§ Mr. RAMSBOTHAM
I beg to move,That, in the opinion of this House, the condition of the postal, telegraphic, and telephone services calls for action in regard to the present working of these services with a view to rendering more efficient, extended, and satisfactory facilities to the public; and accordingly it is desirable that a committee of inquiry, consisting principally of business men, be constituted without delay for the purpose of reporting upon the administration (including finance) of the postal, telegraph, and telephone services, and also as to whether it would be for the public advantage that all or any of these services should be transferred from the Post Office to an ad hoc public corporation and under what conditions.This Motion raises a matter of very great public importance. It deals with a matter of vital importance not only to my own constituency, but also to every constituency in this country. I hope the question will not be dealt with on party lines. I am not going to suggest that the Post Office functions better or worse under one Administration than under another or better under one Postmaster-General than another, and I am hopeful that the advocates of nationalisation will not resist the Motion because it does not bolster up their pet theories. I desire on this Motion to criticise the Post Office, but my criticism will be a criticism of a system and not the personnel. I shall not criticise the Postmaster-General or any of his supporters, and perhaps I may be allowed to say that I do not expect the Postmaster-General to come here garbed in a white sheet of repentance, much less garbed in a coat of mail bags.
I want to deal with the accounts of the Post Office for the year ending 31st March, 1929. It so happened that on 30th January I tried to get the accounts for the current year. Ten months elapsed, and then the accounts of the Post Office were printed. I notice that the Order of the House of Commons for printing the accounts was issued on 19th November, and it was two months after that date before they got into the hands of Members of this House. The Post Office seems to be a tied house to the Stationery Office, and I just mention that fact to show some of the handicaps under which we suffer. Why should it take 10 months to get out these accounts? The American 509 Telephone Company, which employs 100,000 more men than we employ and has double the capital invested, gets out its accounts within three months of the close of the financial year. There is a good deal of information which we should like to have in these accounts, and their publication ought to be expedited. Now we have the accounts, and they show a profit of over £9,000,000, I think that is a matter upon which we should congratulate the late Postmaster-General, and yet I do not sec any sign of public admiration offered to him on this account. There has been within the last six months a crescendo of indignation on the part of the public in regard to the various points connected with the postal services, and that has not been diminished in any way by the fact that large profits have been earned. That is only natural, because postal charges are another form of indirect taxation, and, therefore, it is small wonder if the public does not enthuse over them. The Postmaster-General, in a speech delivered a short time ago, said:The public enjoy criticising the Post Office, not because the Post Office is inefficient, but because it belongs to the public, and they have a right to criticise what is their own.I commend that to every chairman of a public company who has to face criticism from the shareholders. The chairman of a company may tell the shareholders that the company is their own, and they have a right to criticise what is their own and enjoy doing it, and, if he allays the annoyance of the shareholders, I shall be somewhat surprised. I am not going into details, but I should like to mention an incident which occurred to myself. On the day on which I was elected as a Member of this House, I received, as other hon. Members received, telegraphic congratulations from some of my friends. One of them was from my Noble Friend the late Assistant Postmaster-General, and all the telegrams reached me safely except that sent by my Noble Friend. Incidentally, I may remark that this Motion will give the Postmaster-General an opportunity of replying to the damaging indictment which appeared in the Press under the signature of the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer).
Another matter I wish to raise is in regard to registered letters. I believe I am right in saying that up to December, 510 1917, there was an individual check kept on those letters. They were transferred from hand to hand, and in the Post Office advice from the office of origin to the office of destination each letter was individually specified. After Christmas, 1917, what was called the bulk system was instituted, and under this system the office of destination only knows the number of letters that it is going to get and not the office of origin of each. The effect is that if a letter is lost the Post Office know nothing about it until a member of the public complains. This is naturally done to save money, and the Post Office claim that they have saved £20,000 a year by it, but it is done at the expense of public convenience. It pays the Post Office to pay up compensation rather than institute what after all is the proper system. If I may say so, the motto of the Post Office in this respect appears to be "Pay up at Mount Pleasant." A learned judge has described this system as similar to the consignment of sacks of potatoes. It is not merely a question of money, but, after all, it is not fair to the public, because not only money may be lost but important communications may get into the wrong hands and may not be traced in time. Moreover, it is not fair to the staff.
With regard to mail bags, I have not the latest statistics, but I gather that during the last two or three days none have been missing. Prior to August, 1927, each individual mail bag was checked, and then this precious bulk system was reintroduced under which the office of destination merely knows the number of bags that it has to receive. If a bag goes astray and is lost, it may take hours before the office of destination knows anything about the loss until perhaps it is picked up in the street or returned in a perambulator.
With regard to the telegraphs, the accounts show a loss of £728,533. Since 1870, when the Post Office took over the telegraphs, £45,000,000 has been lost, and since 1914 there has been a loss of £20,000,000, which has been reduced" recently by small surpluses. I hope the Postmaster-General will tell us whether the loss this year is less than the loss last year. Comparative figures in the United States for telegraphs show very large profits. The charges are the same, but the operators of the United States get 511 70 per cent. more pay than our operators, and they also get a bonus on profits which I do not think our operators get. The Postmaster-General is, of course, well aware of the contents of the Hardman Lever Report. I will quote only one paragraph from that report which shows that in the minds of those eminent business men who considered the subject one of the main defects of the Post Office was the fact that it was compelled to work under Civil Service standards and by Civil Service methods. On page 20, paragraph 46, of the Hardman Lever Report the Committee say:46. Dealing now with the question of revenue, a deficit would probably remain under the present tariff even under business management if the Inland Telegraph Service is considered by itself, and under Post Office management, hampered by Civil Service conditions with an established staff, the deficit must be substantial.It is very disquieting to the public to read a recommendation like that made by responsible business men who have spent a considerable amount of time in investigating the subject. I should like to ask the Postmaster-General, if he replies, to let the House know which of the recommendations of the Hardman Lever Committee have been carried out. I know one that has not been carried out. The report recommended that a competent engineer with administrative experience should be appointed for the telegraph system, and, as far as I know, there has been no such appointment, and I understand that the reason is that they could not get a man to serve at the salary offered, because all that they can offer is the Civil Service standard. Before I pass from that report, there is one point which the Committee lays stress upon, and it is the high ratio of administrative and supervisory expenses. I should like to know if that has changed in any way.
I come now to the telephones, the story of which is a long and a sorry one. In 1912, the National Telephone Company paid in royalties to the State about £300,000 a year, and they made a very substantial profit. They were then taken over by the Post Office, with deplorable results to the national balance sheet, for, since then, the Post Office have succeeded in losing £2,000,000 on the telephones. In the case of the National Telephone Company, the ratio of working expenses, 512 in the last year for which I have the figures, was about 63 per cent., while in the case of the Post Office it was about 75 per cent. Last year, I understand, the Post Office made a profit, on the telephone portion of their work, of about £500,000, but, if any hon. Member has the curiosity to compare this with the gigantic profits made in the United States under the Bell system, he will be astonished at the disparity. I have a table here showing the figures, but I will not weary the House with it. It is not merely a question of profits a; compared with population; the profits are 10, and in some cases 15 times the profits made by our telephone system. In the United States the system is far larger. The American Telephone and Telegraph Company has a capital three times as large as ours. The cost per telephone in the United States is about £44, as against £76 in this country. Impartial observers, when they compare the two system", and see what an appalling difference there is between our results and those of the United States, must feel great anxiety.
With regard to the question of costs, I am informed, on what I think is good authority, that our urban costs are about twice as high as those of Continental towns in Switzerland, Italy, Belgium and Sweden, and nearly, if not quite, twice as much as those in Denmark, Germany and Norway. Why should that be? As for our rural telephones, the condition of affairs cries to Heaven for redress. The farming community is positively starved of the telephone communication that it should have, and I would commend to the Minister of Agriculture the suggestion that he should try to persuade the Post Office to do something more in this matter for the agricultural interest. If you live a mile from the Exchange, the cost of the service is three times what it is in Denmark, twice what it is in Sweden, and four or five times what it is in Australia and Canada. What is the reason for that? One main reason is the high cost of installation. In this country, under the Post Office system, it costs £80 to put up a mile of poles, but we have figures to show that the landlord can do it for about £40. I have been reading another Report which deals with the question of telephones—the Report of the Evelyn Cecil Committee—and I was very much struck by a suggestion in that Report, which 513 almost amounted to a recommendation, that in these rural areas, which are rather sparsely populated, the farmers should be allowed to make their own telephone connections, and cut their own poles in their own plantations. What is the alternative? It is that they cannot get telephonic communication at all, because the installation is far too expensive. The Post Office get a lot of their poles from Sweden. They are sent to Southampton to be creosoted, and are lorried all over the country at great expense. Why cannot the Post Office use English larch?
I do not want to weary the House by describing the statistical position in detail, but I cannot refrain from reminding them of the position which we occupy among telephone-using countries. Our place is the tenth on the list—a deplorable position for a country of the industrial magnitude and wealth of ours. In the United States there is one telephone to every six people, in Denmark one to every 10, in Sweden one to every 13, and in this country only one to every 25. It may be said that one might just as well say that in the United States there is one motor car to every five or six people, whereas in this country there is only one to every 20 or so, and yet that would not prove that English motor car manufacturers are inefficient. It is forgotten, however, that in the United States the taxation of motor cars is about five and a-half times less than it is here. Moreover, that comparison does not apply in the case of Denmark and Sweden. With regard to the case of cities with a population of over 100,000, what position does London—the so-called metropolis of the world—occupy with regard to telephones? It is 27th in the list of cities. That is almost scandalous. I think we are ahead of Tokio, Buenos Aires, Vienna, and perhaps one or two others, but every other city of any magnitude is better.
What are the conclusions that I would ask people who are not in any way biased in favour of one particular system, and who are willing to keep nationalisation out of their minds, to draw from these facts? In the first place, the Evelyn Cecil Committee, a body of competent people who examined the situation exhaustively, were convinced that the telegraph and telephone services should be separated from the Post Office itself, and carried on under a separate administra- 514 tion— a public administration, if you like, but, anyhow, separately. A short time ago the London Chamber of Commerce sent a resolution to that effect to the Prime Minister, and I believe that business people generally all over the country are demanding that something of that sort should be done, in order to bring this country more on a plane with other civilised countries. I would suggest that that should be one of the subjects to be inquired into by the committee of business men which in my Motion I ask the House to appoint.
The second matter to which I would draw attention is this: It is very difficult for the Post Office to function under present conditions. That is not the fault of the Postmaster-General; it is not the fault of a single one of his staff; but under Civil Service conditions and methods it is almost impossible to run a great business, and I should like to see this point inquired into also, so that business people might consider how best what is essentially the biggest concern in this country can be run. The Postmaster-General—I say so without intending any discourtesy to him—is a bird of passage. If he were to remain Postmaster-General all his life, he would be absolutely disheartened. His real merit, and that of his very valuable assistant, is not thoroughly recognised. Neither of them is, if I may say so without disrespect, a business man in the common sense of the word. They do valuable service in the House of Commons and outside, but in some senses they would be described commercially as "guinea-pig directors."
The head of the Post Office, the Permanent Secretary, is a Civil Servant of very great distinction and experience, but he is a Civil Servant who has not had business experience. He has not had to make both ends meet, he has not had to fight competition, he has not had to worry as to how long he can keep the show going and find employment for his people. Even so, look at his position. He is a responsible for a concern, the exact capital of which I forget, but I think it is about £150,000,000, employing 230,000 persons, and he receives a salary of £3,000 a year. A man in a similar position outside would get £10,000, £15,000 or £20,000. I know that £500 a year is quite enough to live upon in the opinion of hon. Gentlemen opposite, particularly on the Treasury Bench. 515 Again take the case of the Engineer-in-Chief. He places contracts and is responsible for work of the value of something like £10,000,000 per annum, and he receives £1,500 a year—rather less than a municipal or county engineer would get, and certainly not sufficient to tempt a younger man with the best brains into the business. In business the great necessity is for the best brains, and we still have, under our capitalistic organisation, to pay for the best brains, because they can earn it.
With regard to the staff, such researches as I have made show that there is precious little incentive for many of them to pull their weight and do their best. It is not their fault. I am told that a London sorter enters at the age of 18½ and it is 30 years before he can get his first promotion, which I imagine is his last. The average age of promotion in the case of London sorters is 52. What a hope! What chance is there of getting the best men in a business like that, when their position is such that, however hard they work, they have to wait 30 years for their first step? Then there is the question of outside control, and here again the unfortunate Post Office is hampered at every turn. For its building construction it has to go to the Office of Works. In fact, I read a statement the other day—I do not know whether it is right or not—to the effect that the Engineer-in-Chief could not buy an office table without going to the Office of Works for sanction. It has to go, as I have said before, to the Stationery Office for all its printing. It cannot, as I or any one of us could, put it up to tender. It is a tied house. The Stationery Office can charge it satisfactory prices, and get out its accounts any old how and at any old time. Finally, there is the Treasury. Treasury sanction has to be obtained for all its expenditure. Imagine the position of people in business if they had to go to some outside authority—not an expert in their business, because, valuable and clever as Treasury officials are, they can hardly be said to be experts in postal matters—for sanction to spend money. With checks such as these—the Office of Works, the Stationery Office and the Treasury—how is it possible to carry on such a business on commercial lines?
516 I hope I have said enough to show the House that there is good cause for an inquiry. It need not be a party matter; we are all interested in the efficiency of the Post Office, and want to get a move on and get matters put right. It seems to me that Civil Service methods and standards, while they may be admirable in the case of the Inland Revenue, the Customs, and so on, are quite the reverse in the case of a business concern which is interested in making profits, even if those profits go to the Treasury. It is a little unfortunate for any business firm if it cannot retain the profits that it makes, and every penny that the Post Office makes goes to the Treasury. It does not go back into the business, and it does not go to the staff. I see, from the report of the Bell telephone system for the year 1928, that they have systems of benefit, investment encouragement systems for giving cheap stock to the employés, and so on, under which £9,000,000, or 8 per cent. of the pay-roll, went back to the employés. I do not say that we could approach such figures in this country, but we could do a great deal more for the staff if all the profits of the Post Office were not "milked" by the Treasury. I appeal to the House to treat this question in a non-party way, in the hope that we may get a committee of inquiry with business men in charge—because it is a commercial business concern—and that they may discover some way, perhaps by reference to an ad hoc corporation as suggested in the Motion, but anyhow some method which will release the Post Office from the shackles of Civil Service standards, and enable it to function more efficiently and with greater satisfaction, not merely to the public, but to the employés of the Post Office themselves.
§ Mr. MOND
I beg to second the Motion.
I wish to make it clear at the outset that, like my hon. Friend, I do not propose to criticise the permanent officials of the Post Office whose arduous duty it is to carry on this great national service but I propose to criticise the system under which it is carried on, and I think the system lays itself open to very considerable criticism indeed from every point of view from which it can be examined. The head of the Post Office 517 is the Postmaster-General. He is a Member of the Government, sometimes a Cabinet Minister. That in itself is the greatest criticism perhaps that could be passed on the Post Office and the system under which it is run. There have been in the last 30 years 16 Postmasters-General, and this great business has been perhaps the greatest single business organisation in the country. It is supposed to be carried on by a series of kaleidoscopic individuals who seldom really remain in office on the average as long as two years. I have had some experience in industrial matters. I have been all my life connected with those who have had very considerable experience, and I do not know one of them who would even pretend to begin to understand the rudiments of his job in taking over a great concern of that kind in a matter of two years. It is quite impossible. There is no human being, were he gifted with all the wisdom of Solomon and all the business knowledge and experience of Rockefeller, who could make a success of the job under those circumstances. I have not yet noticed that the office of Postmaster-General is as a rule offered to those individuals in Governments—I say this without any offence to the right hon. Gentleman opposite—who are at the height of their power and influence and prestige in the Government of the day. The head of this great system is neither selected for his administrative ability nor for his political sagacity but for other and various reasons which it is no part of this Motion to enter into.
What we have to consider, and what I propose to direct attention to, is the result on the Post Office of the system under which it works. The result has been a sort of helplessness, and, as an institution, it wanders about with a sort of vacuous hopelessness in the modern world of scientific invention and rapid development, dropping mailbags at the least pretext, longing for the return of the old mail coach and the old days so that it could have a really good hold-up instead of having to push mailbags out on to the pavement in order to get the necessary stimulus. In days gone by in the wild West of America, the sanctity and safety of the mail was the yardstick of civilisation, and, measured by that yardstick to-day, this country does not 518 stand very high. I have attended within the last few weeks more than one discussion with serious men who, in dealing with the question of whether information or figures should be circulated by post, have said, "No, if you post a letter to-day you never know who it is going to reach or where it will eventually arrive."
But I have very considerable sympathy with the Postmaster-General. He may be a Postmaster, but he is not master in his own house. He is under a great many disabilities. He is under the dead hand of Treasury control. He cannot do any of those things that the head of a business can do which make him the successful head of a business. He is deprived of all those rights. [Interruption.] He cannot amalgamate, because he has a monopoly. That should be more or less obvious even to hon. Members opposite. He is not allowed to build his own buildings. The First Commissioner of Works does that. He is not allowed to have his own printing done. That is done by the Stationery Office. He is not allowed to fix the charges for his own services. He is not allowed to fix the price at which he will sell his goods. That is done by the Treasury, and many political considerations enter into it. They are not business but purely political considerations. He is not allowed to retain his surplus income. That is grasped by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who takes it into his Budget for other purposes, so he has no opportunity of building up those reserves which are essential for any progressive or progressing business.
He is not allowed to embark upon any new type of expenditure without the approval of the Treasury, partly because of the instances which I have just quoted and partly because of the system, so that he is deprived of initiative in the real sense of the word, and his capital expenditure is definitely limited. If you deprive a man of all those powers, I cannot for the life of me see what good he can really do at the head of an institution which is run on a commercial basis. The money that may be spent on the development of telephones has been limited to £12,000,000 a year. That was not based on the real necessity for the expenditure on telephones. That was a Treasury decision, and I have not any doubt that the 519 Postmaster-General had a considerable argument with the Treasury as to how much he might be allowed to spend, and that was the result of some kind of compromise and settlement with the Treasury, as these matters usually are.
Most serious of all, he has no real control over his own staff. The staff are civil servants. They are promoted according to Civil Service regulations. If ever there was a dead hand put on the building up of a first-class scheme to run an industrial organisation, the Civil Service method would be the biggest handicap that could be imposed. The Civil Service organisation is very good for the Civil Service, but the Post Office is not in the ordinary sense a Government Department. It is one of the greatest business enterprises in the country, and, in order to make it successful, a team has to be built up to run it. I should say, owing to the size and complexity and the difficulty of this business, it would require at least five years to build up a good team on a strictly competitive basis, with rapid promotion on nothing but a competitive basis, but the Postmaster-General is debarred from taking any such action. He cannot adopt a policy of that kind. It is not within his power, and, therefore, under all these disabilities, it is impossible for the postal services as a whole to achieve any of the success which I am certain could be achieved under any of the ordinary commercial methods practised by a great many different concerns.
The Postmaster-General has resented the criticism that has been put forward by the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer). He has accused him of half truths and inaccuracies, and even of political rancour, in criticising this matter. The Noble Lord is quite right. Judged by the purpose of its being, the Post Office is one of the least efficient Departments in the State, unable to cope with the mail, and losing it with great frequency. It ought to give up the unequal task of trying to deal with the telephones, because there it fails even more completely. Very few figures suffice to prove to any business man how hopelessly inadequate the telephone system is. In the United States, there are 165 subscribers to every 1,000 inhabitants. In Canada, there are 138, 520 in Sweden 79, in Germany 47, and in this country, the leading industrial country in the world, employing more people to every square mile than any other nation on the earth, that great industrial land Great Britain, there are 39. That does not seem to me to reflect much credit upon the Post Office. It does not seem to me to reflect much credit upon the ability of the people who are charged with its administration, but I would not reflect upon their ability. I should rather reflect on the system under which they have to work, because I am certain they would be much more successful if they were freed from that System.
One of the reasons why we stand so low in the number of telephones is the bare question of cost. The capital expenditure per instrument in this country is nearly twice as high as in Sweden. In Sweden the figure is £31.6, and in this country it is £77.31. The Swedish figure does not include land and buildings, so that our figure is not quite twice as much. In the United States, where costs are very much higher than in this country, they are still able to do their telephone capital expenditure per instrument a great deal lower than we are, the figures being £46.7 and £77.31. Subscription costs, as a result, are very much higher, but the capital expenditure does not account for the whole of the increase in the subscription cost. In England, they are about 150 per cent. higher than in Stockholm. Stockholm is a very small city compared with London and, obviously, there must be something desperately wrong. No one can defend the figure. There is something wrong with the system or the administration. Any business man faced with those figures would be most disturbed, and so the country ought to be. It is the privilege of the country to criticise the Post Office, and it ought to criticise it, and it does criticise it often. Trunk calls in England cost practically six times as much as in Sweden.
The return on capital affords another significant figure. In the five years to 1927 the average profit earned on the capital invested in Sweden was 6.4 per cent.—quite a decent return. In this country, with the great opportunities that are presented, the capital return is only 3.1 per cent. Sweden is a thinly-populated country with very severe climatic conditions and a geological structure 521 which makes the laying of cables and the drawing of lines a very difficult matter. That adds all the more to the great case that is being built up, not only in this House to-night but outside, and which will continue to be built up against the whole system under which the Post Office functions. Similar comparisons could be made with other countries—Germany, Denmark, United States. It is clear that the earning capacity of the Post Office, the telephone system in particular, is enormous. It is only because it is under a type of administration which makes it impossible for it to run successfully that the whole of this earning capacity is thrown away and the public fails to get the benefits which it might get. In the last couple of days comments have appeared in the Press on this matter, and there have been two letters in the "Evening Standard" which have mentioned that, when you dial for an operator on the new automatic telephones, you fail to get any response, even if the house is on fire or if one of your family is dying.
Under this new system you are entirely cut off. You have not even the satisfaction of jigging the receiver to try and attract the attention of the operator. You simply get a blank lack of reply. On the automatic telephone, it seems to be more essential than ever that a system should be devised whereby really urgent calls should, at once and immediately, be replied to. You have the case of a lady in a burning hotel who dialled the operator, and who shouted "Fire —" and "Fire Brigade —" several times and received absolutely no reply. The following day you have a similar type of letter, a case of severe illness, which shows again that this automatic telephone has not been organised on such a basis that the ordinary citizen who pays for a telephone installation and expects to receive certain benefits from it, can depend upon getting those benefits. On the contrary, he can depend upon nothing of the kind. That is the reason why the present annual increase of subscribers is only about 120,000.
There is no doubt that under a properly organised system you could, without any difficulty, get up to a couple of hundred thousand new subscribers a year. All that would mean more employment. It would mean that navvies would 522 be required to dig trenches, and workmen to erect lines and factories, to make plant, instruments, wires and cables. I can imagine, for instance, the Lord Privy Seal as chairman of a company administering the telephone service of this country, freed from the dead hand of Treasury control and running the matter on business lines, making a great success of it. There is one thing alone which shows the extraordinary inability to respond to modern conditions. It is, I think, a fact—although I am quite open to correction, and I hope that I shall be corrected if I am wrong—that the little wooden boxes which are fixed on people's walls and contain the electrical apparatus which rings the bell consist of imported timber and cost about 10s. each, whereas in the United States they do not consist of imported timber, but are stamped out of steel, which we can make in this country, and cost 1s. 6d. each. How can you possibly hope to be in the same range and in the same position in the telephone service with the rest of the world if you are as far behind as that? There is every opportunity of giving employment under an extended telephone service, and for that engineers are required.
I have one point of real praise for the telephone service. I have been associated with well-deserved and well-merited praise to the engineering staff of the Post Office telephone service, who have to my knowledge done most excellent and most admirable work on more than one occasion. Their work has been quick and beautifully done. It has been everything that anybody could possibly ask or expect. What does the Postmaster-General do? What does he do with these good servants, the one part of his Department of which he can really be proud? He sacks them. He has reduced them by 850 in 1929, and he is not getting any more. He is not encouraging that branch and finding more work for them to do. No, he is getting rid of them. I think that is most unfortunate. It is really lamentable. Here you have an opportunity to creat more employment, to do more work to provide the public with a service which it urgently and really needs, and what is the Government Department doing? It is getting rid of the engineers, highly-skilled, highly-trained men, who might be the nucleus 523 of a very much larger organisation to provide this country with the type of telephone service that it really needs.
I do not like to refer to personal matters, but I must refer to one thing within my personal knowledge as it affects me. It relates to the question of oversea telephony, that great and remarkable development in modern science which has now become a commonplace and an ordinary matter of modern life. I am in New York, and I want to telephone to London. Nothing very surprising happens. They put you on. The operators are extraordinarily good and very, efficient, and so they are in this country. But the Post Office itself is lost in wonder and amazement that this thing should be. It is staggered. I put a call through from my house in the country to New York, and I received this very remarkable document. In the first place, it is addressed to "Sir Henry Mond." I was not aware that the Postmaster-General had the prerogative of conferring the honour of knighthood. But, while I am obliged to him for the compliment which he has paid to me in that direction, I should like to inform him that I prefer the privilege of sitting in this House of which he has deprived me. The letter says:The District Manager begs to forward herewith an account in respect of your recent Trans-Atlantic telephone call. In view of the exceptional nature of this service "—After a matter of two years, what is there exceptional about getting hold of an American service and ringing up America? It is the most ordinary thing in the world. Why is there anything exceptional about it?I shall be obliged if you will favour me with an immediate settlement.The Post Office are well-informed and know the advantage of pressing for immediate settlement on matters of ordinary routine. Perhaps my credit does not stand sufficiently high with them. If that is the case, I withdraw any complaint against the Post Office, but, if they are satisfied that I am good for the sum of £9 or £10, then I think that they are not encouraging the use of the telephone by dunning their customers very rapidly, almost immediately, with bills for what ought to be a perfectly normal 524 and ordinary thing. There is nothing marvellous or strange about it now. Scientifically, it is a miracle, but, as far as the Post Office are concerned, you can take up an instrument anywhere in England or America and ask for the other side of the Atlantic, and make perfectly certain that you will get it and get a good line too. Very often it is quicker to telephone to America than to telephone from London to Hammersmith. There have been a lot of complaints in the past about the decrepitude of British industry and the antiquity of some of the directors who sit upon those Boards. Here you have the case of a national monopoly which is becoming decrepit, without getting old. Antiquity it cannot claim, but decrepitude it has in plenty.
One has only to turn to the telegraphic service to realise the big deficit which has been accumulating. My hon. Friend who proposed this Motion referred to it. Business men of distinction have been called in to report upon this position. I may say that some of them are old colleagues of mine. They have reported and reported with no uncertain voice. In fact, I have here somewhere an extract of what they said:The Committee are not satisfied that the present service gives the speed which is essential. The fact that the telegraphic service has come to be regarded as a diminishing business has introduced an atmosphere of inertia, and the resiliency which should be found in a progressive business is lacking. The Committee are of opinion that the present deficit can be attributed to a considerable extent to the foregoing causes, coupled with the factors of Civil Service conditions, together with redundancy of staff, rotation of duties and grading of work.That is only one short quotation taken from the Report, but it is fair to say that it expresses the general feeling and opinion that runs throughout the Report. In view of the complaint in the Report, and its importance, and the importance of those who were called on by the Government to give their services on this national service, I made so bold as to ask the Postmaster-General whether he would state what effect had been given to the Hardman Lever Committee's Report. That question was put down last Thursday, for a reply on Monday, but up to the present time I have not received a reply. I thought he would have been able to let me have an answer before this Debate, and that he would not have 525 avoided replying to me. He must have been aware that I was going to second the Motion.
So far as the postal service is concerned, the advantages of the penny post have been often advocated, and I will not deal with that question now, but I do think that the penny post would be of great advantage to the postal service, if the service were put upon a business basis. It would not be of any advantage under the present conditions. It would certainly not be of any advantage to the Post Office under the present administration, although it would be of advantage to the business community. The real question is the type of control under which the Post Office ought to be. An Amendment to the Motion makes reference to the Post Office as a national institution, subject to the control of Parliament. Of course, it is a national institution, and it will always be and is bound to be. As to its being subject to the control of Parliament, of course, it will always be subject to Parliamentary control. But what kind of control? That is the point. I do not mind its being subject to the control of Parliament as are utility companies, railway companies, or gas companies, but it need not be subject to the control of the Treasury.
What really needs to be done with this service is to treat it for what it is—one of the greatest business undertakings in this country, to bring its management into line with that of the management of every modern commercial undertaking, to get rid of the political influence which is bound to creep in if it is directly under the charge of a responsible Cabinet Minister, to get rid of Treasury control, and to put at the head of the Post Office a business man with a free hand, with the knowledge that he will be undisturbed, whatever political changes take place, whatever the situation in Parliament may be, and that he will be in charge of the concern for a sufficiently long period to plan great reforms, and to see them through to the end in such a way as any effective head of any business concern in the country would do.
§ Mr. BOWEN
I beg to move, in line 1, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words:whilst this House will welcome any improvements in the postal, telegraphic, and 526 telephone services, it declare" that the continuation of the present high standard of these services is dependent upon the maintenance of the Post Office as a national institution subject to the control of Parliament.I think many hon. Members will agree with me when I say that, if the case against the Post Office rested upon that which has been put up by the Proposer and Seconder of the Motion, there is very little that one can criticise, because there is nothing to reply to. [Laughter.] The hon. Member may laugh, but I have not quite finished. One would imagine from the speech of the Seconder of the Resolution that all was well in the business world, that nothing ever went wrong in the business world, that nobody ever had any losses, and that no one could put their finger on any little thing and find fault with it. The Mover and the Seconder have been very careful readers of recent articles in the "Times" and the "Morning Post," which have been written by the Noble Lord, who was the late Assistant Postmaster-General. They do not seem to have assimilated all that was contained in those articles. I will lend them the articles if they would like to refresh their memories. The Seconder of the Motion, in roving about the world to find fault with the telephone system, went to Sweden, but he did not appear to have read the articles sufficiently clearly to have found out that in Sweden the telephones are State-owned. If there is something wrong with the telephones in this country, they can be put right equally well under State management without bothering outside business enterprise.
I have yet to learn that in regard to this national undertaking, one of the greatest business undertakings of this country, the best thing we can do is to let it be run by those business men who have been so successful in all their endeavours. The Mover of the Resolution outlined a proposal for a director with a salary of £10,000, £15,000 or even £20,000. A magnificent opportunity for those people who are looking for jobs in the Post Office —
§ The Mover of the Resolution reviewed the position of the staff in regard to promotion, and the terrible position in which they find themselves; and to that extent I agree with him, but what guarantee is there that the proposed new form of control would improve them, or 527 that the better conditions in outside industry would be applied to them? One would imagine that in all these big national institutions everything is going like clockwork, that everybody has a post at the top and need not worry about anything else. Some reference has been made to mail bag robberies. I think that cheap jokes on that subject do not come well from either the Proposer or the Seconder.
§ Mr. BOWEN
I know that. Nobody in the Post Office desires for a single instant that these things should happen, or that they should not be prevented, if possible. What did I see in the "Evening News" to-night? I saw there an article saying that burglars have been very busy in some districts and also in the City during last year. It refers to the great increase in the "smash-and-grab" crimes and the consequent loss to the insurance companies, and the damaging of women's dresses and fur coats. I want to suggest that it is cheap gibing at the Post Office to refer to these lamentable happenings. They are occurring in other parts of the country. There is a lot of thieving going on, and, if there is any reflection on the Post Office, there is also a reflection on every institution in the country which cannot prevent it; and probably they include some of the institutions to which the hon. Member for East Toxteth (Mr. Mond) belongs.
The Mover and Seconder of this Motion have tried to imbibe the wine which the Noble Lord the late Assistant Postmaster-General has been giving them in the newspapers, and perhaps it would be better if I came to the arch villain himself. The Noble Lord has made a complete study of what he conceives to be the weaknesses of the Post Office. If there are weaknesses, it is not for hon. Members on this side to defend them. For 40 years I have been pointing out the weaknesses in the Post Office, but the mentality of hon. Members opposite has prevented those weaknesses being cured. They have been in charge of the Post Office for the last half century. Their opportunities existed long before there was a Labour Postmaster-General. The hon. Member who moved talked about unemployment and the possibility of finding jobs in the 528 Post Office. I remember when we pleaded with hon. Members opposite for more employment in the Post Office and the prevention of discharges from the Service, we were told that the Post Office had to exercise the strictest possible economy in every possible direction. When the Committee under Sir Eric Geddes was set up, he was told to walk into the Civil Service and find out where he could wield his axe, but in the Post Office he found that he had been forestalled; the administrative chiefs had done the work for him. It is not necessary to get you big business mind into this job. The Post Office has been running for 70 years without the assistance of your big business mind and has done very successful work indeed. The Noble Lord has said:In whatever direction we look, we find there is well-founded public dissatisfaction with the services of the Post Office.It just depends where you look. There is hardly a national institution which is the subject of so much captious criticism as the Post Office. What can be more captious than the criticism of the hon. Member for East Toxteth when he talks about the puny little boxes which should be made of steel instead of wood?
§ Mr. BOWEN
These small pettifogging objections do not do justice to the hon. Member. When he went on to speak of other things he disclosed an entire ignorance as to how the Post Office is conducted. When you look round the Post Office, you do not observe its efficiency for the simple reason that you do not look for it. But it is there, a silent efficiency, so efficient that the public do not realise that they have a Post Office until they find some trivial thing going wrong. The hon. Member spoke about a telegram which the late 529 Assistant Postmaster-General is supposed to have sent him. The possibilities are that the Noble Lord did not send it. I do not know the facts, but the story is on record that the Noble Lord did try to send a telephone message but failed because he did not understand the instrument.
When we talk about a service of this description, we are entitled to look more deeply into the matter than has been the case in the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of this Motion. The Noble Lord also said that he thought it was not too much to say that the public would get an infinitely better service if they kept the politicians and civil servants out of the Post Office and had it administered by professional business men. He stayed for four years in the Post Office, and still lives to tell the tale. I am rather encouraged to ask whether his attitude towards the Post Office was in complete agreement with that of his chief. If the efficiency of the Post Office is in question, I must point out that any possible loss of millions, as has been stated, to the taxpayer can be set off by the fact that during the last 17 years ending on the 31st March, 1929, the surplus, after charging interest on capital on the whole of the Post Office services, has amounted to over £74,000,000. Last year, the surplus was £9,500,000; a very attractive proposition to the business mind.
§ Mr. BOWEN
You could get it by the decision of this House. This House controls the Treasury policy in this respect; and what is the good of saying that the dead hand of the Treasury will not allow the Postmaster-General to rule. The fact that the Treasury is there is due to hon. Members opposite, who have imposed the system on the country. For good or ill there it is. We are told that no institution in the country stands in 530 greater need of rationalisation than the Post Office. That is the statement of the Noble Lord—that no institution stands in greater need of rationalisation than the Post Office. We knew what rationalisation was in the Post Office before the word was coined for use in industry outside. We always knew it; we knew it by the phrase "adjustment of staff to traffic." Redundancies that are talked about in the Hardman Lever Report are nothing in comparison with the great service that 230,000 people have to give.
One aspect of rationalisation we must take into account, because it is a, fact that in the Civil Service, in the matter of the employment of labour-saving machines for example, the Post Office is in the van of progress in this country. In the Post Office Savings Bank there is a complete up-to-date machine system which saves something like £100,000 a year under a recent scheme of rationalisation. I am sure that that would warm the heart of the Seconder of the Motion. It is just the type of thing that the business man would do—to introduce machines, and let the human factor in industry not be very much considered. In its motor service, we find expansion in the Post Office to the extent that at the present time there are 2,000 postal motor vehicles. The engineering department has 1,500, the Post Office being the largest motor transport owners in the country. Incidentally, in the process of introducing these machines the Post Office has dispensed with 1,700 full-time posts since 1924 and has created 800 part-time jobs. If hon. Members opposite want to do a good job, let them assist those of us who are looking after the staff interests. You do not want a business man to do that.
§ Mr. BOWEN
Our trade union friends on this side are quite competent to show the Post Office where weaknesses lie, as we have pointed them out over and over again to Conservative Postmasters-General. This policy was introduced by a Conservative Postmaster-General— [Interruption.] Hon. Members opposite cannot blame me if I feel a little bit warm about the sacking of these men, the kind of thing suggested by the Hard-man Lever Report—" Clear these people 531 out of the service. Let us have machinery, which is speedier, and all the rest of it." Hon. Members opposite may be satisfied that that is good for the business of their side, but it is not good business if it is mixed up with finding more employment in the Post Office.
I think that the present agitation against the Post Office is very largely political. The Post Office is oftentimes quoted on one side of the House as a possible example of what nationalisation could be like. On the other side, it is condemned for its inadequacy as a nationalised service. You must have a nationalised service with a real Socialistic spirit behind it before you can get a socialised servie. We have had to put up with a service with a bureaucratic, Conservative spirit, which has dragged at its heels for a century. That is what we are putting up with to-day. Hon. Members oposite smile, but they smile too soon. Let me suggest that, in spite of all these handicaps, the Post Office has succeeded as a nationalised institution.
§ Mr. BOWEN
Let it be a strict monopoly. It is a national business under national ownership. Let hon. Gentlemen opposite point out where there is real wastage of money in the Post Office and where money can be saved. The noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) has tried to do so, and time will not permit me to answer all his points. He has said that the Post Office has invariably been unsuccessful where it has tried to compete with private enterprise, for instance in the case of the parcels post, life insurance, and cables. With regard to life insurance, the Post Office was never allowed to compete; its business was not allowed to develop, for the simple reason that when it was pointed out by the large private monopolies, the big insurance companies, that the Post Office was competing, those responsible for the policy of the Post Office stopped the push in regard to life insurance. When the Post Office developed the beam wireless service and made a wonderful success of it, when it competed successfully with the cable companies and secured a lowering of the rate throughout the world, 532 what happened? The business mind came in and took off a most profitable block of the service. It cannot be said that the service was not successful. It was killing the cable companies' competion, and that was the beginning of the end so far as the Post Office was concerned, because those influences which have connection with the cable companies, the Marconi and other companies, brought themselves together and exercised an influence on the Government of that day to the extent of pinching from the Post Office an instrument which had been so profitable.
Now the same policy is showing itself. The same agitation is being worked up because the Post Office is steadily making a success of wireless telephony. We have the same influences complaining, and exercising themselves to such an extent that they are attacking the Post Office, as we gather from the "The Times," in the hope that they can add this service also to their Imperial Communications Company, Limited, service for private purpose. The Post Office surplus last year was nearly £150,000.
Reference has been made to the telephones and the difficulty about rural areas. The question must arise whether in rural areas any business company would introduce a service which would not pay. Let me put it to those who have spoken from the benches opposite—would either of them introduce a business in rural areas, knowing full well that it could not pay?
§ Mr. BOWEN
Then why do you want to change the monopoly If you are satisfied with the monopoly, I put it that the Post Office monopoly is far safer than the monopoly which is proposed in the Motion. Incidentally, it would appear that either the Mover and Seconder of the Motion have swallowed the Yellow Book or that something else has happened, because the Motion was originally divided. There has been a blending of colour, and it has produced a nasty one.
§ Mr. RAMSBOTHAM
I can make arrangements with the Liberal party just as well as the hon. Member's party.
§ Mr. BOWEN
The hon. Members have gone absolutely wrong in their references 533 to the development of telephones. Time will not permit me to go into many details, and in any case the Postmaster-General can deal with them better than I can. What we are up against, in this matter of the supply of telephones, are the habits of the British people. Does the British business man want his telephone at his office, in his sitting-room, in his dining-room, in his bedroom and in his bathroom? Does he? They want them in America, and they have them. If hon. Members think that more telephones mean the laying down of more cables and that sort of thing, they have to bear in mind this—that even to-day the Post Office is feeling the effect of the War, like a good many other institutions. When the National Telephone Company's plant was given up, it was obsolete from top to bottom, and the Post Office has had to go through the process of steadily renewing that plant and laying down new cables in all parts of the country. Cables are being laid down now to deal with any number of telephones, and I understand that there can be no question of more employment in that connection. What you want to do in this country is to create the same type of telephone mind as that which exists in America—if you are going to compare with America—and no business mind can do that.
§ Mr. BOWEN
It is for the business mind in this country to make the demand for this service, and, as far as we can discover, the demand is not there. The telephone density in the United States in 1912 was, per thousand of the population, nearly six times as great as ours, and the United States population per telephone was 11, while that of Great Britain and Ireland was 64.7. That was the position before the Post Office took over the National Telephone Company in 1911. On 1st January, 1929, the telephone density in the United States was only four times as great as ours, and the population per telephone was 6.6 as compared with 25.8 in Great Britain. The first point which emerges from these figures is the question of whether any real comparison in telephones can lie between this country and the United States. I do not think that such a com- 534 parison can lie, and I regret that time does not permit me to go into further details on that point. Coming to the question of surpluses in regard to telephones, the late Postmaster-General has declared that, while surpluses are accruing, they have been decreasing in value for some years. He has pointed out, however, that this is not due to any fall in revenue; that, on the contrary, the revenue is increasing, and that it is due partly to the policy followed, where possible, of reducing rates and even more to the development of the service. Again, our telegraph service is compared with America, and attention is called to the deficit created by the telegraph service. There has always been a deficit on the telegraph service. The Post Office had to take it over in 1868 at a very high cost, and it has had to bear the burden of a charge amounting to a good sum every year for all that time.
§ Viscount WOLMER
The hon. Member surely knows that that cost was written off and does not affect the position to-day.
§ Mr. BOWEN
I do, but the Noble Lord has referred to this deficit. I am pointing out that we cannot take the responsibility for it in these days, and that he must not blame the telegraphs. The late Postmaster-General gave the answer to this point—his statement must have been an answer to his own Assistant Postmaster-General who criticises the telegraph service, talks about the deficit, and makes comparisons with private companies in America. This is what the late Postmaster-General said in the House:The existence of a deficit on this portion of the Post Office work is not a phenomenon which is singular to Great Britain. On the contrary it is the common experience of practically every Government in Europe. They take the view that an efficient telegraph service confers such advantage on the citizens in general and in the amelioration of conditions of life in general, that it is worth while running even if it be run at a loss. There is much to be said for that and it ought to be borne in mind by some of those who are always rushing off to America for comparisons with regard to telegraph work in order to draw conclusions derogatory to State management …. The real truth is that the conditions of physical geography in America and the large distances between centres materially contribute to help telegraphic developments.535 He also said about the work:In the towns of America the telegraphic service is very much worse than our own and in the rural parts of America it ceases really to have any pretensions to be a telegraphic service at all. In Germany the ordinary telegraphic service is much slower. They have a system of urgent telegrams at triple the ordinary rate and a lightning service at 30 times the ordinary rate. Our best service in this country compares favourably with the best American practice and with the German lightning service. Our average normal speed of telegraphic operations is certainly up to that of any other country in the world, and is, I think, a great deal better than most of them. Indeed I believe it is true to say that it is better than any other."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th July, 1928; col. 2501, Vol. 219.]9.0 p.m.
I am compelled to read to hon. Members opposite the views expressed by their own Postmaster-General in the late Government. Finally, I submit that in the suggestion which has been made as to public utility companies, there is the danger that many people will be trapped into the belief that it is better to remove from the control of this House a big State service like the Post Office than to retain it under Parliamentary control, and that the public can get a better service in this way. The experience of the past condemns that idea. The old National Telephone Company was subject to endless criticisms, and it was, as the result of complaints from business men, that the State took control of it. Precisely the same thing happened in regard to the telegraphs in 1868. The private companies were working only where they could get the cream of the traffic and were not bothering about the cheaper areas. It is only an institution like the Post Office under State control which can cater for the community as a whole. The community as a whole is entitled to every consideration, and it is not good that the places with the greatest density of population should always have the best service. They ought to help to pay for a great national and general service. I cannot conceive that any service of that kind can be given except by an organisation controlled and owned by the State such as the Post Office. No other kind of service would come up to the standard I have indicated, and, therefore, I ask the House to support this Amendment which will be a declara- 536 tion by the House of the view that we can interfere too much with the existing Post Office service to the damage of something which has stood the test for half a century.
§ Mr. H. W. WALLACE
I beg to second the Amendment.
In looking at this Motion, I am inclined to say, as the late Postmaster-General said about the Hardman Lever report, that it lacks definiteness. There is nothing definite in this Motion, and in the speeches from the Benches opposite we have not had a single definite charge brought against the efficiency of the Post Office. The Mover and Seconder of the Motion referred to the theft of registered letters and the loss of mail bags the suggestion being that the Post Office was responsible in every case for the loss of the mail bags. That, of course, is not so, because there are occasions on which the Post Office could not possibly be held responsible for the loss of a mail bag. The Seconder of the Motion made various suggestions on the question of a penny post, but it remains to be seen whether there will not be a great demand in this country for a share of the surplus of £9,000,000. We are asked to-night to appoint a committee of business men—presumably to go into matters such as I have mentioned. I suggest that there is no need to appoint a committee of business men to inquire into these comparatively trifling matters.
The suggestion has also been made that at the head of the divided Post Office service there should be a business man. Who is to be the business man? What are the qualifications of this business man? Where is this committee of business men to come from? Are we to get them from the mining industry, from the cotton industry, from the financiers, from the bankers? Who are these efficient business men? Judging by what has been happening in the City recently, in the cotton industry, in the coal industry, in the iron and steel industry, I suggest that the business man to-day does not stand in that position in which the public would trust him to inquire into the administration and efficiency of the Post Office. For the last 30 years committees of business men have been inquiring into one aspect and another of the administration of the Post Office, but not one 537 of those committees has produced one jot of evidence to show that the Post Office is not efficiently managed. Take the Geddes Committee. He, I understand, held that committee as a super-business man, and you could hardly find a business man with greater qualifications. They inquired into the administration of the Post Office, and what was the wonderful recommendation that they made? That £80,000 a year could be saved. How? By robbing the postman of a pair of trousers and a coat every year. What community would want to pay for a committee to inquire into that sort of thing? Look at the economy of that proposition. They robbed the postman of a uniform and sent up the sick leave in the Post Office, which costs actually more. So much for the business man.
Reference has been made to the commercial accounts. I want to know of any institution besides the Post Office that publishes such a statement for the benefit of the public. The Mover of the Motion practically ignored all the valuable information contained in this commercial account, and said he was disappointed because it took so many months for it to be delivered. I will leave the Postmaster-General to deal with that point, but let us take these commercial accounts for a moment. They show that wages and salaries are down from 48.73 per cent. for 1927 to 46.79 per cent. for 1928, or a reduction from £32,554,519 to £32,265,464. Does that disappoint the business men?
§ Mr. WALLACE
The percentage has fallen, and therefore the turnover does not count. The total operating expenditure is down from 82.00 per cent. for 1927 to 80.07 per cent. for 1928. The surplus for the year 1927 was £7,670,348, and for 1928 the surplus was £9,012,764. From 1912–13 to 1928–29 the community has secured from the Post Office a sum greater than £100,000,000. Show me any private business concern that has done as well. On each of those points I submit that the Post Office has given a good account of itself, and from the standpoint of the efficient business man, not one argument has been adduced here to-night to justify taking away the control of the Post Office from the Postmaster-General.
538 Reference has been made to the deficit on the telegraphs. My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe (Mr. Bowen) has dealt with that question, but the deficit is a diminishing quantity, and I suggest that if the House of Commons in the past had not been so generous to private interests, that deficit would not have been as great as it has been, but it is now, happily, being steadily reduced. Under the Telegraphs Act, 1868, there was a subsidy to the Press of no less than £200,000 a year. What private business is going to do that? The right was conferred by the Telegraphs Act of 1868 on railway companies to send free telegrams on railway business. What private business is going to do that? The reduction of rates in 1865 was through a Private Member's Motion, which was carried by the House of Commons against the advice of the Administration of that day. I want to point out that the telegraphs really have been a successful proposition for the country as a whole, and when you take the balance-sheet and point to a deficit, the fact is that that deficit exists because of the generosity of this House in the past in making gifts to the Press and other concerns in this country.
There is one item in these accounts which I do not like. I find that the Post Office in 1927 paid nearly £3,000,000 for rent, and in 1928 just a little over £3,000,000. I would like to suggest that it is time the Post Office found out a way of securing premises without paying that great tribute every year in the shape of rent. Its idea! ought to be to own, not to hire, and I hope the present Postmaster-General will give that matter his very serious attention. If he does, I think he will be able to increase the Post Office surplus.
The Post Office is an organisation which enters into our social services. Through old age pensions, widows' and orphans' pensions, and national health insurance, it touches the homes of the people at every point. What is the value of those services? On old age pensions, for example, more than £98,000,000 is paid out. What private business is going to handle that, and in what way can a business man improve upon the present position in that respect? Take a post office counter. Go to the branch post office within a few yards of this building and watch the business performed there. The 539 innumerable services granted to the public are such as to show the very complexity of the organisation which makes it possible to give those services, and that you cannot possibly measure those services by the ordinary standards. I am reminded that in one small town that I visited there is one post office, with one postmaster, with a turnover of thousands upon thousands a year, and in the same town there is a similar turnover, and it is handled by five bank managers. It has never yet been proved that the banker as a banker is more efficient than the Postmaster-General. As a matter of fact, the criticism at the present moment goes to show that the bankers are rather too generous and too easy-going.
It is true there has been very little public praise because there has been a surplus, as the public are accustomed to get a surplus, but, if there had been a deficit, the Press campaign would not have been very different from the campaign brought about by the Hatry crisis. In the Post Office there has been rationalisation. It is only in the last few years that this country has been giving any attention to rationalisation, but it is not new in the Post Office; it has been going on for years. The Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) is reported as having said that the Post Office has invariably been unsuccessful when it has tried to compete with private enterprise. He knows that the Post Office has a motor service, and that not one of these vehicles is put on the road unless it has competed with private enterprise. No Post Office motor vehicle can take the road until it has beaten the private competitor. That is the Treasury condition, and the Noble Lord knows that every one of the 2,000 vehicles have come successfully through that test. I venture to say, and I feel that the Noble Lord knows it, that in the matter of motor cars, private enterprise cannot beat the Post Office.
With regard to the question of carrying parcels, the railway companies are under private enterprise. A written statement to the Royal Commission on Transport, presented on behalf of the London Chamber of Commerce by Sir Geoffrey Clarke, a former Director-General of Indian Posts and Telegraphs, and now deputy-chairman of the council of the London Chamber of Commerce, stated: 540The difference in time for delivering taken by the railway and Post Office services respectively is so marked as to justify the assumption that, with better organisation by the railway companies, a very great improvement could be shown in this respect.In cross-examination, he said that the statement was based on the experience of many members of the Chamber of Commerce. It was their opinionthat the railway parcels service generally cannot compare with the postal parcels service for speed.And the Post Office parcel traffic is going up. My hon. Friend has referred to the transfer of the beam and wireless service. I do not propose to dwell upon that matter, except to say that some of us have anticipated this smooth and sweet suggestion that the telegraph and telephone services should be transferred like wireless to another body. We know that the Press campaign will go on, and that hon. Gentlemen opposite will seek to find arguments to justify that transfer; and the reason for the transfer is the simple one that private enterprise sees in it a profitable field of exploitation.
It would be useful if I mentioned the history of the transfer of the telephone service, because the argument is that these changes should be made to help the business man, and that we ought to go back to the time when the telephone service and telegraph service were under private enterprise and under the control of business men. When the telephones were run by private enterprise, there were continuous complaints. The Associated Chambers of Commerce passed a resolution in favour of Government-control of telephone communication. In 1895, the agitation against the National Telephone Company grew strong, with the result that the Government in 1896 appointed a Committee, which recommended that local authorities should be licensed to undertake telephone services. In 1899, the Treasury received a deputation from Chambers of Commerce who asked the Government to acquire the National Company undertaking and to work it as a branch of the Post Office. In the Debate in the House of Commons on 9th August, 1905, the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) said that experience hadproved that competition did not secure a cheap and efficient service.541 The late Postmaster-General, speaking at Croydon Constitutional Club on 11th March, 1929, as reported in the "Croydon Advertiser" of 16th March, said:The future of the telephone was settled in 1911 with universal consent after many and long complaints, largely due to the chief commercial centres having the best attention. Places that did not pay were left out or neglected by the National Telephone Company.That is the testimony of the late Postmaster-General. On the question of the habits of business men, here is the testimony of Mr. O'Brien, an American business man:After all is said and done, it is probably true that there are other reasons than the question of Government or private operation There is the matter of fundamental difference in methods of business in different countries—some rapid, some easy going.Perhaps he means the man who works five days a week and goes to his golf at week-ends, or perhaps he means the guinea pig director who was spoken of by the right hon. Gentleman who usually sits on the Benches opposite. He goes on:My experience in England has been that there is no great pressure anywhere at any time. Probably that is one of the strongest reasons why England is still at the foot of the ladder of the telephone development.I assume that this gentleman imagines that we on this side go slow and go easy, and that we do not like to be bothered by the telephones. What is the use of saying that in America one person in six has a telephone. Why do not hon. Members opposite put this simple test: How many workers in this country would have a telephone if they were paid the wages that would enable them to afford one? The Noble Lord the Member for Alder-shot has dismissed a plea that big savings accrued to telephone users by the rate reductions in 1922. The late Postmaster-General did not agree with him. He said that the savings to users of the telephone between 1922 and 1927 were £3,000,000. I should be glad to see how the Noble Lord disposes of the argument of his late chief.
§ Mr. WALLACE
At any rate, there was a saving. Speaking in the House on 14th July, 1926, the late Postmaster 542 General, dealing with the reduction in the telephone surpluses, said:This is not due to any fall in revenue. On the contrary, the revenue is increasing. It is partly due to the policy, where possible, of reducing rates, and even more, it is due to a development of the service which entails the carrying of what I have before in this House called a large and growing uneconomic fringe of business. If you want to develop the service, it entails laying down plant which cannot immediately begin to be profit-bearing."—[OFFICIAL REPORT,14th July, 1926; col. 437, Vol. 198.]I put it to the House that if this Post Office business were under private control, the chief object would be the earning of profits and not the giving of service.
We come to the telegraphs. In the same way the telegraphs were transferred from private control for the simple reason that the Chambers of Commerce of that day were complaining. In support of what I have just said about the object of private enterprise being profit, let me quote the evidence given when an inquiry was being conducted into the transfer of the telegraphs from private to public ownership. In giving evidence before the Select Committee on Telegraphs in 1868 the representative of one of the companies when questioned about the opening of new offices, said:Of course, it would be very desirable to open one for the public good, but it would not be desirable for us, because it simply would not pay.Later on he said:We always look first to profits and then to the public interest.The same representative said:Yes, I give my evidence with reference to the company's interest, and with reference to paying a dividend. That is my business.
The question put to him was:
And as large a dividend as possible?
§ To this he replied, "Quite so." Practically all the Chambers of Commerce of that time petitioned in favour of State purchase with cheaper telegrams. The position at the moment is that we have a Postmaster-General who represents the public, who are the users of the Post Office. Alongside the right hon. Gentleman there sits a committee of business men. I have not heard one of those gentlemen quoted in the Debate to-night in support of this Motion. I feel that the staff, those who work in the Post 543 Office and who have earned and created a surplus of £9,000,000, ought to be invited to sit alongside and to give advice on the development of the service. The consumer and the producer in this case are embodied in the civil servant, and he does accept the point of view that this service exists for the benefit of the public. It is not true to suggest that the workers in the Post Office seek to run it for their selfish ends. I submit that in that way is to be found a new line of advance.
§ In the development of the Post Office the goodwill of the staff is essential. The Mover of the Motion spoke of the Bell Telephone Company handing back a sum of something like £9,000,000 to the staff. I could wish that in this country the Postmaster-General had done the same thing. I am amazed to hear such a speech coming from the benches opposite because in the case of the late Postmaster-General his reward for the staff was to endeavour to reduce their wages. True, the surplus was going up and he had thousands of people starving, and servants coming into the dock in the police courts arrested for thieving who were in receipt of wages which gave them a standard of living lower than that provided by the Poor Law authorities. The only contribution he could make to the goodwill of the staff was to endeavour to reduce their wages. I do not think the present Postmaster-General is likely to take that line.
§ My last word is that this is not a business matter as such. At the head of the Post Office we want an efficient man. I believe we have an efficient man in the present Postmaster-General. It is not a committee of business men we want. We want a Postmaster-General who will use his powers and insist upon developing the Service in the interests of the community. I should like to say to him that if the Treasury stand in the way of his developing that Service, let him come to this House and let the House help him to put the Treasury in its proper relation to the Post Office. We do not want a committee of business men to tell us that, but simply a Postmaster-General who will take his courage in both hands. The Noble Lord opposite was Assistant Postmaster-General to his late chief, and although they knew the Post Office was 544 labouring under all these evils, not a word was said in this House about Treasury control. I charge, them with neglecting the development of the Post Office, and I hope that the present Postmaster-General will take his courage in his hands and be prepared to develop this Service.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I think the whole House is under an obligation to my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mr. Ramsbotham) for raising this matter this evening in a very interesting speech. It is a matter which, in my view, urgently requires discussion in this House, and the time at our disposal on a Wednesday evening is hardly adequate to cover such a big subject, or to enable all Members who are interested in it to give expression to their views. Therefore, I shall be as brief as I can within reasonable limits. I had hoped that the Postmaster-General would have spoken earlier in the Debate, and I have risen now only because I understand that the right hon. Gentleman intends to insist upon his constitutional right of winding up the Debate. When I raised this matter publicly in the newspapers, I was making no attack upon the right hon. Gentleman at all, but he was good enough publicly to accuse me of making mis-statements and uttering half-truths, as he called them. I think he also accused me of rancour. With the exception of one small detail in regard to the Sheffield exchange, he has not shown, in a single one of the statistics I have given publicly, any inaccuracy or untruth. I was hoping that the right hon. Gentleman would have replied and dealt with these statements, which he says are inaccurate, in such a way to-night as to give me some opportunity of replying to him, but as I have not that opportunity, I take note of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has, apparently, no comment on the facts to which I have given publicity which he can make in front of my face so that I can reply to him. I raised this matter not as an attack upon the right hon. Gentleman, and not as a party question, but because I came away from that great Department convinced that the men and women working in it were not getting a fair chance and never would get a fair chance as long as it was organised in the way it is organised, and that the industry of this country, which is dependent 545 upon the Post Office for means of communication, would never get the service it requires until that reform took place.
The difficulty I am up against in this Debate is the atmosphere, if I may say so without offence, which surrounds my hon. Friends opposite. They regard a proposal of this sort as something so wrong as to be almost indecent. I will endeavour to argue this matter with them in as dispassionate a way as possible, facing the facts together as colleagues rather than as antagonists. To show the House the frame of mind in which some hon. Members opposite approach this question I will quote the speech of the hon. Member for East Walthamstow (Mr. Wallace) who has just sat down. He told the House a few minutes ago that a number of Commissions had inquired into the Post Office and that not one of them had been able to bring any evidence of inefficiency against the Department, and that the Geddes Committee had only been able to recommend a reduction of £80,000 in the expenditure of the Post Office, to be saved at the expense of the postmen. I have here the Report of the Geddes Committee. May I read to the House a summary of what the Geddes Committee recommended? The first recommendation is that a regular and systematic check between traffic and staff should be instituted for the postal services.
§ Viscount WOLMER
The hon. Member is mistaken. It was not in existence then. This Report was delivered in 1922. The Committee pointed out that there was no regular check between traffic and staff. The matter was considered by the Secretary's office at Saint Martins-le-Grand for two years after the publication of the Geddes Report before any action was taken. In 1924 the readjustment first commenced, and a very valuable reform it has proved. Over a million man-hours annually have been saved in that item alone, although it was only possible to bring the scheme into effect in 60 per cent. of the offices. I give that as the first instance. The second recommendation of the Geddes Committee was: The cost of the indoor force can be reduced to the extent of £150,000; the cost of the outdoor force can be reduced to the extent of £200,000; the cost 546 of the telephone and telegraph staffs can be reduced by £40,000; and the provisional estimate of £59,300,000 can be reduced to £56,500,000. The hon. Member for East Walthamstow told the House that the Geddes Committee had only been able to recommend a reduction of £80,000. In fact, the Geddes Committee recommended a reduction of £3,000,000. I merely give that as an example of the terrible incapacity, if I may say so, that hon. Members opposite have of facing the facts.
§ Mr. WALLACE
I was meeting the statement that there had been a charge of inefficiency against the Post Office. True, a suggestion may have been made which has resulted in a reform, but nothing has been produced yet, even by the Noble Lord, to show that there was a charge of inefficiency.
§ Viscount WOLMER
In addition to the Geddes Committee there was the Hard-man Lever Committee; and there was also the Report of a Select Committee of this House on telephones in 1922, of which Sir Evelyn Cecil was Chairman and on which there were two very well known Members of the Labour party. This Committee delivered a unanimous report in which the first recommendation is that a more businesslike reorganisation of the Post Office should take place. In the instances I ventured to give publicly I gave 16 sets of figures which, I say, have not yet been challenged in any particular, except in regard to the one detail. Let me put this to hon. Members. Are they really satisfied with the position in which we find ourselves in regard to telephones? They say that the United States of America does not provide a fair comparison, that the habits of the people are different, that conditions are easier, and that the people are wealthier. But it is not only the case of the United States of America. There is the United States of America, then Canada, then New Zealand, then Denmark—Denmark has three times as many telephones per head of the population as has this country—then Hawaii, then Australia, then Sweden and Norway, Switzerland, Germany, Iceland—and then Great Britain! Are hon. Members really satisfied with our position?
Take the cities of the world. Cities like Montreal, Baltimore, Copenhagen, Hamburg and Berlin have far more telephones 547 per head of the population than London. I ask them whether they are satisfied with that? What is their reply? Their reply is, first, that the National Telephone Company was not a success. That has been said to-night. Why was the National Telephone Company not a success? For all I know it may have been badly managed. I am not in the least concerned to defend the National Telephone Company. I never had anything to do with it. But just consider the conditions under which that company had to work. The Post Office owned all the trunk lines and in the 'eighties and the' nineties the Post Office were afraid of the telephone service, thinking it was going to kill the telegraphs. Throughout the whole of the existence of the National Telephone Company the Postmaster-General of the day—all parties were involved—used his powers to thwart and impede the National Telephone Company and the municipalities who had their own telephones. You had not co-operation, or even competition, but a sort of dog-in-the-manger policy between those two organisations which absolutely prevented telephone development in this country. It is quite unfair to say that either private enterprise or Socialism had a chance.
Since the system was taken over in 1912 we have had 17 years of experience of the management of the telephones by the Post Office, and I say that the result of that 17 years is not good enough. Let me appeal to hon. Members to try to get out of their heads the idea that this is primarily a question of private enterprise versus Socialism. What we are asking for is that there should be an inquiry into the present organisation of the Post Office in order to see whether that organisation can be improved and whether the service can be improved. [An HON. MEMBER: "You managed it for five years, why did not you reform it?"] The hon. Member opposite asks why I did not reform the Post Office. What I am now suggesting is that the Post Office should be handed over to a public utility company, and in my opinion you will never get a maximum of efficiency until you have done that. Hon. Members opposite are attacking the late Government for not having done that. May I point out that we did with regard to the beam service, and hon. Members have never ceased to attack us for doing 548 so. In one breath they are attacking us for not having carried out the remedy which I am arguing for, and in another breath they attack us for doing the very opposite.
I come back now to the question of a comparison with America. Hon. Members must really face the facts in that respect, and it will not wash in argument to say-that the conditions in this country are so exceptional and difficult that, of all the countries in the world, ours is the only country where telephones cannot be maintained on an economic basis. We have been told that the working men of America can afford to have the telephone in their houses, and that the working men of England cannot afford it. May I point out that the working men of Sweden are not better off than the working men of this country and the telephone is brought to them. The same is true of Denmark and Switzerland, where the telephone is brought to them much more cheaply than in this country, I know there are always some difficulties in regard to comparison, but I should like to give what I think is a very striking example between two telephone areas which are well known, and I think a very good comparison can be made between them. It is only a small example, but it is an exceedingly instructive one. I wonder if the House knows that up to 1923 the telephones in Jersey were controlled by the Post Office, whereas those in Guernsey were run independently. There is no difference in the conditions of the population between Jersey and Guernsey, and no one can point out any differences either racial, occupational, geographical or economic. The only difference was in the management of the two telephone services. What was the result in 1923? In the Guernsey area, with an independent service, the number of persons per telephone was 13, while at Jersey, which was run by the Post Office, the number was 31 per telephone. That shows that there were two and a-half times as many telephones in Guernsey as in Jersey, which was run by the Post Office. When I asked for the official reason for this discrepancy, no explanation was forthcoming and I merely cite that as an example. We cannot be expected to be satisfied with that state of affairs.
§ Mr. BOWEN
I am sure that the Noble Lord does not desire to make a misstate- 549 ment. Does the Noble Lord know of the exceptional circumstances in regard to the desire of the Jersey people to have control of their own telephone arrangements and what arrangements were made for the transfer? Can he give any published figures?
§ Viscount WOLMER
I am not surprised that the people of Jersey wished to have their own telephones. In 1023 an arrangement was come to under which they were given their own telephones, and since then they have increased their telephone density by 100 per cent., and they have already gone a long way to catch up to Guernsey, having one telephone per 15 persons to Guernsey's 10.
§ Viscount WOLMER
Not without notice, but I do not think that particular point affects this question. The hon. Member raises the question of the staff, and I want to say a few words on that question. I think it is a pathetic spectacle to see the representatives of the staff standing up for a system which is prevented by its inefficiency from expanding as it ought to expand. The staff are the greatest sufferers by this state of affairs. The position of the staff in the telegraph service is one which must evoke the sympathy of every one of us. The operators in America are holding their own against the telephone company, and they have a future in front of them. The future which our operators have in front of them is a very different story. I would like to draw attention to a very interesting comparison which I have recently seen between the conditions of the men employed by the Imperial Communications Company—the merger which has taken over the beam wireless system—and the men who remain in the cable room of the Central Telegraph Office. When the Imperial Communications Company took over the beam wireless and the Atlantic cables, hon. Gentlemen opposite strongly advised the telegraphists in the cable room not to accept the terms offered to them—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member has already made his speech, and I think he 550 might allow the Noble Lord to complete his argument.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I intend to answer the hon. Member. He asks me for evidence, and I will read to him a letter that appeared in the November issue of "The Overseas Telegraph," the Journal of the Union. This letter was written by one of the men who is now working in the Cable Room at the Central Telegraph Office. He wrote:My representatives had been unable to recommend the final terms offered by the new company "—and, accordingly, he and a number of his colleagues declined to take service with the new company which has taken over the beam wireless and the cables. He went on to say in his letter that he had been to see some of his friends who had taken service with the company, and he found that they were not only getting very much better pay than the men who remained at the Central Telegraph Office, but also that they were very much more contented. He writes:I put the obvious question to them, 'Are you sorry you transferred?' and their laughing and emphatic negatives dispelled all doubts from my mind. I did not find one man who would return to the Cable Room, hut all were very bitter that the Department had allowed them to leave without so much as a letter of appreciation of the services which they had rendered to the Post Office.[HON. MEMBERS: "Who was in charge?"] The present Postmaster-General was in charge when those men left.
§ The POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Mr. Lees-Smith)
I must interrupt the Noble Lord. I sent a letter of appreciation on the day of the transfer.
§ Viscount WOLMER
Unfortunately, these men do not appear to have received it. Perhaps it was lost in the post. The letter concludes:I returned from my visit with conflicting thoughts. I wondered if it were possible to create the spirit of success in the Cable Room that I felt in the Beam Section at Radio House; if that desire for the company's success could be engendered in the Cable Room for the Room's success; and I realised, as never before, the wisdom of men like Ford, the motor magnate, in granting good treatment to their staffs, and demanding good work in return.The representatives of the men are doing their constituents an ill service in this 551 matter. For years past the cable companies have paid their operators better than the Post Office has paid its operators. Hon. Members opposite know that, and cannot deny it. The wages paid by the telephone and telegraph companies in America are infinitely better than the wages paid by the Post Office, and hon. Members opposite know it. [Interruption.]
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Viscount WOLMER
The point is that you do not serve the interests of the men by obstructing schemes of rationalisation. In order to rationalise, it is no doubt first, necessary to economise, and it may mean the initial dismissal of a large, number of men, but, if the rationalisation is carried through properly, and the result is that you can produce the article more cheaply, so as to lead to an expansion of your business, in the end you are able to pay far better wages, and far more in wages, than you were paying before. That has been the experience under every scheme of rationalisation, and yet the hon. Member for Crewe (Mr. Bowen) is taking credit to himself for having opposed and obstructed the rationalising schemes which were inaugurated by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Sir W. Mitchell-Thomson). If the Post Office were efficiently managed, then, ultimately, the staffs would not only be better off, but the development of the telephone and telegraph services and of the postal service would give opportunities for far greater employment and far better prospects of promotion for the staff than they can hope to have at present. We have heard a good deal about statistics to-night, but there is one figure among those which have been given on which I would like to lay particular stress. The average cost per telephone in this country is £77, and the average cost in America is £47. There is nothing that the Postmaster-General can say to dispute that fact, and it really is the acid test in regard to the whole question of the telephone service. The reason why our charges cannot be reduced is that our costs are nearly double those in America, in spite of the fact that the American wages 552 are very much higher than ours. That is due to lack of efficient management at St. Martins-le-Grand. I am not attacking the Postmaster-General; I am not attacking anyone; I am merely saying that the system is impossible. It is impossible to have a great industry like this, employing nearly a quarter of the number of people employed in the coal mines, one of the greatest industries of this country, under the nominal charge of a politician who on the average changes every two years. He has to leave the Department by the time he has really got to know it. Moreover, none of his advisers have had any business experience, and They are paid such low salaries that it is impossible to get any leading technician or business administrator in from outside. It is most unfair that the engineers of the Post Office should be paid far less than engineers outside, and it makes it very difficult to get in new blood from outside. [Interruption.] If hon. Members had done me the honour of being here at the beginning of my speech, they would know that I then pointed out that my proposal was that this great industry should be taken away from Civil Service conditions altogether, that it should be taken away from the control of ephemeral politicians altogether, and should be treated as a public utility service, like the great organisation that has taken over the beam wireless and the cables.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Is it not the case that the ex-Prime Minister reproved the Noble Lord for using that same expression, and that his mother sent him away for a holiday as a result of that reproof?
§ Viscount WOLMER
My Leader very properly reproved me for making a speech without taking the precaution to find out whether reporters were present. It was a most indiscreet thing to do, and I hope that my hon. Friend will never do it himself. [Interruption.] Really, this is not a laughing matter. The interests of this country are vitally concerned, and the interests and welfare of this great staff, who are dependent on the Post Office for their livelihood, are at stake. It is not a question of Socialism or anti-Socialism that we are discussing; it is simply a question of common sense, business organisation; and if hon. Members opposite are not afraid to face the facts, they ought to welcome a com- 553 mittee of inquiry. We want a committee of inquiry, and we want its terms of reference to be as wide as possible. "We want the inquiry to be undertaken as soon as possible, and we want to ensure that its report is not-pigeon-holed. There have been in the past many sectional reports on the Post Office, and to a large extent their recommendations have been pigeon-holed. That has happened because it has been impossible to graft the methods of efficient business on to the organisation of a Government Department. A Government Department is not intended to function as a business; it is intended to administer politically. Its organisation is designed to that end, and, if you try to apply a machine designed for one purpose to a different purpose, you will not get efficient results. In that inefficiency, not only will the trade and industry of this country suffer, but also the men and women who are dependent on the industry for their livelihood.
§ Mr. G. MIDDLETON
If I had the will to attack the Post Office, I hope I should be able to make out a very much stronger case than we have heard from the other side, but I find myself in the extremely difficult position for the moment of defending where I have been accustomed to attack. The Noble Lord said that the staff of the Post Office had a good deal to be dissatisfied with, and I think I could endorse that as well as a great many other criticisms that might be levelled against the administration. But when he and his friends seek to remedy matters by taking the control away from the House of Commons and, under the guise of a public utility company, placing it in the hands of a board of directors who would manage this huge business from behind closed doors, the 230,000 people who look to the House of Commons for protection have a right to expect anyone who speaks on their behalf not to attack the Postmaster-General but to defend the Post Office from such a proposal.
The Noble Lord had an excellent opportunity for four and a-half years of putting some of the theories that he has preached to-night into operation. It would have been an easy thing for a Conservative Administration, when the telegraphists went over to the Communications company, to increase the wages of those who were left behind and were doing com- 554 parable work to the same level, but he waits until the Administration has gone out and the Labour Government comes in, and in the first few days he launches a new attack against the Post Office. I have suggested to him before that it is a bad thing to go about crying stinking fish. I think he, as an ex-Minister, ought to try to encourage a pride of possession in the Post Office. It is the greatest national asset of its kind. It is the greatest institution of its kind in the world. The hon. Member for Crewe (Mr. Bowen) pointed out that it runs so smoothly that people only find out that there is a Post Office when something goes wrong. The great outcry that we have had lately about the loss of mail bags did not make itself heard during the time of the Conservative Government. It might be useful to point out that the loss of mail bags was greater under the Conservative Administration than under the Labour Postmaster-General. There were 41 lost in 1928, and the number dropped to 27 in 1929, and I believe the drop took place synonymously with the coming in of the Labour Government. As the Noble Lord is very fond of statistics, I should like to point out that, under his chief, the percentage of mail bags lost was 00006, which dropped when the Labour party came in to 00004.
§ Mr. MIDDLETON
The moral is that the expensive system of insurance which is being preached by many newspapers would mean that protection would have to be afforded to mail bags out of all proportion to the risks, and I understand that in the business world these things are worked out on very fine lines so that you make your protection costs cover the actual risks. I think anyone who has studied the question will agree that the loss under the present system is as low as anything could reasonably be. Similarly with registered letters. Every time a banker loses a registered letter, it is used as a new means of launching an attack on the Post Office. Taking this State asset as a whole and comparing it with public companies, such as railways, the comparison is all in favour of the Post Office.
We are asked to decide between the Motion and the Amendment. The House 555 would make a fatal mistake if it listened for a moment to counsels which have for their object the transfer of the Post Office from the House of Commons to closed doors where it would be managed by a board of directors. I am surprised to find hon. Members below the Gangway supporting a Motion which is designed in the interests of big business, which is part of a scheme to create a public opinion which would enable some parts of the Post Office service to follow the beam service and be transferred to private enterprise. The Communications Company have already taken away from the Post Office the only paying part of the telegraph service, and now, if I read the signs aright, they are anxious that the latest greatest commercial development, the beam telephone, shall follow the beam telegraph. I want to warn the House that all these things are part of a carefully-woven plan to take away from the public one of its greatest assets. The Post Office makes enormous profits. There is no guarantee that under private enterprise those profits would be maintained, and there is every likelihood that the conditions of the staff would be worsened and that what goes into the Treasury at present in profits would go into the pockets of private persons.
§ Viscount WOLMER
Will the hon. Member mention a single company doing the same kind of work which pays worse wages than the Post Office?
§ Mr. MIDDLETON
The Noble Lord gets me on a raw spot when he talks about the wages of the Post Office. They are disgracefully low, and I hope, now that we have a Labour Government and a sympathetic Postmaster-General, we shall be able to look forward to an improvement in the conditions of postal workers. But I agree that it is a disgrace that the Post Office should make £9,000,000 profit a year out of the sweated labour of its employés, and, if we were discussing that question tonight, I should certainly desire to beat the Noble Lord in the competition to improve conditions. But the issue to-night is what the Noble Lord rejects. It is private enterprise versus Socialism, and it is on that issue that I hope the House will vote.
§ Mr. MANDER
It seems to me that in this Debate to-night we have had a curious reversal of the ordinary state of affairs, because the stern and unbending conservative attitude has been indicated from the other side, and I find myself in the unusual, but at the time time very agreeable, position of being in association with the radical and revolutionary reformers who sit above the Gangway. The issue to-night, to a very large extent, has been misconceived. The issue is not whether we should have nationalisation or private enterprise. That was decided a very long time ago. With regard to the Post Office itself, I believe that within its present limits it is run very well, with great ability, supported by a most loyal and devoted body of servants all over the country. I believe that to the full. The only point seems to be this: Have we said the last word with regard to forms of nationalisation? Have we learnt anything in the last 50 years? Is it not possible that we may be able to find some method of nationalisation keeping the various parts of the Post Office under public control, but in such a form as would give better results, better financial results, better wages, better employment, and greater efficiency all round? I would point out in this connection that the German Post Office, the German railways and the Belgian railways are run under the very kind of system which is being suggested in this Motion to-night.
§ Mr. MANDER
I should like to make it quite clear in anything I am saying that I am speaking solely for myself. It is not being treated as far as I know—I hope not—as a party matter, but simply from the point of view of what is the best method of dealing with this problem. I do not think for a moment that there ought to be any change in the mail side of the Post Office; that is best left as it is. With regard to telephones and telegraphs, there is a good case for inquiry to see whether some alternative method of nationalisation and public control would not be more effective from the point of view of hon. Members on the opposite side who want to get the best results from any scheme of nationalisation which may be put into operation.
§ Mr. MANDER
In this connection I should like to point out as rapidly as I can that there is an enormous variety of different systems in this country under public control and nationalisation. I do not know whether it is generally realised that there are concerns with a capital of something like £4,000,000,000, all of which are under some form of public or semi-public control. I would like to give the House some examples. National undertakings operated by the Central Government, in addition to the Post Office, are dockyards, war manufacturing departments, the Office of Works, the Royal Navy, Crown Lands, the Stationery Office, the Carlisle State Management Scheme, and the Ministry of Transport, which deals with roads that have a replacement value of £1,300,000,000; national undertakings operated by officially appointed ad hoc bodies—the British Broadcasting Corporation, the Central Electricity Board, the Forestry Commission; local undertakings operated by local authorities, with a revenue earning plant of £700,000,000—gas, electricity, water, trams and housing; local undertakings operated by officially appointed ad hoc authorities—docks and harbours—and 20 of the chief of these have a capital of £100,000,000, Port of London Authority, Mersey Docks and Harbour Board, Clyde Navigation, the Tyne Improvement Commission, and, in addition we have the Water Boards with a capital of something like £75,000,000. In London there are further examples of indirectly-elected ad hoc bodies—the Metropolitan Water Board, the Metropolitan Asylums Board, the Port of London Authority, the Thames Conservancy and other bodies of that kind.
Then there are different schemes operating under the Building Society Acts, and the Industrial and Provident Society Acts; and there is the co-operative movement as well. We have the Ecclesiastical Commissioners—that is not a private enterprise—who deal with property of the value of £50,000,000. The controllers of colleges, universities and schools deal with property worth some- 558 thing like £100,000,000, and the Charity Commissioners deal with property of the value of £250,000,000. I mention these facts to show the wide variety of methods of control, and to point out that we have a wide choice. It may be that in the years that have gone by we have learned something and have got ideas that may be very effective in dealing with this particular problem.
A great many figures have been given in regard to the telephone service of this country, showing how backward we are compared with other countries. I will not repeat any figures that have been given, but I will mention certain figures that have not been dealt with. Let us take the number of telephone communications per head. In 1927 we were thirteenth on the list. Our average was 28.6 conversations per head, compared with 221 in Canada. Take the number of telephones in London as compared with New York, cities with more or less the same population. In 1028 the number was 578,000 in London and 1,600,000 in New York. Take the case of Leeds and Minneapolis, cities of approximately the same population, and we find Leeds with 19,000 telephones and Minneapolis with 122,000. There must be some very good reason for that state of things.
In regard to the capital that is put into the telephone business every year in the way of development, we find that in this country it has come down to an average of something like £10,000,000 a year for the last four years. The increase that has been brought about by the Lord Privy Seal, in order to find work, is very small. While the amount spent for development in this country has only averaged £10,000,000 a year, the amount spent in America in the development of their telephone system is estimated this year to amount to £140,000,000 compared with £110,000,000 last year, or more than ten times as much as we spend in this country. That is very largely due to the fetters and manacles that are put upon the telephone system in this country by the Treasury, which prevent a great development of expenditure in these directions. There is a vast opportunity for development of the present system, but we cannot take advantage of it owing to these restrictions. By a proper system of propaganda and advertisement it would be possible to get 559 business all over the country, by persuading people to install telephones, which they do not know about or do not appreciate at the present time.
I am glad to have an opportunity of saying a word from these benches, although I may be the only speaker. I do urge that this question should not be looked upon as a division between Socialism and private enterprise, because it is nothing of the kind. It is an attempt to find out, by a non-party inquiry, whether there is not some alternative method of nationalisation that will give better results. This does not necessarily involve any criticism of the Post Office servants, very able men and women who conduct the affairs of that great national industry. They are doing their best within the limits of the existing system. We want to make the system more elastic and wider so that they can give still better results under happier conditions. I support the proposal for an investigation, because I believe that it will do something to give more employment in this country, to give a more efficient system, to raise money for the State, and to give those engaged in the telephone industry far wider opportunities of advancement and better wages than they can possibly hope to have under the existing system.
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH
We have had a valuable and a very friendly Debate, and I wish to thank the Mover of the Motion for giving the Post Office one of the rare opportunities it has of figuring either in questions or in debate in this House.
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH
A great number of points have been raised, and while I do not think I shall be able to deal with all of them I will endeavour to deal with the larger proportion of the criticisms which have come from hon. Members opposite. In doing so I am justified in giving the warning which seems to have aroused some indignation in the Mover of the Motion, that the fact that there is great public discussion and criticism of the Post Office is not in itself a proof that the Post Office is inefficient. The public have the right to criticise the Post Office because, unlike a private company, 560 it is their own property. When hon. Members opposite wish to hand over the Post Office to some kind of profit-making company I must say that if the great staple industries of this country, like cotton, iron, steel and coal, had had to stand up for the last 50 years to the day to day criticisms and the bombardment in this House which the Post Office has had to face, I am perfectly sure that they would not have stood the test as well as the Post Office. And they would have been saved from a good deal of that self-satisfied individualism which in the absence of criticism, has largely helped to lead them to their present position, a self-satisfied individualism which was not entirely absent from the speech of the Seconder of the Motion.
Hon. Members have made a number of references to the recent discussions on the loss of mailbags in the care of the Post Office, and I think it will be valuable if I take this opportunity of making a few observations on this matter. The number of mailbags lost and tampered with in the year 1927 was 57, in 1928 it was 76, and in 1929 it was 56, and that is about the average. The number has rather diminished during the period I have been in office, but I notice that since the Labour Government have been in office the loss of one mailbag occupies a much greater space in the newspapers than all the mailbags lost in a year under the last Government. In order that this matter should be regarded with some sense of proportion let me point out that although 56 mailbags were lost during last year 40,000,000 were carried in absolute security. As a matter of fact, if you take the proportion of losses to the value of goods carried, the losses now are less than they were before the War, and they are undoubtedly less in the Post Office than in the railway companies or any other outside organisation. As I have said I think that the public, nevertheless, have a right to complain, and they have that right because they have learnt to expect a higher standard from the Post Office than from the outside transport organisations. That high standard will be maintained.
§ Mr. GRANVILLE GIBSON
Has the right hon. Gentleman any idea of the financial losses in these mailbag thefts?
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH
Yes, I have, but for certain reasons I put it in this way: 561 Out of every £1,000,000 carried there is a loss of £50. That shows why it is the case that, as I understand, insurance companies consider it so negligible that the insurance rate is nominal. I would take this opportunity of explaining to the House what is the nature of the new problem with which the Post Office is confronted on this question. The new problem is arising from the methods which bankers are using for the purpose of sending their remittances. Before the War, when we had a gold currency, bankers sending their remittances from bank to bank and from head office to branches sent them in gold under their own protection and at their own risk. Now that we have a currency of paper notes they put notes worth thousands of pounds into an ordinary envelope, they register it for 3d., and they leave the Post Office to do the rest.
As a matter of fact the Post Office is now called upon to perform services for which it was not originally organised. It has not been expected hitherto to be the carrier of currency on a stupendous scale. This, of course, entails an extraordinary temptation to the Post Office staff, who know very well what these envelopes contain—a temptation which, I am glad to say, they have resisted. The losses are not due to the Post Office staff. The losses are due to the fact that this new development in Post Office duty is attracting the professional thief into the adventure of Post Office robbery. That confronts us with a problem which certainly had not faced us before. The Committee which was appointed by my predecessor has gone into this subject and has lately made its recommendations. I do not propose to take the House into my confidence as to what those recommendations are, but they include a number of precautions and securities which, I trust and believe, will prove effective. I may say that these precautions have necessitated the co-operation of the bankers. We have met the bankers and the banks are willing to undertake the trouble of the precautions which the new system necessitates.
I pass to some of the general criticisms which have been made against our Post Office system. Those criticisms, I notice, deal more with telephones than with the ordinary postal service which is, after all, the main business of the Depart- 562 ment. A great many figures have been given comparing our telephone rates with those of the United States, Denmark, Italy and, particularly, Sweden. Like other hon. Members I have spent a good deal of time in considering these comparative telephone rates of different countries, and on this point I have come to the same conclusion as my predecessor, namely, that these rates have such different meanings in different countries, they are given for such different kinds of services, and the conditions under which they are given vary so much, that very few useful results can be obtained from these comparisons at all. I take one instance because it has been the most frequently quoted in this Debate—the comparison with Sweden. I would point out that the Swedish rate which has been quoted is the ordinary rate, but that in Sweden, if you want to be sure that your message will go immediately, you have to pay a priority rate, which is twice the rate we have heard quoted here. [Rural rates in Sweden have also been quoted more than once; but in this country we establish a rural exchange if eight subscribers can be obtained, whereas in Sweden unless they can obtain 50 subscribers, those who wish to establish an exchange have to provide equipment, provide junction lines to the exchange, and pay the operators. Sweden has been quoted to us as an example of the method of developing rural telephones, but the fact is that, if we applied Swedish conditions to this country, the greater part of our rural telephone development would be wiped out.
A number of comparisons have been made between telephone development in this country and telephone development in the United States. Those comparisons seem to me to have little meaning. This is a small congested island. The United States is a vast continent, sparsely populated. I have been challenged by two or three speakers on a figure which seems to have got firmly into their minds. I have been told that the average capital cost of a telephone in the United States is £47 and that in this country' it is £76; and I have been told that that is the acid test of the relative efficiency of the two countries in this respect. But the House must take this into account, that undoubtedly the original capital 563 cost is greater in this country than in the United States, largely because the United States has a material part of its system above ground, whereas six-sevenths of our telephones are underground, and the initial cost is very much higher. I would point out, however, that we get the advantage of that initial increased expenditure in smaller depreciation costs and our operating costs are less, so that if you take the all-in annual cost, allowing for depreciation and interest, of a telephone in the United States and a telephone in this country, it works out at £9.17 in this country and £10.97 in the United States.
But, as I say, these comparisons cannot take you very far, and what is the fact of the matter, which every Member of this House knows is the case? The demand for telephones is partly, of course, a matter of habit and temperament, but apart from that it depends upon the population of a country and upon the income of that country. The population of the United States is double ours, and their income is a great deal move than twice that of ours. If you take any article in which the demand depends upon income and population, you will get much the same result by comparing the United States with this country, as in the case of motor cars.
I came into this House some weeks ago and listened to a Debate about electricity, and I found that hon. Members were making exactly the same speeches about electricity as they have been making to-night about telephones. I found them pointing out that we stood at such and such a place in the list of the countries of the world. I found them comparing the number of units of electricity used per head in this country with the number used in the United States, Sweden, and the other countries quoted to-night, and I listened to the answer, which was given by the late Minister of Transport, speaking from that box. This is what he said:We in this country are behindhand in electrical development …. I do not think it is the fault of any body in particular, though perhaps it is partly the fault of our national characteristic of individualism. Each and all of us like to carry on our business in our own way … and we do not, so quickly as other nations, combine together for mass enterprise, whether 564 it be municipal, national, or under private auspices."—[OFFICIAL REPORT 11th December, 1929; col. 508, Vol. 233.]We have been attacked by a number of Members to-night on the whole ground of the system of telephone finance. You have to look at these questions not by-taking the telephones by then selves, but by comparing them with the other industries of the country, and if you do that, you find that our telephone finance has been a great deal sounder than the finance of most of the staple industries of this land. Look at the position of telephones. They are an expanding industry, an industry with an increasing demand, an industry which is bound to develop. An industry in that position a few years ago, if it had been in private hands, would undoubtedly have suffered from over-capitalisation. Take the cotton industry, with the re-flotation of mills and the over-capitalisation, for which it is paying the penalty to-day. Take even the motor industry. Although the technique of the motor industry has been quite progressive, the finance of the motor companies is, on the whole, most disappointing, because of the over-capitalisation which followed in the boom years immediately after the War.
The telephones, on the other hand, have been subject to the same temptation; they have been given the same advice. They are given that advice in the newspapers this morning by the Telephone Development Association; they are given it in the Liberal "Yellow Book," but they have not given way. They have steadily expanded about 8 per cent. every year; they have expanded more rapidly than any other country in the world except Australia, but they have done so continuously, steadily and evenly, without those booms and slumps which have been the curse of industry. I should take the opportunity of saying that the reason that the telephone industry has not made the same mistakes as other industries in the same position is because Postmasters-General have accepted the advice of their administrative advisers, those men who, as has been frequently said to-night, have not business ability.
I am defending the postal and telephone administration, but I do not wish it to be thought that, because I am now defending them against attack, I say that the Post Office is without any faults at all. I do not say that. What I do say is that, 565 so far as faults are revealed in the Post Office, the Post Office system enables us to correct those faults more readily than faults are corrected in private industry.
A good many references have been made to these Post Office commercial accounts. They show a surplus of £9,000,000, the highest surplus ever made in the history of the Department, and it is worth while remembering the simple fact that that surplus is going to the public benefit, instead of to increase those big profits which the Noble Lord has been pointing out to the commercial organisations whom he has addressed. It is important to point out, however, how these profits have been secured. They have not been secured by the increase in the revenue of the ordinary postal services, which are, so to speak, the easy money which the Post Office secures. They have been secured by a saving of £500,000 in the deficit on the telegraphs, in the saving of which almost half has come from improvements in administration, organisation and technique. Almost another £500,000 has come from the increased revenues on the telephones, an increase which has been due to a lowering of engineering costs and an improvement in engineering standards. Here you have an example of the fact that whatever criticisms are directed against the Post Office, those criticisms are being met by the present Post Office system. But compare these remarkable results with the other industries which are held up to us as an example. Compare them with the coalmining industry.
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH
I will deal with that point. To illustrate my argument, in an industry like the Post Office when reforms are needed, they can be carried through because there is a central authority able to force them through, but when you come to the coal mines, the cotton trade, and the iron and steel trades, which are not monopolistic, then, although they suffer from evils of internal organisation, those evils cannot be cor- 566 rected, because the interest of each individual firm is not necessarily that of the whole. The larger part of one Session of this House is taken up in doing for those industries, through State action, what they cannot do for themselves.
The Noble Lord made certain references to myself, and I do not intend to make any lengthy reference to him. I will only say that if he had been an official in the cotton industry, or the coalmining industry or the iron and steel trade, he would have been able to paint just as black a picture as he has of the Post Office to-night. Supposing he had been one of those officials and had become dissatisfied, and, nevertheless, had not lifted a finger to remove any of the evils which he found, and supposing he kept his position until he was turned out, then went and attacked his firm in the Press with the information he had obtained while in his official position. I venture to say he would have been able to draw a far blacker picture than any he has been able to draw of the Post Office.
There is one last thing about this Debate which I have noticed. It has been concentrated on telephones. Very few criticisms have been directed against the postal service, and I am convinced that if you took the opinion of foreign observers they would not agree with many of the criticisms in this Debate. In my first few weeks of office I found the Postal Union Congress sitting in London, representative, I think, of every country in the world, and I could not help being proud of the supreme position, the supreme prestige, which the British Post Office occupied; it showed that the foreign representatives there did not share the views of the Noble Lord. I am also glad to notice that when other States, such as South American Republics like Peru, want an administrator to come in from outside to control and reform their post office system they come to the British Post Office and do not go to the United States or any of those other countries for which the Noble Lord has an admiration so much greater than for our own service.
§ Sir CHARLES OMAN
I wish to take up and to deal with for two minutes the challenge of the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster-General. He said that nobody had criticised the postal service to any great extent. I will give him a 567 criticism which I think is crushing. Before the War telegrams cost 6d. and letters were carried for 1d. A telegram now costs 1s. and the postage on letters is l½d. As the prices have been raised, surely the amenities and conveniences ought to have been proportionately raised; but the very reverse is the case, and we have in fact a very much worse service. I represent here a town of 70,000 inhabitants. It had seven posts a day before the War and now has only four. It had a post at 7 in the evening and another post at 10 o'clock in the evening; it now has no post after 4 o'clock in the afternoon. I know a cathedral town in the south of England which has no post after 2 o'clock. Do you call that efficiency? You charge a
§ great deal more for a much worse service. A letter to me posted in Sussex Square, London, at 11 o'clock on Saturday morning did not reach me until 8 o'clock on Tuesday morning. A letter posted in a village 19 miles from Oxford on Friday afternoon was not delivered in Oxford until Monday morning. Only 19 mile away ! Do you call that efficiency? saw know nothing less efficient than [...]British Post Office at the present mom[...] In regard to the delivery of letters, I[...] that the efficiency of the British [...] Office since the War has decreased, decreasing and ought to be improved.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 51; Noes, 187.569
|Division No. 158.]||AYES.||[11.0 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Gower, Sir Robert||Ross, Major Ronald D.|
|Albery, Irving James||Greene, W. P. Crawford||Salmon, Major I.|
|Atkinson, C.||Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Baillie-Hamilton, Hon. Charles W.||Gunston, Captain D. W.||Sandeman, Sir N. Stewart|
|Beaumont, M. W.||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down)|
|Bevan, S. J. (Holborn)||Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.||Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's U., Belfst)|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Skelton, A. N.|
|Bowyer, Captain Sir George E. W.||Kindersley, Major G. M.||Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)|
|Bracken, B.||King, Commodore Rt. Hon. Henry D.||Smith, R. W.(Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham)||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Butler, R. A.||Little, Dr. E. Graham||Todd, Capt. A. J.|
|Crichton-Stuart, Lord C.||Llewellin, Major J. J.||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. Lambert|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. C.||Mander, Geoffrey le M.||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.)||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)||Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount|
|Ford, Sir P. J.||Nathan, Major H. L.||Womersley, W. J.|
|Forestier-Walker, Sir L.||Oman, Sir Charles William C.|
|Gault, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton||Penny, Sir George||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Gibson, C. G. (Pudsey & Otley)||Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall)||Mr. Ramsbotham and Mr. Mond.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)||Clarke, J. S.||Hardie, George D.|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon|
|Alpass, J. H.||Compton, Joseph||Haycock, A. W.|
|Ammon, Charles George||Daggar, George||Hayday, Arthur|
|Arnott, John||Dallas, George||Hayes, John Henry|
|Aske, Sir Robert||Dalton, Hugh||Henderson, Thomas (Glasgow)|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Herriotts, J.|
|Ayles, Walter||Denman, Hon. R. D.||Hirst, G. H. (York W. R. Wentworth)|
|Baker, John (Wolverhampton, Bilston)||Dickson, T.||Hollins, A.|
|Baldwin, Oliver (Dudley)||Dudgeon, Major C. R.||Hopkin, Daniel|
|Barnes, Alfred John||Dukes, C.||Johnston, Thomas|
|Batey, Joseph||Duncan, Charles||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)|
|Beckett, John (Camberwell, Peckham)||Ede, James Chuter||Jowett, Rt. Hon. F. W.|
|Benson, G.||Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Jowitt, Rt. Hon. Sir W. A.|
|Bentham, Dr. Ethel||Edwards, E. (Morpeth)||Kelly, W. T.|
|Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||Elmley, Viscount||Kennedy, Thomas|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Foot, Isaac||Kinley, J.|
|Broad, Francis Alfred||Forgan, Dr. Robert||Kirkwood, D.|
|Bromfield, William||Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton)||Knight, Holford|
|Brooke, W.||Gibson, H. M. (Lancs. Mossley)||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George|
|Brothers, M.||Gill, T. H.||Lathan, G.|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts. Mansfield)||Gillett, George M.||Law, A. (Rossendale)|
|Buchanan, G.||Gossling, A. G.||Lawrence, Susan|
|Burgess, F. G.||Gould, F.||Lawrie, Hugh Hartley (Stalybridge)|
|Buxton, C. R. (Yorks. W. R. Elland)||Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Lawson, John James|
|Caine, Derwent Hall-||Groves, Thomas E.||Lawther, W. (Barnard Castle)|
|Cameron, A. G.||Grundy, Thomas W.||Leach, W.|
|Carter, W. (St. Pancras, S. W.)||Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||Lewis, T. (Southampton)|
|Charleton, H. C.||Hall, Capt. W. P. (Portsmouth, C.)||Logan, David Gilbert|
|Chater, Daniel||Hamilton, Mary Agnes (Blackburn)||Longden, F.|
|Lovat-Fraser, J. A.||Paling, Wilfrid||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)|
|Lowth, Thomas||Palmer, E. T.||Smith, Frank (Nuneaton)|
|Lunnn, William||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Smith, H. B. Lees (Keighley)|
|Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||Perry, S. F.||Smith, Rennie (Penistone)|
|MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||Smith, Tom (Pontefract)|
|McElwee, A.||Phillips, Dr. Marlon||Smith, W. R. (Norwich)|
|McEntee, V. L.||Picton-Turbervill, Edith||Snell, Harry|
|McKinlay, A.||Pole, Major D. G.||Snowden, Thomas (Accrington)|
|MacLaren, Andrew||Potts, John S.||Sorensen, R.|
|Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Price, M. P.||Stephen, Campbell|
|McShane, John James||Pybus, Percy John||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)|
|Malone, C. L' Estrange (N'thampton)||Quibell, D. J. K.||Strachey, E. J. St. Loe|
|Marcus, M.||Ramsay, T. B. Wilson||Strauss, G. R.|
|Marley, J.||Richards, R.||Sullivan, J.|
|Marshall, Fred||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Sutton, J. E.|
|Mathers, George||Ritson, J.||Taylor, W. B. (Norfolk, S. W.)|
|Matters, L. W.||Romeril, H. G.||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Maxton, James||Rosbotham, D. S. T.||Toole, Joseph|
|Messer, Fred||Rowson, Guy||Townend, A. E.|
|Middleton, G.||Salter, Dr. Alfred||Turner, B.|
|Mills, J. E.||Sanders, W. S.||Viant, S. P.|
|Milner, J.||Sandham, E.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Morgan, Dr. H. B.||Sawyer, G. F.||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)|
|Morley, Ralph||Scrymgeour, E.||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Morrison, Herbert (Hackney, South)||Scurr, John||Welsh, James C. (Coatbridge)|
|Mort, D. L.||Sexton, James||West, F. R.|
|Mosley, Sir Oswald (Smethwick)||Shepherd, Arthur Lewis||Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood)|
|Muff, G.||Sherwood, G. H.||Whiteley, William (Blaydon)|
|Muggeridge, H. T.||Shield, George William||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Murnin, Hugh||Shiels, Dr. Drummond||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)|
|Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Shillaker, J. F.||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Oliver, P. M. (Man., Blackley)||Simmons, C. J.|
|Palin, John Henry||Smith, Alfred (Sunderland)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Mr. Bowen and Mr. Wallace.|
Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ Several hon. Members rose—
§ It being after Eleven of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER proceeded to interrupt the Business.
That whilst this House will welcome any improvements in the postal, telegraphic, and telephone services, it declares that the continuation of the present high standard of these services is dependent upon the maintenance of the Post Office as a national institution subject to the control of Parliament.