Department on business lines. I hope myself that it will be possible to enlist in the service of the Post Office a larger amount of scientific ability. I do not underrate the scientific acquirements of many of those who are the advisers of the different Departments, but the amount spent on scientific work, and the amount allotted to scientific salaries is far less than in any other country which has to deal with great affairs in which scientific principles play so large a part as they do in the Post Office. The engineers, instead of being allowed to consider, as they should, without the pre-occupation of perpetual routine, the large questions of discovery and advance, which it is essential should be always in their minds are given only a limited time for such purposes, and are 746 mainly tied down to the exact recurring duties of daily work, which in many cases might be done by men of much less ability and knowledge. This arises especially in connection with the main question under the consideration of the House to-day—the question of telephones. It is instructive to notice what the United States spend in connection with the headquarters' organisation of their telephonic service. The figures are very large; but the United States have shown the way in the development of telephonic communication—the way in which we follow with very laggard steps.
§ Mr. HARRY LAWSON
I quite agree. I do not want to enlarge on that point, but individual enterprise there has done much more than we have been able to do under official management here. I am not saying that that is due to official management. That is not my point. My point is the amount spent on expert advice for the control of telephones in the United States as compared with the amount spent here.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
I understand that it is expenditure, not by the United States Government, but by the companies. I want to make that clear.
§ Mr. HARRY LAWSON
The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly correct. For my purpose the importance does not lie in the different system of working, whether by private enterprise or by State control, so much as in the fact that when we talk of the enormous advance which has been made in telephonic communication in the States, we forget the amount that has been spent in this direction. We run the service on the cheap here, and, on the whole, we do not run it very successfully. In the annual report of the American Telegraph and Telephone Company reference is made to the complexity involved in the problems of telephony, and they state that at their headquarters they have no fewer than 550 engineers and scientists engaged to deal with these problems, and among them are former professors and instructors of universities and other men of academic distinction, including graduates belonging to seventy different scientific schools and universities. That is the character of their scientific equipment. In this country there is nothing approaching that. I am bound to say in defence of the Post Office, when it is pointed out how unsuccessful we have 747 been as compared with the United States in expending telephonic communication, that fair allowance ought to be made for the different estimate that is made of the expenditure required, and of the folly of trying to run a great enterprise like this by rules laid down by the Treasury, rather than in answer to the commercial requirements of the country. I make this point in regard to the control of the telephone at headquarters because it is that to which public attention is most directed. But that only adds to the case that I am submitting to the Committee—that the management of the Post Office ought to be modelled to a far larger extent than it is now on commercial lines, and in answer to commercial requirements. Officialism ought to be shed from the Post Office as if it were the plague. We must expect that there will be a larger amount required for scientific and expert advice. We may even have to withdraw from the daily round of dull duties men who ought to be deciding general principles and seeing that the system works in accordance with them. In the long run that would be a cheap thing for the State to do.
The main point, after all, is to have the postal, telegraphic, and telephonic activities of the State at the highest point of efficiency. They are essential to commercial progress. All the inquiries which have taken place, both by Select Committees and by Departmental Committees, have been restricted to some narrow point. The largest and most important was concerned merely with labour troubles. I believe in dealing with labour troubles, but supposing that general principles were kept more in view, and there were a commercial, instead of an official system of control, there would be less trouble than there is in dealing with labour questions. Anyhow, nobody can say that the present system is satisfactory, having regard to the fate of the Holt Report. It will be no real remedy to have an external Committee dealing with these things, because the great object is to avoid the recurrence of friction. I submit that in reforming headquarters, in enlarging the conception of State management in the Post Office, you are far more likely to arrive at a settlement of the labour question, as well as to deal with the scientific and commercial side of the Post Office in a satisfactory manner. The question of the telephone has been to-day discussed at great length. 748 I do not want to go over the ground that has already been traversed, but roughly, I suppose, it is true to say that public criticism of the telephone system is mainly directed to the complaint that it is hampered here by red tape and does not answer the business requirements of the country. The mere fact that 85 per cent. of those in London from whom my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth—who has done such great service in this matter—suggest that there should be appointed a committee of advice is in itself a sufficient proof that the commercial community are dissatisfied with the system as it is working now.
They are of opinion that the telephone is a business proposition, and they want to see the Department responsible for its working responsive to business demands. My hon. Friend, as the Postmaster-General knows, has had a vast number of replies to his inquiries. It is not worth while troubling the House with many of them in view of what he has put forward, but I will venture to quote the letter from one of the big firms in London, who, in this particular instance, strongly protest against the want of business principles. They were paying double what they should have paid for the telephone, partly owing to their own fault. When they complained the only reply they said they had been able to get in writing from the Post Office was an acknowledgement of the receipt of their letter. "It is apparently," they say, "the habit of the Post Office to send round a representative who takes up an enormous amount of time, and does no good; although six months have elapsed since our request to remove some of the extensions, the work has not been done yet." They ask, with regard to the telephone service, that in case of serious complaints subscribers should be able without difficulty to get through to somebody in authority, before whom the complaints should be lodged, and who would see that due notice was taken of it, instead of as now—nothing being attended to. There is another letter which I will not trouble to read, in which complaint is made by another business house that the Government has departed from the system of the National Telephone Company; that they refuse to recognise the tenant, unless the tenant signs a mew agreement for his telephone. Therefore, they are constantly hampered in their transactions in dealing with property because of rules which are clearly superfluous, and which certainly 749 ought never to have been introduced when the Government took over this last concern.
In London there is a special grievance, or at all events, a special question, which has been raised several times by my hon. Friend by way of question and answer. I will put it to the Postmaster-General. That is the complaint of the vast amount of spare wires that have not been used, and which make the delay far longer than there can be any real justification for. I believe there are in London 252,000 miles of spare wires available, a quantity sufficient for 40,000 lines. There is this vast reserve, and therefore we have some reason to complain that the average delay of supplying telephones extends to so long a period as eighteen and a half days. Then, of course, there is also the question that is raised in connection with this matter as to why the Postmaster-General allows us the very large sum allocated to London—the particulars are very striking—for expenditure on the central system when so little has been spent, and so very little can be spent in the immediate future. He told my hon. Friend on 14th April that for the central battery in London the contracts which already had been placed amounted to something like £240,000 as against only £109,000 for the provinces. There seems to be very little prospect of this money being spent, and I should be glad in the interests of those who are complaining with regard to the London telephone system to know that the figures are well founded, and that the amount will really be spent within the year.
§ Mr. HARRY LAWSON
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be able to deal with this matter later, and I hope he will state whether the amount I mention will be spent on the central battery alone this year. These questions in regard to London are important, because of London being the capital, and because there is so much spare material. It seems to me, therefore, that the delay in carrying out the work is quite unreasonable. I do not want to paint the Post Office in colours that are unjustifiably dark. I recognise that they have had great difficulties. At the same time we have the fact that since they took over the National telephone system, the rate of increase of expenditure has been much slower than before. Instead of advancing, as in every 750 other country at an accelerated pace with regard to the telephones, we seem, if we have not gone back, at all events relatively to be standing still. This means of communication is very essential, and never so essential as to-day, to the commercial life of the community. I think, therefore, that the Postmaster-General is bound to do his best to "speed-up" the machine which at the present moment he controls. All these complaints from commercial men are not made for the sake of giving trouble, but because of the practical inconveniences that have been found in dealing with affairs of business. If in London the complaints are loudest, surely that ought to carry weight with the right hon. Gentleman, because not only the commercial affairs of this country, but, to a large extent, the commercial and financial affairs of the Empire are increasingly using London as a clearing house and headquarters. Under these circumstances I press the particular point that I have made upon the right hon. Gentleman. After all, if he wants to get commercial advice, why does not he take up and follow the suggestion which has been made that there should be an Advisory Committee composed of business men in London who could bring complaints directly to his notice, and ease, perhaps, the volume of questions put to him in the House.
§ Mr. HARRY LAWSON
You are not in the position advised by the London Chamber of Commerce. I am aware that the right hon. Gentleman has Consultative Committees in different parts of the country, for the matter is referred to in the Annual Report of the Post Office. But he has not got an Advisory Board with the particular interests represented on it, which is recommended by the London Chamber of Commerce, and which, I think, would be best for the purpose.
§ Mr. HARRY LAWSON
Then that is contrary to the information which I have. But above that I want to press the general question on the attention of the right hon. Gentleman. I want to know whether he will not agree that the time has come when the House should inquire into the whole organisation of the postal service at headquarters. If new lines of development have been laid down, and that is a necessity of Post Office progress, we ought to be quite certain that the principles upon 751 which they are constructed, are sound, and approve themselves, not only to the official mind, but to the commercial intelligence of the country. I do not know why the Post Office should resist this. It would be a great strength to them to have the recommendation of a strong body such as would be constituted for this purpose to rely upon. Supposing that they found, as they might, that too little was spent upon direction, and certainly more and more will be spent on subordinate departments of labour, then the Post Office could appeal with much greater force to the Treasury and through the Treasury to Parliament for sanction to spend larger amounts in this way. The great necessities are decentralisation in detail, and strong and expert control at the centre. I do not believe you get it under the present system, and therefore, I venture to press the Postmaster-General, in his reply this afternoon, to make some statement at least to show that he is alive to the necessities of the case.
§ Mr. WARDLE
The interesting speech to which we have just listened commenced with the criticism of the sparse attendance and lack of interest on these benches, in what was described as the supreme example of State socialism in this country. I interjected the remark that it was no doubt because there was a certain amount of satisfaction felt at the result. I did not say supreme satisfaction.
§ Mr. WARDLE
I am now addressing myself as the hon. Member did to the question of the Post Office as a business concern, and not merely as affecting labour. I am quite with the hon. Member, when he joins with other hon. Members of this House in saying that the supreme test both in regard to this matter and in regard to any example of State socialism must be its efficiency and power to serve the community as a whole, and not merely its power to raise wages or its concern with conditions of labour as a whole. I do, of course, attach naturally a great deal of importance to the Post Office or any other nationalised service from the point of view of its effect upon labour and labour conditions, but I also associate myself with those who desire that a State service must be conducted in a state of the highest efficiency 752 that it is possible to obtain. But with reference to the question raised by the hon. Member as to Parliamentary control, I should like to point out a fact to which I am quite sure the hon. Member is alive, that the attendance of Members in this House in connection with the question of the Parliamentary control of the Post Office is quite as great in proportion, as the attendance of shareholders, certainly at the ordinary railway company meetings, and the interest of the shareholders in a public company is certainly not greater, and, in my opinion, not nearly so great, as the control this House exercises by means of attendance when the Post Office is under discussion. I should like to point out also, in that connection, that this is the third day we have been discussing the Post Office Estimates, and that no such opportunity occurs to ordinary shareholders with regard to ordinary business concerns—
§ Mr. WARDLE
We may be directors, but we certainly, so far as this House is concerned, do not occupy the same position with regard to the business of the State as directors of public companies do with regard to their concerns, nor do we draw the same fees. I would like to change with many a railway director, so far as fees are concerned. But to come back to this question of Parliamentary control, I quite agree, so far as I am concerned, that some means should be taken in the direction which has been indicated by the hon. Member who has just sat down. I agree that the control exercised by Parliament at the present moment is not so effective as it might be and ought to be. I also wish to associate myself with the hon. Member in saying that I believe that on the whole, in organisation and direction, the Post Office has given and is giving great satisfaction to the people of this country, but I do agree with him that the time has come when some sort of reorganisation of the Post Office should be undertaken. I do not know whether the hon. Member is acquainted with the changes that the Hobhouse Committee recommended when they stated that in their opinion the time had come, not merely to consider the question of alteration with regard to the post offices, but to consider the question of reorganisation of the Post Office as a whole. That recommendation of the Committee has not yet been put 753 into operation, and it seems to me that it ought to be put into operation, and although we did on that Committee, I think, go a little outside the scope of our reference, no one has condemned us, and I think we were quite justified in doing what we did in suggesting a certain basis of decentralisation in regard to Edinburgh and Dublin so far as the offices there were concerned. We started in that Committee the suggestion the hon. Member has thrown out, that the beginning should be made in that direction.
I want to say one or two words only with regard to the telephones. I think it is as well to recall the Committee to the fact that it was because the House and the country were dissatisfied with the manner in which the telephones were carried on under the National Telephone Company that the proposal was made by the Tory Government that they should be transferred to the State. With reference to the manner in which the transference took place, I have only one comment to offer. I think the mistake was made in delaying the transfer. When it was agreed that a transfer was to take place it ought to have been carried into effect at once, instead of allowing a long period of time to elapse in which the system could be, and as a matter of fact was, largely depreciated. I was referring to the taking over of the system by the State. I believe it is universally admitted now that a certain amount of depreciation did take place, and that when the telephone system was taken over the State took it under conditions which were very difficult and necessitated a long period lapsing before it could be made that efficient system which we all desire to see. Therefore, I do not think it is quite fair to come to this House after only two and a half years' experience of the telephone service under State management and say, "Here is a supreme example where State Socialism and State management has failed." I put it to the Committee that they would not in ordinary circumstances judge any business taken over under those conditions by the standard which hon. Members are seeking to set up in this House to-day. I think some of the criticisms levelled against the Post Office with regard to the telephone service are not fair. I am all for efficiency in this matter. If the State is to take over certain industries I am concerned that they should be efficiently managed and controlled. This telephone system, taken over under such conditions, has made remarkable 754 progress, although that progress may not have been as much as we desire to see.
Personally, I am a subscriber to the telephone, and I have had opportunities of comparing the service now given with that which used to obtain under the National Telephone Company. I also come into contact with other hon. Members who are telephone subscribers. I would point out that the one thing which seems to me to break down the whole case put by the hon. Member opposite is that out of 2,500 subscribers to whom he sent his communication, 1,500 have not replied. Therefore, the 1,000 cases which the hon. Member has tabulated in such detail, and no doubt with accuracy, do not represent the whole of the opinions of the telephone subscribers in London. The cases he has quoted are no doubt places where the grievances are most acute. I express it as my own opinion, gathered after communication with others, that on the whole there has been an improvement since the telephone service was taken over by the State which warrants us in believing that this experiment will prove successful if we will only have the patience which is necessary in the early stages to give the Government every opportunity of making the best of it. I desire to associate myself with the remarks which fell from the hon. Member for Nottingham with regard to the question of the sub-engineers. I also agree with those hon. Members who think that this problem of the Post Office and its relation to labour is undoubtedly a problem of very great magnitude, and one which we shall have to face in a businesslike spirit, and I hope in a very large-hearted spirit. I believe that some lines of reorganisation are bound to come in this great State Department which will make it more efficient in the service of the public, as well as more satisfactory from the point of view of labour.
§ Mr. WALTER GUINNESS
The hon. Member who has just sat down, in a very-interesting speech, argued that the State acquired the telephone monopoly because people were dissatisfied with the way the National Telephone Company were carrying on their business. I do not think that is a fair way of putting it, because it leaves out of the question the very obstacles which the Post Office put in the way of the National Telephone Company. In the first place, the Post Office originally considered that the telephones endangered the success of their telegraphs, 755 and they had the law altered declaring that it was an infringement of their monopoly. Owing to that decision the company were compelled to work under a system of licence and way leaves, and when the State took over the trunk lines there was such divided control and confusion of management that no company could have provided a really efficient service under the conditions which were then laid down. Therefore, I do not think it is fair to blame the National Telephone Company for what took place at that time. Several hon. Members have commisserated the Postmaster-General on account of the tremendous flow of criticism which he has to meet on this subject of the telephone. It is satisfactory to feel that in this case we cannot abuse the Postmaster-General for his share of the muddle, because we all recognise that he has not been long enough at the Post Office to have had an opportunity of carrying out very much in the way of reform. At the same time it is very surprising to find the attitude of self-complacency to which he gave voice in his previous speech on these Estimates.
The public looks at telephones from a very different point of view to that which the Post Office adopts, and no doubt from the Post Office point of view things are very satisfactory. For years past the Post Office have wanted to get the whole system of quick communication into their hands, and now they feel that what they lose on the swings they gain on the roundabouts. The Postmaster-General points out that if you take the telegraphs and the telephones together you can set the income of one off against the expenditure of the other. In other words, the Post Office now congratulates itself that having long hampered the development of the National Telephone Company lest it should compete with them, everything is now in their own hands. The telegraph system is getting out of date owing to the advance of modern science, and the Post Office is in the delightful position of being able to force people to choose between an antiquated telegraph system and an inefficient system of telephones. They know that if they make their telephones sufficiently bad they must get a revenue from the telegraph, because people will have to come back to the old system. That is not a satisfactory position for the public, and I think the Government ought to recognise that they do owe a far more efficient service to the public than they have hitherto provided. The attitude of the Post Office seems to 756 me to be that the public simply exists to pay for an indifferent service. It forgets that the monopoly it possesses involves duties as well as rights. The public have got tired of the airy excuses and continuous promises which have been held out about this telephone system.
The defence of the late Postmaster-General was always that the defects in the present system were due to the shortcomings of the National Telephone Company. That is no defence at all. The State had ample notice of the change which was going to take place, and they ought to have made preparations. They knew quite well that the National Telephone Company was not spending as much money as they ought to spend in the interests of efficiency on development in recent years. That was only natural, because it was arranged that they were to get nothing for goodwill. The State ought to have had realised that their expenditure on the efficiency of the service had dropped from £1,100,000 in 1907 to £360,000 in 1911, and, if they had really had the interests of the public at heart they ought to have arranged some method by which the expenditure in the interests of future efficiency would have been made by the State, which was ultimately to take over the whole concern. We have had a bitter experience of the efficiency of the Post Office, not merely since they have taken over the National system, because for many years past they have been in control of the trunk service, and anybody who has had to use that service very much knows that it is scandalously inefficient and undesirable. It is very slow in giving connections, and it is often impossible to hear when one does get through. The service has become so unsatisfactory that the last accounts show that this great monopoly had fallen so enormously that there was actually a loss of £15,000 on the year's work. Apparently this tradition of bad administration is to be continued for the whole service.
I had not the advantage of hearing the speech of the hon. Member for Falmouth (Mr. Goldman), but no doubt he referred to the inquiries of the Parliamentary Telephone Committee. He is best qualified to deal with that matter, because no one has given more attention to it than he has, or has gone more thoroughly into the statistics. It is well, when the result of this inquiry is pooh-poohed, to remind the House that it was conducted on many important details, and was not just a sweeping condemnation. Sixty per cent. of the 757 answers gave the opinion that the local service had deteriorated since the transfer from the National Telephone Company. Seventy-four per cent. considered that the charges were unreasonable or excessive, and 69 per cent. made it clear that they did not complain so much of the amounts charged as of the inefficiency of the service given in return. They urged that before any reduction was made consideration should be given to an increase of the service supplied. It is lamentable to see that the Post Office authorities are content with the present development of the telephone system. They have absolutely dropped all advertising and canvassing and all attempts to increase the number of subscribers. A telephone system obviously depends very largely for its satisfactory nature on the number of people who are connected. It is like a snowball. The more points of contact you can get, the greater will be the rate of your increase. Every telephone system except our British Post Office one takes trouble to bring its facilities before possible consumers, and to induce people to join. The Postmaster-General gave the figures of the increase during the last completed year. I think it was 38,000. That figure is nothing short of a scandal when you compare it with the progress of the telephone system in the United States. In the United States there is twenty times the increase that takes place here every year. Although the population is only about double that of this country, instead of an increase of 38,000, they have an increase of three-quarters of a million subscribers every year.
The Postmaster-General admits that there is great delay in connecting subscribers, and if he would devote his attention to this matter I think he would find it very much easier to get people to sign their contracts and to join the State Telephone Service. It ought to be very easy in this country to have a greater proportion of telephones to the population than there is in the United States, because the population is massed in far larger centres, and it is very much easier for the Post Office to put up the wiring which is necessary at a cheap rate owing to the far shorter distances. I believe the service could be very much increased in numbers and in efficiency if comparatively simple improvements were carried out. It is essential that we should have continual services everywhere. People do not only get ill in the day time. It is often very 758 necessary to ring up doctors and send urgent messages at night, and it is very unsatisfactory that at the present time there are only about 140 exchanges open day and night, and 400 exchanges only open during a certain portion of the day. The Post Office apparently is trying to save money in this direction, whereas the National Telephone Company kept open all their exchanges day and night. The Post Office, when they took them over, shut them up during the night, and where they are open during the twenty-four hours they have substantially cut down the pay of the operators for an all-night service. It is also very urgent that some decision should be come to as to the rates. Many members of the public would be glad to join if they were sure of the conditions upon which they could obtain their service in the future.
It was very disappointing to hear from the Postmaster-General on the last occasion when his salary was discussed that he did not see any prospect of improving the terms to individual subscribers. The position is not so unfavourable as the accounts in their present form might lead people to imagine, because it seems to me he had written off most enormous sums for depreciation and deficiency in the valuation. On page 28 it is shown in the net revenue account for the last available year that a depreciation of nearly £1,400,000 has been provided for. That seems a very reasonable and a very fair depreciation. But apparently it is not the whole, because on page 22 of the Post Office Telephone Account, we see that, in addition to that enormous depreciation, there were written off two further sums from capital, apparently out of profit—a sum of £650,000 deficiency in the valuation, and a further sum of £1,800,000 for proved depreciation. These figures need some explanation. The 6 per cent. which is written off from the income and expenditure account on the ground of depreciation is reasonable enough, but we ought to have some explanation of these far larger sums. They have apparently also been written off out of revenue. It is a very remarkable fact that the Controller and Auditor-General certifies various accounts, but does not certify Account No. 15, in which these two various sums have been written off the capital account.
Of course the excuse of the Post Office for the present unsatisfactory position is that they cannot get enough trained work- 759 men, but that is very largely their own fault. The service is simply seething with discontent, owing to the cheeseparing policy they have pursued, and at this moment, when they are so much in need of skilled operators and workmen, we are told that not only have 400 former employés in the National Telephone Company left the service of the State, but that a large number are waiting to leave at the earliest possible opportunity. These State employés have very serious grievances. They have had in many cases their scales of pay cut down very considerably. Labourers in London are paid 26s. per week, and in the provinces 21s., and these wages are actually lower than the scales insisted upon by the Post Office in their Fair-Wages Clause when dealing with private contractors. Established skilled workmen, Class II., now get 38s. per week from the Post Office, whereas under the National Telephome Company they got 45s., and the men in Class I. now enjoy a wage 2s. per week less than they used to get for the same work under the National Telephone Company. The last Postmaster-General stated, in 1911, that the pay which the staff taken over would receive from the Post Office would in many cases be greater than that they were receiving from the National Telephone Company, and in no case would it be less. In another passage the right hon. Gentleman said:—In no case will the pay be less than the normal rate of payment of the Telephone Company's system.I do not think the right hon. Gentleman can reconcile this statement with the present system. In addition to the cases I have mentioned there are 3,000 established members in the electrical grades who were previously allowed 4s. a night when they were employed on a job away from home. Now they are only paid either 1s. or 1s. 3d., according to their standing. Even where there is no actual reduction in the individual pay many of the employés have lost all prospect of promotion. They have arrived at their present position and pay by being placed in grades with wages higher than the maxima of those grades, and the result is there is absolutely no prospect before them of improvement. Those in the grade who were originally in the State service are having their salaries increased year by year, while those officials and skilled men who were in the employ of the National Telephone Company many years are finding that 760 those who started far below them are rapidly rising, and they themselves have nothing to look forward to in the future. It is said that 85 per cent, of the staff taken over from the National Telephone Company have been debarred from reaching positions which were open to them under the company's management. They have been shut out from all chance of promotion not because they are inefficient, but because the State service has laid down arbitrary technical qualifications which in many cases are of no practical importance but which are very onerous so far as the employés are concerned. They act against those who were taken over from the company. Then there is the very great injustice inflicted on female telephonists owing to the system of classification which has been adopted. The State, in taking over the National Telephone Company's system, ought to have created a new organisation, but it did not. It adopted the classification which had been at work in the Post Office, and towns are now classified, not according to the amount of telephone work, but according to the volume of general Post Office work at that particular centre. As a result you have anomalies such as these. At Guildford, where there are less than 400 subscribers, the telephonists get 25s. a week, whereas at Bolton, where there are nearly four times as many subscribers, they get only 24s. per week. The obvious remedy is to set up a special Department, and to regrade your system on an entirely different basis, without considering the general postal work.
It has been pointed out by more than one speaker that at the present time we compare very unfavourably in the salaries we pay to those at the top of the service who are responsible for this system. We all have the greatest admiration for the higher ranks of the Civil Service, but the Third Secretary to the Post Office, the gentleman responsible for this service, a position almost equal to that of the manager of a railway company controlling 30,000 men, receives actually less by way of salary than the advertisement manager of Bell's telegraph system, and he receives not one-tenth part of the salary which is paid to the chairman of the great telephone system in the United States. These criticisms in detail are of great importance, but what is even more important is that we should have a change in the spirit which animates the Post Office towards the 761 telephone system generally. The Post Office must cease to look upon the telephone subscriber as a rent-producing animal, and must apply itself to giving him a service which will compete in efficiency with that which is found in the United States and in many countries in Europe.
§ Mr. MORTON
I am not going to deal with the question of telephones. My object in rising is to say a few words on some postal and telegraphic troubles in Sutherlandshire, but I should first like to ask the Postmaster-General one question with regard to the telephones. Successive Postmasters-General have promised the City Corporation to draft a new scale of charges, and a Committee of the House of Commons has also been promised—not a Departmental Committee, which is not what we want—to inquire into the system. I mention this because the City Corporation propose to hold a conference of representatives of local bodies in the London telephone area, and they are keeping it back until they get the information which was promised. We have no intention of acting in an unfriendly way towards the Post Office or setting up another authority to do the work they do. I particularly wish to raise the question of the postal service between Thurso and Tongue in Sutherlandshire. This matter has been before the Postmaster-General for nine months. A numerously signed petition was sent to the Postmaster-General from the people in the neighbourhood asking for a daily week-day service between Lairg and Tongue. That service is undoubtedly required, and will, we hope, be provided in the interests of the travelling public and the people who reside there. I mention that because we received an answer in which it was suggested that the daily week-day service might be given, but that the week-day service betwen Tongue and Thurso might be cut off.
I raise the question because I am anxious that we shall not be put in a worse position than we are to-day. It is proposed by the Postmaster-General to cut off the daily week-day service between Thurso and Tongue. That service, either by coach or motor, has been running from almost time immemorial, and the people m that district are anxious not to be put in a worse position than they are now in. It is proposed that the service shall stop half way, at a place called Bettyhill. We want this motor-car service continued, because it is not only used for carrying the 762 mail, but also passengers and goods. It is the only possible means which the Sutherlandshire people and visitors can have for getting between Thurso and Tongue at any time, because it is practically impossible to make a railway. It is not very satisfactory to have a motor car service starting from Thurso in the afternoon, because a car starting at four or five in the afternoon does not get to Bettyhill until about eleven o'clock at night. This service serves all the people along the greater part of the northern coast of Sutherlandshire. It serves Reay, on the boundary between Caithness and Sutherlandshire, Melvich, Strathy, Armadale, Bettyhill, Skelpick, Skerray, and Roan Island on to Tongue and Melness. Between six and ten thousand people are concerned in this service. Unfortunately, the Postmaster-General says, it does not pay. I have tried over and over again in my feeble way to make the Committee understand that when you have the penny postage system it is not a question of which part pays. The very idea of the system is that the good districts will pay for the bad ones. Therefore, it never troubles me whether a particular part of Sutherlandshire is paying its way in this matter. If we go into the question whether penny postage pays, the people in the City of London will say they ought not to pay the penny, but something like a hundredth part of a penny. In the big towns people do not object to pay more in order to make up for the loss in the poorer districts. Therefore, I hope the Postmaster-General will drop the question whether it pays or not. The people in Sutherlandshire are desperately in earnest about the matter, and I trust that at this late hour we shall be able to induce the right hon. Gentleman not to break up this service, but to continue it.
On the 15th June I put a question to the Secretary for Scotland about this service, and he referred me to the Postmaster-General. He might as well have told me to go somewhere else. The Secretary for Scotland could not possibly have made any inquiries, because when I put that question I came from the Postmaster-General, he having had the matter before him for nearly nine months, and the Assistant Postmaster had suggested very kindly that I might go to the Secretary for Scotland and get some assistance in order to continue the service, by asking the Board of Agriculture, or some other 763 Board in Scotland, to grant a small subvention to make up any loss there might be. I was very much obliged to him for the suggestion. I am sorry to say that the Secretary for Scotland made no inquiries, either of the Postmaster-General, myself, or anybody else as to the state of things. Whether there is any good in having a Secretary for Scotland at all is a matter for discussion on the Scottish Estimates. Notwithstanding my appeal to him he has not dealt with the matter. The people in the district of Skerray are very much interested and they have sent frequent letters and petitions to the Postmaster-General. Sometime ago, when the motorcar service started, it did not go to Skerray, but went along the main road down to Tongue. I induced the Postmaster-General of that day, then Mr. Buxton and now Lord Buxton, to alter that. He was the best Postmaster-General we have ever had for getting anything done in Sutherlandshire. They are continually getting worse every time there is a change. In London and the big towns there is an excellent postal service. If you are ever to carry out what was promised by the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, namely, to colonise your own country, you must take care that the postal and telegraph service is in an efficient state, and that it should help the people. That is what they do in the United States and in Canada, and in other Colonies. I hope, therefore, that something will be done to prevent this putting the clock back and taking off a service which has gone on for so many years, and that the Postmaster-General will do something to help us.
Another question I want to ask about is the telegraph to Elphin, which is on the other side of the county of Sutherlandshire. For many years we have been trying to get the telegraph service continued from Rosehall to Elphin. We were quite ready to find one-third of the guarantee of the estimated loss, and I always understood by the speech delivered by the present Prime Minister, when Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1907 or 1908, that, with some exceptions, the Treasury would go on the guarantee of the estimated loss to the extent of two-thirds. We have offered, if the Treasury will do that, to find the other third, and if there is any exception in the matter it ought to be in our favour. It is a monstrous state of things that there should be districts like Elphin 764 where there is no telegraphic communication at all. There is no doctor in this village, and they have to send on horseback some fifteen or twenty miles. It is time something was done. It was promised that the matter should be considered when the Grant was made last year with regard to a medical service, but nothing has been done. That, however, is not the chief matter that I press upon the attention of the Postmaster-General. It is a question of discontinuing this motorcar service between Thurso and Tongue, making a call at Skerray as heretofore. I hope the Postmaster-General will do something to help us in this matter.
§ Mr. HUNT
I hope the Postmaster-General will see his way to extend the telephone service to Claverley, about six miles west of Wolverhampton, because the farmers there want it very badly indeed. The Postmaster-General told us that the gain to the postal servants in the recent concessions was small. I think that is quite true, and it has not been sufficient to make up for the increased cost of living, which the Board of Trade put down at over 11 per cent.; and, moreover, nothing has been allowed at all for the increased standard of living or for the increased value of the work, which the Report of the Select Committee laid down as certainly relevant to the fixing of wages. The hon. Member (Mr. Holt), who ought to know something about it, told us that employés in the Post Office put great pressure on Members, and that this ought to be arrested, as the Post Office servants were very well paid for the work that they did. I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman that by any means all the postal servants are well paid. Apparently under these new rules auxiliary postmen are to get another shilling per week. I do not know, of course, how much they are supposed to get on the average, but I went round to a good many houses in one of the towns in my Constituency lately with the officer of health to find out about the rents. I am bound to say that rents were distinctly on the low side. I believe it is because one man owns a very large part of the town, and as he keeps his rents low the other people cannot raise theirs. But the wages of the auxiliary postmen I can only describe as starvation wages, and I conclude that they are very much the same in other country towns. I found one man with a wife and family who got 17s. and 765 an extra shilling for his bicycle. He had to pay his rent out of that. Another man, who had served his time in the Regular Army, and had a wife and six children, got the magnificent wage of 14s. 6d. a week, out of which he also had to pay his rent.
§ Mr. HUNT
I inquired about that. They work in the morning up to eleven or twelve, then have time off, and begin again in the afternoon. They could not get any work to do in between, and therefore they cannot earn more money unless they can get some work on Sunday, which some of them do. These are starvation wages, and I cannot think that a Government which makes a profit of £5,250,000 ought to pay this sort of wages. I do not know what would be said about a manufacturer if he paid them. So much for the assistant postmen. I know there are various questions about their not being employed absolutely the whole time, but I do not see what they are to do, because they cannot add to their wages. It seems very bad management to employ them in this way at very low wages. So far as I can understand from the Postmaster-General, married men in regular employment are only paid a minimum wage of 22s. a week. If they have to pay house rent out of that, very likely amounting from 4s. to 7s. a week, I do not call that a living wage. I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman thinks of it, but if he calculated all the things necessary which these men must pay, he would find that if a man has a wife and three or four children all that man will have for each person, reckoning three meals a day, would be 1d. to 1½d. per meal per person. I do not think that is enough. I think these wages are far too low for the Government to pay, seeing that the Post Office gets a profit of £5,500,000 a year, especially when the Government and the Labour party are always telling us that they are the friends of the poor. I think they ought to practise what they preach. Certainly in this case the postman does not appear to be sufficiently paid.
In an article I was reading the other day in a Liberal paper, it is stated that the purchasing power of a sovereign now as compared with seven years ago is only equal to 15s. 6d., so that postmen, like so many more working people, are considerably worse off than they were when this Government came in. The Noble Lord (Lord 766 H. Cavendish-Bentinck) brought to the Postmaster-General's notice the position of the postmistresses in the country. These are very bad cases. The National Insurance Act has given them an enormous amount of work for which they receive very little pay, and they lose a considerable amount of money through the mistakes of others whom they are obliged to employ under them. That is a thing which I think the right hon. Gentleman ought to look into. There is a postmistress in my own Division, a very good woman, who complains dreadfully of being overworked and underpaid, and also of the fines she has to pay through the mistakes of one or two of her assistants.
I want to say a word or two about Post Office engineers. They complain, and I think very justly, that new-comers have been brought in from the universities with no practical experience at all, and that they have been put over the heads of men of long experience and long service. They complain also that men in the National Telephone Company have been put over their heads. The university men have had very little service, in some cases only two or three months, and moreover, so far as it is possible to make out, they have proved a failure. The Assistant Postmaster-General in answer to my question on 29th April said:—We found that we were not getting a desirable class of men from the universities, and we discontinued the system two years ago.Then in answer to a question put by myself the Postmaster-General said:—I do not admit in the first place that the university men were unsatisfactory at all. Those who were appointed from 1907 were found very satisfactory, and the system has not been given up.
§ Mr. HUNT
I believe most of them came from Cambridge. Anyhow, the Assistant Postaster-General and the Postmaster-General apparently contradicted each other. One Minister said that the young university candidates were undesirable, and that the system was given up two years ago, while the Postmaster-General said that they were not unsatisfactory at all, and that the system had not been given up. It is impossible to know what to believe. I do think that the treatment of the Post Office engineers is a case of gross injustice, and although the right hon. Gentleman has only been at the Post Office a short time, I consider 767 that it is his duty to look into things and put them right. I think he would be very much better occupied in attending to these grievances and doing his best to remedy them than going yachting with his friends in a Government boat and ousting officers and men out of their quarters for the sake of himself and his friends. That is my opinion, and I hope when he is not yachting he will try to remedy some of the grievances which I think are admitted, and which ought to be put right.
§ Mr. HOGGE
There are two points I wish to raise, one of which is peculiarly personal in relation to my own Constituency. It raises a question of principle which ought to be settled by the Post Office. I will not go into the details, because the Postmaster-General knows that they are a legacy from his predecessor. It amounts very much to this: On one medical certificate the Post Office authorities have turned out a young girl who was taken over, or ought to have been taken over, when the National Telephone Service was taken over, and they have refused either to reinstate that young girl or to give her any other sort of employment. I had the advantage of seeing the medical certificate given by the Post Office doctor. I consider it a scandalous certificate. It is a certificate which, if she had shown it to anybody, would deprive her of any kind of employment for the rest of her life. I say that the facts are inaccurate, for I took the opportunity of referring this young girl to one of the best physicians attached to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, and he gave her a clean certificate of health, stating that she could not possibly be suffering from any of the complaints she was said to be suffering from according to the account of the Post Office doctor. I think that the employés of the Post Office are entitled to some sort of medical referee. This girl is now doing the same work in the office of a firm of solicitors in Edinburgh—telephone work, and she has never been a single day ill since she took up that work. She is earning 5s. a week less than she would have been earning in the Post Office service, and she will never be able to attain to the wage she could have reached in the Post Office. She was sent down on the medical certificate of one man whose opinion does not agree with the opinion of one of the first physicians attached to Edinburgh University and the Royal Infirmary of that city. There is no 768 sort of appeal or satisfaction in that case. The right hon. Gentleman's predecessor felt the force of the case so strongly that he appealed to the Treasury to do something for this girl by means of a Treasury Grant. The Treasury, not being possessed of a soul, refused to make this Grant, but the Postmaster-General was so impressed by the facts that he thought that something ought to be done for the girl I do not plead for this particular girl. I do not think that that would be fair in the House of Commons. But I do plead against this system by which an employé may be turned down on one medical examination without the certain right of being able to appeal to a referee.
There is another point to which I wish to refer. The Postmaster-General on the first day of these Debates said that the Post Office was prepared to do something with regard to the postage of circulars coming from abroad and dealing with sweepstakes. I do not know whether the Committee is aware of the extent attained by this business of circulars sent by firms operating in Switzerland in businesses which would be illegal in this country. There are no fewer than seventy separate firms operating at the present moment from Switzerland in such businesses, and they are only enabled to reach people in this country through the Post Office. Some of those sweepstakes in their essence are entire swindles. One has only to refer to the Turf Pool Syndicate, which was even able, unfortunately for the Labour party, to attach to its recommendations some names of extinct Labour leaders, and I am very glad that the Labour party were able to repudiate those names at once. The Postmaster-General referred to the fact that the Turf Pool Syndicate in Geneva issued 184,000 circulars in this country, and he gave other numbers, and practically what it amounted to was this: He referred to 299,000 of those circulars that came to the Post Office of this country on certain dates. He gave in the same speech the number of replies to those advertisements that had been traced, and, according to the figures which he gave, the number of replies was at least 177,000, which means that practically one out of every two persons who received the circular sent replies. I want the Committee to realise how much money is being taken out of this country by firms operating through the British Post Office in a business which is illegal in this country. For instance, take the "John Bull" Derby sweepstake. The 769 evidence in the police courts, after only a few weeks, proved that one firm alone in Leeds had printed no fewer than 10,200,000 tickets for that particular sweep, in groups of ten tickets, each 2s. 6d., or £1 for the ten tickets. The prizes offered in that particular sweep were £50,000. They are supposed to have been paid. I have my doubts as to whether that is true. I may say incidentally that I am not saying in the House what I am afraid to say outside, because I have said those things outside, and I expect to be in the Courts inside the next six weeks as a result.
I want to point out this alarming fact, that not only were those tickets printed in Leeds, but that three other firms in this country were printing those identical tickets. Taking it in one sentence you can put it this way. There were eight tons of printing materials for that particular sweep. Every man in this House knows that those things reach him through his own letter bag, that they reach the employés of all the great industrial firms in this country, and that vast sums of money are sent from here abroad. I want to ask the Postmaster-General if he can give the Committee any information with regard to the amounts which are being sent away. I know that it is a difficult thing to do, but I know that inside a single six months there must be hundreds of thousands of pounds going out of this country to those sweepstakes which are not real sweepstakes. They are not the ordinary type of sweepstake in which all the money is divided. They are not the sweepstake which we have in the National Liberal Club, or the Carlton Club, where all the money is divided among the members, and nothing is kept for expenses; but those people are living out of those sweepstakes, which are frequently engineered by committees, as in the case of the Turf Pool Syndicate, of men who have all done time at one period or another of their careers, and could not face an inquiry in this country. The only way their business is possible is through the Post Office. I do not think that we ought to allow the Post Office to be put at the service of these people. I appeal very strongly to the Postmaster-General, in view of what he said in his original speech on the first day of the Post Office Estimates, that he was prepared to bring in a non-party measure to put an end to this system, to say this afternoon whether he has made any progress with 770 that measure, when he proposes to introduce it, and, what hopes he has of all sides of this House agreeing to its speedy passage into law, so that people who are not allowed to practise their business in this country should be prevented from practising it abroad by means of the British Post Office.
§ Mr. AMERY
I wish to endorse the appeal made by the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Hunt), and by my Noble Friend the Member for Nottingham (Lord Cavendish-Bentinck), on behalf of the second class Post Office engineers, who consider that they have been very unfairly treated, and that their prospects of promotion have been curtailed very seriously by the recent reorganisation within the office. My hon. Friend referred to the fact that certain university candidates had been put over the heads of these officers. I know that there is a very reasonable case to be made out on behalf of the university candidates. From the point of view of efficiency, a man who has had a better general education may, after a short time, give a better service, than a man who, however deserving, has had longer practical experience. But I may remind the Committee that that view was not taken by the House, as a whole, very strongly, in connection with the Holmes circular, although certainly the argument on behalf of university candidates applies even more strongly in education than in other matters, and, as my hon. Friend reminded the Committee, these university candidates do not seem to have been an unqualified success. At any rate the experiment begun in 1907 was apparently discontinued two years ago. But when a staff reorganisation was carried out at the end of 1911 and a new class of assistant engineers was created thirty-one out of thirty-two of these university candidates were promoted into the new class, and something like 50 per cent. only of the other class of engineers were promoted to that class, or allowed to be reckoned as eligible for it. The rest were set down as redundant, I understand, or as ineligible for promotion. Then you naturally had some very strong protests, and apparently an advisory board was appointed in the Engineering Department of the Post Office to reconsider their case. In October of 1912, some forty-four were reinstated, with I think, arrears paid; and, subsequently, in the following January, another forty were given at any rate some chance of being allowed to become assistant engineers afterwards.
771 They were told that the Post Office was not at present in a position to give them an opening in the class of assistant engineers. They have, I believe, since seen an opportunity for six or eight of them. About the same time a number of engineers were transferred from the National Telephone Company and were taken into the assistant class of engineers. I do not dispute the justice of that; I have no doubt it was equitable, and based on the reason of the experience and length of service in connection with the class of work they had been doing, which enabled them to become assistant engineers. But I understand that the case of the second class Post Office engineers is that their position is exactly on all fours with the position of those National Telephone Company's employés—that is to say, the class of work they have done, and in some cases are still doing, would entitle them to get those opportunities of promotion which are given to the class of assistant engineers. In fact, I also understand that several of them at any rate, if not many of them, have actually passed higher examinations than those National Telephone employés who have been taken on by the Post Office.
I quite admit that in a reorganisation of that sort it is very difficult to treat everybody fairly all round; but still we all feel that the State ought to be a model employer, more especially as it is a primary condition of State employment that a man throws his whole career into it, and any change in his legitimate expectations when he has served ten, fifteen, or twenty years, is far more serious to him than if he were paid 2s. or 3s. a week less than he was entitled to. It is one of the grievances of the Civil Service that changes are often made without considering whether they are in harmony with definite promises or understandings held out to people at the time when they have come into the State service. We know it continually occurs in the Army and in the Navy in regard to officers and men. I asked a question recently about certain men of the Garrison staff who joined on the understanding that they were entitled to serve for pension up to the age of 55, but have now been informed they must leave after thirty years' service which for many of them means being turned out five or six years before they were promised to be turned out. I think the Post Office should give fuller consideration 772 to the case of those engineers who are at present classed as redundant, so that they may be put into the position which they have every right to expect at the end of the long and faithful service which many of them have given to the State.
I should like to say a few words on the wider question of the general position of the engineering side of the Post Office. Things have developed so much in recent years—I attach blame to no one—that we are entitled to say that the present organisation of the Post Office does not correspond at all to the nature of the work the Post Office has to do to-day. The Post Office when first started was mainly a mail service, carrying letters and doing business in connection with the carrying of letters. But in recent years it has become one of the greatest technical and engineering corporations in the whole of this country. I do not think the organisation of the Post Office, or the attitude of the higher officials of the Post Office, has recognised that change. As far as I can make out—I do not speak from internal knowledge—the attitude of the Post Office towards the engineering side is still to regard it as a routine Department for installing and mending things—a base mechanic adjunct, a kind of glorified plumbing and gas-fitting department! That is not the position the engineering side occupies in a great engineering business. I sat many weary hours on the Marconi Committee, and I was immensely struck with the way in which the Engineering Department of the Post Office was kept out of count in a business matter which depended entirely on questions of engineering and on technical considerations. It came out before the Committee that the engineer-in-chief had never been taken into consultation on the contract at all. The whole business was launched, and represented before the Committee, by Sir Alexander King and an assistant on the secretarial staff. I do not say a word in disparagement of the ability of those gentlemen in their particular Department, but I frankly say that the impression left upon my mind at the end of that Committee was that on a matter which involved purely technical considerations those gentlemen were gloriously unfit. I do think the time has come for a reorganisation of the Post Office service which will enable its technical work to be carried out more effectually.
It seems to me that the position of the Post Office is rather like that 773 of the War Office, or of any big commercial undertaking where the heads of the different departments are really heads of their department; and if I may throw out this suggestion to the Committee, I think it would be a far better form of organisation for the Post Office than the present one to have something more nearly resembling either the organisation of a big business house or the organisation of the War Office. The Post Office should have a director of mail services, a director of cables and telegrams, a director of telephones, and, above all—and I should like strongly to endorse what was said by the hon. Member for Mile End—a scientific section or general staff of the Post Office to devote itself entirely to scientific research, and to finding out by inquiry more efficient ways to carry on this immensely important national work of the Post Office service. I believe that the reorganisation of the Post Office is very desirable, and that there should be drastic measures to carry it out. When we were confronted with the difficulty at the War Office of the same congestion of everything in one section, a small Committee was appointed with very drastic powers to entirely reconstitute that Department. One leading member of that Committee, Lord Sydenham, is now available for any service to which he might be put. He is an engineer, an organiser, and a statesman. I throw out that suggestion entirely on the spur of the moment. A man like Lord Sydenham, and two or three men of real business experience and capacity, could be appointed to take in hand the task of reorganising the Post Office.
I desire also to refer to a rather different subject, and that is about the magazine rate to Canada. I am sure that Members on all sides of the House must have regretted what I cannot but describe as the very narrow attitude which the Postmaster-General has taken up towards that question. A cheap magazine service to Canada is a most important link between the culture of this country and the developing and growing culture of the young Dominion of Canada. It means all the difference between Canada being dominated by British ideals, not only in politics but in social matters, in art, and in everything else—or by American. I do not wish to disparage American ideals, but I do think that we hold our ideals at least as high, and we wish to see them dominant in Canada rather than American ideals. More than that, those magazines 774 and newspapers are immense carriers of business. They contain an immense volume of advertisements, and that is bound to influence and to benefit British trade. It does seem to me to reject this great social service of the Empire for the sake of facing a paltry loss of £12,000 per year or so is really rather ridiculous. We supply the people of this country with a sixpenny telegraph service because we consider it a social necessity. The loss is many, many times £12,000 per year, but nobody suggests that you should get rid of the service on that account. The hon. Member for Sutherlandshire (Mr. Morton) pointed out very effectively that the Post Office does not in national matters simply look to the immediate profit in a particular locality. Otherwise, as he said quite rightly, London ought to have a hundredth of a penny postal service, while Sutherlandshire ought to have to pay 3d. or 4d, Communication is a national need, and all I am asking for, not at an expense of hundreds of thousands of pounds, but of a petty sum like £12,000, is that the same principle which we all like to see applied in national matters should also be applied in Imperial matters. I do think there is a rather special reason why hon. and right hon. Members opposite should not dispute this very small demand on behalf of Imperial unity. One great policy which aimed at bringing the Empire closer together, and which was identified with the name of the great statesman whom this House has now lost, has been considered throughout as impossible by the party opposite. But they have always, at any rate, declared their general desire, if other means could be found, to bring the Empire more closely together in trade and intercourse. Surely if they consider themselves estopped from one great constructive policy of Imperial union, they could at least show a little zeal and a little imagination to do something on another line which is, at any rate, a fruitful and hopeful line!
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Mr. FORSTER
The Debate has for the most part been in reference to the telephone service. Speaking not as an expert, but as a humble private individual with no technical knowledge, I think the service is generally condemned upon three broad grounds. First, it is said to be inefficient; secondly, it is said to be expensive; and thirdly, that the management is not businesslike. Those three main contentions were developed by my hon. 775 Friend the Member for Falmouth (Mr. Goldman), in a speech which showed the singular industry and capacity which he has brought to bear on this question in the Committee over which he presides. I confess I was very much struck by the story he told with regard to the result of the inquiries that he must have made to some of the largest London telephone subscribers. I was especially struck by the complaint which appeared, apparently in all of them named, as to the large proportion of ineffective calls that are made. There must be some reason, apparently, why our service compares unfavourably with the services in the United States of America and Canada. I wonder why it is that our service should be so much less efficient than in Canada and the United States of America. I am told the large exchanges are overloaded. I believe that there is nothing more fruitful in producing an unsatisfactory service than an overloaded exchange, but I do not think that alone accounts for the wide difference between the service in our country and abroad. In both the United States of America and Canada the telephone service is in the hands of commercial undertakings. Here it has been assumed by the State, and I think that it is rather remarkable that there should come from those who have experience of both services and of the systems of management, the one answer to the question addressed to them as to whether an improvement has taken place or not, and the answer is almost invariably in the negative. My hon. Friend and others who followed called attention to the fact that the service is an unfavourable one. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Hamilton Benn), who made a very able speech in seconding the Amendment, drew attention to the fact that the charges for the supply have actually increased. What advantages have the subscribers obtained in return for the increased subscription? They have to pay. I have been a subscriber to the telephone in the London area under the old system, and I am under the new, and I have not yet been able to appreciate any additional advantage which has accrued in respect of the extra subscriptions we are invited to contribute. My hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth called attention to the published results of the telephone system, and I think they are so very astonishing that I 776 remind the Committee of them, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will deal with them when he speaks. My hon. Friend made this point, that the Post Office are making out of the operation of the telephone system, as a whole, in the last year, a net profit of £300,000. This is £50,000 less than the royalty which used to be paid to the Treasury by the National Telephone Company. That company, in addition to paying a royalty which was £50,000 more than the Post Office are able to make out of the system, paid £38,000 a year by way of Income Tax, and were also able to pay a dividend of 6 per cent. to their shareholders. The net result appears to be that the Treasury lose £88,000 a year through the Post Office having taken over the system of the National Telephone Company, and the subscribers get a less efficient service. It is said that the management is unbusiness like. I would remind the Committee of a statement made by my hon. Friend, because I hope the Postmaster-General will explain it in his reply. According to the statement of my hon. Friend, in an audited account amounting to some £2,000,000, there was a mistake of over £500,000. It is very remarkable that a Government Department should have made a mistake of such astonishing magnitude, and I hope an explanation will be forthcoming.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. W. Guinness), in a speech which showed a thorough grasp of the question, said that what was wanted was an entire change of attitude on the part of the Department towards its subscribers. He said that the Department seemed reluctant to get new subscribers or to encourage subscribers to make use of the opportunities afforded them, whereas it ought to be eager to go out of its way to give every possible encouragement and every kind of facility. I do not think that that is the general experience; but I wish to direct the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to a case which shows that the Post Office authorities are not so ready to meet the requirements of different neighbourhoods as I should like to see them. The necessity for a telephone exchange at Chislehurst has been brought to the attention of the Postmaster-General recently. Chislehurst is one of the best-known residential centres in the neighbourhood of London. For something like two and a half years it has pressed repeatedly for an exchange. At present some of the residents are connected with the Bromley Exchange, two or 777 three miles off, and the remainder are connected with Sidcup. Those who live nearer Bromley or nearer Sidcup pay the ordinary rate. Those who live in the centre of Chislehurst have to pay an increased rate on account of mileage. In a place of such importance that is perfectly absurd and quite unnecessary.
One would have thought that this question of an exchange for a place like Chislehurst was merely a matter of convenience. But it is something more than a mere matter of convenience. On at least two occasions in the last twelve months the absence of an exchange has greatly aggravated the damage to property caused by fire. On both occasions the same thing happened. When the fire broke out the subscriber went to the telephone to call up the fire brigade. He acted in accordance with the directions in the directory, but because there was no exchange in Chislehurst, and the exchange was in Bromley, the Bromley fire brigade was communicated with instead of the Chislehurst fire brigade. That gave rise to great delay, and in both cases the outbreak gained a hold of the premises which it would not otherwise have done. When the Chislehurst fire brigade were communicated with they turned out with such promptness as to warrant the belief that if they had received the call in the first instance a great part of the damage would have been obviated.
If the Post Office cannot give a telephone exchange of its own to an important place like Chislehurst, it ought in common fairness to see that when a subscriber in the Chislehurst district sends a fire alarm through the exchange in Bromley or Sidcup, there should be some method by which immediate communication could be established with the Chislehurst fire brigade. I want to press the right hon. Gentleman upon this point, because I think that the Department have not been businesslike in dealing with the Chislehurst authorities. The Chislehurst Urban District Council have been pressing the Post Office in this matter. I have here a synopsis of the correspondence, with which I will not trouble the Committee, but I should like to point out that the urban council wrote on September, 1912, and they did not get an answer to their representations until January, 1913. I do not think that any commercial undertaking which was desirous of doing business with a body of new subscribers would 778 have allowed so long a period as that to elapse before sending any reply. It is the same story again all through 1912 until the present summer. The reply given to the Chislehurst council is always the same: "That the requirements of the neighbourhood are still under consideration, and the Department hopes shortly to be able to say what steps can be taken." I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will feel that the matter cannot be allowed to rest there, and I press him very strongly to give some answer which will be satisfactory.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
I have had a very large number of inquiries put to me in the course of the Debate, and I hope that the replies which I give in the course of my remarks may cover the whole of these queries. Let me at once deal with the point which has been raised by the hon. Gentleman opposite. Chislehurst is in a difficult position in regard to telephone communication, for the simple reason that at the time of the transfer of the national telephone system to the Post Office the south-eastern area was one of those which had been left to the National Telephone Company, and was under its sphere of influence when we took it over. We found that Chislehurst was exactly midway between the area of Bromley and the area of Sidcup. A resident of Chislehurst came to see me the other day upon the matter, and we went into it very fully. I recognised at once that Chislehurst was an important residential town, and that some arrangement ought to be made. I have suggested to the Treasury that in this particular case the Chislehurst mileage rate should be abolished until we are in a position to provide an exchange for the place itself. I hope the Treasury will accede to my request, and that any extra charge which may now be incurred by the inhabitants of that place will be removed, and eventually an exchange set up. I hope that that will meet the wishes expressed by the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
Oh, yes, it will indeed; as soon as possible; I cannot give a date, but as soon as I can get the thing settled. I now turn to the general question which was raised by the hon. Member for Falmouth. He began by suggesting that there was no adequate statement made to the House of Commons upon the 779 position of the Telephone Department. Speaking in this House on the 30th April, I endeavoured to outline to the House what the position of the Telephone Department was—the capital employed, the debt incurred, the revenue, the expenditure, the surplus—and I think I made its position tolerably clear to those interested in that subject. But the hon. Gentleman went on to say that one of his reasons for complaining against the present management was that we did not present our accounts half-yearly, as the telephone company did, or even immediately at the close of the financial year. It is quite clear there would be no use in presenting half-yearly accounts to the House. The House would probably be out of Session, and, secondly, the accounts we have to present are under the control, and very properly under the control, of a Parliamentary officer—the Comptroller and Auditor-General—whose authority and jurisdiction are set for him by the House of Commons and not by any Government Department at all, and any accounts of any Department of the State have to receive his approval to be of any real validity for the purposes of consideration by the House of Commons.
What happens with regard to our accounts? It has been recognised by the Committee that we are certainly one of the largest commercial Departments, with a vast number of interests scattered all over the country. We do not get our revenue accounts returned to us until about the month of May, after the close of the financial year, and we do not get the expenditure accounts returned to us until the end of October or the beginning of November. And all that time the Comptroller and Auditor-General is working, I will not say alongside, but almost pari passu with our own Audit Department, checking the telephone accounts and so forth, and we are not in a position to present final accounts to the House of Commons, if it were sitting, until well after the month of November in any year. Accounts might be issued by us which would be struck out or not approved by the Comptroller and Auditor-General, and if we were to adopt the course suggested by the hon. Gentleman we should not be giving greater clarity to our financial accounts or greater finality than under the existing system.
The hon. Gentleman went on to say that he and some friends of his—I do not know 780 whether they are all in the House of Commons—formed themselves into a committee for the purpose of inquiring into the administration of the Telephone Department, and he told us he circularised 2,500 people, of whom 1,000 had made replies, and that the greater part of these had expressed dissatisfaction with the management of the telephones. Some of these replies filtered back to me personally and some of them to the Post Office. I suppose they thought the Telephone Committee was acting on behalf of the Postmaster-General. Two of them reached me, and one in particular said—I forget the exact language—"You are taking a very strange sort of machinery for arriving at the feelings of the telephone users as to the satisfactory condition or otherwise of the telephone service. We decline to answer any inquiry of yours, which we conceive to be highly impertinent." I could, of course, have repudiated that expression of opinion on their part. One of the replies which came to me to the Post Office was even more amusing. Apparently one of the places circularised was the Badminton Club, with its headquarters in Piccadilly. One of the persons in charge of the Badminton Club was a page-boy of fourteen or fifteen years of age, and not being satisfied with the way the telephone business of the club was being conducted, he proceeded to fill up the questions asked with a statement of the extraordinary and unsatisfactory conduct of the telephone operators. That reply should have been sent to the hon. Gentleman opposite, but it reached my Department instead. If all the business firms circularised have directed their replies to the messenger boys and pages of their establishments, I am not surprised that the hon. Gentleman has received the kind of answers which he has announced.
§ Mr. GOLDMAN
In the first instance, we have never had a single reply of the sort which the right hon. Gentleman has quoted, and, secondly, almost invariably our replies have been accompanied by letters signed by a member of the firm, and I think it is a pity to try and discourage the character of this inquiry in that way.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
Of course I take the hon. Member's word for that, but I am not sure that he may not have been misled by the replies he has received. We thought that an inquiry of that kind, if it was to be 781 of any use, should be conducted not on a small, but on a large scale. If you really wish to find out what telephone users think you ought to consult as many of them as possible. The hon. Member confined his inquiries to 2,500 people, but the Post Office inquired of 135,000 subscribers who rent over 210,000 telephones in London. So that we may be said to have covered nearly all the telephone users in London. From the 135,000 people of whom we inquired we received answers from 128,000, and 87 per cent. replied stating that they were perfectly satisfied with the service they were receiving. There were 4½ per cent. who said that they were totally dissatisfied with the service which we were giving, and the balance between the two were more or less satisfactory or unsatisfactory.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
Subsequent to the inquiry of which the hon. Member opposite has spoken. Amongst the large firms with whom we have been in communication were Self ridge's, Whiteley's, Harrods', Shoolbred's, and Maple's. [An HON. MEMBER: "Did the boy answer the questions?"] No. We were warned by the shocking example which we had previously experienced. Harrods, which is a large and eminently successful business firm, withdrew its custom from the National Telephone Company because it could not get served properly, and that firm came to the General Post Office with the expectation of getting a better service. It has been suggested by the hon. Member that the telephone service was not conducted on satisfactory principles, and therefore telephone subscribers were not coming forward in sufficiently large numbers every year, and that the business is in a state of stagnation and not of advance. I do not think that statement is justified by the facts. I have been looking into the figures relating to the expansion of the telephone in London during the last few years. Last year the telephone expansion in London amounted to 16,000 new subscribers. This year, up to the present, the expansion has been 14,500 in London, and there has been a small expansion of business in the provinces. Last year there was an extension of 20,000 new subscribers in the provinces, and this year there has been an extension of 29,000. That does not look like a decaying or an unsatisfactory service. The 782 real fact is that it has a great deal to do not only with this particular question, but also with the user of the telephone by the subscriber, that in this country, as distinguished from other countries, the postal service is so much more speedy, and the deliveries and collections so much more numerous that the people use the postal service in preference to the telephone service in contradistinction to both the American and continental populations, who have not got such a frequent and speedy postal service.
§ Mr. GOLDMAN
I happen to have here the reply of Harrods, Limited, and they say that the present service is inefficient. The trunk service gives no satisfaction whatever. "Do you frequently have difficulty in getting through to subscribers?" "Yes." "Are you frequently rung up for the wrong number?" "Yes."
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
If the hon. Gentleman will send me that I will compare it with the answer they gave me. It may be that they are trying to make the beet of both worlds. I do not know that, but I shall be very happy to show the hon. Member the reply I have received. Now we come to a much more serious point. The hon. Gentleman suggested that there must be something wrong in the telephone and telegraph accounts that were presented to this House, because it would be found on page 36 of the White Paper, No. 94, that the Comptroller and Auditor-General had omitted to certify the balance sheet of the telephone account. If hon. Members will look they will see that is surely not so. I am sure that it is a mistake on the hon. Member's part, and that he will be glad to have given me the opportunity to adjust it. He will see that the auditors certify No. 21—we need not bother about the others—as audited. If he turns to No. 21 he will find that it includes certain subdivided accounts which show that both the trunk and the exchange accounts which, of course, go to make up the total sum, have been audited separately and are certified as audited. Therefore, I think, he will see that the whole of these accounts have been presented to and have been certified by the Comptroller and Auditor-General, and that the balance sheet is a true and accurate statement of the finances of the Telephone Department at the present time.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
So far as I know it does. I want to say a word about the suggestion of an advisory board for telephones. It has been pointed out that there is for the Port of London an authority dealing with the commerce and shipping of London, with a certain amount of Government control, and it is asked why it is not possible to have something of the same sort for the Telephone Department, seeing that that also is entirely a commercial affair. There is one obvious reply to that. The whole of the business of the Port of London is conducted in a definite area. It can be supervised by a comparatively small number of men. The whole of its transactions are concentrated within the same definite area, and they have an essential bearing on one part of the United Kingdom, and one part only. But the telephone system is spread all over the United Kingdom. It extends to the remotest villages in Ireland and Scotland, as well as to all the great centres of industry. The conditions are entirely different, and though it may be possible to deal with the work of the Port Authority by a small governing body, it cannot be done in the case of the telephones.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
The hon. Gentleman forgets that the National Telephone Company was confined to one part of the telephone business; it did not deal with the trunk service at all, and a very large portion of the expense and difficulty to which we are put arises from the fact that we have had to dovetail into one service two services which were entirely distinct. The hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. Collins) said that the Post Office made higher charges than the National Telephone Company, and he again instanced the case of the Port of London. The National Telephone Company had very good reasons for charging comparatively low rates for the user of the telephones in certain areas. They did it partly as an advertisement, and partly on account of the wayleaves, and we had a striking instance of their non-paying position in the relations which existed between the National Telephone Company and the City of Glasgow. I think the hon. Member was under a misapprehension with regard to the charges made against the Port of London. What happens in the case of the 784 Port of London is this. We make exactly the same charges to the Port of London for the user of the telephones as the National Telephone Company did. The difference is in the accounting.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
It is only a difference of accounting. The National Telephone Company were paid the charges, less way-leaves. If their charges amounted to £10,000 and the wayleaves were £1,000, the company were paid only £9,000. But the Post Office are paid the £10,000 in full, and they make a counter-payment of £1,000 for the wayleaves; therefore the charge in both cases is really exactly the same.
I think the right hon. Gentleman is entirely mistaken; not only are the Post Office charging £14 instead of £10 per instrument, but they have cut off all the payments for wayleaves, and they are offering the Port Authority a sum of £50 only for wayleaves covering 50,000 lines.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
It may be that I am misinformed or that the hon. Gentleman is misinformed. At any rate, that is the information I have got. I will again refresh my memory, but I am not disposed to question the accuracy of my information. When I ventured to put the question to him whether he preferred the measured rate system or the unlimited rate system, after balancing the advantages of the one against the other, I think he said he preferred the measured rate system. If that is so, I am very glad to hear it, because my proposals, which are before the Treasury, and which at the present moment I am not in a position to put before the Committee, are all based on the measured rate system. The inequalities which have been found to exist all over the country under the unlimited rate payments would, I think, really startle the Committee if I could put them before them in detail. They make a vast difference between one user of the telephone and another. They are inequalities which press very hardly upon the small man. The 785 proposals which I have laid before the Treasury, which the Treasury have not yet accepted or, I am glad to say, have not yet refused, are all based on the measured rate system, which will give unquestionably considerable relief to some users of the telephone. On the other hand, it would impose a small increased charge in certain cases. Looking at the comparatively small profit we make on the whole telephone system, I have not been in a position to make proposals in regard to future rates which would entail any considerable diminution of the total payments by telephone users all over the country, but I do hope to be able to remedy some of the startling and glaring inequalities which at the present moment occur as between place and place and payer and payer.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
I am coming to that. Let me remind the hon. Gentleman of what I said in my first speech on the Estimates. He says that very often a person who thinks he is charged for too many calls, if he applies for repayment or a rebate he does not get it, but goes away in despair. We have introduced a check by meter, of the nature of the meter which is used in the case of gas and so forth. I am informed, as I mentioned to the Committee before, that the results which we have received from the use of these experimental meters have been very satisfactory. On the whole, there has been a very small percentage of error on either side. As I warned the Committee last time, it does not follow that because a subscriber gets a meter that he will therefore find his financial position in any way improved. It will probably reveal to him an unexpected drain upon his limited calls from which he will find there is no escape, and that there has been a certain amount of domestic leakage with which he was not fully acquainted before. He will still have to pay more than he likes to pay, and he will not be able to escape the accurate registration by the meter of what has really taken place.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
That is quite another point. The hon. Member, perhaps, was not aware that more than a month ago I issued a notice that ineffective trunk calls 786 should not be charged for, even at the reduced rate which had been charged recently, and an additional instruction has been issued that if any person should call and the trunk call is not effective, operators are to observe when the trunk exchange is asked for and communicate with the would-be caller, so that the call is followed up and connection effected within a reasonable time. That will give satisfaction to a very considerable number of people who desire to make a trunk call and are not able to effect it because the line is engaged and have not time to wait at the telephone. I hope that will give cause for satisfaction. Let me suggest to the Committee that there really is not this need to cavil and carp at the telephone system in this country, which has been observable a good deal in the Debate this afternoon. We are all very familiar with our own power of criticising anything which occurs under the jurisdiction of the Government of this country, whatever party may be in power. I have had an opportunity of using the telephone system in other countries, and of observing the records by users, and I am not greatly impressed with the idea that our system is nearly so bad as the remarks made this afternoon would lead one to believe. In the first place, it is not by any means the most expensive system. It is not so expensive as the system in the United States, and, moreover, there is no system of preferential rates in this country. If you go to a Continental country you may get a preferential call, for which you will pay three times what you do for an ordinary call, and you get as good a service as you get here. If you choose to use the deferred call system you will find that you pay less than you do for it here, undoubtedly, but you will wait three or four or five times as long before you can effect a connection. That is very often forgotten. The charge against us is that there is a cheaper rate for deferred calls abroad and that we do not give as quick a service as they do for their preferred call.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
I am sure you will find it in Germany, and I understand in the United States, and you will certainly find it in Italy.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
I have heard people come into the telephone office constantly. The hon. Member is quite mistaken about that.
Let me deal with the point raised by the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Harry Lawson). He raised a point of great importance, and he took the line, I think, that the whole system of the Post Office headquarters ought to be looked into and revised, that higher salaries ought to be paid, that greater scientific ability ought to be employed, and that there ought to be a much more highly paid and trained staff than there is at the present moment. With much that he said I agree. More particularly do I agree with what he said if he applies his remarks to the Telegraph Department of the Post Office. I think I told the Committee the last time I spoke on this matter that I proposed to institute an inquiry into the Telegraph Department. I have been able to secure upon that Committee the services of Sir Archibald Williamson, the Member for Elgin and Nairn, as chairman, Sir William Plender, Sir Charles Stewart Wilson, who was lately director of the Postal Telegraph Department of India, and a member of the staff, to examine into and make a full investigation of the organisation, finance, management, and methods, and to report to me very fully at the earliest possible moment.
§ Mr. HARRY LAWSON
Are there any prominent business men to be appointed to serve on the Committee at the same time?
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
I should think that the hon. Member for Elgin and Nairn is as prominent a business man as you could get in this country, and that Sir William Plender is as prominent a man as you could get from the point of view of accountancy. You could get no better man for expert knowledge than the man who has been director of the telegraphs in India. I think that Committee ought to command the confidence of the House, and with the perfectly free hand they will have, both for inquiry and reporting into any deficiency of methods, finance, and organisation, I hope we may be able to get rid of that which is, I agree with the hon. Gentleman, a slur and a stain upon the management of the Postal Telegraph Department, although it is not the fault in any way of the Civil servants who conduct the business of the Post Office.
§ Mr. HARRY LAWSON
I did not confine my criticism to the Telegraph Department. May I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to say anything as to a general inquiry into the organisation of the Post Office as a whole?
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
I do not think that would be possible at the present moment. It is not that I either object to the idea of a general examination into the Postal Department or the result, but the Postal Department is so big that I do not think you could get any satisfactory result from taking the whole Department en bloc. I think it is better to divide them into three separate Departments, and to examine each in detail. The first requiring examination is the Telegraph Department. May I say something in reply to the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge). He asked whether anything could be done by the Post Office in relation to betting transactions which are taking place at the present moment with bookmakers abroad. From the figures it appears that this is a very much greater evil than the House is aware of. The hon. Member set before the Committee some very startling figures. I hold the very strongest views that the Post Office ought not to be made the medium for the conveyance of the literature which comes to us from abroad ill connection with betting transactions which, if transacted in this country, the Post Office could not be made the vehicle of forwarding. Therefore, I do not think we should take any part in forwarding them if we can possibly avoid it.
Between the end of May and the end of June there were sent out from this country 160,000 postal packets, no doubt either in payment of past bets, or asking for new ones, or something of that sort, and there were paid to these bookmakers postal orders to the value of £63,000. That means that is something very nearly £750,000 a year is being sent abroad to keep persons who are afraid to come to this country, who are unable to transact their business in this country, and whose business a judge the other day, speaking in connection with a judicial trial before him, denounced as a gross and palpable swindle. So long as the Post Office is allowed to be an accessory to this kind of business, I think that we are doing something which we all of us ought to reprobate. I do not believe that the feeling 789 on this aspect of the matter is stronger on one side of the House than on the other. I asked some hon. Gentlemen in this House to join with me in framing a Bill which might meet with the general acceptance on both sides of the House for the purpose of putting an end to this state of things. The hon. Member for Mile End and the Member for Leamington on that side of the House and the Members for Edinburgh and Milford Haven on this side have prepared a Bill which I hope will deal with this evil, but I cannot hope to be successful in getting it through the House this year. I propose to lay it on the Table for the House to look at, and I hope that it may secure general acquiescence and support.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
I am afraid that I shall not have the opportunity. I do not think that I have wasted any time. I think that there is a great deal of misapprehension in reference to the officials for whom the hon. Member (Mr. Hunt) and the Noble Lord are concerned. Their merits and their capabilities were very closely examined, first of all by the late engineer-in-chief of the Post Office, and subsequently by a Committee presided over by the present engineer-in-chief. The late engineer rejected a large number of them as being persons who were unlikely to afford satisfactory service in higher places than they then occupied. A subsequent examination of those who had been rejected led to the acceptance by the Post Office for promotion of a larger number. Some of these have already been absorbed in higher places. I think that at the present moment there are twenty-nine who are eligible for promotion and who will get it as vacancies occur, and seventeen who are totally rejected as being incapable of higher promotion. Their merits have been really carefully and sympathetically examined by men trained in the whole service and traditions of the Department, with an absolute desire to give fair play, and to render justice in every respect. They were passed over not because it was desired to promote univer- 790 sity men from outside who are unacquainted with the requirements of the service, but simply because they were held by officers of their own Department not to be fully qualified or not so fully qualified as to justify promotion.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
There were seventeen not qualified for promotion who will not be promoted, and there are twenty-nine who are in process of absorption, and will be promoted as opportunities occur.
§ Mr. FORSTER
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain the mistake of £500,000 in the account to which I referred?
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
When the Comptroller and Auditor-General was going through the accounts he noticed that this sum had been wrongly credited. It had been transferred from the previous year. It is a somewhat technical matter. I do not feel myself qualified to speak about it, but I shall be very glad to communicate with the hon. Gentleman the facts if he desires to inquire into the matter. Then there is the question as to the Canadian rates. I think the hon. Member for Wolverhampton was a little hard, though quite unintentionally. I am sure that he has not fully realised the new rates for Canada. They are in some respects a reduction on the present postage, although in others there is an increase. When the hon. Member speaks of an increase of £10,000 or £12,000 a year, let me tell him what is the scale for printed papers as it is. Formerly the charge for printed papers was 4 ozs. for a penny; I have changed it to 6 ozs., and that will cover an enormous proportion, I think 90 per cent., of the provincial Press, sending single copies. For over 6 ozs. and not exceeding 1 lb. the charge is 1½d. instead of a penny; where it is over 1 lb. and under 1½ lbs. I charge 1½d. instead of 2d. Where it is 2½lbs. I charge 2½d. instead of 3d.; where it is below 3½lbs., 3½d. instead of 4d.; for 4 lbs. there is no change; and for 4½ lbs. I charge 4½d.; and for 5 lbs. there is no change. Therefore, you can see that in those rates I have made very considerable reductions in some cases, and there is only one increase.
§ Mr. MORTON
The right hon. Gentleman has not dealt with the various matters I raised in regard to Sutherlandshire.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
The hon. Member will recollect that I pointed out to him that the matter to which he was referring is one for the Secretary for Scotland. I am not surprised that he is not satisfied. I sent him to the Secretary for Scotland, and the Secretary for Scotland sent him to me. But if he will be good enough to allow me, I would point out to him that the matter is not one for me, and his complaint is against the Secretary for Scotland, and ought to be raised on the Scottish Estimates.
§ Question put accordingly, "That a sum, not exceeding £15,151,630, be granted for the said Service."
§ The CHAIRMAN
The Closure was moved by the hon. Member for Falmouth (Mr. Goldman), and accepted by the Committee.
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 94; Noes, 207.793
|Division No. 148.]||AYES.||[5.0 p.m.|
|Agg-Gardner, James Tynte||Falle, Bertram Godfray||Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)|
|Amery, L. C. M. S.||Fell, Arthur||O'Neill, Hon. A. E. B. (Antrim, Mid)|
|Anstruther-Gray, Major William||Fisher, Rt. Hon. W. Hayes||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William|
|Ashley, Wilfrid W.||Fletcher, John Samuel||Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlington)|
|Astor, Waldorf||Forster, Henry William||Pryce-Jones, Colonel E.|
|Baird, John Lawrence||Foster, Philip Staveley||Randles, Sir John S.|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Gastrell, Major W. Houghton||Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel|
|Banbury, Sir Frederick George||Gibbs, George Abraham||Rees, Sir J. D.|
|Barnston, Harry||Gilmour, Captain John||Rolleston, Sir John|
|Beach, Hon. Michael Hugh Hicks||Glazebrook, Captain Philip K.||Rutherford, John (Lancs., Darwen)|
|Bentinck, Lord H. Cavendish-||Goldsmith, Frank||Samuel, Sir Harry (Norwood)|
|Blair, Reginald||Guinness, Hon. Rupert (Essex, S.E.)||Sanders, Robert Arthur|
|Bull, Sir William James||Guinness, Hon. W. E. (Bury S. Edmunds)||Sanderson, Lancelot|
|Burn, Colonel C. R.||Haddock, George Bahr||Spear, Sir John Ward|
|Butcher, John George||Hall, Frederick (Dulwich)||Stanley, Hon. G. F. (Preston)|
|Campbell, Captain Duncan F. (Ayr, N.)||Hall, Marshall (Liverpool, E. Toxteth)||Stewart, Gershom|
|Campion, W. R.||Hamilton, C. G. C. (Cres., Altrincham)||Talbot, Lord E.|
|Carlile, Sir Edward Hildred||Harris, Henry Percy||Thomas-Stanford, Charles|
|Cassel, Felix||Herbert, Hon. A. (Somerset, S.)||Thomson, W. Mitchell- (Down, North)|
|Castlereagh, Viscount||Hickman, Colonel Thomas E.||Thynne, Lord Alexander|
|Cautley, Henry Strother||Hill-Wood, Samuel||Warde, Colonel C. E. (Kent, Mid)|
|Cave, George||Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||Wheler, Granville C. H.|
|Cecil, Lord Hugh (Oxford University)||Houston, Robert Paterson||White, Major G. D. (Lancs., Southport)|
|Cecil, Lord R. (Herts, Hitchin)||Hunt, Rowland||Williams, Colonel R. (Dorset, W.)|
|Chaloner, Colonel R. G. W.||Jessel, Captain H. M.||Willoughby, Major Hon. Claud|
|Clive, Captain Percy Archer||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Wilson, A. Stanley (Yorks, E.R.)|
|Craig, Ernest (Cheshire, Crewe)||Lane-Fox, G. R.||Wood, Hon. E. F. L. (Yorks, Ripon)|
|Craik, Sir Henry||Lawson, Hon. H. (T. H'mts, Mile End)||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart-|
|Crichton-Stuart, Lord Ninian||Lewisham, Viscount|
|Dalrymple, Viscount||Locker-Lampson, G. (Salisbury)|
|Denniss, E. R. B.||M'Neill, Ronald (Kent, St. Augustine's)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr.|
|Dixon, C. H.||Malcolm, Ian||Goldman and Mr. Hamilton Benn|
|Faber, George Denison (Clapham)||Mildmay, Francis Bingham|
|Abraham, William (Dublin, Harbour)||Boyle, Daniel (Mayo, North)||Crooks, William|
|Acland, Francis Dyke||Brady, Patrick Joseph||Crumley, Patrick|
|Adamson, William||Brunner, John F. L.||Cullinan, John|
|Adkins, Sir W. Ryland D.||Burns, Rt. Hon. John||Davies, Timothy (Lincs., Louth)|
|Ainsworth, John Stirling||Burt, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.)|
|Alden, Percy||Buxton, Noel (Norfolk, North)||Davies, M. Vaughan- (Cardiganshire)|
|Allen, Rt. Hen. Charles P. (Stroud)||Carr-Gomm, H. W.||Dawes, James Arthur|
|Baker, Joseph Allen (Finsbury, E.)||Cawley, Sir Frederick (Prestwich)||De Forest, Baron|
|Baring, Sir Godfrey (Barnstaple)||Cawley, Harold T. (Lancs., Heywood)||Delany, William|
|Barlow, Sir John Emmott (Somerset)||Chancellor, Henry George||Denman, Hon. Richard Douglas|
|Beauchamp, Sir Edward||Chapple, Dr. William Allen||Devlin, Joseph|
|Benn, W. W. (T. Hamlets, St. George)||Clough, William||Dillon, John|
|Birrell, Rt. Hon. Augustine||Collins, Godfrey P. (Greenock)||Donelan, Captain A.|
|Boland, John Pius||Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||Doris, William|
|Booth, Frederick Handel||Cory, Sir Clifford John||Duffy, William J.|
|Bowerman, Charles W.||Cotton, William Francis||Duncan, Sir J. Hastings (Yorks, Otley)|
|Elverston, Sir Harold||Lardner, James C. R.||Pringle, William M. R.|
|Esmonde, Dr. John (Tipperary, N.)||Law, Hugh A. (Donegal, West)||Radford, George Heynes|
|Esmonde, Sir Thomas (Wexford, N.)||Lawson, Sir W. (Cumb'rld. Cockerm'th)||Raffan, Peter Wilson|
|Essex, Sir Richard Walter||Low, Sir Frederick (Norwich)||Reddy, Michael|
|Esslemont, George Birnie||Lundon, Thomas||Redmond, John E. (Waterford)|
|Falconer, James||Lyell, Charles Henry||Redmond, William (Clare, E.)|
|Farrell, James Patrick||Lynch, Arthur Alfred||Redmond, William Archer (Tyrone. E.)|
|Ffrench, Peter||Macdonald, J. M. (Falkirk Burghs)||Richardson, Albion (Peckham)|
|Fitzgibbon, John||Maclean, Donald||Richardson, Thomas (Whitehaven)|
|Flavin, Michael Joseph||MacNeill, J. G. Swift (Donegal, South)||Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)|
|George, Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd||MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Roberts, George H. (Norwich)|
|Ginnell, Laurence||M'Callum, Sir John M.||Roberts, Sir J. H. (Denbighs)|
|Glanville, Harold James||McKenna, Rt. Hon. Reginald||Robertson, Sir G. Scott (Bradford)|
|Goldstone, Frank||M'Micking, Major Gilbert||Robertson, John M. (Tyneside)|
|Greenwood, Hamar (Sunderland)||Manfield, Harry||Robinson, Sidney|
|Greig, Colonel J. W.||Markham, Sir Arthur Basil||Roch, Walter F. (Pembroke)|
|Griffith, Rt. Hon. Ellis Jones||Marshall, Arthur Harold||Roche, Augustine (Louth)|
|Guest, Major Hon. C. H. C. (Pembroke)||Meagher, Michael||Rowlands, James|
|Guest, Hon. Frederick E. (Dorset, E.)||Meehan, Francis E. (Leitrim, N.)||Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)|
|Gwynn, Stephen Lucius (Galway)||Meehan, Patrick J. (Queen's Co., Leix.)||Scanlan, Thomos|
|Hackett, John||Mollcy, Michael||Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton)|
|Hancock, John George||Molteno, Percy Alport||Sheehy, David|
|Hardie, J. Keir||Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred||Sherwell, Arthur James|
|Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, West)||Money, L. G. Chiozza||Smith, Albert (Lancs., Clitheroe)|
|Haslam, Lewis (Monmouth)||Montagu, Hon. E. S.||Smyth, Thomas F. (Leitrim, S.)|
|Hayden, John Patrick||Mooney, John J.||Soames, Arthur Wellesley|
|Hayward, Evan||Morgan, George Hay||Strauss, Edward A. (Southwark, West)|
|Helme, Sir Norval Watson||Morison, Hector||Sutherland, John E.|
|Hemmerde, Edward George||Morton, Alpheus Cleophas||Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe)|
|Henderson, Arthur (Durham)||Muldoon, John||Toulmin, Sir George|
|Henderson, John M. (Aberdeen, W.)||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|Higham, John Sharp||Nicholson, Sir Charles N. (Doncaster)||Verney, Sir Harry|
|Hinds, John||Nolan, Joseph||Wardle, George J.|
|Hobhouse, Rt. Hon. Charles E. H.||Norton, Captain Cecil W.||Waring, Walter|
|Hogge, James Myles||Nugent, Sir Walter Richard||Wasen, Rt. Hon. E. (Clackmannan)|
|Holmes, Daniel Turner||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)||Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)|
|Holt, Richard Durning||O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.)||Webb, H.|
|Howard, Hon. Geoffrey||O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)||White, J. Dundas (Glasgow, Tradeston)|
|Hudson, Walter||O'Doherty, Philip||White, Sir Luke (Yorks, E.R.)|
|Jardine, Sir J. (Roxburghshire)||O'Donnell, Thomas||White, Patrick (Meath, North)|
|Jones, Rt. Hon. Sir D. Brynmor (Swansea)||O'Dowd, John||Whitehouse, John Howard|
|Jones, Edgar (Merthyr Tydvil)||O'Kelly, Edward P. (Wicklow, W.)||Whyte, Alexander F.|
|Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, East)||O'Malley, William||Wiles, Thomas|
|Jones, Leif (Notts, Rushcliffe)||O'Neill, Dr. Charles (Armagh, S.)||Williams, Aneurin (Durham, N.W.)|
|Jones, William (Carnarvonshire)||O'Shee, James John||Williams, Llewelyn (Carmarthen)|
|Jones, William S. Glyn- (Stepney)||'Sullivan, Timothy||Williams, Penry (Middlesbrough)|
|Jowett, Frederick William||Palmer, Godfrey Mark||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Joyce, Michael||Parker, James (Halifax)||Wood, Rt. Hon. T. McKinnon (Glasgow)|
|Kellaway, Frederick George||Parry, Thomas H.||Yeo, Alfred William|
|Kelly, Edward||Pearce, Robert (Staffs, Leek)||Young, William (Perthshire, East)|
|Kennedy, Vincent Paul||Pearson, Hon. Weetman H. M.||Yoxall, Sir James Henry|
|Kilbride, Denis||Phillips, John (Longford, S.)|
|King, Joseph||Pratt, J. W.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr. Illingworth and Mr. Gulland|
|Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade)||Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central)|
Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ Whereupon the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Resolution to be reported upon Monday next; to sit again upon Monday next.