My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government how many men were taken on as postmen in the London postal area in 1922; of these how many were ex-soldiers; and whether it is not desirable that this clas6 of employment should be reserved for ex-soldiers?
§ VISCOUNT LONG OF WRAXALL
My Lords, before the noble Lord replies on behalf of the Government I should like to say a word on this subject, not because I have any claim to address your Lordships on the matter, but because yesterday I attended a meeting of the association which exists for the purpose of providing work for these ex-soldiers, and I there expressed the view that I hold strongly as to the position in which we find ourselves to-day. This association, which has hitherto existed only for ex-soldiers, has now succeeded in amalgamating all the three Services; it represents now ox-sailors and ex-airmen also.
It is a most lamentable fact that the employment offered by the State has recently fallen off very materially in the case of ex-soldiers. The report of the association, from April 1, 1909, down to this year, gives certain figures, and I find that whereas in 1909–10 1,417 ex-soldiers were employed, and in 1913, 2,742, last year only 346 ex-soldiers found employment in the Post Office. Knowing as I do that Ministers who have filled the high position of Postmaster-General have all been well disposed to His Majesty's Services—they have all been distinguished 459 men who have served their country with great advantage and with much credit to themselves—I cannot understand how this position arises. In this country we have deliberately adopted the system of voluntary service, and although we did enforce compulsory service for a few years during the war we were the first to revert to the old system after the war. Surely we cannot practice the virtue of not compelling men to serve their country without accepting the responsibility which follows as a result of that practice. If we rely entirely upon voluntary effort, is it not our duty to make it clear to those men who serve their country that, providing their character is good, they will have a prior claim to employment by the State over any one else?
I am aware that in a great country like this, with an immense and growing population, a decrease in employment and an increase in unemployment, the claim of the civilian is strong. He is entitled to full consideration. But is it not also the fact that men who join the Navy, Army and the Air Force surrender their liberty, submit themselves to control from the centre, are ready to go wherever they are sent, and are ready to risk their lives in the defence of the Empire? Surely this constitutes a greater duty than anything else which exists at this moment in respect of public service.
The time has come when the Government should endeavour to give a recognised number of places every year to ex-Service men, provided they can be found in sufficient numbers and are of good character. I need not remind your Lordships that they have gone; through a very severe ordeal. The test they have to pass is very high, and if they come out of it with a good record and a good character there cannot be much doubt as to their fitness for such employment. You have, therefore, these two conditions. First, the fact that these men have voluntarily given the best they have to the State, and secondly, that they have been under close observation for a considerable number of years and have come through it with a good character. On these grounds I urge that the Government, wherever it is possible, should find employment for these men before it is offered to others.
There is no Department where the employment is so suitable as in the 460 General Post Office. The work which the ordinary postal servants have to perform is work which these men can well do. I venture to urge upon your Lordships' House and upon the Government, not merely on behalf of these ex-Service men but on behalf of the country which must have these forces and which these men have served so well, that it is really in the interests more of the State than of the individual to give the most friendly consideration to the Question which my noble friend Lord Raglan has raised.
§ THE EARL OF LUCAN
My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord who asked this Question and also the noble Viscount who has just spoken that the Post Office, at any rate, have the interests of ex-Service men very deeply at heart. I do not know if the figures to which the noble Viscount referred relate only to the Post Office or to other branches of the Civil Service as well.
§ THE EARL OF LUCAN
The facts are that an arrangement was made so far back as 1897 by which fifty per cent. of the vacancies for postmen and porters are reserved for men who have served in the Army or Navy, while the remaining fifty per cent. are reserved for Post Office boy messengers who are employed with a definite view to appointment on reaching adult age. This figure has now been exceeded, because during the war, the number of boy messengers was considerably reduced by the employment of girls on telegraph delivery work, and it has in consequence been possible since the Armistice to give more than fifty per cent. of the nominations to postmanships to ex-Service men.
The specific answer to the noble Lord's Question is that during the year 1922, 402 ex-Service men were appointed as postmen in the London postal area, and no more than 223 boy messengers. It is, however, probable that the proportion of vacancies required for boy messengers will approximate more nearly to fifty per cent. of the total vacancies in the near future as more boys are employed and grow to adult age. It may interest your Lordships to know that during the last two years 6,582 ex-Service men—4,884 disabled and 1,698 able-bodied— 461 have been appointed to postman and porter vacancies throughout the country, as against 900 boy messengers. The total number of ex-Service men now in the employment of the Post Office is 90,000—including nearly 25,000 disabled men—or considerably more than half of the total male staff.