HL Deb 24 June 1892 vol 5 cc1879-83



My Lords, I should like to explain in a few words my reason for moving for this Return on the Paper. I hope that it will show the successful conclusion of a movement which affects a great army of meritorious public servants—the Post Office officials—which has been going on now for a long period of years, and has interested a number of persons, the greater proportion of whom are of the working class. This Return that I move for is similar to one that was given in the House of Commons, on the Motion of the Recorder of London, about twenty-five years ago; but, at the request of the Postmaster General, I have somewhat reduced its size: having struck out the details, added in 1867 at the request, I believe, of the then Post Office authorities, which seem to me now to be of little value. At that time attention was called to the serious grievance which a large number of the Post Office officials laboured under, of having to work all the seven days of the week—sometimes, I think I have been informed, as much on Sundays as on weekdays—an exceptional state of things as compared with almost any other public servants. The intolerable amount of toil which letter carriers and rural messengers had to undergo in this way, all the seven days of the week, nearly all through the year was startling to many persons; it arrested the attention of the House of Commons shortly after this Return was give in 1867; they passed a strong Resolution in favour of reducing Sunday labour by all prudent means; an important Departmental Committee, consisting of Sir George Grey, Lord Dalhousie, and Mr. Monsell, was appointed to go into the question, which introduced great improvements; and there the matter rested for a while. Recently again, I am happy to say, the Post Office has largely introduced a system of relief, by means of which many I believe of these meritorious men are able to have alternate Sundays to themselves. It undoubtedly would appear that it has taken rather a long time to bring the Post Office round to what one would imagine was a simple matter of organisation, the cost of which the large profits on their business which they pay into the Treasury could well afford. I have little doubt, however, that it was the Treasury, which has often stood in the way of other good things, which has hampered the beneficent desires of the Post Office. In 1887 a House of Commons Committee was appointed to investigate the arrangements of the Post Office as to Sunday labour; they found that the evil was still lurking—that some sorting clerks had Sunday duty every week in the year: that many had seven Sundays at work out of eight: and some three Sundays at work out of four; they found also that about a thousand rural messengers worked every Sunday in the year. They made various recommendations as to the Sunday collection of printed matter, and as to other subjects, with a view of checking Sunday labour, and I think, if I remember right, recommended that all should have alternate Sundays free. I have a good hope that by this time the evils have been remedied, and that we shall find that this movement, which has taken a great deal of labour on the part of the House of Commons and others, has come to a successful conclusion. My Lords, there is another reason why I wish for this Return; and that is to compare what has been done by our Post Office with the results in similar offices abroad, in consequence of the striking change as to Sunday Postal labour and Sunday labour generally in the capitals of the Continental countries since M. Leon Say's great International Congress in 1889 at Paris in connection with the Universal Exhibition in favour of the Seventh Day's Rest. My Lords, it must be a gratification to us in England to feel that not only have we released our own Post Office officials from the undue pressure of Sunday work, but that our example has been largely followed abroad. In the last two or three years Berlin and Vienna have, I am informed, knocked off almost all Sunday work, by reducing the Sunday deliveries to one; in Copenhagen, Strasburg, Germany generally, Sweden, &c, since the Congress in Paris, and very much owing to the example of London and of England generally, the Sunday work has been largely diminished for these officials; and Switzerland has taken the strong line of passing a law of the State that all postal officers must have fifty-two free days in the year, of which seventeen must be Sundays; while they have extended this further to men employed on railways, steamers, omnibuses, and trams. So that this movement, which was initiated, now many years ago, in the British House of Commons, for releasing our Post Office servants from Sunday labour, has not only been fruitful at home, but has done an infinite service to large bodies of men in similar employment on the Continent. My Lords, I wish then not only to compare these returns with those from abroad, but also to encourage those who are working abroad for the same cause by the conclusive example of England after all her experience. I wish also to see that the Post Office has finally concluded, as I hope we shall find, this really important matter, affecting large numbers of men, so that we should be able to show that every possible arrangement has been made for the reduction of Sunday work and the fixing of Sunday rest. I also think that there is one other reason of no slight importance in favour of securing this Eeturn—namely, that thereby we shall call the attention of the Post Office Authorities—who have not always formerly been sufficiently alive to this question—to the fact that Parliament and many people outside are watching any encroachments upon this matter of Sunday rest, at a moment when there have been some signs in London of a desire to increase the labour of the officials instead of diminishing it on the seventh day of rest.

Moved, That there be laid before the House, Returns—Of the number of persons of all ranks and classes employed, in 1867 and in 1892, in the service of the Post Office in the United Kingdom; Of the number of surveyors, inspectors, postmasters, postmasters' clerks, stampers, sorters, letter carriers, rural messengers, and other persons employed in the service of the Post Office in the United Kingdom on Sundays; Of the number of post offices in the United Kingdom which are open to the public on Sundays, showing generally the number of hours during which they are so open; Of the names of all post towns in the United Kingdom (irrespective of London and its suburbs) where there is no house-to-house delivery of letters on Sunday; also of the names of all such post towns where there is only a delivery on Sunday from the post office window, showing the number of letters delivered weekly in each of such post towns; Of the names of all post towns and rural districts where the postmen are released from Sunday delivery on alternate Sundays, with the number of postmen so relieved in each town or district; Of the number of rural post messengers that work on Sundays; Of the number of rural post messengers that do not work on Sundays."—(The Earl of Harrowby.)


My Lords, I am prepared, on behalf of the Post Office, to assent to the Return being given as it is now asked for on the Paper. The form in which the Motion first appeared was open to objection into which I need not enter, as the noble Earl has been good enough to move for the Return in its present form. My Lords, I have only one remark to make. I think the noble Earl and the House will do wisely to bear in mind that in the reforms which have been instituted, to which the noble Lord has referred, one of the not least important of those which have been introduced in the last few years is that, instead of there being a certain payment or weekly wage for the work of seven days, there is now a certain payment for six days' work and an additional payment when the Sunday is employed in the service of the Post Office. And, so far as any attempt is concerned to force work, as I think the noble Earl said, upon Post Office servants on Sunday in London or elsewhere, I think he will find that the pressure is just as often on the part of the servants to get the additional payment provided for the seventh day's work, as upon the part of the Post Office to impose the seventh day's work upon the servant. With that explanation I am willing to assent to the Return.

Motion agreed to.