§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Another branch of the service which is of great interest and indeed of fascinating interest is that of the carriage of mails by air. The progress made not only in this country but in most other countries has not realised anything like the sanguine expectations some of us held a few years ago, but I think last year has shown greater progress than any other period since man conquered the art of flight. There will be between England and the Continent three services to Paris by three British companies, and the mails will be sent by which of these services is most convenient. Two air mails a day will be leaving Croydon Aerodrome, one at 10 a.m. and one at 12.15 p.m. A service to Brussels will start on 15th May, and to Holland after 15th May, and there will be two outward services, at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. The greatest benefit of these long-distance air services has been secured in the parcels post. The parcels post to Paris carried by air effects a saving of from five to six days. That is due, not so much to the increased rapidity with which the parcels are carried, as to the fact that the Customs facilities are much greater in dealing with air parcels than with parcels sent in the ordinary way. The saving of time is very considerable, and I am surprised that greater use has not been made of the air parcels service. As a result of tenders which we have accepted, the cost of carrying these parcels will be greatly reduced this year, and the charge will be, up to 2 lbs. 1s. 9d.; up to 5 lbs., 3s.; up to 8 lbs., 3s. 9d., and up to 11 1bs., 4s. 3d. I think the Committee will agree that these charges compare very favourably with the charges for parcels sent to Paris in the ordinary way.
The most successful of all the air mail services with which this country is
associated is that from Cairo to Bagdad. A letter sent from London to Bagdad in the ordinary way takes from 28 to 30 days; sent by air service, it takes only, 12 days. The fee charged is only 6d. per ounce, plus the ordinary postage of 3d. Ten per cent, of the whole Bagdad letter mail is now being sent by air, and the efficiency and reliability which the Air Ministry has reached in this service will, I think, assure in the future that there shall be a great expansion in the use of the air mail in that district. I visualise the time when throughout the Empire we shall be able to provide air services which will make just as great a saving in time as that which the Air Ministry has succeeded in making between Cairo and Bagdad. No man can put any limitation to the possibilities of this service, and the fact that accidents have happened, that the service cannot always be relied on in bad weather, is no proof that the Air Ministry and those companies which have with great audacity invested their capital in these services will not succeed in doing for the whole of the Empire what the Air Ministry has succeeded in doing between Cairo and Bagdad. A Civil Aviation Advisory Board has been formed by the Air Ministry, with a representative of the Post Office upon it, and this is its first business:
To consider the cost and the practicability of setting up an Imperial Air Mail Service.
They are first directing their attention to the Cairo-Bagdad and the Bagdad-Bombay sections of a possible future Imperial air route to India and to Australia.
§ Before referring to one or two general points which are not without interest, I want to give this warning to the Committee. I have made proposals which were the most far-reaching that it was possible for me to make if I were to have regard to the position of the man who stands at this Box in my place next year. My proposals have not been made for nine months ahead; they have been made for more than 12 months ahead; and the proposals I have made will in no way mortgage the future. But I hope and believe it will be possible, not only to secure solvency on the Service this year and still make these concessions, but that next year, if the costs in the Post Office 1604 continue to decrease, as I hope they will, at the present rate, to make still further concessions. If, however, my Estimates of the increased revenue as a result of the reduced charges are not realised, then the position will not be so satisfactory. If they are exceeded, and the volume of business is greater than I have foretold, I shall have to come before the Committee with a Supplementary Estimate; but I hope that no one in the House would take exception to that, because, if I come to the House with that Supplementary Estimate, I shall have more than the revenue to meet it. I thought it right, however, to give that warning to the Committee.
§ I am sure it has been noticed by Members of the Committee that there has been, since the War, some increase in the number of attempted robberies at post offices. I am glad to say that in the great majority of cases those attempts have been unsuccessful, and they have been unsuccessful, in a large number of instances, as the result of the courage shown by members of the post office staff. There is a great deal of cheap criticism about the girl behind the counter, but the girl behind the counter and the girl in the telephone exchange have one of the most nerve-racking jobs that anyone can have. It has not, however, shaken their nerve. I have here a number of cases, of which I will quote three, and I should like to give the names of these humble servants of ours, so that the House of Commons can have before it examples of the way in which poorly paid people, doing work which does not attract public attention, manifest a sense of public duty.
§ On the 11th October, 1921, at 7.40, a young man entered the Central Hill office at Norwood, and presented a revolver at the sub-postmistress, Miss Rose Sweeney, threatening to shoot her if she refused to hand over a bundle of notes. Instead of complying, the sub-postmistress shouted for help, in the hope of attracting the attention of passers-by. Her sister then entered the office, and threatened to join in raising the alarm, despite repeated threats with the revolver of the raider. The raider ultimately took flight and decamped without accomplishing his purpose.
§ In another case, a young man entered the Caversham Bridge Office at Reading, 1605 and asked for stamps. While the assistant was engaged, a second man entered and presented a revolver at her, telling her not to shout. The assistant, Miss Holden, retreated through a side door and called for assistance, and the raiders made off without effecting their purpose.
§ The last instance—I am only giving these as typical cases—is that of two men who entered the Windmill Road Office, Brentford. When the assistant was about to sell them a stamp for which they had asked, one of them drew a revolver and pointing it at the assistant, demanded that she should hand over everything she had got. The assistant, Miss Booth, did not comply, but gradually moved back to a door behind her and gave the alarm to her father. Her father was also threatened with the revolver of this man. Both refused to be bullied. They stood their ground, and, as a result of the alarm which they raised, these men were arrested and punished.
I do not know—I suppose it is difficult for any of us to know—precisely how we should act if we were suddenly confronted with the business end of a revolver in the course of our ordinary work, but neither of these women had any doubt as to how she should act, and I am glad to have the opportunity of giving their names to the House of Commons. This country is not the only one which suffers from depredations of various kinds, and, in the interesting document to which I referred just now, the Report of the American Postmaster-General, I read this statement:
The first order as to the arming of the postal employés and the issue of 50,000 guns and 2,000,000 rounds of ammunition, together with the offer of a maximum reward of 5,000 dollars to anyone bringing in a mail robber, was made on 9th April. Instructions have been re-issued that the armed postal employés shall shoot to kill, and we are sending out another quantity of arms and ammunition.
I regret the instances which have taken place in this country, but the respect for the mail shown in this country is as great as is manifested in any other country in the world.
§ The last point I have to make is in regard to an innovation which I made in the Post Office when I was appointed, namely, the institution of a body of business men to advise me on business questions. I have had some experience of business men in connection with Govern- 1606 ment Departments, both in the Ministry of Munitions and when I was at the Department of Overseas Trade, but I have not seen any body of business men more willing to render their services and experience freely to the Government, or more qualified to give valuable assistance to the Government.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
The general public has good cause to be grateful to these men for the service they have rendered in advising the Post Office on business questions. They have represented to me the point of view of the ordinary man and of the business man, and there has been no recommendation that they have made to me which I have not accepted unless I was able to satisfy them that on some particular aspect of it it was not in the public interest. The great majority of their recommendations I have adopted, and I desire here to express my thanks to them for the services that they have rendered during my period of office.
I hope that the record I have given to the Committee, though it may not realise all that I should like, will not be regarded as unsatisfactory, but we ought not to rest content. After all, this country led the way in the direction of cheap postage. This was the country that established the penny post, and it must always be irritating to our people to have lost the great privilege of the penny post. If I could have restored it, consistently with the solvency of the undertaking, I would have done so. I have gone as far in that direction as I could without mortgaging the future. I hope, however, that every Member of the Committee realises that the burden of high postal rates is not only severe upon the business community, but is felt especially by the poorest of the poor, and I am certain that there is no part of my right hon. Friend's Budget that has given so much relief to so large a number of people as the reductions that we have been able to effect in the postal rates of this country. If my aim be realised, and the reduction of expenditure goes on at the present rate, I hope that whoever is Postmaster-General next year will have a still more satisfactory statement to make.
§ Lieut.-Colonel DALRYMPLE WHITE
I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that the Sunday collection, even in rural districts, was going to be at 12 midnight. Would it not be possible, in rural districts, to make it an afternoon collection without much extra expense?
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
I think there has been some misapprehension on that point. What I said was, that the Sunday collection would be restored on 28th May. It is not intended that the collection should be at midnight.
§ Mr. AMMON
The right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster-General enjoys the unique advantage that already the Chancellor of the Exchequer has prepared the way to make him, perhaps, the most popular Minister this year in His Majesty's Government. He has brought before the Committee this afternoon a statement which fully establishes the fact that he has carried out his stewardship of the Post Office in a manner of which he may well be proud; and it is somewhat ironical that, the first time a Member of the staff of the Post Office should speak here on this subject, his words should be words of praise and commendation of His Majesty's Postmaster-General. That, however, is given quite ungrudingly, because, under the right hon. Gentleman's régime, there has been a closer rapproachement between the staff and the administrative side, which will have the effect, even to-day, of reducing to a very great extent the number of those minor complaints which usually form a large feature of the Post Office debate. I want first to pay tribute to the fact that the Postmaster-General has fulfilled both the letter and the spirit of his promise, which I believe also was emphasised by the Leader of the House, that the surplus from the Post Office would not be raided in any way to meet any deficiencies in the Exchequer. He has laid down what all of us must feel a quite good business principle, that the Post Office should be in the first instance self-supporting, and then any surplus arising therefrom should be expended in giving increased and improved facilities to the public and better conditions to the staff. The right hon. Gentleman, quite rightly, made reference to the increase which has accrued as 1608 against the deficiency on his previous statement. But it would be fair to remember that prior to the War the Post Office was always a revenue-earning Department, and that within a comparatively short time at least £30,000,000 surplus had been handed over to the Exchequer as the result of the working of the Post Office itself. That should be borne in mind when some criticism is made without knowledge very often both of the staff and the administration. This is an instance of how the State can run a Department and make it both efficient and profit-making in the ordinary acceptance of the word, and can give a very much better and more efficient service than probably could be given under private enterprise. That the right hon. Gentleman in his statement to-day has demonstrated fully and completely. It is well also to bear in mind that the whole of the profit is not shown in the financial surplus, because the Post Office gives a good deal of service to other Departments for which it is not paid, although it has to bear the cost.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
That is a very important point, and I thought I had succeeded in removing that misapprehension. The hon. Member was not a Member of the House when the question was repeatedly put to me. In the surplus for which I have estimated this year, full allowance is made for all the services rendered by the Post Office to other Government Departments.
§ Mr. AMMON
I am glad to have that cleared up. It is all-important, having regard to the different Departments in the Post Office, how the expense is allocated, particularly with regard to costings. It has been very difficult to appreciate exactly the amount which should fall on the several Departments, and again and again criticism has been raised in the House and elsewhere that the telegraphs, for instance, are an entirely non-remunerative undertaking from the cash return point of view. I am under the impression that the costings are based on two-thirds—for instance, two-thirds of the expense of a branch post office is charged to telegraphs without any regard to the number of persons employed. The costings should be based on the relationship of actual expenditure on the service rather than in this rough and ready 1609 manner, which results perhaps in putting one service at a considerable disadvantage as compared with the other. It is fair to note that when the right hon. Gentleman pointed out how the savings had been effected and he was able to present a surplus this year, the greater proportion that has resulted are savings on the wages, or bonuses, of the Post Office staff. I want to thank the right hon. Gentleman, while it is in my mind, for the tribute he paid to members of the staff for the gallantry they have displayed in protecting the public interest and public property in the Post Office, and, as one of their representatives, I thank him publicly for that very generous tribute. Here we have had a reduction of at least £6,000,000 at the expense of the workers. That is to say, they have had a gradual sliding scale reduction, commensurate with the fall in the cost of living, in their war bonus, and when criticism is levelled, as it often is, without knowledge, it is well to remember that, side by side with the fall in the cost of living, we have had this fall in the wages of people, many of them very poorly paid, and they have been steadily going down and the Exchequer has saved to a very considerable extent at the expense of these people. Then emphasis should be placed on the number of new services which are coming in in the Post Office. The average counter clerk deals with the work of a bank clerk and an insurance agent, besides the ordinary work of selling postage stamps and other things over the counter. All that sort of work comes into the normal day's work, a condition of affairs unknown in any other commercial undertaking in the country, and it calls for an amount of skill, integrity and devotion to duty which is demanded by hardly any section of workers, and very inadequate remuneration is paid, judged by the standard of work demanded.
I want to make a reference to the abolition of the Sunday services. These were abolished on 12th June, 1921, and the complaint I have to put forward chiefly is under two heads. In the first instance, it was done without any consultation with the staff. That is entirely at variance with the practice that this Government is trying to encourage to grow up in outside industry and which they have again and again from those benches emphasised should be done from this side, and have 1610 often suggested it should be done from the other side. On the other hand, it is at variance with the practice which has grown up within the Post Office, and I think the right hon. Gentleman will admit that this practice of having frequent consultations between the representatives of the staff and the administration has resulted in benefit to both sides, and the public themselves are materially advantaged by it. I am glad to have the right hon. Gentleman's acknowledgment of that. Then in a case like this, which affects remuneration and the conditions of service and the pensions of the persons concerned, the least the right hon. Gentleman might have done would be to call in consultation the representatives of the people concerned before he put it into operation. He declined on the ground that the decision was a Cabinet one. That is not quite good enough. There have been plenty of other decisions given by the Cabinet where the persons concerned have been called into consultation. I think this would be one of the suggestions thrown out by the committee of business gentlemen to whom he referred. This has had the effect of saving nearly £1,000,000. His own statement was £900,000 when he last spoke. The serious point is, we, as representing the people concerned, admit that on principle we are against Sunday labour, but when persons are earning weekly wages amounting sometimes to quite a few shillings, and the abolition of Sunday work means a very substantial cut on that very meagre wage, you cannot stand so hard and fast on these principles having regard to the fact that it is going to be a serious deprivation to the people concerned. Also one has to bear in mind that there is something like a serious breach of contract in this, because these people have held these posts for a number of years and it counts towards their pensions.
The cutting off of this without any consultation will not only seriously affect the very low wages which they are now enjoying, but it is also going to affect the pension rights when they retire, and those pension rights very often amount to a paltry few shillings a week for men and women who have given on an average 40 of the best years of their service to the State and have served it faithfully and well in all weathers and all seasons. It not only does that, but it worsens the 1611 duty. The Saturday night duties are worsened because it is necessary to deal with the work and get it out of the office owing to there being no work on the Sunday. It imposes extra night duty at the week-end, and the five nights of duty now become six. The staff also have to come on Mondays in some instances at 5 a.m. o'clock instead of 6, and as the travelling facilities in many places are very irksome, it makes it extremely difficult for them to do so. Then, if I gather rightly, the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting that he is going to re-institute the collections. That will mean that people will come on for an hour or two, perhaps, on the Sunday, cutting into the whole day and spoiling it, and they will merely get remuneration for an hour or two, though the whole day will be lost, because travelling facilities are much more difficult in many instances, and it is going to be a very serious deprivation. The Union of Post Office Workers asked to be consulted before the restitution of this collection. The Postmaster-General said they would be consulted when restoration was decided upon. That is not at all playing fair. When a matter is a fait accompli it is no consultation to say, "Now you can come in and talk about it." Surely if there is any sincerity in any suggestion like that, the right hon Gentleman would consult them before he decides on any re-institution, in order that we might get together and see if there cannot be some agreement and endeavour to work it out for the common good. But, after all, the feeling of the Post Office worker is that he very often gives very much more concern to the public interest than he does to his own interest, and he does not get the recognition that he should do from the representative of the public, the Postmaster-General, who has not played up to it in the way he should. The Postmaster-General claimed credit for this on the ground that he had conceded a great principle in the abolition of Sunday labour. That is all very fine, but if a certain portion of his work was abolished without consultation with him and the greater part of his salary cut off, he would think he had a grievance, and surely these people have an equal claim to be considered.
I want to ask, with reference to the concession the right hon. Gentleman 1612 announced he was going to make in connection with the postage of printed matter, whether that has reference only to such printed matter as is posted in bulk during certain hours of the day, such as large postages of prospectuses, etc., or whether it would affect a single paper posted under such circumstances. This has been represented to his Department again and again by the Union of Post Office Workers as one means both of giving increased facilities to the public and an opportunity to afford better attendances for the staff. It is not quite correct to say that the staff have been idle during the day because the bulk of the work is done in the morning and the evening, because the staffs have been so organised and regulated that you have had a very much thinner staff during the other hours of the day and the bulk of the staff have been employed in the early morning and late at night. That of course has formed one of the grievances of which the staff have complained—the constant early morning attendance, getting up at two, three or four o'clock in the morning, and year in and year out for as long as 20 years these people have never had an evening off and others are working till 10, 11 and 12 o'clock at night. Suggestions have been put forward from time to time by the Union of Post Office Workers that if this postage was brought within restricted hours it would give the right hon. Gentleman an opportunity to give better hours of attendance to the staff and it would undoubtedly confer a boon on the commercial community. I thank the right hon. Gentleman that he has met us in that respect.
Another point arises in connection with what are known as small town sub-offices and the assistants employed therein. The Committee may not be aware that in this country there are many thousands of post offices where the persons in charge are more or less in the position of agents. That is, they carry on some business and conduct the post office as a side line. The result of that is that you have one of the most outrageous systems of sweating that could be shown in any industry. It is very largely assuming the position of going back to the old days of farming out the post offices. I would like the right hon. Gentleman to give some assurance that he will make inquiries, with a view to remedying the disgraceful conditions, of which I 1613 will give instances, which obtain in many of these offices. As recently as 1913 a Select Committee on the Post Office recommended that all London sub-offices where the remuneration amounted to over £500 a year should become Crown offices, and in the provinces where the remuneration amounted to over £250.
I would suggest another means whereby the right hon. Gentleman could effect more economies at the present time, and remove what is undoubtedly a very great stigma upon the Post Office. In the neighbourhood of Blackfriars Road there are five post offices within a radius of 600 yards. These post offices have a turn-over of anything from £170 a year to over £500 a year. I suggest that two Crown sub-offices would serve that area quite adequately, that we could save money on the arrangement, and that there would be assured very much better conditions for the persons concerned. The Postmaster-General has said on a former occasion that these sub-office assistants are getting very much the same remuneration as shop assistants. That is not a fact. In May, 1921, in spite of the excessive rise in the cost of living, 35 per cent, of these assistants were in receipt of 20s. a week or less, and 91.5 per cent, were in receipt of 40s. or less, and these amounts included War bonus. It does not require very much imagination to understand that these people must have had a real struggle to live, and that the conditions are simply disgraceful. These are the type of people whom the Postmaster-General was commending in this House this afternoon for their bravery and devotion in defending the interests of the public.
§ Mr. AMMON
They are more than full-time. The Union of Post Office Workers conducted an inquiry into this matter. They inquired into over 500 sub-offices throughout the country, and found that in the majority of cases the living-out wages, that is, the wages of those who live at home and come to work in the offices varied from 7s. 6d. to £l per week.
§ Mr. AMMON
The ages ranged from 16 to adult age. In most cases they were well over 16 years of age. They were 1614 mostly adults. The hours worked ranged from 44 to 60 hours per week, and in some cases no holidays were given. Out of these low wages the assistants have to make up the whole or part of the counter losses.
§ Mr. AMMON
Yes. Most of them are adults. These facts indicate a condition of things which is absolutely scandalous. I could give many cases. I have a whole pile here, if the Committee want them, of cases of sub-postmasters who carry on business as dressmakers or other businesses. These people put on the screw to the full by using the assistants for these other sides of their business, when not fully employed on the post office side. The assistants are therefore kept-hard at it all the time. The Post Office cannot escape its share of responsibility in this matter. In the first instance, they hand these sub-offices over to contractors. A former Postmaster-General was responsible in this House for what was known as the Fair-Wage Clause, whereby the State imposed on private employers the duty of paying at least what was a commensurate and fair standard of wage to their workers. I suggest that the Postmaster-General might look into this matter, and he will see that the facts are precisely as I have stated them. The Post Office is supposed to supervise the wages of the assistants in these sub-offices by means of an annual return made by each sub-postmaster to his head postmaster; but that return is not actually made. In practice, it is a farce, infrequently it is not supplied, and again and again it is definitely refused. I will only give two cases, because I think I have sufficiently established a case as to the outrageous conditions that are imposed upon these assistants.
In the North of England a sub-post-master combines the work of the post office with a dressmaking business. The Post Office allow 19s. and 11s. 6d. per week for two female deliverers. This money has to be divided between these people. You cannot expect people to live under these conditions, and the fact that they have remained honest and have safeguarded the interests of the community is the highest testimony that can be brought forward in connection with this appeal. They have certainly deserved better treat- 1615 ment. The two women who acted as female deliverers also worked in the dressmaking business, one as an alteration hand. The sub-postmaster did not inform these employés what they were entitled to receive from the Post Office, and he signed their names on the pay sheets. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is fraud!"] Yes, but it is connived at by the Post Office. The first woman was employed as an auxiliary postwoman from 6.30 a.m. to 9.15 a.m., and from 5.15 p.m. to 5.45 p.m. Between 11 a.m. and 5.15 p.m. she worked in the business of the sub-postmaster as a dressmaker. By concealing the amount of 'her Post Office pay and by signing her name on the wage sheet, the sub-postmaster secured her services from 11 a.m. to 5.15 p.m. for 8s. a week. There are no possible grounds of economy, expediency, or anything else that can justify the Government, particularly a Government Department, permitting conditions like these to go on.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
Am I to understand the hon. Member to say that the Post Office allows a sum of 19s. a week which ought to be paid to the employé, and that then the sub-postmaster forges the employé's name on the pay sheet?
§ Mr. AMMON
The statement I have given is accurate. This sum of money is given. The sub-postmaster signs for the money. The money is paid out in a bulk sum to the sub-postmaster as a contractor. He signs for the money, and then he distributes it in this way among the employés. I have stated the amounts allowed by the Post Office, and they are so outrageous that even if the whole were given to the assistants they would still be on the verge of starvation.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I understood the hon. Member to say the sub-postmaster signed the name of the employé.
§ Mr. AMMON
No, I said that he signed the slip in his own name as the contractor. I prefaced my remarks by say- 1616 ing that these persons stood as contractors. In the City of London, E.G., there are 14 of these offices, with scales of remuneration ranging from over £200 to over £1,000 per annum, and I maintain that an adequate case has been made out for these offices to be controlled by the Post Office direct. When they reach these large figures they could well be controlled directly by the Post Office, and it would not only be more remunerative for the Exchequer, but it would be much better for the employés, and would give a very much better service to the community.
I want to deal with the reference to the Telephones Committee and to express appreciation that the Postmaster-General has decided that there shall be no separation of the telephones from the Post Office. That would be wholly at variance with the idea of concentrating the whole service and bringing about co-ordination in order to prevent duplication of Departments and officials By the means adopted you are able to co-ordinate the different services, to keep the staffs engaged and in contact, and, at the same time, to prevent undue waste of energy, time, and staffs. I hope that this Committee will give more thought than is given outside this House when people are criticising the telephone service. That service came to the State after a private company's management had become a crying scandal. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I repeat, after a private company's methods were a crying scandal, and such an uproar had been raised that the State had to come in and take it over. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] The telephone service was taken over by the State, and only two years of the new conditions had elapsed when the War broke out, and we have hardly recovered from those conditions. Therefore, the system has not had a fair chance. The Committee must remember the vital services of the telephone and engineering Department during the War. You would not have secured the advantage of that service if the system had been under private ownership, particularly having regard to the conditions that then obtained. The organisation of this rapidly-developing service has taken place within a comparatively short time, and, on the whole, it has given a service that cannot be equalled anywhere. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]
1617 I am not speaking without my book. In the year 1915 I was privileged to spend some months in the United States, and I was asked to, and did, supply for what it was worth a non-official report to the then Postmaster-General, now Sir Herbert Samuel, as to the conditions of the telephone service out there. With the exception that the telephone is more largely used, that there is a greater number of users, I can say without hesitation that the English system had got them beaten all along the line. It gave an immeasurably superior service, as was admitted even by themselves. It is not always the people on this side of the House who are anxious to decry their own country. Members on the other side, where special interests are concerned, are not behindhand in running down their own country. They take advantage of cheaper postage in other countries, and send their postage out of this country, in order to get a little more dividend, and at the same time send printing out of the country, as well as posting in former enemy countries. In connection with some of the proposals that have been made it would be very much better if the service were placed in a condition of not having different rates in different districts, but that it should be centralised as is the postal side of the Service. That is to say, that we should give an equal service over the whole country at an equal rate, the better paying districts bearing the burden of the more sparsely populated places. This would be a more equitable and a better system.
§ Mr. AMMON
On that point I respectfully differ with the right hon. Gentleman. I think that the result would be that you would have such a large number of users, because the rates would be reduced, that you would get bigger receipts. The Union of the Post Office Workers stands with the Department, and I imagine the majority of the community, in saying that we do not want the telephone or any other Department to become a subsidised service, but we believe that the whole surplus should be devoted towards improving the service for the benefit of the community and the staff. The Post Office service is very largely a barometer for the commercial and 1618 industrial businesses of the country. That accounts probably for the position in which we find the Post Office at the present time. If the country is divided into areas, and local consultation committees are set up, which I believe is suggested, it might be an advantage if a member of the Post Office staff were on each of these committees. Our interests are bound up with the development of the service. There may be points to be submitted that would escape the administration and would be worth attention. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to take this matter into consideration when he is setting up these committees. The rural co-operative extension of the telephone system on the whole is but a slavish imitation of the American system, and is not, I suggest, at all likely, in spite of the increase that has taken place, to become popular, nor can it be worked economically in this country. Instead of adopting this system it would be better to reduce the initial cost of telephones to subscribers. That will result in a wide extension of telephone facilities, and while it is possible that there might be initial loss it would prove financially sound in the long run. I would emphasise an extension to the telephone service of the postal system of charging the whole cost to a centralised account, so that the loss of one district might be met by the gain in another. This has been hinted at in the report of the Select Committee on the telephone service. It quotes the evidence of Mr. Bethell of the American Bell Telephone Company which says:Again, some 'subscribers' stations, because of the difficulty of maintaining the connecting lines, or for other reasons, may not pay directly, but it would not be advisable to charge residences more than business places.Then the Committee say:The reductio ad absurdum of a purely cost basis is argued in the following extract from the findings of the Michigan Public Utilities Commission last August: 'If each exchange is to stand upon its own basis [of cost], why should not each class of service in each exchange stand upon its own basis, and, inasmuch as there is a difference between the cost of rendering service to different individuals in the same class in each group, why should not there be as many rates as there are telephones themselves?'That is pursuing the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion to a logical absurdity. What I suggest is, improve your telephone system and give the benefits to 1619 the community itself, by reducing your present rates, and by taking all from a centralised account, the better paying areas meeting the loss in the less paying areas just as you have to do in the postal service. On the whole it works out well there. This is a service which, as you increase the demand on it, is bound to grow more and more remunerative. I desire now to call attention to a small section of men in the London telephone service who are known as staff superintendents of traffic. In September, 1920, through the Post Office Circular, applications were invited for these posts, and the scales of pay, it was said, were under revision. A year later the statement that the scales of pay were under revision was repeated. An examination for the positions was held by the Civil Service Commissioners, but no revision of pay has yet taken place. When the qualifications for this particular post were advertised, and the scale of remuneration was given as £100 a year, the "Daily Mail," which has a good deal of influence with many Members of this House—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—came out with a large headline, "Wanted, a chance for a genius, at £100 a year." They then set out the very high qualifications that were demanded for that comparatively meagre payment.
After all, many people enter the Post Office Service mainly because of the security of tenure, and large numbers because, in spite of what may be said on the other side, there is still a great desire for public service, and people going in there are prepared in the public interest to work for less remuneration than they would expect outside. But these people were promised in 1920 that revision would be given, and I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it is long overdue, and I ask him to give consideration to the matter. Representations have been made again and again, and no answer has been given to them. Surely, he is going to carry out the promise made so long ago and deal fairly with these people. I trust also that he will give consideration to the remuneration of the men who have been deprived of part of their earnings and pensions by the loss of Sunday duties, because this is, in effect, a breach of contract, and it is not right that people should be suddenly deprived of their remuneration. 1620 No commercial undertaking would allow I that sort of thing to go on. Again and again we have had in this House claims from different commercial undertakings, claims more or less substantial, for losses which they are said to have suffered from the War, and they have been paid cheerfully. Surely, these humble people have a right to be treated in precisely the same manner. It will amount to a mere bagatelle if some actuarial calculation were made and they were given some remuneration for the loss of earnings and of pension which has accrued to them. Having submitted those points to the right hon. Gentleman, I thank the Committee for the patience with which they have listened to me.
§ Sir DONALD MACLEAN
My hon. Friend who has just sat down has drawn the attention of the Postmaster-General to many things in the conditions of service in the Post Office which do not reflect credit on a model employer as we all agree a Government Department ought to be. But when he used a phrase which suggested that the Postmaster-General was conniving at a system of sweating, that was not a fair way to describe the action of the Postmaster-General or the Assistant Postmaster-General. Whatever grievances may exist can be removed, it seems to me, by a proper system of inspection. I am certain that it is the desire of the Committee that the servants of the Post Office should be adequately remunerated, that they should serve reasonable hours and that the general conditions of service should compare favourably with, and be on as sound a basis as, those of any other Department of the State. I congratulate the Postmaster-General upon the statement which he has made to the Committee, and also upon the lucid and very able manner in which he laid his statement before us. The first point which struck me about it was that he was able to make these reductions not upon increased revenue but upon economies. He said: "I am able to make these reductions on a saving of £10,650,000." Would that the head of every Government Department could stand in the place of the right hon. Gentleman and say that he proposed to render much more efficient service to the public at a much less cost than in the preceding year. 1621 It shows after all what is possible in the operations of a Government Department. I am grateful for these beginnings in economy. I welcome them most heartily.
I was struck in the next place by the remarkable figures which the Postmaster-General laid before us, in connection with his proposed reductions of charges, showing that if you take ½d. off the letter charge of 2d. and ½d. off the postcard charge, the increases run into hundreds of millions. That is a clear demonstration of how deeply the operations and ramifications of the Post Office are embedded in the success of our national, commercial, and social life. All the figures which the Postmaster-General puts before the Committee are eloquent testimony to the way in which communications between business interests and in social life are affected for good or evil by the charges of the Post Office. To one other interesting fact the Postmaster-General referred. He said that in spite of the additional services which have been undertaken by the Post Office during and since the War, the work has been done with a reduced staff. Those services have been rendered with remarkable efficiency in dealing with War Saving Certificates and matters of that kind. Starting with Old Age Pensions and then passing to the financial operations of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Post Office hap displayed a remarkable capacity to adapt itself to every load which the country has placed upon it. This work has been done with a remarkable reduction of staff I think the number was 6,000.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
That is a very remarkable statement, and it reflects great credit, not only on the heads of the Post Office, but to a greater degree on those servants of the State in the rank and file who have discharged the hard work involved in these additional services. I am glad that the Postmaster-General has not included in his programme the delivery of letters on Sundays. In so far as the State can show a good example in that respect I am certain that the community welcomes every restriction which is placed upon Sunday labour. I am not dealing with the question now from the 1622 religious point of view, but am stating the matter as one of social economics. I am sure that the nation as a whole does not desire that Sunday delivery should be re-established. I agree that the collection of correspondence on Sundays will greatly facilitate the work of the commercial community. The Postmaster-General commented on the posting abroad of circulars for this country. That system was brought about entirely by the high charges of the Post Office. The difficulty is that once you set up such a system, it will not be nearly so easy to sweep it over to the home service again as it was to drive it abroad. There is not only the question of postage, but the immense amount of printing which went out at the same time. This experience has provided a clear instance of the damage you can do not only to the particular interest involved, but to ancillary trades, by ill-conceived measures.
I must say a few words about the telephone service. Here, again, I welcome the mitigation, such as it is, of the charges upon the community. A most significant figure was given by the Postmaster-General. He said that the Post Office had got 71,000 new subscribers; but there were 64,000 subscribers who ceased to subscribe, and the net gain therefore was 7,000 subscribers to this vast national service. That is a very serious state of affairs. Unless the telephone service develops rapidly, the situation which the Postmaster-General will have to face in succeeding years will not be a very cheerful one. Why is it that the telephone service is not taken up by the public? First of all, because of the very high charges, and secondly, because of the generally unsatisfactory service which has been rendered. In connection with trunk calls, the new facilities provided have rendered, and will render, great service to the commercial community. But there is still an amount of irritation caused by inefficiency in the telephone service, and it ought to be mitigated. I have never been in the United States, but we hear that the telephone service there is very much better. [HON. MEMBERS: "And cheaper."] I hope that the reduction in the charges will be coincident with increased efficiency.
I know that the telephone work at the exchanges makes a heavier draft on the 1623 nervous system of the operators than almost any other branch of the postal service. At the same time there is general agreement that very great service will be rendered to the country by greater efficiency in the telephone service all round. I hope, from what the right hon. Gentleman says about the improvement in country district telephones, that there will be a large number of new subscribers, but I fear that the qualifications he has introduced are of a nature which will not give him very much increase. I can see that it would require a very great addition to expenditure to produce the desired result, but at the same time there is a great deal of legitimate pressure being brought to bear from the country districts. We all admit that the services which the country districts render by maintaining the great industry of agriculture, entitle them to claim from us a consideration which we cannot legitimately be asked to extend to other sections of the community. We must have regard to the great importance of maintaining the agricultural community in as high a state of efficiency as possible. It is not merely a question of social convenience. Farming is a very commercial matter if it is to be carried on in competition with other countries. I hope the concession will very soon be added to by others of such a nature as to meet the reasonable wishes of those who serve the State through their various businesses in the country districts.
Every effort should be made to cheapen and increase the postal service. It is the lifeblood of many of our industries, the means by which we communicate not only with customers at home but by which we maintain our trade and communications overseas. That, I hope and believe, is fully borne in mind by the Postmaster-General, and I trust that by next year we shall see re-established what was once the chief glory of the postal service, the penny post.
§ Major Sir HENRY NORMAN
The Committee appreciates warmly the admirable and able manner in which the Postmaster-General has put his statement before it. After that expression of warm approval, my right hon. Friend will not mind if I confine myself to two minor points of criticism. First, I would like to say a word about that which, after his announcement of reductions, will prove to have been the most interesting part of 1624 his speech, i.e., the question of the broadcasting of wireless telephony. That will be an extraordinary development within a very short space of time. It will mean embarking on an uncharted and very extensive sea. Unforeseen difficulties will arise, and many unanticipated opportunities will present themselves. At first broadcasting will only bring into tens of thousands even hundreds of thousands of homes in the land music and entertainment, and perhaps some instruction. Later development will enlarge its scope and give to this telephony a national character for which the State will have to be responsible. It may well be the case that the Postmaster-General is deferring any announcement of that until the time when he is able to say that the new Post Office wireless station at Northolt will be able to undertake this service. This announcement will give a most welcome impetus to the manufacture of receiving apparatus—an opportunity to which the manufacturing companies are keenly alive. Hon. Members were inclined to be sceptical and even a little amused when the Postmaster-General spoke of wireless telephony being used for political purposes. I think one may say, not merely as a matter of opinion but with the confidence with which one announces a certain fact, that before much time has elapsed, at times of political crisis the Prime Minister on the one hand, and the Leader of the Opposition on the other will be addressing hundreds of thousands of people in the country simultaneously, by means of wireless telephony. In fact I may go a step further and say that when the General Election comes—towards the end of next year as it ought to do and as it probably will—I have little doubt that everyone of us will address a large number of his constituents by wireless telephony.
There is one matter to which the Postmaster-General did not allude in his speech, no doubt because he had so much else to say. There is a large and enthusiastic and important body of scientific men, chiefly young men, in this country, who are deeply interested in amateur wireless telegraphy. I suppose they amount to at least 10,000 at the present time, and they will be 100,000 before long. Restrictions on their operations have recently been removed by the decision of the Committee to which the Postmaster-General has alluded. Subject to his own approval, the re- 1625 strictions have been removed, and wider opportunities have been given. A new wave length of 440 metres has been sanctioned, instead of the very impracticable one to which they were previously confined. They are going to be freed entirely from inspection of receiving stations and are going to be allowed to put up a receiving aerial of any length they like, and they will be able to purchase their licence for 10s. at the post office just like a dog licence. Amateurs deserve all the encouragement they can get. They were a body of experts from whom invaluable service was forthcoming in the War, and a body which can be drawn upon at any time of future crisis. I should like in a word to dispel one misapprehension which I think exists among amateur wireless telegraphists throughout the country. They believe that the public services are unsympathetic and are ill-disposed towards them. I should like to assure them from intimate knowledge that such is not at all the case, and that in the quarters controlling their activities the greatest sympathy exists towards them and every desire to give them as much freedom as is compatible with the public interest.
With regard to the Post Office telephone service, I have never joined the chorus of criticism upon our telephone service. Considering the difficulties of the War, and another difficulty which I shall mention in a moment, I consider the service to have been very good. I have not recently been in America, and I cannot compare it with the American system, but I know the French telephone service well, and the French service is not only not in the same street, but is not in the same world with ours. Now that the War difficulties are over, and the Postmaster-General has money to spend, now that the new trunk lines are being laid down, the Postmaster-General must go ahead fast. I cannot believe, for a moment, that my right hon. Friend will be satisfied with 71,000 new subscribers. That is a miserable, a paltry total. The Post Office must do what any business man would do. They must reduce charges. They must take risks. They must gamble a little, and, above all, they must advertise. The Postmaster-General takes credit, and quite properly, so far as it goes, for the additional opportunities ho is giving for telephonic service in the rural districts. These I say are excellent as far as they go. I congratulate him 1626 and thank him, but is he quite willing to envisage such a state of things as this? Eight separate potential subscribers in the country come together and discuss the matter with one another, and by and by, after long discussion, they are able to form a little committee. They approach the Post Office, and the Post Office say, "There are seven of you, and there should be eight," or, "There are 14 of you, and there should be 15," as the case may be. Why does not the Post Office send somebody down into the rural districts, and find out the people, and go to them and say, "Why do not eight of you people, or why do not 15 of you farmers, join together and have a service?" That is what any business man would do, and it is only when this service is worked upon these principles that it will succeed. I would go so far as to say it will only succeed when the Postmaster-General thrusts the telephone and telegraph system down the throats of the people.
I have only two remarks to make in the way of criticism of the Post Office. The first is that the future holds extraordinary possibilities of scientific development for purposes of communication. A word as regards the Post Office technical staff, with which for a good many years past I have had the privilege of being more or less intimately acquainted. I do not hesitate to say that nowhere in the world is there a body of public servants more loyal, more devoted, and more enthusiastic, or with greater scientific ability in their own line. Much of the scientific progress of the world in telegraphy and telephony has originated in our own Post Office, and to-day in most respects our own Post Office is abreast of the best practice, and in many respects ahead of the best practice of anyone else in the world. But in view of the future possibilities its scientific staff is very inadequate in numbers, it has been hopelessly handicapped for want of research facilities, and it needs much more direct personal encouragement from the top than it has hitherto received. I am speaking of the time before my right hon. Friend took office, and I hope he has given this encouragement since. It is no use half doing these things, and I should have liked to hear him say that, in spite of these hard times, he was setting aside a substantial sum of money yearly, some- 1627 thing like £100,000 at least, to instal a well-paid scientific staff in well-equipped scientific laboratories for Post Office research. Not only is the Post Office the greatest business in the country, but it is also a very highly technical and scientific public service. Every £100,000 so spent, I am convinced, would, in the long run, produce an economy of £1,000,000.
I come to my second and last criticism. My right hon. Friend, perhaps by inadvertence and perhaps by discretion, omitted to mention the one black spot in the Post Office record. I am sure he knows very well what it is. For the double purpose of serving the public and helping the telephone service, the telegraphic service in this country must be, not improved, not modified, but absolutely revolutionised. When the telegraph service, which has had this deplorable record for so long, recently failed even more than usual to pay its way, what did the Postmaster-General do? He doubled the charges. Fancy the position of any business man who, when he was unable to make both ends meet, doubled the price of the article he was selling! He ought to have halved the rates. That could have been done by a great extension of high speed automatic telegraphy. Such telegraphy should be in every smallish town in the kingdom. It should be everywhere where there are now two, three or four operators employed. I am quite aware of the existence of the evidence and the Report of the pre-War High Speed Committee. I do not take that as a very useful Committee, and I think the Report is open to destructive criticism from several points of view. I know beforehand the reply from the Post Office which will be made. I have heard that often, but I have had occasion to consider this matter carefully and I am convinced the, proposal is practical. The need for reform in the telegraphic service may be inferred to a small extent from the multiplicity of apparatus maintained in use. The Committee will be surprised to know that for telegraphic purposes in the United Kingdom there are employed the following systems:—The single-needle, the A.B.C., the Morse key and sounder, the Wheatstone, the Murray, the Hughes, the Siemens, the Baudot, the Western Electric and the Creed. Not all of those can be good. 1628 One may be good for one purpose, and another for another, but that all these should be going on side by side shows, in my opinion, that there is not that keen organisation of the telegraph service that there should be. Slow and inefficient telegraph service forces the use of trunk telephone lines at great cost. A rapid and efficient telegraph service would do more than any one other measure to relieve the telephone service and make it cheaper and more efficient, and it would be an inestimable benefit to the public, who often prefer to telegraph rather than telephone if they do so cheaply.
It is unreasonable to expect the Postmaster-General to discuss every topic in his speech, but while I am on the technical side I should like to know if the Post Office is really considering the application of the latest development of wireless telegraphy, namely, what is known as "wired wireless," and in America as "line radio," which has been developed to a remarkable extent by Major-General Squier, the head of the signals service in the United States army. Recently an American telephone company was leasing private lines to firms of stockbrokers between New York and Chicago. They leased four lines, and each one of their customers believed they had the use of a complete line from New York to Chicago over which they worked regularly backward and forward during certain hours. But it transpired that this company had but one metallic circuit, and the other three lines were simply worked by wireless put on at different frequencies. Therefore, when the lessor in New York spoke into his telephone, and said "Hallo!" to the man in Chicago, he believed he was speaking along an ordinary telephone line, but as a matter of fact he was only speaking to the office of the telephone company in New York, and thence through space, through the ether, but not by ordinary wireless radiating in every direction but guided through the ether by the metallic conductor. Given a conductor like that, it is possible, no matter what else the conductor may be used for, whether for telegraphy or electric lighting—or may be even carrying a 150,000 volt power circuit—you can superpose upon it without making any difference to it or it making any difference to you, this wireless circuit, and use it as a means of communication.
1629 During the War I was trying, in 1915, to devise a means of communication without an aerial, wirelessly, which could be used from the fighting line to brigade headquarters, or even to battalion headquarters, over the thousand yards in which the men were being constantly and so dreadfully killed, and I gave the first exposition of it to the general officer commanding a division then on the Wiltshire Downs. It was the first practical application of so-called earth antennae, and consisted simply of throwing out two insulated wires upon the ground and signalling through them. I only wanted to communicate for a thousand yards, but if I could have communicated over a mile I should have been pleased; so I went a mile from the divisional headquarters, threw out my ground antennæ, listened and spoke, and got admirable signals. I therefore went a mile further on with good results, and so I drove on and on until I was five or six miles away, and was still speaking and hearing perfectly. I thought I had made one of the great wireless discoveries of the War, and I was exceedingly satisfied, but the next day it suddenly flashed across my mind that there was an old iron fence running the length of those Wiltshire Downs, and that this iron fence was guiding those wireless waves. That is what can be done with wired wireless. If you have one circuit of two copper wires from here to Edinburgh, you can increase its efficiency 600 per cent, in carrying power in telephony, and 1,000 per cent, in telegraphy, by the use of wired wireless. I very much hope that, with better facilities for research in the Post Office, this will be done. These are the only criticisms, I hope friendly criticisms, which I will venture to make, and I hope, and indeed believe, that they will not fall upon deaf ears, because I think the Postmaster-General's speech has shown that in other directions the Post Office is alive to the needs of the public and ready to do everything in its power to meet their legitimate desires.
Sir DOUGLAS NEWTON
If hon. Members will allow their memories to travel back to their first contribution to a Debate in this House, I think they will agree that in spite of the kindness, sympathy, and goodwill which is a traditional feature of this House, the occasion proved somewhat of an ordeal. Many changes 1630 have taken place of late, but so far as that matter is concerned, I venture to think it will still not be disputed that the human element remains constant and unchanged in that respect. Accordingly, it is with great reserve and diffidence that I rise and venture to address the Committee, and in doing so to express the hope that they will extend to me a full and generous measure of sympathy and indulgence for any rules of procedure or custom which I may inadvertently fail to respect as a result of my inexperience in this direction. We have listened with great interest to the concise and clear statement which has been put before us by the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster-General. Last year it was his painful duty to introduce, after just having fought a by-election—a very strenuous one, if my memory serves me right—a very unpopular series of changes in respect to postal administration. This year he finds himself in the pleasing position of being able to effect very popular changes and to lighten the heavy burdens which have been imposed by his Department. May I express my satisfaction—and I think others will join with me—at the fact that the Postmaster-General has been able to retain those surpluses which he has obtained as a result of the extra charges which he imposed—to retain them in his own hen-roost, so to speak—and that he has been able to give the advantage to the users of the Post Office, and that those sums have not been taken from him for lightening the burdens in other directions.
I would like to refer to one or two points which were dealt with by the Postmaster-General, and the first is the question of staff. I have had some difficulty in endeavouring to follow the figures in respect to this matter which he put before us. In 1920–21 the staff of the Post Office, from the figures which were quoted last year, appears to have been 233,000, which included 25,000 engineers. At that time a travelling committee was set up, which was negotiating and cutting down the staff at the rate of 400 per month, and the Postmaster-General stated that he hoped that that rate of reduction would continue. To-day he told us that the actual staff reduction had been 6,500, presumably, as a result of the activities of this travelling committee. I would like to ask him whether that committee is still operating, or 1631 whether he is satisfied with the results which have been obtained and whether we are to regard those results as final. I would also like to inquire if the staff, which appears to have been 233,000 according to the last official figures, and which we were told to-day was 185,000, now includes the engineers. Presumably not, but I do not know what proportion of the total staff are engineers, and I will be glad to know if the engineering department has also suffered some reduction, and what the position is in regard to that section of the employés of the Post Office, It is very difficult to find out, from a perusal of the Estimates and the information which is at hand, exactly what the staff is. I find the expenditure carefully summarised, I find the Estimates carefully summarised, but I do not find the staffs in the various departments summarised, and I find it very difficult to arrive at an accurate computation of what the actual staff employed within the ambit of the Post Office at the present time is. The view that I would venture to urge upon the Postmaster-General is that he should thoroughly overhaul the various services which are being rendered in the Post Office and in regard to the staff which are carrying out those services. The need of our time, above and beyond all else, is economy, coupled with efficiency, and I venture to suggest that possibly a smaller, at any rate a well-paid, staff is one of the first essentials if we are to obtain that efficiency.
In suggesting that there is need for an overhauling of the staff and the duties appertaining to the different branches, I would like to point out one or two directions in which I think that might proceed. There is the case of the rural postman. To my own knowledge, there are rural postmen whose route is not designed on up-to-date lines. I know in my own district there is a postman who has grown old and grey in the service of the Post Office, who has carried out his dusty and rather weary journey along country roads now for some decades, and who recently, at his own expense and on his own initiative, invested his somewhat slender savings in the purchase of a motor-cycle. At once came down the heavy hand of the Post Office, and he was not allowed to carry out his duties by means of the 1632 motor-cycle. Not only would it have lightened that officer's personal effort, but it would have added considerably, in my view, to the efficiency of the service which that officer could have rendered if he had been allowed to use that motor cycle, and I venture to suggest for the consideration of the Postmaster-General whether a rural postman should not be encouraged to use a motor cycle, and at any rate that any discouragement should at an early date be swept away. The same question of routes applies, I think, to some extent also in connection with the collection of mails. Before the war collections were largely made by means of postal vans which are now made in other ways, and in my own district the postal van was taken off and has not been replaced, with the result that, although only 12 miles from the county town, letters frequently take from 24 up to 36 hours to deliver. I feel that by a wise distribution of the routes of motor postal vans collections could be made at later hours, greater efficiency could be obtained, and greater services rendered to the public in that direction.
May I turn for a moment to the question of telephones? I feel that the statement we have heard to-day in connection with the provision of telephones was a Very legitimate and proper subject of congratulation at the great advance that has been made in efficiency, and what is even more pleasant is that a very great advance has been made in courtesy and civility to those who use the telephones. At the same time, I suggest that the charges, having regard to the services rendered, are still too high. We are told that one of the burdens is the cost of the provision of trunk lines. The Postmaster-General indicated that he was prepared to reduce the charges for the use of trunks at certain hours, and I hope he will continue in that policy as far as to the extent of keeping the trunk lines always fully occupied with business. After all, the same overhead charge, the same operating charge, obtains whether the trunk call is fully used or not, and the first consideration should be, and must be, if we are to get cheap service, business, and more business and better business, and a general encouragement of traffic in that direction. I would venture also to inquire if something cannot be done with regard to the question 1633 of the installation of telephones. The time which is taken, the number of persons who appear to be required to instal a telephone, the estimates which have to be entered into, the approvals and supervision, are a very serious detriment to the provision of cheap telephones. I think rather more latitude could be given to the individual employés of the Post Office who are, for the most part, very capable men, and if they could be allowed to get on with their work, without the amount of supervision and cross-checking which appears to go on, if their own initiative were given greater play, and if the knowledge were spread throughout the service that good and bad work would obtain suitable recognition in their respective spheres, I do think a great gain would be achieved.
Another point I would like to make is as to the question of measure points from telephone exchanges There are many towns in which subscribers happen to be more than a mile from the exchange, and, although those subscribers are more or less in the centre of the town, just because they happen to be more than a mile from the position which the Post Office have selected as a site for the exchange, they have to pay excess mileage rate. I can give an instance to the Postmaster-General, and no doubt he has several cases, which he knows himself, where there is a group of subscribers who happen to be more than a mile from the exchange, and I do feel in a case like that another exchange should be opened, or a different measure point should be provided. It is not fair, nor is it wise for that matter, to penalise these subscribers and expect them to pay an additional rate. There is also the question of wayleaves. I think greater powers should be taken by the Post Office to obtain wayleaves. The present policy is very much in the direction of laying underground cables. These underground cables are, in great measure, so far as one can observe, following the old routes of traffic, and I do feel that where underground cables are being laid, we should not tic ourselves to the old routes, but that we should try to take the shortest routes, and, if there are not sufficient powers to enable that to be done, then I think it would be well if the Department could obtain powers. These underground cables are very expensive, and if the routes can be shortened, the charges 1634 to those who use these cables can be cheapened. I would also like to ask how-many rural post offices in which telegraphs have been installed have been converted to public telephones, because I hold the view that every rural post office in which a telegraph office is installed should have it changed to a telephone, which is infinitely more convenient to the great majority of the public using that, office.
May I be allowed to conclude with a few words on the question of wireless? I am much interested in this subject, and I would like to thank the Postmaster-General for the concessions which he has been good enough to make in regard to this matter. I have felt sometimes that the restrictions were somewhat unnecessarily onerous and burdensome, and I am very glad indeed that he has been able to see his way substantially to modify and alter them. There is, however, one matter which I should like him to consider still further, and that is this question of the licensing fee he mentioned of 10s. The hon. Member who preceded me stated that it was not a licensing fee but a registration fee, If it be a registration, and there is to be no inspection and no cost of inspection, but merely a matter of going into a post office and handing over a sum of money across the counter for registration, then I see no necessity for so large a sum as 10s. being charged, because the service rendered would be virtually nothing. I know that probably the answer will be that there is a source of revenue here. In America, as was stated by the Postmaster-General, 750,000 wireless sets are already in operation. Ten shillings a head is a good way towards half a million in money. Is it fair, is it wise, to hamper—because it will hamper—this new and very interesting scientific development by saddling round its neck, directly it makes it appearance, a burden which reed not be imposed, and which, I venture to suggest, it would be far wiser not to impose, at any rate at the present time?
With regard to the question of broadcasting, and stations which are to be set up, I take it the stations will be so arranged that broadcasting will be carried out throughout the whole country. I am sure that will be the effect, but I should be glad if we could have an assurance upon that point. I would also like to urge 1635 that the matter which is to be broadcasted from these stations should be very carefully considered. The question of weather reports is an important one, and it is one of the useful services which could be carried out by these broadcasting stations, if a plain statement could be made of what those who are studying weather conditions think are likely to be the conditions which will obtain during the next few hours. For years we have had in operation a system of sending out telegrams. But telegrams are not delivered after a certain hour, and they are almost out-of-date before one receives them. Under this broadcasting arrangement, you would be able to get the information direct, and immediately it was issued, and it should prove, under certain circumstances, of great advantage to agriculturists and others, to whom such information would be of value. I would like to thank the Committee for allowing me to make these observations.
§ Mr. PERRING
I desire to raise a matter of some importance to the business community, but I may be allowed, perhaps, to preface my remarks by joining with others in expressing the satisfaction which all business men, and, indeed, all members of the community, must feel in the reduction of the charges both in the postal and telephone service. The business mind and acumen of the Postmaster-General have been evidenced by the statement that he has put before us to-day, and the fact that he has shown, what successful business men demonstrate in their lives, a willingness to pick up information wherever he can from the best sources, and the desire to use other business men for securing information to assist him in the administration of his Department, encourages me to address him this afternoon upon a question of some importance to the business community. I desire to call the attention of the Committee to the vast difference in the postal charges between the weekly trade journals and the monthly trade journals, and I venture to suggest to the Postmaster-General that there is no real excuse for such a vast difference in those charges. The Postmaster-General and other speakers have said how important it is that we should use every means, through the medium of the Post Office or otherwise, to promote the business of the 1636 country. Trade journals are primarily concerned, and exercise their influence and power in promoting trade and commerce, and bringing business to this country, and the great differences in the charges as between the weekly and monthly trade journals must, in some measure, have an influence in sending these monthly trade journals abroad for postage, and printing if necessary, by reason of the saving to be effected. The Postmaster-General criticised the want of patriotism, perhaps, on the part of trade journals which were sent abroad for postage. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I think that "hear, hear" comes with very bad grace from the benches opposite, where Members are always advocating free trade in everything. There is no greater lack of patriotism in a trade journal endeavouring to make a profit than there is in the mass of the people desiring to buy the cheapest goods in the cheapest market, without any regard to the origin of the article. Therefore, I do not think the "hear, hear" comes with very great force from Members on the opposite benches, who are such out-and-out Free Traders at all times.
May I remind the Committee that the cost of postage of a monthly trade journal is 1½d. for four ounces, while the cost of postage of a weekly trade journal is 1½d. for 12 ounces. I do not think there is any case for differentiation between the two journals, which are equally and jointly rendering service to the community, especially when you remember that if these particular journals are posted abroad for the purpose of being circulated amongst their clientele, the distribution of these journals in this country does not bring a single penny piece to the Post Office, because, under the regulations of the Postal Union, I understand and am informed, the country which does not collect does not receive anything for the distribution, but the country where the journals are posted receive the whole of the amount. By fostering and continuing this distinct difference between two types of journals, these particular monthly journals are posted abroad, with the result that in the distribution of them in this country the Postmaster-General receives no reurn for the labour. Therefore, on that score alone, the Postmaster-General should give the matter 1637 his very careful consideration. Trade journals, whether they be weekly or monthly, employ a considerable number of printers, and it is employment that we desire to increase and encourage. Therefore, anything that might directly or indirectly tend to encourage the printing and posting of a journal abroad, with the desire to make ends meet, and to increase circulation, should be carefully considered by the Postmaster-General, and a remedy found, if it be possible. I know the chief argument that has been advanced for a long period—I do not know that it has been advanced by the present Postmaster-General; perhaps with his greater business acumen he may see it in a different light—there is a loss in the collection and distribution of these particular monthly journals. I venture to suggest, however, to the Postmaster-General that you cannot single out one small portion of the postal service and say there is an exact loss on that particular branch or section of the work, because it is in the aggregate that the loss or profit is made. It is the Postmaster General's special duty to adjust and regulate the postal work, so that the employés in the postal service shall have their work so spread over as to be all full employed so far as the right hon. Gentleman can sec to it.
In encouraging the increased circulation of trade journals, the right hon. Gentleman must necessarily not only bring revenue to the Post Office, but he will not in any degree increase the charges of the distribution of those journals, because it is in making up the average day's work for the mass of his postal servants that he must seek for a greater postal activity, whether in regard to letters, postcards, or journals. Inasmuch as these journals are distributed with the other postal matter, it is desirable that he should do everything in his power to prevent such journals being posted abroad. The right hon. Gentleman can under no circumstances justify a difference as between one class of journal and another. If there is a loss on the monthly journal there must relatively be a loss on the weekly journal. The Postmaster-General, with the evidence he has given of his desire to help the trade of the country, must realise that through the medium of the Post Office he ought to give any encouragement to 1638 trade journals to advertise and promote business in preference to encouraging foreign journals, American or otherwise, to come here and compete at a cheaper rate of postage. I therefore appeal to him to remit to the Business Advisory Committee which he has formed to consider these questions to which I have alluded. I hope he will avail himself of the opportunity of their advice and opinion for what it is worth in connection with the matter I am now bringing forward. If he does bring a question of this kind before a body of business men anxious to promote trade and commerce through the medium of advertising and suchlike, they will very soon see that there is no justification for the distinct difference in the charges to which I have referred as between one class of journal and another. I sincerely hope the right hon. Gentleman will give this matter his serious consideration.
As a Member of the Committee that had to consider the telephone question, I am in some difficulty in understanding whether the Postmaster-General at some later date is going to deal with its Report and to inform the House what recommendations he proposes to adopt, or whether he is going to leave the matter for other people to go into it. Personally, I am a little disappointed that in his statement this afternoon, excellent though it may have been, he did not enlarge on the Report of the Telephone Committee and inform the House, and through the House the country, whether he intends to deal with it at an early date, or if the recommendations of the Committee will form the subject of a later Report. While we are all agreed that the telephone service has materially improved within the last few months—it is in an improvement of the service equally with a reduction of the charge that we look for improvement—we are entitled to hope that at a very early date the Postmaster-General will state whether it is his intention to adopt all or any of the recommendations made. Then we shall know to what extent the country may look in the near future for that re-organisation which is so essential to the proper development of the telephone system. The fact that the right hon. Gentleman has been able to reduce the staff of the postal service by 6,500 is evidence—and many of us are aware of it—that the hand of the 1639 organiser has been at work, and that he has been probing into the dark corners of the postal service to ascertain where there are screws loose. We have confidence that he is tightening up those loose screws. It is only by so doing, as is exactly the case with all our Government Departments, that we can secure that economy which will enable us to obtain a cheaper service and more efficient service for the community at large. I hope the right hon. Gentleman at an early date will give us an opportunity of hearing his opinion on the question, so that we may have some idea of what he intends to do.
§ Sir CHARLES OMAN
I fear I must take the Committee back to a much more important subject than that of Trade Journals; a subject which has not, so far as I can make out, been brought up by any Member of the Committee to-night. It is the subject of economy. I have put down an Amendment to reduce the Vote for salaries by £1,000 in order to bring out the question of Economy. For the last month or two I have been collecting facts through the kind assistance furnished me by the Postmaster-General's replies to questions put to him in the House, in order to bring them up against him in this Debate. He has given me honest answers, and now I am going to give him my honest comment on them. I think the Post Office, of all the Government Departments, is possibly the most extravagant. I am going to give him the reason and to quote his own figures. He said, in answer to a query I made on the 12th April last, that the total amount of salary paid to the employés of the Post Office in the year before the War, 1913–14, was £15,700,000. I asked him what had been paid in the twelvemonth ending 5th April of this year, the current year 1921–22. His answer was £45,100,000, almost exactly three times the annual sum paid to the employés of the Post Office before the War. The right hon. Gentleman has been good enough to furnish me with still further facts. He adds that there are certain other items which really come in the wages bill over and above those sums of £15,000,000, in the one case, and £45,000,000, in the other. There was-such an amount of £1,500,000 for the year 1913–14, and one of £5,000,000 for the year 1921–22. The total sum, therefore, spent on salaries and wages for 1640 Post Office servants in the year before the War was £17,300,000, and the amount spent in the year just elapsed was exactly £50,000,000. That is to say, it is a good three times——
§ Sir C. OMAN
It is correct within a million; and at any rate it is very nearly three times as much. It might not seem astonishing that the total sum expended on the salaries of the Post Office had been trebled if there had been a large increase in the personnel of the Post Office, but there has not. The right hon. Gentleman kindly informed us that he has succeeded after great efforts in reducing his staff by 6,500 people during the year. He has reduced the number of those employed by the Post Office to 6,500 less than in 1913–14. Therefore the triple salary is being divided among a very much smaller number of people. Not only is the number of employés smaller, but the service that is being done is extraordinarily less. One could have understood that more wages might have been paid if more was being done to earn them. But the people now receiving £50,000,000 are not doing the Sunday work, which was being done before the War, and they are not handling nearly as much in material bulk of letters as was the case then. The Postmaster-General's figures—he did not give them to-night, but he gave them before—I think, showed that 794,000,000 less letters were handled and stamped by his people this year on account of the enormous rise in rates. Therefore, his people who have been receiving this trebled salary have been doing very much less.
I think I shall add to that that they have been doing that very much less work very much worse, because if my experience is to be trusted there are more letters lost at present than over before. I lost a most important legal letter last week; it was posted to me and never got to me. Moreover, and this is rather important, the date stamp which is placed upon all letters is infinitely worse now than it was before the War. I have not infrequently seen letters where it was absolutely impossible to make out anything of the date, and that is of great importance in some legal cases. The date when a letter was posted or received is often a decisive point. The envelope, 1641 where the crucial date of dispatch is to be found, has nowadays often only a blur instead of the date and hour of posting. Therefore I have to ask what justification is there for the postal staff receiving these trebled wages for much less work much worse done? The mischief, no doubt, did not start with the present Postmaster-General. His predecessor received one of the highest honours the Crown could bestow after having raised the letter rate to 1½d., the postcard rate to 1d. and doubling the salary of the officials. What must his successor receive after having raised the postal rate to 2d. and the postcard rate to 1½d.—?
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not desire to do me an injustice, but I must point out that I did not raise the letters to 2d. That was done the year before I came into office.
§ Sir C. OMAN
The salaries remain trebled. You cannot get away from the £45,000,000 paid out last year. The Postmaster-General said, and very honestly, that the whole difficulty arose from those salaries, and that the only way of making his accounts balance was by incommoding the public through the imposition of the present very extortionate rates. In ordinary business, as was wisely remarked by another speaker, when salaries are running up so as to exceed the whole income of a firm, the wisest way to reconstruct the financial position is not to double the price of all products to the consumer. Anyone would suppose that the better way would be to endeavour to get more custom and to make it cheaper. As I remarked last year, on the same topic, I do not consider that that increase of these rates was "good business." On the whole, I think this last raising to 2d. from 1d. has produced the greatest inconvenience probably ever caused by any one act of a Minister to any large number of people. The Postmaster-General was good enough to give me detailed answers in the matter of salaries to some questions I put, as to a certain number of different posts. I am bound to confess here that the case is not quite so strong 1642 this April as when I first made the inquiries last year. Salaries have come down, but I have extracted these facts. The postmaster at Cambridge at present receives £834 a year. He got very nearly £1,000 a year some months ago. At present it is just under what is paid to a senior professor at Cambridge and more than many professors get.
§ Sir C. OMAN
Bonus for the postmaster. No professor ever got bonus. The next post is that of a sorter of 14 years' standing: he at present gets £312 a year—compared with a university sub-librarian or a demonstrator at the Museum, with £300. But the case which strikes me as worst is this. A newly-joined sorter, a boy of 18, receives at the present time 49s. 3d. per week, or, say, £130 a year. I want to point out that a scholar at Oxford or Cambridge comes up on an endowment of £80 a year. I wish the Minister of Education were here, so that he might think on the impecuniosity of the scholar as compared with the payment of the sorter of the same age. It is absolutely immoral that the State should offer such a wage to a boy of 18; you may tempt a clever boy away from what may be the beginning of a very great career. We should not grumble so much if these heavy salaries that are paid entailed better services, but they are very much worse. No one has enlarged upon the general inconvenience caused by the non-delivery of letters on Sundays. I will tell the right hon. Gentleman of an incident which lately happened which, indeed, was in the nature of a tragedy. An old lady was knocked down in the road by a trolly on Friday afternoon. This occurred in a small hamlet on the Cotswolds, where there were no telegraph facilities, but only a box by the wayside in which to post the letters. A letter was sent to summon the old lady's daughter from Oxford. It was put into the letterbox on Friday and received by the daughter on Monday morning. The letter-box had been cleared on the Friday before the letter was posted, but though it was cleared again on the Saturday, the letter remained over Saturday and Sunday hung up, and was delivered at Oxford, 25 miles away, only on the Monday morning, for want of a Sunday delivery.
1643 We have been given by the Postmaster-General a forecast of the improvements to take place in the coming year. I must confess myself that whatever we are going to get next year cannot, by way of counterbalance, take away the recollection of the extreme inconveniences we have suffered during the past year. Let me tell the Postmaster-General a little story which may be of some value to him. There was in the ancient days a pirate king—not that I would compare the Postmaster-General to a pirate king—who mulcted persons of considerable sums and then ordered his men to give a good deal of it back, because he said people would feel much greater satisfaction at getting back a part of their losses unexpectedly, than resentment at having been robbed originally of their lawful property. The psychology of Polycrates was wrong. When he was caught he came to a dreadful end. The Postmaster-General may rely upon it, but I am convinced that people do not forget their resentment at being pillaged because part of the plunder is afterwards given back. I think what I have said is sufficient to justify me in not having entire confidence in the present administration of the Post Office.
§ Mr. R. YOUNG
It was my intention in taking part in this discussion to congratulate the Postmaster-General on one or two things, but I had no knowledge that I would require to congratulate him on the facts as given by the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken (Sir C. Oman). If wages had been trebled all over the country where the cost of living has gone up, that was a good thing for the workers, so that from that point of view the Postmaster-General and his predecessor have gone much further than even I thought they had done. But salaries are now on the down grade. They are largely made up of War bonus and they will disappear proportionately as the cost of living falls. Surely, however, the last thing we expect from the representative of the University of Oxford is to find fault with the payment of a decent wage because certain scholars who go to Oxford go up with £80 a year.
§ Mr. YOUNG
A scholarship of £80 a year is to enable a young man to prepare for a well-paid career in the days that lie 1644 ahead, whereas these people in the Post Office are never able during the whole of their life to receive any considerable emoluments. These things ought to be taken into consideration. After all, if the University of Oxford cannot be more generous and successful in paying its professors, and in securing endowments for its scholars, that is no reason why any attack should be made on the salaries of those who are rendering useful services to the community.
I wish to congratulate the Postmaster-General—and perhaps in this I do not quite find myself in agreement with some of my colleagues—on the fact that he is not going to restore the Sunday delivery of letters. I regard Sunday work in that direction as very unnecessary. As he himself has pointed out, Scotland has done without Sunday delivery—for all time I think—and I do not know that they have been thereby inconvenienced. We in London have gone through the same experience. I, for one, would regret very much that there should be a restoration of Sunday deliveries in this country. I should like to say that if the civil servants in the Post Office and the Post Office workers have been reduced in salary as a result of getting off Sunday work, leaving them with a salary insufficient for the purposes of life, that that is quite a different question, and should be tackled from that standpoint, and their wages raised for a six instead of a seven days' week.
Reference was made by the Postmaster-General to the fact that there was now a smaller staff than in 1914. Praise has been given to him for that fact. I believe, however, that the work done by that smaller staff is not as great as the work done by the staff in 1914. Sunday deliveries have been taken off, but I am certain that throughout the length and breadth of the country there are fewer deliveries of letters during the six days of the week. But the deliveries are sufficient, so far as my experience goes. I hope there will not be a large increase in the delivery of letters in any part of the country. At Oxford, of which I have had some experience, before the War nearly every other hour there was a delivery of letters, while in other places one delivery had to do.
I would also congratulate the Postmaster-General on the fact that he has adopted that very sound policy, and one 1645 advocated by the party to which I belong long before there was a recognised political Labour party in the country; that is that the proceeds of any national or municipal industry to which profits accrue from work done should be returned to those who use the services, in any particular direction. That is a characteristic feature of the municipal government of Glasgow in relation to the trams. I rejoice it should be put into operation in relation to the Post Office. This is the true way to deal with the surplus of the Post Office—to give contentment to the employés and a reduction of rates to those served, while keeping the machine efficient. I am not, however, altogether sure, that there is not some little subsidy in some branches of the Post Office. We are having an Imperial Air Service carried through. I know the Civil Aerial Service has to be subsidised. I presume the Post Office is contributing towards that subsidy. I may be wrong. Even if it is, I for one am not going to find fault, because I realise that the main thing is to work it with success, and ultimately it will doubtless pay for itself very satisfactorily.
The Postmaster-General said that he would secure these benefits as a result of saving in expenditure. I am particularly anxious to help him secure even greater saving in expenditure. Has he ever heard of the Technical Costings Department, which was of very great use in the War and since the War in various Government Departments? I am under the impression that the Post Office has never utilised the services of these people. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that it was during the War that the service was set up, in 1915. As a result of its work, the Treasury recommended an extension. I asked the question in 1919 as to what had been saved, and I found that the result of the work of that Department was this—it was an astounding reply—that the cost of contracts had been reduced by no less a sum than £300,000,000, at a cost of £75,000 to the State. That was an enormous saving to the State, and realising that, I should have thought that the Post Office would have taken advantage of the work of this Department. Evidently they have not done so, and I would like to recommend its services to the right hon. Gentleman. I do not want this done on the ground of effecting a substantial saving to the nation during the War. The representative of the 1646 Admiralty said yesterday that since this Department was transferred to the Admiralty from the Ministry of Munitions there has been a saving in contracts of £350,000. I have taken the trouble to find out by question and answer how much has been saved by the Departments using the Technical Costings Department, and I find that from 20th June, 1921, to March, 1922, there has been a saving of £233,000, and that on a very small proportion of the contracts of the Admiralty, the War Office, and the India Office. Therefore, if these savings can be made in the Departments I have mentioned, and owing to the large contracts into which the Post Office enters, I am sure great savings could also be made in the same way by that Department. I trust that something will be done to cheek the contracts which are entered into by the Post Office.
The hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) made some remarks in relation to sub-postmistresses, and I want to emphasise one or two points. The hon. Member stated that in Blackfriars there were five sub-post offices and in his opinion two Crown post offices would discharge the work quite as efficiently as the five sub-post offices. May I state that within five minutes of where I reside there are four sub-post offices doing post office work in grocers or newspaper shops, and I am sure that district would be much better served by one Crown post office. I do not understand why all these sub-post offices should be continued. I have put questions to the Postmaster-General in relation to the assistants engaged in these post offices. We have been told that the Post Office does not take cognisance of the fact that there are any assistants employed until we send on complaints. These assistants are allowed to be paid anything at all, and the Post Office does not concern itself. People do post office work and also attend to a grocers shop. The sub-postmasters have their own organisation, and I presume it looks after their interests, but surely the Post Office should have some consideration for the ordinary girl, youth, man or woman behind the counter in these sub-offices who are also doing the work of the post office. Only to-day I received an answer from my right hon. Friend on this subject. I asked the right hon. Gentleman:If he will explain how employés engaged in sub-post offices are paid whose duties during a portion of the day are on post 1647 office work and during the other portion are on the regular commercial work or the sub-postmaster; whether a definite remuneration for post office work is laid down in these cases; and whether the employé signs for the post office wage apart from payment for other work.The answer I received was:These matters are arranged by the sub-postmasters who employ the assistants, and no definite remuneration for post office work is laid down.As a result of this, in many places throughout the length and breadth of the country, those doing this work are being sweated, underpaid, working long hours, and they do not sign any receipt for any payment as coming from the Post Office.
§ The ASSISTANT POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Mr. Pike Pease)
Only a very small portion of their work, in many cases, is Post Office work.
§ Mr. YOUNG
Of course, if the right hon. Gentleman makes that statement, I suppose I must accept it. That may be so in the outlying districts, but judging from the work in the post offices around me, I should say that a very great part of their day's work is mainly Post Office work; in fact, they are the only persons capable of looking after that work. The sub-postmaster pays very little attention to the work, and the employés have to do the work and be responsible, and I think the Post Office should have some consideration for them, and make up its mind to lay down some definite percentage to be paid to the assistants employed in Post Office work. I hope the Postmaster-General, whilst receiving the congratulations of Members of this House for what he has accomplished and what he intends to do during the coming year, will not forget these people throughout the country in sub-post offices, because they require more consideration, and they deserve to have their case fully investigated.
I think it would be a good thing if the right hon. Gentleman could investigate these offices from a national standpoint, and arrive at some conclusion which would, once and for all, do away with the many grievances which reach the various unions and individual Members of this House, and which lead to unpleasant consequences when investigations are made. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that this is no matter of 1648 merely trivial fault-finding, and I do suggest to him that the two matters which I have brought before his notice are worthy of his attention, that is, the utilisation of the staff of the technical costings department in regard to Post Office contrasts, because I am sure by this means great savings will be accomplished, and the experience of other Departments goes to bear out this statement. My other point was in relation to the assistants in the sub-post offices, and I hope that will receive the right hon. Gentleman's attention. I rejoice that the Postmaster-General has made up his mind that in future, if he is administering the affairs of the Post Office, he will stick to the principle of utilising the profits of the Post Office for the purpose of making the Post Office efficient and capable.
§ Mr. STURROCK
I wish to emphasise the last few words which fell from the hon. Member who preceded me in laying down as an axiom, not only now but in future years and on every occasion, that the Post Office should never be allowed to be converted into a profit-earning concern on behalf of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I rise for the purpose of tendering my most respectful and sincere congratulations to the Postmaster-General for having secured what apparently lay in the balance for some days—that is the right to use the surplus the Post Office has earned for a reduction of postal charges. I do not know what went on in that respect, but I feel that my right hon. Friend deserves to be congratulated, and that from the Government point of view no more futile policy could have been followed than that the surplus should have been taken from the Post Office and devoted to other purposes.
The Post Office, after all, is part of the machinery of business, and any undue increase in postal or telephonic charges is a tax on business at a time when business is trying to create a profit. I say to the Government, put on all the taxation which is necessary to meet the purposes of Government, after a profit has been earned, but, for Heaven's sake, leave business free to make that profit. There is no doubt that the excessive postal charges from which we have suffered for some time past were directly preventing business being developed in the way in which it ought to have been developed. It was a particularly fatuous 1649 and foolish policy to impose the high charges which were imposed, and I sincerely trust that what my hon. Friend said with regard to the application of future surpluses in the Post Office will, be applied, and that we shall never again be near the possible danger of having the Post Office made a sort of department from which the Chancellor of the Exchequer can draw some part of his revenue.
There was one point I wished particularly to bring under the notice of my right hon. Friend, and that is the question of the development of telephones in rural areas. Here the Post Office has not really moved along on progressive lines. I know cases where, judging upon all the available facts, it does appear that the Post Office has not only stood in its own light, but directly in the light of many rural areas in my own native country of Scotland. There is one case, which I will gladly supply to my right hon. Friend, of a very popular health resort in Scotland, where demands have been made again and again to get a local telephone installed. A promise of a certain number of subscribers was secured, but the number fell short only by two of the minimum which the Post Office demanded, and the telephone to this day is not installed in that particular place. I am perfectly certain that if the Post Office were a privately controlled concern it would have speculated in such a region as that, and would have replied: "It may be that we do not have our required minimum just now, but we will create new business and put in a telephone, and we hope to see new subscribers come along." Instead of that, the whole transaction is dealt with by the Post Office officials responsible as if these people are asking a favour. The Post Office would not look at the idea, and the result is the telephone is not there yet.
§ Mr. STURROCK
A good many years ago. I am not making this charge against the right hon. Gentleman himself. I am complaining of the traditional policy of the Post Office in insisting that a given number of subscribers shall be secured before the telephone is installed. The result is that these health resorts and rural places suffer immensely. Business 1650 men from big towns in Scotland—Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, or Dundee—must have a telephone near at hand by means of which they can communicate with their places of business, and if that accommodation be not provided then they will not go to these health resorts and rural places. I am certain the Post Office would find it very good business indeed to indulge in a little moderate speculation as regards telephones. As the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Sir H. Norman) said, they should cram the telephones down the throats of the people all over the country. But there is far too much tendency on the part of those who are in the service of the Post Office to develop a sort of bureaucratic idea that they are not at the service of the public, but that the public is a sort of nasty and unpleasant necessity with which they have to put up. If the officials of the Post Office could be induced by their Parliamentary chiefs, who are in close touch with the democracy and who could do a great deal towards impressing upon them the desirability of going out of their way not only with regard to telephones but in relation to other details of the postal service to try and meet the requirements of the public, and to take a little risk in so doing, it would be a very good thing. There is a great possible revenue for the Post Office in this direction, and the initial cost should not be excessive. I am sure if the enterprise were in the hands of a commercial company they would soon get rid of the idea which prevails in the Post Office that the telephone service is a luxury for the few, and would endeavour to secure, whether the public liked it or not, that the telephone should be installed in every happy home in the land.
I resent the tone adopted by the hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir C. Oman) towards the postal staff. That staff requires no compliments from me, but I should say that if one searched the land from one end to the other it would be impossible to find any more faithful body of public servants. I do not care whether they work in the great Metropolitan areas or whether they are to be found in rural districts in my own country. The rural postman in fact travels many miles daily in all sorts of weather and is the friend of most of the humble people in his area. I think it is exceedingly pitiable that the hon. Member for Oxford, 1651 occupying the position he does, should come here and try and draw a most ludicrous and absurd comparison between the undergraduates of Oxford and Cambridge and what they have to live on and the remuneration paid to this devoted body of public servants. The Committee ought to make it very plain that whatever fault they find with the postal service the blame does not lie with the employé but is with the policy which is pursued. We ought not to allow those who are more modestly placed in the service to be accused of neglecting the interests of the public. If criticism is to be directed against anyone it should be against the leading officials who lay down the policy that is carried out. Those leading officials ought to remember that in what they are doing they have to meet the demands of the public in every possible direction. They are there to serve the public rather than to regard the public as something to which they can give any sort of service they like. It is neither fair nor reasonable to attack the rank and file in this matter. I only rose to bring up once more this question of the development of the telephones in rural areas, and I trust that my right hon. Friend, who as Postmaster-General has shown since he assumed office a desire to effect reform, will do all ho can to secure some development in that direction.
§ Mr. HURD
I am very glad that so much has been said in this Debate on the subject of the development of the rural telephone service. The right hon. Gentleman is aware that I have on several occasions brought this matter before the Post Office. In my own constituency a good deal of feeling exists that the farmer could be greatly helped in many directions if the rural telephones could be brought more within his reach. The party system to which the hon. Gentleman referred does not meet his taste. The farmer is a man peculiarly individual in his habits; he finds it very irksome in his particular business to use telephones that are open to others who may be his rivals and are not always his friends. I would ask whether in this question of telephones in rural areas it might not be desirable to put on the Advisory Business Committee at the Post Office a representative of the National Farmers' Union. I know that the Department has consulted the National Farmers' Union on one or 1652 two specific occasions, but it seems to me that if they had as a permanent member of that body a farmer who could state the point of view of his class, the Post Office would get guidance which they do not now receive. It is a body, I believe,, of business men representing business interests, but I take it there is no farmer upon it.
§ Mr. HURD
I want a working farmer to be put on it who can handle the problem from the point of view of those who work on the land. It would be quite easy for the National Farmers' Union, or the National Agricultural Workers' Union, or each, to have a representative on that body, who would be in touch always with their own members and would be fitted to deal with problems from the point of view of agriculture. When in Canada from Atlantic to Pacific one visits any agricultural area nothing strikes one more than the omnipotence of the telephone amongst the farmers of Canada. The telephone and the motor-car have revolutionised agricultural life in Canada, and I would beg the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to see whether they cannot make far greater strides in our own rural areas in that respect. I want also to speak on another matter affecting rural areas. It is pretty certain that there is an immediate prospect of a large migration of people from this country. We have in the present year a Bill before Parliament by which a grant of money is being made in aid of that movement—a million and a half this year, three millions next year, and so on. I am in favour of that grant, but at the same time I cannot help thinking, when I go down to my own constituency and see the struggle which smallholders are having, not only to get land, but to remain on the land in a profitably paying position, that we in this country and in this House are not paying enough attention to the position of our own people who are seeking to settle on our own land. I see that the Chairman is addressing a warning eye to me, but the relevance of my remarks is this. Before the War a large number of the smallholders were able to develop a direct business in agricultural and dairy product with the towns. Many 1653 ex-soldier smallholders in my constituency are now on the verge of bankruptcy owing to the difficulties of prices, rates and high rents fixed by the county council.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. HURD
At any rate, my own county council are making a rebate in this respect this year. Owing to the heavy drop in prices these ex-soldiers are now in an extremely difficult position. Why cannot the Post Office direct its energy towards the recovery of the trade which those smallholders had with the towns in dairy produce, in bacon, eggs, butter and such things. Their trade has been killed by the excessive postal rates. I wrote to one of the associations concerned, and they sent me a number of cases in which smallholders had worked up this business on their own account and by their own initiative, and had, indeed, secured a most profitable business which, however, has been killed by these high rates. Take the case of eggs. Where the charge formerly was 4d. for a parcel it is now 1s. The charge for carrying butter has risen from 3d. to 9d. per parcel; for carrying chicken from 7d. to 1s. per parcel. It is quite impossible for a direct trade to live with postal rates of that kind. I approached the Postmaster-General on this subject. He is always courteous, but he never does anything beyond promising. He cannot see the farmer's point of view. I wrote to him and said, "You are a Member of a Government which is definitely and explicitly pledged to help the agricultural community. Here is a matter in which you can help not only the agricultural community to which you are pledged, but the ex-soldiers, to help whom we are all pledged. Why do not you do something for him? Why not try and establish an agricultural parcels post instead of retaining these high prohibitive rates?" His reply was: "If I did that for agricultural smallholders I should have to do it for everyone." What I want to impress upon the right hon. Gentleman is this. Agriculture wants development. That is an explicit point in Government policy upon which they won the last election, and it is a point which will appeal especially to the Assistant Postmaster-General, who is now on the Government Bench. I beg him to review this ques- 1654 tion, and see whether something more effective cannot be done for these small men, who are anxious to obviate the excessive profits that often occur in passing from hand to hand through the range of middlemen. It would be doing a great service to the townsfolk as well as the smallholders if this direct trade could be developed, as it would cut out any unnecessary intermediate profits, increase production, and benefit the population of the towns as well as of the rural areas.
The Postmaster-General waxed eloquent on the subject of Bagdad, and a new air parcels post to and from that and other distant centres. I remember that the right hon. Gentleman himself comes from my own west country, and, while I do not mind his waxing eloquent on Bagdad, I do beg him to wax a little more eloquent on the subject of his own city of Bristol and the Somerset area. There is a great deal that the Post Office can do to assist our own home production and the prosperity of our own country. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the glories of the air parcel service, but that is only helping our rivals to send their parcels here to compete with our farmers and producers. Cannot we also think of our home trade, and see if we cannot cultivate expansion at home as well as abroad? The right hon. Gentleman is very pleased with himself at reducing the postage on picture postcards, but it seems to me that our home production and home trade in this country are even more important than picture postcards, and I would rather have seen surplus money used in the direction of reducing the rates on, for instance, agricultural parcels.
Another important branch of policy on which the Government is pledged and in which the Post Office is concerned is that of Imperial communications. I happened to be a member of a deputation that went to Mr. Illingworth when he was Postmaster-General two years ago, and later on, in June, 1921, to the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Both of them laid it down emphatically as a basis of Government policy that a scattered Empire like ours must cultivate the closest possible postal and cable relations between the Homeland and these outlying parts of the Empire. We must cheapen and increase the facilities. I have raised this question at Question time with 1655 the Postmaster-General on not a few occasions, and he has seemed to be quite satisfied with the present position. I can assure him that those who are concerned especially with the relations between various parts of the Empire and this country are not at all satisfied. We have the means by which we can greatly add to the cheapness and efficiency of our communications in this respect. I am glad that the Postmaster-General has brought the Empire and the United States within the ambit of the new 1½d. letter rate. That is a step towards the restoration of Imperial penny postage, and it is a happy circumstance that the lowering of the rate should be extended to the United States, in view of the marked desirability of increasing our friendly relations with that country. But we must think also of the cable and wireless means of communication. We may, I hope, look forward in the near future to a lessening of the cost of cable communications overseas. We possess at this moment an Imperial cable—one of the remnants that came to us as a result of the War. Why cannot we reduce the rates on that cable? It affects Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, and with lower rates on the Pacific cable we might get the rates down with all the cable companies. The right hon. Gentleman talked about the peak problem as applied to printed matter and trunk telephone services, and there is also a peak problem in connection with the cables. On the Imperial cable you get a great convergence of messages at certain hours of the day, and the officials will show you how the peak runs up almost like a peak in the Andes.
§ Mr. HURD
That was what the Postmaster-General told me, but I explained to him that it was not the fact. I use the cable every day, so that I know. I use that deferred rate, and there is the same deferred rate on the Imperial cable as on the ordinary commercial cables. The Post Office does nothing for us in that respect, although something was promised in the days of Mr. Illingworth and the Secretary of State for the Colonies as far back as June, 1921. With 1656 regard to this problem of the peak, I do not propose that the cost shall be increased, but that the cable shall be enabled to carry messages at a lower cost within certain hours. That is the problem as it is faced with respect to printed matter and trunk telephone services, and it may be faced in exactly the same way as regards the Imperial cable. I should like to see the Post Office aim at a 1d. cable rate to Canada, and a corresponding rate to other parts of the Empire. I believe it would be a good business proposition. Indeed, I had the opportunity a few weeks ago of spending an enlightening evening with one of the chief engineering officials of the Post Office, and in the course of our conversation he himself developed the possibilities on this point; and I would beg the right hon. Gentleman to see whether there is not along that line some substantial means of advance.
With regard to the part played by the Post Office in relation to the Empire wireless chain, it has absolutely broken down. The movement began at the Imperial Conference in 1911. Every one of the Dominions, and also the Ministers here, united in saying that we must do something to improve and cheapen and make more efficient the communications between the various parts of this Empire, but nothing whatever effective, so far as I can see, has been done. The Postmaster-General agreed as to the urgency of the matter then. It is doubly urgent now. The speeches made by Mr. Hughes, the Australian Prime Minister, Mr. Meighen, the Canadian Prime Minister, the South African Minister, and the Press representatives from the various Dominions at Imperial Conferences and otherwise, have all urged the importance of this question. I raised it the week before last in a question, and asked what had been done, after all these ten years, to enlist the practical sympathy of the Dominions in this Empire wireless chain development. The Postmaster-General had to tell me that the only Dominion which has entered upon any wireless project of its own is Australia. Australia is having nothing to do with this Empire wireless chain, and is entering upon a project of its own. But the Indian Government have stated that they cannot find the money, while with regard to South Africa the statement is that "communications are proceed- 1657 ing." That is after all these years since 1911. As to the Canadian Government, they were sending representatives to this country to discuss the matter. When I mentioned this same point to Mr. Illingworth two years ago at the Post Office, he said to me then that Canada was sending representatives to this country. Have they taken two years to cross the Atlantic?
§ Mr. HURD
I wish they would send them by the air parcel post. The truth is that this Empire wireless chain, in the hands of the Post Office, has been a miserable record of vaccilation, indecision and ineffectual isolation. If the Post Office had visualised the possibilities of this scheme, and had said to Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, "We are partners in the Pacific cable; let us also be partners in this new and wider development; let us have a joint board like the Pacific Board," there would not have been these difficulties. They have arisen from the fact that Mr. Hughes, Mr. Massey and Mr. Meighen went away from this country convinced that the Post Office-was not an efficient business concern on this side for running this scheme satisfactorily. That is the whole key to the difficulty that has arisen. The right hon. Gentleman may say that we have had a War, but the War did not prevent the United States, France, Germany and Italy from developing their wireless communications to a degree far outpacing our own developments here at home. I am afraid the day may be too far gone to attempt anything like a joint board of management. Australia, as I have, said, is running on her own account; India says she cannot find the money; Canada is still sending representatives. Indeed the whole thing has broken down. I do not know whether the Post Office intend to go on with an Empire wireless scheme that has next to nothing of Empire in it, or at all events leaves out of account the main Dominions of which the Empire is composed. I do not know whether it is possible to institute, as has been suggested, a trading department apart from the Post Office, under a business man with a reasonable measure of independence, so as to allow the partnership to be developed in a businesslike way. There has also been some idea of a co-partner- 1658 ship. My impression is that the disruptive tendencies in this wireless scheme have gone too far to be restored, and in that event I suggest that the best thing to do is to leave Empire wireless development to private enterprise under proper control. The idea of this chain being created by State enterprise has broken down. For some reason or other it docs not appeal to the Dominions, and, that-being so, surely the better plan is to recognise that fact, as the Geddes Committee does, and not to go on wasting money upon it, but to hand it over to whatever business enterprise is willing to take it up and make a success of it.
After saying what I have said, I should not like to close without heartily congratulating both the Postmaster-General and his colleague, who is on the Bench at this moment, upon the opportunity that has come to them to do what I know both of them wish to do, namely, to give the public a substantial advantage by means of lower rates in many directions. I am sure that, as was said by the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon), the Postmaster-General is at this moment one of the most popular Ministers in the country. There is nothing which so readily reaches the home as a reduction in postal rates, and I beg the Post Office to go on upon the line which it has been able to take to-day.
§ Major HILLS
In reference to the last speaker impressing on the Committee the importance of the telephone in the rural districts, I well remember a visit I paid some years ago to the Western States of America. I was amazed to find the extent to which the telephone was used, really in every part. It did not only play a part in business. It played also a large part in the social life of the district, for the wife of the farmer would communicate with her friends and get the last news from town. It was, of course, a very common circuit, but when you got used to it it was not inconvenient, and it was extraordinarily cheap. I believe the root cause why our telephone is so dear, a cause which must be removed before it can be extended, is the excessive cost of wayleaves. I have always said that the excessive regard we have had for the landowners' interest, often where the interest was not the least bit damaged, has hopelessly handicapped our telephone system. It has charged it with a large. I amount, of capital which will never be 1659 remunerative, and until we make a difference I do not believe you will get a cheap telephone in the rural districts.
I want to refer to the very unsatisfactory congestion which at present exists in the Savings Bank Department. In 1915 the Post Office started to sell War Loan, and for this a staff was required. The War Loans Sales Branch was staffed out of the expert staff of the Savings Bank Department, who up to that time had done the balancing of the Postmaster's accounts. The balancing of accounts is very expert work which must be done by highly trained clerks, for on it depends the financial stability and business efficiency of the whole of our Savings Bank. The clerks who did this balancing, who were chiefly women, were depleted and transferred to the War Loan branch. Then in 1918, when demobilisation came, a large number of soldiers and sailors took their gratuities in War Loan and this work was cast on the same branch, and altogether the Savings Bank was understaffed and the balancing of the Postmaster's accounts fell very seriously into arrears, and for some time past the staff has been working overtime to overtake these arrears. It throws an especially heavy burden on the women clerks owing to this fact. They do not get paid for overtime until they have worked 42 hours in a week. I do not complain of that. I believe it is the decision of the Whitley Council. But it has this result, that they do not make up their 42 hours unless they sacrifice the Saturday half-holiday, so they have to work the whole of Saturday before they start earning overtime, and the time they work on Saturday afternoon is not paid for at all. Further, I do not say overtime is compulsory, but still it is practically so. I quite realise the difficulty the Department has been in. They have to get this work brought up to date and the result has been that a state of things has arisen through pressure from above whereby overtime has been practically compulsory, and these women clerks have also lost their Saturday half-holiday.
But the real gist of my complaint is this. In spite of the excessive overtime, which is very bad for the staff, damaging their health and causing an undue amount of sickness, you have not overtaken the arrears from the end of 1917 to the end of 1660 1919, which were the last completed years for which the Postmaster's account was balanced. The arrear has been exactly the same, and the accounts of the year ending 31st December have not been balanced until September of the year following. For example, the balancing of the last quarter of 1917 was not finished until September, 1919, and the last quarter in 1919 was not finished until September, 1921, and so you are still a year and nine months in arrear. I quite see the difficulty. The arrears arose through no fault of the Post Office. Their male staff was depleted by the War, and they had to use the women staff to do this work, and thereby threw their own work into arrear. But I think it is time this excessive overtime, which is not good for the staff and is very expensive to the country, should be put an end to, and two suggestions have been made. The first is that the male staff should be employed for this overtime work, and that second division men should also be employed upon it; and the second is that a two-shift system of women should be engaged. For all reasons it is important that the work should be brought up to date, but I think you are doing it at too heavy a cost to the health of the women employed and also at too heavy a cost in pay. I think you can get it done more efficiently by some different system. Anyhow, I do not want to press my own view. I am quite certain the right hon. Gentleman is as anxious to put an end to this state of things as I am, and I am sure he will do a very great service and will reassure the minds of a good many of us if he can suggest some solution of this question. I join with the Committee generally in congratulating the right hon. Gentleman. In reference to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University (Sir C. Oman), I am not sure that a cheaply paid staff is always the most efficient staff, as he seemed to think, and I am not sure that the Postmaster-General could not make out a pretty good case by saying that with a good organisation—and good organisation is quite essential—you can do more work with a well-paid staff than with a lowly paid staff.
§ Major MACKENZIE WOOD
Like the majority of hon. Members, I have listened with great satisfaction to the statement of the Postmaster-General. I agree with what was said by the last speaker but one, 1661 that a great deal could be done to develop rural areas by cheapening parcel post. I am not at all satisfied that the answer my hon. Friend got from the Postmaster-General is quite conclusive. We have had special rates for different kinds of produce on the railways, and I see no reason why a similar state of things should not obtain in the postal service, and I am sure if you do something to diminish the cost of sending dairy and market garden produce by post, you would do a great deal to help smallholders and to help the development of rural areas generally. The chief point I wish to impress upon the right hon. Genteman is the question of rural telephones. I have had occasion in previous years to urge this upon the Post Office, and I am glad to acknowledge that at last they are doing something in my own area. I am glad to notice that in the last few weeks a number of new call offices have been opened in rural districts, to the great advantage of villages in the country. I hope that the Postmaster-General will go even further in the way of opening offices and bringing the telephone within the reach of those who live in far distant rural parts. This is not merely a question of commercial need. I was in the Highlands of Scotland recently, in a village, and I was told that the nearest doctor lived 14 miles away, and that the nearest telephone was seven miles away. That is a state of things which we ought to do our best to remedy. I hope the Post Office will keep cases of that kind in mind.
It is particularly the case of the farmer in which I am interested at the moment. Each farmer ought to have a telephone within his reach. If the system was properly developed the Post Office could make it an absolute necessity for a farmer to have a telephone, and if he did not he would be cutting himself off from his markets, and doing himself a great deal of harm. When I have urged this before, I have usually been told: "If the farmers will club together and make representation to the Post Office, we will do what we can"; but I suggest that this is a case where the Post Office ought to take the initiative. I am sure that that is what would be done if the telephones were being run by a private company. I think that was what was done by the National Telephone Company. The initiative ought to be taken by the Post Office, and they ought to do what 1662 they can to bring the telephone service to the notice of farmers. Of course, we are always told, when we press for telephones in rural districts, that it would cost so much, and that the Post Office must be run on strictly commercial lines. In answer to that I would say that it is a great mistake to try to count the cost of telephones in rural districts without considering the benefit that those rural telephones give to the telephone service in the towns. The telephone service in the towns is enhanced by the setting up of a telephone system round about. Even if the rural parts, taken alone, would not show a profit, I believe that in many cases they really would be successful. In any event, you ought to take into account the additional amount brought in for the service in the towns, as a result of the extension to the rural districts.
I hope that the Post Office will not be content with what they have done, and that they will lose no opportunity of increasing the telephones in the rural districts, and will not be satisfied until we have as good a service in the country as exists in Canada. Testimony has been given to-night as to the situation in Canada. We hear continually the same thing from travellers in that country. Practically no farmstead in Canada is without a telephone. If the Post Office were to show to the farmers of this country how much they would gain by having a telephone, and would do some thing to meet them by reducing the rates, they would soon have the satisfaction of seeing the telephone in every farmhouse of any size in the country.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
The Post Office has simply pole-axed the people of this country, and I cannot congratulate the Postmaster-General on his surplus. It is very easy for monopolists to get a surplus, but in this case it has meant practically that trade has been ruined. The right hon. Gentleman has not only ruined the picture postcard trade, but he has been incredibly hard, by his rates, upon rural districts. It is one of the joys of motoring nowadays, when you go to a country district, to take back country produce. You are able to give the cottager and smallholder a much better price than he would get if he sold to a dealer, who would sell to a second dealer, who would sell to a third dealer, and so on, before the produce reaches the shop. You can give him 1663 a much better price, and at the same time you get the produce for a little less than it is sold in the shop, and you are certain that the produce is fresh. In the interests of the public, if there was no profit in it at all to the Post Office, that trade should be restored, and one way in which it can be restored, thereby linking up the town and country, would be for the Postmaster-General to display sufficient enterprise, such as is done in the Colonies, and establish a cash-delivery business, so that people in stores and warehouses could sell by catalogue, and the country person could sell his produce, which could come in the Post Office motor wagon, thereby making the parcel post business infinitely better than it has ever been in the past. If you had a flow of goods coming from the country to the town you would also have a flow of goods going out to the country by means of the cash-delivery collection system. I do not understand why it has not been done in this country.
When the Post Office finds itself with a deficit, instead of cutting down its own expenses, it bludgeons the population, and puts up its rates, thereby hindering trade, and doing what no private trader would ever dream of doing. The first thing a private trader would do under such circumstances would be to say, "My customers are not coming in; I must cut the rates." If, instead of raising the rates, the Postmaster had cut them last year, he would have had a better surplus than he has to-day, and he would not done the immense damage—temporary, I believe—that he has done by putting such large additional burdens upon the Post Office service. We have been so accustomed to having a postal monopoly that we forget it could be perfectly well done by a private concern. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Yes. Just as gasworks are run. You would not allow them to make undue profits, because, as in the case of gas companies, when the profits go up the prices would have to be cut. The postal work of the Post Office, the mere collection and delivery of letters, is the most elementary of human occupations, but I do not want to say anything against the staff. The postal staff are a very fine body of men. We have heard to-night of the three brave girls to whom the Postmaster-General referred, and of the splendid way in which they 1664 acted. It is what we expected of them. The right hon. Gentleman said that he did not know what any of us would do if we had to look down the mouth of a pistol. In the same circumstances, I am quite sure that members of the Treasury Bench would immediately grant the assailants a republic in order to escape. It is, indeed, very fine to hear about these girls having the nerve to stand up as they did.
The postal business is a very simple business, but when you get the telephone and telegraph side, it was the greatest calamity that ever happened to this country from the point of view of the distribution of information or of communication when the Post Office took over the telegraphs and the telephones. This is far too skilled a business for the Government. It is too highly scientific engineering for the Government. I do not know what the early legislation was in regard to telegraphs, but a very absurd legal decision was given that the Telegraph Acts applied to the telephone. The Post Office tried to stifle telephones to begin with. All Government officials try to stifle everything. We get them in the Army—the bow and arrow school. We get them in the Navy, where they would not have steam ships nor armoured ships. Whenever the Government gets its dead hand on enterprise it stifles it. Why did the Government introduce the measured rate? Nobody but the Government ever would have done anything so annoying. If a member of a club, instead of paying an annual subscription, were charged 2d. or 6d. every time he went through the club door, he would not go in there very often. It is a preposterous and most annoying system to charge. It is like the old tolls on the roads. Nobody would think of establishing them again. In practice it does not work out. The charges in the result become very, very great.
I know of cases in which formerly two telephones cost £20 or £30. Now under the measured rate, they average £40 a quarter, and come to about £150 a year. Of course the people concerned had to try to unload these charges very largely on the customers. One result is to make the telephone extremely expensive. The Post Office gather in far too large a sum of money. We cannot get the telephone cheap, or in the country districts. The old National Telephone Company had a 1665 very good system. They had travellers going round looking for customers. They would never have instituted the measured rate system because they would have known that they would not get the business. The average person who is trading commercially on his own account, if you go into him at the end of a day, would say, "I have had about 80 people in to see me to-day," and he would be very happy. But if you go to a Government official, who was not commercially interested, at the end of the day he would say, "I have had a splendid day. There has been hardly anyone in to see me." I do not blame him. It has exactly the same effect as the quarter's payment has on the panel doctor. When you get people in a secure position, their commercial mentality disappears. That is why the Post Office has damaged the telephone system.
There is also this effect with regard to the accounts. Nobody is ever satisfied that the record of his calls sent in by the Post Office coincides with the actual number of calls. An eminent gentleman who has just retired from the engineering department of the Post Office—telephones and telegraphs—said the other day that he had himself quarrelled about his private telephone account, and he found that the discrepancy was due to the fact that his maidservants had been using the telephone very frequently at times. Just imagine the system which makes this possible, and for which no apology is given. You must leave your telephone open so that anybody can use it and you have to pay for the use which other people make of it. What would you think of any shopkeeper who said to you: "You have got to pay your bill. Your household has run up an account, though you have given no authority for it"?—You cannot check it. Such a system is unsound, and must result in complete dislocation. There was one case of a man whose house was shut while he was away on his honeymoon, and who maintained that he could not possibly have had the calls. When the Post Office was asked about it, they said that his wife must have been using the telephone in his absence. Another man in Edinburgh had his house shut for three months and could not possibly have been using his telephone, and he was told that he was charged on an average. Then, when the 1666 matter was pressed, there was a climb down.
The whole telephone system is worked with the most extraordinary inefficiency. The explanation is simple. I got it from the stable. I am not going to say who the member of the staff was. He would have a bad time of it. Like the silversmiths of Ephesus, who saw that their craft was in danger, they would all be after him. It is the fact that the engineering department of the Post Office is independent of the commercial department. It is a big bureaucracy in itself. It sends in a bill for what it thinks is right to the commercial people, who pay. This is exactly like as if an engineering company had its special department and the commercial people had no control over the actual cost of the work. I was told by the same person that it would make an immense difference if the Post Office adopted the principle on which all commercial companies act, and if the constructive part of the telephone were put under the commercial part. This would make a very big cut in the cost of carrying out telephone enterprise, because, of course, naturally the other people have got no commercial interest in the work which they are doing. They take on their friends. A foreman takes on a son-in-law or a brother-in-law. The whole thing becomes a huge happy party. I have seen it in the municipal service, and it is bound to be the case in the engineering department of the Post Office which is independent of the commercial side and is not controlled. I raised this point before, and probably the right hon. Gentleman will tell us whether any improvement has been made.
I was interested in the speech of the lion. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Amnion), who spoke very much from the point of view that I have often heard expressed. He spoke as if the Post Office was an institution run for the benefit of the people who work in it. That was his attitude right through. It is as if the railway men were to take the point of view that the railways were run for their benefit, or as if the legal profession took the point of view that the Law Courts and the administration of the law were for the benefit of the lawyers. [HON. MEMBERS: "They do!"] It is an unsound point of view. Any member of the legal profession who does not realise that he is the servant of his client and 1667 that it is his business to attend to his client's interest first will never prosper. The only people who are successful in life are those who put their work or business first and themselves second. Until Labour recognises that it exists, not as an end in itself, but to do its best for the general good, it will never succeed. An attack has been made on the National Telephone Company. That company built up its business and paid a royalty of 10 per cent, on its gross takings to the Post Office. Owing to a bad legal decision which should have been taken to the House of Lords it was held that telephones were telegraphs, and when the time came the State took this 10 per cent. Yet the telephone company gave a very good service. At one time I got a good service in Glasgow for 25s. a year. Nothing like that could be touched by the Post Office. The company managed to pay 15 per cent. to its shareholders.
Then came the Post Office to seize the fruits of the great pioneer work done by the company. The Post Office sacked all the men receiving more than £700 a year, but took over the rank and file of the company. It did not take over any of the brains. It did not want them. Brains are a troublesome thing in a Government Department, for they might start thinking and make suggestions. The result was disastrous. I admit there has recently been an improvement in the telephone, largely due to popular outcries. We have been told that 64,000 people have given up the telephone. Think of the labour of taking all that apparatus away. I almost wonder that the Postmaster-General did not hang his head in shame when he told us of it. It is a colossal task. There may be 71,000 people who are newly subscribing to the telephone, but the fact that 64,000 have given up the telephone is significant. The telephone should be in everyone's house. It is just as necessary as gas and water. Instead of that the telephone for the private house is a luxury and people grudge paying for the calls. Calls at public offices which used to cost 1d. now cost 4d. We members of this House do not feel that much, because we do our telephoning from here.
I do not accept the statement that the American system is not as good as ours. The hon. Member who made that statement looked at the matter with the eyes 1668 of a postman. The American system is infinitely better than ours. Suppose you want to make a call from Edinburgh to London. It will certainly take a considerable time. A call in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh which used to cost 5d. now costs 1s. 5d. That is a colossal increase. Suppose you wish to telephone to London to some person in an office. Ten to one it is the office boy or the charwoman who answers the call and says that the person to whom you want to speak is out. The only way to make sure that you will get the man you want is to telegraph ahead and to say that you will telephone at such and such a time. Suppose, however, that you telephone from New York to Chicago. You tell the telephone operator that you want to speak to so and so at Chicago. In a little while you get an answer that the man you want is out. You are charged nothing for an abortive call. That is what a commercial company does. But not the Post Office. I wish the Postmaster-General not to think that I am finding fault with him in any sense that he has not made the best possible job that a Postmaster-General could make. In fact it is very nice that he can make his speeches very much more interesting than the speeches to which we have been accustomed in the past, and that they have not quite the same omniferous effect as speeches of the past. I am not blaming the Postmaster-General. I realise that he has inherited a system. I am blaming this House. We ought to rise up in indignation against the continuance of this highly technical enterprise in the hands of a Government Department; we should insist on its being put into individualistic hands, and so bring down the cost of a commodity that ought to be in use in every office and home in the country.
§ Sir THOMAS BENNETT
I feel sure that the Postmaster-General will welcome any suggestion that may be helpful to him in reducing the charges of his Department. Has he explored the field of possible economy which is to be found in the curtailment of deliveries in rural districts? I happen to live on a hill top a mile from a village. I have gone there in the expectation of living a quiet and peaceful life, and an ideal life, because the ideal life is a life detached from letters, from newspapers and from all 1669 other nuisances. Now, instead of that I get three deliveries each day. I remember, shortly after the Armistice, the Post Office Vote showed a considerable increase, and the official explanation was that the delivery service had been restored to pre-War conditions. During the War we managed to live and be happy with two deliveries a day, and when we went back to the three there was a general feeling that the two had been quite sufficient. I brought this matter to the notice of the Postmaster-General and I know that inquiries were made, but I still press on him that if he will only inquire in some rural districts of England he will find the people are quite happy with two deliveries a day instead of three, and that one of the present deliveries is superfluous. We are not to return to the Sunday delivery apparently. I know there is a difference of opinion on that point, but speaking for a considerable number of my neighbours and friends we are not anxious for a return to the Sunday delivery. I do not look at it from the Scotsman's point of view. I am not a Scotsman and have not inherited Sabbatarian tradition and views, but I do feel that the quiet of our English Sunday is one of our most valued national assets, and the absence of letters contributes to that peace and quiet, and we value it accordingly.
There is one further matter on which I would say a few words. Valuable contribution has been made to this discussion on the subject of telephones in rural districts. May I press upon the right hon. Gentleman that there is a very widely prevalent feeling in some of our rural districts that the Post Office does not mean business in the matter of telephone extension. I know they do, but the feeling remains that they do not, and I have representations made to me that the people cannot make a fair bargain with the Post Office. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackburn (Sir Henry Norman) suggested that the telephone business should be pushed more than it is, that it should be run on business lines, and I endorse the suggestion that there should be sent out to the rural districts of England, particularly in the Home Counties, people whom you may call glorified canvassers if you like, but men who would be capable of bringing homo to farmers and others the advantages of a telephone service. I 1670 brought some cases of this kind to the notice of the Department, and I had a most courteous hearing. At the same time, the feeling does prevail among farmers and others in the rural districts that they do not get the facilities or the help in connection with telephone extensions in the rural districts that they ought to get. I endorse what has been said so uncommonly well by the hon. Member for Frome (Mr. Hurd) as to the necessity of doing something for the smallholder and cultivator in rural districts. The explanation and the excuse for the high rates for parcel post on agricultural produce is that it does not pay. Has any attempt been made to make it pay by lowering rates? There is a very strong feeling on that subject, and now is the time when immense satisfaction would be given in the rural districts by a concession in this respect. The farmers have been to some extent placated, and properly placated, by the concessions announced in the Budget. This also is a fair concession, one which can be fairly looked for, and representatives of agricultural constituencies hope that the Postmaster-General will apply himself to the question.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
I listened with great interest to the statement made by the Postmaster-General, and I assure him that the friendly societies who have not been mentioned as yet and kindred organisations will be delighted with the decreases indicated in his statement in regard to postal rates. I feel sure every member of the Committee was glad to hear the statement, but I wish he had told us something regarding a possible reduction in the charges for telegrams. Apparently nothing is being done in that direction, and it would seem to me that the omission is a very serious one indeed, particularly in view of the fact that the business community and the wealthy people are getting more accustomed to using the telephone. I can very well imagine, the time arriving when the telegram will be the poor man's means of communicating extraordinary events to his relations and his friends. I would appeal, if my appeal is worth anything, for a remission of the charges on telegrams. The Committee listened with considerable interest to the philosophy expressed by the hon. and learned Member for the Springburn Division of 1671 Glasgow (Mr. Macquisten). It sounded to me a little Mid-Victorian, and, in some respects, almost antediluvian. I feel sure the Postmaster-General will not be influenced by what the hon. and learned Member said to the effect that some part of the postal service should be handed over to private enterprise.
The Postmaster-General has, very rightly, expressed the hope that he may be able to do something to extend the telephone service in rural districts. It is a very good proposal indeed, and I hope he will succeed in it, but when he made the proposal I noticed that he used the words "party telephone system." I fail to understand why the Postmaster-General desires to create a system within the Post Office régime, differentiating between the charges on the telephone service in rural areas and those in other areas, when a citizen living in a rural area can buy a penny stamp just in the same way as I can buy it in Manchester or London. The mere fact that a man lives in a remote part should not penalise him, because he is a citizen of the State in any case. I favour very much the idea that there should be a telephone in every house, but that will not come about until we have a greater reduction still in the charges for private telephones. I am voicing the opinions of a large number of people when I say that a little more was expected on that account. There has been some rejoicing that the number of employés in the Post Office has been reduced, if I remember rightly, by 6,500 as between to-day and 1914, and part of that saving, apparently, is included in the £10,000,000 less expenditure estimated for the coming year. That sounds very well, but I can imagine that some of the 6,500 people who have been dispensed with are now drawing money from the Unemployment Exchanges. I cannot see much economy on the part of the State when they reduce expenditure by £10,000,000, part of it on the wages of the 6,500 people, but send them to another Department of the State to receive probably part of the same money in another way. I do not think that sounds like good economy, at any rate.
I also want to draw the attention of the Postmaster-General to the question of the people employed in sub-post offices. 1672 There is a very strong feeling on this score, as has already been expressed. I am not willing to see people who own, in some cases, not only one shop but several shops running these sub-post offices and paying a very low rate of wages. I have a schedule showing the rates of wages paid in respect of 500 people employed in these small institutions, and they compare very badly indeed with the rates of wages that have already been secured by trade unions for the same class of employment. I suggest that when the Post Office farms out its work in this way it ought to be one of the conditions of payment by the Post Office to the people carrying on these small institutions that they ought to pay the rate of wages applicable to the job in that district. I think that is a fair proposal; and a violation of a principle of that kind ought to mean that they cannot get the business after a given period. I dislike the idea of these people who are employed in the sub-post offices living in. Some of us took a leading part some time ago in trying to destroy the living-in system entirely, and I would that the Postmaster-General would use his influence to get that removed entirely from any of these small businesses that are under his control. In regard to rural districts; it is assumed that if the telephone service, for instance, were still in the hands of a private company, the private company would long ago have taken the telephone service to the rural districts. I can imagine what would happen, and what did in fact happen when the National Telephone Company had the telephone under its control. The hon. Member for the Springburn Division of Glasgow boasted that he could have a telephone service in his house for 25s. per annum in the old days. I wonder whether he made inquiries as to the wages paid to the girls who were employed by that company at that time? I suggest to him—and I wish he were here to listen—that he got a cheap telephone service because young girls and young boys were sweated by that company.
I want to urge, in conclusion, that when the Post Office proceeds to provide these telephones in rural areas they will bear in mind the point that I made a few moments ago, that the Post Office in all its departments is at the service of the whole of the community. It ought to be 1673 viewed as a single entity, and the charges ought to be the same in all parts of the country. I wish to congratulate the Postmaster-General on his statement, and urge him to believe, with some of us on these Benches, that the Post Office has emerged from the period of the War in a more businesslike fashion than most of the industries carried on by private enterprise, proving conclusively that in spite of the fact that we are working in a capitalist State, we have a nationalised institution doing its work admirably after all.
§ Mr. INSKIP
The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) introduced a note which was present in the speech of the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon), who spoke after the Postmaster-General. It was a note of congratulation upon the efficiency of the Post Office, and I hope my right hon. Friend will not think that I wish to detract at all from the laurels which they would place upon his brow if I say that that note was inspired less by the efficiency of the Post Office than by the desire to point out how admirably a nationalist system is working, in order that they may on future occasions advertise the advantages of nationalisation. The hon. Member for North Camberwell, having struck that note at the beginning of his speech, proceeded to charge the Postmaster - General, or somebody in the Post Office in a very high position, with having connived at a fraud which was committed by a postmaster in the Newcastle district. If that is one of the advantages of nationalisation, I am not at all sure that we need advance upon that path. The Post Office, of course, from many points of view is an admirable service, and I should like to pay a tribute to the admirable courtesy and efficiency of the postmen with whom we come daily in contact. From that point of view, I do not think there is any more admirable service in the country than that of the Post Office, but I am afraid I cannot altogether share in the chorus of congratulations, sometimes with a motive, as I have said, which come from some quarters of the House with regard to the postal service. I think it is improving, and I have no doubt the War made difficulties, but we are conscious of defects in the service which we did not 1674 experience before the War. A little while ago I found that it actually takes two days, at any rate, a third day, before a letter from Edinburgh reaches one of the lowland counties of Scotland unless it is posted comparatively early in the forenoon. Another part of the service which I think might be improved is in connection with the parcels service, and until we have a restoration of pre-War conditions in that respect, I think some of us will not be satisfied. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will allow me to say that I do regret he has not found it possible to make some reduction in the case of the smaller parcel service. It is really a very great burden, not only upon trade, but upon people of small means that they are unable to send a parcel, however small, for less than 9d. My right hon. Friend, I know, has difficulties with regard to revenue, but if he occupies the position, as I hope he may, next year, I trust he will think that the parcels service merits first attention in regard to the reduction of charges.
Perhaps I may say another word with reference to the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down in connection with the sub-post offices. I think the hon. Member for North Camberwell, who also spoke about this, a little exaggerated the matter, but, undoubtedly, it is a matter, I think, which will bear looking into. Sub-post offices are, generally speaking, for the convenience of the public, but, on the other hand, I know a portion of the city which I represent, although it is not in my constituency, where these sub-post offices are certainly more numerous than the public convenience demands, and I think that in some of those poet offices it is quite possible—indeed, I believe it to be the fact—that adequate salaries are not paid to some of the girls who are employed. This is the ease as I understand the matter—my right hon. Friend will be able to correct me—in what are called the scale payment sub-post offices, although what the Postmaster-General says about the matter, if I am correctly informed, is that it is no concern of the Poet Office what wages are paid by the persons who carry on these scale payment sub-post offices——
§ Mr. INSKIP
I was not prepared with the fact that the right hon. Gentleman knew the wages that were paid, but, if so, I do not know how it is possible to check the wages that are paid by somebody who may be carrying on a very small grocery business, or a little general-store business, and at the same time mixing up a little post-office business. It may be very difficult to say what is the proper proportion the Post Office should pay, but there have been cases brought to my attention where some of these persons are paid a wage which is inadequate. I do not think I could respond to the suggestion of the hon. Member for Westhoughton that they should be paid the same rate as trade unions have agreed in the district, because trade unions very often fix wages which are higher than the conditions of the industry justify. But I do think they ought to be paid in these sub-post offices at least such wages as, for instance, the Grocery Trade Board fix, and the Board in 1921, for the worst class of shop in the grocery trade, fixed wages higher than the wages paid in sub-post offices which have come within my own knowledge.
The other matter about which I wish to speak is the really important matter of postal rates. I am a little apprehensive as to the future of the postal service, if some of the facts—the alleged facts—which we have heard this afternoon are really the truth. The Postmaster-General shows a surplus to his credit to-day, but it represents an incalculable injury to the trade of the country. The Post Office has nourished clearly at the public expense. You cannot divide the public services into one compartment and the Labour Ministry into another compartment. The Post Office creates a tremendous amount of unemployment by very high postal rates. The Ministry of Labour, on the other hand, is paying out unemployment insurance to remunerate the very persons who would be employed if only the postal rates were at a more reasonable level. My right hon. Friend has said that some of these representations have been very much exaggerated. I was sorry to hear that note. I made representations to the right hon. Gentleman myself about the picture postcard industry. He met me with courtesy, as he would, but he assured me, on information given to him by his officials, that the whole thing was grossly exaggerated, 1676 and that really the diminution in the sale of picture postcards was almost entirely due to trade conditions, and other conditions, which had really nothing to do with Post Office administration. I think that that was an unfortunate statement. I wrote a letter calling his attention to the facts with regard to that industry in my own constituency. I did not expect an answer, because, perhaps, there was no answer to be given, but I did not get an answer. I do not complain of it in the least. At any rate, I called my right hon. Friend's attention to the facts, and I should like to give them here again, in case the picture postcard industry may on another occasion be the target of the right hon. Gentleman's attack.
There is one firm about which I have satisfied myself as to the facts. It lost all but a quarter of its trade on its picture postcards on the first increase, and one-third of that quarter upon the second increase. I know another firm which closed down their picture postcard industry altogether, although they had been recommended to try to recapture it from the Germans, and had put down plant and incurred capital outlay. They dismissed their workpeople, and wrote down the whole of their stock, which was practically unsaleable, by 80 per cent. In Scarborough, where the sale of picture postcards is very great, there was a decrease to the extent of 70 per cent, in the sale of postcards, and I am afraid to give the number of postcards, because hon. Members would not credit it, and I do not wish to give figures which perhaps will not be altogether believed, although I believe them to be accurate. At any rate, the decrease was something like 70 per cent., and really these facts about the picture postcard industry show that the high rates upon picture postcards are undoubtedly the cause of a great deal of unemployment, with the result that the people thrown out of work have had to be paid the unemployment insurance.
I hope a more reasonable attitude will be taken towards such questions as these. Then I think it is a not very useful restriction to say that the words on postcards must be of a conventional or courtesy character. What makes words of a conventional character? Supposing someone says "I shall be late to-night," and says that once, he is charged a penny. Supposing it is the ordinary routine, and it has 1677 become a convention that the writer should come home late at night, he is only charged a halfpenny. No one can decide what is of a courtesy character and what is of a conventional character. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend is really able to suggest that any additional burden is placed upon the Post Office because I send affectionate greetings to a member of my family for which I should be charged Id., whereas—I hardly know what I might say within the limit of five words—I suppose "Good luck to the Postmaster-General" would be held to be of a courtesy character and I should be only charged ½d. That is a tiresome restriction and is really hardly worthy of the Postmaster-General.
I want to refer to the foreign circulars. My right hon. Friend gave me an answer, which was a repetition of the answer he gave to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackburn (Sir H. Norman), with reference to the posting abroad of printed circulars. We were told that there was a loss of about £1,000 per month on the revenue. The Postmaster-General has corrected that to-day by saying that there was a loss on the year of £15,000 due to the posting abroad of these circulars. Supposing we take the figure of £1,000 a month. That means only 240,000 circulars at 1d. were posted abroad in each month. I have two interesting illustrations of what has happened in this connection. Both of these documents which I hold in my hand were formerly printed in my own constituency. When my right hon. Friend's predecessor increased the charges the contracts were stopped, the circulars were printed abroad, and the revenue from the postage of these circulars was entirely lost to the Post Office. One of them alone totalled 150,000. All these would have been posted in this country; instead they were printed in Germany, posted in Germany and carried at the expense of this country, without one penny coming into the coffers of the Post Office. Not only that, but the wages were lost; the money spent upon printing and upon papers was lost.
I can give a still more striking example. In this case there was a circular, with which hon. Member's are familiar, from a firm of wine merchants who supply, among other bodies, this honourable House with wine. This beautiful document included a circular and a letter-card 1678 for reply. It was formerly printed in this country. From £400 to £500 a month was spent upon the monthly order for the production of this circular. When the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor increased the postal charges, the contract was stopped. The document was printed in Vienna, it was posted from Vienna, and it was sent in a wrapper which required the Post Office, if undelivered, to re-direct and return it to this firm at 18, Hans Sachsgasse, Vienna. My right hon. Friend therefore had to carry this circular to the prospective customers of that firm and, if some of them were dead or gone away or not to be found, he had to carry it back to Vienna. He lost the whole of the revenue, which ran into thousands of pounds in a year. It means a loss to my constituency of from £400 to £500 a month in wages upon printing and paper for that circular.
I suggest that if my right hon. Friend or his advisers had appreciated facts like that, it would have been impossible to continue this tremendous burden upon the circulation of printed matter. I am sorry to say that the representations made have met with less attention than they deserved. The Federation of Master Printers, representing £26,000,000 a year lost in wages, made representations; the Joint Industrial Council of the Printing Trade, employing 250,000 people, made representations. My right hon. Friend was deaf to every one of them. Ho declined to announce any prospect of a reduction in rates in order that they might make contracts for the future and, if possible, save themselves losses and recover their fast disappearing trade from the continental printer. The right hon. Gentleman cannot suggest that he did not know in January, February and March that there was going to be a surplus. Why did he not make then the statement that he was invited to make as to the prospects 'I Instead of that, he allowed workpeople to be thrown out of employment and trade to be lost to this country, probably permanently. He maintained the postal rates in order that he might produce a £9,000,000 surplus, of which he would be very proud when he came to this Committee. I wonder how much has been spent by this country in paying unemployment insurance benefit to the persons thrown out of work. I do not think that that £9,000,000 will 'be such a desirable surplus as has been represented. It is 1679 the most disastrous surplus that has ever fallen to the lot of anybody to present to this House.
My right hon. Friend was lately in the same city of which I have spoken more than once. He was given the honour of having a new street called after him. Sometimes when I go down that new street it represents very much the same thing to me as the picture of Lord North does in the Carlton Club. I do not know whether Lord North was a credit to the Carlton Club or the Tory party, but when I see my right hon. Friend's name written at the top of that avenue, I think it will be a memorial of the most disastrous Post Office policy that this generation has known. I hope there will be no repetition of it, and that the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that the postal service exists for the community, that it is there not only for the convenience of the public, but to encourage as far as possible industry, and that it has to be the handmaiden of the public. Until that is realised I am afraid that we shall in future years, if events turn out unfortunately, have further burdens put upon industry. I make these observations in no spirit of antagonism to my right hon. Friend, but I am bound to say that in my humble opinion they are necessary to be said lost we have a repetition of these errors.
In following the speech made by the hon. Member who has just resumed his seat, I would suggest that, in thinking of the claims of the community, it is of the highest importance that we should include in the community, not only the large industries of the country, but the almost forgotten people in our rural districts. It was a very great comfort to many of us to hear this afternoon from the Postmaster-General a suggestion that the claims of those who live in the distant rural areas had been pressing upon his mind. I wish to advocate the claims of these forgotten people in scattered hamlets and in very lonely areas, and to suggest that, while the telephone may be a convenience in the town, as it is, it is almost an absolute necessity in the country. If there are difficulties arising from time to time as to the user of the telephone service in the large towns, there can be an expression of organised opinion, and by means of several unions 1680 and organisations of one kind and another, pressure can be brought to bear upon the Post Office. I am not speaking, of course, of trade unions, but generally of the organisations of the people, affected, by which pressure can be brought to bear on the Post Office to secure a better service. People living in the distant areas, however, have no such organisations, and very often have no means of voicing their complaints.
The right hon. Gentleman will agree that there is no reality at all in the talk of national reconstruction unless we devote our attention to the revival of rural life. That cannot be revived unless there be established a very ready means of communication. An hon. Member who spoke just now referred to his own experience, and actually suggested that the postal service was too heavy in the parish to which he belonged. I for some years lived in a parish where we were entirely dependent on the one telephone that was at the local post office. It always struck me that it was a very great hardship inflicted upon a large parish where a great many people lived that they should be dependent upon one telephone in the post office, which was not available for use at all on the half-day when the post office was closed. I know that considerable hardship was caused, and that it fell mainly on the poorer people. In a time of emergency when the doctor is needed for any purpose whatever in the home, the rich man can go or send his motor car for him, the farmer is able to use his own car or his cart, but the poorest people, who are hit so often, may be hit again just because they are poor. While I welcome the suggestion of the Postmaster-General in laying his coming policy before the Committee, I ask that he should not be contented with merely making the announcement, but that active steps should be taken to popularise the telephone service throughout the whole of the rural areas.
There is one further matter that affects the rural areas very immediately, that is the rate of postage for the newspapers. In towns we get our newspapers pretty regularly, and the man who cannot afford to buy a newspaper can drop into the local reading room: but in the country the farmer or the smallholder is dependent for his newspaper absolutely upon the post, and the raising of the newspaper 1681 rate is a hardship to him. It has hit the man in the country far more heavily than the man in the town. It has scarcely touched the man in the town, but it puts a substantial weekly tax upon the man who most needs the newspaper for his ordinary means of information and is dependent upon the newspaper simply because none of his neighbours can give him the information, as is so possible in the town. The Postmaster-General having made a concession in respect to the telephones—and a very valuable concession—and one for which I am quite sure he will be thanked throughout the rural areas—I hope it may be possible for him to move one step further. Perhaps he will inform the House presently what cost would be involved in an alteration of the newspaper rate.
There is a third point that affects the countryside largely, and that is the parcels post. The question was raised in this House only a day or two ago by the Member for Oxford as to the difficulty of sending even a pound of cream from the West Country to London. This used to be quite a substantial industry. The fact that a West-countryman up in town had a pound of cream sent to him every week reminded him of the county from which he came—the most glorious part of this country. Further, it meant a substantial remuneration to those whose case was advocated just now, and it had the effect of taking the charges of the middle man away when the commodity was sent direct to London. I believe the concession in respect to the telephone is a step in the right direction. All the Postmaster-General needs to do now is to adopt these further concessions and his name will go down to posterity in the rural districts of this country, and be held now and hereafter in general gratitude.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
The Postmaster-General has; promised considerable improvements on what was our unhappy fate last year and it is both bad politics and bad manners to look a gift horse in the face, but I feel bound to point out that he is only giving back some of what has been taken away since the halcyon days of 1913, when we had penny postage and halfpenny postcards. In 1913 we had a Post Office Budget of 24½ millions and provided for a surplus of £5,800,000. The Postmaster-General speaks of realising an economy of 10½ 1682 million pounds, but he did not say anything about the effect of the reduction in war bonuses in that economy. Last year we heard a great deal about war bonuses. We were told that in the Post Office Estimates, 1921–22, there was no less than 28 millions of war bonus or more than the whole of the Post Office Estimates of 1913. I do not quite know how that great bonus figure came about, but I do know this, that business men take as their basis 1914 and they take the percentage increase cost of living and apply it to that year, whereas the Post Office make a comparison with 1920.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
The Telephone Committee state in their Report that the Post Office took 1920 as the basis.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
Then I withdraw. But, anyhow, there was an increase in salaries of something like £11,000,000 per year during the War, and the War bonus came upon the top of that. I do not know how that comes about, unless it is that the House of Commons does not exert the proper pressure that! we ought to keep over Government Departments. It would be a very good thing if Members of Parliament standing in constituencies were compelled to give all their pledges in public. Candidates see Post Office people in private, where there are no reporters present, and make pledges to them which they have no business to make behind the backs of the electorate. In 1905 we had about 500 Members of Parliament pledged to the effect that there should be a fresh inquiry into the conditions of labour in the Post Office, although there had just been an inquiry, with the constitution of which those concerned were perfectly satisfied until the verdict was announced. The Government naturally refused to set up another inquiry, but they found themselves faced with something like 500 Members of Parliament who had pledged themselves to support another inquiry, and they had to give in. I think that explains a good deal of the reason why undue increases of salary come about.
The Postmaster-General said we were the only country whose Post Office was paying its way. In speaking of the United States, I think he mentioned a 1683 deficit of £19,000,000. I do not make the figure £19,000,000, but nearer £13½ millions. He is not comparing like with like. The comparison is from June, 1920, to June, 1921, in the United States, which was a year when we had a deficit, but they had their trade depression much earlier than we had. The right hon. Gentleman omitted to state that the United States is the only country in the world which has absolutely reverted to pre-War charges, whereas we were charging 100 per cent, additional for letters and 200 per cent, additional for post cards. That is a way in which a great monopoly like the Post Office can always make its Budget balance. Then it has always been the policy of the United States to indulge in subsidies and to stimulate the channels of trade. We cannot tell how much benefit has accrued to industry in the United States which has not undertaken any unemployed insurance subsidies, from the fact that low charges have been made for carrying mails.
There is one question, and only one, I should like the Postmaster-General to deal with in his reply. That is in respect of the Post Office underground tube, which extends, I understand, from Paddington to Whitechapel, and with which various post offices connect at Liverpool Street Station. That tube is quite ready, but not equipped with machinery. As far as I can ascertain, it will cost much less than £1,000,000 to equip it, but once it is equipped it will relieve congestion in the streets by taking a good deal of Post Office traffic off the streets. It must also help to relieve unemployment to some extent, and, now that prices have fallen, would it not he remunerative from the general point of view of the Government of the country, apart from the Post Office, to consider putting that tube into working order and spending this sum of money, which would be far better expended in this way than upon the enterprises in which we are engaged in Palestine and elsewhere.
The Postmaster-General has given us the net increase of telephones at 7,000 for last year, but I wish he would give us the statistics for such countries as Canada, where the great majority are privately run, and also for the United States of America, where they are all privately 1684 owned. I think those figures would astonish the House, and enable us to see how the telephone system is progressing there as compared with the socialistic system of running our telephones in connection with the Post Office. Some attempt has been made to show that our telephone system is better than that in the United States.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
Surely the hon. Member will allow that the public are the best judges. There are about 14,500,000 telephones in America for a population of 108,000,000. That is, one person in every eight has a telephone. In Canada one person in every ten has a telephone, while in this country the proportion is one in every 45. I think that is conclusive evidence that the system of telephones in those countries under private enterprise is much better than it is here. In this country I am assured that our telephone system is the cause of insanity, whereas in America it is a cure for insanity. There are states where one person in every four has a telephone, and they "listen in" and are no longer lonely, and so do not go mad.
§ Major MOLSON
I congratulate the Postmaster-General upon having relieved us of some of the charges which were put on last year and which were most onerous. I join with those hon. Members who have stated that the Post Office ought to be run for the benefit of the community and not for profit. There are two points which I should like the Postmaster-General to answer. Some of the speakers have laid a good deal of stress on not wanting a Sunday delivery. I do not think it would increase the cost of the Post Office at all if private individuals were allowed to collect their Sunday letters at the post office. I am informed that this would not add a particle to the cost because the Post Offices are open on Sunday morning. The telegraph offices are also open, and it would merely be the same official who would hand the letters to those private individuals who cared to fetch them. Certainly in country districts this would be of enormous importance and a great gain, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider that point. I do not press for an answer to-night, but it is a matter of very great importance in many ways.
1685 I would like to refer to a letter which I have received this morning from one of my own constituents. I would not bring this matter forward unless it had been pressed upon the attention of the Postmaster-General for a considerable time. I asked the Assistant Postmaster-General about it last year, and no satisfaction has been given to this community—I am referring to the postal service at a place called Epworth in Lincolnshire. It is the capital town of the district and its latest collection before the War used to be 7.15. During the War the collection was altered to 5.20. There was no grumbling about that as a War measure, but since the War they have been paying 400 per cent, move for their postal service. They have written many times about it and all they say they get is a mere acknowledgment from the Postmaster-General.
The last communication was on 20th March, and the point is that they wish and ask for a service, that is, a 7.15 collection, and they are prepared to guarantee the Post Office against any financial loss in regard to the collection of the letters. At the present time the letters are collected at Epworth at 5.20 and taken down to a village near the station, where they are left for two hours. This is a town near the market. We have been hearing a good deal about the rural population and a great deal of lip service has been paid to the country districts. The farmers come back from the market too late for the evening post and they have to act on the market quotations a day late. I press this matter upon the attention of the Postmaster-General. The people in this district undertake that there shall be no additional expense, and they only ask that this matter should receive consideration. I would like to emphasise what has been said about rural telephones, and I can corroborate this by my own personal experience in regard to the telephone system in Canada. The Bell Telephone Company is the one which supplies the telephone service in Canada. It is a private company, and I am fortunate enough to have shares in it, and they pay me a very nice dividend. My hon. Friend the Member for Frome (Mr. Hurd) has borne witness to the fact that in all parts of Canada the farmers are served with telephones. He also mentioned that they had motor-cars. I would like to ask the Postmaster- 1686 General, supposing he cannot serve our farmers with individual lines, cannot he offer them a party service which is the usual thing in Canada? That could be run at a very great deal less expense, and if the farmer refused to accept it, then it would be his own fault. Round the big cities in Canada, round Montreal and other places, every house has its telephone service. They have a party service. They send their invitations and chat over the telephone, and it is a regular institution of the country. I should like to urge that that be developed more in this country. My hon. Friend also reminded us about the rural parcels post. I certainly agree that a great deal more could be done to help farmers and smallholders in this respect. The cost of sending rural produce into towns is now very heavy, and much could be done to assist our people by means of a reduced parcels post.
I quite realise that the telephone system is a State monopoly. T would have urged very strongly it should never have been taken over by the State. I consider private enterprise gives a far better service than the State, but since it has been taken over, it is quite impossible to return it to private hands. It is useless to grumble about the telephone service, but I think as representatives of the nation we are entitled to urge the Postmaster-General to try and run his system on the lines of a private enterprise, and to try and please the people instead of intimating to them that it is a favour to allow them to have either a telephone or the telegraphs. The Postmaster-General should consider himself in competition with others in order to please the public. I appreciate very much the concessions we have got. I agree with the Postmaster-General that it is not right the Post Office should be run under a subsidy, and that it should pay its own way, and be run at the same time for the benefit of the people.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MILLS
Many remarks have been devoted in this Debate to very justifiable compliments to the Postmaster-General. Many things have been said about the business community, and many comments have been utttered by those who believe in private enterprise, and who think that the cost of this particular section of our private life, which has such a lot to do with that life, should be kept as low as 1687 possible, because forsooth it is something which no person believing in private enterprise would care to consider from that point of view. I want to approach the matter from the point of view of the average Member of Parliament. We, after all, are the victims. I have a salary of £400 a year, and £1 of that goes on an average every week on postage. A considerable amount also goes on telegrams. I think the Members of this House ought to receive a little more consideration from the Postmaster-General than they do at present. Before the War there used to be a chart for reference by the postmaster, so that Members wishing to write to a constituent could be sure whether or not a letter posted at a given hour would reach the constituent that evening or whether, should the matter be urgent, a telegram was necessary. I submit that matters such as that, which add to the efficiency of this House and to the general efficiency of the Service, might well be considered. I am well used to complaints made by Members of this House that abnormal sums are paid in bonuses to those who work in the postal services. If some of the critics of the war bonus would only go into the cause and origin of the bonus, if they would consider for a moment the many weary months, running into years, during which the postal service existed on a pre-War rate of wages, T think there would be a little more tolerance and more hesitation before wholesale condemnation was made of the agreements between the Postmaster-General and his staff, which, after all, imposed war wages that will pass away as the war conditions pass. One thing that can be said about the administration of the Post Office at the moment is that it is approaching that stage of relationship between the head and the staff which will result in a minimum of friction, and that, I submit, is something which all sections of the House should be grateful for.
There are one or two points here which I suggest hardly square with the assertions that are made that wonderful salaries are paid for work that should be done, but in many cases is not, according to the critics, done. I have here a letter reflecting the desire of the Telephone Traffic Officers' Association, in which it is 1688 asserted that over a period of years it has been stated that their inadequate scales of pay were under revision, and yet even now those revisions have not been made. A certain organ, in commenting on this and in commenting on the kind of examination that has to be passed in order to qualify for these posts said:What does the General Post Office expect for £100 a year?I submit that this grievance is one which ought to be met at the earliest possible moment in order to get that satisfaction which will result in every case where the staff feel that they are being treated with that degree of consideration and that amount of equity which the public service demands. I can only say in closing that to me the idea that men engaged in industry and commerce, in order to show their dislike and hatred of charges imposed by the Postmaster-General because of a Cabinet decision that he should make his Department pay, should deliberately indulge in calculated action which results in taking printing work out of this country, and in compelling the postal service to carry the whole of their correspondence without any remuneration whatever so far as the finances of the Post Office are concerned, is something which deserves the severest condemnation by the Postmaster-General when he comes to reply. If one agrees that the charges are harsh, the best thing that can be done is after all to follow the trade union method: first, to try consultation, then to give an ultimatum, and then to give public notice so that all may know the reason why such an anti-social act is about to be perpetrated. But to take the course which has been taken at a time when unemployment is so rife, and people who call on the State to function on their behalf in the matter of transport and Press facilities to commit this antisocial act, is action which deserves the severest condemnation at the hands of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Sir FREDERICK BANBURY
I rise to support the Amendment which I understand has been moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University (Sir C. Oman), and to support the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs).
§ Sir FREDERICK BANBURY
Then I will propose one. I have sat in this Committee during the whole afternoon, and, with the exception of the speeches of the hon. Member for Oxford University and the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone, I do not think I have heard a single speech which was not in the direction of increasing expenditure. I ventured the other day, when we were in Committee on another Vote, to draw attention to the fact that practically all that evening every speech had been in favour of increasing expenditure, and we have had the same thing to-day. I have always blamed the Government because they have been extravagant, but I must say that when they have endeavoured—I do not say successfully, as I shall show—to make a reduction, the least the Committee can do is to congratulate them upon that reduction and encourage, them to go further, whereas practically every hon. Member has brought forward some grievance. Either some of his constituents want further facilities—which cost money; or it is necessary to increase wages—as if they had not been increased enormously already; or it is necessary to do away with contract sub-post offices in order that they may be run entirely by the State, which, of course, means extra expense.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I am glad the hon. Member is in favour of decreased expenditure, but, although I have heard the story over and over again that a lower charge will increase business, I am not at all certain that it will have that effect. When the right hon. Gentleman raised the rates, he was told that he would get nothing in return—that business would decrease; but, as a matter of fact, he has had a very considerable increase. I think the wish is father to the thought, but as regards the idea that if you decrease charges you are going to get the loss made up by increased business, although there is something in it, it is, to a very large extent, fallacious.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
That is a matter of opinion. As far as I know, I have not found that people from whom I wished to buy things have followed the advice of the hon. Gentleman until they have been absolutely compelled to do so by the fact that they could sell nothing. As a matter of fact, the Postmaster-General is still succeeding in selling his goods. The hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) stated that the telephones were taken over because there was a public outcry against the private telephone company. I was in the House at that time, and I remember perfectly well what took place. It was not because there was an outcry against the telephone company, but because some foolish people thought that, since the telephone company were making profits, if they were taken over by the State the State would make profits. That was the sole reason. I remember saying to the present Lord Derby, who was responsible to a certain extent for taking over the telephones, that I myself was quite certain that the only result would be that, instead of making a profit, the State would very probably make a loss, and that we should have a considerably worse service; and that is exactly what has occurred. I understand that the hon. Member for North Camberwell is interested, or his friends are interested, in the State taking over these things, because then they will be able to put pressure on the State. I have had pressure put upon me when I was Member for Peckham. It has been said to me, "If you do not vote for an increase in my wages, I shall not vote for you at the next election.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
They were not, but the Post Office was, and it was a Post Office servant who came to me at that lime. He was a very nice man indeed. He had always voted for me at my previous three elections, but on the last occasion, when we had quite a friendly discussion, he was very frank about it, and I did not blame him at all. He said, "A shilling a week to me is more than anything else, and, though I agree with you on all political questions, as you will not promise to get my wages increased by a shilling a week, I shall vote for the 1691 Radical," and I believe he did. That is the sort of thing that is really at the bottom of the demand of hon. Members opposite for increased State control. My hon. and gallant Friend pointed out that in 1913 the Post Office cost £24,882,000. It now costs £57,000,000, if you do not take off the Grants-in-Aid, as to which I shall have something to say later. I presume that the £24,882,000 was inclusive of the Grants-in-Aid, and therefore I must take for comparison the figure of £53,000,000. I want to know what we gain. I am speaking from the point of view of the public, because it must be remembered that the Post Office is not run in order to provide employment for Post Office servants, but is run for the benefit of the public. What has the public got from an increase of expenditure from £24,882,000 to £53,000,000? They have got a worse service, and the only people who have benefited are the employés.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Two wrongs do not make a right, but I contend that, if you have got a worse railway service, it arises from the same thing, namely, that, owing to the pressure of certain people, the hours of labour and rates of pay were altered. I happened to notice to-day that our expenses per train mile are now three times what they were in 1913.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
No, I beg pardon. All that arose when we were under Government control. If we had been a private concern, it would never have happened. I must not, however, be led away by these interruptions, but I want to point, out to the Committee, and to the public, that we are now paying £53,000,000 a year for what cost us less than £25,000,000 in 1913–14. I should like to ask the Postmaster-General one or two questions with regard to the Appropriations-in-Aid, which, I understand, amount to about £4,000,000, of which I think £2,300,000 come from Ireland. Does my right hon. Friend expect to get anything from Ireland? "Estimated cost of Post Office services in Irish Free State, £2,686,000," If I 1692 had to buy that as an asset I should be very sorry to give very much for it. I believe the Postmaster-General agrees with me. I think I can see in his face that he is contemplating coming down in about four months and presenting a Supplementary Estimate for £2,000,000 and pointing out that all he has been able to recover from the Free State may be £6,000, and that is rather doubtful because it has been supplied in disused rifles and injured motor cars which had been originally handed over by the Chief Secretary and had been returned by the Free State.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
I should not like the right hon. Baronet to go away with that idea. We shall have to pay the cost of the service, and, therefore, the Appropriation-in-Aid is taken. So far from our being worse off as a result of operating this service, I estimate that we shall save £750,000.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I am very glad to hear that. Then I want to know how it is that that sum, if it is merely a cross-entry, is put down as a deduction from the expenditure of the Post Office, which is £57,000,000. The amount of the Appropriation-in-Aid is deducted from the £57,000,000, and it is stated that the expenditure of the Post Office is £53,000,000. As a matter of fact, it is £55,000,000, and, therefore, the difference between the figure I gave for 1913 and the expenditure at present has increased and we are now spending £55,000,000 for what we had for £24,500,000 before the War, and we do not get as much, which is, I think, rather a bad bargain. I should like to ask what do we want a resident architect in Egypt for, and why do we give him £720 a year?
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Yes, I know. I do not doubt it is a very excellent lesson for any hon. Member opposite who can ingratiate himself with the Post Office and get £720 a year, but we cannot afford to do these excellent things. We really must exercise a little economy, and I really cannot see why on earth we want a resident architect in Egypt. It seems to me to be a very absurd item to put into this Vote. You cannot be economical unless you look at all these 1693 small matters. It is very difficult to go through a big book of this sort and follow everything that is in it, but in the few moments I had to look through it I found this architect in Egypt. On page 79 I find £35,000 for trip allowances. What are trip allowances? I dare say if they are railway trips they are a good thing for the railways, and, as far as that is concerned, I have not any objection, but you have to get this £35,000 out of the wretched taxpayer, who cannot afford to take trips on the railway, and I must ask why on earth £35,000 is spent upon trip allowances. The trip allowances for Ireland amount to £9,100 I should not have thought that anybody wanted to take any trips in Ireland. It is very dangerous, because if the people were not shot at and killed or injured by the Irish Republican army, they would probably be shot at and injured by the rivals of the Irish Republican army, or they might find that the rails had been taken up, and they could not continue their journey, even if they happened not to fall into a river.
There is an item for Subsistence Allowances, Locomotion and Removal Expenses, £161,000, in England and Wales, £16,000 in Ireland—I do not think that is very much for Ireland, because probably the people want to come to England—and £27,000 for Scotland. There is also further expenditure in Dublin. Why does the right hon. Gentleman want to spend money in Dublin at the present time? I understand that our stamps are defaced there by some Irish patriot's image being substituted for that of the King. Whether that is so or not, why on earth does the right hon. Gentleman want to spend money in Dublin at the present time?
I do not think it is much use impressing these points on the Committee, but I do wish to impress the fact upon the country that, if they want to have economy and to get their taxation reduced, it is no use sending Members here to ask for small conveniences, a little extra expense here and there, because it happens to suit one or two of their constituents. The people of the country must say: "Put your hands upon every expense, and, have it cut down." Until we get a House that does that, no good will be done. I have sympathy with the Government, although I usually differ from them, 1694 because they do not get a fair chance towards reducing expenditure, or any assistance from this House.
§ Mr. PEASE
We have received congratulations from every side to-day. In all my long experience of the House of Commons I do not think that I ever heard a warmer tribute to the Government than was paid by the right hon. Member for Peebles (Sir Donald Maclean). The right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) appears to be almost the only critic in regard to the London telephone service. I remember that two or three years ago, when I said that I thought a great improvement had taken place in regard to the London telephone service, that that was received with only a certain amount of appreciation, but to-day, while there have been very few complaints in regard to the service in the country, there have been practically no complaints in regard to London. I have here a return, which has been received from the Telephone Department, showing the amount of time taken in regard to cut-offs, wrong numbers, double connections, no replies, and similar other matters that have been brought before this House from time to time, and I could prove, if necessary, what a very great improvement has taken place. Everybody must realise that the telephone, is a very difficult service, and the human element makes all the difference. During the War we had a very large number of those who had been employed in the service working elsewhere, and it was quite impossible at the conclusion of the War to be able to give the same service which we can give to-day. I believe that the service will improve greatly in the future.
In connection with the statement of my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General, as to the Advisory Board, I may say that we are under a debt of obligation to several hon. Members of this House for the great help which they have given to the Department. One, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Sir H. Norman), who has helped us in various directions and taken a very responsible position, also one whose death we all deplore in this House, the late Sir Edward Coates, who, this time last year, occupied a very prominent position as a Member of the Telephone Committee of this House, and also my right hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Sir Evelyn 1695 Cecil), who has recently presided over an important Committee and, if I may say so, has issued a very able Report. So far as the Department is concerned, it is impossible to carry out ail the suggestions made by these Committees. They are all seriously considered, and opportunity is taken to improve the service from the advice which is given. The statement made by my right hon. Friend in regard to the reductions which are being made in the service, I think, has been universally approved. There was very little criticism in regard to deliveries on Sundays. I think the vast majority of people are satisfied that, in the existing circumstances, it is wiser for us to change the present plan by the adoption of despatch. At the same time I sympathise to a very great extent with people in the country who happen to have no second post during the day, as I have received a very large number of complaints from various sources which show that there is a certain amount of inconvenience caused. One or two words now on a matter which has not been mentioned—the position of the National Savings Certificates. The work done by the Money Order Office at: Holloway is very little known. When I went there the other day and asked what was the amount of savings certificates that had been issued, I found that on that particular day it was £433,000,000. About one-fifth was in separate certificates. There was a vast amount of work done by the Post Office, and I think it only right that the Committee should have knowledge of it. I could give the separate figures.
§ Mr. PEASE
The amount up to that day. In 1916 the number of certificates was 54,000,000, in 1917 it was 86,000,000, in 1918 139,000,000, in 1919 101,000,000, in 1920 57,000,000, in 1921 54,000,000, and in 1922, from January to March, the vast number of 64,000,000. The total issue numbered 559,000,000, representing the investment of £433,000,000. Of this £104,000,000 has been repaid, with interest of about £11,000,000. The announcement of the withdrawal of the original 15s. 6d. certificates on the 31st March, of course, led to a very large increase in the demand before that time. Everyone will realise that that is a matter of considerable 1696 importance to the State. It shows the very large number of people who invest their money in this way. With regard to the Savings Bank, it is true that there has been a serious amount of overtime, but the total amount of work done by women, the average amount per week, is 44½ hours. As to illness, due to overtime work, the sickness is not exceptional compared with times gone by. At the same time it is true that there have been arrears of work, but we are taking steps as far as possible to overcome the difficulties that exist. The amount of work done by the Bank has been very great. I will give some figures showing the change between 1913 and 1921. The number of accounts on 31st December, 1913, was 9,181,000; in the year 1921 the total was 13,680,000. The balance due to depositors in 1913 was £187,248,000; in 1921 it was £264,500,000. The average balance was £20 7s. in 1913, and at the end of 1921 it was £19 7s. The number of deposits and the amount of withdrawals were practically identical in both years. The figures of the business transacted show in a marked way the wider spread of the resources of the people from August, 1914, than in any previous period since the Bank was formed in 1861.
§ Mr. PEASE
That is so; but at the same time the result is very satisfactory, having regard to the amount of interest that could be obtained from other sources. I am sorry that a criticism in regard to the Savings Bank should have arisen. Many questions have been asked me on the subject on various occasions. I appreciate the remark of an hon. Member, that he realises that both the Postmaster-General and myself are very-anxious indeed that there should be no unnecessary overtime work in the Department and steps have been taken to prevent it in future. With regard to my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London, it will be realised that as far as economy in the abstract is concerned it is very popular, but that in the concrete it is very unpopular. I had some controversy with him the other day with regard to certain post offices in the City, and as to whether they should be rebuilt or not. I consider that the State 1697 ought to provide quite as good accommodation for those it employs as the average employer.
§ Mr. PEASE
If my hon. Friend will wait, I will quote those particular words from the statement which has been made on that subject. With regard to removal expenses, I think it is realised what they are and that they relate to the very large number of men transferred from one part of the country to another. At the present moment there are, including the engineers, between 200,000 and 220,000 people employed, and it can be imagined that the total of removal expenses is very considerable. As far as general criticism is concerned, I think we are in general accord as to the desirability of economising in every direction, and I know that the right hon. Baronet, as Chairman of the Estimates Committee, thinks that the Department I represent is quite above the average.
§ Mr. PEASE
As my hon. Friend, who was himself in the service, says, they are concerned with travelling post offices. The hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Amnion) was, as I say, for a long period in the service of the State himself, and I was glad to hear his congratulations especially in regard to the good relationship between Post Office employés and the Postmaster-General. It is certain that there will be difficulties, and there will be questions upon which complications will arise and on which complete agreement will not take place, but on the whole the relationship is of a harmonious nature.
I wish to mention a question which was raised to-day as to whether assistant superintendents of traffic in the London telephone service appointed as a result of the examination held by the Civil Service Commissioners in December, 1921, have yet had the revision of pay promised in the Commissioner's announcement of 1698 the examination and if not when it may be expected. I was also asked whether the pay of assistant superintendents of traffic, London telephone service, is under revision; whether such a revision was stated in the Post Office Circular in September, 1920, to be under consideration, and whether the statement was repeated in the Circular in September, 1921, and when the terms of the revision are likely to be announced. I was not able to give the answers to these questions to-day, but this is the answer:Further consideration of the revision of the scales of pay of assistant superintendents of traffic in the London telephone service, which was referred to in announcements in the Post Office Circular, has had to be postponed pending a decision on various other questions which have been under consideration. I hope that it may be possible to proceed with the matter soon.With regard to the scale of payment in sub-post offices, my hon. Friend the Member for Camberwell and others have raised this matter on various occasions. The question is not a very simple one. In the United Kingdom 93 per cent, of the post offices are worked on a commission basis, and this percentage is equalled or exceeded in the United States of America, Canada, Italy and Sweden, while in Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland the percentage exceeds 80. Anyone can realise it is a very serious question. In 1919, during the Debate on the Post Office Estimates, the suggestion was made that a great many of these men and women employed in sub-post offices were sweated or were paid very little wages, and efforts have been made on many occasions to raise the question in the House on the individual pay given to some particular person. It is quite impossible, however, to judge from any particular case. One has to take a great many cases because there are very many reasons why there should be different scales of payment in different areas. In some sub-post offices the amount of work done for the Post Office is comparatively small, while in other offices the greater part of the work is done by an individual.
Before the separation of Southern Ireland there were about 22,000 scale payment sub-offices employing about 19,000 assistants. The number now under the control of the British Post Office is round about 20,000 employing about 18,000 assistants. I would be the very last to sug- 1699 gest we ought to employ people at inadequate rates of pay; at the same time I should like to say to the hon. Member for Central Bristol that these rates in regard to these individuals are fixed on lists sent in to the Post Office by the sub-postmaster on each occasion. It is utterly impossible for us to pay these people who are employed by the sub-postmasters on the same scales as are paid in the ordinary post offices of the country at the present moment.
§ Mr. AMMON
I understand the Minister of Labour is writing to the Postmaster-General on the subject of the Trade Boards Act. Cannot the right hon. Gentleman promise——
§ Mr. PEASE
I am not in a position to promise anything about that, but if my hon. Friend likes to put a case before me, I will, of course, see that it is considered. Under the present rules of the Department, the wages and conditions of service of sub-postmasters' assistants shall not be less favourable than those of shop assistants of about the same standing in the service of good employers in the same district. That is as far as we have been able to go, and, as far as my right hon. Friend is concerned, I can perfectly well say that he will try and follow that up, and if any hon. Member of this House can find an instance where the remuneration of an individual is supposed to be in the nature of sweated labour, or too low, I will take it into consideration and take up the matter with the sub-postmaster concerned. In regard to the question of Sunday deliveries, the question at once arose as to the position of the trade unions in regard to it, and the whole point is this, whether the Postmaster-General is justified or not in arranging for saving about a million of money by giving up Sunday deliveries and despatch before consulting the trade union. It gives a false impression to say there has been no consultation with the union. This took place, however, after the arrangement had been made in regard to Sunday deliveries, but many modifications have been made which have mitigated the effects of the changes on the staff, and I think these have been appreciated.
In regard to the question which has been raised more than any other to-day, 1700 and that is the question of rural telephone exchanges, my right hon. Friend, with whom I have had some conversation since the question has been mentioned, is very anxious, if possible, to find some means of increasing the facilities in the rural areas. From the adumbrations in his speech, it was quite plain that these facilities which he proposes to grant would lead to greater scope in future. It is difficult to say how far that would extend. It is in the interests of the State, of course, that the Department should send their representatives into these areas and try to improve and increase trade as far as possible, and I can assure hon. Members that the Post Office take a very sympathetic interest in this matter, and realise the great importance of the question of rural exchanges, but when the criticism is made in regard to the United States and this country, there really is no exact parallel. The United States is a very different country from this. If you take, for instance, the number of motor-cars which are used in the United States compared with those for the population in this country, you find a very great difference. I personally think it will be a very long time before telephones are used here to the same extent, as in the United States, but I sec no reason why there should not be a very great increase in the numbers used at the present moment.
With regard to the Wireless Chain, I quite realise that my hon. Friend opposite has for a long time advocated increased facilities being given, and I should be very glad if it were possible this evening to make some statement to show that this was being carried out as quickly as he would desire, but we have had no definite answer from South Africa, we have only just received a reply from India, and, as he knows, consultations are going to take place shortly in regard to the representatives of Canada.
§ Mr. PEASE
You have to take into account what has taken place in those 10 years. That made a great deal of difference. If there had been no War in those 10 years, the hon. Member's argument would have been very much stronger. With regard to the Imperial 1701 cable service, which runs from Penzance to Halifax (Nova Scotia) via the Azores, it was formerly a German cable running from Emden to New York via the Azores. It is worked by the Post Office at the Central Telegraph Office, London, and by the Pacific Cable Board at Halifax, the expenses of the Halifax station being borne by the Post Office. My hon. Friend referred to the rates. The rate is 4½d. to Canada, the week-end service at quarter rates to Australasia, and the deferred Press rates 2½d. and 4½d. to Canada and Australasia respectively. That, in spite of the depression in trade, the load over the cable remains satisfactory is rather surprising. The cable since its purchase has been leased to one of the Atlantic companies, but is now to be taken over and worked by the Post Office.
§ Mr. PEASE
I am only speaking for myself when I say the suggestion of my hon. Friend is a very good one. I would be very glad if it could be carried out. I wish to refer to the statement of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Central Bristol (Mr. Inskip), when he said that he hoped next year, if there were a reduction made in the Post Office charges, the first item might be the parcels post. I am hardly telling a secret when I say that that is very near to the heart of the Postmaster-General, who would have liked very much to-night to have been able to decrease the cost of sending parcels. When we consider what my right hon. Friend has been able to accomplish, it is quite as much as the most optimistic person could have thought possible. As to the question of circulars being posted abroad, I have had a great deal of criticism and have received a great number of letters, and answered a large number of letters during the past year.
The question is, what is the alternative? We have to take into account the question of the exchanges, and everybody will realise when they see what the cost of the particular stamp required is in Austria, Germany and some other countries that it is impossible for us to prevent this trade taking place. It would be impossible also to divert the trade, which is caused by the fact that many of 1702 the printers are out of employment owing to the printing being done in foreign countries instead of this. If my hon. and learned Friend can find some method by which we can overcome this difficulty we should be only too glad.
§ Mr. INSKIP
I could have suggested a very easy method to the right hon. Gentleman, namely, that he should restore the postage to the same level at which it stood when the contracts were being performed in this country.
§ Mr. PEASE
In that case the loss to the nation would be very much greater than it is at the present time. No one could possibly compete with Austria at present, so far as stamps are concerned, or with Germany. I think the hon. and learned Gentleman could not have really considered the matter before he made that suggestion. So far as the total amount of money is concerned, as stated by my right hon. Friend, the amount was £15,000 last year. As he wants to know the monthly figures, he can have them:—September, £152,000; October, £362,000; November, £218,000; December, £219,000; January, £197,000; February, £936,000; March, £339,000. The majority of those circulars were sent by about three or four firms. It is not always entirely to the advantage of the firm to send out these circulars under a foreign stamp, and I hope it will be of less advantage in the future. With regard to what the hon. and gallant Member for Durham (Major Hills) said, I do not think he was in his place when I was speaking.
§ Mr. PEASE
I have dealt with that point as to the question of the Advisory Board. I do not know what the opinion of my right hon. Friend is as to a representative of the National Farmers' Union being a member of that Board. I have no doubt that he will consider the suggestion. With reference to the suggestion that it would be possible to charge 1d. per word for cables for Canada——
§ Mr. PEASE
These are the figures which I have been given by the Department to-day. Then the hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Major Mol-son) asked in regard to the question of calling at the Post Office for letters on Sunday morning, and suggested that it might be possible, for an extra rate, to obtain extra facilities. That has been considered on many occasions, and it is quite impossible. Of course, it seems a very simple matter where the hon. Gentleman is only considering one particular post office, where there is only one man, but when one considers what it would mean to the Service generally it will be seen that it is a very important matter.
I want to deal with the complaints of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Sir D. Newton), to whose speech we were all glad to listen. I hope he may often take part in our Debates. I can assure him that very few people have made a more successful maiden speech. Among the complaints he made was one in regard to the question of a motor cycle being used by a man who was not permitted to continue using it. I will inquire into that. I have no knowledge of any law in the Post Office in regard to that question. Those who heard the speeches of the Postmaster-General and my right hon. Friend opposite (Sir H. Norman) will realise that there are great things in store in the development of wireless telegraphy. My right hon.
§ Friend opposite was listened to with great attention when he foreshadowed the possibility of hundreds of thousands of people all over the country listening to the speeches of the politicians or the music at some great hall. One must realise that there is the possibility of a great change taking place in a very short time owing to the law registration fee. I sincerely trust, so far as Cambridge is concerned, that there may be some way to meet the difficulty which I know-exists both in respect to postal facilities and the rural telephones and in regard to one or two other matters which have been brought to my notice lately by people in that county of whose council my hon. Friend is Chairman. I have, I think, dealt with most of the criticisms put forward, but there was one thing mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, the Member for Oxford. So far as wages are concerned we have to take into consideration that the Arbitration Board has settled the wages of postal servants. In regard to the two figures my hon. Friend gave of £15,000,000 and £45,000,000 they are not comparable, because in one ease the bonus is taken into account and in the other there is no bonus, wages are, roughly, 130 per cent, above pre-War level. I am sorry that I have not been able to deal with other cases; but we desire to obtain this Vote to-night. I sincerely trust that, whatever the delinquencies of the Post Office, the day may dawn in which we shall be able better to carry out the motives of the whole community.
§ Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £29,821,000, be granted for the said Service."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 8: Noes, 92.1705
|Division No. 04.]||AYES.||[11.0 p.m.|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.||Hogge, James Myles||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Cairns, John||Lyle-Samuel, Alexander||Sir C. Oman and Sir F. Banbury.|
|Curzon, Captain Viscount||Remer, J. R.|
|Gretton, Colonel John||Warner, Sir T. Courtenay T.|
|Ainsworth, Captain Charles||Barlow, Sir Montague||Biane, T. A.|
|Amery, Leopold C. M. S.||Barnett, Major Richard W.||Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.|
|Ammon, Charles George||Barnston, Major Harry||Broad, Thomas Tucker|
|Armstrong, Henry Bruce||Bell, Lieut.-Col. W. C. H. (Devizes)||Brown, Major D, C.|
|Atkey, A. R||Bentinck, Lord Henry Cavendish-||Bruton, Sir James|
|Baird, Sir John Lawrence||Betterton, Henry B.||Buckley, Lieut.-Colonel A.|
|Cape, Thomas||Inskip, Thomas Walker H.||Roundell, Colonel R. F.|
|Casey, T. W.||Jodrell, Neville Paul||Sanders, Colonel Sir Robert Arthur|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. A. (Birm. W.)||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.|
|Cockerill, Brigadier-General G. K.||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Scott, A. M. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)|
|Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale)||Kellaway, Rt. Hon. Fredk. George||Shaw, Thomas (Preston)|
|Edge, Captain Sir William||Kennedy, Thomas||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Edwards, G. (Norfolk, South)||Kidd, James||Stanley, Major Hon. G. (Preston)|
|Elveden, Viscount||King, Captain Henry Douglas||Sturrock, J. Leng|
|Entwistle, Major C. F.||Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (H'tingd'n)||Sutton, John Edward|
|Evans, Ernest||Lort-Williams, J.||Swan, J. E.|
|Finney, Samuel||Manville, Edward||Tillett, Benjamin|
|Ford, Patrick Johnston||Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred Moritz||Townshend, Sir Charles Vere Ferrers|
|Forrest, Walter||Moore, Major-General Sir Newton J.||Ward, William Dudley (Southampton)|
|Fraser, Major Sir Keith||Neal, Arthur||Wild, Sir Ernest Edward|
|Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||Newbould, Alfred Ernest||Wills, Lt.-Col. Sir Gilbert Alan H.|
|Gilmour, Lieut.-Colonel Sir John||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Wilson, James (Dudley)|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)||Winterton, Earl|
|Greene, Joseph F. (Leicester, W.)||Norman, Major Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Wise, Frederick|
|Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Parker, James||Wood, Sir H. K. (Woolwich, West)|
|Grundy, T. W.||Pease, Rt. Hon. Herbert Pike||Wood, Major M. M. (Aberdeen, C.)|
|Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||Perring, William George||Young, E. H. (Norwich)|
|Hancock, John George||Pollock, Rt. Hon. Sir Ernest Murray||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Hills, Major John Waller||Rankin, Captain James Stuart|
|Hirst, G. H.||Rees, Capt. J. Tudor- (Barnstaple)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Hood, Sir Joseph||Richardson, Lt.-Col. Sir P. (Chertsey)||Colonel Leslie Wilson and Mr.|
|Hurd, Percy A.||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||McCurdy.|
Resolution agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported on Monday next.
§ Committee to sit again on Monday next.