HL Deb 07 May 1894 vol 24 cc446-53

LORD WANTAGE moved for the following Return:— The number of soldiers in the Reserve, or time-expired, who have been engaged in outdoor employments under the Post Office Authorities since January, 1892. distinguishing the Reserve from the time-expired; the number of men, other than soldiers or pensioners, who have been engaged in similar positions during the same period; the number of soldiers who have been dismissed from their positions during that period from the General Post Office service; the number of civiliansalso dismissed; and that particulars of the first three paragraphs should distinguish the soldiers and time-expired men who have been officially recommended to the General Post Office by officers in charge of registries, or by the 'National Association for the Employment of Reserve Soldiers. He said, he was anxious to ascertain the number of soldiers employed as postmen. Since he had put down the notice, he said some information had been given in another place with regard to the subject. He learnt that during the first quarter of the present year 59 Reservists had been appointed as postmen, but during the same period 432 civilians had been appointed to similar posts. It struck him that this proportion was siugularly inadequate when they considered how exceptionally fitted Army men were to fill these posts. Out of 16,000 men who were annually sent to the Reserve they had, as it seemed to him, the very insufficient number of 240 employed in the post offices. The proportion which soldiers bore to civilians in the Post Office was 12 per cent. The Return he asked for would extend the information further than was stated in the House of Commons. He had asked for the figures for the previous two years to be given by quarters. He was very much afraid that when granted the Return would show that the number of Reservists, as compared with civilians, had diminished every quarter since 1892. In the first quarter of 1893, in one particular regimental district with which he was acquainted, 19 Reservists were appointed as postmen, in the second quarter 10 were appointed, in the third quarter six, in the fourth quarter three, and in the first quarter of 1894 only one. To make the matter a little more clear, he would tell their Lordships what took place in the time of the Postmaster General who preceded Mr. Morley. Sir James Fergusson had laid down the rule that every situation of postmen was to be given or offered to a soldier or sailor. This rule also extended to telegraph messengers. The present Postmaster General had so far modified that scheme as to secure that soldiers and sailors were still to have these offices of postmen, but to receive them after the best messengers had been satisfied. And, further, the scheme said not only that telegraph messengers were to be disposed of, but also civilian casuals who might be employed as auxiliaries for any extended period. The words "extended period" seemed to him to be open to a very elastic meaning, and it seemed to him that civilians had been able to obtain these situations after having acted for a very short period as auxiliaries. The result was that after the telegraph messengers and the civilians who got into these posts by a sort of side door had been disposed of and had got their appointments, very few posts seemed to be left for the soldiers. He would remind their Lordships that the right to recommend old Army men for the work of postmen was originally in the hands and under the express patronage of Members of Parliament, and that they had given up their right to nominate men for the vacancies as they occurred when it was understood that the Post Office authorities would in future, in the first instance, draw their employés from among the Reservists. He sincerely wished that this patronage was still in the hands of Members of Parliament, because he believed that if they possessed it they would very largely make it over to the numerous Associations scattered all about the country whose express object was to help men who had left the Army after serving their full number of years. The success of these Associations, of which there were 76 throughout the country, had been very marked, and he attributed it chiefly to the great care that was exercised to thoroughly investigate the character of each man before he was recommended to fill a post. The consequence was that those who applied to these Associations for men found the Reservists a sober and trustworthy class, and came back again to the Association whenever, from time to time, they required satisfactory men, either for themselves or their friends, to undertake any particular business. During the year ending March, 1886, 179 soldiers found employment through these Associations, in 1887 the number grew to 420, in 1888 it was 1,013, in 1889 1,462, in 1890 1,890, in 1891 2,097, in 1892 2,614, in 1893 3,886, and so far in 1894 446. These were very encouraging figures, which showed that efforts had been made to find employment for Reserve soldiers. The rule was that every man who showed in his defaulter's sheet that he had been more than once intoxicated in three years was refused a character, and was not assisted in any way to obtain civil employment. He was glad to be able to give as one proof that their conduct was considered satisfactory by the Post Office authorities the fact that far fewer Reservists than civilians were dismissed. The position of postman was desired for the Reservist inasmuch as it carried with it a good wage, and after long service entitled the man to a pension, besides giving him whilst at work a share in private emoluments in the shape of presents. It was highly important that employment of this sort should be given, as far as possible, to old Army men, as it offered the greatest assistance to the Military Authorities when passing their men into the Army Reserve. But he very much feared—despite the good will of the Postmaster General—that the inertness of the officials, particularly in country districts, prevented a good deal being done in this direction. He hoped the Post Office would be able to set aside, say, 50 per cent. of the appointments to be given annually to soldiers. Unless some policy of that kind were adopted, he was very much afraid that very little would be done, because however desirous some officials might be to assist Reservists and time-expired soldiers, the tendency was for one State Department not to assist another. The result must be, to a large extent, to frustrate their wishes. He did not desire that anything he said should be taken as attaching blame to the Post Office. It would be unfair to do so, seeing that it was the only public Office amongst the numerous other Offices of the State which had shown any disposition to furnish employment for Reserve soldiers. But he was sorry to say that the assistance given in this direction in 1891–92 seemed now to be rather diminished. Every quarter showed fewer soldiers employed in the Post Office than formerly. From the St. George's recruiting office he had ascertained how many Reservists had during the year obtained situations as postmen. He was told that the number was 375, but when he asked if they were permanently on the establishment, he ascertained that not one of them was so situated and going on for pension. It seemed, therefore, that the least satisfactory and worst paid of the appointments were reserved for soldiers, the best being given to civilians. He hoped the Return for which he moved would be granted, as the figures would amply prove the statements he had made.

Moved, That there be laid before this House, Return of—

  1. "1. The number of soldiers in the Reserve, of time-expired, who have been engaged in outdoor employments under the Post Office Authorities since January 1892, distinguishing the Reserve from the time-expired;
  2. 2. The number of men, other than soldiers or pensioners, who have been engaged in similar positions during the same period;
  3. 3. The number of soldiers who have been dismissed from their positions during that period from the General Post Office service;
  4. 4. The number of civilians also dismissed: distinguishing in Returns 1, 2, and 3 the soldiers and time-expired men who have been officially recommended to the General Post Office by officers in charge of registries, or by the 'National Association for the Employment of Reserve Soldiers.'"—(The Lord Wantage.)

*LORD PLAYFAIR said, the noble Lord had brought forward his case in a very clear way, and he (Lord Playfair) hoped to be able to satisfy him that the number of soldiers employed was considerably greater than he had been led to believe. The Memorandum of November, 1891, which governed the selection in these cases, gave a preferential selection to soldiers after the civilians who had been engaged at the Post Office were properly satisfied. In August last year a further extension was made by including among the latter the trained telegraph messengers who were getting too old for the messenger service, and as these were admirably trained and know the districts, they were employed as postmen. The Post Office naturally did not wish to lose the services of good conducted and trained telegraph messengers. If the noble Lord would alter the terms of his Motion he could give him at once most of the information he asked for, at least so far as Loudon was concerned. To give details as to the number of soldiers employed temporarily by the provincial post offices would require a great deal of time, and the information when obtained would be of no value, because the kind of employment which was given in the provinces was of such an insignificant character that it was not worth giving to soldiers. In the years 1892–3 there were 5,560 civilians appointed as postmen, and there were 970 soldiers appointed in the established service. Then as to the complaint that more soldiers than civilians were dismissed, that was perfectly true—

LORD WANTAGE said, he had pointed out that there were fewer soldiers dismissed for misconduct than civilians.

*LORD PLAYFAIR said, it was not the case that there were fewer soldiers dismissed than civilians. There were more soldiers than civilians dismissed because they failed through lack of experience. Out of the numbers he had given, 21 civilians and 14 soldiers had been dismissed for misconduct or inefficiency—the 14 in the case of the soldiers being a larger proportion of the number employed than the 21 civilians. In the case of the soldiers it was one in 170, and in the case of the civilians one in 265. This dealt with those who were engaged all the year round. With regard to temporary employment in Loudon, 1,030 soldiers had been so employed in those two years and 2,257 civilians. Soldiers dismissed, 78; civilians, 88; percentage amongst the soldiers, 7¾3 per cent., or 1 in 13; amongst civilians, 3¾9 per cent., or 1 in 25. It was, he thought, exceedingly creditable to the soldiers that so few of them were dismissed, seeing that they lacked experience in the duties. He assured the noble Lord that it was the desire of the Department to promote the employment of soldiers. If the noble Lord would confine his Re-turn as to the temporary employment of soldiers to London he could get all the information he wanted at once, with the exception of the reply to paragraph 5, in which he asked— Returns 1, 2, and 3 should distinguish the soldiers and time-expired men who have been officially recommended to the General Post Office by officers in charge of registries, or by the 'National Association for the Employment of Reserve Soldiers.' There were none such, therefore the Return could not be given. It was the essence of the scheme that soldiers who entered the Post Office should have been recommended by the Military Authorities —never by private Associations. Private Associations could not give the responsible characters which were considered necessary. Then, the noble Lord asked them to distinguish the Reserve men from the time-expired men. The Post Office had no knowledge on the point, but possibly the War Office, with which he had been in communication, would be able to afford the required information.

LORD ASHBOURNE said, there was one question arising out of the clear statement of the noble Lord which he would like to ask. The noble Lord said that a modification was made in giving preferential treatment and consideration to the claims of telegraph boys who had grown up and had rather passed beyond the telegraph sphere of work in selecting them for postmen in preference to soldiers. He (Lord Ashbourne) gathered that that was not confined to telegraph boys then in existence but was to go on?


LORD ASHBOURNE asked if the noble Lord had considered whether the supply of telegraph boys would not feed all the vacant appointments, leaving nothing for the soldiers?

*LORD PLAYFAIR said, that no doubt it would diminish the number of appointments available for soldiers, but it would not nearly meet the demands of the Post Office. The noble Lord would see that these ex-telegraph boys, with the training they had received, became very valuable as postmen.

LORD ASHBOURNE: No question of it.

LORD PLAYFAIR said, it would be undesirable not to give preference to these boys where their conduct had been good.

LORD ASHBOURNE said, he only wanted the assurance that, after recognising these claims, there would still be a substantial margin for the employment of soldiers and sailors.

LORD WANTAGE said, that what he was apprehensive of was that, in addition to the telegraph messengers under the order of the Postmaster General, civilians who had been temporarily employed by a post office would have precedence of soldiers in permanent employment. He was apprehensive that the terms of this Order were so elastic that local postmasters would interpret it to the disadvantage of soldiers, and would put civilians over their heads, after employing them, say, for six months at the post office. He was, therefore, anxious for a Return which would show the men who were employed as auxiliaries in the country as well as in London. He could not think that the preparation of such a Return would involve a large amount of trouble. The work would be purely clerical. A Circular Letter could be sent out to provincial postmasters asking for information as to how many soldiers were employed. The sending out of such a Circular would have this advantage—it would draw the attention of the local postmasters to the fact that it was the wish of the Postmaster General that postmasters should employ soldiers whenever they could do so. Many postmasters, he believed, were not aware of this wish. They found it convenient to put persons for six months or so into their post offices to learn the business and then to appoint them permanently, and so shut out soldiers altogether. The National Association established in Buckingham Street, and which had done so much good, was, perhaps, better able to vouch for the characters of the men than the officers of the regimental districts, because the Association took charge of them, and followed up each man's career. He hoped, therefore, the Post Office would recognise the characters given by that Association.

LORD PLAYFAIR said, he would put himself into communication with the the Post Office on the question.

THE LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord HERSCHELL): Perhaps the noble Lord will withdraw the Motion in the form in which he moved it?


Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.