Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £40,165,287, 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, 1922, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Post Office, including Telegraphs and Telephones."—[Note.—£27,000,000 has been voted on account.]
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ The POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Mr. Kellaway)
When I was contesting my election, as the result of my appointment as Postmaster-General, I said that I did not anticipate, if elected, that in that position I should receive many illuminated addresses. So far I have proved to be a correct prophet. If any have been sent, they have failed to reach me. They may be on their way. I do not suppose that any Postmaster-General has ever had a more difficult, and certainly none could have had a more uncongenial, task than that which falls to my lot this afternoon, because, obviously, it must be in the interests of the Post Office that everything shall be done which can assist and promote the freest possible communication between all classes of the community if we are to aid the development of business. It can be only through the greatest stress of necessity that any Postmaster-General can agree to proposals for raising charges. I realise that, unless the Committee can be satisfied that every other possible alternative has been carefully examined, and that it can be shown that those alternatives would fail to provide the revenue that is needed, I shall fail in my task. I believe that the choice before the Committee is between the meeting of the deficit by a subsidy from the Exchequer or by the method that I have proposed. I realise that, unless I can satisfy the Committee that those are 2106 the alternatives, the Committee will feel that I have failed as Postmaster-General in my main duty. I believe that those are the alternatives, and, in order to show that, I desire to put before the Committee in the fullest and frankest way all the facts which have driven me, and which have driven the Government, to that conclusion, and which are necessary to enable the Committee to come to a decision on the question whether the alternative is between a subsidy from the State on the one hand, and the increased charges on the other.
It will be necessary for me to deal with a considerable number of figures, and I want at the outset to explain that the figures which I shall use are those which are set out in the commercial accounts submitted to the House, and that they differ in several respects from the Exchequer figures which were used by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his statement of last year. The differences between the two are principally these: The commercial accounts include the appropriate charges for interest and depreciation of plant and the value of the services rendered to the Post Office by other Government Departments. On the other side, credit is taken in those accounts for the value of all the services rendered by the Post Office to other Government Departments. That point is one of great importance, because I have seen it stated that the ordinary custom of the Post Office is being penalised owing to the great and expensive services which the Post Office has to render to other Government Departments. There appears in our Post Office accounts £5,800,000 for services rendered to other Government Departments. The revenue for 1920–21 proved disappointing. In round figures the income was £58,200,000 and the expenditure £65,500,000. There was a deficit on last year's working of the Post Office of £7,300,000. It was not expected that the accounts for last year would balance. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House (Mr. Chamberlain), as Chancellor of the Exchequer, said in April last year that the increased charges which he then indicated would not be imposed until after the Madrid International Convention, and that therefore the benefit of those increased charges would not be felt in last year's accounts. That to some extent accounts for the deficit of £7,300,000, but, apart from that fact, the 2107 revenue also suffered from the postponement of the increased telephone charges to 1st April of this year. No revenue was derived last year from the increased telephone charges.
Another factor was the depression in trade. No revenue is more sensitive to depression in trade than the Post Office revenue. When the Estimates were first made up for last year, trade was booming, and there was reason to suppose that the normal increase in revenue would be realised. During the last months of the year we experienced a great industrial slump, and that immediately expressed itself in a falling-off in Post Office revenue. This experience was not peculiar to this country. The Post Office of the United States of America showed a deficit of $11,500,000 in 1920. The Post Office of France, in 1919, the last year for which we have the figures, showed a deficit of 582,000,000 francs. The Post Office of Germany, in 1920, showed a deficit of 3,000,000,000 marks, and the Italian Post Office, for the year 1920–21, is expected to show a deficit of 350,000,000 lire. It has therefore been a world-wide experience, and not peculiar to this country.
I now come to the Estimates for the current year. We estimate for an expenditure of £70,000,000 and for a revenue on present charges of £66,500,000, leaving a deficit of £3,500,000. I have seen it stated that this is the result of gross carelessness or error on the part of the Post Office officials, that there has been bad estimating, and that they have proved to be £3,500,000 out in their Estimate. That is not the fact. The estimated expenditure was £70,000,000, and I have no reason to believe that it will not prove to be accurate. Last year there was a deficit of over £7,000,000; this year there is a deficit of £3,500,000. How is that deficit this year to be met? I come at once to what I know is in the minds of the Committee—the question of the new charges. A good deal of comment has been made, as if these new charges were by a new Postmaster-General out of an old bureaucracy. They are nothing of the kind. The principal increased charges were announced last year, when my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House made his Budget statement. I will quote what was then said: 2108Charges for postcards and printed papers will also be raised.The Committee will remember that these are the two increases round which most of the controversy has ranged.The inland rates for these cannot be put up until the foreign rate is increased, and the foreign rate depends upon the decision of the International Congress which meets at Madrid in the autumn. We propose, however, to take power now to increase the charge for postcards to 1½d., and for printed papers proportionately, but not to bring these changes into force until after the Conference."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th April, 1920; col. 82, Vol. 128.]That was in April of last year. I submit, therefore, that it cannot be said with any semblance of accuracy that these are sudden increases, made with complete indifference to the authority of the House of Commons, and so rapidly that traders have been unable to make their arrangements. Whatever else may be said about the present Postmaster-General—and he has been surveyed from a good many angles during the past week—I hope that this at least is true, that he is a good House of Commons man, and certainly I should have taken no part in connection with these increased charges if it could with any semblance of truth be said that we have gone behind the authority of the House. Not only was that announcement made in the most specific terms by the Leader of the House, but the House proceeded to pass an Act of Parliament, the Post and Telegraph Act, without a Division on either its Second or Third Reading, and, after considerable discussion on both these charges in Committee. I therefore submit that, so far as that part of the case is concerned, I have established that it is untrue to say that full notice was not given of these charges, or that there was any attempt on the part of the Executive to go behind the authority of the House. The Authority of the House has been given to these charges in the Act of Parliament to which I have referred, and which was passed both as to its Second and Third Readings without a Division.
Now as to the charges themselves. The 2d. letter remains untouched. The 2d. letter is the great reservoir of revenue in the Post Office. I have seen it stated that we are proposing increases in postal charges at a time when the postal services themselves are making handsome surpluses. It is true that on the postal services as a whole—letters, postcards, printed matter, parcels, and so on—there 2109 was a surplus on last year's working of £900,000, but that surplus was not made on postcards; it was not made on printed papers. The surplus was made on the 2d. letter. On the postcards and the printed papers there was a substantial loss, as I will show when I refer to those particular increased charges. Letters for the British Empire and the United States of America, which are now charged 2d. for the first ounce, will remain at 2d. for the first ounce, but there will be an additional charge of 1½d., instead of 1d. as at present, for each additional ounce. Letters to the United States have for a great number of years received the same rate as the Imperial post. The Committee will see that as far as letters within the Empire are concerned, the first charge will remain untouched.
I come now to letters going to foreign countries. The present rate is 2½d. for the first ounce. We propose to increase it to 3d. for the first ounce. The present charge for each additional ounce is 1½d. We do not propose to make any change in regard to the additional ounce. The charge on foreign postcards will go up from 1d. to 1½d. There will be an increased charge on foreign parcels. The increase in the British credit for foreign parcels will be from 10d. to 1s. 6d. I may explain to the Committee that the charge for a foreign parcel is made up of three elements. There is the British credit, the credit for the services rendered by the British Post Office; there is the out-payment for sea transit, and there is the out-payment for transit and terminal administration in the country where the parcels are delivered.
The next item is the one on which most public attention has been concentrated in connection with these increases, and it was the one which from the first caused me the most anxiety. That anxiety arose from my experience in the Department of Overseas Trade, where I learned that the most effective form of propaganda, the most simple and plastic form of propaganda, on behalf of British industry is that which is done by the British technical and trade journals. The most effective form of propaganda on behalf of the British spirit abroad, distinguishing here between British industry and British spirit, is done by the British newspapers which go abroad. It was with the greatest reluctance that I found myself faced 2110 with this proposal to increase the charge for printed papers, which covers both the technical journals and the newspapers going to foreign countries and the Dominions. I have received from some of the most influential commercial organisations in this country very powerful representations that, in their judgment, the effect of this increase would be seriously to hamper our propaganda overseas, in comparison with the United States and Germany in particular, and I am bound to say that I felt the force of that.
I submitted this consideration to my right hon. Friend (Mr. Chamberlain) and other Members of the Cabinet, and as a result of our conference it was decided that, as far as this proposal is concerned, it should be dropped. We do not, therefore, propose to increase the rate which is now levied on foreign printed papers. I must say that on purely financial grounds I should have preferred that this had been dealt with in some other way, but it has become a question of a balance of advantages. And as at this moment the supreme interest of this country is the recovery of its foreign and colonial markets, and the strengthening of its position in those markets, I have thought that we ought not to allow what might be described as financial pedantry to stand in the way. We have therefore decided to make that change in our proposals. I am glad to say that I hope the dropping of that sum of £300,000 will not seriously jeopardise the prospect of balancing our accounts at the end of the year. We have provided for rather more than the loss of £3,500,000 on the year's working, and I hope it will be possible to make that change, which I am glad to find is approved by the Committee, without calling on the Exchequer for a subsidy at the end of the year.
I have now disposed of the increases in regard to the foreign post, and I come to the two principal increases in the home post, namely, inland printed papers and inland postcards. As to printed papers, that is, circulars and similar printed matter which is sent through the post by commercial houses, every one of these costs the Post Office 1¼d., and there is a loss on the printed paper post to-day of £2,400,000. That is a very serious thing, and I do not think that we stand in such a financial position 2111 to-day that we are justified in asking the general body of the taxpayers of the country to find that £2,400,000, but that we are justified in asking the users of the post to make up some part of that great deficit. We therefore propose to raise the rate for printed papers from ½d. for the first ounce to 1d. minimum per two ounces, with ½d. for each additional two ounces. The proposed rate will therefore be 1d. for the first two ounces and a ½d. for each additional two ounces. That represents½d. on circulars not exceeding one ounce, but no additional charge on the higher rates. We estimate to secure by that increased charge an increased revenue of £1,000,000, after having allowed for a reduction in the numbers sent by 25 per cent.
The next point is the inland postcard. Each postcard carried through the post to-day is carried at a loss. The cost of carrying a postcard is over 1d. I do not think it is sufficiently realised by those who criticise these proposals that the cost of handling a postcard, and sending it through the post is very nearly as great as the cost of handling a letter, and sending it through the post. That is the explanation of the reason why we made such a large profit on the 2d. letter post. There is unquestionably a very large surplus there, but the cost of the postcard to-day is over 1d. In those circumstances, I think the same considerations apply as apply to printed papers, that we are not justified, in the position in which the country stands, in asking the general body of the taxpayers to make up the deficit. We are therefore proposing to increase the rate for postcards from 1d. to 1½d., and after allowing for a reduction of 10 per cent. in numbers, and for some reversion from postcards to letters, we estimate to secure an increased revenue of £1,000,000. The present loss on the postcard service is £450,000. The increased charge we are making will, therefore, secure for us a profit of just over £500,000.
All these increases are regrettable, but I regret this, because there has grown up in this country in recent years a very interesting and a very promising industry, the picture postcard industry, an industry which has shown extraordinary capacity and ingenuity in capturing a trade from Germany, and the work of the picture post cards is to day equal in 2112 artistic merit to anything that any other country can produce. If I thought that the alarm which the picture postcard manufacturers—Raphael Tuck and Company and similar firms—have been displaying was thoroughly well-founded, and that this was going to destroy that industry, it is quite obvious that no Post-master-General and no Government would propose it. I believe that the picture postcard industry has overlooked the importance of the consideration that they will be able to send a picture pos card which only contains five words, that is, which is not in the nature of a letter, at the printed paper rate of 1d., and in these circumstances I cannot believe that it is going to have so serious an effect on the picture postcard industry as has been anticipated. There is also the increase in the registration fee for letters from 2d., which is the pre-war charge, to 3d. That ends all I have to say in regard to the increased charges.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
I have said that the United States ranks with the Dominions, and I dealt with that quite fully just now. These are the increased charges. They give us an increased revenue in round figures of £2,500,000. Our deficit in round figures is £3,500,000. I have therefore to find another £1,000,000 if our accounts are to balance and we are not to go to the Exchequer for a subsidy. In looking round for means to find that other £1,000,000, I came upon the Sunday post. The Government have decided that, in the present condition of things, we are not justified in maintaining the Sunday post throughout the country, when a saving of £1,000,000 can be effected by cutting it off. I cannot believe that there is so grave a hardship in this proposal as is made out by some critics. After all, London has got on fairly well without a Sunday post, and a good many Londoners have regarded the absence of a Sunday post as a blessing. We propose to extend that blessing over a wider range. That is not the only consideration. I do believe that so far as is possible it is in the interests of the country as a whole that Sunday labour should be diminished wherever it can be done without grave inconvenience. Obviously in a modern State you cannot get rid of Sunday labour altogether, but wherever it can be done, 2113 Sunday labour should be abolished. I think it is one of the points in the International Labour Convention, and I am certain, therefore, that my hon. Friends in the Labour party will give me their enthusiastic support in carrying out the proposal of the International Labour Convention, of which they are such enthusiastic champions.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
I will come to the details later. It has always been impressed on us by the representatives of the Post Office workers that this is one of the hardships of the Post Office service, that the men have to work on a Sunday. I propose to get rid of that hardship, but it is one of the most remarkable traits of human nature that there is nothing that it parts with more reluctantly than with its hardships. It is extraordinary how we cling to our grievances.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
I have not noticed my Noble Friend has made any laborious efforts in that direction. I realise that this is going to cause considerable inconvenience in those parts of the country which have been used to the Sunday post, and it also is a question which must have an effect on the conditions of labour of a great number of the postal workers. On that last point—and I notice that three Members of the Labour party have put down a proposal to reduce the Estimates by £100—may I say this, that I saw a deputation of the leaders of the Postal Workers' Union one day last week, and discussed the question with them. As a result of that discussion, they agreed to meet the officials of the Post Office, with whom they have been used to negotiate, and discuss fully every respect in which it can be shown that these changes are going to cause hardship or a worsening of conditions to the Post Office servants? We shall do everything that can reasonably be done to alleviate hardship or the worsening of the conditions of the staff.
Now I come to the steps we propose to take to reduce the inconvenience which must inevitably be caused in some parts of the country. We propose that collections shall be made late on Sunday night, or early on Monday 2114 morning, so as to enable the delivery of letters to be made in the neighbourhood by first post on Monday morning.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
I should like to consider further about the rural districts. I do not think I can carry it that far. I do not want to be pressed into making so many concessions that the saving of the £1,000,000 will be whittled away, and I shall have to go to the taxpayer to make it up. We propose experimentally, to arrange for the dispatch, at stated hours on Sunday, of express letters addressed either to London, or between a number of the largest towns the names of which have, I think, already been published in the Press. If, however, any hon. Member desires to have these names, I will see that they are placed at the disposal of the Committee before the proceedings on this Vote are concluded. We shall do everything that can be done, subject to maintaining the great bulk of the saving of this £1,000,000, to minimise the inconvenience of the thing. That, then, broadly covers the new proposals. In exact figures we hope to get from them an increased revenue of £3,453,000, as against the deficit, in exact figures, of £3,436,000. In spite of the concessions which I have made, in reply to the representations of my hon. Friend regarding printed papers, I still hope that we shall be able to balance our accounts, and not have to call for a subsidy. It must, however, be obvious that all these Estimates depend a good deal on the trend of trade during the next year. I have told the Committee how sensitive the Post Office revenue is to depression in trade, and if the depression in trade be continued throughout the year, these Estimates can not be realised. If trade, however, improves, as we hope it may, towards the end of the year, then, I think, we can realise our Estimates.
It has been put to me in more than one quarter that there is going to be a sudden falling-off in the use of the post—that we shall not get these increases, even under normal conditions, and that the official Estimates are unreliable. I have myself tested that in the best way at my disposal. I asked the officials in the Post Office to give me a statement of recent increases in postage rates, the Estimate at the time the increases were made, and the actual 2115 result secured. This is what I found. There was an increase in postal charges in 1915. The Post Office Estimate of revenue was £1,740,000, while the revenue secured was £1,970,000. In 1918 there was again an increase of the postal charges. The estimated revenue was £4,000,000, and the revenue received was £4,430,000. In 1920 the Estimate in connection with the increased charges was £6,770,000, and the revenue received was £5,930,000.
Taking these three Estimates together, and having regard to the many fluctuating conditions which affect the revenue, I think they are a very remarkable tribute to the knowledge of their work which the officials of the Post Office display, and I see no reason to anticipate that their present Estimates should not be realised. I have to come now to another point which has been impressed upon me by several Members of the House, and which has also been widely developed in the Press. It is that we could get this increased revenue by reducing the charges. If only that could be demonstrated to me, I should be the happiest man in the House. Just let us examine it in the light of the information we now have.
There is no business in the world in which the proportion of overhead charges is so small as in the Post Office business. Far and away the greatest proportion of our expenditure is in actual handling charges, and it is only in the slightest degree, therefore, that we can reduce our overhead charges by increasing the bulk of our business. The number of postal packets carried through the post this year was, in round figures, 5,579,000,000 packets, which was a decrease of about 3½ per cent., as compared with 1913–14. Supposing we went back to the penny post, and we got the whole number carried in 1913–14 to wipe out that 3½ per cent. deficit—and I think hon. Members who suggest this would be very sanguine to suppose that, having regard to the depression in trade—but supposing you have got all this, what would be the result in the way of increased revenue on the reduced charges? The increase in revenue at the rates charged would bring us in £1,000,000, and the loss of revenue as a result of going from the twopenny to the penny post would be £20,000,000. I simply submit that fact, which I have carefully examined 2116 —and which after all is only a matter of arithmetic—to the Committee with confidence that at least it shows that the idea, that by reducing charges you necessarily increase your revenue, needs very very careful examination.
Nobody dare take that risk in the present condition of affairs. I am satisfied any attempt along those lines to make up this deficit would land us in financial difficulties of the gravest possible character. What is the explanation of the deficit in the Post Office business? It can be put into two words: "War bonus." Every examination of these accounts, examine how you please, leads to the same conclusion—that the deficit in the Post Office Estimate is principally due to the war bonus.[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
I hope the Committee will allow me to examine this. I am putting it quite frankly, and the matter has to be examined from every possible point of view. I intend to leave out no consideration that tells against or in my favour, against the war bonus or in favour of it. I want to put the whole facts in regard to the war bonus frankly before the Committee. I am going to make a comparison between our accounts for 1921–22 and 1913–14. Our expenditure in 1913–14 was £27,400,000. Our expenditure this year is estimated at £70,000,000, an increase of 155 per cent. How is that increase built up? What are the principal elements in it? Salaries and wages, with war bonus, added have gone up from £15,668,000 in 1913–14, to £46,386,000 in the current year, an increase of 200 per cent. Of that increase of £30,718,000 £28,000,000 is accounted for by the war bonus. The other increases are conveyance of mails, which has gone up from £3,912,000 to £8,835,000, an increase of 125 per cent. Materials have gone up from £819,000 to £2,272,000, or an increase of 177 per cent., and the services of other Departments and depreciation of plant, pensions liability, interest on capital, and miscellaneous items, have gone up from £7,000,000 to £12,500,000, an increase of 79 per cent. The Committee will see that the dominating factor in these accounts are salaries, wages, and war bonus.
2117 I want now to analyse these figures a little more closely. I regret having to impose so many figures on the Committee, but I believe it to be absolutely essential for my purpose. The total staff of the Post Office consists of 233,000 persons, including the engineering staff, which is not usually included. Of these 185,000 receive a basic wage of £2 a week or less—that is a basic wage leaving out the war bonus.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
Of these, 40,000 receive a basic wage of between £2 a week and £200 a year; 8,000 receive salaries between £200 and £500 a year; 404 persons receive between £500 and £1,000 a year; and 26 persons receive salaries of £1,000 a year and over.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
I think the highest figure is £3,000 to the Permanent Secretary. I am not exactly certain, but I will see that that figure is given to the Committee before the Estimate is disposed of. I said 26 persons receive a salary of £1,000 a year and over. I should like to make this observation on that last figure: You cannot get first-class brains for third-class salaries. It seems desirable to have the courage to say that, in my opinion, the salaries paid to some of the heads of the Post Office are not adequate to the work they are doing. I think my hon. Friend opposite (Sir C. Oman) feels some hesitation in accepting that. I see no reason why I should hesitate to tell the House an experience we have had during the last two weeks. I am saying this without having consulted the official concerned, and as to whether or not he desires to have it said. One of our most important men, a man with a real gift for economy and a European reputation, has been offered a salary three times what the Government is now paying him.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
With something very much more attractive than a pension. I believe that here is a real danger to the efficiency of Government offices. If we start economising on brains, we shall lose 2118 in money, and I think the House should have the courage to face the fact. That was why I was led to make that observation in regard to it. I will now deal with the distribution of the war bonus among the different classes of the staff. £19,320,000 goes to persons whose basic wage is not more than £2 per week; £6,600,000 goes to persons receiving between £2 a week and £200 a year; £1,900,000 goes to officials receiving between £200 and £500 a year; £164,000 goes to officials receiving between £500 and £1,000 a year; and £16,000 is divided among officials receiving £1,000 a year and over.
§ Mr. HARTSHORN
Can the right hon. Gentleman give the aggregate figures of the salaries of these different classes?
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
I have not worked them out, but I will have them worked out. The Post Office, in regard to this question of war bonus, is carrying out a scheme which applies to the whole of the Government service, and it is unquestionably the fact that to day the Government servant has a substantial advantage as compared with men engaged in other industries. That is due to the fact that the cost of living is reviewed at intervals of six months. It is now being paid on the basis of 165, and it will be reviewed again in September, by which time we anticipate it will have gone down to about 128.
It is obvious that the Government servant is securing a substantial advantage over those engaged in industries, but that is only one side of the story. The Government servant is gaining now, but he was a very substantial loser right up to last year. Whilst the cost of living was steadily rising, his war bonus lagged very far behind what he was actually paid. I am sure every Member of this Committee, however much he dislikes the war bonus—nobody dislikes it more than I do—wants to do the straight thing and the fair thing, so that there will not be any breach of faith in this business. If the Government has committed itself to an arrangement between the Government and its officials under which the officials suffered at one time, but under which they are gaining at the present time, we cannot tear up that agreement. At the end of 1917, the cost of living figure was 83 per cent. The war bonus paid to a man getting 35s. a week was 40 per cent. 2119 At the end of 1918 the cost of living had gone up to 120 per cent., and the bonus paid to a man getting 35s. a week was 66 per cent. At the end of 1919 the cost of living had risen to 123 per cent., and the bonus paid to a man getting 35s. a week was 99 per cent. Therefore the higher-paid men lagged much further behind than the men who were receiving the low wages. Consequently, the Government gained at that time, although they are losing now.
In regard to the general case for the war bonus, I do not think I can add to what was said by the President of the Board of Trade when he was Financial Secretary to the Treasury, but I ask whether there is not something gained in having secured for this great body of workers the acceptance of the principle of the sliding scale, under which, as the cost of living comes down, their wages come down as well. Is there nothing gained in that? I wonder how much the coal mining industry would like to have had that accepted when the war bonus was given, and the same applies to the cotton industry and engineering.
It is difficult to get a reduction of wages among any class of men. You cannot get butter out of a dog's mouth. Without this arrangement, this is what would have happened. Every increase last year in the cost of living would have been followed by a demand from the great body of postal servants for an increase in wages, and that would probably have been conceded after much turmoil. But that would not have ended the trouble. When we came to the point where the cost of living went down, we should have made deductions, and that would have been a fresh disturbing element. Therefore, I submit that the state of things now is not altogether a loss. On the contrary, I think it is a gain that we have these great bodies of workers accepting the principle that their wages shall be reduced parallel with a fall in the cost of living, without disturbance and without strife. The position will be reviewed again in September.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
No, it was in March. I will now give some figures to show what we expect to happen in September, when the position is reviewed. The present 2120 bonus paid to a man whose basic wage is 40s. is 61s. 7d., and his bonus on the 1st September, if the cost of living go down, as we anticipate, to 128, will be reduced to 48s. 6d., or a reduction of 13s. 1d. per week. Where the basic wage is 50s., the reduction will be 14s. 8d. per week. Where the basic wage is 60s. a week, there will be a reduction of 16s. 3d. per week. There are a good many employers of labour in this House, and I ask them to consider those figures. We shall get, possibly without disturbance, a reduction of 13s. 1d. per week on the £2 per week basic man, and this reduction will amount to 16s. 3d. per week in the case of the men whose wages are £3 a week. If we can secure those substantial reductions in this way, is there nothing gained? When I think what might happen if employers asked their men to consent to an immediate reduction of 16s. per week, with the certainty of a further reduction if the cost of living go down, I think there is a good deal to be said in favour of a scheme which, while the Government suffers from it to-day, has provided a scientific method by which these war bonuses can be dealt with.
I do not disguise the fact that it is the-War bonus that accounts for our deficit last year and this year. We hear people ask, "Why does not the Post Office go back to the good old days before the War when they made surpluses, and when economic management prevailed?" I would point out that the year 1913 was not the last year the Post Office made a surplus. In 1914–15 the Post Office made a surplus—I am giving round figures—of £3,500,000; in 1915–16 the surplus was £5,300,000; in 1916–17 it was £6,000,000; in 1917–18 it was £6,600,000; in 1918–19 it was £7,400,000. The total surpluses realised between 1914 and 1919 was nearly £30,000,000 earned for the State. During the whole of that period the Post Office servants' bonus lagged far behind the cost of living.
In 1920 we came to our first deficit, and we fell from a surplus of over £7,000,000 to a deficit of £1,128,000. The explanation of that is that between those two years the war bonus went up from £8,700,000 to £17,000,000. In 1920–21 the deficit was £7,300,000, and the War bonus went up from £17,000,005 to £27,000,000. In 1921–22 the deficit was £3,400,000, and the war bonus went up from £27,000,000; to £28,000,000.
2121 I have now given the Committee the whole of the facts upon which they can come to a judgment. I have to look at this question from the point of view of a man who is the agent of the House, employing a staff of over 200,000 people. I do not believe that that staff, taking the basic wage, is extravagantly paid, and I do not think anybody will say that the figure I have given is extravagant. They are a loyal and an efficient body of men. I know no better worker in this country than the postman, and very rarely you see a postman loafing. I can only hope to secure a continuance of that loyal service if they have faith in the word of the Government and the Postmaster-General, and if ever it could be shown that the Government were guilty of a breach of faith in dealing with these men, then the discontented element, the men who are more concerned with stirring up strife than securing good service in the Post Office, would seize upon the allegation of a breach of faith, in order to create discontent and disturb the efficiency of the service.
I therefore put it to the Committee that we cannot treat this war bonus arrangement as a scrap of paper. The Government gained over a period of years, and the men expect this arrangement to be carried out. Although we are losing by it now, we mean to carry it out, and I see no other way in order to secure loyal service from a great body of men. If the war bonus remain the deficit is inevitable until such time as it comes down substantially. If I could get rid of the war bonus, I could go back to the penny letter and the halfpenny postcard, and to nearly every one of our pre-War charges.
The point is, could these increases have been avoided by economies in the Department? The Committee will see that we cannot touch the principle of that £28,000,000 war bonus; but is the staff extravagant, is it over-staffed? Let me examine this point. Leaving out the engineering staff, the present staff of the Post Office is 208,000, and the pre-War staff in 1913–14 was 208,900. There has been a reduction of 900, excluding the engineering staff. The postal work is as great now as it was in 1913–14. A slight falling off in the number of letters has been made up by an increase of telephone work and an increase in the number of 2122 parcels carried, and although the work remains as great as it was in 1913–14, it has been done with a slightly smaller staff. I will not trouble the Committee with the figures, but it is a fact that the body of the work is as great as it was in 1913–14.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
That is so. Not only have they done the same bulk of work with a smaller staff, but they have had to do a lot of new work. In reference to war pensions, 90,000,000 separate payments were made last year. Anybody who has had experience of our suburban Post Offices on Mondays or Tuesdays knows that they are crowded out with people not there for ordinary Post Office work, but in connection with these new duties. Those 90,000,000 separate war pension payments are all new work since 1914; also 91,000,000 issues and repayments of War Savings Certificates. As a result of the War Bonds, the Stock accounts of the Savings Bank have risen from 184,000 in 1913–14 to, 4,500,000, involving payment of 9,500,000 separate dividends every year. The Savings Bank Accounts have gone up in number from 9,000,000 in 1913–14 to 13,500,000, while the cash passing through the Post Office in connection with those transactions has increased from £526,000,000 in 1913–14 to £1,512,000,000 last year. I hope I shall not over-emphasise any part of my subject, but I submit that, with a slightly smaller staff doing the same bulk of ordinary postal work, and all these enormous transactions added to the Post Office, there is no ground for a general and sweeping allegation of wasteful personnel. I said that I excluded the engineering staff both in 1913–14 and to-day. That staff has increased from 20,000 to 25,000. That is due to the mileage of wire having grown by 46 per cent., and the far larger equipment which has to be handled, and it is largely due to the effort the Post Office is making to overtake arrears of telephone construction.
On those figures there is no ground for a general charge, a sweeping allegation, of wasteful use of personnel in the Post Office. But we cannot rest there. The first interest of the State is economy; the second interest of the State is 2123 economy; and the third interest of the State is economy; and I desire to secure in the Post Office every economy which can be carried out without the efficiency of the work suffering. I would like to let the Committee know the steps which have already been taken to bring about a further reduction in staff. Every local postmaster and surveyor has received the most drastic instructions to cut down his staff to the lowest limit consistent with the work which he has to carry through. Travelling committees are now visiting all the big post offices in the country, and investigating in detail the staffs there, with a view to seeing if we cannot get reductions on the postal and telegraph side. As a result of these efforts, the staff is now being reduced at the rate of 400 per month, and I hope that that rate of reduction will continue. It certainly must continue as long as the present depression in trade goes on.
I have dealt with the main points. I have examined the main considerations in regard to these charges, but there are one or two other considerations which I will put very briefly to the Committee, for I think it is necessary that the Committee should have them in mind. I find amongst all classes of the community, and all parties in this House, a great fear of what is called the "bureaucrat." For my part, I would have a petition added to the Litany" From all bureaucrats and other superior persons, Good Lord deliver us." I would rather be governed by the devil than by a bureaucrat. This is the characteristic of a bureaucrat—he has all the private and nearly all the public virtues. He is extraordinarily efficient. He is absolutely incorruptible. He is a terrific worker. But he has one vice, which is the most intolerable that can beset any man having authority in a free country, and that is, he desires to give the people what he thinks is good for them, rather than what they want.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
I think that is the most intolerable vice. That is where he differs from the business man. The business man gives the people what he thinks they want, rather than impose upon the people what he thinks is for their good. It is supposed that the Post Office is staffed with bureaucrats. I have not been there very long, but I have not met them 2124 yet. If I do meet them, my attitude towards them will be the attitude I have tried to sum up this afternoon in the expression of my view of what a bureaucrat is. I have not yet met bureaucrats in the Post Office service. What I have met, so far, are some of the ablest men it has ever been my pleasure to meet in connection with either government or business.
§ Mr. HOWARD GRITTEN
Supposing a bureaucrat is found to be thoroughly inefficient, what is the machinery for getting rid of him?
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
If I find a bureaucrat, I shall be very disappointed if I do not find any machinery to get rid of him.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
I have not gone sufficiently into the question of bureaucrats to find the machinery, and I cannot refer the hon. Member to chapter and verse, but I will say this: if I find the bureaucrat, I will find means of getting rid of him. Having said a word about bureaucrats, I want to come to another point, which, I think, will be of great interest to the Committee. I think it is most essential, especially in a Government Department like the Post Office, that it ought to be in close touch with the business community,, and that there should be harmonious relations between them, and a feeling of confidence. It is bad for the Post Office that there should be a feeling amongst the business community that their point of view is not sufficiently understood, and I desire to take a step which, I think, will have the effect of increasing the confidence which the business community has in the permanent officials of the Post Office and the Postmaster-General, and have the advantage of a business point of view on every large question which arises in connection with the Post Office. I have therefore decided to establish in connection with the Post Office a Post Office Council, composed of business men, and I should like to give the Committee the names of this Council. I am glad to say that all these gentlemen have agreed, and agreed very promptly, because, although my letter was only sent out less than a fortnight ago, I have had this response from: 2125
(Perhaps I may be allowed to make a comment here. One of our newspaper critics suggested it would pay the Government to engage Mr. Gordon Selfridge at a salary of £10,000 a year to manage the Post Office. I am glad to say he is willing to give us his assistance for nothing.)
- Anderson, Sir Alan, Joint Manager, Orient Line; Director, Bank of England; Director, Midland Railway.
- Bell, Mr. Henry, Managing Director, Lloyd's Bank.
- Barrie, Mr. C. C. M.P., Partner, Charles Barrie & Sons.
- Blakemore, Mr. F. G., President, National Chamber of Trade.
- Balfour, Mr. Arthur, President, Sheffield Chamber of Commerce.
- Burnham, Rt. Hon. Viscount, President, Empire Press Union.
- Cheesman, Mr. Godfrey, General Secretary, National Union of Manufacturers.
- Colwyn, Lord.
- Dewrance, Sir John, Chairman, Babcock and Wilcox; President, Engineering and National Employers' Federation.
- Howard, Mr. Charles, Chairman, Baltic Exchange.
- Hartshorn, Mr. Vernon, M.P.
- Johnston, Sir George Lawson, Chairman, Bovril, Ltd.
- Holland Martin, Mr. R., Secretary, Bankers' Clearing House.
- Manville, Mr. E., M.P., Consulting Engineer; Chairman, Daimler, Ltd.
- Rylands, Sir Peter, President, Federation of British Industries.
- Selfridge, Mr. Gordon, Founder of Selfridges Ltd.
- Stockton, Sir Edwin, President, Manchester Chamber of Commerce.
- Satterthwaite, Colonel, Secretary to Committee for General Purposes, Stock Exchange.
- Williams, Sir Thomas, late General Manager, London and North-Western Railway.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
The Committee will agree that that is a pretty strong body of men. I think they will agree there are no 2126 "passengers" amongst them, and I hope that they will see that they become a real and effective instrument in assisting the economical and efficient management of the Post Office and its development. I have not yet held a meeting. I shall hold a meeting, I hope, next week, when I shall discuss with these gentlemen what they think will be the proper powers to exercise. I do not want to make a statement with regard to those powers until I have had an opportunity of discussion with them. But I think the existence of a body such as that, if given real opportunity of exercising its influence, will be of great benefit to the Post Office and to those who use the Post Office. The next point is a change in the Post Office itself. While I have no doubt in my own mind as to the wisdom of establishing this Business Council, I also propose to establish in the Post Office a Board of the heads of the main branches of the post office work. The Committee may be surprised to find that there has been no such organised body in the Post Office, but it is so. I am sure it will be of great help to the Post Office that the heads of each branch of its work—telephones, telegraphs, engineering, and those responsible for finance—should be meeting together periodically and reviewing the work not only of their own section, but of the Post Office as a whole. I am certain each man will do his own job better for having an intelligent knowledge of the work of the Post Office as a whole, and that that must make for economical administration.
I have practically concluded what I have to say, but I come back now to the main point, and it is this. The decision for the Committee to take is between whether we shall meet this deficit by a subsidy from the State, or whether it shall be met in the way I have proposed. Frankly, I have examined it with all the care I can bring to bear upon it, and I see no alternative at present. I want to warn the Committee, and I would like to warn the country, against the danger of subsidies. Subsidies are the primrose path down which this country may go to the everlasting bonfire. If subsidies be granted, they will destroy the efficiency of industries. They will destroy the security of property, and the very foundation of society in this country. We must take the first opportunity we have of sweeping them away. We now have an 2127 opportunity of sweeping away this subsidy, and I hope we shall be supported in doing that. It was no pleasure to me to have to take the unpopular course of raising charges, and to ask the Committee to support me, but I saw no alternative, though I look forward to making a very different statement here if the variations of fate leave me in my present post. When I made the statement in the House about the increased charges, I included an announcement of some significance It was that any reductions in cost which were effected must go to reduce the charges. If we are to have surpluses in the future, I do not want them raided by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I got the Cabinet to agree that any gain which is effected will go, not to the Exchequer, but to the reduction of charges. I thank the Committee for the patience with which it has listened to my long and detailed statement. It was bound to be a disagreeable and an unpopular statement; but any way, I have now put the facts frankly before the Committee, and I ask for its support.
§ Mr. A. SHORT
I beg to move that the Vote be reduced by £100.
I think I shall be expressing the sense and feeling of the Committee in congratulating the right hon. Gentleman upon his very clear and concise, and shall I say in many particulars cogent speech in the introduction of these Estimates. I have no doubt in my own mind that he has removed from the minds of hon. Members associated with all parties in the House many doubts and suspicions regarding the very serious proposal that he has been compelled to submit to the Committee this afternoon: He has made references in his speech to the losses on inland printed papers, which I think he estimated at somewhere in the neighbour hood of £2,400,000. He also referred to the losses upon printed postcards. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if at some later period he will explain how these losses are calculated. I think we are entitled to know by what method or what procedure he arrives at the costs entailed and also at the losses, and if he will give us that information he will clear away some of the doubt that exists, at any rate in my own mind. The right hon. 2128 Gentleman has made reference also to the creation of an Advisory Council, and has quoted a list of distinguished and eminent business men and also Members of this House who are to constitute it. I have no doubt they will bring good judgment to bear in so far as the duties allotted to them are concerned. That is, if I understand it aright, and with the limited information placed before us this afternoon, undoubtedly a distinct departure, in so far as the administration of great Government offices of this kind is concerned, and it certainly is a distinct departure so far as the Post Office is affected. I may express regret that the right hon. Gentleman was unable to lay before the Committee some idea of the powers that will fall on the shoulders of such an Advisory Council. I do not assume for a moment that the powers, whatever they are, will in any way undermine the responsibility of himself to this House.
§ Mr. SHORT
Despite the concessions that he has made, I think I may safely say that the proposed increases have aroused a great deal of disquiet in business circles, and I do not think that the concessions he has granted will remove entirely the feeling that now exists in industrial circles. When one considers that these increases are to take place in conjunction with a curtailment of the postal services of the country, I think we ought even now, despite the concessions, to be entitled to make some protest against them. Having regard to the industrial position of our country, with the possibility, as I hope and as we all hope, that in a few days a great attempt will be made to revive trade and destroy the stagnation and depression of trade that exists at the moment, these increases must inevitably have an adverse effect on the recovery of trade, and they must, in so far as they interfere with the expenditure of money, which is limited in quantity, and the shortage of money for business purposes, which is largely due to heavy taxes, these increases must have an adverse effect on trade and on the recovery of trade. Further, I doubt whether they will add to the income of the Post Office, as the right hon. Gentleman has attempted to demonstrate they will this afternoon. I should have been better pleased if the right hon. Gentleman had made some 2129 reference to the telephone service and the telegraph service, upon which there are enormous deficits.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
I should not like it to go out that there is an enormous deficit on the telephone service. The Telephone Estimate for this year shows a balance.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
No, it does not, but I do not want it to go out that the telephone service is a loss, and that we are making up that loss by increased charges on the other services.
§ Mr. SHORT
At any rate, I should have been better satisfied if, so far as the deficit on the telephone service is concerned, the right hon. Gentleman had indicated what measures he proposed to take to obviate the continuance of that deficit, and to give the users of the telegraph service a better service than they enjoy at the moment. It appears to me to be bad policy to call upon the poorer members of the community who do not use these services to any great extent—they are largely the preserve of business and well-to-do people—it is bad policy to call upon the poorer elements in the community to make up the deficit by increasing the charges upon postcards and printed communications. I may safely say that low charges, in so far as our postal services are concerned for bur means of communication, are the life-blood of our commercial prosperity, and the whole history of the Post Office indicates, going as far back as the eighteenth century, that whenever charges have been reduced that step has always led to a greater and growing volume of trade so far as the Post Office is concerned. While I will not quote figures which I have by me at the moment on that point, I think it is important the Committee should remember that it is a fact. The right hon. Gentleman has decided to withdraw the 2130 increase upon printed matter which is going out of the country. How does he propose to prevent business houses in this country sending printed matter abroad and bringing it back again into this country, thereby gaining an advantage by means of the foreign postage. I understand that that is a possibility, and that it is already being done. I have here a quotation from a weekly newspaper which says that Messrs. William Dawson and Sons, Limited, the well-known agents and exporters, will, as a result of the increased foreign postal newspaper rates, have to transfer their export newspaper trade from the British to the French Post Office, and he goes on to explain that they will post all their Overseas newspaper parcels in Paris, if the new rates are insisted upon. I have already received a circular issued from a London office but posted in Belgium and delivered here with the object of getting an advantage over the right hon. Gentleman's Department because of the increase in these charges.
§ Mr. SHORT
I am only using that as an illustration and to show what advantage will be taken of these proposals. On the other hand, there is no doubt that large business firms will not spend so much money on advertising at the increased charges as they have been inclined to spend in the past. This will lead to still further unemployment and it will not prove an encouragement to trade so far as this country is concerned. As regards the Post Office becoming a kind of dumping ground for all kinds of services, I see that these services are credited to other Departments and apparently paid for, but I should like to get some information as to the basis on which they are calculated, by what method, at what rates, when the rates were fixed and when they were last revised. If the right hon. Gentleman can satisfy us upon that point we shall not perhaps continue to have some of the doubts and suspicions which we have in our minds at the present moment.
With regard to Sunday deliveries, let me say frankly that we on these benches have no desire to encourage Sunday labour. We should be well satisfied to see the more or less well-established English working week of 5½ or 6 days, and a complete 2131 abolition of Sunday labour, so far as it can be legitimately abolished without undue injury to the public service. I understand, however, that this innovation is going to strike a serious blow at many of the workers employed in this Department. I understand that their conditions of labour will be considerably worsened, and, further, that their earnings will be considerably reduced. I think the right hon. Gentleman estimated that, as a result of this innovation, he would save £1,000,000. I am not quite clear whether he meant £1,000,000 purely on wages, or whether he meant that a saving of £1,000,000 would result from the innovation as a whole. At any rate he will be saving £1,000,000. Can he tell us what proportion of that represents loss in earnings to the individuals concerned, and will he assure us that, in the case of those who will have to travel and, in consequence of the discontinuance of the service, will not be able to return until the Monday, facilities will be given to enable them to get the necessary accommodation in the interval? It is, perhaps, peculiar that while we are now considering, and probably deciding upon, the abolition of Sunday postal services, the French Government are considering, and, I believe, have decided upon, the restoration of the Sunday delivery.
Then I should like to ask whether the right hon. Gentleman has considered the desirability and advisability of revising the rates for Press telegrams. He makes a great point about the Committee and the Government not being willing to subsidise. Speaking for my party, I think I may say that we are not in favour of subsidies, but I understand, if my information in regard to Press telegrams is correct, that we are subsidising the Press of this country, inasmuch as they have advantages and facilities for which they do not really pay, and that we are, indeed, subsidising the great newspaper trusts and combines out of the funds and services of this Department. I believe in the freedom and liberty of the Press, and I believe it to be desirable that we should facilitate its reaching the public as quickly as possible. At the same time, I do not think it desirable that the poor taxpayer should be subsidising the Press, and particularly that section of it which is continually complaining of extravagant expenditure and demanding economy in every direction except that in which they 2132 appear to obtain an advantage. I believe that a promise was made at sometime during the War—and I can understand why it has not been carried out—as to the initiation of what is known as the postal cheque system. It is operating in Germany, and, I believe, with advantage to Germany and German citizens, because out of the transactions the Government of Germany can make a profit of some £1,000,000. I do not want to elaborate the system, but if the right hon. Gentleman would offer some comments upon it, I should be obliged.
I should also like to hear whether he has considered the advisability of what we term non-urgent telegrams, that is to say, the charging of a smaller fee for telegrams the delivery of which would be slightly delayed, but which, nevertheless, would encourage people to send telegrams, which they decline to do now on account of the heavy rates. With regard to the wages and war bonuses of the Post Office workers, it is gratifying to find that they have so excellent and able a champion in the right hon. Gentleman. He covered the ground so admirably that he has left me little to say upon that matter, but I fully share, as I hope the Committee shares, his view that, where a large body of men and women have come to an agreement with the Government that their wages or salaries shall be regulated upon given lines, which, apparently, are to the advantage of the community, there should be no attempt by this Committee to interfere or to bring pressure to bear upon the Government to deviate in any way from the agreement into which they have entered.
§ Mr. G. ROBERTS
I should like to join with the hon. Member (Mr. Short) in congratulating the Postmaster-General upon his statement. From a study of the Press during the past week or so, it appeared to me that he might have contemplated quite a storm of indignation in the Committee. Evidently he was infected with the idea that conditions would be unfavourable to him, and he adopted a rather apologetic tone. I think, however, that he has passed through the ordeal with great credit to himself. I must confess that I have viewed with a great deal of trepidation the increased charges which he has had to propose. Any further burden that is placed upon industry and commerce, and 2133 also upon the ordinary means of communication between members of the public, must be a matter of very close analysis, and must require perfect justification before it secures the sanction of this Committee. I hoped that at an early stage in this Debate we should have had the benefit of the guidance of those who have constituted themselves critics of the Postmaster-General in the country. Certain people assure us that the Postmaster-General has been rushed by a number of bureaucrats into giving support to proposals which he did not understand and which have no justification. As a representative of an industrial constituency, I regret that so far there has been no sign that we are likely to receive guidance from those who have appointed themselves chief critics in this matter, but I am hoping that at a later stage we may hear something from them. It is easy to criticise, but it is extremely difficult to put forward alternatives. I feel that it is not sufficient to play the mere party game and to make a Minister uncomfortable. If we are really seeking to represent our constituencies and the country, we ought to be prepared to put forward counter proposals for consideration, and I hoped that such proposals would have emerged ere now. As we have no sign that they are likely to be forthcoming, I venture to offer a few observations upon the right hon. Gentleman's speech.
Throughout the whole of his speech I was asking myself what economies he contemplates being able to make within his Department. It is all very well to tell us that he has to meet a certain number of charges which are fixed and beyond his competency to affect materially. We require that a Minister to-day should thoroughly overhaul his Department, with a view to ascertaining whether there is leakage or incompetency and whether he has any hope of being able to bring about more efficient administration. I recognise that, owing to the peculiarities of our political system, my right hon. Friend has had to make his speech to-day with a comparatively slight acquaintance with a Department of great complexity. I remember the time when it was suggested that a certain colleague of mine should be selected to occupy the post now held by my right hon. Friend, and I pointed out that the Post Office was, perhaps, the most complex and diffi- 2134 cult of all Departments, and that they ought to think well before undertaking its control. Therefore, we are bound to have some sympathy and tolerance with the Postmaster-General, because he has not yet had due time to master the intricacies of his great Department. The criticism which I desired to make on that point is already largely met by the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has adopted the device of calling to his assistance a body of business men. Their names have been read out, and, I believe, will commend themselves as representative of the best business capacity in the country. The only criticism that I should like to offer is that, perhaps, too many of these gentlemen have been called in. These large Committees are often ineffective, because of the fact that you get such a multiplicity of ideas and such a plethora of wisdom showered upon you. Nevertheless, the names include those of some of the most successful business men in the country, and even some who have been suggested by the Anti-Waste campaigners as being the best men to run the Post Office.
I have been asking myself whether my right hon. Friend is making the best use of the expert Labour opinion which he must have at his disposal. I feel sure that those on the other side of the House will feel that this Committee is incomplete because it does not include representative Labour men. I am reminded, however, that there is a very highly respected and certainly one of the ablest members of the Labour party on the Committee, and that will go some way to meet the point that I wanted to make. On the other hand, there are within the Department committees representative of various grades of labour in the Joint Administrative Councils. It was my good fortune, while at the Ministry of Labour, to take the initiative in the establishment of those councils within the Civil Service, and therefore I am aware that the right hon. Gentleman has at his disposal in organised fashion the advice of those competent to guide him on Labour matters. He is proposing to set up a Council, consisting of the heads of the various Departments, who will survey the Post Office services as a whole. I am very much surprised that the Post Office has been so tardy in availing itself of a body of this character. In my experience, in various other Ministries it had already become a common practice. In 2135 two in which I served we had these staff boards meeting regularly, and I can attest from my own personal experience how valuable such an expedient was, and I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman-on having recourse to it.
I should like to make a few observations upon his proposals. It has always been the experience of the Post Office that Press telegrams have never yet paid, and having regard to the fact that the Press is now a very well established and I believe prosperous corporation as a whole—[Interruption]. My hon. Friend is aware of the fact that the Government is not yet strong enough to control these Press corporations. It is felt by the average member of the community that what must make for the general profit and prosperity of these large newspaper corporations ought to be met by them. They ought to be compelled to pay an economic price for the services out of which they reap profits, and certainly a good deal of notoriety. Of course the case has always been, I believe, that the newspapers, by the collection and distribution of news, render a real public service, and it may be that there is a good deal in that fact, but my belief is that the main concern of the newspaper proprietor to-day is not so much the serving of the general public as the building up of their own businesses, and therefore I certainly feel that in this direction there is room for a good deal of inquiry with a view to ascertaining whether this part of the work of the Post Office should not be placed on a sound basis, just as you require the collection and distribution of letters shall be, on behalf of the general community.
Again, I am a little perturbed because representations have been made to me respecting the proposal to abolish the Sunday delivery of letters. Everyone of us, of course, subscribes to the theory that we should like to do away with Sunday labour altogether, although I apprehend that Sunday to many of us would be a dull institution were it not for the fact that some of our fellows labour for us on that day. It has been acknowledged that this is a rule that you cannot carry out absolutely, and that it is impossible in the modern state of society to ensure that everyone shall rest on one particular day in the week. Nevertheless, generally speaking, I believe it is our common purpose to limit Sunday lab our as far as 2136 practicable. Therefore, when representations were first made to me against the proposal by sections of the postal workers I felt that perhaps they were for once a little illogical. But they urged upon me this consideration, that Sunday labour has always been taken into estimation in the fixation of their wages and the appraisement of their general conditions, and that its abolition will involve them in some amount of loss.
I suppose there must be some loss to the workers involved, otherwise the Postmaster-General would not be able to contemplate the effecting of a saving. I am sure in my own mind that the right hon. Gentleman is not perfectly sound in estimating that he is going to establish the whole saving in this regard, because if a strong organisation labouring under a sense of grievance is able to prove that their conditions of service have been materially disturbed, and they have been subjected to deductions in wages beyond the standard they have been entitled to expect, the right hon. Gentleman will very soon be confronted with demands for compensation which he will have extreme difficulty in contesting, and which he may have to grant, and thereby diminish one portion of the estimated savings that he would like to make. I am rather in a difficulty to understand how this system of express letters is going to work on Sunday, and how much saving in labour can be effected if that system is to obtain widely. I suppose in most of our smaller towns a comparatively small portion of the staff is engaged on Sunday. Therefore, if you maintain any system of collection and distribution of letters at all, a staff must be kept in waiting, and it may well occur that so little business will be done on a Sunday that this work can only be carried on at a considerable loss. That is the point that occurs to one. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman has undoubtedly considered the matter thoroughly, and will be able to make some reply to it.
I recognise, and I feel we all must have been convinced that the Postmaster-General is very limited in his scope of possibility of effecting immediate economies because of the fact that the greater portion of the increased expenditure in the Post Office is attributable to the system of war bonuses. I recognise that the Government ought not to break 2137 its bargain with its own workers, and however sharply they may be criticised for it, however many anti-waste candidates may win elections, the Government cannot afford to go back upon its workers in this regard. I remember the postal workers, and Government workers in general, were constantly making representations to me when I was at the Ministry of Labour pointing out that whereas workers in general industries were obtaining substantial and speedy concessions, these were denied to them, and they are bound to be slower in operation in a Government Department because of the fact that an advance made in a Government Department must affect similar or comparable grades in every other Department. Therefore consideration of these questions must be much more protracted than in the case of private enterprise, and it is perfectly true that for a considerable period civil servants were working at a detriment as compared with the outside worker. It may be urged by some that the outside worker was getting greater concessions than he was entitled to, but that is not a point to be argued here. The Government had to follow the general course of events and had to endeavour to make up to their employés what was being done in private business, that is, to maintain the real values of wages. They were slower in coming up, and it is not unreasonable if they should be slower in going back to the normal. At any rate, that is the system which has been adopted and has been endorsed by the House. I have had to submit proposals myself, and the House has acquiesced in them, and I should resist any desire on the part of the Government now, however hardly they were pressed by any portion of the community, to go back upon anything I did in this regard on behalf of the Government when I was acting for them, and therefore I feel sure the Government is on perfectly good ground here, and the right hon. Gentleman, by giving these figures, will enlighten the country substantially and, I believe, will rally to it the support not only of Labour, but of all reasonably minded people, and it will show that the capacity for effecting reductions is limited because of the commitments of his Ministry.
I have been associated with the printing and newspaper trade throughout the whole of my life, and therefore any 2138 increase in postal charges which is likely to prejudice the interests of those two industries, and thereby to diminish employment, is bound to cause me a good deal of concern. There is great apprehension throughout the printing and newspaper world lest these proposals of the right hon. Gentleman may have the effect of restricting trade and causing further unemployment. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to give some indication of what is likely to occur. In September war bonuses will be reviewed again. As far as we are able to anticipate it, the cost of living will show a further decline. That, of course, will mean that under the sliding scale civil servants as a whole, including Post Office workers, will suffer a reduction in the face value, although we maintain the real value of their wages will be preserved. It is reasonable to assume that substantial economies will be very soon effected, and I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that rather than wait for his statement next year, he ought to devise methods whereby the trading and commercial community may have the earliest possible advantage of the economies which must make themselves apparent shortly after that period.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
We have taken into consideration the very substantial reduction of the war bonus in September, and in the next period I hope there will be a further reduction. I gave the Committee an assurance that as soon as there is an effective reduction it shall go, not to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but in reducing these charges.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
That goes some way to re-assure me, because undoubtedly industry is carrying very heavy burdens to-day. Any additional burden must tend to restrict its recovery and development, and also the possibility of employment. Indeed, employment and production are matters of primary consideration to us. The right hon. Gentleman has perceived the point I desired to make, and I will not trouble him at any further length. I accept the undertaking that the conditions of the postal workers will be modified, and that his proposal of the abolition of Sunday labour is to be discussed as between the representatives of these postal workers and the heads of the Post Office, and I hope thereby a reasonable and satisfactory settlement may be secured. Regretting, with every other 2139 Member of the House, that there seems no alternative to the acceptance of these increased charges, I sincerely hope the Tight hon. Gentleman may very soon be surrounded by such conditions of prosperity as will allow him to reduce these and other charges in order to give the greatest possible stimulus to the trade and prosperity of the country.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Sir C. OMAN
The Postmaster-General has defined a bureaucrat as a high-minded person who gives the public what they do not want. The right hon. Gentleman is a high-minded man, and he is giving the public what they do not want, at a very much enhanced price, and with a very much worse service. He is, therefore, a bureaucrat, and we will for the remainder of this Session consider him a bureaucrat. I will now prove that he is not a business man. He says: "I have raised the salaries of my servants to three times what they were five years ago. I am making a loss. Therefore, what policy shall I adopt? I will at once raise the price of the commodities I am offering to my clients. I will give my clients a much worse service, and I will charge them a lot more for it. They shall pay a good deal more for every article they purchase from me." Is that business? Would anyone define that as the conduct of a business man? If we follow those lines this will not be a land for heroes to live in, but a land where bankrupts will live very soon.
The right hon. Gentleman has had the face to come before us and explain to us that whereas the servants of the Post Office were receiving £15,000,000 on 1st April, 1914, they are now receiving £45,000,000, or three times as much. He justified himself by pointing out that the whole rise was on account of war bonus, war bonus distributed with such great liberality that (as I extracted from him by a question yesterday) whereas 52 high officials of the Post Office were receiving over £800 a year in 1914, some 688 are receiving that salary now, or twelve times as many as in 1914. You have subsidised the Post Office servants and you have subsidised the servants of other Government Departments so that they may not feel the pinch of the War which has fallen on all of us of the middle classes. Bonus after bonus has been given, with the result that the total sum paid in the Post Office is three times what it was 2140 in 1915. Though we of the professional classes have received no bonus, you are taking our hard-earned money—all the millions we are paying in Income Tax—and you are giving it to these good gentlemen, the higher classes in the Post Office, as well as the lower classes, to keep them from feeling all the wear and tear and suffering of the War.
The right hon. Gentleman says that, compared with people in other industries, the Post Office servants did not do so well in the earlier period, and that they only got their extra money later. Cannot he put himself in the position of those members of the general public who have received no bonus at all, people who are not like miners, or the members of other associations, who exploit their country, and who are profiteers for the benefit of themselves. I call every man a profiteer who has made himself richer by this War. The man who has improved his position over other men by the results of this War, whether he be a miner, a ship owner or a public servant, is a profiteer, and I throw the name in their faces. I am ready to withdraw if that is too much to say. Can you dare to tell us that the word of the Minister who enabled these overpaid gentlemen by means of their series of fat bonuses to, escape the pinch that has fallen on the class which I represent, which has received no bonus, must be held sacred? Can you ask us to regard the promise of such a Minister as worth anything against the need of the country?
The need of the country at the moment is economy. Does not the Government know it? What about the result of the by-election which has just taken place? Do they not see that unless they show a real desire for economy we of the Coalition are now in a parlous state? Economy is what we want, and yet the right hon. Gentleman comes down to justify the continuation of treble salaries to a very large body of public servants. The hon. Gentleman claimed that his office was popular. Is that so? The postman we all love. For many years he received our Christmas half-crown and our blessing. But do we love the gentleman at the General Post Office who sends us a letter saying: "We have received your complaint and it will receive notice"? After which we hear nothing more. I do not know that I love the young lady at the telephone who tells me 2141 that the line is engaged when I know that it is not. I do not love the gentleman who sits adding up private figures of his own while a line of seven or eight people wishing to get postal orders remain under his nose. I do not love the young ladies who conduct a lively dialogue at the back of the post office counter while a queue of people wait for stamps. I may tell the right hon. Gentleman that his followers are not so loved as he thinks. We all love the postman, but is the post office clerk really loved? Look at your "Punch." The idea that we are lovers of Post Office officialdom falls somewhat flat with me.
The almost superhuman wisdom of the high officials of the Post Office has been preached to us for centuries. It was preached to Rowland Hill when he said that the penny post would pay. A long memorandum, written by the heads of the Post Office, tried to prove that it would be the financial ruin of England. When the halfpenny postcard was introduced in 1871 there were tremendous protests from the Post Office officials. They said that nobody would write letters, that the loss on the general revenue would be enormous, and that the Post Office would soon not be a paying concern but a losing concern. Was that justified? The halfpenny postcard established itself as one of the greatest factors in English life. The right hon. Gentleman pleads for paying these people at the Post Office high salaries because he says that if they were in business they would be making from £9,000 to £10,000 a year. They are all such geniuses! I have some doubt about geniuses. There is nothing I distrust more than the man who believes himself a wasted genius. Considered as a public servant he is likely to become a snare and a nuisance. As to the idea that Government servants should be rewarded on the same scale as those who take the risk of business, well—"that way madness lies." Do you wish to have adventurers coming into the public service in order to make fortunes out of it? If you raise salaries to heights that vie with the salaries of business men, as the right hon. Gentleman seemed to wish to do, we all know what it will lead to. In the Post Office the policy ought to be that increased service, good service, and honest 2142 service is better than monopoly; monopoly doing as little as it can and taking as much as it can.
Whatever the right hon. Gentleman may say about overhead charges, it is my belief that it is the number that pays. With respect to the question of the penny postage, I maintain that with such an outburst of correspondence as there was after the War there need not have been any deficit if only the war bonus had been kept down, and the idea of the Post Office that the keeping on of the penny post would mean a deficit is as ill-founded as was the old officials' opinion in the days of Rowland Hill, when they said that the penny post would bring financial ruin to the Post Office. With the present rates, is there anybody who cannot say that he is writing infinitely less letters than in 1913? I protest against the whole line of argument adopted by the right hon. Gentleman, and I must support a reduction of the Vote on the ground that the general policy of the Post Office be disapproved.
§ Mr. GILBERT
I rise as a London Member in order to point out to the Postmaster-General that the proposed increases are extremely unpopular so far as London constituencies are concerned. I represent a constituency which contains a great many people who are interested in the printing trade. The right hon. Gentleman knows that the printing trade is a very large industry in London, and the people connected with that trade are very deeply concerned as to whether the increased charges will greatly reduce the number of letters, circulars, and postcards which are going to be sent through the post and will, therefore, reduce the amount of printing required, and throw a good many men out of employment. In answer to a question put by the hon. Member for Keighley a few days ago, the right hon. Gentleman said that the commercial account for the year 1920–21 would show in round figures a surplus of £900,000 on postal service, a deficit of £4,000,000 on telegrams, and a deficit of £4,200,000 on telephones. In reply to some supplementary questions as to why he was increasing postage when the postage account showed profit, he said that he had to treat the account as a whole, and that the aim of the Government was to make the accounts balance. It must be extremely bad policy, after giving figures like those, which showed that even with 2143 the present postage rates there is no loss, but nearly £1,000,000 profit on the postal service, that he should propose to increase the charges on postal account, presumably in order to make up the deficit on telegrams and telephones. I heard the right hon. Gentleman say that he was very much against subsidies. It seems to me that this is a way of paying a subsidy to the telephone customers and the telegram customers, and that the postal customers have every right to protest against their charges being put up because another part of the Department is not paying.
I have been asked specially to put before the House, as the result of a meeting of London Members which was held last night, the effect of these increased postal charges on local elections in London. In London we have a great number of local elections, county council, borough council, and guardians elections, in about 28 constituencies, with a considerable number of wards. In local elections there is no free postage. The recent electoral reform has had the effect of greatly increasing the number of local electors, and the effect of this increase in postal charges will be that in a ward or constituency with the same number of electors as in 1914 the postal charges will be doubled. Owing to the fact, however, that every electoral district and every electoral ward contains three times the number of electors, there will be an increased cost for postage of about three times the cost before the War. Not only that, but in pre-War times candidates could send 2 ounces of printed matter for ½d. Under the proposed new rates they will only be able to send I ounce of printed matter for 1d. This is the cause of a great deal of extra expense, and at the moment I do not see how it is going to be met, because in all these elections the expenditure is restricted, and if the charge for delivering election addresses and poll cards is increased in the way proposed there will be very little margin of expenditure in other directions left to candidates.
The right hon. Member for Norwich asked what was the alternative of those who criticise the Post Office. On this and on another matter, as to which I have received a strong appeal from agents of friendly societies who send out a great many circulars to branches in various dis- 2144 tricts, my remedy is that we might have in this country what Germany had for years before the War, what is called a local post. Where you have a number of letters—and the same rules apply to advertisement circulars and tradesmen's circulars—which are going to be delivered within local districts it seems unfair that we should charge the same rates of postage as are charged on circulars, postcards, or letters which are sent hundreds of miles. I would suggest that the Post-master-General should consider, seriously, from the point of view of meeting the complaints about election literature, and the circulars of friendly societies and other societies who send large numbers of circulars, and also as to advertisement circulars, whether a local postage rate should not be given in order that that kind of trade should not suffer, as it will under the new rates.
We have been told about the cost of postage in foreign countries. I asked the Postmaster-General on the 31st May what the postal rate was from America and whether the American Government proposed to increase it. The answer was that the postal rate for letters from America to this country was 2 cents, and in reply to a supplementary question I was told that there was no information as to whether that charge was going to be increased. According to the best information which I have been able to obtain, there is no proposal before the American Government to increase postal rates to this country. Everybody in business connected with the commercial life of London knows what efforts American merchants and manufacturers are making to capture British trade, and it is going to have a bad effect on our foreign trade if the American post office is not going to increase their charges and we are going: to increase ours.
Some weeks ago I asked the Postmaster-General a question in reference to circulars from bulb merchants in Holland. Thousands of circulars of Dutch bulb growers are sent from Holland to this country. This year, I presume, owing to the benefit of the German exchange to Holland, those circulars were sent into Germany and posted from Germany to this country with German stamps. My hon. Friend (Mr. Pease) said that he was quite aware of it, but that the Government had no option in the matter because the letters were sent under the 2145 International Postal Regulations and our Post Office had to deliver them. The hon. Member who moved the Amendment to-day showed a circular which he said came from Belgium. If these postal rates are going to be imposed, you will have a great deal of printing and advertisement circulars sent to these countries and posted from them to this country. While our own postage rates are very high, people who want to send out postcards or even letters can send to foreign countries and get delivery to this country at a very much cheaper rate of postage.
I asked the Postmaster-General on the 31st of May to give the cost of postage from some of the foreign countries. The cost of postcards from Germany under the new rates is 80 pfennigs. The German exchange to-day is about 250 marks to the £. That is something like 12½ times below par. If you divide 80 by 12 you get 6½ pfennigs, which means that the cost of the German postcards to come to this country is considerably less than the 1½d. which we have to pay. Ever since post-cards were introduced in this country it was always an understood rule that the postcard rate should be half the ordinary letter rate. Under this new proposal you are going to make the postcard rate three-fourths the rate of a letter, which may weigh a great deal more than double a postcard. The foreign postal rate is not going to be increased. Under the old postal rates it was always understood that if you bought a postcard for home delivery you paid ½d., and for a foreign postcard 1d., but under the new rate the charge is going to be 1½d., whether the postcard is for delivery at home or in France, Germany, or Italy. The cost of handling in the case of the foreign postcard is greater than for the home postcards, and the Post Office have no defence for putting up the charge for the latter to that extent. I am not interested in the picture postcard trade, but the picture postcards must have brought an enormous revenue to the Post Office. The increase of postage to 1½d. on a picture postcard will cause great restriction in that trade and injure the printing trade which produces these postcards. I believe that, in answer to a deputation the other day, the Postmaster-General stated that he was quite prepared to allow picture postcards to go through for 1d. provided that they contained not more than five words. That brings them under the printed matter regulations.
2146 As a business man with a great many years' commercial experience, it seems to me that the Post Office have certain ground expenses—the central offices and the local district offices—irrespective of what the income is, with the staff attached to the offices. They have certain ground charges which cannot be reduced. What the Post Office want to do is, having those ground charges, to make their revenue as much as they can, and if in a district office with a staff which at present has 10,000 letters a week for delivery you can provide for the delivery of 20,000 letters a week, I should have thought that it would be so much better from the point of view of the Post Office revenue. I admit that you cannot go back to pre-War conditions, but the Post Office generally made a huge mistake in increasing the charges not only of all kinds of service but of the parcel post. The minimum parcels post rate to-day is 9d., which is absurd. Take the case of poor people who have boys in the Army or Navy. It is absurd to charge them 9d. when they send a small packet to their boys. From the business point of view the Post Office has done the wrong thing. If a business firm had the Post Office they would look at it from a business point of view. They would say, "Our ground expenses are so much. Having earned those ground expenses our object will be to increase our revenue as much as ever we can beyond those ground expenses," and if the Post Office take that point of view they will earn a greater revenue and make a profit.
With regard to saving expenditure. I want to do nothing that will injure the postal servants in any way. Until comparatively recently the postal service was a badly-paid Government service, but in suburban London—I have more intimate knowledge of London than, other parts of the country—you have far too many deliveries in the day. I do not want to do anything to get men discharged or have their salaries reduced, but I believe that the Post Office service should be reorganised on a very much better basis. I live in the centre of South London. Before the War we had six postal services a day. Now we have five, and on most of those postal services there must necessarily be very few letters on a long round for a postman to deliver. I believe that the Post Office could save a great deal of money in reorganising deliveries, because 2147 in a great many parts of London, even in the business parts, I do not believe that you want this great number of deliveries during the day. Business houses want to get their letters in the morning and deal with them then. There may be reasons for a second delivery about 10 o'clock so as to deal with Scotch and Irish letters, but business men do not want deliveries all through the day. From that point of view the Post Office could save a great deal of money, and the public would not grumble.
I might give some instances as to how the commercial public are being taxed as regards postal and other services. One applies to the small accounts of large numbers of these people. In a place such as I represent, we have a number of small manufacturers and shopkeepers. Before the War a shopkeeper received a small account. He paid it by cheque. He had to have a penny stamp on the cheque. He had to pay 1d. for the stamp to send it out. Now he has to put a 2d. stamp on the cheque, irrespective of the amount, and a 2d. stamp on the letter. That is, he has to pay 4d. where he had to pay 2d. before the War. That is only a small amount, but to the man in a small business, who has to pay many cheques in a year, it is a very great tax. I view with great concern the proposals of the Post Office. I am certain they are not popular. I am a general supporter of the Government, and I am sure they have done nothing that has so roused public ire as has this proposed increase of postal rates. I ask the Postmaster-General to reconsider the whole of these charges? If the charges are imposed, I am certain they will be bad business for the Post Office. As instructed by my colleagues, the London Members, I have ventured to put forward suggestions as to postage for local elections by the setting up of a local post, and hope he will adopt it.
§ Mr. WIGNALL
I want to speak in the first place on a small matter, which affects the constituency I have the honour to represent. It is a matter I have sought to have attended to without troubling the House about it, but all my efforts have been exhausted without sucess. From the Parliamentary Secretary to the Post Office and from all the officials I have received every courtesy and kindness, and I think I was able to convince 2148 the gentlemen responsible at the General Post Office that my request was a reasonable request; but somebody else outside London, who is in charge of some country area, has said "No," and there the matter has ended. What puzzles me is this: You go to one authority and you feel that you have convinced him as to the fairness of your claim. You go away satisfied that something will be done. Then someone whom you have never seen and do not know, someone with power in a limited capacity, upsets the whole arrangement. Naturally you feel annoyed. In my constituency there is a town called Cinderford. There is in the area an old-fashioned series of collections and deliveries that has been in operation for many years since the district was a purely rural district, with the old-fashioned pos man starting off on a long round and many hours walking before him. In course of time one portion of the area known as the Ruspidge district has become a large colliery district. Pits have been sunk and a township has grown up. There is a mighty lot of difference between a purely rural area and a colliery area, but the same old rule and the same conditions exist now in dealing with this township and colliery area as existed in former years when there was only a farm-house to be found here and there. I have received resolutions on the subject from the parish councils, the urban district council, the Colliery Association, the colliery proprietors and everybody concerned, asking for a small rearrangement. The last collection in that area is about 5.30, and that raises difficulties for the colliery.
§ The ASSISTANT POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Mr. Pike Pease)
I think the last collection at Cinderford is 8 o'clock.
§ Mr. WIGNALL
That is exactly what I want in this particular district. Cinderford is about a mile away from Ruspidge, and the last collection in the Ruspidge area is from 5 to 5.14. The colliery people say that that collection is too early. They ask the Postmaster-General so to rearrange the area that the collection will take place about 7 o'clock. It would not involve any more expense or the employment of any additional official. It would give business people time to deal with their letters and to get them posted in Ruspidge. That seems a small matter to occupy the time of the House or even to 2149 occupy my time and that of the authorities. I regret having to have to take up the time of the House on the matter, but I have exhausted every other means of getting the question attended to. I have, as I said, gone to the General Post Office and received every kindness, but nothing has been done. Someone has come along and has said, "I am going to rule this roost, and you are not going to have this change." I am inclined to think that it is a personal matter between the gentlemen controlling affairs down there and the colliery people. There is nothing I have heard or seen yet which convinces me that this small change cannot be effected. I have fulfilled my obligation in carrying out the wishes of my constituency to bring the matter before the House. If a district does not get some benefit out of it, it will be a bad job.
I must say a few words on the general question under discussion. I am not concerned for the moment about the abolition of Sunday collections and deliveries. When I lived in the provinces the postman used to knock me up every Sunday morning. Since I have lived in London, the postman has been more considerate and has allowed me to rest. If we can live without a Sunday delivery in London, surely we can get along very well without it in the provinces. The only aspect of the question that appeals to me is that it affects the earning power of the postal official. It affects the postman's earnings to the extent of about 4s. 5d. a week. It affects not only the wages, but also the pensions. Four shillings and fivepence a week does not seem a lot, but it means much to families that have to depend upon small wages. Unfortunately, I had not the pleasure of listening to the new Postmaster-General's defence of his policy, for I had to pay my last tribute of respect to an old friend of 25 years standing, and I felt that that was my first duty to-day. I do not know what the Postmaster-General has said; I do not know whether he has made any concessions or promises. I would urge, however, that this question of the 4s. 5d. a week is of importance and I hope he will see his way clear to deal with the matter in a generous way. I do not want the work to be done on Sundays, but I do want the payment to be made. I say that candidly for I do not want to beat about the bush. The right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) says, "Hear, hear." That is 2150 twice we have agreed to-day. We are getting nearer. I honestly and conscientiously believe the country can do without Sunday deliveries and collections. We do not want the work done and we do not want the reduction in pay. The same number of letters and parcels will have to be delivered even if you abolish the Sunday work. It will mean a few extra parcels and letters possibly for delivery on Monday morning. Probably it will be necessary for the men to work later and some arrangements will be required for a later delivery on Saturday night.
Whatever the arrangement may be, if you take that 4s. 5d. from the man's weekly wage, and see that he performs the same volume of work from Monday to Saturday as he previously performed from Monday to Monday, it would not be fair. If the men have to perform the same duties, if they have to handle the same volume of letters and parcels, there ought to be an arrangement by which money would not be deducted from their wages. It will be said you are doing it for economy, and I know you are not doing it for the sake of relieving the men of their labour, but simply in order to save money. That means in this case, as it always means, that the whole burden of your economies are going to fall upon those who can least afford to bear them. It is going to fall upon men of the wage-earning class and their families. I do not believe in running the postal service at a loss, but I am convinced there are ways and means by which the leakage could be found out and dealt with.
I was looking over the cost of running the Press service, and I find that while the cost of telegrams for commercial purposes has increased 100 per cent., the Press service has only increased 25 per cent. On one occasion it was declared that the Press service was run at a loss to the country of about £20,000 a year, and it is being run at a loss to-day. I do not know what the loss is at the moment, but it is considerable. Whether it is just that the nation should bear it, I do not know; whether we should subsidise wealthy newspapers—[HON. MEMBERS: "The Daily Herald "]—is a matter you know more about than I do, but I think the wealthy syndicates of newspapers should not have greater privileges granted to them than the ordinary and poorer sections of the community. [An HON. MEMBER: "They do not depend 2151 upon money from Russia."] I do not know what the hon. Member is referring to. He is talking about Russia; I am talking about the General Post Office in St. Martin's-le-Grand, and this House of Commons. In that Department to which I was referring you are bearing one of your biggest losses, and it is a continuous loss, a running loss which you are meeting with, every day of your existence. The question is whether you ought to allow that loss to continue or whether you should not take steps to remedy it. I do not believe in privileges being given to the people who can best afford to pay. You are taking 4s. 5d. a week off the wages of the poor postman, and giving to the big Press Association and to the rich newspapers concessions and privileges which are not given to other people. I am glad to have an opportunity of presenting my view on these important matters, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will deal with the particular case I have brought before him in the generous and kindly spirit in which I have submitted it to him.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I am glad to hear that the Postmaster-General has made a concession regarding foreign printed matter. I am also glad to hear he intends to adhere to the suspension of Sunday letters. I was afraid he might be induced to give way on that point, because I understood him to say he intended to consult some of the leaders of the postal service, and as the hon. Member who has just sat down says, the postal service wants to get the money though, according to him, they do not want the work. That is not confined to the postal service. The miners have the same views upon that matter, and so also have many other people. For my own part, although I am always in the country on Sunday, and I feel it a very great convenience to receive letters on Sunday, I shall be very willing to submit to the inconvenience of not receiving letters provided we have any reduction in the cost of the Post Office. It is to a reduction of expenses we have to look, in order to effect saving. The right hon. Gentleman has very clearly and frankly put before the Committee the actual position which is very serious. Speaking in round figures the expense, which in 1914 was £27,000,000, has risen to the stupendous amount of £70,000,000. 2152 There has been no appreciable increase in the staff, but the wages paid to the staff have risen from £15,000,000 to £45,000,000, which is to say that where a man was receiving £2 a week in 1914 he is now receiving £6 a week. I do not think there is any justification for that. The right hon. Gentleman says there was some arrangement made in that matter. I presume he is referring to the fact that the Government agreed that all Government servants were to receive a certain war bonus, and that therefore it is not the fault of the right hon. Gentleman himself, but of the Government as a whole. No one in this House is more anxious than I am to maintain a bargain. I have never broken a bargain which I have entered into, but was there a bargain in this case? If there was such a bargain, then the Government have been very improvident. As I understand it, however, the arrangement was that there should be a war bonus, and what is the meaning of a war bonus? I never could understand how it could be suggested that one should receive some benefit simply because there was a war, but in any case the War is over, and the very addition of the word "war" to the word "bonus" surely meant that when the War was over the bonus was to cease. The word "bonus" does not mean an increase of salary, but something given for a time, and if I am right in these definitions, the first thing the Government should do is reduce these war bonuses.
There is a deficiency at the present moment of something like £3,500,000, or, at any rate, that is the estimated deficiency at the end of the year. There has been no increase in staff; the wages before the War amounted in round figures to £15,000,000, and suppose you double that, it would mean £30,000,000. It has actually increased to £46,000,000, and the difference between £30,000,000 and 46,000,000, namely, £16,000,000, would make up the deficit and give a profit to the community. Surely something in that direction could be done. There are a large number of people in this country who have received no increase in the shape of bonus during or since the War, but have had heavy additional burdens placed upon them. Why should you single out a particular class and say they are not to suffer the inconveniences which all others suffered from the dread- 2153 ful War, and not only that, but they are to receive additional sums of money, enabling them to feel there never was such a thing as a war, and further that, to put them in that better position, people are to pay who have received nothing whatever? The right hon. Gentleman repeated a fallacy which I have heard very often from the Front Bench, namely, that you must get the best brains in the country, and that if you do not pay high salaries you will not get the best brains. I do not want to say a word in disparagement of the Civil Service, especially of the old Civil Service. I do not think there ever was a better Civil Service in the world, but were they all supermen and geniuses? I am not at all sure that they were. They were honest, capable, straightforward Englishmen, but not people who could make enormous fortunes by simply walking out of the Post Office, or whatever other office they were engaged in, to some other place. Why does a man accept a moderate permanent salary? For two reasons. One is that it is permanent, and he is relieved from any anxiety about his affairs. He is relieved from the fear that if he happens to make a bad bargain all his profits will be gone. Another reason is that probably if he went into business he would not make anything, and therefore you must not confuse with such men the few very clever people who are really able to command very large salaries. I venture to say to the Government that they need not be afraid of losing the sort of men they want in the Civil Service—ordinary upright, straightforward, honest men.
This is an occasion upon which we might point out to the Government that they must begin seriously and earnestly to economise. You cannot economise unless you begin to reduce expenditure, and in the Civil Service the only way you can economise is either by abolishing offices or by reducing the expenses upon them. I am not suggesting that the Post Office should be abolished, but there are other offices which might be abolished. We must be fair, but while I, as much as anyone else, would like to give everybody a high wage, we have not got the money to do it, and we have to face that fact and make people understand it.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. JAMES M. M. ERSKINE
Having only taken my seat to-day rise 2154 with great diffidence to oppose the increase in the postal rates, more especially with reference to postcards. I have had twenty or thirty letters to-day from various societies, and I think it is only fair that I should give the House a sample of them. I certainly will not detain the House more than two or three minutes, as I feel I ought not really to have risen at all to-day, being such a very new Member. The Incorporated Free and Open Church Association, Church House, Dean's Yard, London, S.W., write as follows:I am directed by the Council to ask if you will use your best endeavour to frustrate the proposed increase in postal rates which if carried out would be an almost insuperable burden to our Association and kindred Societies who are working for the good of the Church. We have great difficulty in financing our way as it is, owing to the enormous increase in the cost of printing, stationery and office rent, and the new charges for postage would be about the last straw, which we trust will not be added to our other burdens.I will read only one more:Church House, Dean's Yard, Westminster. Church Reform League. May I ask for your strenuous end eavour to defeat the proposed increase of postal rates? We are one of fifty religious societies established in this House. We are all suffering from diminished contributions, and are finding it difficult to maintain our work, however necessary, or excellent our operations may be. The threatened increase of postal charges will bring upon many of us such an added burden that it may well ruin some most excellent Societies, and make it impossible for them to carry on.I have thirty or forty letters in a similar strain. It seems to me that the burden is intolerable on our poor people. This extra ½d. is a very heavy and serious tax on the poor. The postcard now has risen 300 per cent. It is altogether against the interests of the Post Office itself, because, if it makes its goods so dear, surely it will sell less of them. At least, that is the way I find it in business, and I fancy the Post Office will find the same.
Mr. S. ROBERTS
When, the other day, in answer to a question by an hon. Member opposite, figures were given showing that we were paying in salaries and bonus three times the amount of 1913–14, it seemed to me a figure which should give us pause and make us look very carefully into the causes of and reasons for the increase. In doing so, we find from figures given that out of the total increase 2155 in remuneration of £30,000,000 certainly £28,000,000 is in war bonus. I was wondering where the other £2,000,000 came in. I thought it must necessarily be that there had been an increase of staff. Apparently, that is not so. The staff is less than it was before the War. Therefore, if it is not an increase of staff, it must be due to what is called the normal increase on merit advances. In the ordinary way in a business concern the merit advances rectify themselves. As men die out boys are taken on, and so the general scale of salary remains the same. We all know, in the early periods of the increased cost of living, that merit advances were given which were not really merit advances, but had that sympathetic element, only doing something to help meet the increased cost of living which was not fully reflected in the war bonus then given. It was done by many local authorities, and we must not, in considering this, consider that the staff are getting only a war bonus at the present time amounting to an increase of 160 per cent. There is an extra £2,000,000 in advances given in some way or other on the recommendations of the heads of departments. Therefore, we get the astounding fact that whereas we are accustomed to a double cost, it is somewhat difficult to swallow a treble cost, with the currency so much under proof as it is at the present time.
As the Postmaster-General rightly said, the whole question here, as far as one can see, is of the remuneration of the staff. The only way in which great economies can be obtained is by seeing that this amount of three times the pre-War remuneration is brought down to something a little more commensurate with the cost of living. The Post Office propose to meet the deficit by increasing the rate. Is there not another alternative? Have they thoroughly considered the alternative of increasing facilities instead of increasing the rate? I was much interested the other day in reading a circular prepared by the hon. Member for West Leyton (Mr. Newbould) in regard to the picture palace industry. In that circular the hon. Member pointed out that the picture palaces, owing to increased costs and other causes, were not in such a state of financial prosperity as they had been in the past, and that the only way they saw of getting back their prosperity was 2156 by decreasing the charges to the public and so getting more of the public to come in. If that is the way business men would act in regard to their own industry, is it not possible that it might be worthy of consideration by the Post Office? I wish to support what one of the London Members said a few moments ago in making an appeal for cheap local posts. There might be a post of letters which, for instance, could be delivered after the first sorting, or letters could be delivered to the Post Office in bulk, arranged in streets, so that there would be no trouble or difficulty for the postal officials or the postmen in sorting and delivery. That business would bring in revenue, because there are a great many thousands of people who employ labour to deliver in the locality rather than spending money in the post. If there were a reduced local post the money now spent in delivery might come into the revenue.
Again, there is the question of more efficiency in administration. We have all heard stories of curious things done by various officials in the Telephone Department. I do not like to give a personal instance, but it will be amusing if it were not so sad. I will give one instance of what happened to me the other day when I was getting into a house in town. I signed a new contract for a telephone, and wrote to the proper authority asking him to give me a new machine, as the one at present there had been practically destroyed owing to the house being empty, and I asked him also to put in an extension bell to the basement. Quite promptly a gentleman arrived, fixed a sort of little bivouac on the pavement outside, and there made investigations during most of the morning. At the end of the morning inquiries were made as to what he was doing, and he said he was going to put in a new line. He was told that a new line was not required and that all that was needed was an instrument and an extension bell. He produced his sheet, and said his instructions were to put in a new line. On being told that the line was there already he rang up his superior officer. The superior officer said, "You must do what is on your day sheet." If the lady at that end had not been very persistent he would have done it. She objected very strongly to this palpable waste, and eventually somebody was got on the telephone, and the man told to go home. 2157 He went back, saying that he had wasted all his morning. Somebody else came the next day to see what wanted doing. A third gentleman arrived on another day, and in a very short time, very efficiently and courteously, he did the little job which should have been done on the first morning when the first man came. That is an instance in the experience of all of us.
Another method of dealing with, this deficiency is the abolition of unremunerative services. One that has been suggested is less deliveries, and I presume that would carry with it less collections from the post boxes. I think that could be very easily done without adding to the weight of any postman's burden and making it more than he could carry. It would certainly be a relief to large numbers of us who receive letters at all times of the day. As private individuals and as business men we prefer receiving letters at stated intervals, and at intervals as far apart as possible; then one lot can be got out of the way before another lot comes along. The Post Office are taking the first step in the right direction in the abolition of the Sunday post, which, so far as I can make out, nobody wants, except some of the postmen. This is the first real economy which the Postmaster-General has proposed. It has already been met by protests, both from hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House and from postal workers in various parts of the country. Already I have received two letters from the Union of Postal Workers in different parts of my constituency, protesting against the abolition of this Sunday labour on the ground that it will reduce their remuneration.
We must realise that we cannot economise without reducing somebody or affecting somebody. We shall do very well to see that the path of the economist who really sets out to practise the doctrine that he preaches will not be the path of popularity. When we once start really and effectively economising we shall find that the cry of the overtaxed, which has been so recently voiced, will be drowned by the clamour of those who find that their remuneration is reduced or their employment taken away. When the real struggle for economy comes, as it must do, it will not be a popular cry, and we shall have to use the very greatest self-restraint and moral courage as econo- 2158 mists to stand up against the pressure that will be put upon us by innumerable people. There will be a far greater number of voices against us then than of those who advocate the cause of economy. We are all willing and able to give lip service to the cause of economy. We all want to economise at somebody else's expense and at the expense of someone else's pet theory. We do not want to do it at our own expense and at the expense of our pet theory. In domestic life you will find both partners absolutely united that economy is necessary. The difference of opinion comes in as to whether it is done at the tobacconist's or at the hat shop. In the case of the Post Office and of all other Government Departments, whatever steps are taken in the direction of the reduction of expenditure will cause some suffering to individuals and good causes, but unless this is done we come to such a financial catastrophe that there is a suffering to all individuals and all good causes, and if that is so, it is then the very poorest and the weakest who will feel it most.
§ Mr. BOWERMAN
I desire to emphasise a point which has been raised already in regard to the serious effect which these increases in the postal rates will have, if eventually agreed upon, so far as the printing trade is concerned. A day or so ago the Postmaster-General was good enough to receive a deputation from a thoroughly representative body representing the whole of the printing trade of this country, and I want to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that the speakers who addressed him on that occasion presented a very strong case indeed against these proposed increases. The Postmaster-General turned a deaf ear to everything that was said, and he takes his stand upon the judgment of his permanent officials The deputation pointed out that the effect of these increased rates must necessarily be to restrict printing, and they gave him chapter and verse where that had already taken place in anticipation of the increased rates. Is this a time to put men out of work, especially after yesterday's proceedings? The Postmaster-General may take it that that is going to be one of the first effects of these increased rates so far as the printing trade goes. The trade is in a bad condition now, and in London in one branch of the trade over 1,000 men out of 10,000 are unemployed, 2159 yet we are going to restrict printing further. I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that he ought to consider representations made to him by business men who have spent all their lives in the printing trade.
Modern statesmanship seems to consist of passing a Measure one year, in spite of the strength of the arguments used in opposition to it, and then the following year admitting that the legislation was wrong and having to retrace their steps. I suggest that if you insist on these rates being increased you are going to damage the printing trade, and you are not going to get the revenue that your officers claim that you will, and why should you inflict an injury upon a trade when you are not going to obtain the revenue that you require? I suppose the right hon. Gentleman's view is that if his permanent officials mislead him, not intentionally, then they are to bear the brunt of it, and I suppose that means promotion to another place for the right hon. Gentleman. I want the Postmaster-General to listen to the advice of business men and look about for some other way of dealing with this question. Although I had not the pleasure of hearing the right hon. Gentleman's speech, I understand that an Advisory Committee has been set up. May I suggest that he should be good enough to hold up these proposed increases until that Advisory Committee has inquired and reported? If he will do that, it may only be a matter of two or three months, he certainly will give great satisfaction to the printing trade, and probably in other directions, and I would press that point upon him, that he should not impose these increased rates until the Committee he has suggested has had time to consider them.
§ Mr. ORMSBY-GORE
If there is to be any real chance of economy in the Post Office and we are not to have year after year further burdens on the public, we have got to reduce both the staff and its remuneration. That is the only way you can do it. The increases of cost of the Post Office services, compared with what they were before the War, are greater than in any other Department and in any other class of workers in the State. I entirely support the point of view taken this afternoon by the hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir C. Oman). Here you have at the far end of the Civil Ser- 2160 vice a large number of well-paid officials, who are having high war bonuses still paid them, whereas university professors, clergy, doctors, all the middle classes, are overtaxed at this present moment and have no war bonus at all, and the whole question has got to be reconsidered. I quite agree that at the bottom end of the scale you have got to give a permanent wage on a different basis from that which obtained before the War, but here, under the system which the Government have gone in for, you have increased your permanent charges and your pension charges extravagantly. As to reduction of staff and expenditure, the first thing we want to know quite clearly this afternoon is what exactly is the subsidy which the State and the taxpayer are paying for Press telegrams. The telegraph services of the country are being run at a loss of £4,000,000 a year, and if that figure is correct, it is the telegraphs that ought to be bearing the burden, and not the Post Office.
Personally, I shall go into the Lobby against the Government Vote on the post-card business alone. I believe the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion of charging 1½d. for the written postcard is absolutely fantastic, and when his officials estimate that as a result of that charge he is only going to lose 10 per cent. of his written postcards, I am quite sure they are as mistaken as they usually have been. In this connection I hope the public realise that the picture postcard which is not written on is to continue to go at the 1d. rate, five words being allowed. That means that you will really lose practically the whole of your written postcard traffic, and, so far from getting the extra £1,000,000 which you expect, you will probably make a loss. It comes back to this, that what is wanted row in the Post Office service of this country is new blood at St. Martin's-le-Grand. You hear it everywhere, and when the right hon. Gentleman tells us that one of his higher officials has got a job offered him outside at £3,000 a year, I say, "For goodness' sake, let him go, and get some new blood into the central staff at St. Martin's-le-Grand."
I would like to refer for the moment to the telegraph messenger boys. I happen to live in London close to one of the principal post offices, and the swarm of telegraph boys in the street is something amazing. They amble about and lead very pleasant and happy lives, in 2161 twos and threes, and I never see one on a bicycle. I asked a question in this House as to how many there were, and there are 65. I further asked, as it is a district in which nearly every house has a telephone, what steps have been taken to secure that telegrams were delivered by telephone. No real effort has been made by the Post Office to reduce the expense, of delivery of telegrams, and they keep at one office 65 ambulating telegraph boys, when a third of which number on bicycles would do the work much more cheaply, much better, and much more quickly. The whole staffing of the Post Office wants going into from top to bottom, and I only hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take steps to see that we do not attempt, now we are a poor country, to carry on on the sort of lavish scale we did before the War when we were a rich country. We are grossly overtaxed and overburdened, we are no longer the rich country that we were, and we have got to cut our coat according to our cloth. We have got to see that we have an adequate postal service, but not an extravagant one, and I maintain that at the present moment it is extravagantly run.
In regard to internal printed matter, the right hon. Gentleman estimates a reduction of 25 per cent. He said: "I am estimating for a reduction, by my present increase, of 25 per cent. on the internal printed matter circulated." Is not that a very serious figure, and is it not a confession that you are going to reduce the amount of trade circulars and the like circulating in this country? You are going to lose, I believe, £5,000,000 worth of trade, if not more, in order to get an increased revenue of £1,000,000. I am sure the figure given by the right hon. Gentleman of the estimated reduction is quite sufficient to justify us opposing that change. I quite agree that the Post Office accounts have got to be made to balance, but let the loss that is at present being made by the telegraphs and telephones lie upon them and not upon the postal services. They are the last services that ought to be touched, and if it is true that the Press of this country is getting valuable services at the taxpayers' expense, that ought to stop. The Post Office is supervised and super-supervised until you can get no decent service at all. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not take everything 2162 he is told by his senior officials at St. Martin's-le-Grand for granted, and that he will look into the details all through, with a view to securing economies by reducing the numbers and the expense of the staff and introducing labour-saving machinery.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
With the general principles which my hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Ormsby-Gore) has just laid down, I am entirely in agreement. I have no doubt he is quite right that there might be considerable saving in administration in some of the ways he mentioned. But I must say I thought he singled out a particularly bad case upon which to ground the vote that he intends to give. I do not share his feeling at all in regard to the effect of the charge of 1½d. for postcards. If he is right—and he may be—it is a thing upon which everyone without statistics to go upon may find it difficult to form an opinion—if it is true—if the effect of this sort of thing is what he states—it only shows what an enormous number of unnecessary postcards must be written. What will be the effect of charging 1½d postage for a postcard? Unless they are unnecessary postcards, they will be either written and stamped with 1½d. or, what probably will happen, will be that the people will say that it costs very little more to send a letter, consequently, instead of sending a postcard for 1½d., they will write a letter and put a 2d. stamp on it. Whichever way it comes about there will not be that serious loss of revenue that my hon. Friend behind me anticipates.
I was very interested in what the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Bowerman) said in regard to printed matter. Here, again, I do not profess to have anything in the nature of expert knowledge, and I know my right hon. Friend has. I must, however, say I was surprised at what he said. I myself should not have thought what he said was true, but apparently it has been allowed by the Postmaster-General that the falling off may be 25 per cent. All I can say is—and my experience must be a common one, and personally I am not engaged in trade or commerce—I fill my waste-paper basket most days with these circulars. A great many of them seem to be very expensively got up. They are recklessly sent about the country. One very frequently gets three or four dupli- 2163 cates either by the same post or at an interval of a post or two. These circulars must cost a good deal of money because they are printed on expensive paper, the printing is high-class, and often they are illustrated. They are spread broadcast by the hundred thousand. I myself can never recall an instance of giving an order to anybody through the influence of one of these circulars, and I very seldom come across anybody who does. Presumably, however, those who send them out know their business, for strange and incredible as it may seem, I suppose the sending about of these circulars whole-sale does result in trade orders being given. Anyhow, we must assume that. That being so, I cannot imagine that these circulars are going in large numbers to be stopped because of the small addition to the postage. If so, it must be extraordinarily nicely calculated by the people who send them out as to what is the exact trade value of sending out, say, 100,000 circulars. I must, therefore, say that I am sceptical as to whether this increase will have that very damaging result to the printing trade, although, as I say, the right hon. Gentleman is an expert and I am not. I listened to what he said with great deference, at the same time, I cannot escape scepticism as to whether his pessimism will turn out to be justified.
A great deal of criticism, it appears to me, which has been directed against these charges, has been very speculative. We had this afternoon an interesting speech from an hon. Member who has just taken his seat. If I may, without presumption, I should like to congratulate the hon. Member upon the distinction of having entered the House and made a speech the same day—a characteristic speech, and a rare occurrence. What I mean by characteristic is this: we have not yet learnt to speak of anything characteristic about himself, but of the party—if it is a party—to which he belongs. I remember a short time ago noticing with great interest the first vote given in this House by the hon. Member for Dover, who is also a distinguished member of the same party. The first vote given by that hon. Member was in favour of adding enormously to the public expenditure. If the vote he gave in the Lobby on the first occasion had prevailed, I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer said it would have meant 2164 the expenditure of anything from £50,000,000 to £100,000,000.
Therefore, it was very characteristic that another hon. Member (Mr. James. Erskine) connected with the party to which I have referred should come into this House and lose no time whatever—I do not know how he" is going to vote—in getting up and making a speech against a proposal the object of which is to make one of our great Services self-supporting. The hon. Gentleman told us that he has had 30 or 40 letters. I daresay great many of us have had letters. One of them he was good enough to read to the House. These letters have already convinced the hon. Member that the extra ½d. on the postcard would be a very heavy tax upon people who write postcards, and consequently he is in favour of removing that tax from the people who write postcards to the general taxpayer.
§ Mr. ERSKINE
My point was that if the Post Office made proper economies, that tax of the extra ½d. on the postcard would not be necessary.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I do not think that I really do any injustice to the hon. Member, because it is a very easy thing to say, especially if you do not consider it your duty to go on to show how it can be done, that you would meet up this deficiency in some other way. That is the practical effect of what the right hon. Gentleman said—whatever he intended. The direct effect of his speech if it was given effect to by the policy of the Government would be to remove the tax from the writer of the postcard to the general tax-payer, and, then, of course, leave the hon. Member to devise means by which the Government—if they were displaced by a Government of the Anti-waste party—could make good the deficiency. At all events, the first step he has taken has been in that direction. I am rather inclined to anticipate future speeches of the hon. Gentleman, though the last thing I should desire to do would be in any way to misrepresent him. He has given this much insight into his character already; he is a very soft-hearted man. He has been moved by the pathos of these 40 letters to make a speech in the direction which I have already indicated. I anticipate that the hon. Member will thereby prove himself a very characteristic member of the Anti-waste party, will always 2165 be having his heart wrung by appeals from his constituents and from other sources. Time after time he will get up in this House and make the most eloquent speeches on economy, denounce the extravagance of the Government, and end up by making a passionate appeal for profuse expenditure for the benefit of some particular class from whom he has had 40 or more letters. That is, if I may say so, intensely characteristic. I mention it in passing because while it appears to me to be characteristic of that particular party it is really very characteristic of us all.
I am not here to blame the hon. Member more than anybody else, because these postal charges, as we all know, created a great outcry in the country when proposed. Everybody has been denouncing them. It is characteristic in this world that although, on whatever Benches we sit, and very desirous—and sincerely so—that there should be a reduction of expenditure and no extravagance on the port of the Government, that whenever a proposal is made—I do not care by what Department—in the direction of reducing expenditure and making that Department pay its way, whatever it may be, the outcry is always against the particular way in which it is proposed to do it. There are always plenty of critics, whether in this House or in the Press, who are ready to say, "Oh, that is the one way in which you should not do this; do it in some other way." I myself have not got the knowledge to take a special line, but I say that if a great Department like the Post Office, with civil servants in it who have been eulogised by a number of Members this afternoon who have been brought in contact with them, cannot even make a proposal in its administration, a sensible proposal, for paying its way, or for reducing its expenditure, then I certainly would be hopeless of it being done at all. I do not believe that hon. Members outside the Government in this House, or the gentlemen in Fleet Street who sit in their offices and write articles, are a bit more likely than the skilled servants of the Post Office to devise the proper means for reducing expenditure.
There is one point, and one point only, upon which I should like to join the critics of the Postmaster-General. A Labour Member, whom I do not see in his place at the moment, made an interesting 2166 speech a little time ago in which he said, and with a great deal of force, that in the case of those who are to be damaged—because somebody must be damaged—you cannot reduce expenditure without somebody suffering—it was unfair that the heavier loss should fall upon those less able to bear it. With that I agree. Now as regards the giving up of Sunday deliveries. I am entirely in favour of it. It is right in principle. It is desirable from all points of view; from that of economy and from the point of view of Sunday labour. But I do think that it is rather hard that the whole loss of wages should fall upon those who have the smallest wage. I do not want now to go into the larger question of the war bonus, but I think that, considering that the higher-paid grades are still in receipt of war bonus which has been very fairly and rightly criticised from many points of view, there is room to take something out of their pockets, instead of letting it all come out of the pockets of the small-wage man, who will lose proportionately in their wages by losing the Sunday work. I do think that my right hon. Friend should insist that they shall not have the whole lot put upon them. It is a serious thing for a great many who find it very difficult now to make ends meet, although, of course, they do not like Sunday labour for itself. They are facing with great anxiety the loss of the income they will suffer when they are no longer employed upon Sunday. The right hon. Gentleman, I think, ought to insist that the loss is graded upwards to the higher grades, and that the people for whom I speak should be relieved from, at any rate, some portion, and I should say, a very large portion, of the loss that they are like to suffer. Except from that point of view I am inclined to join in the approval which has been expressed of the statement made by the Postmaster-General, which was not only a very lucid one, but also one of a very convincing character.
§ Sir F. YOUNG
I wish to join with those who have expressed great concern as regards the effect of the Postmaster-General's proposal, and I do not think he has approached the subject from the point of view which is in the mind of the public as a whole. The right hon. Gentleman has come down here this afternoon prepared with figures showing that his own Department very accurately forecasts its Estimates as regards what new 2167 charges will bring in. He has shown that the increases put on at different periods during the War have realised almost to a pound the Estimates of the Department. I think he has chosen a very bad period upon which to base his calculations, because that was a period when money was never more plentiful. It did not matter during that period what was charged, because the people spent more than they ever did before. Therefore that is no guide for us now when money is very scarce and people have all got their eyes turned in economical directions both privately and otherwise.
I think we have every reason for saying that these charges will not realise the results which have been suggested. I agree with those who have expressed the opinion that the extra revenue required to make the balance equal will not be forthcoming. I think the House is unanimously agreed on the point that it is necessary that the Post Office should be self-supporting. The Government say that their method of bringing about this desirable end is to increase their charges. Other Speakers say the best method is to reduce the expenses, and I am in accord with those who take the latter view. The Postmaster-General has made an excellent speech in which he has put the position most clear and most lucidly before us, but when the expenditure upon the Post Office has risen from £27,000,000 to £70,000,000 that surely suggests considerable possibilities of reduction. When we recollect that the Treasury has recently sent out a circular to every Department inviting them to reduce their expenditure by at least 20 per cent. we expected that this Department of the Post Office would have been able to show a reduction.
I agree with hon. Members who have raised the question of the war bonus. It is time not only in reference to the Post Office, but in regard to the services generally that the whole question of the war bonus should be reviewed, and we should bring the costs in the shape of salaries down to a more reasonable basis. I think we are all agreed that the Post Office should balance its accounts, but it is equally right that private individuals should be able to balance their accounts. They are struggling against great difficulties, and here is another tax on their limited resources. The Government are 2168 now called upon to review the war bonus right through the service, and therefore it is feasible to bring about a sufficient saving in the Post Office to make up for the deficit indicated in the Postmaster-General's speech. When that is done, those employed in the Post Office will be no worse off than millions of their fellow countrymen who inevitably have to face the commercial and industrial stagnation in this country which, although it may improve, is likely to be with us for some considerable time.
A large number of our people during the War have had no bonus to help them during the last five or six years. Many of our industries have had increased wages and bonus, but they are now being brought up against the competition of the world, and to-day they are faced with serious reductions in their wages. The same experience has to come home to those who have received war bonus in the Civil Service. I think it is quite right to say that the reduction should operate less drastically on those at the bottom rungs of the ladder. We all realise that they offer the least scope for reduction, but taking all the grades in the Civil Service there must be some measure of reduction of the war bonus so as to enable the affairs of this country to be carried on more economically and to bring these gentlemen into a position more in conformity with the hard and difficult position in which the rest of the community find themselves.
§ Sir G. ROWLAND BLADES
With regard to the increased charge on picture postcards, the Postmaster-General said that he did not believe it would restore this business to Germany, as if so he would not have proceeded with the additional rate. He said he felt sure that the concession of five written words for a penny would fully meet the case. May I point out that this concession was made when the postage was increased from one halfpenny to one penny, with the result that not only did a reduction of 50 per cent. in the picture postcards used in this country come about, but also a marked reduction in the production of new designs. May I ask the Postmaster-General whether if in practice he is satisfied that this important trade won from Germany is likely to be handed back to that country, whether he will reconsider the withdrawal of the increased rate?
§ Lieut.-Colonel NALL
It seems to me unfortunate that hon. Members have not given the one Department which does seem to be working on economical lines credit for the efforts it is making. I find it extremely difficult to defend the expenditure of many of our Government Departments, but the faults that apply to some of the other Ministries cannot be charged against the Post Office. Allegations have been made that in regard to the staff considerable economies ought to be made, in spite of the admitted fact that the Post Office staff to-day is smaller than it was before the War. Although I had very considerable misgivings as to the policy embodied in the Postmaster-General's proposals, most of my doubts were dissipated by the right hon. Gentleman's statements in moving this Vote. It may be true that another halfpenny on postcards will so reduce the numbers sent through the post as to affect the revenue, but after all if the Post Office say that this particular class of postal missive does not pay the expense of its conveyance, then there is no case for it, and no reason for opposing the increased charge. I think if people have to choose between a postcard at three halfpence and a letter at two pence the Post Office will get the advantage, because most people will send the letter.
The point relating to Press telegrams has already been raised, and I wish to emphasise and support it, especially in regard to the point made as to the deferred rate telegrams. What I have said on a previous occasion with regard to cables to the East applies equally to the telegraph service at home. The Press make use of our telegraph facilities to send all over the country a whole lot of quite useless nonsense with which they fill some of the papers, and it is not good enough that that sort of stuff should be sent about the country at the expense of the general taxpayer and the other users of the telegraph service. Therefore if the Press rates can be very severely revised it may lead to a very wholesome elimination of a good deal of the nonsense that is at present published in the newspapers. The Post-master-General has described a bureaucrat as a man who wishes to give other people something which they are not quite sure they want, but I feel that there is a tendency now to remove the bureaucrat from Whitehall to Fleet Street.
2170 8.0 P.M.
I will not make the comment which I might have done upon the speech of the hon. Member for St. George's (Mr. Erskme). I am sure hon. Members will congratulate him at any rate upon the promptitude with which he made his maiden speech to-day. I only hope that he responded to those very excellent church organisations whose letters he has read by sending them a subscription as promptly as he read them out to the Committee. I shall be very pleased to write to him on behalf of a number of organisations with which I am acquainted. With regard to the Sunday post, I would like to ask the Assistant Postmaster-General to give the Committee some indication of what is really intended in the way of Sunday evening collections. Will places like Manchester, Liverpool, Belfast and Dublin be able to post letters on Sunday night for delivery in town here possibly before noon on Monday? It is really a very much more important point, and a much more necessary facility to the public generally to get a reasonable Sunday despatch rather than a Sunday delivery. The hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Ormsby-Gore) raised some point with regard to the delivery of telegrams, and I really thought the comments were most uncalled for. After all, if one wishes to put on a telegram a telephone number, instead of a street address, the telegram is delivered by telephone from the post office; but if, as many people prefer, they wish a telegram to be delivered in writing, the extra words required to give the full address are added, and have to be paid for accordingly. Therefore, it is at the option of the sender whether the message shall be telegraphed in writing or telephoned. As to giving every telegraph boy a bicycle, I am not at all sure that the economy effected in the number of boys employed would counterbalance the other costs.
There is one other point upon which I should like to have an answer, and it is that relating to the cost involved in election matter. I think an hon. Member for one of the London Divisions raised this point, and it is a very important point, because at the present time the limit of expenditure allowed in the case of a municipal election is £25 for the first 500 and 2d. per voter over 500. I have one or two examples of what that means. Take the city I represent. In the Exchange Ward 2171 (the smallest ward) there are a little over 1,600 electors. That allowance works out at £34 7s. 6d. At the present ½d. rate one would spend a little over £3 in postage, and the new rate would make it over £6. There are 12,800 electors in the largest ward (Chorlton-cum-Hardy) and the present postage costs £26 14s. 6d. and will be increased to £53 9s. It is perfectly true that in a Parliamentary election every candidate can send out an address or poll card, whichever he chooses, at the free rate, but at a Parliamentary election, allowing for one circulation of literature which must be paid for, and included within the limit of 5d. per vote, the doubling of the postage rate will be a very serious thing. At the present time, if one sends out one lot of literature at ½d., it means perhaps one-tenth of the total expense allowed. Under the new rates it will be one-fifth of the 5d. that will go in postage. That is a very serious thing. In Manchester, with 335,000 electors, out of the expenditure allowed of nearly £7,000, the present postage charge is about £698. Under the new rate it will be £1,396. That should be specially provided for, either by increasing the free rate or by an Amendment of the Representation of the People Act, altering the allowance per candidate in the election. Therefore I hope my right hon. Friend will give some indication as to what is intended to be done to relieve that situation.
With regard to the Sunday post, I hope it will not be taken for granted by the Post Office that the Sunday post either in collection or delivery has gone for all time. I hope that this will be regarded as a necessary expedient in the interest of economy, and that when the national finances are restored to such a state as will permit the Post Office to restore these facilities, we may hope to get back to the pre-War facilities that were enjoyed by the nation, which is, however, for the time being, probably prepared to dispense with them in the urgent interest of national economy.
§ Mr. MARRIOTT
I know there are a large number of Members who desire to address the Committee, and therefore I shall detain the Committee for only a very few minutes; but like, I suppose, every other Member of the House, I have received a very large amount of 2172 correspondence from my constituents, a very small portion of which I wish to place before the Committee. I would like to say on one point I am in very cordial agreement indeed with the Postmaster-General. If the alternatives which he has placed before the Committee are accepted by the Committee as exhaustive, then I think that he is choosing the less bad of the two alternatives. His point was, and I cordially agree, that the Post Office must be made to pay its way. It cannot exist, and ought not to continue to exist, on a subsidy from the taxpayers at large. I believe that if there is one thing of which the country is heartily sick, it is the subsidising of any trade or any industry at the expense of the community at large. On that point, then, I agree with the Postmaster-General; but I feel bound to ask whether the alternatives which he has placed before the Committee are in reality exhaustive. He says we must either increase the charges or we must have a subsidy.
We had a very interesting speech, if he will allow me to say so, from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Deptford (Mr. Bowerman), who spoke from very large experience, to which, of course, I am only a stranger, on a very important interest, but I have a word to say with regard to that industry, for a number of my constituents are, if I may be allowed to say so, the best printers in the world, and they feel very strongly indeed with regard to this question which has been raised by my right hon. Friend opposite. The University Press of Oxford is at the present time printing a very large number of picture postcards for the British Empire, for the Wallace Collection, and for museums and galleries, and are having a very large sale for those postcards. The Treasury have lately realised—perhaps rather tardily realised—the very great educational value of those postcards, and they have called upon the museums and galleries under their charge to suggest suitable subjects for reproduction and generally to foster the scheme. It is pointed out by my constituents that it is exceedingly unfortunate that, just as one Department of the Government has become aware of the very high educational asset that costs them nothing to their Department, another Department should interpose an obstacle to that experiment. That point is one which I venture very 2173 respectfully to urge upon the attention of my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General.
I return to my question whether the alternatives which the right hon. Gentleman has placed before the Committee are really exhaustive. The whole of this question is really contained in the two points which the Postmaster-General put before us this afternoon. It is almost entirely a question on the one side of salaries and wages, and on the other side of hours of work. We cannot get away from that, and, unpopular as the topic may be, and as it will be in some constituencies, it is a topic which we must force upon the attention of the Postmaster-General. Hardly anyone has spoken in this Debate without insisting that we must tackle the whole question of Civil Service bonuses from top to bottom, and especially from the top. I think that, under the conditions of the moment, it would be something approaching barbarity to begin at the bottom. I want to begin at the top.
Mr. CHAMBERLAIN (Leader of the House)
I venture to say the worst economy my hon. Friend could name would be to underpay the most responsible civil servants of the State. This expenditure, according to the recommendations of a Committee comprising the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) and two men of great business experience, was a wise and prudent expenditure, if we were to maintain the great traditions and character of the Civil Service.
§ Mr. MARRIOTT
I am very glad to have that interruption, but the whole value of that interruption, if I may say so, depends upon the acceptance of one of my right hon. Friend's premises, namely, that at the present time these higher civil servants are underpaid.
Not that they are now, but that they were, and if my hon. Friend will take the trouble to read the Report of Mr. Asquith's Committee, I do not think he will dispute it.
§ Mr. MARRIOTT
The real point of it is that you have got to bring these salaries in relation to the incomes, the earnings and the salaries of other people similarly situated in the outside world.
§ Mr. MARRIOTT
I am very glad to have that cheer from the Lord Privy Seal, but I know what he has got in his mind. He has got in his mind that these salaries ought to be equated with the commercial world.
§ Mr. MARRIOTT
But that was the argument of the Postmaster-General. I am in the recollection of the Committee. He was comparing the salaries of the higher civil servants with the salaries in the City of London. I say that is a false comparison, and that the true comparison is that which was made by my hon. Friend the Member for the University of Oxford (Sir C. Oman) with the professional classes of this country.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
I am sure the last thing my hon. Friend would desire to do would be to form a conclusion on a false premise. I made it perfectly clear, because I had that very point in my mind, that you could not expect the civil servants to receive equal salaries with salaries received in commercial circles, but that there should be some relation, and that the distinction should not be so great as to make it impossible for us to retain first-class men.
§ Mr. MARRIOTT
One of the right hon. Gentleman's points was that civil servants were being tempted away into commercial posts. He was comparing the remuneration of civil servants, not with those with whom they ought properly to be compared, as they were by the hon. Member for Oxford University, but with people in commercial life. Of course, it is perfectly obvious that no permanent service like the Civil Service can be compared with commercial life. It is, I suggest, an unfair and improper comparison, whereas that put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for the University is a more proper one. The whole of this question is really a question of reorganisation—
§ It being a Quarter past Sight of the Clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means under Standing Order No. 8, further Proceeding was postponed, without Question put.