§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £11,821,531 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, 1909, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Post Office, including Telegraphs and Telephones.
§ THE POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Mr. SYDNEY BUXTON,) Tower Hamlets, Poplar
It is customary for the Postmaster-General on this Vote to make a general statement as to the position of the Post Office for the past year, as the expenditure and revenue of the Post Office has now become a very considerable item in our national expenditure. The revenue last year was £22,500,000 and the expenditure was £18,750,000, the surplus being rather over £3,750,000. The estimate of revenue for the present year was £23,000,000 and of expenditure £19,500,000, which gives a surplus of about £3,750,000 again. While the revenue of the Post Office up to a short time ago was fairly elastic, it has now, like other portions of the revenue, shown some falling off, and something in the nature of a stimulus or fillip seems to be required in order to increase the postal revenue. That can be secured in one or two ways. One would be a general election, which would be a very profitable thing for the Post Office; but short of that, public excitement on any particular question is an advantage. Therefore, without expressing any view with regard to woman suffrage or the Licensing Bill, I would say to those who are advocating or opposing those measures: "Agitate agitate, so long as you do it in the proper channel—that is, continue your agitation by means of the penny post." Either the suffragists or the opponents of the Licensing Bill, if they carry out the policy which I suggest to them, will enjoy the double advantage of reflecting that they are doing something to bring 1113 to an end this iniquitous Government, and at the same time to assist the revenue of the country. But there is another form in which the public may contribute to the postal revenue. We have had from time to time various postal crazes. There have been valentines, Christmas cards, and latterly picture post-cards. Last year I pointed out that the picture post-card craze was falling off, and I suggested that the public should direct their superfluous energy and cash into some new form of postal revenue. They responded to my appeal and devoted themselves to Limericks. I find that Limericks bring in postal revenue in this way. The figures are very remarkable. Those who go in for Limericks are told they will get a cottage and a cart—at least, so I am informed, for I have never been in for a Limerick—and they buy sixpenny postal orders. The postal orders themselves are not particularly profitable, but I am glad to say that a considerable amount of correspondence is also involved. The public in the last six months of the past year would have bought in the ordinary way between 700,000 or 800,000 sixpenny postal orders. They actually bought no less than 11,400,000, or fourteen times as many. I am sorry to say that that particular craze has now disappeared. Of course, I am speaking only from the postal point of view, because I have been accused of encouraging gambling and lotteries by the sale of sixpenny orders. But I have, no option. If people want to buy my sixpenny orders, I have got to sell them. I have been considering the, matter, and I have been thinking, for the coming year, of offering a very substantial prize, if the Treasury will allow me, for some public craze which will at the same time be both profitable and innocent—a sort of craze which will pass the scrutiny of the Anti-Gambling League and the Manchester Watch Committee. So far with regard to revenue. I would like to say that as regards expenditure the matter is not so satisfactory, because, while the revenue has been fairly elastic during the last two and a half years, and has been increasing by from £1,000,000 to £2,000,000 a year, the expenditure has unfortunately risen to a larger amount. This is due to the ordinary automatic 1114 increase arising from the increased amount of matter which goes through the Post Office. I know that many postal reformers, including the hon. Member for Canterbury, argue on the seductive fallacy that you can carry any amount of additional postal matter without adding to the postal staff. That is, of course, a pure fallacy. Buildings are increasing, and as we anticipate taking over the telephone system in a few years, that will add to expenditure as our own telephone system has already done; and in addition to the ordinary increase in the rates of pay of the staff, in the last two or three years expenditure has been increased to meet recommendations of the Hobhouse Committee very materially, and the ultimate result will be no less than £1,000,000 a year. But that is an addition which no hon. Member will grudge. So that if we look back for some years we find that the surplus balance available for the Exchequer has not materially increased. The principal, in fact the only profitable, head of revenue we have now left in the postal system is the penny stamp. That is really the sheet-anchor of our postal revenue, and I am glad to say that the sales of penny stamps continue to increase. Even here we find that the telephone system, which is cutting materially into our telegraph system, is doing something to diminish the number of letters. I do not think I need dwell on the disastrous history of our telegraph system. It was over-capitalised to start with; then came the reduction to sixpenny telegrams, and now it is carried on at a very great annual loss to the Exchequer. The only remedy suggested is the introduction of threepenny telegrams; but the result of that would be only to double the loss. I am glad to think that the telephone branch is in a somewhat different position. As far as we are concerned, and I feel certain that it will be so as far as our successors are concerned—we are determined, looking to the experience of the telegraph system, that the telephone system shall remain on a paying basis. It is quite clear that it ought to be on a business basis. Various proposals have been made for modifying rates. The matter is still under discussion with various chambers of commerce. I am very glad that the Post Office, in this 1115 respect and in many other respects, of late has got into more intimate touch with the chambers of commerce and others who are interested in these matters, so that they can be discussed from the point of view of the public. I need not go into the merits of that question. From time to time complaints are made to me that the telephone system is not always quite as effective as it ought to be, and that sometimes more calls are charged for than have been made. I need hardly say that the complaints made as regards the Post Office system are necessarily much less than those made against the National Telephone system, because the Post Office system is much the better system of the two. I should like to point out to those who make complaints of overcharges that, as a matter of fact, they cannot be overcharged. Our experience is, so far as the automatic check is concerned, that if there is a balance of incorrect calls it is rather in favour of the customer than of the office. The impression that there have been overcharges is, I think, greatly due to the fact that people are not always aware how much their telephones are used. An amusing case occurred recently. We received a violent expostulation. We examined into the case and convinced our customer that he had been properly charged. I have from him a letter with an order for the final balance, in which he says: "The mystery has now boon solved which puzzled me. On inquiry I find the housemaid has been using my telephone without my authority to communicate with her young man." I hope, therefore, that before accusing us of endeavouring to obtain money by false pretences people will inquire into the operations of their own households. One word as to underground telegraph work in the country. That is making steady progress. We have spent about £1,250,000 on it—about £230,000 this year—and it is gradually spreading throughout the country. Some hon. Members were very anxious that the underground telegraph should be at once extended to their particular town. But the question of underground telegraphs is not merely a local one. Every mile made of the underground telegraph, which saves the wires from storms, especially where added in connection with sub- 1116 marine telegraphs, is equally advantageous to any particular town, whether it is added close to it or nearer to a submarine cable. Therefore it is not merely a question of a particular expenditure in a particular locality, but of the best system under which it can be expended. As regards overhead telegraphs, the House gave me the Third Reading of a Bill which will assist me very materially in obtaining wayleaves from obstructive individuals, some of whom might be designated as real blackmailers of the postal service. As regards the question of wireless telegraphy, the Convention of last year has now been ratified by ourselves for all our Colonies, with, I think, the exception of Newfoundland, which is peculiarly situated, and the Orange River Colony, which has no seaboard, and has been ratified, I think, by all the Great Powers with the exception of the United States. The United States, I have no doubt, will ratify the Convention later; we know that in principle they are in favour of the Convention. I am glad to say that the relations between the Post Office and the great Marconi Company, which until lately were of a somewhat unfriendly character, are now of the most friendly kind, and that they have accepted and adopted the principle of the Convention—the principle of inter-communication. I am sure they are wise in doing so; the result will be largely to extend their operations. I should like to say, looking to the telegraph system and telephone systems in the past, and our experience in the matter of buying them out, that we do not desire in regard to wireless telegraphy to put ourselves in the same position. We are not going to allow any monopoly in regard to that particular system. Last year we started two experimental stations. We are now working commercial stations which will enable us at any moment, if we desire to do so, for postal purposes, to extend our operations without having to buy up companies and monopolies. I think the House will feel that that is the position which a Government Department ought to take.
I will now turn to the postal reforms which have been carried, out since I have had the honour of being Postmaster-General. We receive a large number of suggestions for postal reforms. It is easy to make suggestions, but those 1117 who make them are neither daunted by the question of cost nor hampered by difficulties of administration. You have to look at this matter from two points of view. It is absolutely essential, in a great administrative department like the Post Office catering for the convenience of the public, to consider whether any suggested reform is of a simple nature and whether it will interfere with the speed and accuracy of the delivery of letters and other postal matter. A departure from simplicity and uniformity which from one point of view may be advantageous, may break down when considered from the point of view of the greatest happiness of the greatest number. It is very easy to say you ought to have a 1d. this and a 1d. that, if you have not to provide the money, and if you underestimate the cost, as I find all postal reformers do. The cost cannot be disregarded. Moreover, the Postmaster-General is not his own master; he has the Treasury behind him, and he has either to cajole or persuade the Treasury if he wants money for postal reforms. In spite of this I have met during my two and a half years of office with great consideration and generosity from the Treasury. One has to look at this from two points of view—those of the taxpayer and the consumer. I contend, and have always contended, to the Treasury that, if the Post Office provides a certain amount of balance for the Exchequer, the consumer of postal matter ought also to be considered by the adoption of postal reforms from time to time for his benefit. I am glad to think that in one way and another I have obtained, during the two years and a half, what will amount, when these postal operations are in full swing, to about £500,000 for postal reforms—home, colonial, and foreign. I have already mentioned the home reforms. They are concerned with postal orders, the lowering of the higher charges of the parcel post, improving the operations of the ½d. post, and the extension of reforms in regard to deliveries to the rural parts of the country. One reform which I was very glad to carry through was a material reduction in the postage of literature for the blind, so as to bring them as far as possible into the same relation to postal charges as their more 1118 fortunate comrades who are able to see. As regards the question of lotteries, we do our best to check them in every possible way. It is not very easy, because the bulk of these papers are sent in sealed envelopes, and in the present state—I am not sure of public opinion, but certainly of public law—I have no authority to stop sealed envelopes properly addressed and posted. A Joint Committee of both Houses is sitting on this question, and we are venturing to make certain suggestions to them. I hope, the result of that Committee will be that we shall be allowed rather more power in dealing with this matter, where it is quite clear that lotteries alone are affected. As regards Colonial postage, we have since last October raised the limit of weight for letters for the Colonies from half an ounce to an ounce. I have started an experimental system of cash on delivery with some of the Colonies. With regard to this country, there is a great deal of feeling in regard to that matter. This is on a totally different plan. This cannot injure any British traders. It will, I think, be greatly to their advantage, and the question does not arise as between the big trader and the little trader. As regards the internal question of cash on delivery, I do not propose to consider it, at all events under present conditions. The Committee is aware that I introduced a very considerable reduction in the magazine post to Canada. I am glad to think that has been a very great success from two points of view. The amount of matter carried has increased by leaps and bounds. An addition of something like six millions of British periodicals annually go now to the Canadian consumer, and they are of a better class and description. As regards the foreign post, we have improved the money order system, we have extended the parcels post, especially to America, we have improved the foreign telegraph service, and I hope in a short time to be able to reduce the telephone charges to France. The limit of weight of foreign postage has been raised from half an ounce to an ounce. Even though we are not able within a limited time to carry out penny postage to France, the improvements I have referred to will be very advantageous to those who send 1119 letters abroad. I have already announced to the House the introduction, as from 1st October next, of penny postage to the United States of America. I was glad to find it received with general satisfaction that, in the future, there should be the same rate of postage to all English-speaking nations. I found that the American Postmaster-General was favourable to the scheme, I made certain representations to him, which he received in a friendly way, and which, after some consideration, he was able to adopt, and thus practically to carry out in regard to America what we have now in the case of British Colonies—namely, 1d. per ounce throughout the scale of the postal system. Taking the two reforms together, after 1st October, the charge for a letter will be only 1d. instead of 2½d. A letter one ounce in weight, which formerly cost 5d., will now cost 1d., and a letter two ounces in weight, which formerly would have been charged 10d. to America, will after October only be charged 2d. I think I may claim also that this reform is not the result of popular clamour or popular pressure, for it came rather as a surprise to the House and the country. I desire to recognise to the full the labours of those who have advocated this claim in the past, of men like my hon. friend the Member for Canterbury and Lord Blyth, Mr. Stead, and others, and I am exceedingly glad that it has fallen to me to be able to seize the psychological moment and to carry through with general approval this great postal reform. I have spoken so far of the Post Office as face to face with the public, but the Postmaster-General is also, of course, a great employer of labour, the greatest in the country. I desire to reaffirm what I said before I became Postmaster-General, that the Postmaster-General ought in that capacity to be a good employer of labour and to set an example to others. The Postmaster-General is in a sense a three-fold employer. He has to employ the postal servants, he has to deal with factories, in which he competes with the outside market, and also he has to deal with great contractors. As far as the factories are concerned, we desire as far as possible to maintain uniformity of work so as not to have at one time to take on a large number of men and at another time to part with them. We 1120 desire as far as we can to keep our work uniform, and have as few discharges as possible at any time of the year. Last Christmas we employed a considerable number of extra men, and I was able to raise the wages for this casual employment from 20s. to 24s. It will be a satisfaction to the Committee to know that this was not only a great advantage to the men themselves, but a very good investment of public money, because I was assured by the Comptroller that the men came with better heart, and, being able to spend more on food, they got into better fettle, and the money came back to us with interest. As regards the contractors, I have appointed an inspector who has personal knowledge of the contractors, and through whom we are able to deride beforehand rather than after. Thus we are able to discriminate between contractors, and know which are bad ones. We apply the fair wages clause to the various contracts, and I am endeavouring to deal with the question of sweating. I come to the question of the Post Office servants themselves. I do not propose to enter in any detail into the Report and recommendations of the Hobhouse Committee. While the Report may have failed to give full satisfaction to those concerned, Members of the House are grateful to the Committee for the very great care and trouble and time which were devoted by them to a very difficult question. I would ask also the sympathy of the Committee towards myself in endeavouring to carry out the recommendations of the Committee, because I can assure them it has been a difficult and delicate task. The only point on which I need trouble the House at the present moment is in regard to classification. The recommendation of the Committee was that there should be a uniform classification for sorting clerks and postmen, and that the classification should depend on the element in the first place of units of work, and in the next should be modified by the cost of living. Looking into the matter and trying to work it out, I found that to adopt this recommendation to the full would be a great hardship on the outdoor postmen. With the assent of the Treasury, which acted very liberally, I was able so to classify the various towns of the country, that 1121 while there would be reductions in a small number of cases, in the large majority of cases there would be an increase. A circular has been issued to Members in the form of a letter in regard to this matter. Any Member not knowing anything about the subject would think from the letter that where the scale was reduced it applied to exist-in postmen. It does nothing of the sort. No existing Post Office servant will lose either his scale or pay. Every existing servant will go to his old maximum and, so far from making any alteration, the scheme will only apply to new entrants, and in no case to existing servants. It is rather a pity that the circular letter has been worded in such a way as to give the impression that I was going to reduce the wages of existing men. The other point dealt with was that it was very unfair to put down a town without inquiry into the cost of living, and that was given as the view of the Committee. Will the Committee believe that I have put up 464 offices without waiting for the complete inquire into the cost of living? I think it rather hard that a case should be made against me in this matter when I have dealt with it broadly and easily, and generally to the advantage of the vast majority of offices. It is a pity when circulars are sent to Members of Parliament that the facts of the case should not be fairly and properly stilted. When the matter is such a question of classification as this, when you have to deal with something like 5,000 offices, it is obvious there must be certain anomalies, and I am quite open to argument in regard to any case brought before me as to a particular office being unfairly treated. Of course, where the unit of work or conditions of living are shown not to be correct, they are subject to revision from time to time. I say one word upon two other points. One is the question of the technical test for telegraphists. When the Supplementary Estimates were being discussed some hon. Members opposite charged me with having put up the technical test, too high. The test I laid down was passed, and passed with ease, by a very large majority of the telegraphists who went in for the electrical teaching. One portion of the test I thought was too high, and that 1122 I have reduced to proper proportions. Roughly speaking, some 550 telegraphists have passed the test, and only nineteen have failed to pass it. So I do not think it could be said I put the test too high. The other question is as to the female typists. I cordially agree they were formerly underpaid. In this general revision of salaries we have raised the female typists from 25s. to 28s. a week, and, in addition to that, if they can show a proficiency in shorthand writing they will get an additional 3s. a week. Speaking generally, I would point out that the scales of pay are improved in nearly every case, and in one way or another the conditions of service in the Post Office have been improved. The House of Commons has voted a very large sum of money for the promotion of these improvements, and when a Parliamentary Committee sits upon a matter of this kind and make recommendations I think their recommendations ought to be carried out to the full. With regard to the general relations of the postal service, one of the very first things I did on coming into office was to recognise the representative character of the great postal associations, and I have never regretted that action from that day to this. I have been converted to the advantage of this because it has brought into closer personal relations than existed before the staff and those who have to represent this great department. I am one of those who believe that if you want to administer a great Department properly the more you have personal relations between the various grades and sections the more likely you are to have smooth working of the Department. I have dealt with 40,000,000 of the public and with some 200,000 postal servants, and now I have to deal with 670 Members of this House, who hive postal servants amongst their constituents. Members are constantly approaching me with matters upon which they do not press me, but which they believe I will look into and do what I can with. Of course, I am naturally not always able to meet them in these matters; there is generally the question of cost, and very often the question of administration, and they frequently take some time to consider. Hon. Members must remember that the consideration by the Department of 1123 questions of postal facilities is very much like a child's puzzle, and that, while a certain proposal may be to the advantage of a particular district, when once you begin taking the pieces of the puzzle out, you may not get your puzzle together again. Hon. Members may rest assured that we do our best to meet them. In conclusion, let me say that only those who have been in such a vast office as the Post Office can appreciate the enormous extent and the size of the wonderful organisation. I am very proud, indeed, to have been its head for two and-a-half years, and after my experience and observation, I wish to put upon record that this great public Department is a credit to the State and a striking testimony to the loyalty and efficiency of a very zealous body of public servants.
*DR. RUTHERFORD (Middlesex, Brentford)
said he was delighted to know that the Postmaster-General was safeguarding the public interests, especially in regard to wireless telegraphy. All the postal reforms which the right hon. Gentleman had accomplished were in the interest of the public at home and abroad. He congratulated the right hon. Gentleman on his success on having achieved a penny postal service with America, and trusted that the next thing that he would do in this direction, would be the initiation of a penny postal service with France. As an employer of labour, the Post Office endeavoured to do its work thoroughly, and to set an example for other employers to copy. He had listened with pleasure to the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the postal wages throughout the country, and was rejoiced to find that the statements in the circular which hon. Members had received were not correct, and that the reductions applied to new servants only, and not to those who were at present engaged. They all felt that, so far as their personal relationship was concerned, the right hon. Gentleman had been most courteous and kind. With regard to classification it seemed to have been settled mostly in relation to the units of work, and that the right hon. Gentleman had been guided by the units of work, rather than by the cost of living. But the cost of living, he thought, should 1124 have been the guide of the right hon. Gentleman in the question of classification. They regard this particular recommendation of the Hobhouse Committee as a retrograde recommendation, and he hoped the Postmaster-General would not approve of it, but would approach the question of classification more from the point of view of the cost of living, which was a wiser and truer test than the units of work. There were some facts which he would put before the Committee with regard to the wages which in the opinion of the postmen were not satisfactory at the present time. The wages paid in Chiswick, which was in the London area, were 33s. a week, but if the right hon. Gentleman walked from Chiswick to Brunt ford, a distance so small that he would not know when he left Chiswick and entered Brentford, he would find on inquiry from the postmen there that the wages were 25s. a week. The point he wished to emphasise was that the cost of living and the conditions of work were the same in Brentford as in Chiswick, and that the postmen in Brentford felt aggrieved because they could not live and do their work under the same conditions as their fellows in the service in Chiswick. Other classes of public servants and workmen in these districts were treated in the same way with regard to scale of wages, the police in Chiswick and Brentford receiving 35s. a week. The appeal he now put forward was a simple and proper appeal. It was that the Postmaster-General should be as good an employer of labour as the London County Council, the police authorities, and other employers of labour in the district. In Southall, a district near at hand, the postmen received 24s. a week. They had lately had a rise of 1s., and were grateful for it, but they were still entitled to more consideration, because at Hanwell, which was within a stone's throw of Southall, the postmen received 33s. a week. The cost of living in both places was practically the same. He had no wish to worry the right hon. Gentleman, but merely to ask him to consider the question, and to see that in the future the cost of living should be his guide. He also asked the right hon. Gentleman to extend the London postal area, so as to include all points 1125 within twelve miles of Charing Cross. He also trusted the right hon. Gentleman would consider the question of the postmen throughout the country, and would deal with them as justly and as liberally and as wisely as he had dealt with the other officials. They did not wish to feel there was any stigma of sweating attached to this great office, but the feeling existed up to the present time, and they wished the very suspicion of it to be removed. He congratulated the right hon. Gentleman upon the reforms he had introduced, and he was glad that he had recognised the rights of the employees to combination, which was a reversal of the policy pursued by the late Postmaster-General. But there were several grievances to be redressed, and he trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would not be daunted by the Hobhouse Committee, but would exercise his independent judgment. He begged to move, simply in order to call attention to the matter, a reduction of the Postmaster-General's salary by £100.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item A (Chief Offices) be reduced by £100."—(Dr. Rutherford.)
§ *MR. WALSH (Lancashire, Ince)
said he had listened to the greater portion of the right hon. Gentleman's speech with a very great degree of satisfaction. During the earlier portion of the speech he was sorry to say that he had been detained in Committee upstairs, and had therefore been unable to listen to the whole of the right hon. Gentleman's statement, but he took it broadly that there was a great deal of matter for satisfaction in the presentment which he had made to the House. Among those matters for satisfaction he thought really nothing could be received in a better spirit by the House or by the nation than the increasing efficiency and increasing cheapness of communication between the English-speaking publics. He was quite sure that most peace-loving men as well as most warlike men would agree that the happiness of the world itself depended very largely upon the cordial relations which were maintained between the English-speaking publics. He thought there was nothing on which a great State Department like that over which the right hon. Gentleman 1126 presided could be more sincerely congratulated than the tremendous success which had attended not only the Postmaster-General's efforts, but also the efforts of others, in bringing about those cordial relations. He thought they ought also to congratulate the hon. Gentleman the Member for Canterbury on his great attention to these matters, and on his efforts, so persistent and at last so successful. When the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the million of magazines which were taken by Canada alone, magazines of the better class, that fact alone must indeed be looked upon as a very great tribute to the intellectual capacity of the Canadian people, as well as to our power of supplying them with such magazines, to meet their literary needs. One could not shut one's eyes to the fact that the carriage of these magazines must entail an enormous amount of work on postal servants who had charge of that supply. The right hon. Gentleman had very rightly stated that he was in charge of a great State Department, the servants of which did their work in such a manner that he thought history had no higher record than that of the splendidly efficient way in which those duties were performed. While all acknowledged—he himself had always recognised it, if they would allow him to say so—not merely the painstaking, but the very zealous manner in which the Postmaster-General had attended to the duties of his office, yet he thought nevertheless that the right hon. Gentleman had paid hardly sufficient attention to the intense feeling that had been occasioned by the action which had been taken in connection with his Department. Of course, it was perfectly true, as the right hon. Gentleman had said, that no present servant or no servant before the circular was issued would in any way be in a worse position as a consequence of the action of the Department. That was a matter which they might themselves view with comparative satisfaction; but they had to remember that this Department, as a whole, would, he hoped, continue for thousands of years—[laughter]—well, until the New Zealander gazed upon ruined London Bridge. The present officers must pass away and new officers appear, and they could not but view with serious apprehension that the 1127 new entrants would start on a scale which, in at least 250 offices, would be seriously reduced compared with the present scale. That was not a matter which the House ought to view with any satisfaction at all. He thought it was admitted that a very good employer of labour, when he came seriously to consider the matter, agreed that to reduce the wages of the labourer was both socially and economically unwise. It brought to the employer himself little benefit, and it often enough left the workman very poor indeed. There was a lack of efficiency, a lack of that standard of home life, and of that reasonable comfort which made for efficiency in the workman, and where wages were reduced it cut down the quality of the product, and the standard of living was gradually lowered. That had been found to be the case by the best employers and by many employers who, perhaps, might not be described as the best employers; but he thought employers generally admitted that to reduce the wages of the worker, lowered the standard of living, the efficiency of work, the quality of the product, and the condition of the employees. Under a competitive system, an employer in many cases was compelled to take action against his better judgment, and even against his will; but his industry had to be maintained, he found his costs mounting up very considerably, he found that the competition was increasing all around him, and he was compelled to reduce the wages of the workmen in order to keep his head above water. In that case, even though it might be economically and socially unwise, yet they might agree that the employer was the victim of circumstances over which he had little or no control. But certainly that argument and that point of view could not be urged in the case of the State Department when it took action that had the effect of lowering the status of, he should think, at least 250 offices, which employed, he should say, many thousands of hands. The competition which existed in the case of a private employer was wholly absent in the case of this great Department. The private employer found from year to year that he had little or no profit from his undertakings, but he hoped for better times; he might indeed, and did sometimes, make a definite loss upon his undertaking, or his gains 1128 might be so small as to be reduced to vanishing point. But here they had a State Department, possessed of a complete monopoly, unencumbered by any competition, making millions of pounds a year, and yet it was by this Department that the circular was issued declaring that new entrants should start on a lower minimum. That would apply to tens of thousands of men. [Cries of "No, no."] He was glad to see his hon. friend the Member for the City of London in his place.
§ *MR. WALSH
said that was perfectly true. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that there were not tens of thousands, but the Department over which he presided, he had himself told them, employed about 200,000 people. If he only took a twentieth part of that number, who would be affected by the new regulation, it would be more than 10,000; but he would not boggle about the exact number at all. He thought that the right hon. Gentleman would see, if the figures were actually gone into, that tens of thousands of people under the new status would be adversely affected by the regulations which had already come into operation, or were about to come into operation.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
If the hon. Gentleman looks into it I think he will find that, while it is true that in future, in regard to some offices, a certain number of new entrants will be adversely affected, yet, though in the new classification some offices must go down, the vast majority will be benefited in the future as well as at present.
§ *MR. WALSH
said he would not lay any special weight on the tens of thousands, and, if the right hon. gentleman was not satisfied, he would waive the number altogether. The point he wished to urge was that the proposal was not necessary. The right hon. Gentleman had alleged that in any classification some offices must go up and some must go down. He did not agree with the latter part of the proposition at all, because let it be remembered that the scale of wage at 1129 present in existence was fixed in 1890. That scale of wages was utterly inadequate to meet present day requirements. Everybody knew, it was perfectly well admitted, that not only had rents gone up in London and in the provinces by anything from 15 to 30 per cent., but the cost of living throughout the country as a whole had also very largely increased. [An HON. MEMBER: Under a Radical Government?] Yes, under a Radical Government, but it had increased for sixteen or seventeen years under a Tory Government. This point, the mere cost of living, was one which it was necessary to urge. The right hon. Gentleman seemed devoted to the idea that, under the classification suggested by the Hobhouse Committee, while some offices might reap benefit, it was necessary for other offices to go down. Taking into consideration the fact that the wages and conditions of labour fixed eighteen years ago wore inadequate, and that there had been a very large and serious increase in the cost of living, in the rents of houses, in the price of commodities which were necessary for the reasonable maintenance of people, it became matter for most serious apprehension that there should be such a large number of offices whose status was to be degraded. It was not a matter that the House could lightly pass over. A private employer who started new hands at a reduced wage nearly always found a trade union confronting him at the earliest possible moment, and had to subject himself to a good deal of negotiation. The men knew perfectly well that not only their interest but the interest of all other people in the district would be adversely affected if they allowed now entrants to lower the scale and standard of living and of wages, When the employer had to meet this organisation, many new points of view might be developed; but in this case there was no organisation that was effective from the trade union point of I view. It was perfectly true that postal servants had unions, but they had not power to strike. They could not suspend their labour as a body. Indeed, he did not think the greatest madcap in the House would suggest that the servants of a great State Department should possess the right of suspending their labour and placing the whole national interest in a very serious state indeed. They could 1130 not suggest any such thing. But that made it all the more incumbent on the House to watch over very carefully and jealously safeguard the interest of these people, because, after all, the House was the final court of appeal before whom they could lay their claim. That really was the special reason why they had brought the matter forward. It was not a fact, however, that the regulation for reduced pay applied to new entrants alone. In the engineering and stores department the regulations had gone forth that those people who hitherto, he thought, had been described as the authorised maintenance men and the continuously employed men, would, instead of rising to a maximum of 42s. as they did in the past when they got in the established class, rise in the future to a maximum of only 38s. These men were actually in the service. They were not new entrants, and they were doing some of the most responsible work to which any skilled man could set his hand. They were passing, and many of them had passed, the very searching examination put forward by the Department, and these people who had given in many cases very long years of service to the Department and had passed the necessary examination, would, when they were placed in the established class, have 4s, less as a maximum than at present. Another point to which attention ought to be directed was the fact that some of that class of labour which might be called auxiliary rather than direct service—say that of painters and mechanics—was in future to be given out to contract. That was not a matter which ought to commend itself to the House. They really ought to employ their labour direct. That great State Department ought to see that its work was done under its own direct supervision. If there were any mistakes they ought to know the person to hang. The work ought not to be delegated to contractors, who, he would not say scamped the work, but did it not nearly so well as the Department itself would do it under its own direct supervision. Besides, the possibility of making the fair wages clause effective was rendered all the more difficult when the payment of the men and the conditions under which they were employed were placed in the hands of a third party altogether. The House found itself hampered time after time, and questions were constantly being showered upon Ministers from all quarters 1131 as to so and so not receiving the wages to which he was entitled under the fair wages clause. That difficulty, which was already great, would be rendered very much greater if the work that the Department had directly performed in the past was handed over to contractors in the future. It was a very serious departure from the principles which he hoped animated both the great governing parties in the State. Again, there was the point that might be urged as to sick allowance and holidays being taken from certain classes of men engaged in what was known as the constructional work department. Large numbers of these men in the past had been encouraged to look forward to being placed on the established list, and indeed it had been held by the Bradford Committee that when these men had worked anything from three to five years on the laying and piecing-up of cables they became skilled workmen, and were entitled to be placed on the established list and to have the advantages to which establishment entitled them. He had a morbid horror of overstating a case, but the number of people who would be adversely affected, and deprived of the legitimate hope to which they were entitled, could certainly be numbered by hundreds, and he thought by thousands. Here, again, he thought the right hon. Gentleman might reconsider the whole matter, and keep the matter entirely in the hands of his own Department and not deprive them of that hope to which I every honest workman was legitimately entitled, and which was the mainspring and motive of the best workmen in the country, He was quite sure the right hon. Gentleman did not look upon the new regulations as containing anything in the nature of finality. These matters had given rise to a very great deal of dissatisfaction in the minds of the men. These new regulations could not work, and in the interests of the State and of the men as a whole he certainly held it was desirable that the right hon. Gentleman should reconsider the matter. He did not want to put forward any special argument against classification. He knew it was a work of exceeding difficulty. He did not intend to complain of the Report of the Committee, because he knew perfectly well that that Committee did its work with exceeding zeal, and it was 1132 a work of tremendous complexity and magnitude. But he rather thought the Department had misinterpreted some of the recommendations of the Committee and carried them a great deal further than the members of the Committee ever thought would be the case. There were 250 offices at the very least which were degraded—where the new entrants would take a lower maximum—but there were some offices which it passed the wit of man to find out why they were being degraded. Take the case of Wigan. It was a murky, grimy, industrial town, very typical of many towns in Lancashire. After all, it was a very large town. It was a centre of population that he made bold to say was certainly not less than 200,000 within a radius of four miles. It was a receiving and a distributing centre, and had a very large number of offices. It had all the usual industries of a South-west Lancashire town—coal, iron, cotton, and many others. In that district it was a matter of notoriety that the cost of living had gone up enormously. According to the Board of Trade Returns the figure that Wigan stood at as to cost of living was ninety, the average of seventy-four large towns on which the classification was based being 100, and therefore the Department had acted upon the principle that the cost of living in Wigan was 10 per cent. lower than the index number. It was certainly 15 per cent. higher than it was ten years ago. Not only that, but cost of living was always largely determined by the rates of the town. Wigan was the fourth highest rated town in the whole country. How the Board of Trade could have arrived at the conclusion that the cost of living was 10 per cent. cheaper in Wigan than in the seventy-four towns mentioned in the list certainly passed his wit and would pass the wit of man. Here was a place with 93,000 population, within three or four miles radius an additional 120,000 population, bracketed with villages of as low as 3,000 population, although there was not one other postal town, with one exception (Walsall), that reached one-third the population of Wigan in the list. Only five years ago Wigan was practically made a first-class office, and to-day the new entrants would begin with a minimum of 1s. 6d. less and would reach the maximum of 3s. less than the existing 1133 employees. That which was a very serious case in Wigan was with certain modifications the case in many other towns. In Oldham, St. Helens, Warrington, Wolverhampton, and a large number of other towns including Clitheroe, this reduction in the case of now entrants would take place. An Irish Member once asked what had posterity done for them. Of course it did not follow that because posterity had done nothing for them they ought not to do anything for posterity. The House was always legislating for posterity. They took into consideration what were likely to be the conditions in the future, and they legislated for those conditions. Here were conditions that were certain to arise if the Department kept on these regulations. He had no right to trespass unduly upon the time of the House, but he was speaking at greater length than he should other wise do because he considered this was a most serious matter. In 1893 the House unanimously passed a Resolution to the effect that when it employed labour it should pay fair wages, observe proper conditions of labour, and, so to speak, be a model employer of labour. But when they degraded labour and the status of labour, when they lowered the weekly wage, they were lowering the standard of living and lessening the amount of comfort that ought to go into the people's homes; they were also making it exceedingly difficult for others to rise to the standard which the House and other lovers of mankind wished the people to attain. They could not view light-heartedly the fact that all new entrants into the postal service, which was the greatest National department we possessed, should have their conditions of life very materially degraded. That was not a matter which the House ought to view with anything like ease or complacency. Good employers would find it difficult in future when they heard of this example to maintain the good conditions they were desirous of giving to their workpeople, and the bad employers would profit by such an example. They ought to proceed upon higher grounds. The right hon. Gentleman had stated that only a very small number were, affected. He had taken the trouble to go through the actual figures of some of the offices, and he found that in Bermondsey, where there were seventeen 1134 offices, no less than 400 people would have their wages actually reduced by this new regulation. That was to say, that the new entrants would start upon a lower scale of pay. The number of people adversely affected by the new regulations would reach very many thousands. He did not intend to delay the Committee one moment more except to say that this was a matter which they could not view with a light heart. The House ought to stand to the Resolution to which he had referred, and which had been constantly reiterated, in regard to being a model employer of labour. The profits made by the Post Office enabled it to be a model employer. They believed that the great amount of work that would be done by the Post Office in future, owing to greater facilities for communications with the United States, Canada, Franco, and other places, would lay a burden of work upon the servants of this great State Department which certainly was a very strong argument against any reduction of their wages or working conditions. It was difficult enough already to hold any persons definitely responsible, but the difficulty would be intensely increased if much of the work now performed by the State was handed over to the contractor. Of course, they protested against that, and they asked that these men who had been in the State's employ and had been led to believe that by passing examinations, making themselves efficient, and by good conduct, they might get on to the establishment list, should not be deprived of hope, and should not have the standard of wages lowered to which they had been led to look forward. It was upon these grounds, and not because they had any animus against the Department—indeed, they would like to join in the well-merited appreciation which had been expressed in regard to the far-reaching reforms which the Postmaster-General had carried out—and not in any carping spirit that they protested. They recognised that the right hon. Gentleman was a good man struggling with adversity, and he had been surrounded by a great many conditions and demands to deal with which had required all his administrative skill. It was for those reasons that they asked him to give his careful attention to the points he had submitted to him.
§ *MR. CLAUDE HAY (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
said he would like to preface his remarks by repeating what he said upon the last occasion when the Post Office Estimates were discussed, viz.: to express his gratitude for the courtesy which the right hon. Gentleman had always displayed towards those who desired to approach him upon many of the thorny and difficult matters which came under his charge. Having said that he was afraid he would now have to proceed to differ with the right hon. Gentleman in regard to some matters. When the Select Committee presented its Report the Postmaster-General intimated in the House that the Government intended to comply with the recommendations of that Committee both in the spirit and in the letter. He only wished that he could agree that the right hon. Gentleman had complied with those recommendations both in the spirit and in the letter. He could not do so, because he believed that in some respects the right hon. Gentleman had departed from both the spirit and the letter of those recommendations. If he remembered the recommendations of the Report aright, one of them was to the effect that no one in the postal service should suffer by the recommendations of the Committee, that everybody should be at least as well off, and that the vast majority should benefit. From what the previous speakers in the debate had said, as well as from other evidence, it was quite clear that in the classification applied by the right hon. Gentleman a great many postal servants would suffer, and he ventured to join in the appeal which had been made urging the Postmaster-General to reconsider the whole basis of the classification, so that not only the existing staff but the new entrants into the service should be placed under tar better conditions with regard to pay than was now proposed. He would not go into any illustrations of the hardships to the staff which must ensue from the Postmaster-General's interpretation of the Committee's Report, because that would involve long statements; but before he dealt with any particular class he would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he had made any progress in loosening the Treasury control of the Post Office. In other words, he wanted to know whether the right hon. Gentleman had got any further on the road towards becoming 1136 master in his own house. Next to the Army and the Navy, the Post Office was the largest Department of the State in regard to the number of persons employed. It was a Department which made a large profit out of its transactions, and surely the Postmaster-General ought to have the absolute control of all the expenditure necessary for the carrying out of the work entrusted to his charge, and should not be subjected to the control of another Department which could not have the knowledge of this particular work which he possessed. In the Report of the Committee one recommendation was that the Postmaster-General should be free from His Majesty's Office of Works. Hon. Members who had studied the evidence laid before the Committee on this subject would have noticed that astounding revelations were made as to the manner in which in the past the Office of Works had carried out the work entrusted to it by the Post Office. Many of the complaints of the postal staff throughout the country were due to the delay and the inefficient manner in which the Office of Works did their part of Post Office work. He was perfectly well aware that an immediate transfer of all the work from the Office of Works to the Post Office would give rise to practical difficulties. Nevertheless he hoped that some definite steps had been taken in the direction of carrying out this recommendation. Having said that, perhaps he might be allowed for a moment to endeavour to remove a misapprehension which he thought was widely felt by the Post Office employees. It was that the Select Committee had a voice in the carrying out of the recommendations of the Committee. Obviously to suggest that a Committee should interfere with Ministerial responsibility would be quite improper and contrary to all practice. Having examined the evidence and done the work which Parliament entrusted them to do, the labours of the Committee were completed, and having stated their view they had no further responsibility. The full responsibility for the carrying out of the recommendations of the Report must rest upon the Minister in charge of the Post Office. There were a few cases in regard to which he desired to put some questions to the right hon. Gentleman and to offer a few criticisms. In the first place, there was the case of the sub-engineers. When he raised 1137 this matter some time ago the right hon. Gentleman said that he would give the subject further consideration. The Committee made very definite recommendations as to what they thought should be done with the sub-engineers, and he was bound to say that he was very much astonished to find that although the evidence justified the view expressed by the Committee, the Postmaster-General had thought fit to declare that the improvements or alterations in the treatment of the sub-engineers were only to apply to new entrants. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would take the whole matter into consideration. He would not trouble the House by quoting any portion of the Report of the Committee on that subject, because he had said enough to show that in his judgment it was never the intention of that body that they should find their recommendations set aside by limiting their application to new entrants and excluding the existing staff. As to linesmen he could not but think that the right hon. Gentleman had fallen into some error in respect to this class, because prior to the Select Committee's Report the maximum pay was 42s. a week, obtainable after twelve years service, when only one class existed. Now, under the new conditions laid down by the Postmaster-General, linesmen were divided into two classes. The second class received 38s. a, week, and the first class 47s. a week. In the first class there had been included a number of men who had been promoted to the j rank of foremen, who rose to 50s. a week. This had practically filled all the positions in the first class, and had in effect decreased the maximum pay of the linesmen by 4s. a week. The same conditions in this matter applied to the provinces with a difference of 2s. a week. Certainly it was never intended that the application of the Select Committee's Report should result in such a condition of things. He came now to refer to the largest class in the postal service, numbering something like 21,000, namely, the sub-postmasters. There had been great difference of opinion expressed by the Department, the sub-postmasters and others, as to bankers' postal orders. The right hon. Gentleman was conversant with examples to which he had drawn his attention a few days ago, but he 1138 might be allowed to say that the main cause of discontent was due to the announcement made by the right hon. Gentleman on 3rd June this year that, in spite of the recommendations of the Select Committee, he would only pay half the scale rate for postal orders paid through bankers—in other words, that the old system was to be maintained. The Committee never said that it should be maintained. He did not wish to weary the House by quoting the Committee's Report. He could read words from the Report showing that they certainly did not come to the conclusion which the right hon. Gentleman had come to as to the unit. The view which the right hon. Gentleman had taken as to the unit was not in the sense of the Committee's Report. Taking one illustration, it worked out as follows:—A sub-post office which in 1905 had a turnover of £83,000 received actual gross pay of £438, whereas under the regulations in respect of postal orders which had been issued by the right hon. Gentleman the sub postmaster would now on a turnover of over £90,000 be paid only £314 gross, when he ought to receive £325. He did not wish to weary the Committee by going into technical details, but he would content himself by saying that he was sure the Postmaster-General would recognise that this matter was regarded as one of very great importance by the sub postmasters. He earnestly appealed to the right hon. gentleman to give the matter full reconsideration with the view of meeting what he thought was a very just and business-like view. He wished to say a word or two about the postmen. The Postmaster-General knew that they were very discontented, not only with the application of the Report, but with the Report itself. The way in which the Postmaster-General had applied the Report had had the effect of removing from many of the existing staff the safeguard which the Committee intended to preserve for them in their recommendations. He referred to the safeguard which provided that, though there might be great changes made in the conditions of service, the existing staff, wherever the men might be working, should, in no case, lose in pay or position. Likewise in regard to the auxiliaries he had been grievously disappointed by the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman had applied the 1139 Report. The net result was that in many cases the auxiliaries would be worse off, whereas it was the express view of the Committee that their grievances should be removed. A statement had been issued by the right hon. Gentleman in which the benefits conferred on that class were set forth, but he did not think that that exactly described what the position of the auxiliaries was to-day. Referring to London postmen the Committee recommended for the first stripe a qualifying period of five years, and of four years for each succeeding stripe. The staff naturally thought that the right hon. gentleman, in view of the recommendation, would give the benefit to each man according to his service, but the Postmaster-General had decided that the time only dated from the receipt of the last stripe. The right hon. gentleman had no doubt received from the London postmen a pamphlet setting forth their case, and their view of the result of his scheme. In some cases men of shorter service would benefit much more than men of longer service. In fact he had heard of the case of a man who if he had performed fifteen years service on the 20th December, 1907, would only get his third stripe on 20th December, 1911, while another man, who had performed fifteen years service on 20th January, 1908, would get his fourth stripe on 20th December, 1911. Obviously that was unfair, and should be remedied. Another class about whom he would like to say something were the London postal porters, who were drawn from the same source and did the same work. Obviously, they had the same standard of living to maintain as the London postmen. On 20th February last the right hon. Gentleman promised to reconsider his application of the Report to these men, but up to the present moment they had heard nothing further. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman to give them a reply soon, and endeavour to meet their case, which he Ventured to submit merited most sympathetic consideration. Then among the supervising force they had very good ground for grievance under the new conditions. Practically it amounted to this. In London there were far fewer superintendents than in the case of big towns like Manchester. The proportion, for instance, in London, S.W., was 1 to 209, whereas in Manchester it was 1 to 37. By keeping this great dispro- 1140 portion between the Metropolitan post offices and the post offices of the great towns, the Department not only created what was a very unfair position, but stopped the legitimate channels for promotion. That, he thought, was not at all in consonance with either the spirit or the letter of the Report, and he earnestly appealed to the right hon. Gentleman to try to remove some of those ridiculous anomalies which prevailed in London. He knew that he might be met in this matter with a technical answer, but he thought that an appeal might be made to the right hon. Gentleman not to allow technicalities to stand in the way. He could not put the matter more succinctly than by giving the facts in connection with a case in his own knowledge. Why should a counter-clerk in Thread-needle Street Post Office, which was only a few yards from Lombard Street Post Office, rise to 65s. a week, while his colleague who was doing precisely the same duty in Lombard Street rose to only 62s. a week? Inspectors, supervisors, and the female staff received equal treatment throughout London, and he would earnestly appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to take some measures to remove this ridiculous anomaly.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
was understood to say that the Committee made no specific recommendation. The time when the hon. Gentleman should have raised the question was when the Committee was sitting and not now.
§ *MR. CLAUDE HAY
differed from the right hon. Gentleman as to his version of the Report but be that as it might, everybody knew that that was a matter of detail in a Report, and that these men were still left with a grievance which should be removed. Even granting, for the sake of argument, that the case might be as the right hon. Gentleman had stated in the interruption, it was obvious, in his judgment, that the Select Committee had made a mistake in making the statement to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, if it was made. He appealed to the Postmaster-General to reconsider the case. He could not deny that he was giving reconsideration to the recommendations of the Committee in regard to other matters. In some cases he had extended 1141 the recommendations of the Committee, while in other cases he had limited them. He had endeavoured to put before the Committee some of the urgent cases brought to his attention, and did not want to occupy the time of the Committee further. He would conclude by saying that he trusted that the friendly relations between the right hon. Gentleman and all those who approached him on these subjects—however much they differed from him—would be maintained. And if the right hon. Gentleman kept an open mind on these matters he had no doubt that during the next twelve months a great deal of trouble and discontent would be removed and that the service; would be better and happier.
§ MR. HARWOOD (Bolton)
congratulated the right hon. Gentleman on his most, amusing and charming exordium which had charmed all those who had watched his career with feelings of joy. There was a class of people who treated serious matters seriously, but another and better class Mho treated serious matters jocosely. Among those was the right hon. Gentleman, who had drawn a very cheering picture of his Department. However, there were one or two points on which he wished to make a few remarks. The first was as to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that there was a loss on the telegraph business of the Department. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer was making his Budget statement he made the suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman, which he now repeated to the Postmaster-General, that all the different businesses of the State should be kept separate from the general business of the nation. All the different Departments should keep separate business accounts showing income and expenditure, and only the balance one way or another should be transferred to the general national account. The present method invalidated all their calculations of national income and expenditure, and prevented the nation from understanding and watching the proceedings of any one particular business. He suggested that the Post Office was one of the businesses which should be run like a private business, and so 1142 also the telegraph department. Their accounts should be kept separate and the balance only brought forward. The nation had a right to see every year whether each separate business had been conducted at a profit or a loss. The Postmaster-General had admitted that there was a loss on the telegraphs, but as a business-like nation we had no right to carry on any business at a loss, and if there was a loss it was the duty of the House of Commons to see how they could turn that loss into a profit. Another point to which he wished to refer related to the men in the Post Office who had been reduced. The right hon. Gentleman said it should be borne in mind that in the application of a general rule or principle they must be prepared to have some cases of men being raised or lowered. He was not quite sure that that was a legitimate sequitur. He wished to refer to a concrete case in connection with this question of reduction. The wages of the postmen in the Bolton Post Office were reduced from 26s. to 25s. a week, and the maximum wage of the telegraph clerks was reduced 2s. a week. The answer to that was that the reductions did not apply to the present occupants of the posts and that therefore the men had nothing to complain of. Not at all. Hon. Members were there not to look merely at the interests of the men who hold the posts now, but at the interests of the Post Office as a whole. The hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London made a characteristic interjection during the speech of an hon. Member, in which he said that these men need not remain if they were dissatisfied; that the Department could get plenty more. Of course plenty more men could be got. He would say that if the wages of the men were reduced 7s. a week there would be more applicants for the billets than if the wages were only reduced 1s. a week—more applicants for billets if the wages were reduced from 25s. to 18s. than there would be if the wages were, as in this case, reduced from 26s. to 25s. a week. It was not a question of getting people; but a question of the character of the people they wanted. As an employer in the town of Bolton who knew pretty well the different qualities of labour and the price of labour, he said deliberately that the 1143 reduction of the wages of the postmen there from 26s. to 25s. a week was very unfortunate. But, first of all, he should mention that the right hon. Gentleman had treated Bolton very kindly in providing new post office buildings, which were a credit to the town. In reference to the pay of the postmen the right hon. Gentleman said that there was a limit; but he had gone far below the limit. The cost of living had gone up in Bolton not only within the last ten but within the last three or four years, and he believed that it would steadily rise, because there had been a large increase in taxation. Generally speaking, the requirements of living were rising. People had to live now at a higher standard than their forefathers did; and it was the business of the House and of the country to encourage the raising of the standard of living. If they wanted to raise people to a higher plane they should be taught to want much. No one could get the kind of labour necessary for post office work at 20s. a week in Bolton. He ventured to say that they could get plenty of people of a sort, but they would be of a lower quality. The Postmaster-General himself had told how the people he employed in London at Christmas time at 24s. a week brought in an adequate return for the increased wage, because the food they were able to procure was better and made it easier for them to work harder. But here the right hon. Gentleman was going to reduce the wages of the postmen from 26s. to 25s. a week. He had been in the House for many years and knew what pressure was brought to bear sometimes on heads of Departments in regard to wages; but in this case he was only speaking in the abstract, as the reduction in Bolton was only to apply in the future. The experience of the right hon. Gentleman contradicted his action in this matter. He said that this was one of the consequences of the rule laid down by the Hobhouse Committee, and that they must put up with the consequences of it. But the right hon. Gentleman had also said that they were not to expect that the Resolution of the Committee was as absolute as the laws of the Medes and Persians. The Committee was appointed not to dictate to the right hon. Gentleman but to 1144 advise him; and if the consequences of that advice were practically unwise, he called upon the right hon. Gentleman to break through the advice when he had shown that in this particular case it was unwise. In any event where it was found that by the working of the rule the wages in the Bolton Post Office were not sufficient to enable the men to keep a proper standard of living, he asked the Postmaster-General to give the rule another application.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER (Croydon)
said he wished to join in the congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman on the approaching extension of the penny post to the United States, and on the great reform he had introduced in regard to the postage of Canadian book-packets. Many years ago he did his best to promote the latter reform, but no one had succeeded in accomplishing it until the right hon. Gentleman had taken it in hand. He knew of nothing which could have a more directly beneficial effect on our relations with Canada than the reform effected by the right hon. Gentleman. He was not going to pretend that private Members should never attempt to force concessions from the heads of an administrative Department; and he wished to bring to the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman a particular case. He represented a Metropolitan constituency in which there were a great many Post Office employees who were affected by the unique finding of the Hobhouse Committee. The scale of living in that constituency was no; only as high as the London scale, but was higher than any other town in the country except Devonport. It stood at 104. It happened that one part of Croydon was in the London district, but the great majority of the postmen lived on the other side of the London district boundary line, and this anomaly occurred. There were two sets of men doing the same work under the same conditions as to cost of living and of work; but they did not receive the same pay. In a place like Croydon, where the cost of living was greater than in many other parts of London, it was not a fair thing to draw an artificial line across a particular part and place these restrictions on the men 1145 living on one particular side of that line. He had taken some pains to ascertain that what he was saying was correct. The borough of Croydon was to all intents a part of the Metropolitan area, and he asked the right hon. Gentleman to say whether there was not ground for a special investigation with regard to it. The distinction drawn was a purely arbitrary one, and worked very hardly indeed with regard to a large number of men.
§ *MR. TOMKINSON (Cheshire, Crewe)
called attention to the grievances of the postal servants at Crewe. In the first place, he said, the maximum wage had been reduced from 26s. to 25s., although it was perfectly true that the reduction affected new entrants to the service and not those at present engaged in it. That reduction had been arrived at in the classification, no doubt, on the computation of the cost of living, rent, and the units of work. So far as the question of rent was concerned, it must be borne I in mind that in Crewe they were in a somewhat peculiar position. The average of rent was very greatly affected by the fact that a singularly large number of houses belonged to the London and North-Western Railway Company, who built them for occupation by their own employees. Those houses were let at a lower rent than other houses, those inhabiting them no doubt gutting them at that lower rent indirectly as part of their earnings. The employees of the Post Office found that they had to pay at least 1s. a week more for their houses than was paid by their fellow-citizens in the railway company's employ. With regard to the amount of work, he pointed out that there was an enormous amount of work done at Crewe in the transference of mails. Crewe was the largest station for the transfer of mails in the United Kingdom. No less than 23,000 mail bags were transferred from one van to another in the course of a week and no less than 4,000 parcel cases. Those figures showed plainly the amount of work that took place there, and hon. Members who, in the course of their travels, had had to wait at Crewe between the hours of eleven at night and one in the morning had no doubt pleasantly spent their time 1146 in watching this work being done. Those who had done so would know from their own experience the amount of work that was done. The transfer of mails naturally entailed a considerable amount of night work. It was calculated that 80 per cent. of all the work done there was night work. This in its turn entailed broken hours and greater needs in the matter of preparing meals and lights and fuel, all of which contributed to the increase of the cost of living. He brought these matters to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman for his best consideration. He pointed out that the towns of Preston and Stoke, where the work was less and where similar reductions had been made, had put their case before the Post Office, which had offered to reconsider their position. He trusted that now the case of Crewe had been brought to the knowledge of the right hon. Gentleman that also would be reconsidered.
§ *VISCOUNT VALENTIA (Oxford)
said that the postal servants in the constituency which he had the honour to represent suffered from very much the same grievances as those for whom the hon. Member for Crewe had just spoken. They thought that when the Hobhouse Committee sat to consider the grievances of the postal servants something would be done to improve their condition, but they found that not only had nothing been done in that regard, but that the maximum salary had been reduced, in the case of postal clerks from 50s. to 48s., and in the case of the postmen from 25s. to 24s. Another grievance which they suffered was in regard to classification. In the classification they were put into the third class, which they considered was not just, contending that they should be placed in a higher class. The position in which the postal clerks found themselves was found on page 58 of the "Postal Changes Paper." They considered that they had been hardly treated, because in the calculations the average taken of the cost of living was not sufficiently high, and their work—the index number of work in some cases at all events, was the same as that of certain other districts which were put into Class II. The Report made by a representative of the Board of Trade 1147 who was sent down to investigate this matter was not concurred in by those living in the district. They contended that he put in a figure for the cost of living far lower than the sum that it actually cost to live, and that his statement with regard to the difference in the pressure of work during the term and during the vacation was not accurate. What struck them and what had struck him was the comparison to be made between Oxford and other towns that were placed in a higher class. In the town of Sunderland the units of work was 558, and the cost of living 99; at Oxford the units of work were 755, and the cost of living 98. The units of work were considerably higher and the cost of living about the same, and the contention of the postmen of Oxford was that that city should be put in the same class as Sunderland which was in the second class, whilst Oxford now was in Class III. In the same way the amount of work in Cambridge was 681 and the cost of living 100, yet that city was classified as below Sunderland. He would like to know on what principle the classification had been arranged. Fie further pointed out that in the University towns the work of delivery had been considerably increased owing to the new regulations of the Post Office. In former days letters to the collegiates had to be delivered at the porter's lodge, now they had to be delivered at the rooms of the students. He submitted that Oxford should be put in the same class as Sunderland and other towns in the same class, and asked that the figures might be revised with a view that employees of the Post Office in that city might be put in Class II.
§ *SIR ALFRED THOMAS (Glamorganshire, E.)
said that South Wales had been very hard hit by these new regulations. In his own constituency and in that of his hon. friend the Member for the Rhondda Valley there were no less than eighteen reductions in which, if the cost of living and the units of work were taken as the basis, there ought to have been an increase rather than a reduction. He remembered when the number of his constituents was only 7,400; they now numbered over 21,000, and that fact alone showed the large increase which 1148 must have taken place in the work of the Post Office servants. He asked the Postmaster-General whether this was not a case for reconsideration, not only in the Welsh districts, but elsewhere, for he thought there was a grievance which could properly be amply considered.
§ SIR F. DIXON-HARTLAND (Middlesex, Uxbridge)
called attention to the grievance of the postal servants at Feltham and Hounslow, and said the Postmaster-General would hardly consider it fair that in one part of a district the wages should be raised and in another part of it they should be lowered, though the same work was being done, and at the same time the cost of living was larger where the wages had been lowered, than in the part where they had been raised.
§ MR. P. MEEHAN (Queen's County, Leix),
as one who served on the Hobhouse Committee, said that in his opinion the Postmaster-General had interpreted the recommendations of the Select Committee in a liberal and generous spirit. In any revision which took place it was quite possible cases would occur which gave rise to grievances, but he thought it was in the power of the Postmaster-General to remedy certain of those grievances which had been pointed out in the course of the discussion. From the statements made by several hon. Members it appeared to be their idea that when a revision took place that revision must be entirely in the way of increasing salaries, and that no reductions should be made. It was quite true that the discussion was one of considerable importance, and he thought members of the Committee were bound to give an explanation of the grounds on which they had arrived at the conclusions embodied in their Report, and to defend those recommendations if defence were necessary. Since the issue of the Report comments had been made in many newspapers, but especially in the journals of the Service. He did not intend to deal to any extent with the criticisms. He thought criticism was healthy and should be welcomed, and it was welcomed by the members of the Committee, but it should be criticism founded upon justice. To no man in that House or outside it would he yield in his anxiety that one of the most important bodies connected with the public business 1149 of the country should have not only a living wage but a just wage, and that the conditions of their employment should be such as to bring about contentment and satisfaction in their occupation. He did not say for one moment that the Report of the Committee was perfect. What human effort had been or ever would be perfect? What he said was that in that Report there were the means of remedying grievances, that it contained a solid foundation on which the administration of the Department could erect a satisfactory scheme, alike beneficial to the nation, while securing to the employees just wages, reasonable concessions, and satisfactory conditions of service, at the same time that they could look forward to an old age of security and comfort. Certain statements had been made in the Service journals that evidence was suppressed, and that certain evidence was ignored. In his opinion that statement was not warranted by the facts of the case. It was true that when the evidence was printed and circulated among the Members, certain portions appeared with parts of the printed type having a mark drawn through certain paragraphs, but in his opinion that had been done with the knowledge and the approval of the Committee, because it referred only to evidence which was a repetition, and to evidence on certain points which had already been dealt with by the Committee. He asserted that there was neither a suppression of evidence nor an ignoring of evidence on any point that it was the duty of the Committee to investigate. It might be said that certain portions of the evidence were ignored because the demands put forward were refused by the Committee. With the permission of the House he would refer to one or two of the claims which the Committee decided that they ought not to recommend. One was on the question of promotion, and it would be found on page 11, paragraphs 92–3, of the Report. The claim made was that promotion should be made whether the state of work justified it or not. The Committee considered that promotion should not be made on that ground. Another claim was as to the question of annual leave, to be found on page 14, paragraph 12. The claim was that annual leave should be confined to six of the best months of the year. The Committee considered that it 1150 would be impossible for the Department to give the entire Service annual leave within six months, and the Committee did not recommend that claim. Then there was the question of overtime. The claim was that overtime should be abolished. The Committee thought that overtime could not be abolished, but they recommended that it should be discouraged. It was a remarkable fact that after this claim as to overtime was put forward there appeared in the Service journal in January last, a paragraph condemning the increase of the staff at Christmas in certain offices, thus depriving the men in those offices of the opportunity of earning money by over-time. That was an extraordinary contradiction of the claim put forward that overtime ought to be abolished. Another claim was for second class railway travelling expenses, but the Committee could not see their way to concede second class railway travelling, and did not recommend it. A claim was also made for increased salary because officers had to keep cool heads in order properly to discharge their duties. A claim was further made for increased salary on the ground that postmen frequently, in the course of their work, were rendered liable to sweat and as a consequence to catch cold. He did not know what the opinion of the House would be as to that claim on the part of the Post Office servants. The Committee, however, had not conceded it, though it was their business to mention that which in his opinion would be, if adopted, an attempt to provide machinery to negative the universal decree of God, that by the sweat of his brow man should earn his daily bread. There were other claims which he would not go into. He now turned to the claims admitted and to the recommendations made by the Committee, and to some of the concessions and advantages arrived at. The claim was made as to the question of night duty, and on the recommendation of the Committee in that respect there would be an advantage to the Service estimated at £56,400; and on the question of bank-holidays, the recommendation of the Committee gave an advantage to the Service estimated to the value of £36,900 a year. Under the claim in regard to medical attendance the Committee recommended, and the Department, he believed, had adopted, that every postal official with a salary 1151 of less than £150 a year was entitled to free medical attendance. There were other recommendations with regard to auxiliary and casual labour which had been dealt with by the right hon. Gentleman that evening. Another very serious claim was made on the question of counter losses. It was stated in evidence that in many cases the counter losses amounted to nearly half the officer's salary in a week. The recommendation of the Committee was, and it was adopted by the Department, that counter losses should be limited to 10 per cent. of the officer's salary; no matter how great was the loss, whether shillings or pounds, he would not be charged more than 10 per cent. of his salary. In regard to the stripe allowance, the period for obtaining the stripe had been reduced from five to four years. The first stripe came in five years, and the Committee recommended that for each subsequent stripe the period should be reduced to four years. With reference to the scale of pay for postmen the Committee had made certain recommendations which the Department had adopted. With regard to the effects of the recommendations of the Committee on the postal service in London, 6,906 men would benefit at the rate of 1s. per week; 1,071 benefited at the rate of 3s. a week, and 154 lost 1s. a week. In the provinces the benefit amounted to £52,000 a year, and 13,953 men benefited 1s. a week, 2,707 would benefit 2s. a week, 1,100 would benefit 3s. a week, 312 would benefit 4s. a week, 4,321 were unaltered, 5,832 would lose 1s., 222 would lose 3s. But this reduction was for new entrants only, and did not affect any existing officer. For auxiliary postmen the rate of pay had been increased from 4d. to 4½d. The recommendations in the case of counter clerks and telegraphists were estimated at an annual advantage to the class of £26,300 a year, to provincial sorters and telegraphists at £31,500 a year, to female operative classes in London at £68,250, to the supervising class at £47,350, and to clerical and other classes of men and women at £33,860. In respect to the engineer in-chief office, the construction staff, the maintenance and mechanical staff, and electric lighting staff, they had often complained that the men employed on exactly the same work in Ireland were receiving from 3s. to 5s. a week less than men engaged in England 1152 and Scotland, and he thanked his colleagues on the Committee for the recommendation which they unanimously joined in making that the treatment of Irish officials should be in every sense on terms of equality with those of the United Kingdom. The result of the recommendations of the Committee as regarded this class amounted to an annual expenditure of £76,090 a year. To sub-postmasters and other classes there was an estimated advantage of £58,850 a year. He quoted these figures in answer to the statement which had been made in some quarters, that the Service had derived very little if any advantage at all from the Hobhouse Committee. The question of civil rights occupied a very large place in the journalistic criticisms of the Committee, and in some speeches made by members of the Post Office Association. The claim put forward for civil rights led in some quarters at all events to the belief that Post Office officials were deprived of every single right of citizenship, but that was not at all the case. They had the Parliamentary franchise, the local government franchise, and every other right of citizenship, with the simple restriction which was common to the Civil Service, that they must not make public speeches affecting the return of any Member of the House, or write public letters in newspapers. He felt that where Post Office officials of any class had every right of citizenship subject to the restriction he had mentioned, their best interest was served by the continuance of that restriction, because not being political partisans they could approach every Member of the House, no matter what his political opinions might be, with sympathy and with confidence to have their grievances redressed, whereas, if they were political partisans they would naturally bring about a feeling of hostility in the minds of some people. In practice how would this matter work out in the interests of the public? Take the case of a contested election. The postmaster went to a public meeting and made a speech in favour of one candidate, his principal officer went on one platform and made a speech for the opposition candidate, and the staff selected a candidate of their own, and they all spoke on behalf of three different candidates. The result would be that the postmaster would not be able to maintain the discipline which was 1153 absolutely essential in the public interest. Then one candidate went to the Post Office to send a telegram, and saw the postmaster, who was often making a speech denouncing him, and handed his telegram to a clerk who had also denounced him on a public platform. Could the public have that confidence in the secrecy of the Post Office, and that their business would be transacted in the same satisfactory way as at present, if the staff was given the opportunity of bringing political discussion inside? Then take the case of a thrifty housewife making a deposit in the savings bank. She was compelled to transact her business with some officer who was an opponent of her husband, brother, or son in some local government election. On every ground the best interests of the country were served by the continuance and enforcement of the rule which was applicable to the whole civil service of the country. One of the principal complaints in respect to the Irish service made before the Committee was on the question of promotion. The grievance amounted to a public scandal. The evidence was not given directly by any witness, but was elicited on cross-examination, and the effects of the cross-examination were that while the population of Ireland was 88 per cent. Catholic, and while the rank and file of the service was almost in the same proportion, the non-Catholic element was in possession of almost the whole of the appointments. This could not be brought about by a want of ability in the larger number of the servants. In Dublin, among the principal officials thirty-three holding pensionable appointments were non-Catholics and fifteen were Catholics. He mentioned these matters with a view of pointing out that if the Postmaster-General expected contentment and peace and faithful and zealous discharge of the duties of the Irish branch of the service he must deal with this question with a firm hand. A number of the best men in the service were boycotted from the principal positions. He made no complaint, but asked the right hon. Gentleman with a firm hand to remove from the Irish service this last remnant of the religious ascendency which was the bane and ruin of Irish life. In Cork, seven-eighths of the population were Catholic. The postmaster, the chief clerk, the superintendent of telegraphs, and the 1154 entire heads of staff were exclusively Protestant. In Limerick, fifteen of the principal offices were exclusively Protestant, though seven-eighths of the population I were Catholic. He hoped an absolutely necessary reform would be brought about. He did not want to trespass on the time of the House further than to I say upon the question of salary that in his opinion the Committee did well in the recommendations which they made. It was quite possible that cases might arise where it would be the duty of the Postmaster General to remedy certain grievances in the course of carrying out his system of classification. With regard to the advantages accruing to Ireland from the Committee's Report, he thought his colleagues would agree with him when he said that the country they represented was well to the front. In regard to the indoor staff, in eighty-three head offices the salaries were raised, in twenty-one they were unaltered, and in five they were reduced. In the case of sorting clerks and telegraphists, five officers received an increase of 6s. per week, six an increase of 4s. a week, 462 an increase of 2s. per week, and 839 remained unaltered. He submitted to the right hon. Gentleman that this was a very large number to remain unaltered. Nearly all those men expected that they would get some increase and some advantage from the Committee's Report. Therefore he earnestly appealed to the right hon. Gentleman that the case of those 839 men should be taken into consideration with a view to bettering their position and giving them some share in the advantages which their fellow-workers were going to receive. In his own constituency, six received an increase of 5s., fifty-five 2s., and 115 1s. per week. In regard to postmen, 632 would get an increase of 3s., 213 2s., 157 1s. per week, and 395 would remain unaltered. The average increase per officer in the United Kingdom was for sorting clerks and telegraphists 9d., females 1s., postmen 1s. In Ireland, sorting clerks and telegraphists would receive an average rise of 7d., female staff 10d., and postmen 1s. 4d. The average showed that Ireland got 2s. 9d. and the United Kingdom 2s. 4d. He was pleased with the recommendations of the Committee and the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman had carried them out, for the result had been that a long-delayed act 1155 of justice had been done to a class of public servants in Ireland. He desired again to thank the Postmaster-General for the satisfactory manner in which he had interpreted the recommendations of the Committee.
§ *SIR H. NORMAN (Wolverhampton, S.)
said he wished to join in the tribute of appreciation and gratitude to the right hon. Gentleman for the admirable series of reforms that he had announced that day. He doubted whether any Postmaster-General had ever had such a good record, and unless he surpassed himself in years to come, this year would probably long remain a record. He desired to call attention for a moment to the reform initiated regarding the circulation of magazines to Canada. That was a concession that he had agitated for for many years. He remembered being a member of a deputation which waited upon the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire when he was Postmaster-General. He received the deputation courteously, but he told them that it was quite impossible to grant what they suggested, and the idea dropped. Therefore he was particularly glad that the present Postmaster-General had been able to make this truly Imperial reform so promptly and satisfactorily. He need hardly say that in the criticism he was going to make he did not speak in any carping spirit. The right hon. Gentleman had only to proceed with the same courage and devotion in other matters which had been brought to his notice, and then he would settle them all in accordance with the wish of every Member of the House. It must be evident to the right hon. Gentleman, from the number of anomalies which had already been pointed out, that the present state of things could not continue. Almost every hon. Member of the House could furnish examples of anomalies and injustices arising in his own constituency from the putting in force of the new regulations. Wolverhampton was not itself in his constituency, but there the maximum had been reduced from 28s. to 25s. per week, and in Bilston, where the cost of living was higher, it had been reduced from 25s. to 23s. per week. As the hon. Member for the Ince division had well said, they strongly resented 1156 that a great Department of State, as the result of a great inquiry, should proceed to lower wages in many directions. That certainly was a retrograde step. They might, after such an inquiry, leave wages where they were, or increase them, but surely they could not go about here and there in a more or less arbitrary manner reducing the wages of a none too well-paid body of servants of the State. How they could be satisfied to do that certainly passed his comprehension. In Bilston, postmen's wages were to be reduced from 24s. to 23s. It was a very poor story that a great party of reform, as the result of an inquiry by an admirable Committee, and the expenditure of an additional £600,000 rising to £1,000,000, should produce as one of the results of the whole business that the poor postmen of Bilston were to be docked 1s. per week. He thought his right hon. friend would see that that was a state of things which called for his very careful consideration. With regard to substitutes for postmen, he was informed from Bilston that adult substitutes doing whole time and work were receiving only 16s. a week. If that was the case, he submitted it was not the wage which a great Department of State ought to pay to a man of that character doing a full weeks work. Even the scavenger in Bilston got £1 a week, and a man performing the responsible duties of a postman would naturally feel himself under a great grievance, and would certainly be justified in taking that attitude, if he only received 16s. a week. He earnestly hoped the right hon. Gentleman would give the questions he had raised his favourable consideration.
§ *MR. STAVELEY-HILL (Staffordshire, Kingswinford)
said he wished to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to some questions which arose on the Report of the Hobhouse Committee, more particularly with regard to classification. He was surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman state that when the Select Committee made a Report, it was the duty of the Government and the House to accept it in full. That might be advisable in some cases, but it would be a very dangerous precedent to establish for the future. They were all well aware that the inquiry of the Hobhouse Committee, in many respects, had turned 1157 out well, but it could not be overlooked that the Report had brought about a certain amount of dissatisfaction. There was much dissatisfaction in large towns like Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Dublin and Edinburgh, arising from the fact that the Committee had apparently left stationary the maximum rate of pay. That maximum had remained for seventeen years, and it was not to be altered. No one complained of the rise of pay in the case of female telegraphists, but it seemed very hard that some employees should remain at the stationary figure when others had been raised by 3s. a week. Though that had happened in the larger towns, in the smaller towns the persons employed had received substantial increases. In Wolverhampton, the scale for future entrants was to be 17s., with a yearly rise of 1s. to 25s. At the present time it was 19s., with a yearly rise of 1s. 6d. to 28s., so that this meant practically a reduction of 3s. a week. He contended that that was not in accord with the Report of the Hob-house Committee. He did not agree with the interpretation that the right hon. Gentleman had put upon the Report of the Committee; in fact, he thought the Postmaster-General had brought to bear upon the Report an interpretation of his own which the actual words would not bear. He had stated that thy classification should be the same for the indoor und the outdoor staff, but as a matter of fact he had levelled down the postmen instead of adopting the levelling-up process which was in the mind of the Committee. The hon. Member for Stockport, who was a member of the Committee, in speaking upon this subject last year said—The idea of the Committee was that all the scales of postmen should be advanced 1s. on their maximum. When the Committee framed the scales, they did so with the idea that the postmen with 26s. maximum should get 27s. They expected that in a few odd cases that might not be done, but they never anticipated the wholesale reduction of the maximum which would occur under this classification.That was the view taken by one of the Members of the Committee, and that was the interpretation he put on the findings of the Committee, and it was distinctly different from the interpretation of the Postmaster-General. He wanted to get from the right hon. Gentleman an undertaking that he would put some of those grievances right. If there was any doubt 1158 about what the Committee intended, the right hon. Gentleman might call the Committee together again for the purpose of framing their Report in language which they could all clearly understand. The Postmaster-General had gone upon the levelling-down process, and wages had dropped from 30s. to 25s. As he had already stated, there had been no rise of tins maximum for seventeen years, although during that time the cost of living had considerably increased and was still increasing. If they raised the wages of the female telegraphists and the female staff, who were mostly unmarried, surely they ought to raise the wage of that class of Post Office servants who were mostly married and had families to support. That was one of the reasons why he urged that something should be done to rectify this grievance. The right hon. Gentleman had said that those employed by the Post Office prior to 1908 would not be affected by anything in these new regulations, and that the terms upon which they entered the postal service would not be affected. He had had his attention drawn to the case of a postman employed in Wolverhampton, who, along with others, was sent out to a district surrounding the town on the clear understanding that he should come back to the rate of wages he used to receive at the Central Office. His old wages were 28s. He had come back to the Central Office, but instead of getting 28s. a week, to his disgust he found that on the new scale he was only entitled to 25s. He did not think that was fair. At Dudley the rate of pay was 44s. for many years, and was now reduced to 40s. What the employees asked was that the right hon. Gentleman should give an unmistakable interpretation to the Report of the Committee. They said that if the Report of the Committee was fairly interpreted they would abide by it. The way in which the Postmaster-General read the Report made them think that they were suffering a grievance, and that something should be done in the way of having the Report remodelled, or by the Postmaster-General reconsidering the matter. Passing from that subject, he reminded the right hon. Gentleman that he had for some years written to him about the Post Office situated at Old Hill. He returned to this subject for the third time in the hope that the right hon. Gentleman 1159 would do something for that district. If the Postmaster-General was under the least apprehension that there was any political motive at the back of the demand in regard for that post office, he could assure him that that was not so. The majority of those who formed a deputation to him some time ago held the same views as the right hon. Gentleman and not those of hon. Members on that side of the House, but all were equally desirous that that post office should be increased in size or that a new one should be built. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would give the matter his earnest consideration.
§ *SIR JOSEPH LEESE (Lancashire, Accrington)
said he rose to ask one Question, and that was whether the Postmaster-General had laid down a hard and fast rule as to classification, or whether on good cause being shown he would reconsider any case where the reduction was believed to act oppressively.
§ *MR. GEORGE ROBERTS (Norwich)
said that having regard to the number of hon. Members who desired to take part in the debate, it was not his intention to occupy the attention of the Committee at any great length. He would like to associate himself with his hon. friend the Member for the Ince division, in assuring the Postmaster-General that in the criticism they were compelled to offer they were in no way inspired by personal dislike, but that their criticism was rather aimed at the permanent officials behind the right hon. Gentleman. There was no denying the fact that profound dissatisfaction existed throughout the service at the result of the Hobhouse Committee Report and the interpretation put upon its recommendations. It was not his intention to go at length into these matters, for the hon. Member for the Ince division had expressed their views fairly and with lucidity. He and his friends were concerned to find that a number of employees of the State were subject to a reduction in their status. It was quite true that the right hon. Gentleman had assured the Committee that afternoon that none of the present men would be subjected to a reduction in their wages. But nevertheless they kept in view the fact that the present wages had been in existence for seventeen or eighteen years, and that by the natural flux of time those 1160 wages had been reduced in their purchasing value, and they felt that a strong case existed for a general increase of wages being granted to all those men. During the past seventeen or eighteen years it was undeniable that the cost of living had greatly increased. It was also a desirable thing that the standard of life of the workers should be elevated, and therefore they could not contemplate with any complacency a reduction in the status of any number of workmen, whether in the employ of the Government or in outside concerns. It was not really his purpose to deal with that particular point, but there were two questions to which he wished to direct the attention of the Postmaster-General. First of all, he would like to raise the question of the auxiliary postman. He confessed that when he was first induced to look into this question he regarded an auxiliary postman as a man who was drawn in occasionally to the postal service, but he was a little surprised to find that some of these men had as many as twenty or thirty years service. They had to perform the same duties as the established postmen, and the point he wanted to submit to the right hon. Gentleman was the desirability of abolishing auxiliary postmen as far as possible. He knew that in answer to direct representation made to him on the matter the Postmaster-General had given a reply which was tantamount to a promise that he would give the closest personal consideration to the question with a view to the reduction of the auxiliaries, and with the ultimateaim of abolishing them altogether. To show that these men were subject to grave abuse he would state a few facts to the Committee. He had had laid before him the cases of two men, one established and the other auxiliary, and both having fourteen years service in the postal department. The auxiliary man was receiving 12s. per week in wages, and 6d. per hour for overtime, without any of the privileges enjoyed by the established postman. The established postman with the same length of service was receiving 32s. a week, with 2s. extra allowance, an allowance of 21s. for boots, holiday allowance of 16 days, and full sick pay It seemed to him utterly impossible to reconcile on any principle of justice the-different treatment of these two men, who were doing practically the same class of work. The men in one case were giving 1161 a limited number of hours service, but he did not see why there should be such disparity in remuneration as he had indicated. He did not see that the Post Office had any excuse for the continuance in any large measure of this class of workmen, and he sincerely trusted that the intention of the right hon. Gentleman would be accelerated and that a material improvement would take place. He hoped that this class would be entirely abolished. The second question he desired to raise—and he did so in no carping spirit, because he knew that in vestigations were already in progress—was the desirability of the Post Office abolishing contracting altogether. He felt that the mail-cart drivers should be in the direct employment of the Department. The abuses to which he desired to draw the attention of the Committee undoubtedly arose out of the contract system. To prove that the grievance to which he alluded was a substantial one he would give a few facts. The city mail drivers in Norwich were employed by contractors; they worked seventy-three hours par week, and every third week when the men had to do a rotation of Sunday labour they worked seventy-six and a quarter hours. For these inordinately long hours of labour the men received the unhandsome remuneration of 17s. a week. He had already drawn the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to this matter, but he brought it before the Committee in order to prove that there was a substantial grievance. The city parcel cart drivers were in a similar category. He was assured that the figures he was quoting had been investigated since he was requested to look into the matter. The wages of that class were 15s. a week for a number of hours approximating to seventy per week. The country mail-cart drivers also had a substantial grievance, which, again, he believed was due to the prevalence of the contract system. The wages in their case averaged from 15s. to 17s. per week Those men had to work seven days per week, they got no holiday allowance, no sick pay, and nothing was allowed for accommodation or sustenance. It seemed to him that as long as the contract system was recognised by the Post Office Department these abuses must continue. Undoubtedly they were very widely prevalent in the land. He knew that the Postmaster-General had no sympathy with these abuses, and since 1162 he took control of the Department he had viewed with misgiving the conditions of labour of these contract men. The right hon. Gentleman had approached the Treasury to sanction the appointment of an inspector, whose duty it was to inquire into the conditions of labour of the men employed by the various contractors in his Department. But it was certainly impossible for any inspector, or any number of inspectors, to make themselves thoroughly cognisant of the conditions of labour of all those men. He felt that the right hon. Gentleman would be well advised if he turned his attention to the desirability of abolishing contract service entirely, so that they might be able to say that all the employees of the State were on the established service, and that the House of Commons had direct control over their conditions of labour, knew what they were doing, and that for their work they were receiving a reasonable rate of pay. He desired to point out that Norwich was practically in a similiar position to York in regard to cost of living. Mr. Rowntree found that in York the irreducible minimum on which a man was able to maintain himself, his wife and family, was 21s. 8d. a week. The facts which he had stated showed that there were men doing work in the postal service who were receiving 16s. and 17s. per week. It was a disgrace to the country, and it was desirable that the Department should exercise its ingenuity immediately in order to abolish what was a disgrace to a civilised community. He acknowledged the improvements which the right hon. Gentleman had already effected in connection with the postal service, and the few observations which he had addressed to the Committee were not dictated by any captious spirit, but he fell that those facts should be known. He urged that the contract system should be abolished, and that the House should take the control of all those engaged in the postal service.
§ *MR. HILLS (Durham)
said he wished to direct attention to the scale of pay of postmen, which he was certain wanted reconsideration. He was sure that the right hon. Gentleman had no desire to inflict hardship on anyone, but hon. Members who were interested in the Post Office service must make a stand now if they were to have a chance of 1163 securing a reconsideration of the scale of wages. He had taken the trouble to work out the figures in the circular issued by the Department in February last, and he found that in no less than thirty-one towns out of 102 the scale of pay was reduced. And the class of town where the reduction was the most frequent were the manufacturing towns such as Darlington, Grimsby, Huddersfield, Middlesbrough, Paisley, and Greenock. Moreover, nearly all the reductions had taken place in the lower scales of pay. Most of thorn were in the third class, in which the maximum was 25s. a week. The reductions had also taken place in the towns whore the cost of living was dearer than elsewhere. The two factors which seemed to determine the scale of pay were units of work and cost of living; but he could not make out which was the main factor. He wanted to know what was the comparative value of the two factors. It seemed to him that the unit of work was very bad. In the large and highly organised offices the unit of work was bound to be higher than in the smaller offices. In the former, the work was portioned out and distributed to different classes of workers; while in the latter the men had to take all kinds of work. The men in the small offices worked as long hours as the men in the big offices, and it was unfair that they should suffer by being placed on a lower scale of wages. The existing scale might apply very well if the offices all over the country were of the same size, but it could not be justly applied equally to the different classes of office. He would say that a far better standard of wage would be the cost of living, although the scale must be modified to a certain extent by the class of work. But in any case the present scale operated very badly. The scheme hit the suburbs of large towns very heavily, because the cost of living there was as high as in the towns. In Scotswood, for instance, which was really a suburb of Newcastle, all the prices of food and the conditions of life were as high as in Newcastle, while the pay was much lower. Again in Alnmouth, which was a watering-place, the cost of living was even higher, and yet the maximum was fixed at 21s. as against 30s. a week in Newcastle. The Department ought to make a better appreciation of the various districts than had been done. 1164 The classification according to units of work ought to be reconsidered, if not abolished altogether. He had taken great trouble to understand what the unit of work really meant, but it was absolutely incomprehensible to him. He did not think it represented a fair standard of what a man did. For all these reasons, he hoped that before it was too late the whole scheme would be reconsidered. He was perfectly certain that the right hon. Gentleman had no desire to be harsh, but he must feel that there was a large and growing uneasiness all over the country in regard to the working of the scheme, and he believed that a certain amount of pressure exercised by the right hon. Gentleman himself would effect a great reform.
§ *MR. WILES (Islington, S.)
said he did not wish to compete with many hon. Members in voicing the woes of the Postal Staff in his own constituency only, but desired to point out general cases which required reconsideration and not in any way to harass the Postmaster-General, but to help make the servants of the Post Office who, were always loyal and ready to help him in any way, more contented and more comfortable. The first class he wished to mention were the postal porters, a class entirely employed in in London. They came under Zone 1, and consisted mostly of old soldiers and sailors. Up to the inquiry of 1882 their maximum wage was 27s.; it was then, raised to 30s.; since which time they had received no increase at all. These men had put forth their claim before the Hobhouse Committee in a very reasonable way, and had shown how the cost of living, rents, and rates had increased in. London. The work demanded of them required more intelligence than it did twenty-six years ago, and he asked the Postmaster-General to consider their case again and see whether he could not increase their maximum rate of pay. Another matter to which he wished to direct the attention of the right hon. Gentleman was the allowance made to the postmen who travelled in mail vans. When they had a long journey to make and had to sleep out, it was the custom to grant an allowance of 3s. a night for food and lodging. But another class who travelled in the same van and did the same sort of work received 4s. a night. It seemed to him 1165 very strange that of two men travelling in the same van and sharing often the same lodging, one should receive 4s. and the other only 3s. He hoped the Postmaster-General would adjust this difference. It would not cost much money, and it was one of those pin-pricks which caused dissatisfaction, but which was easy to remedy. He also called attention to paragraph 406 of the Hobhouse Report, which dealt with head postmen. The Report recommended that in the City of London Division a new class termed "head postmen" should be appointed, but up to the present time the Postmaster-General had not made any such appointments. There were few openings for the rank and file of the City postmen to rise to, and they had lost some of the opportunities they formerly had of becoming lobby officers. He hoped the Postmaster-General would see his way to carry out that recommendation and make appointments at once. He believed that when the City postmen interviewed the right hon. Gentleman they submitted to him a scheme for the rearrangement of duties which they knew from experience would make the work of the office run more easily and yet not cause any extra expense. He was sorry to say that the right hon. Gentleman had not yet given any reply or criticism of their scheme, and he would press him to consider the suggestions and give some reply. There was a great discrepancy also in the payment of certain telegraphists. They had heard that to-day two members of the staff at the Central Telegraph Office had got a maximum of 65s., but operators who did absolutely the same class of work in the Metropolitan district offices and had received the same education, and had passed the sumo examination, only rose to a maximum of 62s. It seemed to him that there was something radically wrong there. It came out very clearly in the case of the Threadneedle Street Office, which dealt with the Stock Exchange telegrams, where the maximum was 65s., while the telegraphists in the Lombard Street Office who dealt with the more weighty messages from the great banks, only rose to a maximum of 62s. He thought that if the same rate of pay were paid to all telegraphists in the Metropolitan area the right hon. Gentleman would find that he would get a far better result in the work clone, and that there would be fewer grumbles. 1166 He should like to refer to the engineers and mechanics, a class that had been referred to by another hon. Gentleman and who were not on the establishment. He noticed that the Committee's Report suggested that these men, after having been employed five or six years in the factories, should be placed on the establishment. He personally thought that three or four years trial in the workshops should be a sufficient test before placing them on the establishment, and he asked whether they could not be established after that period. He noticed a suggestion on page 44 of the new paper just issued by the Postmaster-General, that as vacancies occurred in certain classes their work should be put out to contract. It seemed to him that such a thing was in this twentieth century a retrograde movement. That a great Department like the Post Office should think of putting out work which could be done far better and cheaper by the Department, was a very great mistake indeed. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would see his way rather to increasing the work that was done in this department than putting it out to contract. He would like to say a few words in regard to the telephone staff at the General Manager's Office, Carter Lane. He pointed out that the staff was created in 1901; in 1904 women clerks were introduced and were put on the establishment. But strange to say, the men who had been at work there since 1901, and also those who had come in afterwards, had never been established. It seemed to him only fair that those clerks should be put in the same position as men who did the same class of work in other departments of the Post Office. Therefore he put it to the right hon. Gentleman whether he could not, see his way now to assure the House that he would at once place this class also on the establishment. Another question he desired to raise once again was that of Christmas boxes. The matter came before the Hobhouse Committee, and he was sorry to say that that Committee could not see its way to come to any conclusion. It was the almost unanimous demand of, postmen that this unsatisfactory system should be done away with. It was a most degrading—a most wretched 1167 system. The public who gave these tips would be the persons who would have to pay the extra wages which would be demanded for their abolition. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not allow his brilliant term of office to come to a close without bringing this degrading system to a termination. The system of allowing part of the Civil Service to go round touting for tips to make up what was admitted to be inadequate wages was most lowering and should be entirely abolished. He thought the restrictions placed on the civil rights of postmen by the regulation of a previous Postmaster-General were most extraordinary. By that rule they were ''not allowed to become candidates for a county council" as regards the district in which they were employed, nor might they sit on a committee which had for its object to prevent or promote the return of a particular candidate. He would not say anything as to the postman becoming a candidate or having a seat on the county council, because his duties took so long a time that it would be impossible for a postman to be a county councillor and carry out his office duties too. A postman could take part in a borough council election and sit on a borough council, but for some extraordinary reason he could take no part in county council matters. The county council had nothing to do with the Post Office or its management, yet the postman was not allowed to speak or serve on a committee except it was in a district in which he did not work. That restriction worked out in a most extraordinary fashion. For instance, a man working at the Mount Pleasant Office and living on the south side of the City Road, could take no part in L.C.C. elections, because he both lived and worked in Finsbury; he must be dumb! But another worker at Mount Pleasant living on the north side of the City Road, in Islington, might speak or canvass or exercise any of the ordinary rights of a citizen at election time This was one of those little grievances which it was impossible for the right hon. Gentleman himself to remedy, but he knew he was in agreement with him in this injustice and he hoped the Postmaster-General would get the assistance of his colleagues and remove this disability from the postal servants. 1168 He made these criticisms in no unfriendly or carping spirit, but that he might by these suggestions assist his right hon. friend to remedy the grievances which he had pointed out.
§ MR. WILLIAM RUTHERFORD (Liverpool, West Derby)
said it would be ungenerous on the part of any Member representing Liverpool to take part in this debate without congratulating the right hon. Gentleman on his brilliant record. His record of the past year would compare with that of any previous Postmaster-General. His achievements were so varied and the results so brilliant that it would not be generous to take part in the debate without testifying to them. There was not a man in the House who had not had occasion to communicate privately or otherwise with the Postmaster-General, and all acknowledged his invariable courtesy. It was, therefore, with the greater difficulty Members, like himself, who sometimes fell foul of some of the arrangements of the Post Office, found themselves obliged to call attention to sundry matters of which they did not approve. He could not help thinking that if the Postmaster-General with his great ability and the assiduity with which he devoted himself to the work of the Department, would throw into the fire the Reports of some of the Committees that had sat and deal with the difficulties in a manner which he thought was right and just, a large number of these anomalies would disappear. There were a number of very serious anomalies, anomalies so serious as to be stupid when stated. There was the case of the counter-clerk at Lombard Street who could only rise to 63s., and the counter-clerk at Thread-needle Street whose maximum was 65s. Yet it was obvious if one went to these offices, as he had done, that both men were on a par and did exactly similar work. Then if the provincial towns were taken, it would be found that one of the things of which the skilled telegraphists complained was that the maximum of 56s., which was fixed in 1890, was still the maximum to which they could attain. If they took into account the increased cost of living, rent, rates, and other 1169 matters, it was an undoubted fact that if 56s. was a proper maximum in 1890, it was not a proper one in 1908, and that it ought to be revised. They had heard it stated by the Postmaster-General, in fact the remark was made last year, that no existing servants of the Post Office would suffer in consequence of the changes adopted. He fancied that that was not quite correct. There were some who would suffer; at all events, it was correct to say that there would be reductions in the case of future employés in 237 offices of the country. In regard to the Hobhouse Report they had heard speeches from two Members of the Committee. He had listened to those speeches, and he had found that the interpretation put upon the recommendations was not the interpretation which the Postmaster-General put upon them. Some of them who had taken an active part in trying to find out what the real grievances of the Post Office servants were, and to understand the recommendations of the Committee, felt that where the Hobhouse Report broke down was that it did not express in clear and intelligible language what the Committee evidently meant. There were several more points on which they had heard speeches that day, and also on previous occasions, from various members of the Committee, and it was perfectly plain that in coining to that final Report, and in making themselves parties to that Report, they were under the impression that they were agreeing to it on a different interpretation from that which was put upon it now. What was the remedy for the taste of affairs disclosed by the debate? They had had Member after Member for the Metropolis and for different towns of the country getting up in that debate, and with the exception of the members of the Committee, they had all finished their observations by calling attention to something which they considered to be wrong. He ventured to think that a matter of this sort ought to be taken out of the purview of the House of Commons. It was not fair to the House to discuss differences as regarded a shilling on wages; it was not the place for the discussion of the principles of the promotion of hundreds 1170 of men, many of whom were electors. It was a very serious position indeed which arose in consequence of it, and he thought that the Postmaster-General ought to be convinced, after hearing the general condemnation of the system, that it was high time that something should be done to put an end to such a state of things. If he might take an opportunity of repeating what had been said on this head there should be an independent Committee appointed to confer and advise with the heads of Departments, and to take into account the wages of all the Civil servants and the system of promotion, so that an independent body dealing with all these matters could do justice. He was one of those who supported the late Government, yet on this question of the postal telegraph servants he had consistently, for the last six years, supported a Parliamentary inquiry with regard to their case. He was very disappointed to find that the Hobhouse Committee had made such a mess of it. Notwithstanding the ability of the chairman and the devotion of the members of the Committee, they had brought out a lamentable Report The Postmaster-General himself in the past year had been engaged in some very great works; he had accomplished some magnificent results; but he had not had time to turn his undoubted abilities to the details of the postal service; he contented himself by saying that there was a Parliamentary Report and that he was going to carry that out to the letter. He (Mr. Rutherford) thought that the right hon. Gentleman ought to be convinced by this debate, if he had never been convinced before, that it was time that his attention was given to this matter and that he should consider those grievances.
§ MR. CROSFIELD (Warrington)
said that in his constituency the proposed change was regarded as a retrograde movement, and he, therefore, was very glad of the opportunity of saying a few words on the subject. Taking the ordinary rate of wages in Warrington, after this reduction there would be a minimum wage of 17s. 2d. which was lower than was paid to labourers, and the maximum rate of 25s. would be little more than was paid to 1171 bricklayers or labourers. He would be very sorry to say a word in disparagement of the position of the ordinary day labourer. For himself he always thought that the labourers perhaps deserved more consideration than any other class of workmen. But after all, if one considered what was expected in the postal service—irreproachable character, and the position which was to be kept up—he thought that one must recognise that the late of remuneration should be higher than had been paid to the class of workers to whom he had just alluded. Certainly there had been an increase in the cost of living, and for the life of him he could not see the slightest reason for any reduction being made. Through the invariable courtesy of the right hon. Gentleman he had had an opportunity of mentioning this matter to him privately, and he hoped that what had been suggested by so many speakers might be reconsidered, because there was a very strong feeling existing about it. With regard to the maintenance of a proper standard of pay and of hours of labour, he could only say that they wanted to keep to a happy mean. No Member of that House felt more strongly than he did on this subject. The people of this country were coming more and more to recognise the advantages of seeing that proper remuneration was given and proper hours of labour fixed. He trusted that the matter would be reconsidered by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ *MR. SUMMERBELL (Sunderland)
thought that if the debate had demonstrated anything, it had demonstrated to the Postmaster-General and his staff that a very strong feeling had been aroused against the Hobhouse Report. He wanted at the outset to state that so far as the Postmaster-General was concerned, whether he had consulted him in public or in private, he had always found him most courteous and willing to hear anybody who had a grievance to state. Therefore he wished it to be understood that whatever he said with regard to the changes which had been made, at all events he did not desire that his remarks should be taken as applying directly to the right hon. Gentleman or the position which he occupied. When this matter first came up he gave it very careful consideration, 1172 because Sunderland was one of the districts which was hit very hard—3s. off the maximum, and 2s. off the minimum. In justification of this very great change they were referred to the Board of Trade Returns with regard to the cost of living—and he quite recognised that if anything was to be done, and the post office servants were to get back to their original position, they would have to show that with regard to the cost of living and the volume of work the Board of Trade Returns were wrong. The change had been made upon these Board of Trade Returns, and he wanted to consider them in reference to Sunderland, which he knew was in a similar position to that of many other places in the country. The Board of Trade Returns actually had the audacity to set forth that the rents were higher in the poorer quarters of the town to which he belonged than in the parts of the town where the artisan class were living. And it was upon these incorrect Returns that the case had been, built up in order to justify the reduction of wages to a very great extent. From that standpoint alone the Board of Trade Returns stood condemned. He knew of his own knowledge that what applied to the town of Sunderland in regard to the inaccuracy of these Returns was true of many towns up and down the country. Then, as to the cost of living in Sunderland compared with London, they found with the exception of coal that it was as high in the one as in the other, yet there was anything from 6s., 7s., 8s., and 10s. a week less wages paid in Sunderland than in London. He could nut understand how any Committee could take Returns of that kind without any investigation or verification, and make them the basis of their recommendations. As to the cost of living the Board of Trade Returns were absolutely wrong. If the reductions had been made upon such false Returns the matter ought to be put right at once, for this system was to continue for many years, and it ought to be put right now, and men ought not to be penalised for many years to come. The wages in Newcastle were full 5s. per week more than at Sunderland. There was no difference in the circumstances of the two places, though there was this great difference of wages. He did not think there was a difference of more than 1173 1s. a week for skilled artisans on the Wear and on the Tyne, though there was to be a difference of 5s. a week as between Post Office employees. He considered the system entirely bad, and the same might be said as to the volume of work argument. According to the unit of work system a letter counted one, a telegram thirteen, a money order ten, and a postal order two units. He wanted the Committee to recognise straight off that, in regard to this particular work at all events, the outside staff had nothing whatever to do with the volume of work in the office. Take a garrison town or a naval port where money orders and postal orders were issued to a large extent. No man worked longer than any other, but these people, because they issued money orders and postal orders, had an opportunity of getting a greater volume of work than an office where they might do ordinary routine work and probably work harder than the employees in those other towns. Then take a place like York, which was a receiving centre for Hartlepool, Darlington, Stockton, Middlesbrough, Sunderland, etc. The letters came into the office and went straight away. They were not delivered by this postman, yet the postman would get the benefit according to this system, of the volume of work. The system was absolutely wrong, and he defied anyone to justify it. When the examiners went to these towns did they inquire into the whole work appertaining to the postal system of the town? He would like to have the reports if possible. Everyone recognised that the cost of living during the past ten or seventeen years had increased enormously, yet there was practically no increase of the wages of the postal employees. Probably he would be told they ought to let the postal system by contract. At all events, whatever might be urged in regard to economy in other Departments, economy could not be urged in regard to the postal system. They had no right to make the immense profit they did, and penalise the postal employees the way they were doing. There was something like 16s. difference as between large offices and small, and that was an immense difference, and he did not think the hours would vary very much. 1174 He did not agree with his hon. friend on the benches higher up in regard to the question of citizenship. They had no right to deny to these men their full rights of citizenship and so penalise them because they happened to be Government employees. He would always give his support and fight for them and would not rest content until every man, whether a Government employee or not, had the fullest possible liberty to express his opinion in regard to matters appertaining to the government of the land and his own particular interests. He did not blame the Postmaster-General. The Committee had given him these two things to work on—the cost of living and the unit system, but let them have the matter put right now. He felt assured that if he went carefully into it many men who had suffered reduction during the past year would, at all events, have a substantial increase. The Postmaster-General had put the postmen of his town back 2s., but he wanted them (the whole of the employees) back to what they originally had at the very least.
§ MR. LUKE WHITE (Yorkshire, E.R., Buckrose)
said that as a result of the new classification there were a number, of seaside resorts in which there would be a considerable reduction in the rate of wages, and he appealed to the Postmaster-General to give special consideration to those cases. He believed the Postmaster-General would acknowledge that the postmen in seaside resorts deserved special consideration. In the past the cost of living and other circumstances had been taken into consideration, and if this scheme was allowed to continue a number of postmen in seaside resorts would have their wages reduced. In his own constituency in Bridlington there would in future be a considerable reduction in the rate of wages. In another town, of an exactly similar character, the rate of pay had been increased. He took it that the Postmaster-General did not wish to do injustice to any town. He rose for the purpose of calling special attention to the case of Bridlington, because he believed that if all the circumstances of that town were taken into consideration some alteration would be made in regard 1175 to its classification as it now appeared. He hoped that after special inquiry the Postmaster-General would, find that Bridlington deserved a better classification, and that some alteration would be made to give it the full rate of wages to which it was entitled.
§ *MR. NANNETTI (Dublin, College Green)
said that after the speeches they had heard it would be admitted by the Postmaster-General that widespread discontent existed among Members with reference to the administration of the Hobhouse Report. All the speakers had expressed dissatisfaction and called for a revision of the Report. The Hobhouse Committee was established for the purpose of trying to set at rest the discontent which it was known existed among the members of the postal service. He said unhesitatingly that the findings of the Committee had not met the just claims of the postal service, and he held that it was the duty of the House to do everything in their power to bring the service into such a state of satisfaction as would be the means of producing efficiency and also of enabling these men to carry out the important duties entrusted to them with satisfaction to themselves and to the country. To show how anxious the postal servants felt in reference to the way the Committee had carried out their work, he would quote the finding of the Postal Association—The recommendations cannot be expected to remove the prevailing discontent, and, at the most, are only offered as a palliative. The failure in this respect is the more inexcusable as a reference to the Bradford Committee's Report would have shown that such revision is not only possible, but practicable, and, in their opinion, would result in greater efficiency and economy.That was the opinion expressed by the men directly interested, and he thought the Postmaster-General, who had done so much, and who, he was satisfied, had shown himself sympathetic and anxious to better the condition of the staff under him, would do well if he would take into serious consideration the revision and alteration, of the Report altogether. The Committee said that the recommendations they had made had not been given effect to. That was a matter 1176 of opinion. They had heard that their recommendations had been misinterpreted, and if the Committee had not put before the Postmaster-General their recommendations in a sufficiently clear and vivid manner, it was the duty of the Postmaster-General himself, seeing the universal chorus of disapprobation that had been expressed, to take steps to meet the wishes of Members, and especially the members of the Postal Association. If the conditions and recommendations had given dissatisfaction to the English and Scottish branches they had also given dissatisfaction and had created more discontent than had hitherto existed with the manner of its administration in Ireland. He could not agree with the hon. Member for Queen's County in regard to what he said they had done. Naturally the hon. Member was proud of his own bantling. He believed that those men had done their duty to the best of their ability, but when they found the hon. Member for Queen's County, who was a member of the Committee, and the hon. Member for Hoxton, who was also a member of the Committee, diametrically opposed to each other as to what the Report meant, it was high time that the House should see whether there was any real difference of opinion between the men who framed and presented the Report. That was a point to which the Postmaster-General ought to pay some attention and have that divergence of opinion set right if it existed. He was sorry to hear what the hon. Member for Queen's County had said with regard to the civil rights of the postal servants, and he regretted the action he had taken in regard to that matter. He knew there was no more kind-hearted man or one more interested in the welfare of the men employed in the Post Office than the hon. Member, but for anyone like him in the twentieth century to attempt to justify such action in the House and to argue that members of the postal service were not entitled to enjoy to the full their civil rights was taking up an attitude of which he felt sure the majority of the people of Ireland would not approve. It was already laid down that members of the Civil Service and the postal service were entitled to take part in public affairs by being members of 1177 boards of guardians and borough councils, but a distinction was drawn and for some reason or other which he could not understand they could not be members of county councils. If there was anything wrong in a Civil servant being a member of a county council, why should they not go the whole hog and disqualify them for borough councils and boards of guardians as well? But why should Civil servants be denied the rights to which every other citizen of the Empire was entitled? He thought on behalf of the postal servants in Ireland it was only right that he should give expression to that view and let it be known that the opinion of the hon. Member for Queen's County was not the opinion of the majority of the Members of the Irish Party. He wished to say a few words in reference to the manner in which the Irish portion of the evidence was dealt with by the Committee. He wished the House seriously to consider this point, because he had been informed that the witnesses from Ireland were summoned to London to place their grievances before the Committee. It was the intention of Parliament that it should be a free and open inquiry and that the grievances of the men should be placed before the Committee without their being in any way fettered. If he had been correctly informed the representatives of the men from Ireland were asked to put in their statements and then he understood they were invited into the parlour of the Chairman of the Hobhouse Committee where their statements were read over. Their evidence as set forth in the statements was considered by the Chairman of the Committee and his private secretary, and, although the men protested, a good deal of the evidence they wished to give was deleted. The complaint was that their statements of evidence were mutilated, and the men were told that if they did not give the evidence as it had been curtailed they would not be heard at all. The result was that the witnesses went home dissatisfied and consequently those who mutilated their evidence had to take the responsibility. He wished to know what right had any gentleman sitting in the position of chairman to take such a drastic step as to dictate to the men the class of evidence they were to give. Was it any wonder that there should be discontent when 1178 such a thing was done? The same thing might have been done with other witnesses, but he wished to state that that was not what Parliament set up this Committee for. They set up the Committee to see justice done between these men and the State, and he thought the men had a right to give their evidence in an untrammelled manner. That action naturally had produced intense dissatisfaction in Ireland, and from what he had heard in the debate the new classification had created a good deal of dissatisfaction in England. He did not think he could do better than quote to the House the opinion of the representatives of the men from their official organ as to the manner in which they had been treated and how far such action had tended to remove the men's difficulties in Ireland. A recent issue of the Irish Postal and Telegraph Guardian contained the following passage showing how the findings of the Committee had been received by the Irish postal staff—The report had intensified discontent instead of allaying it and that the contemplated expenditure was simply a waste of public money, inasmuch as it would not bring an ounce of contentment into the public service. A most peculiar thing about the report was that it recommended large increases of salaries to the highly paid classes who had not agitated at all, while the lower grades who caused all the agitation got practically nothing. This certainly seemed strange, and it bears the interpretation that the Committee had in their minds the discouragement of agitation in the Post Office.Anyone who knew how Civil servants in Ireland had to deal with matters of this kind would know what the effect of this would be. The men who put themselves forward as the spokesmen of their class were immediately penalised and would get no promotion, and were practically placed under a ban. He could come to no other conclusion than this, that the result of what had taken place in Ireland would be that those who had would get and those who had agitated would get nothing. If they were going to allow Civil servants of the Post Office to be treated in that manner Parliament would be neglecting its duty to a body of men who, no matter what their faults might be, were only endeavouring in a legitimate way to make the condition of their class such that they might be able to live in comfort. That was what 1179 the men's organisation was established for in Ireland, and he could well imagine, knowing how powerful their organisation was, that those in authority would get the idea that this action was intended as a blow to the organisation for forcing forward the many grievances under which they suffered. The men who would benefit under the new classification were, strange to say, the young men between twenty-one and twenty-two years of age. The object of that was apparently to show the young men that by ceasing to agitate they would be looked after. They would see what had been the result to the men above them. They would see that those who had agitated had been passed over and the young; men had been looked after. He hoped that that was not a system which would find any support in the House. He was sure hon. Members desired rather to treat those who had shown devotion to the service liberally and not do anything to discourage them. He now came to a question which he felt sure would appeal to hon. Members. It was an old question which he had brought forward on several other occasions. What he referred to was a system that existed in the service in Ireland called the learners' system. Under that system many young men were induced to enter the postal service. They were mostly young lads of good character who had to be efficient in education and thoroughly respectable. Unfortunately in Ireland mothers and fathers thought that if they could possibly get their children into the Post Office or into some other respectable calling they would be all right for life. That was one of the greatest fallacies that fathers and mothers could entertain in Ireland, for they ought to bring up their children to be respectable and honest tradesmen. That would be much better for the country and much better for the children. What was the result of the present system? Parents spent any amount of money in educating their children up to passing the necessary examinations in order to bring them into the postal service, and what did they get? Only from 5s. to 6s. a week. In order to get their children into the postal service parents had to send their children to be educated in Dublin amidst 1180 all its temptations, and, therefore, there was very great temptation to go wrong under this system. It was sweating of the worst description, because they did not give a wage which would keep the boys respectable. He had brought this question before the House on many other occasions, but nothing had been done. The Postmaster-General in past years had expressed his sympathy upon the subject, and he now appealed to him that the time had come when something should be done to enable the boys who went into the postal service to obtain at least sufficient wage to keep them in comfort. Those boys were doing practically the work of men after the first three months, and consequently were filling men's places. Under those circumstances they ought to be paid a wage commensurate with the work they were doing. But bad as the Report of the Hobhouse Committee was, it was not proposed to carry out its recommendations. Many hon. Members had expressed their view with reference to the interpretation which had been placed upon the Committee's recommendations, and consequently it would be futile for him to weary the House by going further into that subject. Nearly every hon. Member who had spoken had called attention to the interpretation put upon the Report, and after what had been said upon all sides of the House he hoped the Postmaster-General would be able to adopt a more generous and liberal interpretation. Another question he desired to call attention to was the working hours of various postal staffs in Ireland. In Dublin they had a dual system and also the three-shift system. These were crying grievances against which the men had protested, and if he had read the Report of the Hobhouse Committee aright they had recognised that those systems should be done away with. No man should be compelled to work more than twelve hours in the twenty-four. If he was correctly informed, it was not unusual for a man to be kept working sixteen hours in the twenty-four. He was sure the Postmaster-General did not wish such a thing as that to continue, and he hoped the matter would have his serious consideration. He was given to understand that in the carrying out of the Report the whole desire of the 1181 permanent officials was to economise. Efficiency was not a consideration at all. He would be the last to say that economy should not be carried out, but he wanted economy with efficiency, and economy with justice. It was false economy to deny men that to which they were entitled and to enforce a system which partook of the character of compelling men to work at a wage and under conditions which the State never intended. His hon. friend the Member for Queen's County had called attention to thy spirit of favouritism that existed in the postal service. He did not know whether it existed here, but he was confident from what he knew of the working of the postal service in Ireland that the spirit of favouritism was rampant there. They had been told by the Postmaster-General that efficiency and fitness were to be the essentials of promotion. He dared say that the Postmaster-General meant that, but he was sorry to say that so far as Ireland was concerned it was not efficiency and fitness which gave the passport to promotion. It was quite the reverse. He did not wish to bring in the religious question; it was unfortunate in Ireland that it was brought in. His hon. friend the Member for Queen's County had put the matter in all its glaring nakedness, and he was anxious to hear what the Postmaster-General had to say in reply. Let him state how the men in Ireland were treated. There was a vacancy recently in a Killarney postmastership. The rules of the service required that when vacancies occurcred they should be made known, so that those who were eligible, or who thought themselves eligible, should have an opportunity of applying. That appointment was filled without notice being given to the members of the staff. How had that occurred? Was it any inducement to a man to take an interest in his work if he knew he was going to be a drudge all his life? What incentive had he to do his work in a proper spirit unless he had a prospect of promotion? Everyone liked to have his work recognised, and the Post Office servants were not any less human than others. They wished to be recognised when they gave loyal and dutiful service to the Post Office, and were fit and competent for positions to which they might be pro- 1182 moted. He represented the College Green Division of Dublin, and he knew almost every one of these men personally, and he would not stand there and ask that any man in the service, if he was not competent for a position, should be promoted. He would support the Postmaster-General if he would lay down the principle that those men were entitled, when vacancies occurred, so long as they ware efficient and had ability to do the work, to attain the higher positions in the service. He asked the House to consider this. Could it be maintained that there was not something rotten in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, and the other towns quoted by his hon. friend when they found men of a certain persuasion promoted over the heads of others who belonged to the religion of the great bulk of the population? It was a reflection on the religion of the majority of the people of Ireland to think that there were not men among them competent to fill the higher positions, and it was the duty of every man who respected religious equality to see that there should be nothing in the shape of religious bigotry in connection with the promotion of the men. Catholics came over to this country and could get into any position. They had only to prove that they were fit and competent to fill them. It was a great blot on the history of this country that such a distinction which had gone on for generations and had divided the Irish people so long, should still exist under the Postmaster-ship of the right hon. Gentleman. He hoped it would not exist in future. But for the grievance which existed he would not have touched on religious matters. It was enough for him to know his own religion and go to Heaven the best way he could, but when this subject was forced on him he would be unworthy of his position in the House if he did not draw attention to the grievance which, he was sure, Englishmen would not tolerate or be parties to. It was only in Ireland that it could take place. There was no question in England as to a man's religion as it existed in Ireland. The heads of Departments in Ireland would do the best day's work they had ever done, if they said that a man's religion would be no bar to his advancement so long as he was efficient and able to fill the post. 1183 The postmen in Ireland, like their brethren in this country, had many grievances. They were a class of men who were entitled to a great deal of consideration, and their position ought to be improved. Like the postal clerks, they had not been treated well. A few years ago, Dublin was placed in the same position as London in regard to salary. In 1899 the maximum given in Dublin to postal clerks was fixed at 56s. a week. They did the same work in Dublin as in London. Since then the London men had had their wages increased, and at the present moment the Dublin men were working for 9s. a week less than the London men. They had been discussing that night the question of the cost of living in relation to wages. Did any person who knew the City of Dublin not know that it was harder and dearer to live in Dublin than in London? He had himself lived in London for a great number of years, and he could state that a housewife's budget would go further in London than in Dublin. [An HON. MEMBER: Why?] The price of the loaf in Dublin was 5½d., the same as in London. House-rent in Dublin was dear. [An HON. MEMBER: No.] He was speaking from actual facts. He knew as a working man that he paid £48 a year for his house in Dublin, and he was not a bit better housed than some of the postal servants. In estimating house rent in Dublin, he referred to the class of house in which the Postmaster-General was anxious to house the members of the postal service. He could hardly think that the right hon. Gentleman wished them to live in the slums of Dublin. As to the cost of provisions, oatmeal had increased from 12s. 9d. per cwt. in 1897 to 14s. 6d. in 1906. Potatoes had increased from 1s. 9d. a stone in 1897 to 2s. 10d. in 1906, beef had increased from 45s. 6d. per cwt. in 1897 to 50s. 6d. now. All that went to prove that the cost of living had increased, and yet there had teen no commensurate increase in the wages of the men. Therefore he said that in Dublin the necessities of life compelled them to spend as much as in London. He appealed to the Postmaster-General to consider the grievance of the postmen in this matter. If he was rightly 1184 informed, one of the orders sent out in regard to the conferring of stripes had given dissatisfaction, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would give sympathetic attention to that matter. Referring to the men who had been employed on the travelling service between Dublin and Queenstown as sorters on the mail trains, he said that the doing away with that service had removed from the men who were engaged in it all chance of promotion. They had to go back to the post office at a less wage than they had before. He was sure that the Postmaster-General would agree that that was a great grievance. Their positions had been abolished through no fault of their own, and they were entitled to some consideration for the loss which they had sustained through the abolition of the Queenstown service. He appealed to the Postmaster-General to do something for the men who had been engaged in that onerous and responsible work and who had been receiving higher pay for the duties they performed. They had to go to exceptional expense in carrying out their duties, and if they had now to go back to the post office with no hope of improvement that would not be a fair thing, and he was sure the Postmaster-General, having had his attention drawn to this matter, would give it his consideration.
§ *CAPTAIN MORRISON-BELL (Devonshire, Ashburton)
said that the Postmaster-General admitted that there was a grievance, but that that was in the future, and would not affect the present employees. He submitted that that was a retrograde step. The mere fact that the Hobhouse Committee had been appointed at all was to improve the condition of the postmen from top to bottom, certainly from the bottom, and it seemed to him to be quite wrong that the Postmaster-General should now be considering any reduction of wages in the present or in the future. The scheme hit his constituents very hard. There were five large towns in his constituency; all of them were flourishing, and the work in them was increasing very largely. It was hard that in these towns in the future the postal servants would be worse off by 1s. a week.
§ CAPTAIN MORRISON-BELL
Teignmouth, Chudleigh, Bovey Tracey, Ashburton, Moretonhampstead. An hon. Member had stated that the tipping system among Post Office servants was entirely wrong, and that, therefore, tipping should be abolished and the postman's wages raised. He agreed, but it seemed to him that under the new scheme they were abolishing tipping, but were going to reduce wages in the future. In the principal town in his constituency, Newton Abbot, the employees were rated for units of work at 195, which placed them in Class 4; while Horsham, Sutton, Sevenoaks, and other places of a like character were placed in Class 3. The Committee had not worked out the cost of living in those towns compared with the cost of living in Newton Abbot.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
said that in fixing the classification the recommendation of the Committee was that two elements had to be considered on which the pay of the men should be based, the units of work and the cost of living.
§ *CAPTAIN MORRISON-BELL
said he could not help thinking that the cost of living in Newton Abbot was as high as in some of the places he had mentioned. And there was a feeling of injustice in this matter which the Postmaster-General must realise extended far beyond his constituency. He had only intervened in the debate to do his best to press the views of and to help a very large class of his constituents who, he was convinced, were only endeavouring to get what they considered was fair.
§ *MR. STUART (Sunderland)
said that, in the first place, he wished to associate himself with the proposition advanced by the hon. Member for Bolton, that it was desirable that the accounts of the Post Office should be kept separate from the accounts of the general revenue and expenditure of the country. In the second place, he wished to associate himself with his colleague in the repre- 1186 sentation of Sunderland, who had explained the difficulties under which Sunderland laboured. No doubt there were other places which had similar difficulties; although they were extreme in the case of Sunderland. The cost of living in that town was practically identical with that in Newcastle, but the wages in Sunderland of the postal clerks were 8s. a week less than in Newcastle. As an old Member of the House, who had listened for twenty-five years to the debates on the Post Office, he thought that this debate was, on the whole, the most remarkable during the past quarter of a century. In the first place, there had been justly the unanimous expression from all quarters of the House of admiration for the devotion, ability, and sympathy of the Postmaster-General shown in the administration of his Department. There had been on all sides of the House a most complete approval of what was being done by the right hon. Gentleman in the way of expansion of the business during the past year. These were very remarkable features to one who had listened frequently to a different class of debate in the House. There had been only one topic upon which there was the same unanimity, but where fault had been found with the action of the right hon. Gentleman, and that was in connection with the Hobhouse Committee's Report. He had tried to form a conception of where the real difficulty lay, and he thought the Committee would bear him out that that had arisen from the fact that while they had a certain re-organisation of the wages of a great Department, and that re-organisation involved a large increase of wages, along with it there had come a certain number of decreases of wages of those who were to succeed the present occupants of office. The Committee, from beginning to end of the debate, had viewed with the greatest dissatisfaction the fact that there were to be lower salaries in certain parts of the country in respect of the Post Office servants than before; and that that should be attached to the general movement for the amelioration of the workers in the Post Office seemed to him to be the cause and origin of the dissatisfaction. An hon. Member on the Irish benches had said that it was not the case that tens 1187 of thousands of workers were to get worse wages than before, and then he gave the figures showing the large number who would be benefited and the small number who would be set back. That being the fact, it made the case all the worse for the few who woe set back. The fundamental difficulty arose either from the Hobhouse Report or from the construction which had been put upon the Hobhouse Report by the advisers of the right hon. Gentleman. They, or the framers of the Report had acted in this matter in a way in which no business man would have acted. Any gentleman who was connected with the employment of a large number of men must know that it was a most serious thing to reduce the wages of the men in any Department who were to come after those at present engaged in it; and to do that along with a general rise of wages of the employees. It would be almost impossible for any private employer of labour to carry out what was proposed to be done in the Post Office. There was a certain amateurishness in the recommendations of the Hobhouse Report which had led that Committee to this wrong and altogether unbusinesslike transaction. He thought that the unanimity with which the Committee had spoken on every side—the large number of Members who had spoken, and the still larger number who desired to speak—in bringing forward the grievances of a vast multitude of people, must show the Postmaster-General that there was really in the Hobhouse Report, or the interpretation put upon it, something which roust be altered. He wished to make an appeal to the Postmaster-General himself. The right hon. Gentleman had seen many people, he had seen the representatives of many constituencies about the various matters talked of that afternoon, and his own good sense, his own business sense, his own sympathy and desire to do what was right had led him in those cases, and also in cases which went outside the Hobhouse Report, to modify his position and to look at the facts from a reasonable point of view, from a business point of view, from an intelligent point of view, and not from the hard and fast line of a Report which was conceived on wrong lines. Under these circumstances he felt that they owed a great deal to the 1188 Postmaster-General for having got a little free from the bonds of the Hobhouse Report; but still, the right hon. Gentleman had involved himself in the network of that Report, and he should endeavour to get rid of it more and more. He hoped that in his reply the right hon. Gentleman would recognise the fact that he must now be bound not so much by that Report; that it must be modified in a general way or in particular instances. Perhaps it would be far better for his peace of mind if it should be modified in a general way so as to meet all the points brought forward. He wanted to add his testimony to the spirit in which the Postmaster-General had met the appeals which had been made to him.
§ SIR GEORGE SCOTT ROBERTSON (Bradford, Central)
said he wished to express his feelings about the question of classification, which frankly and honestly he felt very strongly in connection with his own constituency. He did not mean to say that in Bradford they were in a state of active discontent, but they were feeling a sort of depression and unhappiness in consequence of their being classified differently from all the other great towns. Of the seven very important towns of over 250,000 inhabitants in England, Bradford was the only one that was put down in Class II., the others all appearing in Class I. That was very peculiar, because Bradford was remarkable for the extremely high cost of living there. Working men in Bradford were at a very serious disadvantage indeed. If the cost of living were considered, and the high rents, it would be found that there was no place outside London, where the expenses of the working classes were so great. In spite of all this, Bradford was put down in a lower grade than any other big town. He would like to discuss the questions of units, of rent, and of special circumstances, besides the cost of living. As to the units of work, 1,475 was put down as the number, but it was contended with a good deal of force that this was altogether a mistake, and that the number was 1,600, and probably a good many more. But apart from that, certain units had not been added in at all; for instance, private box units amounted to eighty-two, and there were another 1189 sixty for the Bradford Daily Observer and Daily Telegraph, which numbers had not been considered at all. If all the numbers were put together fairly, honestly, and justly, they amounted to far above 1,600, which should qualify these people to go into the other class. Bradford fared badly in the matter of rent, and even that had not been properly stated in the Yellow-book issued by the Board of Trade, but was a good deal higher than from that Report it would appear. He felt sure that the Postmaster-General would give Bradford his careful and lenient consideration. The work at the telegraph department was of a very peculiar character, owing to the number of foreign telegrams which required special skill in manipulation. As to the postmen, they were in Bradford peculiarly situated. The Postmaster-General was in the town a short time ago, but he was afraid he did not walk about so much as a Parliamentary candidate had to do. Bradford was exceedingly hilly, and the streets were very steep and tiring. Besides that there was only one main post office, and no district post office, so that everything had to be despatched from the central post office, and taken out one to three miles. It could be well understood, therefore, that postmen had to pay from 1s. to 1s. 6d. a week in tram and train fares. He was certain the Postmaster-General would see the reasonableness of his contention, being, extremely free from what might be called official rigidity, which in lesser men than Cabinet Ministers was known as obstinacy. He felt confident, therefore, that his appeal on behalf of the postmen of Bradford would not be made in vain.
§ MR. STEADMAN (Finsbury, Central)
said it was a few years since he had the privilege of speaking in that House on the Post Office Estimates. Most of the ground had already been covered by previous speakers, but there were one or two points that he wanted to bring under the notice of the Postmaster-General. He admitted that so far as his criticism was concerned, it was friendly. He had known the Postmaster-General for a number of years, and knew the work he had done outside the House on be- 1190 half of the Labour movement; he considered he was one of the best men, either Liberal or Tory, who had ever presided at the Post Office; and therefore he was not able to put any venom into his speech. He wanted to call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to a circular which he issued on 29th June informing the mechanics employed at Mount Pleasant that as vacancies occurred in various trades now carried on by the Department the work was to be given out to private contract.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
said he had not the least intention of sending work from Mount Pleasant to contractors. He had stated that Ids object was to keep the work there as far as he possibly could, but he wished to avoid taking on a large number of men and afterwards have to get rid of them. He did not know what the hon. Member was alluding to.
§ MR. STEADMAN
said he was alluding to a circular which, he understood from the men employed, bore the right hon. Gentleman's signature and had caused a lot of consternation there.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
said there was absolutely no foundation for the statement, and that was the first he had heard of it. He would have thought that if the men themselves thought he was going to take action of that sort they would have made representations to him. It was rather hard on the head of the Department when those in the service, instead of coming directly to him and laying their grievances before him—and he had expressed himself willing to hear them—should go to Members and apparently misrepresent matters. He was not blaming his hon. friend—he was perfectly entitled to bring the matter forward—but the misunderstanding probably arose in this way. One of these circulars in regard to what were called non-established mechanics, stated that vacancies were to be provided for by contract. It referred only to two mechanics who were repairing letter-boxes. That was the only foundation whatever for the statement.
§ MR. STEADMAN
said he accepted the right hon. Gentleman's explanation and 1191 he was very pleased to have raised the point, because, personally, he felt very strongly upon it, and it had given him an opportunity of clearing it up, and he was sure it would satisfy those interested. His reason for feeling strongly upon it was that at the time of the general election he addressed these men in the dinner hour at the gates of the factory, and he strongly condemned the action of the late Government because they had sent contracts away from the Department whilst their men were working three-quarter time, and these men of course looked to him to be consistent. That was his object, and it had been achieved in raising the point. A matter which had been referred to two or three times was the difference between the salary paid in Lombard Street and that paid in Threadneedle Street. It was a point that wanted clearing up. He was a mechanic, a barge-builder, by trade, and it did not matter to him what portion of the river he was employd upon, he wanted his money as fixed by the trade union, and he would not work without it, and if the working classes were of his spirit they would not be working for the low rates of wages they were employed for to-day. It was very strange that there should be a difference in the price, and, as the Postmaster-General in reply to the hon. Member for Hoxton blamed the Committee for it, the Chairman of the Committee ought to give an explanation why the difference existed. There was one other point dealing with the sorters. He would refer to their hours of labour without going into the question of their wages. They were supposed to work forty-eight hours per week. That looked very reasonable, but in the first portion of the week they were rather slack, and hours were crammed in the last two days in order to bring them up to forty-eight in the week. This was what happened: A man went on night-duty at five o'clock on Friday afternoon and was on duty till five o'clock the next morning. That was twelve hours continuously. He then went home, but he had to be back on duty at five o'clock on Saturday afternoon, and to work all night again in order to bring his hours up to forty-eight. It was a matter of administration. He spoke feelingly on the point, because he had 1192 worked all night himself and he knew how one felt the next day. The men were confined in a building and their brains were taxed for twelve hours. There was a very great amount of strain upon them, and it was no wonder if some of them were driven into asylums. It was, he considered, more a matter of administration than anything else. He did not want to overburden the Postmaster-General, because he knew he was doing a lot; but he hoped he would look into the matter and see if some alteration could not be made. He smiled when listening to the pertinent remarks of the hon. Member for Bolton. He spoke on the subject of the law of supply and demand in the labour market. He had heard the argument used in the House till he was tired of it. If a man had only 18s. per week, it was idle for a Government official to tell him that there were thousands and thousands ready to take his place, though unfortunately it was true and showed the state of the labour market. He would challenge any Member to get up and tell them what he considered a living wage or a standard of living. Was it imagined that if a man got 30s. per week that was a standard of living? He considered it very far from being so. He preached the gospel of discontent outside. He said that the best was made by labour and labour had a right to enjoy the best. Heaven knew how a man with a wife and family lived on £1 or 18s. per week, for he did not. He was not satisfied with his living on a mechanic's wage and he was always in regular work. Why should he not have a standard of living as well as anybody else? Why should the economic conditions of the country allow one man to become a millionaire and another a pauper? He felt for those on the lower rung of the ladder. Under the instructions of the last Trade Union Congress, held at Bath, he gave a notice of motion calling for a minimum in the London district of 30s. per week. That was low enough in all respects, and it did not follow that if a man received it he would have a fair standard of living. As a matter of fact, a man's standard of living was regulated by the purchasing power of his wages. Hon. Members smiled, but it was no smiling matter to him, for he 1193 had gone through the mill, and it was no smiling matter to the millions outside, eating out lives of semi-starvation on low wages. This was a problem which every social reformer had to face. He wished to call attention to the case of the postal porters. He went to see a man at Mount Pleasant. He had 25s. per week; and he, his wife, and three or four children were living in two rooms, in a narrow thoroughfare, for which they had to pay 8s. per week. What standard of living was he enjoying? His wife and children ought to have the same air space as the wife and children of the millionaire in Park Lane. Humanity was equal. One man was as good as another so long as they obeyed the laws of the country. These low wages were the cause of overcrowding and of physical deterioration. He desired to say a few words on the subject of promotion. It seemed to him that the middle and upper classes imagined that the Civil Service was established for their sons, and their sons only. A great deal of caste existed in the Civil Service, and he was sorry to say it was spreading to other Departments. The London County Council, which was a large employer of labour, had tightened up its examination to such an extent that it was impossible for the son of a workman to secure an appointment. The examination was not necessary for the duties that had to be performed. The middle and upper classes had not all the brains, and in his judgment the Civil Service should be opened to merit and not to a certain class. It did not follow that because a man had received a University education he knew everything, or that he was a better man than anybody else. He knew that the Postmaster-General, fifteen years ago fought hard to secure the humble docker 6d. per hour, but there were men in the; Post Office who were being paid 4½d. per hour. These were the messenger boys. If they had the merit and the ability to go in for the higher grades they ought to stand on an equality with the rest. They might say what they liked about the Hobhouse Committee's Report, but I the service was seething with discontent at the present time, and he did not wonder at it. Men were passed over, not by better men, but because he sup- 1194 posed those men considered themselves "class." He was certain there would be more satisfaction if, when a man entered the Department, he knew that if he had the ability the time would come sooner or later when he could attain a higher position. The Department should not be under the control of one man. He was bound to be at the mercy, to some extent, of the permanent officials, for the Post Office was, after all, an administrative and not a legislative body. He did not agree with the hon. Member for Plymouth, who said that it should be managed by an independent committee. Every Member in the House had a right to say what wages he considered should be paid by any Government Department, and he had no opportunity of voicing his opinion except on occasions like the present. If they wanted the men to perform their duties in an honest and manly spirit, they must encourage them to take a certain amount of pride and satisfaction in their conditions of labour. These men had not that independence. When once they went out of the. Post Office they had to walk the streets and swell the ranks of the unemployed. They could only bring content into the Department by electing a Committee of Members, of which the Postmaster-General could be the head, to hear their complaints week-in and week-out, the same as he had the opportunity of doing for fifteen years when a member at Spring Gardens. If that was done it would save a lot of time now occupied by private Members, and it would bring more content in the postal service than existed at present.
§ MR. McCALLUM (Paisley)
said that as Ireland had spoken in two voices and England had been speaking all the afternoon, perhaps the Committee would bear with Scotland for three and a half minutes. They were naturally slow of speech and a long-suffering people and they hesitated to intervene in the debates. He desired to join with. hon. Members who had spoken of the Post master-General in such laudatory terms. His speech was able, humorous, pathetic, kindly, and a vein of human sympathy ran through it. He had shown considerable resource and ingenuity, and had given real evidence of marked 1195 ability in his administration. It was right, therefore, that they should mention frankly that there were a few mistakes that they desired to see remedied. So far as Scotland was concerned, they had reason to be proud of his administration. Many of them who had gone to him for redress had found that he had been fair in his decision, although they had not got all they wanted. They had scarcely been fair in admitting that while the wage, particularly to start with, was not a living wage, the service gave other advantages that private enterprise could not possibly give. If the did their work well, if they showed ability and were determined to advance, there was a clear line of promotion before them. Then there was a pension at the end of their days. Looking at it from that point of view, it should not be maintained that the wage should be higher than was paid outside. The right hon. Gentleman, however, had made a slight mistake in the West of Scotland. The constituency that he represented was not far from Glasgow, and it cost just as much to live there as it did in Glasgow, yet those who entered the service there received less remuneration. He would like the right hon. Gentleman to look into that case, and, if possible, have it remedied. The town was not poor, the wages in the locality were quite as high as in Glasgow, and a great deal of the work done in Paisley naturally found its way into Glasgow. On that account Paisley had a special claim to be classified in the same way.
§ *MR. C. E. SHAW (Stafford),
as a trader and one of the mercantile community, added his praise to the Postmaster-General for the postal reforms which he had carried into effect, more especially those with regard to the Colonies, the far-reaching effects of which would not be fully felt for some time to come. As a Liberal he was grateful also to the Postmaster-General for having seen his way clear to recognise trade unionism and collective bargaining in the Post Office, and was glad it had been carried through without any detriment to the Post Office organisation and work, generally speaking. He, however, expressed profound regret that the Com- 1196 mittee's recommendations and the way they had been carried into effect had not effected a settlement of the question. From the point of view of the postal service it was well that a great service should be contented, and it certainly added very greatly to the burden of the life of a Member of that House that a great service should be discontented, because it meant that they had to under take to voice that discontent and to make very searching inquiries in connection therewith. It was also decidedly detrimental from the public point of view. The public simply read in the Press, and from the statement of the Postmaster-General, that something like £500,000 more money had been devoted to the benefit of the great postal service, and, therefore, they were unable to understand why, when this great sum of money had been devoted to the bettering of the service, it should still be discontented. The service was still discontented because the Department had placed an arbitrary interpretation on the Committee's Report and recommendations. He had interviewed several members of the Committee which issued the Hobhouse Report, and one and all had expressed their belief that the Committee when issuing their Report did not mean that any wages should be diminished. Only one member of the Committee, he believed, had spoken, and while he defended the findings of the Committee generally, when he came to deal with his own constituents he found fault with any diminution of the wage, and indeed with the maintenance of the standard wage which had prevailed. It had been said that they had in many other Departments been suffering from Judge-made law. In this case the Post Office was suffering from Departmental-made classification. The Post Office servants with whom he had been brought into contact contended rightly that the men already in the service and of long standing should benefit to the full extent of the Report and not merely those entering from this date on. He had interviewed a gentle man who pointed out that the maximum which he could reach would take him twenty years to attain, though a new entrant would achieve it in fifteen years. He certainly believed old servants should 1197 always have a preference and at any rate should not be treated worse than new entrants. With regard to this much debated question of classification, the method to those who had not technical knowledge was extremely difficult to understand, and he failed to see the relation which the units of work bore to the cost of living. He had read and re-read the Memorandum issued by the Postmaster-General, and had added and subtracted figures in vain. If the unit of work was the major factor in deciding the classification, that was entirely wrong. The strain of work was not very great in difference as between the various offices, because if there was more work the number of officers was increased and the labour was distributed among a greater number of men. It was the cost of living that ought rather to govern the situation and not the unit of work. If they ruled out London, the cost of living did not differ very materially in various parts of the Kingdom—at any rate not so much as to justify the difference between a 40s. and a 56s. maximum. If 56s. was a fair maximum it was apparent that a great injustice was done to the 40s. man. It was bad where no increase had been made, and whore things were left as they were, but what about places where an absolute decrease had been announced? For years he had contended that Stafford should have a certain maximum, and at last he achieved it, but now it had been taken away. Stafford's maximum was 50s. It had now been reduced to 48s. Had the cost of living decreased, and would the wage of the new entrants be sufficient to maintain decency of living? Such would not lie the case, because 50s. by no means met the necessities of the case. He had gone into this matter at considerable length, and he would give to the House the budget of a poor family of five persons in the borough of Stafford, the head of which was a postal servant. He, made his calculation upon prices supplied by tradesmen in the borough, and he had taken 25s. a week which was the maximum figure allowed according to the new classification of the postal department. He had not taken one post man but twenty-four, and he found that twelve of them paid for a six-roomed house from 6s. to 6s. 6d. per week; ten 1198 of them paid in rent from 5s. to 5s. 9d. per week, and two of them paid 4s. per week for a four-roomed house. The mean average of those twenty-four post men for rental was 5s. 7d. and to that had to be added 9d. for rates making the total for rent and rates 6s. 4d. And now as to the cost of living. He would not go through all the items that he had compiled, which included such thing's as bread, sugar, tea, butter, bacon, jam, flour, fish, potatoes, eggs. He had taken each article carefully and compiled the budgets in each case. The sum total taken upon a very low basis amounted to no less than £1 0s. 3½d. as the cost of living. If they took the cost of coal, fire wood and other things at 2s. 6d. they would find that with the rent the average budget amounted to £1 9s. 1½d. a week. An hon. Member representing a Scottish constituency had stated that he was satisfied with the conditions of the Postal Service even although it did not always afford a living wage, but he was a long way from being satisfied with it when postmen in the borough of Stafford were only going to receive a maximum of 25s. a week. This was far more serious in view of the fact that the postmen's budget, compiled upon the most meager basis, totalled £1 9s. 1½d. He thought it was time that the postmen's pay should be amended and increased, in the interests of the department itself as well as in the interests of the nation generally. He challenged any hon. Member to contradict the figures he had given, which made no provision for sickness, insurance, and numerous other calls which were sure to be made upon a careful and thrifty family. Could it be wondered at that under those circumstances his constituents were profoundly disappointed with the result of the Committee's recommendations, which, when, translated as to their practical effect, meant the cutting down of the maximum wage by 1s. and 2s. per week in Stafford? The conditions under which the Stafford postmen performed their work was specially onerous having regard to the fact that Stafford was a great mail centre and nearly the whole of the work was night work. This entitled some of the employees to at least 52s. per week instead of being cut down from 50s. to 48s. per week. A great deal had been said about the £600,000 which was going be 1199 provided for increased pay to the men. He wished to tell the Committee that Stafford's share of that £600,000 was that a superintendent getting over £200 per annum would have a rise of £5 a year given to him and an inspector and assist ant-inspector would have rises of £25 and £15 a year respectively. Those men who had had their salaries increased never asked for a Committee to inquire into their conditions of service at all, and they were not, generally speaking, dissatisfied. Those men had had their salaries increased whilst the wages of future clerks and postmen were going to be reduced. This was taking place in spite of the fact that postal duties were increasing and the work was becoming more and more onerous. All those postal reforms of which the Postmaster-General had spoken, and for inaugurating which they were very grateful to him, would increase the work and responsibility of the postal service. He had recently been talking to a postman about this matter, and he called attention to the enormous increase of his work as a result of the extension of the book-post to Canada. Then there was the penny post to the United States which would also bring more work, and the increase in the sale of postal orders would also throw more responsibility upon individual post men. He associated, himself heartily with the hon. Member for the Ince division, whose speech he specially admired, with regard to the point, he made as to the State not being in the right when it endeavoured to cut down rather than to raise the wages of any large class employed in this country. Undoubtedly the State ought to be a model employer of labour and ought to level up wages and not level them down. He failed to understand how it had come about that Stafford had been relegated to the third class. He found upon looking at the figures that in the Memorandum which had been issued by the Postmaster-General, Stafford was put down in the third class. He noticed that a blank had been left in the space which dealt with the cost of living. He trusted that that meant that the Post master-General's decision was not final with regard to Stafford. He noticed that in the case of Birkenhead a blank was also left under the cost of living.
§ MR. C. E. SHAW
said he hoped that Stafford would be treated as a special case. He was encouraged to believe that that would be the case, because he noticed that in the prefatory Memorandum to the figures it was stated that offices were not to be put up or down in class unless the cost of living differed considerably from the average. Generally speaking, the benefit of the doubt had been given in moving an office up in the class and not reducing it. He claimed that Stafford should occupy a better class than it did having regard to the night work which fell with such weight on the employees. He felt that a better wage which was earned after many years of agitation ought not to be taken away from those men as the outcome of the recommendations of the Committee. This was all the more unjust because in his humble opinion, after having heard the opinions of some Members of that Committee, it was never intended that their I recommendations should result in a I diminution of the maximum wage but rather in a levelling up of wages through out the country.
§ *MR. ANNAN BRYCE (Inverness Burghs)
said it was not clear from the Report of the Hobhouse Committee what was its intention with regard to the future position of the existing members of the sub-engineer class. It was, however, quite evident from the wording of the circular of the right hon. Gentleman that he did not intend to apply to existing members the recommendation of the Hobhouse Committee with regard to future members of the class. That left those people I who well deserved promotion under the old system in a very unfortunate position, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would indicate in his replay some method of getting over the difficulty which existed in relation to them. He did not believe there was any class of the postal service who performed harder work than the sub-engineers. Many of them had to work hours ranging from seventy to eighty and ninety in 1201 the week, and after several years of that kind of labour it would be very hard if they did not receive the promotion to which they were fully entitled.
§ *MR. PIKE PEASE (Darlington)
said the Postmaster-General had been extremely courteous in replying to the communications he had addressed to him in regard to the constituency he represented, and he did not propose to bring the matter before the Committee, but he would like to hear from the right hon. Gentleman how he arrived at the cost of living in the various constituencies. From the interesting speech just delivered by the hon. Member for Stafford, it was perfectly plain that if the cost of rent was from 6s. to 6s. 6d. per week on the average the cost of living must be high, because in those districts food would not be particularly cheap, and in spite of this Stafford was placed in the third class. As far as other constituencies were concerned it was clear that there was I a strong feeling in the House that the present position was far from satisfactory. As far as his own constituency was concerned the maximum; rata had been reduced, and this had produced a considerable amount of dissatisfaction. In York the standard was much higher although the cost of living was very much the same. He wished to ask the Postmaster-General if he would say exactly how he arrived at his calculation in regard to units of work and the cost of living in the various constituencies.
§ MR. JOHN WARD (Stoke-on-Trent)
said that in view of the enormous amount of criticism which had been passed upon the Committee of which he was un fortunately a Member, he wished to say a word or two. He particularly wished to reply to the statement made by one of the hon. Members for Dublin, to the effect that in the case of witnesses fetched from Ireland, their evidence was mutilated and never placed before the Committee. He did not think the hon. Member for Dublin could have been properly informed upon that subject, The Committee discovered that some of the evidence of those witnesses was of the 1202 most peculiar character, raising points that were of no importance at all, although some of the witnesses thought they were important. It was decided that the Chairman, with the assistance of the secretary, should look over certain statements proposed to be put before the Committee in the form of evidence. It was for that reason that certain matters, not touched upon in the evidence as printed, were never printed before the Committee officially, the matters referred to being utterly purposeless for the objects for which the Committee was appointed; so that the whole of the evidence which the witnesses wished to be presented was unquestionably placed before the Committee before a decision was arrived at in regard to it. To-day he had been delighted with the laudation of the Postmaster-General, but there had been a tendency to praise the right hon. Gentleman at the expense of the Committee. That was unfortunate, because it placed the Committee in the position that they were bound to defend themselves and their Report. He was there to stand up for the Committee from beginning to end. It had been stated that he did not sign the Report, but simply agreed to it. In spite of what the hon. Member for Stockport had said, he did not see the difference between agreeing to the Report and signing it. While he wished to get a broad and fair interpretation of the recommendations of the Committee, at the same time he stood with his colleagues in reference to the Report. There was one point in reference to the classification which he insisted upon, in spite of the hope which the hon. Member for Sunderland had expressed that the Post master-General would throw the Report of the Select Committee, so far as classification was concerned, into the waste-paper basket. With reference to classification, there were two principles on which the Committee decided to go. The first was the cost of living. Had that been properly applied? He was only able to speak with reference to the localities where he had made personal inquiries, and he was most certainly of opinion that the method by which the Department had sought to arrive at a conclusion as to the cost of living was utterly fallacious. It so happened that, 1203 either by accident or design, a list of streets in a town adjoining his own constituency had fallen into his hands. It showed the mode by which in the district selected the representatives of the Board of Trade found out the average rent in that particular locality. About fifty-two streets were selected, and except in the case of four or five streets, one would describe the district as one of the worst slum areas in the place. It was a district in which there were tumble down houses where rents of 3s. a week were charged. Was that carrying out the letter of the Department of 7th September, 1905, asking that only those localities should be taken into consideration when collecting information where it would be regarded as perfectly proper for postal servants to reside? So far as the locality to which he referred was concerned, he was positive that if the Postmaster-General only saw some of the houses, some of the streets, some of the courts, and some of the alleys selected for the purpose of getting at the proper average rent, he would either discharge the postal servant who lived there, or make him remove to another locality. It was not fair to denounce the findings of the Committee until they had been properly applied. In this case they had not been properly applied. The whole debate had rested on the question of classification, although there were a hundred and one other things dealt with in the Report. He wished to refer to the matter of the lowering of status. It was said that no officers were to be reduced. The Department might give two interpretations to that. They might say that the Committee reported that no officers were to be lowered in status, or that no officers in particular districts were to be lowered, which might mean that, whatever the classification might do as to the raising of status, none should be lowered below the position in which they were before. That interpretation might be applied perfectly reasonably and properly. As a member of the Committee he was not prepared to say what the majority of the Committee thought on that point. So far as he was concerned, he took it that nobody's wages I would be reduced, and that the status of no district would be reduced. He was only speaking for himself with respect 1204 to that. Others might have thought some thing entirely different, With reference to the second point, they were told that the cost of living should be the only principle for deciding the standard of a locality. That would be grossly unfair, as hon. Members would discover if they inquired into the peculiar circumstances of some localities. The Committee recommended as a safeguard that the volume of work in particular districts should be taken into consideration. If they inquired into the whole postal organisation from one end of the country to the other, he thought that that recommendation if applied would remove almost every one of the grievances which had been referred to. Had the Department carried out the recommendation of the Committee with reference to the volume of work in localities? The right hon. Gentleman said he had. He knew that the right hon. Gentleman had not carried out the intention he had when he made the recommendation. The Committee took it for granted that the volume of postal work in a particular locality would almost exclusively decide the importance of a district as a postal area. They thought that the whole of the work of the district would be calculated to find out what was the status of the district in the organisation of the Post Office. What had been done? In his own locality, for example, which included three or four sub-offices, every form of employment, except the actual work which a servant would perform, was excluded from the classification. The consequence was that the classification did not settle itself according to the volume of work, but according to the particular kind of organisation in it. If it was done by the sub-agent it did not count; but if done directly by the Department it did. That was grossly unfair. Some of the chief offices in his locality and in the surrounding locality were utterly excluded from the calculation as to the volume of the work done in the district. That was not carrying out the recommendations of the Committee. In the case of Shrewsbury the opposite was the case; for instead of excluding any thing from Shrewsbury it included seven or eight officers who were sent as far as Darlington in the North for the purpose of sorting all the letters, and to somewhere 1205 in South Wales, in the South and West, so that Shrewsbury was given the highest possible status in the scale. He said that that was grossly unfair under the circumstances. He had asked for an explanation, but none which was satisfactory had been given; at least none more satisfactory than that the surveyor who arranged those affairs resided in Shrewsbury. The most important thing in applying this principle was that the wages depended upon it; and unless that was attended to they could not prevent disturbance and difficulties being put in the way of the Department. He asked the Postmaster-General to reconsider the arrangements already arrived at with reference to classification; and to consider whether it was advisable to lower the status of any district when it was not the intention of a single member of the Committee that any district should be lowered.
§ *SIR A. SPICER (Hackney, Central)
said he wished to ask the Postmaster-General's kindly consideration of two questions in connection with stripes. The Hobhouse Committee reported that the stripe system should be revised, and that the first stripe should be given after five years service; and another stripe for each succeeding four years service. The Postmaster-General had accepted that recommendation, and it was agreed that the new system of four years probation from the receipt of the second stripe should date from the last one. That was a great advance, but it led to certain anomalies, and that in some cases faithful service in the past times was less rewarded than faithful service in recent times. The Hobhouse Committee recommended that on occasion of any offence sufficiently grave to deprive a man of a stripe, a period should be fixed. It was necessary that there should be some time-limit and it had been fixed at ten years. That meant, however, perpetual punishment for all offences that had taken place more than ten years ago. He asked the Postmaster-General's consideration of these two points.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON,
in replying on the debate, said that in the first place the Committee would, he hoped, allow 1206 him to say how very much he was indebted to hon. Members on both sides of the House for their kindly references to himself personally and also from the point of view of his administration. One or two of the speakers had, as he thought, endeavoured to discriminate in those matters between the Postmaster-General and those who served with him in the Department. He wanted to say that, having regard to all matters discussed that evening, the officers in his Department had given him the greatest possible support. They had worked together harmoniously, and he deprecated any distinction being drawn between the Postmaster-General and those who were associated with him. He thought it would be more convenient in his reply if he took up first some of the minor points raised by hon. Members. He could assure the hon. Member for Finsbury that the Post Office were not disestablishing any work they had now under their control, and were not proposing to go to contractors for the execution of work which was done by the Post Office at the present time. Some reference had been made to the Circular issued by the Department and the displacement of two painters in London and two mechanics in Glasgow. It was the remnant of an old charge, and it was thought that all the rest of that work was being done by contractors. It was really better while organising the system to get rid not of individuals but the system and have all the work done by the Department. But that was not the position. There was no wish to disestablish any work under the control of the Department. The hon. Member had mentioned another class which he thought was put in a worse position by the recommendations of the Committee—the auxiliary officers. He did not think that was so as a matter of fact. He thought the scale had been increased, but in every case the auxiliary officer had the option of keeping on at the old scale or of coming under the new; so there could be no question of their being in a worse position than before. There was no intention, as had been suggested by the hon. Member, of reducing their wages; the pay in London was still to be 6d. and not 4½d., as suggested. It was true the hours of the sorters were arduous 1207 and long and the conditions unhealthy, but the Department were trying to reduce the hours and to make the conditions of work as healthy and as convenient to the staff as possible. It must, however, be understood that in a question of this sort and a Department of this kind they did not keep regular hours and it was not always possible to improve the hours of the sorters. When the Daylight Bill became law they might be able to do something of the sort. The hon. Member for Islington had raised several questions. The trip allowances had been improved under the recommendations of the Committee, but as to the porters he did not think it would be possible to re-try the whole case tried by the Committee, and go beyond its recommendations, which were very precise. With regard to the telephone men, he rejoiced to say that, although there had been a long delay, these men were being brought on to the establishment. When one had two public Departments to deal with in these matters as he had they did not get on so quickly as one would like. The question of the sub-engineers was a somewhat complicated one, but he would have an opportunity in the holidays of meeting the society, and that was one of the matters he had to discuss with them. With regard to the question of the sub-post masters and the commission they received on the sale of postal orders there again he was to meet them and discuss the matter, and he hoped to come to a friendly arrangement. With regard to auxiliary labour in a Department of this character they ought to do with as little as possible, but it was not possible to get rid of it altogether under the present conditions, although his desire was to reduce it to the lowest possible extent. With regard to the carmen, to the underpayment of whom attention had been drawn, arrangements were being made which would prevent all that. In all new contracts he was inserting a new clause with that object. With regard to the assistants, the Committee recommended that in future the period in which these postmen were to qualify for their stripe should after the first stripe be reduced from five years to four. The Committee did not propose that that should be retrospective, but he had 1208 appealed to the Treasury to make it retrospective in the sense that it should date from the period when the man got his last stripe. This would, no doubt, create an anomaly, but he thought these men would rather have an anomaly with a considerable amount of cash than have neither anomaly nor cash. He must confess that he occasionally felt that he was not met in the way he should be in some of these matters. They had had a very interesting and significant discussion, chiefly with regard to classification. If a stranger knowing nothing of the matter had come into the House and listened to the debate he would probably have thought that the Post master-General had put down the wages of every existing and future postman. But if they took the case of the offices and sub -offices, as a whole, under the proposals of the Committee as modified and revised by himself with the assistance of the Treasury, the Committee would see that there would be an increase in the postmen's wages in 4,800 cases, and the diminutions had been only 750 in all. In the offices in London there were only five in which reductions had taken place. So that, taking the postmen as a whole, there was a very great improvement in their conditions. In this matter he thought the Committee intended that they should be taken as a whole and not individual cases. One hon. Member had said he was there to-day to have bricks thrown at his head. He certainly had had cartloads thrown at him. He thought a few of them might come to his assistance. "Were there not ten, and where are the nine?" He really thought he might have had a little support, and he hoped in the division lobby, if they came to a division, he might receive practical support. If any body had been listening to the debate, they would not have been made aware that there had been such a thing as a Parliamentary Committee sitting on this very question, a Committee appointed by the House and representative of all Parties, a Committee which came, if not absolutely—because no member submitted to everything—substantially unanimously to the conclusions, suggestions, and proposals embodied in the Report with regard to classification. He had, as he had said, considerably 1209 modified it at a very considerable additional cost, and he was obliged to the Treasury for the sum they had placed at his disposal in order to do it. What did the Committee recommend in regard to the question of classification? They said, and said specifically, that the classification of towns in future was to be made in two ways. There were at the present moment two divergent systems of classification, one dealing with the indoor force and the other with the outdoor force. They said the classes in the indoor force were to be reduced from seven to five, and that the outdoor force was to be classified on the lines of the posting clerks and telegraphists. The unified classification was to be based on two factors; first on the volume of work, and secondly on the cost of living where it was sufficient to modify the unit of work. That was the specific recommendation of the Parliamentary Committee, and he thought it was a very sensible one. He had been asked by one or two Members what constituted the unit of work, and how the Committee's recommendation was arrived at. He thought the hon. Member for Stoke had been somewhat misinformed as to the basis of the system of the unit of work and as to how it was carried out in the Department. The Committee took the system as it was carried out before they sat and recommended that it should be one of the bases of the classification.
§ MR. JOHN WARD
said he would like the right hon. Gentleman to look at Paragraph 258. The Committee recommended that any resulting classification should be based upon the volume of work in the locality.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
said that of course by unit of work he meant volume of work. That was to be one basis, and the other was the cost of living. He did not think there was any difference between them in that matter. The hon. Member had mentioned his own district, and said that the work done at the sub-offices there was not calculated in the volume of work. He did not know whether he had seen the details. A considerable volume of 1210 work was allowed for every sub-office; all the letters posted and delivered throughout the area, whether they went through the sub-offices or not, were brought into account, He could assure the House that all the items of work which went to form the volume of business in a particular locality were taken into account and calculated in the classification of the, various towns. He was not in any way responsible for the estimated cost of living. Naturally, he was not able to arrive at any conclusion as to whether one town was dear and another cheap. They had had somewhat interesting domestic details as to the cost of living in different towns, and especially in Stafford. Of course, he was not in a position to judge whether Stafford, Wigan, and Dudley were dear or cheap places to live in. One would have to go and live there himself in order to be able to say. The Committee recommended that the Board of Trade system of arriving at the cost of living should be extended to other towns, and that they should base their classification on that. The Board of Trade, who were perfectly impartial and had no prejudice, had supplied them with the figures. They did not know whether Shrewsbury was a Tory or a Liberal town. His hon. friend seemed to think that Shrewsbury, as a Tory town, had been specially privileged. Well, sometimes it was worth conciliating one's enemies. The Board of Trade provided the figures, but, like the Postmaster-General, they did not consider themselves infallible. He did not consider himself infallible with regard to the classification, and he was open to argument with regard to any particular town. The Board of Trade were also open to argument, and if a prima facie case could be made out, they would be prepared to reconsider their decision in any instance. If they came to a different conclusion, and made a material alteration in their figures, that would necessarily affect the classification of any town. Speaking on behalf of the Treasury, he would be glad if any hon. Member would endeavour to show that the cost of living in any place was put too high. They might then reconsider that case and reduce it. He would then be able to save some money. Everybody would appreciate that he had been at an enormous amount 1211 of trouble and labour, and, speaking seriously, he had accepted the general basis of the proposals of the Committee, modified very considerably in favour of the postmen, and he had honestly endeavoured to carry out the classification to the best of his ability. He believed it a fair and just basis. It was quite obvious that by starting with two divergent classifications and unifying them, a certain number of places must be adversely affected, but he was glad to think that the vast majority would be advantaged. The Committee themselves fully recognised that that would be the case, because they said in Paragraph 260 of the Report—Your Committee recognises that the position in these classes of each individual town or district may be considerably affected as the result of the inquiry above referred to by the Board of Trade.Therefore, it was quite obvious that they themselves believed there must be a certain amount of alteration in the position of the towns in a reclassification. He had endeavoured to minimise it as fat as possible and to modify it as far as he could in favour of postmen and to reduce as few towns as possible. Of course, they all sympathised with those places in which in the future the maximum would have to be reduced; but he must repeat that it did not affect a single existing postman but only future entrants, and even there he sympathised with those places in which this classification might result in a reduction. All he could say in regard to it was that they had tried to minimise it as far as they could. As regarded individual towns, either in regard to units of work or the ordinary volume of work, if it increased so as to improve the classification, and also as regarded the cost of living and the other elements, if serious facts could be brought to his attention, he would certainly present them to the Board of Trade, who were perfectly willing to reconsider any decisions they had come to in regard to the cost of living if they had really material facts. They were still inquiring in a considerable number of places for the first classification and there were other places which would have to be inquired into, and he must ask the Committee in regard 1212 to any individual case they brought before him to understand that they must carry out, before they could reconsider these cases, the classification which they at present had in hand—he meant the inquiry into the cost of living by the Board of Trade. Subject to that, he frankly said to the House that he had proposed this classification on the lines of the Committee believing it to be a fair classification, and as a general framework he adhered to it. But as regarded any individual case, he was perfectly open to consider the position either from the point of view of the volume of work or of the cost of living. He asked the House to look at the matter as a whole and not to think quite so much about their constituents as about the postal service.
§ MR. SEDDON (Lancashire, Newton)
was sure every Member of the House had heard with pleasure the efforts that the right hon. Gentleman had made on behalf of the postal employees; he was glad to be able to express the thanks of a large number of men who had benefited by his attention, and he hoped and believed he would not slacken his zeal on behalf of those who still had a perfect right to have their wages increased and their hours reduced. They were also thankful that he had increased the wages of the typists in the various offices. It secured to many of the women a living wage. Did that advantage apply to all centres as well as London where typists were engaged? He also wanted the right hon. Gentleman to clear the mind of the Committee with, reference to another question—the position of members of the postal service who belonged to the Territorials. There was an idea abroad, though it had been denied by the Minister for War, that those who had been engaged in the postal service and belonged to the Territorial Army, when on duty in that connection, had to make up the difference when persons in receipt of a higher wage were put in their place. Finally, he would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman when going into the merits or demerits of the classification scheme, where no inquiry had been made, that he would stay his hand. 1213 He was credibly informed that there were 120 offices where no inquiry had taken place, and they were already threatened with a reduction from the maximum of 1s. per week. It was only fair, whether classification was right or wrong, that where there had been no inquiry there should be no threatened reduction until an inquiry had taken place.
§ *MR. HUNT (Shropshire, Ludlow)
pointed out that when rural postmen could live in the country and get a cottage with a garden, fruit trees, and pig-sty included, for about £5 a year, they could manage to live in moderate comfort on their wages; but it was distinctly hard on rural postmen getting about the same wages when they had to live in a country town, pay £6 or £7 a year or more for a house, with none of the other advantages. That was a point that the right hon. Gentleman might well consider, because it was thought a great deal of in country districts. It was pretty clear from what had been generally stated that the cost of living had considerably increased in recent years, and from all sides of the House they also heard that the wages paid to the postmen by the Government were too low. How was it that these things were so under the present Liberal Government after sixty years of what hon. Gentleman opposite were pleased to call "free trade."
§ DR. RUTHERFORD
said although he was not satisfied with the statements of the right hon. Gentleman lie felt that he had been met a considerable distance. They were thankful that the Postmaster-General had promised to reconsider the question of classification, because they contended, that that was a very important and serious point. Hon. Members appeared to be quite satisfied with the discussion which had taken place, and under the circumstances he was prepared to withdraw his Amendment. [Cries of "No, no."]
§ MR. CLYNES (Manchester, N.E.)
said that in the course of his reply the Post master-General had not touched upon the various grievances which had been 1214 put before the Committee by successive speakers in the course of the discussion. It was clear that there had been an increase in the cost of living, and this was likely still further to increase in the future. If under those circumstances there was going to be a reduction in the remuneration of those employed in the postal service, he contended that the Committee had no alternative but to go to a division as a protest.
§ *MR. WARDLE (Stockport)
said he had been waiting the whole of the day in order to get an opportunity of saving one or two words upon this question. There was one aspect which had not been sufficiently recognised by the Committee. The advance in wages which had been granted had not been, obtained by the barbarous method of a strike, but had been granted by a Committee of this House, and it seemed to him that that was an aspect of the case which deserved full consideration and showed that they believed in peaceable methods. With regard to those places where it was alleged that there had been a threat of reduction, he wished to point out that in none of those cases could that policy have fruition for at least four or five years, and during that period there was ample time for inquiry into the cost of living. Therefore, he did not think there was any need to be uneasy with regard to the question of these threatened reductions. Personally, he subscribed very largely to the view put forward by the hon. Member for Sunderland, who had pointed out that in a general scheme of reorganisation such as this where a large number of offices went up and a few went down it was certain, there would be a considerable amount of dissatisfaction. He still held the opinion that it was quite possible to classify postmen, sorting clerks, and telegraphists in one classification, and there was a possibility of building up a better organisation on those lines. For those reasons, even the modification which the Postmaster-General had made might be entirely unnecessary in order that the indoor and outdoor forces could be put into the same classification, provided the criteria were altered by which the standard was arranged for the indoor and outdoor 1215 forces, or provided that the scales were rearranged on the same lines as those at present in force. There was one paragraph in the Committee's Report to which no allusion had been made, and it was one of the most important in the whole Report. For that reason he desired to call the attention of the Committee to it. In his opinion and in the opinion of the Committee there ought to be some reorganisation of the whole of the classes in the Post Office apart from the question of wages. He felt sure that a Committee of business men if they were to investigate—
§ And, it being Eleven of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report progress; to sit again upon Monday next.