§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £14,537,145, 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, 1917, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Post Office, including Telegraphs and Telephones.'" [NOTE.—£12,000,000 has been voted on account.]
§ The POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Mr. Joseph Pease)
In presenting the annual Estimates of the Post Office I think I should explain to the Committee that the War expenditure and the normal expenditure of the Post Office are inextricably intertwined, and it may be difficult for any hon. Member who studies the Estimates to be able to fully appreciate and separate the normal work and the War work which has been done in the past year and may be done during the current year. I think the Committee will be interested if I inform them what is the exact amount of the revenue that has been realised as a result of the extra charges which were imposed in the Budget last autumn. It will be remembered that an additional Id. was imposed upon letters over 1 oz.—between 1 oz. and 2 ozs.—and there was an additional l½d. imposed upon letters weighing over 2 ozs. That did not affect a great proportion of letters, because 80 per cent, of letters which are posted are under 1 oz. in. weight. With respect to the newspaper rate, in place of the fiat rate of ½d., a scale was imposed of ½d. for every 6 ozs. The increase of revenue in connection with those two impositions was estimated to amount to £438,000. The actual increase has amounted to £470,000. An additional Id. was placed upon parcels sent through the post, and an unexpected revenue has been secured, partly because railway companies have raised their rates, and partly because various carrying agencies have pursued the same policy, 1232 and because of the difficulty of many traders in securing individuals who will carry their commodities to their customers. Consequently there has been an increase in the number of parcels sent through the post, and instead of £90,000 being realised, as was anticipated, £170,000 has been realised. In regard to the increase of a ½d. on postal orders, the estimate was that £25,000 would be secured. I might say that the number of postal orders up to 2s. 6d. which are affected by this imposition amounts in a year to about 55,000,000. The increased revenue produced by that additional £d. upon the-postal order, instead of being £25,000, was £54,000.
Then there was the surcharge of 3d. imposed on telegrams. It was expected that £170,000 would be realised by that. I cannot say what is the exact effect upon the telegraphic traffic which has been produced by the imposition of that tax, but no doubt it has been considerable. The result at any rate was that in the six months, from one cause or another, not entirely due to the imposition of this tax, but due to a great number of the short-distance messages formerly sent by telegram being now sent by telephonic communication, there has been a total reduction in the traffic in telegrams of about 25 per cent. But from the revenue point of view the surcharge imposed has been justified, as it has produced £200,000, as against £170,000 which was anticipated. In regard to the increase of £3 in the telephone flat-rate rental, and the increase of call-office charges from 2d. to 3d. in London, and from id. to 2d. in the provinces, so far as I can see, the 3d. London rate is not a charge which has come to stay. The traffic will hardly stand that increase, and the addition of these fees, instead of producing an increase in revenue over the estimate, as in the case of the other items, yielded only an increase of £115,000, as against an estimated increase of £205,000. The total increased charges were expected to produce an increased revenue of £928,000. They actually produced over £1,000,000.
Making the accounts as intelligible as I can, I propose now to take them in round figures. The Post Office revenue for the year 1915–1916 amounted to £33,660,000, an increase of £4,000,000 over the previous year, and an increase of £2,800,000 over the pre-war period. The expenditure, including War expenditure, 1233 amounted to £30,300,000, showing a balance of profit to hand over to the Exchequer of £3,330,000, compared with the figure for the previous year of £3,380,000, or, for the year before that, of £6,650,000, but it is owing to the War that the net profit has fallen by £3,300,000. It is somewhat curious, in regard to revenue, that had the conditions of growth continued without the influence of the War, and without these extra impositions, they would have practically balanced one another, because the yield of the increased rates imposed and the increased revenue derived from the letters which go to our soldiers abroad have counterbalanced any contraction of revenue which has been caused by the War. This contraction of revenue is due more to the absence of millions of men in the field than to any reduction in the trade and industry of the country—millions of men in the field who, if they had been at home, would have been the users of the postal service and also of the telegraphic and telephonic communication.
On the expenditure side the additional expenditure which was due to the War amounts to about £6,000,000. The Vote bears certain items due to the War. The balance has been charged to the Vote of Credit. The Vote docs not give economies which result in reduction. I think that I can explain by an illustration. The civil pay of the men who were in the Post Office, who are now serving with the Colours, still appears upon the Votes presented to Parliament, but they do not include the substituted cost of labour, which is charged to the War Account. Therefore the somewhat paradoxical result follows, that when you reduce the war expenditure of the Department, the economics effected by these arrangements at home do not appear in the Estimate presented to Parliament. The economies which have been, effected in the Home Service during the year 1915–1916 amount to rather over £1,000,000, but in the event of the War continuing during the whole of the present year we anticipate that a very much greater saving will be effected by the reductions and economies which have been secured during the last few months. The saving effected will, therefore, be considerably greater in future than that which is going on at the present time, and the saving should accrue at a considerably greater rate than it did during the average period of last year.
1234 Before I proceed further, I should like to express my gratitude and the gratitude of my staff for the generous way in which the public have accepted the reduced facilities and the increased charges in connection with the Postal Service. The Government have reduced the facilities to the customers of the Post Office, and have increased the charges upon the public with very great reluctance. But we thought it necessary. No one deplores more than the Postmaster-General of the day anything retrogressive in connection with the working of the Post Office, and while some of the economies may be permanent, yet I hope that others may shortly disappear when the War is brought to a satisfactory conclusion. Domestic and commercial inconveniences must result from the reduction both in regard to the number of deliveries and the number of dispatches which we are able to give to the public. In most of the towns through the country the deliveries and the corresponding number of dispatches have been reduced to two. The restriction of hours in the Post Office has also enabled us to introduce other economies, and in many towns we have reduced the hours during which the General Post Office is open from twelve to ten. Naturally there must be some protests and representations made to my Department, but t do desire to acknowledge as fully as I can the way in which the public exercise restraint and accept as cheerfully as they can the reductions which have been made.
A certain number of sub-offices have been closed, but we have endeavoured in all those cases to justify the action we have taken by securing that other facilities are provided in post-offices in the adjacent Some criticism has been offered, more in the form of questions addressed to me in this House than in any other way, in connection with the expenditure on the London Tube Railway. Parliamentary sanction, before the War, was given to the expenditure of £1,100,000 for the construction of this tube railway, and in October of 1914 it was anticipated that it would be desirable to find occupation for labour which might be thrown out of employment. A contract was entered into to construct this tunnel at a cost of £668,000, and it was anticipated that we would have been able to complete the work in May last. The Government have on several occasions considered 1235 whether they should suspend that work, tout it is to be remembered that the material has, to a very large extent, been both manufactured, delivered, and paid for. But we have entered into a certain contract, and the contractor had entered into contracts with sub-contractors, and if this contract had been cancelled a serious claim might have been brought against the Government for breach of contract. Again, if the contract had been deferred it could only have been carried out at an enhanced rate, and if the tunnel work had not been completed a considerable expenditure would necessarily have been incurred with a view to preventing damage to work already begun. We have up to the present time in connection with this tunnel spent £364,000, but, owing to the demands on the electrical plant, we fear that it will be impossible in the immediate future to complete the equipment, and the great benefit arising from the tube, and the consequent quicker and more uniform underground traffic, with the reduction of surface traffic, of mail vans and motor vans in our thoroughfares, must be for a time deferred. The tube railway is proposed to run between Paddington and Whitechapel, and there will be nine underground stations, where there will be automatic delivery and despatch of letters.
In connection with our building programme, we have been able to effect several economies. Last year's estimate provided for an expenditure of £325,000 on new buildings; this year we propose only £111,535, and of only £1,000 is in respect of new works.
§ Mr. PEASE
These Estimates have no reference to the damage done to the General Post Office in Dublin. I am obtaining a statement in connection with that matter, but I am not in a position to say exactly what is the loss consequent on the damage to the buildings. If a case is made out against the Government, and if we are criticised for extravagance in connection with new work, all I can say is that it is all work which was commenced before the War, and it would have been a penny wise and pound foolish if this work had been stopped. In regard to the purchase of new sites for post offices, as compared with £70,000 last year, we only propose to spend 1236 £10,000 this year. Fifteen buildings which have been approved have been stopped altogether, but, as I have said, the expenditure has been justified in places such as Aldershot, where the number of military made it absolutely essential that we should increase the Post Office facilities, and Tunbridge, Dundee, and West Bromwich, if these buildings had not been proceeded with, detriment to the public service as well as to the buildings themselves would have resulted. There is another item of expenditure which is not on the Estimate, but is included in the Vote of Credit. It is an expenditure of £50,000 for the Regent's Park Parcels Post Office, which has been erected there so that the Army may have their parcels adequately sorted and sent out to each unit from there direct. The provision of this building is justified because the congestion at Mount Pleasant was such as to prevent efficient service either for the Provinces or for the Armies in the field. The sorting arrangements are sufficient not only for the military in the field, but for the wounded in our hospitals and prisoners in enemy countries.
§ Mr. PEASE
It is quite completed. It remains for the House to know the extent of the services which we have been rendering to the military abroad. Our troops receive weekly 10,000,000 letters and 700,000 parcels, weighing 1,500 tons per week. There is free postage for letters posted in the field and sent home, and these amount from France alone to 5,000,000 every week. There has been a steady development in the numbers of letters and parcels between the troops abroad and those at home, and if we compare the Christmas week of 1914 and the Christmas week of 1915, there is a clear indication of the development of the work. There were 2,000,000 letters sent in Christmas week of 1914, and to France in Christmas week of 1915 9,000,000 letters were sent to the troops abroad. Parcels increased from 500,000 in Christmas week of 1914 to 3,000,000 in Christmas week of 1915. Complaint has been made with regard to the number of parcels sent to the Gallipoli Penisula which went astray in delivery. We were met by a very peculiar difficulty in connection with the base Post Office being in Egypt, to which all parcels were sent which were intended for Gallipoli. They had first of all to go to Egypt, whence they went at irregular intervals to Mudros, having to 1237 be there transhipped into smaller boats. In consequence of these transhipments a certain number of letters and parcels was damaged and possibly their contents were lost. When the great number of casualties is remembered, as many as 60,000 men at one time being scattered into different hospitals, and the number on active service—when it is remembered that all those letters and parcels had to be readdressed, with the added difficulty that the original address was frequently an address used in error, and when it is further recollected that we had submarine difficulties to encounter, that Egyptian and Greek dockers had to be employed and that transhipment often was carried out at night and under shell fire, it will be seen that it is wonderful the service was not more delayed than it was, and that there is some gratification in realising that a very large percentage of the books, parcels, and letters dealt with by the military reached the men to whom they were sent. Under the Hague Convention it was agreed that there should be free postal facilities for military prisoners of war, including civilians interned, and it is interesting to compare the way in which the Germans have supported their prisoners in this country compared with the way in which we support British prisoners in Germany, and also to compare our treatment of German prisoners in this country with the abominable and cruel treatment by the German authorities of British prisoners in their country. The Germans sent less than two parcels per month to each German prisoner in this country, while the English send to Germany two and three-quarters per w-eek, or rather more than eleven per month as compared with two per month which the Germans send.
§ Mr. PEASE
That is the explanation. As to the number of prisoners, we have in this country 40,821 military, naval, and civilian prisoners, to whom the Germans send letters. In Germany there are 25,621 British military, 1,089 naval prisoners, and 4,000 civilians. These receive 58,000 letters per week, as compared with 55,000 letters sent to Germany from here. The remittances which are sent vary in this way: A very large number of German civilians have been interned in this country, no doubt a large number of them being of the well-to-do class. Those who receive remittances get 16s. per week on the average in money 1238 similarly situated in Germany 11s. 5d. per week on the average. Each month, therefore, rather more than 200,000 letters go to our prisoners of war.
§ Mr. MALCOLM
Are these figures limited to prisoners in Germany, or do they include Bulgaria and other countries?
§ Mr. PEASE
These figures include letters sent to other countries where there are British prisoners.
There is a general complaint made against the Post Office that we have limited the weight of parcels to seven pounds. The reason is that the military authorities have come to the conclusion that they cannot manage any increase of bulk beyond the seven pounds which is at present being sent abroad, and if we were to increase the weight of the parcels we would not have that same efficiency and regularity of service which I think is so creditable to us at the present moment.
I thing I have now dealt with the general question of parcels sent to the military abroad. I am glad to see my right hon. Friend (Mr. Herbert Samuel), the ex-Postmaster-General, on my left. He instituted with Sir Edward Ward and Mrs. Anstruther a very happy arrangement by which books and magazines can be sent voluntarily through the Post Office to the men in our various camps not only abroad but at home, and to the hospitals and prisoners as well, and there has been a most wonderful response on the part of the public to the appeal made by him, Sir Edward Ward, and Mrs. Anstruther. The War Library and the London Chamber of Commerce have also sent to our troops and to the men in the Fleet large numbers of books, and these organisations are working together. The result has been that since the beginning of the War we have sent to men in the Fleet or in khaki 6,500,000 books and magazines. The week before last we sent to France 44,000, and to the Navy 22,000, and to prisoners and elsewhere 16,000, and since the beginning of the War we have sent to the Mediterranean some 600,000 books and magazines. Over 500,000 have gone to hospitals, and the best class of work is generally sent to hospitals where they become a permanent library for those who follow one another in those institutions.
I should like now to refer to the wonderful way in which the Post Office employés of military age have responded to the call 1239 of their country in enlisting. Out of a possible 90,000 of military age, 56,000 are now serving with the Colours; 7,700 have been medically rejected, and 21,700 attested under Lord Derby's scheme, the unattested being only 4,600, and, of course, amongst them must be a great number who have very valid reasons for declining to attest or come forward. Of the 21,700 who attested, 6,000 belong to the Engineering Signalling Section, and are required in connection with the maintenance of telegraphs and telephones at home, the repairs to which have been considerable owing to the storms to which I shall refer in a moment. Therefore we regard that 6,000 as indispensable at the present moment, and we cannot liberate them for service. With regard to the telegraphists required at home or reserved for the Signal Service, there are 3,300 who have attested, and we are now considering with the War Office whether any of those can be spared. There are engaged on munitions 500 who are indispensable, and who are engaged on work which no one can do quite as well, as they have great technical skill in connection with the manufacture of minute apparatus for telegraphs and telephones. There are about 9,000 who may be called up for service at any moment. The balance of about 3,000 are chiefly all the older men who for the moment are being retained in the service but who may be liberated very shortly. The 4,600 unattested men, of whom about 3,750 are married, will come under the Military Service Act. Among those men are a certain number of telegraphists who are no longer required in the service, since, as T have already indicated, telegraphic communication has dropped from 25 per cent, to 28 per cent, during the past six months, and we are able to spare 250 of those telegraphists who did not attest last autumn.
The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. MacCallum Scott) asked a question to-day, and the hon. Member for Leicester asked a similar question last week, and say, "Are you not giving a preference to the attested men as compared with the unattested men," and at first sight it does seem as if equal treatment was not meted out between those two classes. The fact of the case is this: When the Derby scheme was being considered by my predecessor he communicated with the War Office, and ascertained that a very large number of these telegraphists would be 1240 required in the Signal Service, and at that period he felt he was fully justified in making a promise to all those telegraphists who would attest that they would be found positions in the Signal Service in the event of their attesting. The War Office now tell me that it is all they can do to fulfil that pledge, and that they do not and cannot undertake to find in the Signal Service positions for any more than those who have already attested, and who were given that promise last autumn. Therefore, it comes to this: Am I to break faith, or what would be regarded as a breach of faith, with those men who received that promise last autumn and tell them that they will not be given the opportunity of enlisting in Signal Service, and am I to put in their places a certain number of the unattested who were given no promise at all? I told a deputation which came to me that I felt under those circumstances that it was for those who had received that promise to indicate that they did not hold the Post Office to the spirit of the pledge that was given, and that if they took that view it would be very easy for the Post Office to place both the unattested and the attested exactly in the same class. Since I came to the House to-day I received this telegram:Attested telegraphists of Metropolitan districts dissociate themselves from circular letter 27th June issued to you by executive of Postal Teligraph Clerks' Association re calling up of [...] teligraphists, and look to you to see that the postmaster-General's pledge to attested telegraphists, who represent the vast majority, is redeemed in full
§ Mr. THOMAS
Have you endeavoured to ascertain how many people have signed that, or where did it come from?
§ Mr. PEASE
I am giving it just as I received it. If those individuals are prepared to say, "We are quite prepared to accept the position, and to place ourselves exactly in the same position as the unattested" then I, for my part, will be only too glad to meet the views of those Post Office officials, but until the War Office can find places for more in the Signal Service it would, of course, be wrong for me to promise positions which the War Office cannot find in that service.
In connection with the Volunteer Training Corps, I am glad to say that good work has been done by the Post Office employés. Three hundred have already been trained, and have left either for the Royal Engineers, the Flying Service, or for other technical corps. We have now established two companies of signal men, 1241 who have been allotted definite work for Home defence by the War Office, and this recognition by the War Office will, I am quite sure, stimulate that body, with the result that we shall receive additional recruits during the next few weeks. With regard to the disabled soldiers, there has been no great demand to find positions for them in Post Office employment. Labour is scarce in the country, and at the present moment people are generously disposed to those individuals who come home and who are no longer wanted in the fighting ranks. We can find, and later on we shall find, no doubt, a large number of places for those who will probably receive pensions, and we shall be able to give increased help to them in the Post Office in connection with work that may be. provided for them, such as on night telephones, cleaning of offices, as liftmen, and labourers in the engineering and stores department. But our first duty will be to our own men. We have promised our staff that their places will be kept open for them when they come back, and we have also promised that, as a permanent arrangement, one-fourth of the places in connection with certain vacancies shall be found as they occur for ex-soldiers and sailors, and those who are discharged with satisfactory certificates. I am anxious to do the very best I can for those men, but the Post Office Service does need men who are of really strong physique and good health. In connection with the orphans of those who lose their lives and who are left behind, the Treasury have enabled us under certain limitations to find situations for boy messengers and girl probationers.
I have just now paid a tribute to the general public in connection with the way in which they accepted certain reductions in the facilities which we imposed upon them. I would now like to pay a tribute to my own staff for the wonderful way in which those at home have risen to the occasion and shown their patriotism in endeavouring to meet the very difficult situation due to the great depletion of the staff. Twenty-five thousand women have come forward, more out of patriotic motives than from any other, in order to take the places of those who had gone, and 22,000 men who are incapacitated from military service by age or defect of some kind have also come forward to fill vacancies, and I think they fully deserve the commendation which I am able to give 1242 them. A fortnight ago I visited a large number of our post offices in France. I was gratified by the reception given to me by the staff who are serving us in France, in an unostentatious way, in a position in which they get little thanks, and who, in spite of irregularities of the cross-channel service and other difficulties, continue to secure a regular service of letters for the troops. I am glad to say, on behalf of the Army, and on behalf of those who do the work abroad, I found no disposition to complain, but a cheeriness which forebodes very good results in the immediate future in connection with the conduct of the War.
Criticisms directed against the policy of the Post Office are generally on trivial points of detail, such as the failure on a particular occasion of some individual to secure communication with another through the telephone. Those criticisms are not in connection with the main stream of work, which I submit has been in the past efficiently administered by those who are proud to belong to the service. But when the public, as in some cases they appear to do, expect to secure the same rapidity of service, the same dexterity, and the same accuracy as in normal times, they are expecting too much. The telegraphic service has been depleted, and the Government Departments have increased their requirements on the Post Office to a very great extent. It is my duty to try to balance the demands of the Government and those of private customers as best I can. It is also my duty to try to balance the interests of the staff, the interests of the customers, and those of the taxpayers and the quality of the service, so far as is possible. I cannot in these times suggest any heroic reforms to popularise the Post Office, as some of my predecessors may have been able to do with a flowing Treasury. On one hand I am criticised in the Press for a high-handed, arbitrary lack of appreciation of the needs of the nation, for stopping enterprise, and for thinking only of the Post Office staff. On the other hand, I am criticised by some of the trade union journals as being a hard-hearted individual who is not prepared to listen to the fair claims of those in our employ. I hope that, as I receive the two kinds of criticism, I hit more or less the right mean.
In connection with Zeppelin raids, the work of the women who have come forward voluntarily to do duty at night deserves, I think, very high praise. 1243 Hundreds of women have thus come forward. When Zeppelin raids have been anticipated, and sometimes when they have been going on, these women have come out of their homes and even when bombs were dropping gone to their positions in the various exchanges. They have played an important part in an organised scheme of air-raid warnings, and in gallantry and self-sacrifice they have set a good example to the whole country. I might specially mention that in Dublin the women in the exchanges there, while bullets were flying and fires raging, stayed at their work, and it was through communication being kept intact by the telephonic exchange in Dublin that we were able to obtain the military who suppressed the rebellion so rapidly. The work of the telephone is really very monotonous, and I have considerable sympathy with those who give a great deal of attention, application, and devotion to their work. I think they ought to receive rather more sympathy from the public than is usually given. In an out-of-the-way country place the other day the exchange operator, after retiring to bed with a bell by the bedside, as she usually did, was rung up three times in a comparatively short period of the night. On the first occasion, at the conclusion of the conversation, she asked the individual who had rung her up whether he was likely to ring her up again, because, if so, she did not propose to return to bed. He thereupon called her a lazy hound, and reported her for incivility. Such is the lot of many of the telephonists.
I referred a moment ago to the Dublin rebellion. It has been suggested that there were in the Irish postal service a large number of sympathisers with the Sinn Fein movement. I believe myself that that is wholly unjustified as a general charge Nothing could have been more loyal, taken as a whole, than the way in which the men in the Post Office worked to restore the services in Dublin. The engineers in a few days erected 136 new instruments in the new telegraphic central office, which was a remarkable achievement. I think the highest, praise is due to the sorters, postmen, and telegraphists for their self-sacrifice and the personal risk which they took and which they seemed to feel it an honour to take, with a view to showing their loyalty to the public service. After careful investigation, I have thought it necessary to discharge two or three of the 1244 staff. Ten who were arrested have been cleared and reinstated. One was sentenced to penal servitude. Thirty-five, against whom there is some suspicion, have been reported; I am referring all their cases to the Sankey Commission, and awaiting, their Report before taking action. With a staff of 17,000 in Ireland, nearly every one of whom served as loyally as possible, there must, of course, be a few black sheep, but the number is so small that I think the Committee will agree that there is no justification for any general charge of sedition.
I said that I would refer to the damage done by the storm of 27th to 28th March. The storm extended from the Humber to Pembroke, and from the Wash to the Bristol Channel. It swept away almost all the aerial telegraph lines throughout that area; 2,150 poles were broken, 6,050 were uprooted, 33,300 were blown over. Thus the number of poles that had to be re-erected was 41,500. That, of course, does not include the poles on the railways, which were quite independent of the Post Office. The copper wire which was broken into small fragments represented a length of 17,000 miles. The whole of that wire had to be remelted and remanufactured and weighed 1,500 tons. We have a normal repairing staff of 20,000, of whom 11,000 are already abroad doing work at the front. Most of our best, most highly trained, and most experienced men are at the front. We have 9,000 at home, out of the staff required for the normal work of repairs, and naturally a storm like that of last March, which was the worst the country has ever experienced, has been a great tax upon the staff left at home. They are dealing with the work as rapidly as possible, and I hope that by Christmas the damage may have been made good. Underground communications saved the situation. But underground communications can be made only at great cost. After the War I hope that additional underground communications may be found possible with such places as Northampton, Leicester, Nottingham, Sheffield and Leeds, in order that in the event of any future storm of this character a satisfactory regular service, independent of aerial wires, may be secured.
§ Mr. PEASE
At present we cannot undertake to do anything underground, either in Scotland or elsewhere, owing to 1245 the great cost. I am sorry that we have been unable to meet the demands made upon the telephonic departments by the public for new services. With a view to checking these demands we have felt justified in placing a temporary surcharge on the public. In the last few months my predecessor and I have erected something like 7,000 new telephones for the Army, and during the last year 1,500 new telephonic communications and instruments have been erected for the Munitions Department. Hence there has been a great tax upon the staff and upon the number of instruments at the Post Office.
Automatic telephones is a subject in which the Assistant Postmaster-General and myself have taken considerable interest. We should like to see automatic telephone replace the manual telephone, so far as that is possible; but again the expense prevents our launching out in the way in which I think development must take place immediately after the War. There are eight automatic exchanges working, and they are giving great satisfaction. The only ground of complaint that can be alleged against them is, I think, that when the public themselves make a mistake they have no telephonist whom they can abuse. There are six exchanges under construction. I cannot give the Committee any figures in regard to the relative cost. The matter is still in the experimental stage, but we are obtaining the data as rapidly as possible. I believe there is a real advance to be made in satisfactory telephonic communication by a large development of the automatic machines. In Liverpool we hope to be able to get on for another year with the present exchange, but a new exchange must be placed in that city before many months are over.
I think I ought to deal to-day with a matter which was referred to in the Press by the chairman at the Marconi Company's meeting on Friday last. The Committee ought to realise what the position of that contract is. It was sanctioned in August, 1913. There was considerable delay between August, 1913, and the outbreak of the War in carrying out that contract. A dispute with the company as to the right to deal with three of the patents was one of the causes of the delay. The difficulty of settling designs and the construction of the stations on economical lines was another cause. An application of the company somewhat to vary the system the 1246 Government thought justified them in. making an inquiry in connection with these alterations. That was another cause of delay. After the War broke out the Admiralty erected for strategic purposes certain stations which partly fulfilled the requirements of the Imperial chain. The Government felt that in any event the commercial service could not be developed under war conditions, and the Admiralty took the view that only three stations. should be then erected and that the others should remain in abeyance. In the autumn of 1914 the company insisted that in view of the delay the terms of the contract should be considerably varied. In consequence of that, on the 30th December, as the result of a Cabinet decision, the Postmaster-General gave notice to the company to cancel the contract, the company, of course, in the event of that being agreed to, being reimbursed, as they have since been reimbursed, for their out-of-pocket expenses. An immediate protest was made by the company against the repudiation of the contract, rather to the surprise of the Postmaster-General of the day, who said that if the company were unwilling to acquiesce the Government were prepared to proceed on the original terms. The position then was that the company declined to go on with the contract, and insisted on its claim for compensation.
§ Mr. PEASE
January, 1915. Subsequently negotiations were reopened in June, 1915, and the company and the Admiralty arrived at a provisional agreement requiring the sanction of Parliament to be given by a given date. In the autumn of 1915 the First Lord of the Admiralty dropped the negotiations, as the Admiralty needs did not, in his opinion, then justify proceeding with the contract. The result of that was that a petition of right was sent to the Home Office in December, 1915, and when I came to the Post Office in January of the present year I found this litigation threatened against the Government. I at once got into communication with the Admiralty, the War Office, the Colonial Office, and the India Office. After consultation with the representatives of those Departments we have come to the conclusion that four stations ought to be proceeded with, and the Government have definitely offered the Marconi Company the following terms: "That the 1913 contract shall be varied, and that the erection; 1247 of only four stations at the present time shall be one of the variations; compensation shall be paid for net loss, if any, which the company may prove they have sustained owing to delay in the work, so far as it may have been caused by any act or omission on the part of the Postmaster-General, or any other variation of the 1913 contract, and the compensation shall be settled by an impartial body of arbitrators with judicial experience, or, failing agreement, by a Court of Law. In the event of it being accepted by the Marconi Company, the agreement will be submitted to Parliament for ratification." There seems, however, to be no prospect whatever of any agreement being arrived at in regard to the two points to which I have just referred, and some kind of reference I seems to the Government to be the right course to adopt with a view to securing an amicable and satisfactory agreement. It is to this offer that we are now awaiting a reply, and that is the position at the present moment.
§ Mr. PEASE
It would be the system of the Marconi Company, based upon the contract of 1913, with certain variations of a somewhat technical nature with which I do not propose to trouble the House on the present occasion.
My right hon. Friend the late Postmaster-General organised a scheme, which has found great favour with the public, in connection with insurance against Zeppelin raids. It may be of interest to the public to know that up to 21st June policies, varying from £25 to £75, to the number of 163,000 have been taken out for the insurance of property to the amount of £10,360,000, whilst the premiums paid under this insurance scheme amount to £10,360.
§ Mr. PEASE
I should be very glad to discover that if my hon. Friend will put a question down. There are two other figures perhaps which may interest the House. The value of the stamps sold through the Post Office in connection with Health Insurance and Unemployment Insurance amounted to £17,216,000. The sale of postage stamps through the post offices, which, of course, includes receipt 1248 stamps, stamps in connection with postal orders, war savings cards, and telegrams has reached the very large sum of £28,250,000.
§ Sir P. MAGNUS
Docs that show an increase on last year in consequence of the altered postal charges?
§ Mr. PEASE
It is impossible to say, because stamps, as the hon. Member realises, are used for so many different purposes, and we cannot earmark the object for which any particular stamp may be purchased over the counter. But if in connection with the increased charge the hon. Member desires figures on the subject, I have already undeavoured to give the exact amount of revenue which has been derived from each of the additional rates which were imposed last year.
To come to Sunday deliveries. Last winter there was an expectation in many quarters that Sunday deliveries would be abolished. The Retrenchment Committee drew special attention to the matter. On the assumption that no compensation should be paid to persons employed in the Post Office, savings, it was thought, might be effected to the extent of £250,000. There was one other advantage in addition to the saving, and that was that there would have been one rest day in seven for all Post Office employés. Those, then, were the two arguments in favour of the proposal, which, if it had been carried out, would not have resulted in any saving of staff or the release of any men for military service. But it would have involved a very serious loss of wages and reduction of pensionable emoluments for the staff which were already very adversely affected by the increase in the cost of living. Whilst there may be a strong case in certain instances for discontinuance of Sunday services, these cannot be dealt with on their merits. When it came to be realised that the saving would be almost entirely at the expense of the staff, that there would also be considerable public inconvenience in many places, and that the staff were called upon to pay very much higher prices for the cost of living than they were at the beginning of the War, it seemed to me that to take away the extra pay on the most popular day's service in the week from the staff would be a drastic measure. After consultation with the Chancellor of the Exchequer I came to the conclusion that, whilst the staff had no inherent right to 1249 Sunday pay, yet, under these circumstances, to enforce it upon the staff would not be justified.
I desire to inform the House what has been the result of the efforts of the people to help the Government in connection with war investments through the medium of the Post Office. In connection with the Four-and-a-Half per Cent. War Loan, which was opened in the middle of June to the end of July, 1915, in which subscriptions were received of sums between £5 to £200, inscribed on the Post Office register as being in the Savings Bank, nearly £31,000,000 were invested by what we regard as the Savings Bank public. Up to the end of November the public subscribed a further sum of over £5,000,000. Then in the Five per Cent. Exchequer Bonds the net sales between 10th January and 31st May were £22,000,000. There is the War Savings certificate, £l for 15s. 6d. In connection with that offer it ought, perhaps, to be emphasised that everybody who applies for these £l certificates can surrender them at any time and get their money back. Aftew twelve months they get 3d. interest, and after that Id. per month. By 30th June there had been subscribed £5,600,000. These all make a total of £64,000,000 of war investments.
§ Mr. PEASE
Yes. A certain notice has to be given, and then the money is handed back. There is a small adverse effect on the Savings Bank by the investments, but not very much. The Savings Bank only gives 2½ per cent. interest, but it has certain advantages of its own. In connection with the first Four-and-a-Half per Cent. War Loan, £18,000,000 were withdrawn from Post Office savings, and therefore the Government did not gain anything by the transfer of the £18,000,000 from a 2½ per cent, investment to a 4½ per cent, investment. But I am glad to say that between then and now there has been a steady increase in the investment of the Post Office Savings Bank, and at the end of May our balance stood at £187,500,000.
§ Mr. PEASE
That is within £1,000,000 of the figure immediately prior to the War. The deposits over withdrawals for the last three months reached £2,000,000, so that the public still appreciate the benefits of 1250 the Savings Bank, where there is no depreciation of capital, and provision is made for withdrawals without any risk.
Some criticism has been made in regard to red tape and delay in connection with some of these war investments, and the difficulties which the public have encountered in some post offices. When, however, it is remembered that there were 1,300,000 subscribers for their Four-and-a-Half per Cent. War Loan, some of them more or less illiterate, and that we have a depleted staff, and a great number of untrained and temporary hands, I think it will probably be admitted that the work has been satisfactorily done throughout the 15,000 offices. Many of the temporary hands are quite unaccustomed to financial transactions and dividends have to be paid regularly, promptly, and with accuracy. I think, therefore, on the whole, very great credit is due to the officers responsible for the way the work has been accomplished. When aspersions are made upon the working classes that they are not thrifty, whilst, on the one hand, we all deplore the waste we see going on during the present War, at any rate it is a satisfaction to me, and doubtless to other Members of the House, to realise that there is in the Post Office Savings Bank, on an average, an account for every household in the country. That is to say, that one in five of the population has a Post Office bank account, and the amount which the depositors have contributed in War Loans amounts, on the average, to rather over £25.
There has been during the past year a steady development of the means of communication. There have been many new inventions which have accelerated and improved the transmis- of messages. New engineering appliances have helped us, and there have been various instruments which have expedited and improved the conveyance of mails. There has been on the whole a vast improvement both in regard to the rapidity and the accuracy of communication. Wireless telegraphy has made equal strides, if not greater strides than those of other means of communication, but this, during a time of war, is not the moment at which I can dwell on the improvements which have been made, or what we can do or cannot do now. It has always appeared to me that each development of communication is one of those milestones on the road of civilisation which marks the real progress 1251 of the world. The deplorable world conflagration is regarded by many as retrogressive and discreditable to our civilisation. Be that as it may, we here take credit to ourselves that, so far as the progress of civilisation can be gauged by development both in rapidity and accuracy of communication, this country is not behind any other country in the world.
§ Mr. MALCOLM
I wish it had fallen to somebody more conversant with the technicalities of Post Office administration to rise and congratulate my right hon. Friend on the most instructive and most interesting statement which he has made to the Committee. I suppose there is probably no one here who can carry ill his head all the figures with which the Postmaster-General has favoured us, but I think we are probably all left with a general impression that postal traffic of a character quite unknown to this House or to this country has been dealt with by his staff all through the country in a manner which is deserving of the praise which he so generously gives, and I believe that praise will be echoed by all. I do not know what criticism may be raised upon his statement, and I do not know on what points a reduction will be moved, but I do not propose to deal with anything that demands a reduction. The only criticism I have to make is one small one and a rather long one. The first is in relation to the delays in getting messages to Mesopotamia. It is not a question of weeks, but of months. I do not suppose we shall get very much satisfaction about it, and we shall probably not know what the delay is caused by, but the delay is very serious. I have a very large number of letters from Mesopotamia and Bombay all complaining of the great irregularity.
I want to draw the attention of my right hon. Friend to the position of the manufacturers and inventors of what is known as the high speed telegraphy in this country. Before the outbreak of the War we had a Debate here on the 10th of June, 1914, which was initiated on the Motion of my hon. Friend who sits on the Front Opposition Bench, and then we learnt that a Committee had been appointed to report to the Postmaster-General upon this whole question of high speed telegraphic communication. Now foreign postal administrations have awaited that Report for a long time with anxiety, in order that 1252 they could make their arrangements for their contracts. The British manufacturer also has awaited with anxiety the conference and the Report, because he might have to make his arrangements for an increase of capital or plant. I understand that this Report is in being now, but that it is marked "Confidential." I do not know whether foreign or colonial postal administrations have seen the Report, but I know that the British manufacturers have not. So confidential is it supposed to be that the members of the three leading firms, to whom I will refer by name in a moment, went to the Post Office and asked if they might see it at the Post Office, but they were not allowed to see it there; still less, were they allowed to have a copy of it. But it so happens that, as is often the case with confidential documents, a rumour of what happened has got about, and it is the widespread belief of the British manufacturer that it is the intention of the Postmaster-General to issue a large order for this high speed apparatus and to place it with the Western Electric Company, of Chicago. I do not know whether it is right or wrong, but perhaps the Postmaster-General or his Assistant when he replies will be able to tell us whether that is true or untrue.
I should like to offer a small argument to show how unfair such a decision would operate on British manufacturers. In the first place, it has to be noted that the three leading firms of manufacturers of this high-speed apparatus. Mr. Donald Murray, Messrs. Creed, Bille and Company, and Mr. H. H. Harrison, are now all employed in the patriotic work of munition making, in the most delicate branches. Therefore, their manufacture of high-speed apparatus is entirely suspended, arid to that extent these gentlemen, the pioneers of high-speed apparatus in this country, have been penalised for their patriotism, for what was the answer they got? They went to the Post Office, and a gentleman who is a high official there, Colonel Ogilvie, said to Mr. Murray, "We should be very glad to have your apparatus, but you cannot deliver it, as you are full up now making muntions of war, and so we have to order a similar instrument from the United States." Now I submit this is a very serious blow to British manufacturers. It is a British industry of great importance already, and one which promises to be of even greater importance in the future. What will be the net result to this 1253 country of this issue, as we believe, of an order from £12,000 to £15,000 of Western Electric appartus from Chicago? First of all, it will increase, though not, I admit, to a very large extent, our adverse balance of trade with America. In the second place, it will sterotype an American and not a British instrument as the high-speed plant in this country for years to come. It takes a very long time for the Government, or, indeed, for an individual, to alter instruments to which they become accustomed. It will be a serious thing for our country if, for many years to come, an American plant, instead of a British one, is started in this country. In the third place, it will proclaim to all foreign postal administrations—and I include therein Colonial administrations—that the British Post Office prefers the Western Electric to the British apparatus, and so it will kill the latter industry in our own country, both as regards external and internal trade, and simply because of no fault of the British instrument itself, but because our Government has filled the hands of these firms with munition work for the War.
I think that this case has only to be stated for it to fall by the weight of its own injustice to British manufacturers and British inventors, and I want the Committee to observe that the hardship, of course, does not cease with this first order of £12,000 or £15,000, whichever it may be. As time goes on these orders must increase, and a great industry will be provided either for Great Britain or for America. I would like to ask the Postmaster-General if it is not the policy of the Government now to store up all the work they can for after the War for British firms? They must see clearly that when these vast orders for munitions are no more given, and when the munition shops have, perhaps almost at a moment's notice, to shut up, there will be a crisis in industry in this country. There may be a collapse of labour employment, and perhaps a very long interim before firms can collect orders to continue the original work for which their factories were constructed. Among such industries that will suffer will be certainly this of the high-speed telegraphic apparatus, and I think before the Government sends its orders abroad for these appliances it must be able to show a strong primâ facie case for urgency of construction at the present time. I submit, with great respect to those who are experts in the matter, that it will be very 1254 difficult to show such a primâ facie case for urgency at a time of ninepenny telegrams, and when the increased use of the telephone has automatically reduced the pressure of telegraphic traffic to a considerable extent.
Therefore, I wish to make to the Postmaster-General and the Committee this twofold suggestion on a subject which, though in itself it involves a comparatively small sum of money, yet embraces a big principle so far as British manufacturers are concerned. First of all, I suggest that, unless a strong case for urgency is made out, this order should not be given during the War, but should be held over until after the War; and, secondly, if the case is urgent, then the temporary contract for munitions, amounting to this £12,000 or £15,000, now being executed by the three British firms which I have named, should be given to the Americans, and let them make the munitions, while the permanent contract for the high-speed apparatus should be given to the three firms in Great Britain which are now making munitions, so that this, which will increase in importance as time goes on, shall always be in the hands of British manufacturers. I think that is certainly what the French would do, and I should not be surprised if the Germans also. They would not at a time like this let a contract for such an important invention go abroad if it is possible to avoid it. I hope, therefore, the Postmaster-General may find it in the public interest to make known the findings of the Committee which was appointed two years ago to report on this matter.
Mr. EDMUND HARVEY
I beg to move, "That Item Al (Headquarters Establishments) be reduced by £100."
I do not wish to follow the hon. Member for Croydon (Mr. Malcolm) on the important subject which he has raised. He has put his case with a moderation and force, which I am sure the whole Committee will appreciate. I want rather to deal with a special point to which allusion was made by the Postmaster-General in the course of his very interesting speech, and I am sure he will understand that if one has to criticise the action of his Department on one important particular one does not wish to give the impression that all of us do not feel the enormously important work the Department is doing under great strain and great difficulty. We appreciate his own zeal and ability in controlling that 1255 work, and the patriotic zeal and devotion of the whole Postal Service, which must be under a very great strain in this time of great national need. The Postmaster-General read to the House a telegram which I am sure he would not wish in any way should mislead the Committee in dealing with the situation of the attested and unattested telegraphists. The Committee saw from what the Postmaster-General said that he appreciated the fact that that situation was not an easy one, and that on the face of the matter there seemed very reasonable grounds for saying there ought to be equal treatment between attested and unattested men in this branch of the service. It is that equal treatment I desire to urge upon the Committee. I have no other plea to make, and if the Postmaster-General is able to give an assurance that he will reconsider the matter with a view to securing equal treatment, that is all I desire. The question is a very important one, and the way in which it has been dealt with by what we understand to be the decision of the Post Office will leave a very serious sense of injustice. The telegram which was read to the Committee was an anonymous one, and the right hon. Gentleman did not tell us who sent it. Consequently the Committee does not know from whom it comes. It would give the impression that it was sent by the attested telegraphists in the Metropolitan district, and it claims to come on their behalf. I have consulted the chairman of the Metropolitan District Branch of the Postal Telegraph Clerks' Association, and he informs me that his association knows nothing whatever of the telegram, that it has been sent without his knowledge or approval, and the same applies to the secretary of the association, who says that his branch has not even met during the whole of the last fortnight. So that this anonymous telegram was sent out in a way which might very well mislead both the Postmaster-General and the Committee, if, indeed, it has not already done so. I hope that the subject will not in any way be prejudiced toy a communication coming in this way before this Committee.
The Postmaster-General stated that during the course of the War the change in the condition of telegraph service, improvements and alterations had made it possible for him to dispense with a considerable number of the staff, and yet it would be a strange thing if the 1256 number chosen should almost exactly correspond with the number of unattested men. This is a coincidence which is very striking, and to the outsider it will certainly give the impression that there was some unfair pressure being used on these men, although it is no doubt the case that the pressure on the telegraph service is not so great as it was at the commencement of the War, and yet the pressure is sufficiently great to warrant the employment of boys doing men's work. I had myself occasion some little time ago to ask a question on the employment of boys at a wage of 12s. a week doing what has hitherto been considered a man's work, and being compelled to pay almost the whole of that sum for their meals in the course of the week. That is a point which I am sure is engaging the careful consideration of the Postmaster-General, although he has not been able to give me a reply on that particular question, and I think that shows that the condition is one which he himself feels could not be justified. It can only be justified as a temporary measure on account of the pressure which is being felt at all points of the postal service. It is on account of that that the Postmaster-General should hesitate to dispense with a large number of older men who are tried and experienced in their work, who are specially skilled for this very work and who are not skilled or specially adapted for other work. Many of them are, in addition, men with large family responsibilities, and some of them with very important trade union responsibilities. If it is necessary to dispense with men, surely the proper course to take is to dispense with attested and unattested alike, taking into account the question of efficiency and age and not going into any other reason or distinction. Surely it is singular if the very men who have volunteered to undertake military duties should not be allowed to do it while older men who, for various reasons, felt themselves unable to attest, should be compelled to leave their situation, even though in some cases they will never consent to undertake military duty. The particular circumstances of the decision of the Postmaster-General unfortunately makes the hardship even greater than it would be in itself. There was an unaccountable delay in the communication of the decision to the men themselves; many of them received the notice on the very last hour of the last day on which it was possible for them legally to make their claim. I have here a letter 1257 dealing with a case at Hull where a man received on the very last day it was possible for him to make a claim notice from the Post Office authorities that his services were no longer required. He received notice at five o'clock on that day, and six o'clock on the same day was the last hour ho was legally allowed to make any claim.
I am aware of that, but I should have thought that the Post Office authorities would not have allowed such a long interval to have elapsed before giving notice, although I feel sure that this occurred without the knowledge of the Postmaster-General; nevertheless it is a very serious case of hardship for the men concerned. One of them received a notice even after the last hour at which he was entitled to make a claim. Fortunately this man had some anticipation of what was going to happen, otherwise he would have been placed in a position of very great difficulty indeed. The Postmaster-General has put before the Committee an explanation of the position with regard to the pledge which was given by his predecessor. I am sure the Committee will be very unwilling to suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should break or go back upon a pledge. I do not want that for a moment, but what I want to put to him is that surely this pledge was made not merely on his own behalf, but on behalf of the War Office. The Postmaster-General alone could not give a pledge that every man who attested should be allowed to go into the Signalling Service of the Royal Engineers, therefore the War Office is just as much pledged in this matter as the Post Office.
The line that the right hon. Gentleman proposes to take, quite involuntarily on his part, would mean that the suffering would fall upon men who are in no way responsible for it. It ought to be possible for the War Office authorities who consented to this pledge and were a party to it to find some way by which, if they are not able to place these particular men in the Signalling Section, they might place them in some other section of the Engineers, or some corresponding grade in the Army that will satisfy the legitimate requirements of these attested men. In the manifold division of service in the Army it should be possible to find for these attested men some corresponding position which they could fill with full advantage to the 1258 country and without having to suffer undue hardship themselves. If that is not possible, I would still urge upon the Postmaster-General that he should not make this fact a reason for doing an act of very serious injustice to a large number of men. Many of the 250 men who were affected are between thirty and forty years of age with family responsibilities, and some of them are cases in which peculiar domestic hardship would arise if they were to lose their work. I had one case brought before me to-day of a man who not only had his family to support but also a relative who is afflicted by a fatal illness, and there would be a very particular hardship in this case if the decision of the Postmaster-General were to be carried out. These men would be placed in a very peculiar position, if they have to go before the tribunal, and are not able to take any certificates from their department as to the importance of their work, for the tribunal would naturally expect some statement from a man's employer as to the importance, of his work and the way in which his services are required. These men will be prevented from making any claim of that nature effectively, and 5'et it is obvious if they are not able, on account of their conscientious convictions, to undertake military service, there is no way in which they can serve the community better than by the work in which they have acquired skill, in many cases, for a long number of years past.
It would be a great hardship to take a man who has worked fifteen or twenty years in the postal service away and put him to do unskilled labour on the land or in some other similar capacity. That would be an economic waste and in no way would it be an advantage to the country. I think if the Postmaster-General considers the question from that point of view he would see that not only is his decision an injustice to the individual but it is also a loss to the nation as a whole. We have also to remember that there would be grave suspicion, aroused in the minds of a certain number of postal servants if amongst these men who suffered are men who have done Stirling work as trade union officials, and therefore, to some extent, have been compelled to make themselves unpopular with their official superiors. I do not think for a moment that the Postmaster-General would use an opportunity like this to victimise any trade unionist, neither do I think that that is the intention of the superior officials of the Post Office; but, nevertheless, this action would lend itself 1259 to very grave misconstruction and misunderstanding, and from all these points of view I plead most earnestly that the right hon. Gentleman should reconsider the decision he has arrived at. In the interests of the postal service as a whole, in the interests of justice to those individuals, I hope he will reapproach the War Office and endeavour to see that there should be some other way by which the pledge should be carried out which was given to the attested men; and that whatever decision is taken as to the number of men whoso services are to be dispensed with, attested and unattested men should be dealt with alike, on an equal basis, and in that way justice will be secured.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
I rise merely for the purpose of asking the Postmaster-General a question with reference to an interview which appeared in the "Sunday Times" yesterday with Lord Leith of Fyvie. I drew the attention of the Postmaster-General to the matter earlier this afternoon, and I am sorry that I could not give him longer notice. It is not one of those questions of trivial detail, but concerns a charge made against an important official working under the Post Office. I cannot make myself responsible for the statements made, because I know nothing about the facts, but if the statements are untrue they ought to be contradicted at the earliest opportunity. Lord Leith of Fyvie says in the interview:I know of several cases in which Genitalis—men of influence and position—are in Government employment here. There is one extraordinary case in the cable department. Many officers have tried to get this gentleman removed. He has been removed once and put back again, and lie is in the position of receiving and decoding all the most important naval cables. This man and his associates have openly gloried in the defeat of our fleets and our forces.Then he goes on to say:This man was there a week ago. And there are others, he went on, whom he has influenced, One is a Dutchman, who has been in Germany most of his life. Another associate of his is employed at the War Office. I have thought from day to day that these matters would lie corrected, but my man in the cable department is still decoding all important cables.I have said that I cannot make myself responsible for these statements, because I know nothing about the facts, but I do say that if untrue they ought to be contradicted and dealt with. They are made by a Member of the other House, a Scotsman belonging to a nation whose reputation is one for prudence and cautiousness, and therefore, I think, I am justified in quoting them the day after the 1260 interview was published in order that the Postmaster-General may deal with the matter.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I am sure that the j House generally will sympathise with the hon. Gentleman, who I gather has simply availed himself of this opportunity of confirming or repudiating what, if true, would be a very serious state of affairs. I think he will agree, however, that if they were to take notice of all the gossip and slander and misrepresentation which goes on, the Government would have nothing else to do.
§ Mr. THOMAS
On the other hand, the signature to the letter does, I think, warrant action being taken. I join in the congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman on the very bold and comprehensive statement that he has made. One of the most satisfactory aspects of that state-men was his reference to the savings of the working classes. It is, I think, something of which we ought to be proud, seeing there have been so many charges of; drunkenness and other things made against the workers, to find the Postmaster-General, from his place on the Treasury Bench, clearly indicating, although there are large numbers of people who are suffering from the increased cost of living, that the workers, where they are earning good money, are availing themselves of the facilities offered by the Post Office to provide for a rainy day. The House generally will be pleased to I note that statement. I also appreciate his reference to the fact that the Post Office is to be opened, as indeed it ought to be, to every one serving at the front, I and that a definite promise has been given that every man who has volunteered for service will be assured of his job when he returns. That is satisfactory up to a point, but I want to urge upon the Postmaster-General a definite policy in that connection. We can quite conceive that there will be large numbers of postal servants returning partially disabled. The disablement will not be such as to prevent them not being re-employed, but it may be that they will be unable to do the work they were doing prior to enlistment. Naturally, they will be in receipt of some small pension, though certainly not a pension which would enable them to live without work of any kind. I do hope- 1261 that the Postmaster-General will entirely disregard the pension that they receive. They will receive that pension for services already rendered, and if they are capable of doing any job they should receive the rate of pay for that job regardless of their pension. It is most important that principle should be adopted.
I rose primarily to deal with the case of the unattested telegraphists. I understand the difficulty is due entirely to a promise that the late Postmaster-General made, and, like my hon. Friend, I am certainly not desirous that any promise should be broken. On the other hand, I desire to remind the Postmaster-General that when the Compulsory Service Bill was introduced, a definite promise was given by the Cabinet to the whole of the trade unionists of the country that the Bill would be administered fairly, honestly, and regardless of any picking and choosing. The acceptance by the trade unions of that definite promise is to-day responsible for the smooth working of the Act. If the Postmaster-General does not accept the principle which we now urge upon him he will be breaking the promise that was then made. What are the facts? There are 250 unattested telegraphists, and, as has already been pointed out, it is a very curious fact that is the exact number which it is alleged can be released. It is not the business of the Postmaster-General, or any Government official, or any employer of labour to interfere with a man whether he is attested or unattested. That is entirely a question for the man himself, and it is not for any Government Department to pick and choose between one and the other. The Government by attempting to differentiate are creating trouble for themselves. The House generally deplores the difficulty which arises in connection with the conscientious objector, and Members in all quarters would welcome a solution if that could be found. In this case the Government are going deliberately to pick out 250 men who are known to be conscientious objectors, in preference to men who have themselves attested and are willing to go. The Government are not only seeking trouble, but they are deliberately ignoring a solution of this very difficult problem. Looking at it from the military standpoint, it is impossible to suggest that married men of forty are better than single men of twenty-five. If this policy is pursued it 1262 means that probably there will be at least 200 married men taken and an equal number of single men left.
The Postmaster-General can redeem the pledge that he made by saying that, so-far as these men to whom promises were given are concerned the promise shall be carried out, but that with regard to the remainder of the men the method employed will be based entirely upon the ground of sincerity, not interfering in the least whether they are attested or unattested. If that right were conceded you would be entitled to say that you could choose between a trade unionist and a non-trade unionist. That, after all, is a question of a man's opinions, and if employers, whether the Government or others, are allowed to interfere with a man's opinions it would be just as logical to say that they might interfere on the question of trade unionism. That would create a very dangerous situation, and I therefore suggest that the right hon. Gentleman has now an opportunity of dealing with the matter. Do not let the Government create a suspicion that victimisation is going to take place. Do not let them engender a feeling that they are going to pick and choose between prominent trade unionists and others, because included in this number are practically the whole of the officials—the executive—of the union. If the Postmaster-General does pick and choose in this way, an opinion will be created that it is done because of their trade union activity. I do not believe it is the intention of the-Postmaster-General or anyone else to deal with the matter in a punitive spirit. I believe it is due entirely to the difficulties which he himself has explained, and which I frankly admit, but I do beg of him to realise that there is a solution. I emphasise it because at this moment negotiations are taking place with a very large industry. We are in a difficulty in the railway world on this same principle. I do not want to say too much about it at this moment, but if the Government do not themselves set an example we shall have a difficulty with other branches of industry. It is because I want to remove those difficulties and because I want the Act to work smoothly that I ask him to reconsider the decision he has already given.
Mr. CATHCART WASON
My predecessor does not seem to have any particular desire to reduce the salary of my right hon. Friend, nor, indeed, do I, for I 1263 understand that he really has no responsibility for the injustice from which we are suffering. I trust that the facts I put before him will at any rate enable him to bring moral pressure to bear upon the company whose dictatorial attitude is acting most prejudicially towards the country from which they make so much. I would like to remind my right hon. Friend that there are important questions in regard to which his distinguished predecessor, Lord Buxton, for the first time tackled this company and compelled them to carry out fair and reasonable alterations in the mail service for which we were asking. I think, if my right hon. Friend understands exactly what has happened, he will prove very sympathetic in the matter. The trouble is this, that the company which runs the ferry service to Orkney and Shetland has suddenly issued a notice to the effect that "the mail service no longer runs as usual." That is a very high-handed action on the part of the company. I am informed the right hon. Gentleman is not responsible for being unable to bring the company to book, and I can only express a fervent hope that he will use some "efforts to do something in the matter. The facts are these: For many years this mail steamer has been utterly inadequate to carry out the necessary service, and time after time we have been assured that it was only at the gravest personal risk that the service was carried on. The company used to get something over £2,000 for the service. Since the War commenced there has been only about half the work to do, as the steamer does not call at as many places as it formerly did. The consumption of coal is considerably lessened, because the trip only takes from two and a quarter to two and a half hours, instead of four or five hours as in former times.
In these circumstances I think my right hon. Friend will agree that the action of the company, in issuing this notice, was very high-handed and dictatorial. The local authority received no intimation of what was about to occur, the convener of the county, a man who has been doing admirable work for the county since the War commenced, received no notice whatever. I do not complain that the company gave me no notice. Of course, in these days, the Member of Parliament does not expect much respect from anybody. But, naturally, the whole community is up in aims regarding the matter. I put a ques- 1264 tion to my right hon. Friend to-day as to whether he would try and have the service resumed at once, and he told me 'he would consider the matter. Seeing that personal guarantees have been given I think he might bring some pressure to bear on the company to carry on the steamship service until we have had time to look round. There would be nothing further from the wishes or desire of any of my Constituents that they should not bear their fair share of the inconveniences of the times, inconveniences which everybody must necessarily be put to, but I humbly submit that on this occasion they are being asked to make far too large a sacrifice. If more money is wanted, let it be given. I am entirely in sympathy with that idea. I have stated my complaint frankly and freely, and I hope my right hon. Friend will be able to give us some satisfaction.
I pass next to the question of Sunday services. For something like fifteen or sixteen years I have been raising this question in this House. I have always felt it an absolute outrage that in a country like Scotland, with very limited areas, and a limited public, these Sunday services should be carried on. The right hon. Gentleman has stated to-day reasons why the services should be carried on, and has pointed to the expense which would be incurred in abolishing them, an expense which he suggests would not justify his taking that step. But if a little extra Grant in the way of pay would result in a great saving to the whole community, and at the same time do away with an injustice which is felt bitterly in Scotland, surely it is well worth consideration. A number of sub-offices are kept open at various hours on the Sabbath day. The question, to my mind, is a very painful one. I would like to give one instance: A mail cart starts from Ayr Burghs every Sunday morning and travels a distance of 35 miles, passing through numerous villages, at each of which a, sub-postmaster has to be on duty awaiting its arrival. It does a return journey of 35 miles, and again the sub-postmasters have to meet it. In all it covers a distance of 70 miles each Sunday. It is a horse cart, and the service is done exceedingly well, although it might perhaps be better done with a Ford car. At any rate it costs a very large amount of money, and I am sure that in a case of that sort, where a considerable saving might be effected, deserves the consideration of the Postmaster-General. If he could abolish the service without in 1265 any degree prejudicing those to whom he has expressed a very proper desire to do justice, I am sure it would give satisfaction.
There is one other subject to which I should like to call the right hon. Gentleman's attention. He knows a great deal better than I do that a large number of postal deliveries in rural districts are carried on by women and girls, and I hope the number will increase, so as to release men who can be otherwise employed with greater advantage to the country; but the right hon. Gentleman might well consider the question of the wages paid to these women and young girls. He might also seriously consider the weights they are called upon to carry, and whether it is not possible to reduce them. It seems an outrage that the Post Office should lend itself, indirectly and unwittingly, to the breaking up of the business of the village shopkeepers, by carrying large parcels of comestibles sent from great stores at comparatively low rates, and competing very unfairly with the village shopkeeper. I think if wages were improved and weights decreased it would give rise to a feeling that the right hon. Gentleman is doing the best he could for everyone, and certainly the women and young girls would stand a better chance of carrying on the work of the Post Office satisfactorily. I sincerely trust my right hon. Friend will do everything he can with the means and in the time at his disposal to secure an improvement in the mail service to the Orkneys and Shetlands as soon as possible.
§ Mr. JACOBSEN
I think the right hon. Gentleman will be doing a very great injustice if he is going to assume that the married men who did not attest were unpatriotic. He should remember that the Government at that time had not introduced their scheme, and a very large number of married men felt that they were not justified in undertaking the responsibility of attesting. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will treat all of these men equally, for that is all that he is asked to do. I wish to call attention to the sale of stationery by the Post Office. Here we have a good example of how one Government Department nullifies the desires of another Government Department. The Board of Trade has issued instructions that in order to release as much tonnage as possible the import of paper-making material shall be severely curtailed, and we are asked to use all kinds of economies.
1266 The trade have accepted that view, and we have educated the people of the country in the use of very thin envelopes, so that the material available may go as far as possible. But the Post Office continues to make envelopes two or three times as heavy as is necessary, and, worse than that, it is selling them to the public very much under cost price to-day, thereby inflicting a very great injustice on small shopkeepers who largely depend on the sale of stationery.
§ Sir G. TOULMIN
I am sorry I was not here to listen to the speech of the Postmaster-General. I do not know whether he referred at all to the curtailment of the public service which has been rendered necessary by the depletion of the staff at his disposal. I do not know also whether he referred to the possibility of further curtailment. But I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman to take into consideration very carefully indeed the needs of industrial communities, when he is making these curtailments. I am quite aware that the only way in which these economies can be effected, and the hours during which the servants of the Post Office work reduced, is by shortening the hours during which Post Offices are open, but I have been informed from Bury that inconvenience is being caused to the working classes by the closing of the offices between noon and 1.30 p.m. and again at 7 p.m. for the rest of the day. Many people are now working much longer hours than formerly, and they are subjected to great inconvenience by being unable to get postal orders cashed, and to transact other business at the Post Office which they desire to carry through. I would like the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether on, at any rate, one day a week this convenience cannot be secured at district offices in outlying districts. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman would be willing to fall in with the proposal, but on the days when the town half-holiday is taken recompense might be provided for the sub-postmasters and mistresses in these outlying districts, by enabling them to take a half-holiday simultaneously with the town half-holiday.
There is less objection to diminishing the Sunday services, and in that matter I have a certain amount of sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland, but I really do not know why the hon. Gentleman should have advertised the Ford car, or why he should 1267 have advised the Postmaster-General to use it. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman needs any encouraging in adopting new methods for the transmission of mails. As far as my observation goes, he has not been unenterprising in that respect, and he has certainly secured an improvement in the large number of postal services in the manufacturing and industrial districts. There is one point which I shall look at with special interest in the statement of the right hon. Gentleman and that is where he refers to the savings of the working classes. There is a section of the working classes which is doing its duty admirably in this matter, and I believe the Post Office affords them a convenient method for storing up their savings and yet keeping them reasonably handy. In the Post Office they are readily accessible, and yet they are safe from those casual emergencies which, in the working-class households, have a great tendency to eat up the savings if they are immediately available. One point upon which I should like to have some information, which possibly may not be available at the present moment, is with regard to what has been the effect of the abolition of the limit as to the amount which can be put into the Post Office Savings Bank. I believe that the limit used to be £50 in any one year and a total of £200. That always seemed to be an arbitrary limit. I do not know under what conditions it was imposed, but if after the War the question should arise of considering whether the limit should be reimposed the whole question ought to be gone into and we ought to consider it in a broad manner, looking particularly to the public interest as to whether there is any necessity for the imposition of this limit. The main question upon this is the amount of interest that is paid. If the conveniences supplied by the Post Office are such as to commend themselves to persons with money to invest, I do not see why a limit should be imposed. At all events, it is time the question should be reargued and reconsidered. During the emergency of the War, when money has been wanted, the Post Office has performed a public service in advertising and receiving War savings and supplying War Saving Certificates and Exchequer Bonds. Those are also very useful services. I believe they have removed from the mind of the public the idea of commissions, and so on, being received by outside 1268 parties. Persons who make use of the Post Office have the idea that the Government gets the whole of their money and the whole of the benefit which they desire to afford to the Government by entrusting them with their savings. I am quite sure that the Committee will look on all such enterprises on the part of the Postmaster-General with a fayourable eye.
§ Mr. WATT
I should like to congratulate the Postmaster-General upon the great success of his Department during this year of crisis, and also upon the lucid manner in which he explained the intricacies of his Department. Reference was made to the charge recently instituted for local calls on the telephone. The Post master-General indicated that it was a failure, that it had brought in less money and that it had been troublesome, but he did not indicate whether it was to be abandoned at once or whether the system now in vogue was to continue until the end of the War. If it has proved a failure as regards money it would be wise instanter, without waiting for the termination of the War, to go back on the former charge. The right hon. Gentleman made reference to the Marconi contract. On reading the statement made by the chairman of the company during last week, I thought that the Post Office did not come out at all satisfactorily. I know, of course, that my right hon. Friend the present Postmaster-General was not responsible for that contract. Indeed, there have been so many changes in the Post Office during the last eighteen months that it would be difficult to spot who was responsible for any particular transaction. The position indicated by the chairman of the company was that the contract had been fixed, that the Post Office called off the contract and asked the Marconi Company to cancel it; that after considerable dubiety the company agreed to cancel it, but that that was no sooner intimated to the Post Office than the Post Office asked them to reinstitute the contract and that it should become a binding contract. If these are the facts it is a most unbusinesslike transaction for the Post Office to go about first asking that the contract should be cancelled and no sooner attaining their object with difficulty than—
§ Mr. PEASE
The hon. Member makes a mistake. I am afraid I could not have made it quite clear. What happened was that the Post Office thought that the Marconi Company desired, with them- 1269 selves, to have that contract so modified that they would acquiesce in the cancelling of the contract. On 30th December, 1914, notice was given cancelling it, but that was not accepted by the Marconi Company. When the Postmaster-General found that the Marconi Company was not prepared to accept it, he then asked them to go on with the contract, and it was left with the Marconi Company to say whether or not they would be prepared to go on with it.
§ Mr. WATT
I am very glad to have that explanation from the right hon. Gentleman because I was desirous that a contradiction should be given to the statements made by the chairman of the Marconi Company. Many people, like myself, on reading that statement, took the view that the Postmaster-General had been very slack in the handling of the matter. Another question with which I desire to deal is that of underground lines, which has been a grievance for many years in Scotland. The Postmaster-General intimated that he seeks to make arrangements for large contracts in regard to underground lines in many large towns in England, but he made no reference to Scotland. There is more necessity for these lines in the Northern parts of the Kingdom than there is in some of the Southern parts, because the storms in the Northern parts are much greater. The particular storm to which he referred certainly did pass over England and did not pass over Scotland; but, generally speaking, there is a much greater destruction of the telegraph poles in Scotland than in England, following upon which there is a greater call for underground lines. I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman is making arrangements for large underground contracts he will not overlook the fact that for many years we have been calling out for such lines.
The last point to which I desire to call the attention of the Assistant-Postmaster-General, who, I understand, is to reply, is that of the appointment of sub-postmasters. In the large cities of Scotland we have had a grievance for a long time that sub-postmasterships never went to the postmen who served in those particular offices. The right hon. Gentleman seems to be of opinion that the best men to fill such posts are men taken from smaller districts. This constitutes a grievance for the cities, at any rate in my part of the world, because the large offices are not called 1270 upon to fill these posts. Advancement in the large cities is very slow. Application after application is sent in by postmen in cities like Glasgow and Edinburgh, but they fail to get sub-postmasterships, which are going in nearly every instance to postmen from smaller rural districts. The postmen in my Constituency consider that that is a great grievance and think that they ought to get a fair proportion of the sub-postmasterships. They are under the impression that they do not get that proportion. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to assure me that these men will have consideration given to them, and that he will institute a system of giving sub-postmasterships in proportion to the various offices—that is to say, that if half the postmen are employed in the large cities in Scotland, one half of the sub-postmasterships should go to those men.
My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon (Mr. Malcolm) spoke, I understand, about the High-Speed Telegraph Committee. I was not here when he spoke and am not sure whether he mentioned one or two matters in connection with it. I would like to ask one or two questions as to that Committee, which was appointed recently by the Postmaster-General to decide upon the best method of improving British arrangements with regard to machine telegraphy. I understand it has made its Report. I should like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman will make that Report public and tell us something about it to-day. I should like to know whether the Report recommends that an order for these new instruments should be placed with an American firm in Chicago, and would ask the Postmaster-General to give an undertaking that he will not do this during the War, unless there is some very urgent necessity for it. This is a new industry. I understand that the Committee took the evidence of inventors and investigated the various systems. Besides the American one, there are three English firms of highs-peed machine manufacturers, namely, Messrs. Creed, Bille and Company, of Croydon, Mr. Donald Murray, and Mr. H. H. Harrison. The high-speed telegraph: system is a new industry, not only in America but also in this country, and it must be of great importance after the-War is over. My object in calling attention to the matter is in order to conserve this new industry for ourselves after the War. The telegraphic industry and the engineering industries generally of this 1271 country will have a great deal of difficulty in reinstating themselves after the War. I understand that these three English systems are quite as good and, I believe, better in many respects than the American system. The apparatus is unquestionably better than that made by the Western Company of Chicago; it is better designed and better made, and the cost of maintenance is much less. I understand there is no appreciable difference in price if you take quality into consideration, and the superior excellence of the working performance of the machine would alone justify the Post Office in paying, if necessary, a little extra. Being a new industry, there is a promise of its being able after the War to supply foreign Governments with this machine. When once a system of telegraphy is installed it is very difficult to part with it. It has to be extended from time to time, and they will have to go to America, and the new industry in this country would be to a great extent shut out from a business which promises to be so useful to this country. The difficulty is this: I 'have no doubt the Post Office would order these machines from one of the three British companies, or perhaps from all three. The difficulty is that, having patriotically given up the working of their business for the purpose of making munitions of war and become controlled firms, they have not the staff and cannot at present, unless they give up their munition work, make these machines for the Post Office. If some arrangement could be made with the Ministry of Munitions by which this £15,000 worth, or something like that, of machines could be made by these people, great benefit to the industry would ensue, and you would keep a new industry in the country which would develop to a very great extent after the War.
I am at a loss to think that the matter can be so urgent that it must be put in force at once. Cannot the right hon. Gentleman say it can be postponed till after the War? I understand that the raising of the price of telegrams to 9d. has lightened the work of the telegraphs very much, and also telephones are very much used for the relief of the telegraph lines, and if they can only postpone it until the end of the War the English companies could do it without interfering in any way with munitions. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider whether 1272 or not it is advisable, if it is urgent, to make some arrangement with the Minister of Munitions by which these new telegraph machines could be made in this country by our own people, and the industry thus preserved? It has a fair chance to beat the American article in the open market for quality and price, but it will not be able to do it after the War when it begins business afresh, if in the meantime the English Government has given an order for these goods to America. These inventors naturally are particularly anxious to sec the Report of the Committee so that they may not be kept in the dark as to why this Committee, or the Postmaster-General, has determined to prefer the American invention to the English invention or to prefer the price of the American to the English article, or has decided simply on the ground of the urgency of the matter, if it is urgent. If the right hon. Gentleman is going to say it is urgent, perhaps he will give us some reason why it is urgent. I have given my reason for saying I fail to sec at the moment why the raising in the price of telegrams has not relieved the pressure. Of course it is an important thing that the Government should have this apparatus as soon as possible, but is it so urgent that you will sacrifice a British industry, or is it so urgent that some arrangement cannot be made with the Ministry of Munitions It is no use to say that the Western Company of Chicago has got a branch here and can make the goods here, because if it has machinery for making this telegraphic apparatus it is clear that it can make shells and munitions of war, and there is no reason why it should not be put on to make them and let other engineering companies make the electrical apparatus. I throw that out as a suggestion.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I suggest that the Postmaster-General's salary should be reduced by the whole amount. When it is proposed to reduce it by £100 or some similar sum he is apt to take very little notice of you when he draws so much, but if you suggest taking it all away that may make up for the shortness of the speech that I want to make. I want to raise the question of the temporary war workers and their wages and conditions in the General Post Office at Edinburgh. I raised this point some time ago, and as a result my right hon. Friend investigated the conditions for himself on the 1273 spot, and made certain recommendations with regard to payment which, so far as the nominal wage paid to these workers is concerned, certainly increased it, but only by the addition of three hours overtime in a week, for which I think the recommendation was that they should get an extra 2s., or 8d. an hour. These workers, who are, I think, entirely women workers, were in receipt of a weekly wage of 21s., and since the War broke out an addition of Is. 6d. has been made in the nature of a war bonus. The bulk of the postal employes take their meals in the Post Office, and there, as everywhere, the price of the meals has risen to such an extent that it practically absorbs the war bonus, and so far as wages are concerned, they are no better off. If we consider the value of the sovereign now as compared with the outbreak of War we know how much it has decreased, and I think it is absolutely impossible for these temporary war-workers to subsist on the 21s. a week, which is their minimum wage. I believe the Postmaster-General suggests that they can rise to a maximum of 24s., but in the statement which he submitted to me he gave no indication of how long it would take for these temporary war-workers to reach the maximum. If he will compare the wages given in other Government Departments for temporary war-work ho will find that they compare favourably with the amount that he gives in Edinburgh. He will find that for that type of work a very much better wage is paid, and I want to submit quite squarely that the 21 s. which is paid now is not enough for the conditions under which these temporary women clerks must live at the present time. Many of them are girls who have to maintain their own home, and must live in rooms. If you consider the rent which has to be paid for lodgings and the price which has to be paid for food and the decline in the value of the sovereign, it is perfectly obvious that the Postmaster-General ought to consider the claim of these women favourably. I have no doubt he will take it into his consideration again, and I am not complaining that I have not got an answer to his second consideration, but I am only raising it because this is the most favourable opportunity.
There is one other point which perhaps we can have a reply to. Like my hon. Friend (Mr. Watt), I, too, was somewhat concerned with the position of the Marconi contract. It has a history with 1274 which we are all familiar, and this House got into trouble before over it. My right hon. Friend suggested that if the Marconi Company agreed to the offer which he had made to them now with regard to the erection of four stations, the cost of that would require to be borne by the Government, obviously, of course. It was that phrase that rather suggested to me making this remark. How will that come before the House of Commons? Will it come in a separate form so that there is no chance of our missing it—no chance, as it were, of its going through the House without attention being directed to it? I should suggest a Money Resolution of some kind moved by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in order to raise the money. It might be taken out of one of the very many Votes of Credit, or perhaps the Postmaster-General thinks that his own finance would finance that transaction. Of course, if he thinks that, the money might be paid without reference to the House of Commons. I am very anxious that, after all the trouble we have had over the Marconi contract, we should have no more trouble over it. I am not suggesting that there is anything wrong or anything that needs to be criticised, but only that the Postmaster-General should undertake that if this offer of his matures so that it requires a fresh expenditure of public money, he will bring it before the attention of the House in such a way that we cannot miss it.
§ Mr. KEATING
I wish to draw attention to one or two matters affecting Ireland. I am informed that there is delay in the postage of letters from America to Ireland, in some cases of not less than fourteen or fifteen days above the usual length of time. I should like the Postmaster-General to inquire into it. I cannot expect a reply on the spur of the moment. I shall be quite satisfied by drawing his attention to it and asking him to inquire why this delay exists, because it involves a great deal of difficulty in the trade between America and Ireland. I have drawn his attention several times to the case of Thomastown, a very important place in my Constituency. One division of that district is a little place called Inistiogue, The House of Commons is not much interested in Inistiogue, but I am very much interested in it, because I represent the business men of that locality, who constitute a very important section of my Constituency. Why has the Postmaster 1275 General refused to consider the case of these men, who have appealed strongly against the regulation which has resulted in their being deprived of the usual facilities for the delivery of letters in that locality and for the dispatch of letters from that locality to London. The merchants and traders of that place are entirely cut off from the facilities of the market days by the regulation which has been imposed upon them by the Post Office. I do not wish to attack the Post Office in any way, because I am sure that the Post Office has done nothing consciously to inflict an injustice on these men. The officials of the Post Office in Ireland have always been courteous, fair and just, but I think in this case they have overlooked the real interests of the merchants and traders of Inistiogue. I would seriously call the attention of the Postmaster-General to this case, and ask him to inquire into it.
§ Colonel YATE
I should be glad if the Postmaster-General could tell me whether any steps have been taken to give hon. Members who reside in the Western district the benefit of the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Debates of this House by the early morning post. At the present time in Kensington we receive our Report of the Debates at the earliest by one o'clock, but generally at five o'clock on the next evening following the day of the Debate. In the next street to me, which is in the South-Western district, the OFFICIAL REPORT is delivered by the morning post. I should like to know if the right hon. Gentleman could give us any reason for this, and if he can possibly alter this state of things so as to give those of us who reside in the Western district the benefit of the early morning delivery?
I was detained through business from attending the House earlier, therefore I did not hear the observations of the Mover of this Amendment, but I know what his grounds were, and I desire very respectfully to associate myself with them. It seems to me that if you have got a considerable body of expert telegraphists in the employ of the Post Office, it is a mistake to take these men away and simply incorporate them as general privates in the Army. If they cannot be made use of in order to give the benefit of their specially skilled service to the Army, it seems to 1276 me that they would be far better used if the right hon Gentleman retained them in the Post Office, and let others go who would be just as useful for Army purposes without depriving the Post Office of the specially skilled service which these men have spent years in attaining, and which they carry out with such signal success.
The ASSISTANT POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Mr. Pike Pease)
The hon. Member for Croydon (Mr. Malcolm) paid tributes to the Postmaster-General and to the Post Office generally for the work which has been done during the last financial year. My right hon. Friend referred to the fact that he had been to France and had had an opportunity of seeing some of the work done there. I also have had a similar opportunity during the last financial year. I have had an opportunity of going to Boulogne, Rouen, Havre, and the railway heads of the various places, and I should like to inform the Committee that, having seen many generals during that visit, I did not hear anything but high praise for the work which had been done by the Post Office staff. When we think that we have sent 500,000,000 of parcels and letters to the war area in France alone, it can easily be imagined the amount of work that has been done. My right hon. Friend also referred to the excellence of the work, and he mentioned the fact that a very large number of our staff in France have received signal honours. I think the Committee would like to know what they are. We have received one V.C., one C.B., five D.S.O.'s, one C.M.G., and a great many other Orders, including Russian and French distinctions and Military Medals, which have given great satisfaction to those employed in the Post Office at home. I very much regret to say that we have lost a very large number of men in this war. Reference has been made to the splendid response which was made to the appeal by my right hon. Friend who is now at the Home Office (Mr. H. Samuel). The number of men we have lost is very large. The number of men killed in action appearing on the Roll of Honour at the Post Office is: 1914, 460; 1915, 1,272; 1916 up to the 30th of June, 422 and 72—making a total of 2,226. I am sure that the full sympathy of this Committee will go out to the relatives and friends of those whose loss we so deeply deplore.
The hon. Member for Croydon, in the first instance, referred to the question of the post to Mesopotamia. That 1277 is a question which is very easy to answer, but it is very difficult to explain exactly how long it takes for letters to get to that part of the world. My right hon. Friend referred to the difficulty of the Gallipoli post. As most hon. Members know, that post had to be sent to Egypt, then to Mudros, then on to Gallipoli. The post to Mesopotamia is much more complicated. We depend, to a great extent, on the amount of transport maintained. The irregularity of transport beyond the Persian Gulf port is very great, and it is impossible to give any pledge as to the time taken and the delivery of letters and parcels there. Of course we are as anxious as anyone to deliver these parcels and letters, which are so greatly needed, in the shortest possible time. Reference has also been made to the question of high-speed telegraphy. That is, at present, in a very experimental stage, and the amount of money which has been spent by the Post Office is a comparatively small sum—some few thousands of pounds. This money would not have been spent in America during this year if it had been possible to obtain the apparatus in this country, but it was not possible. The suggestion which has been made by the hon. Member (Mr. Denniss) as to whether a change can take place in this respect can be considered. I can give a pledge that the question of high-speed telegraphy after the War will not be influenced by the present position. The whole question will be considered after the War, under the conditions which arise at that time. In regard to the Report, I cannot say definitely at the moment whether it will be published or not, but the matter is now under consideration.
Is it intended to give this contract to the American people for this high-speed telegraphic apparatus?
§ Mr. PEASE
The position which I have stated is that the amount of money which has been spent up to the present 1278 time is a comparatively small sum; it is money which we have, spent because the men who were making this particular apparatus in this country are working on munitions. When the War is over the whole question will be considered. I cannot say anything more than that. In regard to the question which was raised by the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. E. Harvey), I should like to mention that the telegram which was read by the Postmaster-General was not exactly an anonymous telegram, because he has received a letter in reference to it bearing a hundred signatures. This arrived during his speech and he had not then the signatures before him. The whole question is a somewhat difficult one, but I think that the statement which has been made by my right hon. Friend is clear, and that is that the attested men should have the advantage. However, he is quite willing to consider the whole question again with the War Office, and he hopes that he will satisfy my hon. Friend in reference to it. A question was also raised by the hon. Member for Leeds in regard to learners in the Post Office. He referred to the apprenticeship class. Boys are recruited at sixteen and a half years and girls at fifteen and three-quarter years and sixteen and a half years. They are guaranteed permanent appointments within two years, but if a permanent appointment is not available for them at the age of eighteen they receive the minimum adult pay of the telegraphist class. They usually receive appointments as soon as they are qualified for the work, but recently, owing to the number of learners having been temporarily increased, there has been an interval of time before they receive their appointments. We much regret that, but it does not exceed a few months from the time they are competent to th3 time they receive permanent appointment or the minimum adult pay of the telegraphist class. In some cases during this interval they have been employed in full duties, and it is in regard to these cases that the question of pay arises in acute form. It was laid down in 1905 that the pay of learners should cover full attendance for eight hours, whether for learning or work, and this was endorsed by the Holt Committee in their Report. This question of the interval of time is regretted by the Post Office, and I can only say that the matter is under our consideration. It will be impossible to prevent there being delay at the present time, but 1279 I think the conditions which arise now are not the ordinary conditions of employment.
The hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone mentioned a paragraph which appeared in the Press the other day in regard to a statement of Lord Leith of Fyvie as regards Germans in the cable department of the Post Office. There are no unnaturalised people in that Department, and I may say that we have no doubt in regard to anyone who is employed there.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
Will the hon. Member deal with the statement of Lord Leith of Fyvie that many officers had made representations. I think the word "German" was probably used by Lord Leith of Fyvie in a general sort of way, but he said that many representations have been made by officers.
§ Mr. PEASE
I will be only too delighted to inquire into this question. I have never heard it mentioned before today, but if my hon. Friend, who did me the honour to speak to me privately before he mentioned the matter in the House, will give me any information I shall be only too glad to make the necessary inquiries.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
As I have no information myself on this matter, I could not take any responsibility, but the statement was made by a responsible Member of the other House, and I would suggest that the Postmaster-General should take it up with the Noble Lord.
§ Mr. PEASE
If we can have any basis disclosing sufficient ground, the Postmaster-General will be only too pleased to inquire into it. The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) referred to the unattested men as 250 conscientious objectors. I think he must be mistaken in regard to that. This is the first time that I have heard the statement made that these men were conscientious objectors. If they are, of course their proper plan is to go before the tribunal who will deal with the matter. In any case the Postmaster-General is bound by the pledge made by his predecessor that he ought to give, if possible, the privilege to those men who have attested.
§ Mr. PEASE
I have not heard of one. I do not know whether there are any or not. In regard to the contract referred to by 1280 the hon. Member for the Orkney and Shetland Islands (Mr. Cathcart Wason) the position is this. In October, 1915, the North of Scotland, Orkney and Shetland Navigation Company gave' notice that in consequence of serious loss of revenue and increase in expenses, the service would be reduced from six days to three days a week, unless the Post Office made a substantial increase in the remuneration of £2,000 a year provided in the contract. They were induced to defer the question, and on the 12th May, 1916, they wrote stating definitely that they proposed to reduce the service on the 1st June. But in order to afford the Admiralty an opportunity of reviewing the matter, the reduction in the service was postponed until the 31st July. That is the position in which the Post Office is placed. As the hon. Member knows, there have been considerable difficulties in regard to-these facilities, and, generally speaking, the Post Office has had to contend with considerable difficulties in regard to shipping. The hon. Gentleman referred just now to the difficulty with regard to the mail delivery from America. The answer to that is comparatively simple, because there is not the same class of ships carrying mails to America, and there is now a censorship of letters which was not experienced before the War, and this accounts to a very considerable extent for the extra time which is taken by the mails to be delivered in this country. I quite realise the view of the hon. Member for the Orkney and Shetland Islands. A Member for a constituency of that kind is perhaps placed in a somewhat different position from that of an ordinary Member, and I am sure that I personally, and also my right hon. Friend, will be only too glad to give any help we could in regard to this particular matter. The Post Office has, of course, to take into account the extra expenses which this country has to meet at the present time, but if the hon. Member will confer with me, I shall be only too-pleased to talk the matter over with him.
The hon. Member for the Hyde Division raised the question of the price of Post Office stationery in a question which I answered the other day. It appears to me that the position is somewhat as follows: The Post Office supply stationery at a comparatively cheap rate, and there are many dealers in this country who consider that the Post Office have no right to supply this stationery at the rate at which it is supplied 1281 at the present time. They say that other people buy their stationery from the Post Office, and resell it. I was under the impression that that would be impossible, because no man would be likely to go into a shop and buy at an enhanced price the stationery which he could obtain at a lower price than the Post Office. But it appears that this is done by mixing different kinds of stationtry, and some of the stationery which is sold would be Post Office stationery, mixed with stationery obtained from other sources, and the whole sold at a lower price than that at which it could be provided by the ordinary stationer. I can only say that my right hon. Friend is considering the whole matter of stationery, and hopes to come to a satisfactory arrangement in reference to this matter.
The hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Watt) mentioned the question of the Marconi contract. I think that the statement made by the Postmaster-General to-day has been very full, and I cannot add anything in regard to it except this. The contract and the resolutions which have been mentioned will come before the House of Commons for ratification in the ordinary way. The House of Commons will then have the opportunity of expressing its opinion in regard to the matter; that is, in the event of an agreement being arrived at. In regard to underground lines, we fully realise the importance of laying these underground lines, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend did not intend for a moment to suggest that these lines should be only laid in England, but that Scotland also should have the opportunity of enjoying their advantage, if it were possible to arrange it. But I am not at all certain about the date on which the work will be undertaken. My hon. Friend mentioned the question of postmasterships. I have been in the Post Office only for about a year, but I have had an opportunity on many occasions of seeing the appointment to various postmasterships, and I should very much doubt if there is any business firm in the world that takes more trouble about arrangements in this respect than the Post Office in London. The greatest care is taken to find the best men possible, and anyone with an impartial mind will agree that the postmasters selected are a particularly good class, and do credit to the system which has been in operation.
§ Mr. PEASE
As the hon. Member probably knows, there is a statement made in the Post Office Circular in regard to any postmastership which is vacant, and then anyone in the service can have an opportunity of making application. Each application is taken entirely on its merits. The Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) referred to the payment of temporary women in that office. I do not know whether the hon. Member had any particular class in mind, but I find that so far as telegraphists are concerned, the wages for fully efficient women would be 31s. 6d. The wages of post-women would be 23s. 6d. per week. These I acknowledge may be comparatively low wages in comparison with what are paid in some of the munitions works to-day. But, compared with the wages that are paid for like employment in other concerns, hon. Members will find that these are not low wages. In any case, I will mention the matter to the Postmaster-General for consideration. The hon. Member for Leicestershire (Colonel Yate) mentioned the question of the OFFICIAL REPORT in London. I am quite aware that he mentioned that before, and that there have been difficulties in regard to the delivery. We do all we can to get delivery of the OFFICIAL REPORT in order that Members may have the opportunity of reading their own speeches as soon as possible after delivery. But the difficulty with regard to all Post Office matters at the present time are very great. The reason is simple. It is because we have had to send to the front about 60,000 men who have large experience on our established staff, and in many cases we have had to put in their place those who have had very little experience. It is quite impossible for any business firm to hope that they can be able to obtain the same efficiency from a temporary staff as from their experienced staff who have been accustomed to the work. I am very grateful to the Committee that my work this evening is somewhat light, as there have not been any very violent criticisms. I thank hon. Members for the expressions they have used in regard to the work done by the Post Office staff during last year, and for their appreciation of the speech delivered by my right hon. Friend. I will conclude by saying that I hope that when next we meet to discuss the Post Office Estimates we shall be enjoying the priceless blessings of peace.
§ Mr. KEATING
Have you made a note of the question which I raised? Kilkenny, I suppose, does not deserve any attention, but I assure you that it may be worth your while to attend to it.
I regret that my right hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General has not been able to go further in the way of meeting the grievance put by the hon. Member for Derby and myself and others, but I accept with gratitude the assurance that he is going into the matter, and that the Postmaster-General is going again into the position of the unattested telegraphists, and is going to raise the whole question again with the War Office. I very much hope that he will deal with this very difficult subject with the same kindly good nature that he has shown in dealing with all the difficult questions that have been brought before the Committee this afternoon, and that he may be able to make some arrangement with the War Office by which age and efficiency would be considered, and a just basis established in dealing with those men who are called up. In the hope that that will be achieved as the result of conference, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I want to say in regard to the reply to my questions in regard to temporary war wages, that I do not know where the hon. Gentleman got the figure 22s. 6d., as it is only 2ls. I hope that will be put right. I would not like to persist in my Motion to take away all the salary of the Postmaster-General, but I share the hope of the Assistant Postmaster-General that when the Post Office Estimates are again brought forward, we shall be in the priceless possession of peace. Both of them I am sure the House will agree with that.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported to-morrow; to sit again to-morrow (Tuesday).
§ The remaining Orders read, and postponed.