HC Deb 06 July 1915 vol 73 cc191-4

I beg to ask the Postmaster-General a question of which I have given him private notice, namely: Whether he is in a position to make any statement to the House with regard to the employment of men of mili- tary age as postmen, and as to the employment of women as letter carriers, with a view to enabling men to join His Majesty's naval and military services?


Yes, Sir, and perhaps I may be allowed, by leave of the House, to make a short statement with respect to several measures I propose to take in connection with the War.

1. About 36,000 of the Post Office staff are already serving in the Army and Navy, and arrangements have been made that will enable a considerable further number to be released. Unless the circumstances of the district are exceptional, permission to enlist in combatant units is not refused to any sorter, postman, porter, or labourer, and every effort will be made to release clerks for the same purpose. I regret that it is not possible to give the same general facilities for enlistment in combatant units to telegraphists and to linesmen and other skilled workmen on the engineering staff of the Post Office, because many thousands of those classes are required at home for military and naval work. Deficiencies of staff are made good by the employment of men not eligible for military service, and by the increased employment of women for duties for which they are suitable. It is hoped that Post Office facilities for the public will not be seriously curtailed; but where some restriction is inevitable, I have no doubt that it will be accepted without complaint in view of the importance of maintaining the supply of recruits for the Army. Any readjustment of labour force which is now made is for the period of the War only, and it is clearly understood that measures taken in present circumstances will not set any precedent when the service is restored to normal conditions.

2. In order that postmen and others who enlist may not be put at a disadvantage, I propose to suspend during the period of the War all competitive examinations for higher posts for which members of the male staff are eligible.

3. I have arranged to give a period of special leave to postmen who desire to work in the harvest, and who are offered employment by farmers. They will continue to receive their Post Office pay as usual, but they will be required to defray the cost of substitutes. Except where the conditions of distance to be travelled or weight of load to be carried are such as to preclude their employment, the substitutes may be women.

4. I feel sure that the House would desire that the Post Office, as a Government Department and as the largest employer of labour in the country, should set an example in furnishing employment to soldiers and sailors permanently disabled in the War. The question has already been closely examined, and the Department will be prepared to cooperate to the farthest extent practicable with the authority for assisting disabled men proposed to be established by the Bill now before the House. I hope that many may be employed on delivering telegrams, and accordingly instructions have been issued that no more boys should be taken on as telegraph messengers on deliveries where disabled men can properly be employed; also that disabled soldiers and sailors should be given first consideration for employment as night telephone operators and in certain other capacities.

5. The Post Office can, I think, be of service in assisting the supply of books and magazines to the soldiers and sailors at the front, in camp, in hospital, and detained as prisoners of war. I am therefore issuing an announcement to-day inviting the public to hand in at any post office any suitable book, or any magazine not more than a year old, without address or wrapping of any kind. The Post Office will bring such books and magazines to a central depot without charge, and will there transfer them to the voluntary organisations approved by the War Office and Admiralty, which have long been engaged, under considerable difficulties, in supplying the needs in this direction of the Army and the Fleet. I would express the hope that the public will respond to the offer of the Post Office by providing an adequate supply of suitable books and magazines to occupy and interest the leisure of the soldiers and sailors.


Will the men who leave the Post Office be allowed to count that time towards the Post Office pension?


I think that is so, but before making the statement I shall be obliged if my hon. and gallant Friend will give me notice.


I did not gather to what extent my right hon. Friend expects to be able to substitute women for men in the employment of the Post Office.


I cannot give any statistics, but women will be em- ployed to a very large extent to fill the places of men who have enlisted or who will enlist, as postwomen, as sorters and as clerks.

Colonel YATE

When considering this question of allowing soldiers to count their service, will the right hon. Gentleman also consider very favourably the question of soldiers who come out of the Post Office, so that a certain proportion if not all their service as soldiers will be allowed to count towards a pension?


That will certainly be considered.


Has my right hon. Friend considered the advisability of communicating with the Board of Agriculture the arrangements he is making with regard to the harvest, so that they may communicate with the farmers?


Yes, I am doing so.