HL Deb 24 June 1924 vol 57 cc968-74

My Lords, I wish to ask His Majesty's Government how many ex-Regular soldiers were given employment under the Post Office in 1923; and of these, how many left the Colours after 1st January, 1922. My object in putting down this Question is to draw attention to a paragraph in the Annual Report of the National Association for the Employment of Regular Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen. The paragraph reads as follows: Post Office employment in general has continued to be very unsatisfactory. During the year 406 men were placed in Post Office appointments. Only 52 vacancies in the London postal area were allotted to the Association's head office; of these 42 were for men who had previously served in the Post Office as boy messengers, and who were therefore entitled to preferential treatment. In accordance with an agreement made over thirty years ago, fifty per cent. of all Post Office vacancies should be allotted to men of the Regular Forces who are registered on the Association's books for that purpose. It is much to be regretted that notifications are continually having to be sent to discharged sailors and soldiers who have been waiting their turn for years to inform them that their names are being struck off our list on account of the age limit having been reached. At the time of their enlistment the agreement that 50 per cent. of Post Office vacancies were reserved for discharged men of the Regular Forces was a factor in inducing them to enlist. I do not think that it needs any words of mine to emphasise the gravity of this charge, brought against a Government Department by an influential and authoritative body like the National Association for the Employment of Regular Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen.


My Lords, before the noble Lord replies on behalf of the Government, I, as a member of the executive committee of the National Association, desire to make a brief statement. The National Association, as your Lordships know, is practically an official body. It is recognised by the Admiralty, the War Office and the Air Ministry. Facilities are given to it for registration in connection with discharged men, and its work is to find employment for men discharged from the Regular Forces. On its executive committee are representatives of the three great Departments of State. The agreement has been referred to by Lord Raglan, by the terms of which preference is given to discharged men of the Regular Forces, to the extent of 50 per cent. of the vacancies. The Post Office and National Association worked in great harmony up to the time of the war, but when the Ministry of Labour came into existence matters altered.

The Ministry of Labour proceeded to fill up vacancies, as they occurred in the Post Office, without any reference to the agreement which existed with regard to offering vacancies to ex-Regular Service men. That was followed by a protest from the National Association, which was very strongly backed up, I know, by the War Office and also, I believe, by the other two Departments of State concerned. The result was that after a prolonged period of negotiation—about two years—an arrangement was arrived at with the Post Office and with the Ministry of Labour, and a circular was issued by the Ministry of Labour in June, 1920, laying down the procedure which was to be followed, and which is supposed to be in force to-day. Roughly speaking, the arrangement is that 50 per cent. of suitable vacancies shall be allotted to ex-Service men, preference being given to Regular ex-Service men registered on the books of the National Association, the applications from the Post Office and the nominations by the National Association, respectively, passing through the books of the Labour Ministry and its exchanges.

Meanwhile, during these two years, while the negotiations were in progress, the Labour Exchanges had been filling the vacancies, 50 per cent. of which should have been allotted to ex-Regular Service men, without reference to the National Association, and there is no doubt that a very large number of vacancies were thus lost to the ex-Regular Service men. But even after the Labour Ministry issued its circular of June, 1920, there was no improvement. The matter was not settled by that circular, because, in spite of the circular, the situation remained most unsatisfactory. In connection with this may I be allowed to quote figures? In the year commencing April 1, 1913, and ending March 31, 1924, 2,742 ex-Regular Service men were employed by the Post Office, but from April 1, 1922, to March 31, 1923, the number was only 346. Taking the three years' period from April 1, 1911, to March 31, 1914, the average was 2,307, while in the three years April 1, 1920, to March 31, 1923, the average was only 628.

I submit that the instruction cannot have been observed by Post Office and Labour Exchange officials generally. This is borne out by the fact that the Ministry of Labour found it necessary, both this year and last year, to issue further circulars calling the attention of Labour Exchange officials to the disregard of their instructions in this particular matter. I admit that there may have been genuine misunderstanding at times, and confusion arising between the claims of the ex-Regular and the "hostilities" man, and it has been urged that all ex-Service men might have equal claims with ex-Regulars, but the right was given to the ex-Regular men as a privilege and that privilege has been taken away.

I know that Post Office officials, and the officials of the Labour Exchanges, are just as human as anybody else. Temptation does exist to put your friend into a job that is open and I think steps should be taken to stamp out any favouritism of that sort.

There has, unfortunately, been a loophole behind which the officials screened themselves. In the circulars issued by the Labour Ministry it has been emphasised that these vacant posts were only to be given to ex-Regular Service men when the employment was permanent, and the word "permanent" is put in italics. The National Association have found out that there is practically no such thing as a vacancy for permanent employment in the Post Office. Candidates go in on probation for a period extending in some cases to three or four-years, and they wait until they pass certain qualifying examinations before these temporary appointments are made permanent. That is where there has been a great deal of injustice done to the ex-Regular.

There has been no gain to the Post Office, for the ex-Regular man had proved himself before the war to be specially fitted for the particular employment that the Post Office gives. Periodically a Return is published showing the number of ex-soldiers employed by the Post Office who have been convicted of serious offences. Taking the four-year period ending December 31, 1923, the number of convictions was 646, but, if you take the period of four years ending July 31, 1914, just before the war broke out, it is only 65. Those, I think, are very striking figures.

I am sure it is not necessary for me to remind your Lordships of the claims the ex-Regular soldier has upon his country. He enlists before he has acquired a trade. Many of them serve practically the whole of their service abroad, and have no opportunity of getting into touch with trade unions or other sources of employment. It is for the Government to do what they can for them. They understand—it appeared in print in my young days, and right up to 1913 I know it was in print—that ex-Regulars may look forward to preference in employment in the Post Office.

I am also in a position to state that the fact that they have not been given their just dues is militating against recruiting. Recruiting at present is in no wise satisfactory. Young men nowadays look forward, and they like to see something before them which will stand them in good stead when they grow older. They do not think that the Army offers a career in that way. It is not a bad career while it lasts, but they think there is nothing before them, and over and over again they point to the fact that their friend the ex-Regular, thinking he was to be preferred for employment in the Post Office, has been passed over in favour of a man who had not similar claims. I hope that, this Question having now been raised in your Lordships' House, the Government may be able to do something to ensure that the Regular soldier may have what he looks upon as his rights. I offer the suggestion that if we could revert to the old system, by which the Post Office made its requisition and demand direct on the National Association and its agents, a good deal of the trouble and misunderstanding would disappear.


My Lords, the Question placed by the noble Lord on the Paper was a very short one, and I was under the impression that I should have a very short answer to give, but the noble Lord who has just spoken has raised many points that I am quite unable to deal with myself. It happens, however, that the Post Office supplied me with more information than seemed necessary for the Question, and it appears to cover in several respects the points brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Horne.

What they say is this. Under a longstanding arrangement made by the Government of the day in 1897, 50 per cent. of the vacancies for postmen and porters are reserved for men who have served in the Army or Navy, the remaining 50 per cent. being reserved for boy messengers in the Post Office who are employed with a definite view to appointment on reaching adult age. Speaking generally, it may be said that recruitment for all male posts not required to provide adult employment for youths and others already in the Post Office service is reserved for ex-Service men, preference being given to ex-Regulars among both disabled and able-bodied men. The number of ex-Service men appointed in 1923 was 6,601. It is not possible from the records available to state the number of ex-Regular soldiers and other ex-Service men separately, except as regards the 1,110 men appointed full-time postmen and porters, of whom 477 were ex-Regular soldiers, 113 were ex-Regular sailors and the remainder were ex-hostilities men—that is, men who, generally speaking, enlisted for the duration of the war. The figures I have read refer to the permanent appointments carried out in 1923, and, as a period of temporary service is frequently served before establishment, they may differ to some extent from the figures of men employed for the first time in 1923.

The records kept at the General Post Office do not show, except as regards postmen, how many of the men appointed in 1923 were ex-Regulars, or how many ex-Regular soldiers left the Colours after January 1, 1922, and this information could only be obtained by taking an elaborate return at local post offices. It may be mentioned that since the Armistice over 40,000 ex-Service men have been appointed to permanent and quasi-permanent post office situations, over 19,000 of these being disabled men. The total number of ex-Service men now in the employment of the Post Office is over 90,000, which represents more than half of the total male staff. Over 25,000 of this total are disabled men. I am afraid that the particulars I have read do not give the answer in the precise way that I should have been glad to give it if I had had notice of the points that were to be brought up, but I dare say that if the noble Lord wishes to enter into the subject further he will give me some other opportunity when I am better instructed to supply the information that he requires.