Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £37,939,000, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the
year ending on the 31st day of March, 1934, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Post Office, including Telegraphs and Telephones."—[Note.—£221,500,000 has been voted on account.]
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ The POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Sir Kingsley Wood)
The presentation of the Post Office Estimates is generally distinguished by one particular feature. One occupying my position generally makes a preliminary apology in respect of the method of the presentation of Post Office affairs to the Committee. While it is true that the Post Office Vote ensures Parliamentary control, it cannot give and does not purport to give a true account of Post Office business and activity. It is to the commercial accounts of the Post Office that one must turn in order to get a real and proper presentment of the position of the business of my Department. Unfortunately, it is not, and has not been possible for some time, for these commercial accounts to be presented to the House of Commons until the end of the year. For that reason, I have issued a White Paper which gives a financial statement, which, while it is provisional and subject to adjustment, gives, I think, a better and more intelligent picture of the state of affairs of the Post Office.
The Committee will see from this statement, which I anticipate will, in the result, be found to be fairly accurate, that so far as the postal services are concerned there is a surplus this year of some £11,106,000, compared with £10,869,500 for 1931–32. As regards the telegraph service, there has been little change in the position. The deficit on that service was £809,574 the previous year, and for 1932-33 it is £876,000. On the telephone service there is a surplus of £562,000, compared with £571,848 the previous year. For all services combined we anticipate a surplus of £10,792,00, as compared with £10,631,794 for the previous year.
The business of the Post Office is, as my right hon. Friends know, something in the nature of a barometer from which can be read many of the conditions and prospects of the country to-day. Like many other countries, we have suffered for some time from the prevailing depression, but I think our accounts reveal the inherent stability and soundness of the country, and in many respects show signs of returning prosperity. The postal 2247 receipts have a special significance. For many years postal revenue has shown an upward trend, but in October, 1930, the trend was reversed, and for a period of nearly two years—until August last—there appeared a small but an almost unvarying decline. I am glad to say that in September last the tide turned, and once again the postal revenue figures have been showing a consistent increase. The public telegraph service revenue has been falling very considerably for some years, but in the latter months of last year the rate of decline was much less, in the first five months of this year it was stationary, and in January and February this service showed an increase. The figures for the telephone service would have been much better but for the number of cessations, which were not surprising having regard to the times in which we are living. But the net increase in telephone stations in the quarter from January to March, 1933, was 17,825, which exceeds by nearly 3,000 the figure for the corresponding quarter of the previous year, and the interesting part of these figures is that this increase was largely due to the reduction in the number of cessations. I am also glad to say that for the first months of 1933 the number of telephone subscribers showed an increase of some 15 per cent. over the number for the corresponding period last year.
Another welcome sign of the times is the position of the Post Office Savings Bank. It has well over £300,000,000 standing to the credit of its 9,500,000 depositors, and to this must be added some £200,000,000 of Government securities held for Post Office depositors. One in every four of the population of Great Britain is making use of this bank and it is an interesting thing, when one considers whether the conditions of our people are improving or not, to note that there are 1,000,000 more "live "accounts to-day than there were in 1912, and that the average balance standing to the credit of each depositor is 50 per cent. more than it was 20 years ago. I think that is one of the best pieces of evidence not only of the strength of our country but the sagacity and common sense of our people.
The gross turnover of the Post Office is the tremendous sum of £760,000,000. The figures not only show the course of 2248 Post Office business but provide indications of the industrial and social conditions of our times. More letters than ever are being written in the British Isles. Nearly 7,000,000,000 postage stamps were sold last year. Circulars are evidently proving of increasing importance to many business concerns. In London alone there were posted in 1932, in batches, nearly 348,000,000 circulars, and there was a single posting of 2,500,000. It is also a fact that it is not always the Post Office that makes mistakes. Every week in London 400,000 letters are posted in the wrong box. The parcel post, I am glad to say, is fairly steady. During the year some 152,000,000 parcels were carried by the Post Office, as against 158,000,000 in the previous year. People are using postal orders for a variety of purposes. Nearly 50,000,000 sixpenny and shilling postal orders were issued last year, out of a total of 210,000,000 of all denominations.
§ Sir K. WOOD
Out of 36,000,000 telegrams handled last year, no fewer than 11,500,000 were dictated by senders over the telephone, which shows that the telegraph and telephone are being more and more used in conjunction. Naturally our Continental telephone traffic has been considerably affected by industrial depression, and I am sorry to say the Anglo Continental telephone traffic is about 25 per cent. less than it was before the autumn of 1931, but, on the other hand, the number of overseas calls handled at the London trunk exchange was last year about 1,200,000. Wireless is becoming more and more popular, and the number of broadcasting licences in force on the 30th June last was 5,598,078. The air mail is being increasingly used in this country. During the last five years the weight of letters carried by air has increased by nearly 300 per cent. and the Indian mail which was despatched on 12th December was the largest air mail ever despatched from this country.
I would like now to say a few words about a number of new services and improvements of certain services which have recently been effected recently. The inland sample post has been restored, with the object of further promoting the use of home-manufactured goods. Great Britain was practically the only important 2249 country without such a post in its inland service, and it certainly was not helpful to British business that a sample could, for instance, be sent from Japan to London for a much less sum than a sample sent from one to another of our own cities. I am glad to say that the introduction of that service has already proved to be a considerable success and of value to many traders. The annual traffic is estimated to be already over 20,000,000 packets. There were many people who prophesied that things would not go well, but I am glad to say that the service is working smoothly, and there is no evidence of it being abused.
The business reply packet service, which enables a person who wishes to obtain a reply from a client to do so without putting the client to the cost of paying the postage, and without the stamps provided being used for other purposes, has proved of considerable value. Already some 6,000 licences have been issued, and applications for the use of this particular service are being received at the rate of 150 a week. I was very glad to see a statement from one of the London business houses the other day that they had made the experiment of mailing 450,000 address cards, half of which were printed reply cards upon which postage is repaid, and the other half requiring a halfpenny stamp. Of the replies received, the business reply cards exceeded the ordinary cards by more than 30 per cent., which is some testimony to the value of the new service. The night telegraph letter service has been improved and extended, and telephone subscribers are now able to dictate up to midnight a letter to almost every town which has a head post office at a specially reduced rate, and the message is taken down and delivered next morning by first post, or early by special messenger. Other improvements have been made in the express delivery service, and in facilities for the issue and payment of telegraph orders on Sundays.
Many improvements have also been made at the Savings Bank. A highly successful sixpenny stamp savings scheme has been introduced at the Savings Bank, and already some 800,000 books have been issued, designed not only for savings, but for wise spending. The new travellers warrants and cruising credits for Post Office depositors which give them further facilities on their holidays for obtaining 2250 payments on their account, have already proved popular and useful. I think that the other distinguishing feature of the Savings Bank during the last 12 months has been that the Bank's facilities have now been extended to the Navy.
I would like to say a word on the question of reduction of charges. I have been constantly pressed, as all my predecessors have been, to restore the penny post, to reduce the cost of telephone charges, and to reduce the cost of telegraph charges, and I may frankly say that if I bad acceded to one-tenth of those requests, the Post Office would have been in Carey Street. I recognise, of course, the desirability of reducing charges whenever it is prudent and financially possible to do so, and we have made a number of minor reductions in the charges during the last two years. Special rates for Air Mail post cards have been introduced, a new scale for parcels sent by air has just been introduced, and the Air Mail fees to the Dutch East Indies have been reduced. We have reduced the charges for ship letter telegrams, and also for tourists' radio telegrams and the charges for private lines. So far as the telephone is concerned, there have been reduced charges for certain classes of private lines and for extension lines, and also for the hand microphone. I wish I could have done more, but I think that all those in this Committee who stand for business management of the Post Office will agree that I must have regard to the financial side, particularly of the telephone and telegraph accounts.
During the last 12 months—and I would specially like to call attention to this—there have been many technical and important scientific developments at the Post Office in which the Post Office engineers can legitimately claim to have taken a very prominent part. I was particularly gratified, and so was the whole Post Office, when that great man Marconi a few days ago paid a tribute to the British Post Office and its chief officials for all that they had done in helping to make radio an efficient medium of universal communication. He referred particularly to the fact that England had been the first country to construct shortwave beam stations for wireless telegraphic communication throughout the Empire.
One of the most interesting of recent developments has been the increas- 2251 ing use of the same lines and cables for the dual use of telegraphy and telephony. The extensive trunk telephone service of the country is able to provide to-day, without any sacrifice of telephone facilities, multitudes of line channels capable of serving for telegraph purposes also, and, I think most interesting and far-reaching of all, has been the utilisation of very short radio waves of the order of five metres in length or less for short-distance communication. Across the Bristol Channel, between Cardiff and Weston-super-Mare, linked with the inland telephone system, a regular commercial service has been introduced for the first time on a wave length of 4.8 metres in one direction and 5.1 in the other. Experience suggests that this system is likely to have a wide field of application for communication, at any rate over short sea routes.
The Post Office can do, and I think is doing, a good -deal to help British trade and industry at the present time. Our requirements for supplies of all kinds are naturally very extensive, and have reached a value of about £8,000,000 a year. I am glad to say that the apparatus of foreign manufacture bought by the Post Office represents less than one-half per cent. of the total. Practically all the money expended on new telephone exchanges and their equipment, apart from imported raw materials such as copper, is spent in this country. I think I can also claim that the Post Office has been preparing for a trade revival rather than waiting for it, and has steadily followed a policy of expansion and modernisation. In regard to telephones, for instance, the annual construction programme in relation to telephone development has built up a large reserve of plant. To-day there is no waiting list, and with suitable distribution we are in a position to provide for some 700,000 additional telephones.
With regard to the provision of automatic exchanges, it is the policy of the Post Office to instal automatic exchanges when extensions are required, or the effective life of the manual exchange is exhausted, and we are about to accelerate the conversion to automatic working of a number of exchanges where the existing cost has proved abnormally high, and where the economies from automatic working fully compensate for the extra 2252 capital cost of the automatic plant. With the consent of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, three exchange orders will be immediately placed, during the present financial year, to the value of some £500,000 for the replacement of the City (London), Central (London) and the Midland (Birmingham) exchanges. I have also taken steps, in view of the circumstances of the time, to accelerate our Post Office building programme. Steady progress is being made with the erection of new Post Office buildings, with the reconstruction of a number upon modern lines and with the general scheme for improving the appearance and condition of post offices. Next year it is hoped that the enlargement of the sorting office at Mount Pleasant will be completed, and it will then be the largest sorting office in the world. Again with the approval of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and in conjunction with my right hon. Friend the First Commissioner of Works, steps are being taken to accelerate certain postal building schemes, and, wherever practicable, an earlier start will be made on schemes already included in this year's programme, and a number of other schemes, which would normally fall into next year's programme, will be put in hand during the present financial year. Those measures are expected to result in additional expenditure estimated at £50,000 for this year, and £200,000 for next year. At any rate, I hope that in those two directions the Committee will support the acceleration of the Post Office programme.
I want to say a word about the telephone, because the largest number of questions addressed to me during the last few months has been devoted to that particular branch of the service, and therefore I think it is perhaps desirable that I should say a few words about the position of that service. Last year was the first year in the history of the telephone in which there was an actual decrease in the number of telephones throughout the world. In 1932 and last year there was a decrease of over 2,000,000 telephone stations throughout the world. There were large losses in America, Germany and other countries. So far as the position here is concerned, I am not unmindful for a moment that there is a great deal of leeway to make up. We are far too low down the list of the telephone countries of the world, but it is, I think, 2253 some satisfaction that Great Britain increased its stations last year by 66,293, and, at any rate, we have just passed our immediate rival in that particular direction—Germany—for this country has now 4.63 telephones for each 100 of the population, as against 4.57 in Germany.
I am also glad to say that we are having a different type of subscriber in the people who are now taking the telephone. I do not like to describe it as a. lower class, but it is a different class from those who have hitherto subscribed to the telephone service, and that, I think, is one of the most hopeful signs in this country. Considerable attention has also been paid to the position in rural areas, where there is still a good deal to be done, but small rural automatic exchanges are now being rapidly erected at the rate of well over one a. day. While there were only nine of such exchanges four years ago, to-day there are 1,034. There have been great extensions in the telephone service itself. Twenty-one years ago when the State took over from the National Telephone Company, it was a national service; to-day it is an international service. London can rightly claim to be the switchboard of the world. There have been considerable improvements, for instance, in the extension of the "on-demand "trunk service, which enables one simply by lifting the receiver, at any rate in a great many cases, to be immediately put through to our great provincial and other centres.
I am glad to be able to announce this afternoon that it is hoped at the end of October to bring in a. limited scheme, as a first step towards the extension of demand working to the Anglo-Continental services, of on-demand working between London and certain cities on the Continent. On-demand working will be available, in the first place, from the -London telephone area, outside the busy hours of the day, to those Continental cities which are connected with London by trunk service, and to the neighbouring places which are within the no-delay area of those cities. That is, of course, a very important step, so far as the extension of the service is concerned. I ought at once freely to acknowledge that we owe in no small degree whatever success has been obtained with regard to the extension of many of our services during the last year or two to the publicity cam- 2254 paigns of the Post Office, and I want to thank the Publicity Committee which was appointed and chosen by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee). That committee has on it some distinguished men, and 1 want to thank them for the voluntary service which they have given during the last two years.
Last year saw the commencement of national advertising by the Post Office for the telephone service. So successful has it been, that advertising has now been extended to the Savings Bank, the air mail and the telegraph services. We have done a great deal of useful publicity through exhibitions, films and salesmanship, and various publicity efforts of that kind. The Post Office bad a stand at the Advertising Exhibition that has just been held. It is desirable and necessary in my judgment, to continue publicity efforts of this kind, both in bad times as well as in good.
I want to say a word or two on the report of Lord Bridgeman's Committee concerning the Post Office. The Government are indebted to the work of the Committee, which they regard as a very valuable contribution to Post Office administration and advance. Many hon. Members know that the report contained a number of main recommendations and that there were also a number of detailed suggestions, such as those relating to internal reorganisation, which the Committee advised should be examined and considered by the appropriate Post Office authority. Those recommendations were considered by the Government, and the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer devoted to them a good deal of time and showed a considerable interest in them. In the result, the main recommendations, as I announced at the time, were approved by the Cabinet, and I am glad to say that progress has already been made in many directions and that a number of them have already been adopted and put into operation.
The new financial relationships between the Exchequer and the Post Office have recently been the subject of legislation. They give the Post Office some portion at least, it is hoped, of its additional and increasing earnings, and, for the first time in Post Office history, will give the Department an interest in its profits and an incentive and encouragement still 2255 further to serve its millions of customers. A strong advisory council has been appointed which is already functioning well. It meets regularly and is being consulted on Post Office questions of policy. Members are themselves enabled to raise matters for discussion on the agenda. Further steps with the object of bringing the Post Office into closer eon-tact with the public in the Provinces have already been taken. I have had the opportunity of consultation with the President and others of the British Chambers of Commerce and we are now setting up or reconstituting certain provincial Post Office advisory committees to cover all Post Office activities where local difficulties may be discussed, with a view to a more prompt and satisfactory method of their disposal. The recommendations in relation to the Stationery Office have been adopted and put into operation. A start has been made in connection with the employment of women telephonists in the evening hours. Progress has also continued to be made by bringing about a still closer association of telegraph and telephone administration. There has been for some time now—it started in the time of the hon. Member for Limehouse—a systematic training of certain Post Office personnel. Already further decentralisation has been put into operation.
Important recommendations were made by the Bridgeman Committee in relation to the relaxation of certain Treasury controls. The committee pointed out that there were a number of references to the Treasury which might well be left to the discretion of the Postmaster-General, and that many of them were purely formal. It is obvious that the Post Office cannot be wholly independent, or the Postmaster-General be left with an uncontrolled power to disburse large sums of public money. The Post Office, as well as being a commercial concern, is a national institution and an important cog in the machinery of government. Its organisation on the clerical and administrative side has generally to conform to the structure and general regulations and conditions of the Civil Service. It has long been obvious that a great deal of labour and correspondence is occupied between the two Departments with more or less formal applications, and that certain inter-departmental arrangements are clearly out of date. I am able to 2256 announce that the principle has been accepted that any change of Post Office policy involving financial implications should be submitted to the Treasury, with adequate information to enable financial criticism to be directed upon it. That is right and proper. It has also been agreed that, when that policy or change of policy is finally approved, the Post Office should be left a considerably larger measure of autonomy in carrying it out. In future, the Treasury will direct its attention more to the financial consequences of the policy prepared by the Post Office and of future programmes of expenditure, than to administrative details.
To take an illustration, which I will give this afternoon because although this may not be a matter of great general interest, it is of interest to those working at the Post Office. The Post Office will supply to the Treasury, with the annual programme of expenditure, particulars of such matters as buildings and capital works. This programme will be discussed departmentally, and once it has been approved, the Treasury will normally be satisfied with a detailed examination of only such of the individual works as involve large capital commitments. I could tell tales, and could add chapters to the book of my Noble Friend the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer), on this side of the matter, but as long as these principles are freely adopted by the two Departments, as I believe they will be, it will be a useful step forward. No doubt when experience has been gained of the practical working of the new system, other points will emerge to which the process of delegation can safely be extended. I thing I have said sufficient on these matters this afternoon, but I will privately give to any hon. Member who is interested in the subject more particulars of the important progress that has been made in this connection.
I have devoted some time to the examination of the important suggestions of the Bridgeman Committee in relation to internal reorganisation and decentralisation. The committee strongly emphasised this matter in their report. I have received various deputations, who have put various views before me, and all of those views will receive consideration. I regard this matter as one of considerable importance in bringing the Post Office into line with modern business and commercial con- 2257 ditions. When the matter is in final shape—the Committee will appreciate that all these things take a great deal of time —I shall put them before the Post Office Board which is to be constituted, and other bodies, so far as their particular interests are concerned. I hope that the Committee will recognise that in the comparatively short time since the report was considered and approved by the Cabinet, considerable progress bas been made. There is no intention of pigeon-holing any portion of the report.
I do not want to trespass on the time of the Committee this afternoon, particularly as we have a comparatively short time for the discussion of the Vote. I recognise that we have been able to show some progress in Post Office affairs during the last year or two, but that there is still much to be done. Such progress and improvement as has been effected during the year would have been difficult, and could only have been fully accomplished by good will and co-operation within the Post Office itself. I want to express my indebtedness to my predecessors in office—to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Limehouse, who was particularly interested in telephone development during the short time he was there, to the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) who was Assistant Postmaster-General and whom I was very sorry to lose, and to the present Assistant Postmaster-General, who has thrown himself whole-heartedly and devotedly into the interests of. the Department. I thank my noble Friend the Member for Aldershot for many of the suggestions which he has made. It is a curious feature of the Post Office that ex-Postmasters-General have felt compelled to write a book and reveal their souls in a much more candid fashion than when they occupied that position. Perhaps when my time comes I may be able to write a book about it—if the censor will allow me.
I would like to speak of the staff of the Post Office. The public estimation of this great Department depends in no small degree upon their work and assiduity, and due credit has not always been given to their faithful and efficient service. Criticisms there should rightly be. Mistakes are made and blunders occur. Many of our services require cooperation between the public and the Post Office, and the faults are not always 2258 on one side. A particularly fine effort on the part of the staff of the Savings Bank was made in connection with the Conversion Loan. I am glad to say, in order to show that there is initiative and enterprise in the Post Office, that we have received over 8,000 ideas for the improvement of the service in the last 12 months from the manipulative staff. A voluntary effort on the part of the employé;s of the Post Office, apart from the efforts of the regular canvassing staff, secured to the telephone department during the last 18 months orders for 7,315 exchange lines and extensions, and 25,655 orders for minor apparatus. During the blizzard, in February, which caused such widespread damage to Post Office plant, the officers concerned, of all ranks, displayed remarkable energy and initiative, sparing no effort to make good the damage and maintain and restore the public service. In a number of bandit raids and attacks on post offices, men and women in charge have shown considerable bravery and courage.
I only want to say this in conclusion. The Post Office is a monopoly. It has its advantages and its defects. But, for mistakes and omissions and failures, it is right that the Postmaster-General of the day should be blamed. I gladly testify that during my term of office I have found much good work, loyalty, and keenness in the Post Office. Speaking for myself, I recognise that there could be nothing worse to-day than a complacent Postmaster-General, that the best advertisement in the world is a satisfied customer, and that, after all, the Post Office was made for man, and not man for the Post Office.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I beg to move, to reduce the Vote by £100.
I should like to congratulate, as I am sure the whole Committee will congratulate, the Postmaster-General on his extremely interesting statement. It is a pity, to my mind, that we are to have but a rather limited time at our disposal for this discussion, but the Postmaster-General has obviously tried to rise to the occasion, because he took us through a mass of facts with the speed of an air mail, and it was not always easy to follow him. At all events, however, throughout his course he was not flying through any clouds, and there seemed to be fair 2259 weather all the way. I should like, in passing, to thank him for his kind remarks with regard to his predecessors, including myself. Everyone who goes to the Post Office becomes interested, and tries to add his contribution to the good of the service, and, from the general review which the right hon. Gentleman has given, I think that all those who have been at the Post Office will be pleased with the progress that has been made in so many respects.
It is extremely satisfactory that the postal business has kept up so well in this period of depression. Taking, for instance, the telephones, and looking at what is happening in other countries, it cannot be said that it is simply because we were behind as compared with other countries that we have managed to increase our business while that of others has fallen off. It has been due to very hard work on the part of the Post Office staff, and by that I mean, not only the sales staff, but the technical staff And the work of the Advertising Committee. It is extraordinarily creditable that that work was kept up, because it is well known that during these past few years numbers of people have been obliged to give up their telephones, while many more have been tempted to do so, And it has only been by hard work that they have been induced to continue. I should like also to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on some of the new services that have been instituted, like the inland sample post and the business reply service. Many of these business reply postcards are now sent to Members of Parliament, and one is not faced, as one used to be, with the alternative of putting them into the waste-paper basket if they had no stamp on them, or wondering whether one should write or steal the stamp if they had one. That service has justified itself, as has also the night telegraph letter service.
I was very pleased to hear the remarks of the Postmaster-General with regard to the acceleration of the building programme—in fact, the Post Office's public works. I am glad to see that there is no Runcimanism in his policy. I do not want to touch upon the tender questions which will come up later in the week, but, whatever opinions there may be in the Government, we recognise that the right hon. Gentleman is on the side 2260 of the angels in this matter of public works. I should have liked a little more information with regard to the new type of subscriber. One always recognises that, among the large population who have no telephone in this country, there are many people to whom a telephone is not of a very great amount of use, and I should like to know what classes of the population are now coming in on the telephone, and also in what areas. I should also like to know whether the new rural telephone exchanges are filling up with subscribers. It has been the policy of the Post Office to yield to the clamours of many back-bench Members of Parliament who have urged that telephone exchanges should be put up all over the countryside. In some cases the people of the locality have played up, but in others they have not, and, as everybody knows, unless you get a fairly full number of subscribers, those exchanges involve a loss. I should like to know whether the calling rate has gone up in the rural exchanges, because there are still numbers of people in this country who think that, if they give one call a week, they are thoroughly sustaining their local telephone exchange. I was interested to hear about the extension of the "On Demand" system.
I do not want to take up much of the time of the Committee, because our time is short, but there are one or two points that I wish to raise. I recognise that there has not been much time, since the Bridgeman Committee reported, to put their main proposals into force, but the right hon. Gentleman has scored a success in getting a change in the financial relationship. I should like to know whether he is proposing to set up the Functional Committee in the Post Office in at all the near future. I think that very much depends upon that, and I was a little frightened at one word that the right hon. Gentleman used, when he said it was necessary that the Post Office should continue with the structure of the Civil Service. I do not think it does need the structure of the Civil Service. Perhaps, however, he did not really mean that. I think that perhaps he only meant that it had to be in some degree subject to the Treasury. I certainly think that in the case of the Post Office we have to get away to a large extent from the structure of the Civil Service. That is one big change. In the second place, I 2261 should like to ask what progress will be made in getting closer co-ordination between the headquarters staff and the staff in the provinces. The recommendations were made so that the Secretariat should not be a class apart, but should have practical service, and I should like to know whether any beginnings have been made in that direction.
There are two special points with which I want to deal. One is with regard to the question of Post Office pay. I recognise that the Postmaster-General is in the same position as any other Postmaster-General, that is to say, that he has to deal with the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and I think that, looking at the Financial Statement, one must recognise that, in the difficult financial conditions, the Post Office has manfully played its part in assisting the finances of the country. There are, however, considerations which the right hon. Gentleman should take into account when he is dealing with the staff. In the first place, there is the question of the lower-paid men. I am well aware of the difficulties in that regard; everyone who has been at the Post Office knows them; but I think there is a case for raising the standard of a number of the lower-paid men. I am not going to elaborate that point, because that will be done by others.
The second point that I want specially to make is with regard to the part-time men. I know that that has always been a very difficult subject, but it has become a much more burning one owing to the increased unemployment. The old theory was that people could be employed part-time on Post Office work, and that they could manage to get some sort of other employment to bring them up to a full wage. That may have happened in some places and at some time before the War, but I believe that at the present time it is exceedingly difficult for anyone to get part-time work, and, although the Post Office make inquiries, when they are taking on a man, as to whether he is going to get other part-time work, I am quite sure that a, very large number of men who are employed part-time are really trying to live on their part-time pay. Everybody recognises what the result of that is. The result is that you have a number of people on a part-time basis with a part-time wage, and that the economic conditions are such that they 2262 cannot get other remunerative employment, so that a large portion of the staff is sweated. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will make a very close investigation into the whole question of part-time work. It may be that it would necessitate paying something more; it may be that a fairly complete reorganisation would be needed; but one is faced with that as a definite scandal—the position of the part-time men.
The only other point that I want to raise is with regard to the British Broadcasting Corporation. We have there a State monopoly, and it seems to me to be a condition of a State monopoly that it should be absolutely fair. I have had a number of communications with regard to the question of listening-in to foreign stations, but the point that I want to raise is that of political broadcasting. I am aware that we cannot, on these Estimates, go in great detail into the whole of the programmes of the British Broadcasting Corporation, but one can go into the general question of policy, and the Postmaster-General has here a definite responsibility. Under the Charter of the British Broadcasting Corporation, the Postmaster-General has the right of veto. I do not know whether he has ever used it yet, but it is a weapon in his hands. I think he should ensure that the British Broadcasting Corporation is not made an instrument of Government party policy. I do not put this matter forward especially from one party point of view; I desire that across the wireless there should come views of every kind. On the last occasion on which we discussed this matter in the House, many speeches were made to that effect, but there seems to be a general tendency on the part of the British Broadcasting Corporation to regard what the Government says as right, and also a tendency, which is still more strange, to regard this Government as a National Government. Of course, the British Broadcasting Corporation must be up-to-date, and I think that no one regards the Government as a National Government to-day. After all, they have shed the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) and his colleagues—at least they have shed them across the Gangway—they have thoroughly absorbed the Prime Minister and his colleagues and they are a Conservative Government.
2263 But there are oppositions. There is the official Opposition and there is on certain questions the opposition of Members like the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer), and many of his colleagues on the question of India, and there is opposition on the question of tariffs. On all these questions the British Broadcasting Corporation should be very careful to make itself a forum for opinions of all kinds to be expressed.
I am bound to point out that the Postmaster-General, except under one section of the licence, has no responsibility whatever for the work of the British Broadcasting Corporation, and we cannot debate the action of the British Broadcasting Corporation on the Post Office Estimates.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
The specific point that I am taking up is the right of the Postmaster-General to forbid any particular broadcast, and the point that I am coming to is that I think there are some specific broadcasts that he should forbid, because the Postmaster-General is the Minister who is responsible in this House. When you get a speech made by a Minister of the Crown on certain occasions, for instance, the opening of the World Economic Conference, there can be no objection and one could not imagine the right hon. Gentleman interfering. But if, on the other hand, a Minister of the Crown is allowed to broadcast on a controversial subject and there is no right of reply to the Opposition, it is clearly the Postmaster-General's business to step in.
I am afraid now that the hon. Gentleman is attributing to the. Postmaster-General a power that he does not possess. He can stop individual broadcasting but he has no power to require that anyone shall make a reply.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
The fact that he has that power means that he can say, "I shall forbid this broadcast" and, when the British Broadcasting Corporation asks him for his reasons, he can say, "I forbid this broadcast because I consider that it is unfair to allow only one side of the question." We on this side think that the Postmaster-General should exercise that right. We have had considerable 2264 discussion on the matter, and we only ask for exactly the same position as occurs in this House. The point is that, when any big statement is made, the Opposition always has the right to reply. If one does not get that, one is really in a very dangerous position. You are getting really into a Hitlerite position, in which you have the Government of the day claiming to use a great organ of opinion for the expression of its own opinions. It is as if you did what Hitler has done and got all the newspapers on one side. If you had one single newspaper trust, you would have to deal with it. If Lord Beaverbrook had that trust, I am sure the Government would deal with it, just as they would if it were in the hands of the proprietors of the "Daily Herald." But we claim that it is most dangerous that a vehicle of public opinion, such as the British Broadcasting Corporation, should not be used with absolute impartiality.
Although the British Broadcasting Corporation has been put in a very specially privileged position, the House has retained, through the Postmaster-General, some right of interference, and if the British Broadcasting Corporation were to allow a broadcast which outraged the whole sense of the country I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would step in without waiting for the forces of law and order or the forces of morals to expostulate with them. One of the things we believe we stand for in this country is fair play, and we demand that the Postmaster-General should stand for fair play in political broadcasting and should not be afraid to use his power. I will not give instances of where this has been infringed, but it has been infringed constantly in the past few years and we claim the right of an Opposition to have the opposing point of view put fairly before the country.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Mr. GRAHAM WHITE
I cannot refrain from associating myself with the congratulations that the hon. Gentleman has offered to the Postmaster-General on his very interesting statement. We congratulate him not only on the innovations and new services which he has announced but also upon the general and very satisfactory resilience of all the services that are comprised under his direction. In these days the application of science and 2265 mechanical science in particular, to the processes of communication are so rapid that there are few processes connected with the telephone and telegraph which are not undergoing some modification, and in some cases revolution, and it is very important that the Postmaster-General should have an opportunity of keeping the House, and through Parliament the country, acquainted with these matters. Apart from that, the Post Office itself is the greatest trading concern in the country touching the people in many departments of their lives most closely and it is essential that the Postmaster-General should have this opportunity every year of giving an account of his stewardship. The hon. Gentleman opposite made some remark about a complacent Postmaster-General. I do not think anyone would accuse my right hon. Friend of being complacent. In fact I should like to congratulate him on the idefatigable way in which he is proceeding from one part of the country to another in order to break down the feeling that the Post Office is an aloof body which is not anxious to keep in the closest possible touch with those it seeks to serve.
I was glad to hear that so much progress has been made in implementing the recommendations of the Bridgeman Committee. That Committee's report was in many ways profoundly satisfactory, and not the least satisfactory part of it to me was the few sentences in which they expressed their great satisfaction at the general efficiency with which the Post Office was discharging the duties entrusted to it. It was to my mind a very complete and satisfactory answer to a great deal of criticism that has been made throughout the country about the services rendered by the Post Office. To hear some of the criticism that is made by the Post Office one might imagine that the public were ready to adopt with alacrity and enthusiasm any suggestion that might issue from the Postmaster-General. That is very far from being the case. If some suggestion is made, or some process proposed for the improvement of the mail service or something of that order, the moment it is mooted letters are written, petitions are presented, my right hon. Friend is requested to receive deputations, and does receive them. Only to-day an hon. Member complained about the alacrity 2266 with which the automatic telephone is being introduced, which everyone except the hon. Member himself agrees is a great improvement and has led to a great diminution in the amount of complaints about the telephone service. The hon. Gentleman opposite referred to the wages of the lower paid ranks in the Post Office, and said there was a case for something being done for them. Those who are acquainted with that case must know that it is one which cannot be regarded with anything but sympathy and I hope the time may not be distant when that consideration may take effective form.
The House will have heard with satisfaction that, in a time when the use of the telephone, generally speaking, has been decreasing, owing to world depression, we in this country have increased the number of telephones. In a period of slump that is no small achievement, and it may be said to be due very largely to the more up-to-date methods and the active canvassing and advertising and salesmanship which have been encouraged by my right hon. Friend. There is, perhaps, a tendency, through the great development that is taking place and the convenience of the telephone to everyone, for it to overshadow some other departments in which excellent work is being done. The savings bank is unique. If anyone wants to see the last word in up-to-date business management, he will find it in the Post Office Savings Bank. My only regret is that other Departments of the State are not equally up-to-date. If some other Departments were organised in the same way and by the same method in appropriate cases, we should have a very substantial reduction in some of the Estimates. I only wish the example of the savings bank could become contagious and spread to other Departments of State which are not nearly so up to date. I associate myself to the full with what has been said about the loyalty and efficiency of the staff. None of the results which have been obtained could have been obtained but for the loyalty and efficiency with which they carry out their duties.
I wish the public would make themselves better acquainted with the tasks that the Post Office is trying to carry out. I think that a visit, for example, to the Post Office to see the processes of sorting would impress them not only with the 2267 efficiency and the way in which the work is carried out, but also with the necessity that they on their part should co-operate with regard to times of posting letters in such a way as to make the processes easier and simpler for those who are called upon to carry them out. Having heard the account of the Postmaster-General, the Committee may look forward to the future development of the Post Office. It is impossible perhaps to exaggerate the loyalty of the staff and the way in which they carry on their work. It gives all the more emphasis to the point raised by the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) with regard to the remuneration of the lower-paid grades of the Post Office. It is a very remarkable thing—and I speak from some little experience of the matter—that out of the whole of that vast army of some 230,000 individuals serving in the Post Office in 1932 the actual percentage of those who were dismissed was only.28 from all causes; and for dishonesty the number was almost the vanishing figure of.17. That indeed is a remarkable record which, I think, could not be beaten in any other direction.
We can look forward in the circumstances, and in view of the developments foreshadowed to-day, to the Post Office continuing to discharge its functions with great satisfaction and with increasing service to the whole community. The handicaps which may have been placed upon the Post Office by Treasury restrictions and so forth are now being modified, but the same conditions govern the progress in the Post Office in this rapidly changing modern world as govern any other business on a large scale, and that is the attitude of mind of those in it towards the problems which they have to solve. Conditions are changing so rapidly to-day that what is necessary in any business which is in any sense competitive or dependent upon the changes of science and so forth is that there should be dissatisfaction of those carrying on different departments with what they are doing. When there is a spirit of complacency or satisfaction with work which is being done, the work is not going on satisfactorily, and in such circumstances the Post Office would not fulfil its function. As far as my observations went during the time that I had the privilege of being 2268 in that office, there is no department in which there is satisfaction with the work which is being done. There is a proper amount of dissatisfaction, and from that there arises the desire to improve upon existing methods.
It might not be untrue to say to-day that, if you take a business which has been in existence for a long time, any process which has been carried on for 20 years, although it may be right in principle, must essentially be wrong in method; and that any process which has been carried on five or 10 years certainly must be regarded with grave suspicion and may probably be found to be somewhat out-of-date. The essential thing is that the Post Office should have leadership at the top, which I believe they have, and a spirit of dissatisfaction with their own working, so that they may seek to improve it and deserve the co-operation of the public outside.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I join with my hon. Friend the Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) in congratulating the Postmaster-General most heartily upon his speech and upon the very remarkable record of work which he has to show since he assumed office. I assure him that it is a very great satisfaction to one who has agitated for four years inside the Post Office for some of those reforms, and has agitated outside the Post Office for another two years, during part of which the hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) was Postmaster-General, to find that my right hon. Friend is now able to carry them into effect, although the circumstances of the times are certainly more difficult than they were in the time of his predecessor. I only fear that before a very long time has elapsed there may be imminent danger, of my right hon. Friend being promoted to some department which is regarded as being more important politically, though from the point of view of the country I do not think that there are many departments which are more important than the Post Office. I hope that he will be spared to the Post Office long enough to carry through the great programme of reform upon which he has embarked.
I was particularly glad to hear him say that there is to be no pigeon-holing of the Bridgeman Report. The Bridge-man Report, although it did not give by 2269 any means everything for which some of the critics of the Post Office asked, yet recommended a very far-reaching and important series of reforms. From what the Postmaster-General has told us this afternoon, it is clear that he has taken those recommendations seriatim in the order which he thinks most appropriate, and is proceeding to carry them out one after the other. I can assure him that the critics of the Post Office in the past and those who welcomed the recommendations of the Bridgeman Committee have every reason to have confidence when he tells us that those recommendations are not to be pigeon-holed and that he intends to carry out all of them before his tenure of office ends. I was very glad to hear him say that the sample post had been such a success and that it had not been abused, because I remember being told repeatedly that it had to be abolished because the abuse was so great. The only conclusion which I can draw from the statement of the Postmaster-General is that we must be a great deal more honest than our fathers, and that, after all, is a very comforting reflection.
I should also like to thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he has done in accelerating the automatic programme, and to take this opportunity of paying a tribute to the efficiency of the automatic working, particularly in London. I think that anybody who has been on an automatic exchange must realise what an enormous improvement it makes in the reliability of the service. I am very glad to know that the right hon. Gentleman is pushing that development as fast as he can. I was greatly interested in what he told us about the relative place of Great Britain in telephone density at the present moment. It appears that under his leadership we have gone up one place in the class, and he explained this afternoon, in tones of commendable pride, that we now have more telephones than Germany per hundred persons. That is a very revealing statement when you realise that Germany, 14 years ago, was practically bankrupt, defeated, and exhausted after the greatest struggle in history, and that ever since then, practically speaking, Germany has been going from one financial crisis to another. She is once more on the verge of bankruptcy, and now for the first time this great commercial country of Great Britain has at last got as many and just more tele- 2270 phones than Germany. That seems to be eloquent tribute to the place of inferiority which we have been occupying in the past in regard to telephone development. I was delighted to hear that my right hon. Friend feels as bitterly about it as many other Members of this Committee.
The hon. Member for Limehouse is entitled to claim a large amount of credit for the fact that there has been no diminution in the number of telephones in this country during the slump, because it was he who inaugurated the advertising campaign. That campaign has been pushed forward by the present Postmaster-General, and undoubtedly it has been an excellent move and one which ought to have been adopted about 10 years ago. But when all just allowance has been made for that, the reason why there has not been a diminution in the number of telephones in this country, compared with what there has been in other countries, is due to the fact that we were nowhere near saturation point in telephone development as were other countries.
That leads me to say something upon a matter about which I have agitated a good deal in the past and about which I was sorry to note the Postmaster-General was silent this afternoon. He spoke of the reduction of telephone charges and of the improvements he had been able to effect in that direction, but he did not tell us a word about telephone costs—of the costs of telephone construction and of telephone maintenance. I hope that when the Assistant Postmaster-General replies he will be able to give the Committee some assurance and some figures showing how the costs of telephone construction and maintenance have been falling, if they have been falling, as I hope they have, during the past two or three years. I was appalled at the cost of telephone construction and maintenance when I was at the Post Office. I published a number of figures which caused a great deal of sensation, and they were never contradicted either in this House by the hon. Member for Limehouse or Mr. Lees-Smith or by the present Postmaster-General, or by the Bridgeman Committee, but I have been subsequently assured that they are now obsolete, and I am delighted to hear it.
I should now like to know the average cost of putting up a telephone line in 2271 a rural area and in an urban area—a light line or a heavy line? If the right hon. Gentleman can give us some figures in that respect and tell us how they compare with the costs in foreign countries, I think that the Committee would be greatly interested, remembering that when the State took over the telephones from the National Telephone Company the capital cost per instrument, if I remember rightly, was something like £23. In the case of the Post Office, a year or two ago it was £76 per instrument. It is true that in the interval the service has been enormously improved, and it is not a fair comparison to take those two figures and say that you are comparing like with like, but even when you have made allowance there was this tremendous difference in the actual cost per instrument, and I should like to know what has been done to reduce it. When I urge the reduction of costs I do not mean reduction of wages. The cast of constructing telephones in America, for instance, was in many cases much less than here, although the wage earners were receiving much higher wages. That was because the output per man was very much greater.
I was very much interested to hear what the Postmaster-General said about the new ideas that have been submitted to the Awards Committee. He said that 8,000 new ideas were submitted last year. I take it that every one of them came from postal servants. He did not tell us what rewards were given to these postal servants. In my view, in the past the amount of remuneration or reward was often wholly inadequate. Many a postal servant has made suggestions and inventions which have saved the Post Office hundreds and in some cases thousands of pounds, and they have been given the small pittance of £5 or £10 for it. I hope my right hon. Friend will do something to give the inventor, who is not allowed to patent his idea, a really good reward for a really valuable idea.
There is one more question that I should like to ask, and that is in regard to what the Postmaster-General said as to the use of some of the same wires for telephone and telegraph purposes. Can be say whether the developments of science have been such that he will be able to eleminate some of the old over- 2272 head wires, which are exceedingly unsightly in the country and which are apt to blow down whenever there is a bad blizzard, thereby dislocating the telegraph service of the country If it is the case, as I understood him to say, that our great underground trunk cables can now be used simultaneously for telegraphic and telephonic purposes to a much greater extent than was possible a few years ago, I should like to know whether it will be possible to eliminate some of the overhead lines, which are fast becoming obsolete and should be removed wherever possible.
I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Limehouse with great interest and I think I agreed with nearly everything he said, except when he compared the Postmaster-General to Hitler. I do not think, as yet, that description is entirely warranted. I could not help being interested in noticing a notable omission from the speech of the hon. Member for Limehouse. I take it from the silence of his speech as the official spokesman of the Labour party that he has no sympathy with the campaign put forward by the Union of Post Office Workers for so-called workers' control of the Post Office. I do not know whether hon. Members are aware of the fact, but anyone who has been following Post Office matters carefully during the last few months must be aware of it, that the Union of Post Office Workers, the greatest and most important trade union of postal servants, has been conducting a vigorous campaign in favour of so-called workers' control of the Post Office, that is to say, as I understand it, that on the directing board recommended by the Bridgeman Committee there should be an equal number of representatives of the staff, with an equal number of representatives of the State or the Government, with the Postmaster-General in the centre, possessing a casting vote.
I do not envy the position of the Postmaster-General in such a position as that. I think he would find his time taken up in settling a number of disputes, which would occupy most of the proceedings. The important point to which I would draw the attention of the Committee is the fact that this policy apparently finds no sympathy from the hon. Member for Limehouse, who is the official spokesman of the Opposition on Post Office matters, 2273 because he did not make any allusion to it in his speech.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I was referring to the campaign which the Union of Post Office Workers have been bringing forward in favour of workers' control of the Post Office, a system by which, as I understand their proposals, the directing board to be set up under the Bridgeman Committee's recommendation was to be composed half of members of the staff and half of representatives of the State or the Government. I should explain to the Committee that those proposals are moderate in the eyes of some postal workers, who desire the entire board to be composed of postal servants. I gather that the hon. Member for Limehouse has not much sympathy with those proposals, because he did not allude to them in his speech.
I should like to say to my friends of the Union of Post Office Workers—I hope that I still have some friends in that union—that so long as the Post Office remains a Government Department any such idea is absolutely impossible. I have always been a supporter of the co-partner-ship movement. I have always admired those great public utility undertakings, like the gas companies, who have been able to carry out co-partnership to a very high degree, but I am perfectly certain that no such system could be fitted into our Civil Service and that no such system could be fitted into the relationship of Government employés and the State. The postal servants must remember that so long as they are employés of the State they are necessarily bound down to the wage level of the State. For instance, I represent a constituency largely of agricultural labourers. Those agricultural labourers are, in a sense, the employers of the postal servants, and it is not fair and it is not right that postal servants—who are no more skilled than agricultural labourers, because agricultural labourers are about the most skilful artisans in the country—should be paid a rate of wages totally different from the ordinary wage level of the country. Therefore, I think the Postmaster-General has been perfectly justified in resisting the wage claim that has been put forward by the union. The fact that he has a profit of £10,000,000 2274 is not by itself proof that the postal servants are underpaid. It is only proof that our postal charges are too high and that in fact the Post Office is at the present moment being used as a vehicle of taxation, which I do not complain about in these times.
I am very glad that my right hon. Friend has been able to limit the system to the extent that he has limited it and that in future a certain proportion of the profits that he makes in his Service are to be given over to the development of the Service. I will conclude by saying that I am satisfied that the right hon. Gentleman is carrying out the recommendations of the Bridgeman Committee as and when he finds it possible. I congratulate him heartily on the reforms he has already made and I hope that when he addresses the Committee next, year he will be able to give it as good a report of the reforms and the improvements carried out as he has been able to give on this occasion.
§ 5.37 p.m.
I wish to associate myself with the remarks of previous speakers in expressing the deep interest with which we listened to the Postmaster-General giving an account of the work of the Post Office during the past 12 months. Of all the Ministerial speeches to which I have listened the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was the most optimistic. He gave us an able review of important matters in connection with a very important Department of the State, a Department which touches the life of the community very closely and for which we have a deep regard. I would like the right hon. Gentleman to consider the plea made on behalf of the men and women who carry out this most important service. The history of the past 12 months in the Post Office shows clearly that in this State Department there are splendid servants, both inside and outside, who are doing most important work. Here we have a position which is not often applied when we are talking about employés. Usually we are told when the conditions of labour and wages are discussed that to talk on such matters is uneconomical, but in this case we are told that the Department has managed to make a surplus of nearly £11,000,000. A large amount of that surplus has been made out of the sacrifice of the men arid women employed in the Post Office service.
2275 No one who knows the wages paid not only to the auxiliary but to the permanent staff as well will defend them, and I entirely disagree with the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) when he suggests that the employés should have no voice on the board of control. Who has more right to have a voice on the board of control than the men and women who give their life's blood to the work of this service, who carry out their legitimate duties day by day and very rarely fail us? The official figures issued as to the wages paid to thousands of men and women in the postal service is a scandal, especially in view of the fact that nearly £11,000,000 profit has been made during last year, some of which ought to be used to improve the wages and conditions of those who carry on the service. The Noble Lord, not for the first time, compared wages and conditions with those of the agricultural labourer. The agricultural labourer is wretchedly paid, and always has been, and we strongly object that his wages should govern the wages and conditions of all industries.
§ Viscount WOLMER
My point was that the agricultural labourer, like all other taxpayers, is an employé of the civil service. It is not a question of comparing his wages with other industries but a question of comparing his wages with those of civil servants.
Even in face of the fact, which I will not attempt to deny, that the agricultural worker in an indirect way is called upon to pay more than his share in taxation, I maintain that here you have a State organisation, a Department of State, which is run as a State service, and making a huge profit; and I say that it is totally unfair to endeavour to base the economic conditions of men and women in the postal service on the lowest paid wages in the country, the agricultural labourer. And it is true to say that people of the same political views as the Noble Lord have been largely responsible for the terrible conditions which the agricultural labourer has had to face. We are living now in a new era and are entitled to suggest that postal workers should be better paid.
The Postmaster-General has eulogised the Post Office service, he has told us of its enormous work, and that it has made a profit of nearly £11,000,000. Therefore, 2276 I want to appeal to him to give postal servants some voice on the Board of Control as to their conditions, and also to take into consideration the shocking conditions which apply to thousands of men and women who are carrying out this service on behalf of the State. I am satisfied that the community who make their contributions towards this service in buying their modest three half penny stamps or their half penny stamps, and the thousands of people in business, would not begrudge postal employés getting reasonable wages and decent conditions. The Postmaster-General was complimented by the Noble Lord for refusing the application of postal employés Is he justified in that refusal? Can the Noble Lord, knowing the facts of the ease, defend the wages and conditions of the service? We ask the Postmaster-General not to look back to the stone age but to look forward, to give postal employés representation on the Board of Control and revise the dastardly scales which at present control the livelihood of thousands of men and women and boys and girls, and thus give them a decent standard of living in 1933.
§ 5.38 p.m.
Sir JOHN SANDEMAN ALLEN
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Price) on a somewhat controversial subject but I think we can have confidence that the Postmaster-General will study these matters impartially and with an earnest desire to do what is right. That is all that this House and the country expects. We listened to the speech of the Postmaster-General with considerable interest. He and his Department are to be congratulated on having made such a large surplus, it speaks well for the whole organisation from one end to the other. But there is one distinctly depressing feature about it. It looks as though the Government have decided to use the Post Office as nothing but a revenue producing department for some time to come and if that is true we shall have to say goodbye to any reduction of rates which may be desirable at the first suitable opportunity.
There is one question which has been raised very strongly in recent years, I myself on behalf of business associations in this country have spoken on more than one occasion in urging some reduction in 2277 the rates of postage, that we should return to the penny post as being highly desirable in business interests generally. The fact, however, is that in the present state of affairs in the economic world we Could not possibly expect the Government to do anything in the matter, although I would remind hon. Members that the reduction in the postage rates would have a very considerable effect on the commerce of the country. I hope, therefore, that this question will not be pushed into the limbo of forgetfulness. We should be able, however, to judge the possibilities of coming back to the old scales much better if the Postmaster-General would give us some particulars to what it would cost. There would, of course, be a considerable increase in postal traffic and there would naturally be some cost, but it would be interesting if the right hon. Gentleman would give us some figures in regard to this.
I would like to express to the Post-master-General our appreciation in arranging the business reply envelopes, which will be of real value to the business world. Nor do I think we should overlook the possibilities of the inland sample parcel post. I think we should also consider adopting the green label system by which we could deal with the posting of dutiable articles. We lag behind foreign countries in this respect, and suffer from it a good deal. Therefore, I hope the Postmaster-General will consider these various matters. There is one other matter upon which I must say a word and also ask the Postmaster-General to say something about it. It has been suggested that the railway companies should more generally adopt the Continental system of time tables as to hours, and it has also been suggested that this is a matter which should be considered by the Post Office in connection with the time of collection and delivery of letters and telegrams. There is undoubtedly much confusion at the moment, which would be obviated by following the 24-hours clock rather than the 12-hour clock. I am not generally given to innovations of this kind, but at the same time I think it is generally agreed that we should not lag behind, and any innovation which will help to greater accuracy will be much appreciated. My right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General took same credit for the fact that the charge for hand micro- 2278 phones will not be so great in the future. I hope there will be no charge at all, that would be the most satisfactory way of dealing with it.
Then there is the Madrid Telephone Conference to which I must refer, a very important conference on telephone matters, as to which I hope we shall have an explanation from my right hon. Friend. I am not speaking now only for business men in this country but for business men throughout the world, and I say that they owe a debt of gratitude to the representatives of His Majesty's Government. at that conference for having taken a stand in the interests of the business world. Unfortunately these conferences are mainly made up of people who belong to particular Departments, and their sole object in life is to get as much money into their departments as they can. They cannot see beyond the ends of their noses; they cannot see the broad principle that encouragement of the commercial world, by reduction of charges and not by increasing them, will pay the Post Office as well as the commercial world, not only directly but indirectly. What has happened is this: I was chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce delegation of business men that attended the Brussels Conference, when an effort was made to abolish the ten-letter code. We were successful in Brussels in retaining the ten-letter code as well as a five-letter code experimentally. At Madrid the majority decided against the ten-letter code, and so it has been knocked out, and now business men have all the disorder and expense that have resulted. I think recognition should be given of the work of the Post Office representatives. I trust that not only will the Postmaster-General accept that appreciation, but that he will pass it on to those who assisted him.
Another matter to which I want to refer is the work of the Advisory Committee at the Post Office. I hope that what has been suggested to the Postmaster-General by business men will be adopted, that he will have two representatives of the users on that body, and that they will be more frequently consulted than hitherto. Local postal committees are being developed in this country very satisfactorily. One was formed in Liverpool, when I was chairman of the Chamber of Commerce. It 2279 started well, and is doing well to-day. In Manchester there is another, and there are others throughout the country. Too often, however, the Postmaster-General ignores the business men and creates his own committee, but I trust this will be corrected. If business men were taken into consultation more, many difficulties that arise could be settled immediately, others could be reported to headquarters and work could be accelerated in every direction. It would be of great value to the Post Office to bring the business world into consultation whenever possible. I would remind the present Postmaster-General that when the World Postal Conference was held in London in 1929 the British Government, through the then Postmaster-General, took the lead in shutting out the delegation of international business men who wished to help with experienced advice. I hope that the British Post Office has been fully converted in that matter and that we shall not see anything of that kind in future.
On all sides to-day we have had congratulations offered to the Postmaster-General. As we know, he is energetic as well as resourceful. In his work he has clearly shown the value of being prepared to step outside the beaten track and not to follow the old lines, but to adapt himself to the needs of the moment. When we see the progress that has been made. when we know the outlook of the heads of the Department and the faithful work done by those in the lower ranks, we can all be proud and satisfied that the Post Office is administered to-day in an excellent and business-like way.
§ 5.50 p.m.
Major LLOYD GEORGE
On many previous occasions when we have discussed the Post Office, predecessors of the right hon. Gentleman have complained that criticism was flying about, but that when the Post Office achieved something very little was heard about it. The right hon. Gentleman said himself to-day that it was right the Postmaster-General should be blamed when blame was due, but he added that when he deserved it, it was right he should be praised. One of my objects in rising is to give my thanks to him for the excellent service which he and his Department rendered to the constituency that I represent. Not only that, but I think that what I say will be an in- 2280 stance to him and to the Committee of the great dangers that exist, as the Noble Lord pointed out, from overhead wires in this country. The great blizzard of last February struck my constituency with particular force, but I doubt very much whether the Committee can have any idea of the devastation that was caused. It is almost incredible that so much damage could have been done in the course of a few hours. The result of the storm was that practically every line of importance was flattened, and most of the poles were smashed.
That is a serious matter to the ordinary subscriber, but when I add that in that district there is a very large fishing industry which depends almost entirely for the distribution of its products on having telephone and telegraph facilities, such a blizzard is almost a disaster. I am informed that an industry like that at Milford has to send something like 1,000 telegrams before 11 o'clock in the morning to ensure the proper distribution of its fish. The result of the February blizzard was that the whole district was isolated. I am glad to say that as soon as I saw the Postmaster-General he took very prompt action. He arranged that men should go down to bridge the gap with wireless. I believe it is the first time in the history of the Post Office that such a thing has been done. That arrangement worked very satisfactorily. But the best thing of all was that the Post Office decided to lay a buried cable. That cable, which covered a distance of 38 miles, was laid and working within six weeks of the night of the blizzard. I think the Committee will appreciate my desire to come here and state what happened. As a matter of fact the blizzard was a bit of a blessing, because one night of snow did what years of entreaty had failed to do. I want to take this opportunity of thanking the right hon. Gentleman, and through him all those of his staff who worked so extraordinarily well on behalf of my constituents.
I would congratulate the right hon. Gentleman also, as others have done, on his interesting and instructive speech today. He mentioned one or two things that rather worried me, particularly the facilities for distribution of circulars. I am informed that in one post 2,500,000 circulars were sent out in London. I am under the impression that most of them found their way to my address. But I 2281 do want to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the review which he gave of two years' work of his Department, and on the great progress that undoubtedly has been made under the right hon. Gentleman's command. Especially is that congratulation necessary when we realise the handicap under which any Postmaster-General has to work. After all the Postmaster-General has not a very free hand given him. Whatever he may want to do is governed to a large extent by Treasury control. However much a Postmaster-General may desire certain things, however much he may see their importance, he is not entirely free to carry out his plans. I was not pleased when I heard the right hon. Gentleman state twice to-day that "with the consent of the Chancellor of the Exchequer," he was going to do something. I hope the right hon. Gentleman is going to have more freedom than that which is indicated in paragraph 68 of the Report of a Committee which inquired into the Post Office last year. That paragraph says:On these figures, and on the basis of the foregoing adjustments, a fixed contribution of £11,500,000, plus 50 per cent. of any excess over that figure, would in our opinion be an appropriate sum.I do not think that that recommendation is quite good enough, because the figure that the right hon. Gentleman gave us to-day, while it showed that we had risen from tenth place to ninth place among telephone users in the world, showed also that we are still a long way behind other countries, some of which are not nearly as commercial as this country. I have here only the figures for 1923. Assuming that they are approximately correct, even with the improvement that has taken place in Britain we have only 46 telephones per 1,000 of population, whereas the United States have 158. Countries like Canada, New Zealand, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland are all better supplied with telephones than we are.
In these days of intensive competition, a country which relies so largely on its export markets cannot afford to improve at so slow a rate as we have been doing in the last few years. The Post Office is a vital link in the industrial life of this country. The illustration of the blizzard which I gave just now shows what a terrible thing it is when something goes wrong even in one of the small branches 2282 of the Post Office. The Post Office is increasingly important, not only in the industrial but in the agricultural life of the country. Parliament has recently been taking steps to make the marketing of agricultural produce more efficient. The greatest efficiency cannot be attained without a very generous use of telephones.
While I am delighted to hear that there has been a marked advance in the last few years, there is still a, lot of leeway to be made up. I find from my own experience that in very remote places the telephone is of vital importance, especially for the health of the inhabitants. I know the difficulty experienced in remote areas in my constituency in getting a doctor. A man may have to walk for an hour before he gets to a telephone, and then he has to get into communication with the doctor. The Minister of Health, I feel sure, will support me in the statement that a great deal can be done to improve the health of the nation if the rural telephone system is improved still further. I believe that extension of the telephone system should be governed not by what cash the Treasury can dole out to the Postmaster-General, but by what the Postmaster-General thinks he can do with the cash that is earned by his own Department. The Treasury regard the Post Office as a milch cow. Money that should be used for development is appropriated for other purposes altogether. In times of prosperity that is a mistake, but in times of adversity it is folly.
There are those in this House who believe that one way of meeting our difficulties, so far as unemployment is concerned, is by providing work, and one of the Departments best suited for providing work under the best circumstances is the Post Office. The Post Office can not only give employment to both skilled and unskilled men, but the work when done is definitely of value to the country, in that it is revenue-producing. Especially at this time of depression a good deal more latitude should be given to the Post Office to spend on capital works and so on. I am certain that what the right hon. Gentleman want., is a freer hand and we have had evidence during the short time he has been in office of what he would do if given facilities. Let us hope that he will use the great abilities which he possesses to persuade some of his colleagues to support him in his ideas. Even he may not succeed in that, but if 2283 they are against him, perhaps the economic blizzard will help him just as the other blizzard to which I have referred, helped in the case of my constituency. If the economic blizzard persuades his colleagues that it would be a good thing to take the advance steps which have been suggested, and if the right hon. Gentleman is responsible for taking those steps, he will have rendered a service to the country and added fresh laurels to those he has already gathered.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
I have put down an Amendment for a reduction of £100 in the salary of my right hon. Friend, not from any personal animosity towards him, but because it is difficult to get an opportunity of speaking on these occasions without putting in a claim. My Amendment is there merely for ornament, and I hope my right hon. Friend will not construe it as any reflection upon his administration. There is one disadvantage in connection with the National Government, and it is that we find the right hon. Gentleman here as a Minister instead of as a critic of the Government. It is of course rather refreshing to note how our funny way of governing this country generally succeeds. It is largely based on the idea that one who constantly attacks the Government, eventually has to do the job himself and here we have an example of one who was once a keen and constant critic of the Government in power becoming a Minister and at once in some mysterious way becoming automatically a very efficient administrator.
Having made the right hon. Gentleman blush I now turn to a subject the mention of which always seems to cause the occupant of the Chair in this Assembly to "come all over a tremble," and that is the question of broadcasting. It seems to me that we are almost forming a new union of Speakers and ex-Speakers to protect the British Broadcasting Corporation. I hope we are not going as far as that. but we are to-day giving a grant to the British Broadcasting Corporation of £600.000. and I think we are entitled under this Vote to deal at any rate with the financial aspect of that body's affairs. Earlier in the year we had a Debate on broadcasting on a Motion on which we were allowed to roam over the whole field. On that occasion we had a series of 2284 speeches from Front Bench Members, but a very sinister feature introduced on that occasion was that we had a Government Whip coming to the assistance of the British Broadcasting Corporation. Now I sincerely hope that the British Broadcasting Corporation is not in future going to be wrapped up with the Government of the day. I hope that the corporation will have to fight its battles by itself. The moment we get the British Broadcasting Corporation wrapped up with Government Whips, the position of the organisation will be divorced from what the people of this country meant it to be.
There is one point with regard to this £600,000. In the accounts given to us of the British Broadcasting Corporation there is nothing to show the income accruing from the paper which they run themselves. It will be remembered that there was a recommendation that the accounts of the corporation should be done by the Accountant-General. They are not done by the Accountant-General, but by a separate lot of accountants. This paper has a circulation of over 2,000,000 and a very big collection of advertisements, and it must contribute enormously towards the finances of the organisation, but the British public know nothing about it. It is good of you, Captain Crookshank, not to have interrupted me so far. I realise that I have been somewhere near the border line, but I am now about to speak about an aspect of broadcasting with which I think I am clearly allowed to deal on this occasion, and that is broadcasting apart from the British Broadcasting Corporation.
It is within the province of the Postmaster-General to grant licences for broadcasting. He has granted a licence to the British Broadcasting Corporation and within the ambit of the British Broadcasting Corporation, for some reason never explained to the House of Commons and never understood by the people of the country, we are not allowed to deal with a subject which interests the man-in-the-street perhaps more than anything else at the present time. That seems very absurd, but it is a Ruling and I bow to it. I can, however, speak freely about the possibility of another station. There is nothing to prevent that point being raised because the British Broadcasting Corporation has not a monopoly. There is nothing in its charter to say that it shall have a monopoly. When that 2285 organisation was first instituted it may have been right that it should have been sponsored by the State and helped by the taxpayer, so that only the best and no advertisements should come through by its agency. But the position technically has changed. In passing, it is a curious thing that the only things which the British Broadcasting Corporation allows to be advertised are, first, their own paper, and, secondly, gramophone records. But there is already creeping in a practice of using foreign stations for advertising in this country.
I do not know if hon. Members listen-in, but if they do so they will hear on Sundays programmes paid for by English firms broadcast from abroad entirely for English consumption. This practice is becoming increasingly popular. The English market has been a good one for this kind of advertising—especially because our own British broadcasting programme on Sunday is not particularly good. It is our own fault. Our own programme attracts people so little that they automatically switch on to the foreign station—a state of affairs which ought not to have arisen but which has arisen. It cannot he right that this practice should continue to grow. An enormous sum is already going abroad for the use of foreign stations to advertise goods in this country. It is ludicrous that foreign stations should be taking English money for broadcasting in England and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to give consideration to the installation of another station in this country by means of which that type of commercial advertising could be indulged in here. I do not see that it would interrupt or upset the good work which the British Broadcasting Corporation does but I say with all conviction that it is monstrous that we should have allowed a state of affairs to grow up under which English money for advertising English goods in England is going to foreign countries.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Mr. RAIKES
I feel specially honoured at having an opportunity of intervening in this Debate in view of my own family's past connection with the position which my right hon. Friend holds with such credit to-day. I would call the attention of the Committee specially to the fact that my right hon. Friend has to work in a very restricted orbit. Not only is he restricted by the Treasury—and I 2286 am sure we are all delighted that he is to have a little more freedom in expending money on the expansion of the postal services—but, apart from that, many matters which are brought up outside this House as criticisms against the Post Office really belong to other Departments. For example, I recently asked a question with regard to the installation of a greater number of telephones in police houses throughout the country and I got a satisfactory reply but it was from the Home Office and the Home Office was of course the responsible Department in that case and not the Post Office. My right hon. Friend is not entirely master in his own house, although, from what we have heard we feel confident that in so far as he is master he will push on postal reforms to the best of his ability.
I regret personally that the Bridgeman Committee did not go a little further. No doubt I am something of a reactionary in the eyes of my hon. Friends on the other side of the Gangway but I would prefer the Post Office to "be taken out of politics and turned into some form of statutory authority or public utility company. However, we have to make the most of it as things are to-day and I hope, in that connection, that the Bridge-man Committee's suggestion of a really representative board, with the Postmaster-General as chairman, to deal with reorganisation of staff will be pressed forward as rapidly as possible. Comment is often made on the frequent changes in the office of Postmaster-General. We have had a succession of Postmasters-General and it is apparently difficult for any man to remain in the office long enough to carry out any comprehensive reform. If the Prime Minister or the Lord President of the Council were here I should humbly suggest a very easy way of granting my right hon. Friend the advancement in office, which he will obviously receive ere long, and at the same time meeting the criticism to which I have just referred. It would be to make the office of Postmaster-General one of Cabinet rank and to retain my right hon. Friend in that position. That of course is a matter over which a mere private Member has no jurisdiction.
The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Price) suggested that it would be a grand idea, if there was a decent surplus, say, between £10,000,000 and £11,000,000, to use a great part of it to increase wages 2287 in the Post Office service. It was pointed out by the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer)—who got into hot water for pointing it out—that a big surplus shows that the public are being charged too much. I know it is not the intention of the Postmaster-General or the Government to do so, but if they were to work deliberately for a big surplus by means of high charges and if the hon. Member's suggestion were followed, it would simply mean turning the money over to the Post Office workers at the expense of a great many other people including even agricultural labourers, who have very poor conditions of life and who have to pay more than was reasonable for their postal services under such an arrangement. Various criticisms are levelled at the Post Office outside the House of Commons but the criticisms that are made from time to time in regard to the delivery of letters are unfair. The Postmaster-General has referred to the fact that every week about 400,000 letters are posted in the wrong boxes, country letters going into the London box, and London letters into the country box. The public are very largely to blame if their letters are delayed.
Nor do I agree with those who suggest that in post offices the ordinary customer is treated with incivility. But there is certainly a lack of any kind of personal association between the ordinary Post Office assistant and the ordinary customer. It does not amount to incivility, but you do not get in the Post Office for instance the sort of "pushing" of new postal facilities by recommendations to customers such as you get in a private business. [AN HON. MEMBER: "There would he a row."] There might be a row but there would be more money in the Post Office and you would have more facilities and the existing facilities would be used to a larger extent. That would be a good thing for all concerned. That however is by the way. When we come to the question of telephones there is one matter which I would put before the right hon. Gentleman because I think it a genuine grievance. It is in regard to telephone party lines in rural districts. To-day in rural areas there is an arrangement with the Post Office by which a couple of farmers can have a party line between 2288 them each paying his contribution. At present, if one man discontinues his connection for any reason, unless the Post Office immediately get another subscriber to take his place, either the remaining subscriber has to pay a great deal more for the telephone or else the whole thing is closed down, causing a loss of revenue, while at the same time several miles of wire and the installation are left idle. I hope these regulations will be taken into consideration.
There are two questions that I should like to ask, and the first is as to how far the right hon. Gentleman is progressing with his efforts to stimulate home-grown and Empire timber for telegraph posts. I understand that, generally speaking, the people who purchase Empire timber for telegraph purposes have rather confined their attention to hardwoods. Hardwoods are difficult to creosote, and if you cannot get creosoted wood, it is doubtful if it is suitable for the purpose. I should like to remind the right hon. Gentleman of the hardwood that you have in Canada and Newfoundland conifers, which are infinitely more suitable in many ways, because certain species of them resemble very closely the Scotch firs, which in this country are used as standard for telegraph poles. The Postmaster-General referred to the enormous increase in the air mail services, and I am sure that hon. Members of this House and people outside will be glad to hear of the further efforts that are going to be made to advertise the air mail postal services. In conclusion, I should like once again to express my own personal satisfaction that the Postmaster-General is taking into consideration very closely the Bridgeman Report; and beyond that I should like to express my confident hope that he will not lose his reforming zeal. Each year I shall look forward to still better returns and still better reports.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Sir ROBERT HAMILTON
I wish briefly to refer to one branch of the Post Office work, and I am encouraged to do so by a reference made to it by the Postmaster-General himself in the course of his opening of speech, to which we all listened with great interest, because it showed what very great development the Post Office has been making during the last year or two. That part of the work to which I wish particularly to refer is 2289 the improvement in recent years of wireless telephony, and the desirability of making greater use of it in installing communication with the islands round our coasts. Of course, from the particular position of my own constituency, it is a matter that appeals to me very much, but it is not only in my own constituency; there are other parts all around our coasts where the commencement of such an installation might prove of immense benefit.
This is not a new matter. It has been under consideration for the last 10 years. I know that Ministers are apt to consider matters before giving them active consideration, and to give them active consideration before coming to action. The Postmaster-General has been giving this matter his active consideration. When it was first brought up, the matter of cost was very important, more important than it is to-day. Wireless telegraphy has now given place to wireless telephony, and the installation of wireless telephony, I understand, is very much less costly than the installation of wireless telegraphy would have been a few years ago, added to which, of course, the maintenance of it is very much less. But always this question of finance is brought up. Years ago there was the cost of the installation of the wireless telegraphy. It could be done if it was not for the matter of cost; and although the cost has gone down and the revenue of the Post Office has gone up very much, I am still given this answer, "The difficulty is the cost."
Well, the cost now is really very little indeed, and it seems to me a little wrong that our own people who happen to be living on an island should not get the advantages that are available to-day without application having to be made to other Departments outside the Post Office, without, in fact, the Postmaster-General going round to other Departments for subscriptions to get this work installed. It is not that I am not grateful to other Departments for giving us assistance in this matter, but I think a wider issue here is involved. I look upon the telephone service as a national service, and I am never quite able to agree with the Postmaster-General, though I agree with him in not wanting to see money used unprofitably, that a poor district should not get the advantages of a national service. It would be ridiculous to say to a poor and thinly populated county, "The collec- 2290 tion of your letters and their distribution are so costly that you must pay 1d. a letter, whereas the rest of the people only pay l½d." On that same argument, it is only right that where people are living in these out-of-the-way parts they should not be handicapped because of the question of a small charge, but they should be brought into the general national system.
I should like the Postmaster-General to be good enough to give me an answer on that point, because it is a very wide issue that is involved. There is at the present moment a question of installing this wireless telephony, with a short wave system, with an island where, it would be immensely important. There is a small population of fishermen, who want to communicate with the markets, with people for obtaining ice, and with merchants. There is a lighthouse there, there is no doctor, and it is a most important station for signalling to the lifeboat when it goes out, so that there is every special reason in that particular place for making an experiment with this installation. I am sure that if the Postmaster-General was to make up his mind to make this as a first installation, he would find that the actual costs are less than the conservative estimate which has been put up, and I hope it would encourage him to go further and give the benefits of communication to these outlying islands, not only to this special island, but to many others, which should be brought within the ambit of a great national service.
In conclusion, I would like to add my testimony to the testimony of everyone who has already spoken for the able and progressive way in which the Postmaster-General is administering his Department, and I hope that he will be still more progressive on the particular line about which I have been addressing him.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Captain PETER MACDONALD
I have no intention of endeavouring to detract from the praise meted out to the Postmaster-General for the admirable way in which he has administered his Department. There is one aspect of the Department to which I wish to call attention, which was briefly referred to in his speech, and that is the air mail service. Here is a new branch of development, in regard to which I think the 2291 right hon. Gentleman does not deserve the same praise as in regard to other departments under his control. Here we have an infant service, struggling hard to make its way, and not only is it obliged to pay its way, but the money derived as a profit from it is being devoted to subsidise other branches of the Post Office service. That, I consider to be very wrong indeed, particularly as the air mail service is not as other branches of his Department which are a monopoly, but is meeting the cold blast of the competition of the whole world.
Every day you read of contracts being taken away from Imperial Airways, from British services, and transferred to other Governments, and I consider that to be both unnecessary and wrong. Only the other day I read of a contract for an air mail service being taken from Imperial Airways by the Palestine Government and given to a Dutch air mail service, and almost the same day we had in this House a request from the Colonial Secretary for a guaranteed loan of £2,000,000 for the Palestine Government. Add to that the fact that the ground services in Palestine belong to a British company, which has been subsidised by the British Government. The reason for this transfer of contracts and the reason why other Governments are beating us in this sphere is because these Governments have guaranteed a minimum load to these companies, whereas the British Post Office will not do that, but will only give air mail loads whenever they have them. The carrying companies have to rely entirely upon whether or not there are mails to be carried, and when there is no mail to be carried, they have to make up for it in some other way. Recently I read the report of the chairman of Imperial Airways, who said, in regard to the air mail:The air mail was the youngest baby of the postal administration. It was in dire need of nourishment, yet it was expected not only to earn its own living, but to pay for the privilege of being allowed to do so.That is a fact, because last year the profits made from the air mail service, this very important infant service, were something like £13,000, a very small sum when you are considering the vast ramifications of the Post Office. At the same time, we have to consider what vast importance the air mail service is to the 2292 British Empire, and if we are to hold our own in this branch of the Post Office service, it is necessary that the Postmaster-General should take a wider view and, if necessary, take risks in order to encourage the air mail.
I have only one or two suggestions to make in that connection, and one of them is that he should follow the example of other Governments and guarantee a minimum load to our air mail carrying services. Another suggestion that I have to offer is that the right hon. Gentleman should set up an air mail department of the Post Office. After listening to the right hon. Gentleman's speech, one realises that with the wide ramifications of the Department and the extraordinarily wide areas which he has to administer, it is quite impossible that he should devote the attention and time to this new branch of his Department which it requires, because every service in its infancy requires nourishment, time, and attention which older branches do not require. Therefore, I urge on the right hon. Gentleman that he should set up an air mail department under his administration, to concentrate entirely upon this branch of the service, in order that we can develop it and encourage it as it should be developed and encouraged.
There is only one more point that I should like to raise, and that is the question of materials. The Postmaster-General quite rightly said that his Department has concentrated upon the purchase of materials for his Department as far as possible from the Empire or British sources. On that, he is to be heartily congratulated. At the same time, there is one material which I still regret to say is imported from Russia more than anything else, and that is the material for telegraph and telephone poles. As another hon. Member has suggested, that is a material that could be supplied amply within the Empire. Although it may not be at the same cost to the Department, I am convinced that if the Canadian timber industry were encouraged to concentrate on telephone or telegraph poles, it would be able to supply in time a very improved material for the Department at a cost which could be considered reasonable, and it would give employment and scope for development of an important industry within the Empire.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I understand that this Debate may be resumed after the discussion on the private Bill which is to come on at 7.30, and I rise now because I understand that the Assistant Post-master-General will reply to the Debate so far as it has gone at 7 o'clock. I should like to say a few words about wages and conditions. I should not do so but for the speech of the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer). So far as I have heard the Debate, it has been roses, roses all the way, and we might have closed the discussion a long time ago except for the fact that the OFFICIAL REPORT will record a long series of congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman. I will warn him, as I have been warned myself, that when all men speak well of you, you should take care, and watch your step. The right hon. Gentleman at the Post Office has apparently infused into the officials of his Department some of the vigour, energy and go that he devoted against the Labour Government. That is, of course, quite right and in the natural order of things. I do not see anything extraordinary in it, and I should have been disappointed, with my knowledge of him, if he had been anything different.
He has not, however, yet got over the Treasury. That is a stile against which many men much bigger than the right Gentleman have butted, but it has always proved impossible to surmount it. I shall think ever so much more of him next year if he can tell us that he has cast off the control of the Treasury in his Department. The Post Office should be managed by the Department, and its profits should first be used for giving a decent standard of life to the people who carry on the industry, and then used for the future development of the industry. To make a profit in order to lower taxation is entirely wrong. The Post Office ought to be run as a public service at the lowest possible rate to the public, consistent with a decent standard of life for the people who work in it. When we talk of nationalising services, we do not speak of them in the sense that we want to run them as profit-making institutions. We might as well leave it to capitalist society to do that. I wish to make it clear that we want the service organised as a service in the most efficient manner possible with 2294 the best standard of employment and wages for the workers.
Many Members of the present Government, and I am not sure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not among them, have given at least lip service to the doctrine laid down by one of the Church Congresses, that the first charge on all industry should be the life and well-being of those who carry on the industry. I set that against the doctrine of the right hon. Member for Aldershot. Apparently, he is very concerned that nearly 125,000 postal workers have considered it right to ask that some of the cuts should be restored. They have pleaded with the right hon. Gentleman, and, so far as I understand, he is extremely sympathetic in regard to the lower-paid workers. It is with regard to them that I want to press him. The Treasury stand in the way. I think the Treasury has no right to stand in the way, and the Committee ought to support our Amendment, which is not in the ordinary sense a Vote of Censure on the administrative work of the Department, which we appreciate as much as anyone, but a declaration that, in our judgment, the postal Department itself ought to say what is right and what is wrong, and that the Treasury ought not to exercise this control over wages and conditions, especially of the lower-paid workers.
I would put in a plea to the right hon. Gentleman. It may be that the Treasury is too obdurate and too strong, but I hope the right hon. Gentleman will press these gentlemen at the Treasury, and that: between now and when we meet again he will see whether be cannot meet the appeals that are made, at least on behalf of the lower-paid people. A considerable number of them are paid less than 14s. a week. Fourteen hundred male full-time workers receive less than £2 a week; 11,600 between 40s. and 50s.; and 29,300 between 50s. and 60s. Thus, 50 per cent of the 84,000 male adult manipulative staff receive less than £3 a week. That was before the bonus rate was reduced, and we can be certain that a larger number now come within that category. I put it to the right hon. Gentleman and to the Committee that such wages are not anything like the wages that should be paid to men carrying on this work.
I would also like to make a special appeal in regard to the auxiliary men.
2295 The hon. Member for South-East Essex (Mr. Raikes), who remarked on an hon. Member leaving the Committee after he made his speech, and has himself now followed suit, took a little pride in the fact that he was speaking on a Vote connected with the Department of which some relative was in charge long ago. One of the first things I did when I came to the House at the end of 1910 was to worry Mr. Hobhouse about the shocking pay of auxiliary postmen. From then until to-day there has been precious little improvement. We meet these men on the streets in London and in the provinces. To a conference of postal workers one of these men wrote:I am an auxiliary postman earning 19s. weekly; married with three children. The Postmaster will not dismiss me and the public assistance committee will not help. They refuse to subsidise Post Office wages. I am destitute. Can anything be done?The union cannot do anything except appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, as I am appealing to him now. I understand that there are about 50,000 men and women in the auxiliary postal service. I thought all those years ago that in a really efficient organised Department this sort of part-time employment ought riot to exist. The dock districts of this country have been cursed with casual labour for many years, but casual labour in some respects is preferable to these auxiliary services which men are obliged to take. I know that I shall be told, as I have been told before, that there is a large number of men, and perhaps women, too, who want this sort of occupation. That, however, is only because of poverty and conditions over which they have no control. Once they are in this work it is very hard to throw it up. If the man whose letter I read threw up his job as an auxiliary postman, the public assistance committee would give him nothing but the workhouse.
I would like this Committee to join in making a united appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to defy the Treasury in this matter, and to tell the Treasury that these men and women are to be paid living wages. There is scarcely a Member of the Committee but who, when the Archbishop's Commission reported, either by written word or spoken word supported the principle that the first charge on industry was the life and well-being of those who carried on industry. Here 2296 is a great public industry employing 130,000 people, which has this large number on less than 40s. a week and 50,000 auxiliaries who are forced to exist on very small wages. It is said that there are 14,000 auxiliary postmen whose average wages are 25s. or 26s. a week. "Average" means that some are lower and some may be a little above. It is a terrible accusation against a public Department that such wages should be paid. The right hon. Member for Aldershot said that the agricultural labourer with less wages had to pay extra for his postal service, and he advocated a very dangerous doctrine—a sort of equalitarian Socialism —because if it is true that the poorest people, directly or indirectly, pay money in order that other people may draw salaries far in excess of their earnings—which the Noble Lord argued was quite wrong—then none of us ought to be sitting here, some taking £5,000 a year, with reductions, and others taking £400 a year, with reductions, while agricultural labourers are reduced to the terrible wages to which they have to submit. When that argument has been put forward by some of my hon. Friends it has generally been received with uproarious hilarity on the other side, but no one seemed to take much notice of that statement when it was made by the Noble Lord, and, in my judgment, he had been reduced to absurdity in his argument against giving more money to these men.
Then he read us a little homily on business men, and the absurdity of the Union of Post Office Workers desiring to take any part in the management of the Post Office, and tried to infer that there was some great cleavage of opinion between my hon. Friend the Member for Lime-house (Mr. Attlee) and the postal workers. But this House, for good or for evil, drove the postal workers outside the trade union movement. [An Hon. Member: "Hear, hear !"] I notice that someone says "Hear, hear." You cannot have it both ways. You cannot charge us with being responsible for what they do, and at the same time not allow them to have any communication with us on the subject. The fact of the matter is that the Union of Post Office Workers claim to possess as much knowledge of how to run a public Department as the right hon. Gentleman himself. What experience had he ever had of Post Office work till he occupied his present posi- 2297 tion? It is the general knowledge and intuition a man has which he applies to the particular job placed in front of him. We have the right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas) at the Dominions Office. He could take any one of the offices, and not only talk about it, but run it wherever you want it run to. When I hear this nonsense that only a particular brand of person is capable of running a Department I look around this House and see men who stand at that Box and speak learnedly about their Departments after having been in office hardly a couple of minutes, and I say to myself, "All you have to do is to have a good brief, plenty of cheek, and you will get away with it." You do not need to be trained at a university to be able to do that.
Quite seriously, we think that the workers in any industry, as I believe any intelligent employer will agree, can very often make good suggestions and give good advice and assist in the development of the industry, and that is particularly so in the case of a public interprise such as the Post Office. An hon. Member for one of the divisions of Liverpool wanted business men in particular to be consulted. There is an Advisory Council now, and we think it would be an excellent thing to have on it some representatives of workmen in order to put the point of view of the general public. If we have an Advisory Council, let it be representative of all those who have the right to advise on how to make the service more advantageous.
§ Sir K. WOOD
We had on the Advisory Council the late Mr. Cramp, and Mr. John Pugh and other representatives of Labour.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
But I think it will he found that the Union of Post Office Workers was not represented there. Perhaps I ought to have made my point a little more clear. I remember, now, that certain representatives of trade unions are on the Advisory Council, but the one union which we should have thought ought to be represented is not. I repeat that in our judgment the union representative of the men, or some of the men themselves, ought to be on the council. I should have thought, too, that in setting up the new board it would be a great advantage to put on it not a representative of other unions but one 2298 or two men representative of those who are carrying on the work of the Department.
I want the right hon. Gentleman to understand that while we, like everybody else, throw him bouquets for having proved himself so adaptable since he became the head of the postal service, and for carrying on the work so very efficiently, we are still disgusted with the low wages paid, especially to the lower-paid men and women in the Department, and we think that the continuation of the auxiliary service is really a. terrible disgrace to the nation. It is not something new; we cannot blame this Postmaster-General or the other for it is a system which has grown up because it is cheap. Casual labour used to be considered cheap, but no one, not even those who support Capitalism to its fullest extent, will now say that casual labour is cheap, or that paying people wages insufficient to keep them or employing them only part time is really cheap. In the long run it is dear. But finally, and I must be forgiven for repeating it, we take our stand on the basic fact that nearly every one in this House, nearly every one who has considered the question of wages and conditions from any sort of moral standpoint, has always laid down this principle, that the first charge on any industry must be the livelihood of those who carry it on, and it is on that score mainly that I base my appeal to the right hon. Gentleman.
Now I want to say a few words on an altogether different question, and that is the right hon. Gentleman's veto over the broadcasting of speeches. Broadcasting is one of the most powerful means of propaganda in the world. Whoever has control of broadcasting can make the issues at elections, can almost determine the final issue of an election, and at the present moment the right hon. Gentleman has not the power, as I understand, because of his colleagues in the Government, to get this business put on a sound footing. According to the Charter, as I understand, the Government have the power to go to the British Broadcasting Corporation and take the right to broadcast whatever they choose at a particular moment. They used that power during the General Strike, and can use it whenever they consider it necessary to do so. How much power really rests in the Postmaster-General 1 do not know, 2299 but I do know this, because we have been informed by the authorities at Broadcasting House, that the Government of the day have the right, when they desire to broadcast, to go to Broadcasting House and say, "We desire to do so-and-so" and their desire must be met.
We think that the power to use the microphone at Broadcasting House ought to be applied by the Government of the day in a fair and an equitable manner, and we maintain that whenever the Government use the microphone, as they continually do, in order to state their views—as, for example, when the Secretary of State for India spoke on India, or when a Minister wishes to explain an Act of Parliament—the Opposition ought to have an equal right to reply, as is the case in this House. It is not necessary to tell us that discussions are allowed, because we admit that to the full, but what we are claiming is that when the Government of the day take the power, which the Charter gives them, to say "We desire to put before the public certain statements on public questions," that as a matter of equity they should give the same right to the Opposition. Our complaint is that the Government use that power regularly, but that we have no chance of replying. When we go to the British Broadcasting Corporation they tell us of the rights of the Government, and we have no alternative but to come to the House and put the case here.
We strongly maintain that it is an abuse of power for the Government to use the microphone in that way. I do not want there to be any misunderstanding about it. We are not complaining of the ordinary talks—this man to-day and someone else to-morrow—but we are complaining that His Majesty's Government claim the right under the Charter to broadcast statements of policy, and then the British Broadcasting Corporation refuse to allow the Opposition to answer them. We—not myself, but our party—wanted to discuss the Budget. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked to broadcast, and we were to be given the opportunity of speaking after him. The Chancellor refused to make any statement on the Budget, and we were denied the right to make any statement. I think that is a dog-in-the-manger policy. They will not play themselves, and they will not let anybody else play. It is child's 2300 play entirely. The thing would be too ludicrous if it were not so very serious. Mr. Hitler, in Germany, gained power largely through taking hold of the wireless in the fashion that this set of dictators here take hold of it, and I understand that in other countries blessed with dictators, not cursed with them like we are—well, I am only using their own language—this same thing happens.
The point I am making is quite a simple one, and I need not delay the proceedings to re-emphasise it, except to make it clear that those who control broadcasting politically really control the political destinies of the country. Broadcasting comes into every home. The speaker at the street corner, or hall, can speak to a few thousands only, but the microphone speaks to millions of people. If the right hon. Gentleman were speaking as I am to-night, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Lime-house (Mr. Attlee) was speaking, and the right hon. Gentleman's party was being treated as we are, whether it comprised 40, 50 or 100 hon. Members, I am quite certain that this Box would hardly prevent his coming for us hald-headed. I do not want to be so violent. I want to be quite moderate. I want him to go to the Cabinet and tell them that, as Postmaster-General and Minister in charge of broadcasting, he is not going to tolerate their dog-in-the-manger policy any longer, and that, when any Minister broadcasts on a matter of policy, the Opposition must be able to say what a nonsensical thing that policy is.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ The ASSISTANT POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Sir Ernest Bennett)
The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. White), my immediate predecessor at the Post Office, where his good work and, if I may say so, his good nature have left many pleasant memories, stressed the desirability of more frequent appearances of these Estimates before the House of Commons. I think the comparative infrequency of these Estimates is only a reflection of the general sense of contentment and satisfaction of the House of Commons with regard to the work and methods of the Post Office. Any self-complacency we may feel on this subject has been interrupted only by a series of criticisms of what the right hon. Gentleman opposite would call a roseate character. My hon. Friend the 2301 Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) started the Debate with a very well-worn theme—the low pay of certain grades in the Post Office. That is by no means a new matter. It has been the subject brought forward by no fewer than five deputations since the National Government came into office, and no Minister has been more willing to receive deputations, and discuss questions sympathetically, than my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General.
To-night I can only give the same answer as that given by my right hon. Friend to the deputations—that in existing circumstances it is impossible to promise any immediate advance in the rate of pay of any grades in the Post Office. Even the Church Congress and Archbishops quoted by the right hon. Gentleman have to face facts, and we, too, have facts before us. What the future may hold, none of us knows. We must hope for the best. Nobody sitting on the opposite side of the Committee can feel more real sympathy than we feel for these loyal and efficient servants in the lower-paid grades of the Post Office. As I say, I cannot speak for the future. The adage,
Tempora mutantur, nos et matantur in illis, may be applied to economics and politics as well as to most other matters in this world.
Another subject brought forward from the Opposition Benches was that of broadcasting. In the short time at my disposal I can only say I have taken great pains to look into every scrap of writing and literature on this subject. Quite frankly, I have come to the conclusion that the contention of the British Broadcasting Corporation that it is perfectly fair to all Governments, and shows equal impartiality to all political parties, is thoroughly well-founded. I know it is impossible to persuade the right hon. Gentleman or his friends on this point, but I cannot detect any indication of any unfair treatment of any particular party. The right hon. Gentleman says that the Labour party does not get a fair share of broadcasting. In the arrangements made for this autumn, five speeches are to be allowed to the Government and three speeches are to be allowed to the Opposition. Most people would take that ratio of three to five as being, in the circumstances, not 2302 only a fair but a chivalrous allotment. The Government are here representing the nation at the nation's request.
§ Sir E. BENNETT
In this Committee the case is somewhat different. Quite apart from mere numbers, the Government of the day have a national responsibility quite distinct from party interests.
§ Sir E. BENNETT
That is what we say, and we believe it. Hon. Members opposite seem to have lost their sense of proportion. They have no monopoly of complaint against the British Broadcasting Corporation. I would like them to have seen some of the letters which came when Professor Laski was allowed to broadcast, and describe to the British public the benefits and delights of Communism. When one sees people of diametrically opposite opinions attacking the British Broadcasting Corporation on the ground of partiality and unfairness, one begins to think that the British Broadcasting Corporation has taken the wisest and most sensible line:Media tutissimas ibis."There exists in this House a committee specially set up to deal with this vexed question of alleged partiality and unfairness, and the Labour party was invited to contribute a member to that body. They have failed to do so, up to the present, and I ask them in all sincerity to change their minds and send a Member to that committee to represent them on these difficult points.
§ Sir E. BENNETT
I do not think that was the constitution of the committee. Members of committees of this House are generally representative of various sections of opinion. I imagine that a representative Member of the Labour party would be extremely useful.
There are a great many other suggestions which have been made by hon. Members. They are so many, indeed, 2303 that it is quite impossible for me to deal with all of them. I found the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for the West Derby Division of Liverpool (Sir J. Sandeman Allen) very interesting. I thought we should get penny postage from somebody before the evening was out. The right hon. Gentleman talked about bishops, and I remember the late Bishop of Oxford stated in my presence that when he went on his Confirmation rounds in the rural areas, and had lunch at the vicarages, he was always sure to find two things—cold chicken and "The Church's one Foundation." With regard to penny postage, I do not think my right hon. Friend, or I, have attended a single dinner party, public or private, when we have not had the subject brought up. My answer this evening must be that when people are willing to submit to an increase of Income Tax of 2½d. or 3d. in the £, we shall be willing to change from the 1½d. to the 1d. stamp.
The hon. Member for South-East Essex (Mr. Raikes) referred to the supply of timber for telegraph posts. I may say, in passing, to the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight (Captain P. Macdonald) that the suggestion that timber for telegraph poles comes from Russia is unfounded—no telegraph pole, to my knowledge, ever reaches us from Russia. For various reasons, our main supplies of timber come from the vast forests of Norway and Finland. Trees grow there more slowly, and are well suited to our requirements. Means 'are taken to secure timber from our own country, but in Great Britain during War-time our supplies were largely drawn upon, and have consequently become limited. Our great national forests are, as yet, young. For some time to come we shall have to continue to look forward to getting the bulk of our supplies from Scandinavia and Finland. Measures are taken to secure timber from our own country. The Scots pine still holds an unrivalled position of superiority to all timber for our purposes. We are doing all we can to get homegrown timber. The Forestry Commission is working hard. If any hon. Member should be motoring through the New Forest, and could spare half an hour to look at the work of the commission, he would find it well spent in observing the interesting sight of the timber being felled and creosoted for telephone pur- 2304 poses. Up to the present we are able to supply from this country only something like 16,000 poles out of 176,000.
§ Sir E. BENNETT
On the subject of Empire timber the hon. and gallant Member is not very accurate. The hon. and gallant Member put forward a rather rosy picture regarding the possibilities of securing very large supplies from our own Empire. I do not know on what he based his facts. We are taking pains to get any timber we can from Canada or Newfoundland, but there are various difficulties in the way, apart from the question of freight charges. Moreover, we have to test these timbers, even when grown in Canada, to see whether they are suitable to the vagaries of our own climate. Any considerable supply of timber from the Empire, I am afraid, for the time being, more or less out of the question. We have done our best to discover which of the Empire timbers can be used, and we are testing timbers from New South Wales and British Guiana. While we are doing our best to secure supplies from the Empire, and making all the efforts we can to get a supply for Great Britain, we are forced to rely chiefly upon a supply of timber from other countries in the North of Europe.
The question of the lower-paid workers has been raised on two occasions from the Opposition side of the Committee. If and when any change takes place in the payment of a lower rate of wages at the Post Office, it will be made according to the recognised machinery which controls the whole wage system of the Civil Service. I say that because there is a recognised machinery by which the wages of the Civil Service are determined. The arguments that have been put forward more than once, that the mere fact that we have a surplus in the Post Office justifies a demand for increased wages, is not a valid one. One cannot draw analogies between the business of the Post Office and the business of private enterprise, for the so-called surplus of the Post Office is not a commercial profit in the ordinary sense of the word. We lose on our telegraphs, and on other services; the service that mainly produces this great surplus is the 10. postage. Whatever the wages may be, we cannot admit that we can increase them merely because we have a sur- 2305 plus. That is a most undesirable point of view, and I think that most hon. Members will agree with me. Through basing a claim for higher wages on the existence of a surplus a state of things might arise in which the interests of the postal worker would conflict with those of the general public. Suppose that a surplus is available for cheapening the telephone system, and that then a demand is made for an increase of wages. We should have to decide whether to agree to that demand or to cheapen the cost of the telephone. There you would have a conflict between the interests of the worker and the interest of the community,
§ Mr. LOGAN rose—
§ Sir E. BENNETT
I am sorry that I have not the time to give way. I was saying that I do not want a claim for higher wages to be based upon a surplus, because there are other and better grounds.
§ Sir E. BENNETT
My statement is that I do not think that a claim for higher wages should be based upon the extent of the surplus.
§ Sir E. BENNETT
There are many other points upon which I should like to touch. I should like very much to answer some of the questions put by the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Weimer) but time, I am afraid—
§ Sir E. BENNETT
—makes it impossible for me to do so. He and other hon. Members have stressed the subject 2306 of advertising and the results. At this moment we are employing 750 full-time officers in the provinces, and we are using every means in the way of advertising our goods, literature, posters, exhibitions, and, shortly, experimental telephones in the schools. We are also in a short time making use of films up and down the country to illustrate various phases of our work. At this moment we are allotting £75,000 to the expenses of advertising. I should like to go on, and say more about this work, but I must now make room for one or two other hon. Members who would like to put their points.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Sir GEORGE GILLETT
I should like to add my congratulations to those of other hon. Members to the Postmaster-General upon the very interesting statement that he has made. We have had a number of points brought before us this evening, but there are only one or two to which I want specially to draw attention. Anyone who has studied the postal conditions of this country must have been struck by the information given by the hon. Gentleman as to the amount of money in the Savings Bank, and by the interesting points he brought before us in regard to the telephone service. As one who is Member for the Division in which the Mount Pleasant Post Office is situated, I should like to thank him for the statement he has made that the building is to be completed. It seems a great pity that for many years it has been impossible to complete work in that centre. I hope that he will feel at liberty, as far as possible, to carry that extension to other building schemes. That brings me to the question of the control of the Treasury. I shall take advantage of the offer of the right hon. Gentleman to give hon. Members privately a little more information, and I shall be interested to hear what have been the actual concessions made by the Treasury. I think that the Leader of the Opposition has been entirely mistaken as to the wage question. It seems to me that the first and the fundamental principle that you have to recognise is that you cannot pay one set of wages in one Government department and a lower class of wages in another. The right hon. Gentleman's objection to the Treasury having a voice in regard to what is going on in the Post Office has been mistaken, because 2307 the Treasury are the one party responsible for seeing that wages, whatever the standard may be, are uniform. It would be quite unfair, when A. was doing efficient work in a certain Department—shall we say at the Admiralty—that B., doing exactly the same class of work in the Post Office, should be paid a better wage simply because the Post Office has a large surplus. The argument that the right hon. Gentleman has used in which he suggests that the surplus of the Post Office has to be considered, is exceedingly bad for the employés of any other Government department. What would the right hon. Gentleman say, suppose there was not a surplus but a. loss on the postal service? Are we to argue, according to the right hon. Gentleman, that if you distribute the surplus in wages, you may, at a moment when you have a loss in the Post Office—
§ Mr. LANSBURY rose—
§ Sir G. GILLETT
The right hon. Gentleman need not disturb me. He said that there is a surplus in the Post Office, and that therefore it should be distributed.
§ Sir G. GILLETT
He said more than that. It is quite true that they should be a first charge, but the right hon. Gentleman has been laying stress on this question of a surplus. I say that the surplus has nothing to do with the wage question. The men are entitled-to a certain wage, and they are entitled to that wage whether there is a surplus or whether there is not.
§ Sir G. GILLETT
That is not what the right hon. Gentleman said. He said that there is a surplus, and therefore there ought to be an increase in wages. He has brought forward a dangerous principle. I think that on this question of wages it is well to remember that those of us who were in the last Labour Government were equally responsible for the wages in the Post Office, then and now, and we need not be pretending that we were any better then than we are now. Mr. Lees-Smith, the then Postmaster-General, did, I believe, make a move in the question of auxiliary postmen. He made two 2308 attempts, one of which was to allow a number of them to come on to the regular staff at once, and he also made an attempt to see that some of the vacancies in the future would be available to men on the temporary staff. If there should be time this evening, I hope that the Postmaster-General will reply, and will let us know how that scheme is working. I believe that, as a result of it, hundreds of men have been put upon the permanent staff who would simply have been auxiliary postmen.
I hope that the Postmaster-General will also let us know a little more about the classes of employés who are receiving less than 40s. per week. I know that there are a large number of them, and that many of them are in the telegraph service. It would be very useful to know how many of them are men with families, and how many are really lads in the telegraph service, or are in a similar position. There is another point which I have to put to the Postmaster-General. I have had a complaint made to me. It is a very small matter, but it is causing a certain amount of discontent. In the sorters' department, some of the men who have reached the age limit—there are one or two, or may be a dozen—are being kept on, whereas they might step out of the way so that others might come on. If the right hon. Gentleman has an opportunity to reply, I should be delighted to have information on that point.
The Leader of the Opposition should bear in mind that in the early days, when there was a great increase in the powers of the newspaper world, I used to think that everybody would finally share the views of Lord Beaverbrook and Lord Rothermere, or the other great newspaper lords. I have discovered that, after all, the power of the newspaper is much more limited than we at one time assumed. The right hon. Gentleman will also find that the power of broadcasting becomes equally ineffective. If he is dissatisfied, I think that the Postmaster-General will find that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) is probably also dissatisfied, and that, in steering a middle course between the two right hon. Gentlemen, he may congratulate himself.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I rise to use the limited time that is left. I heard the Post- 2309 master-General's statement, and many of the subsequent salvoes of praise that were rattled round about his ears and round about the Post Office generally. I feel that I cannot join in this great chorus of praise. The Debate has been taken part in, largely, till now, by ex-Postmasters- General and ex-Assistant Postmasters-General. They all seem to get a certain virus into the blood, and, however short a time they stay in that Department, the poison works, so that when they come out of it they see nothing but good in that great national service—
§ It being half-past Seven of the Clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS, under Standing Order No. 8, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.