§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "'That a sum, not exceeding £12,128,256, 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 31st March, 1911, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Post Office, including Telegraphs and Telephones."
§ [NOTE.—£7,700,000 has been voted on account.]
§ The POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Mr Herbert Samuel)
The total sum to which I shall have this year to ask the sanction of the House of Commons very nearly touches the figure of £20,000,000. This sum shows a most rapid increase on the corresponding figures of a not very remote period. Fifteen years ago the Post Office Estimates amounted to about £10,000,000. They have doubled in that period. Fortunately the receipts have nearly doubled also, and the profits of the Post Office remain about the same as they were fifteen or sixteen years ago. The large figures with which we have now to deal correspond with an almost overwhelmingly vast total of work performed, and to one who, like myself, comes newly to the office of Postmaster-General the vast-ness and the complexity of the work and the organisation is very striking. The Post Office deals with letters and with halfpenny packets to the number of 15,000,000, not every year or every month or every week, but every day. We handle about a quarter of a million telegrams daily, and every day of the year the Post 508 Office transmits money orders and postal orders to the extent of about a quarter of a million pounds. All these figures year by year are constantly expanding, and the work in every direction shows rapid growth. During the year that has passed the telephone business of the Post Office, for example, has shown considerable expansion, 123 new exchanges having been opened. The number of subscribers to the Post Office system has increased by 12 per cent., and the number of conversations on the trunk lines has increased by 15 per cent. We look forward, of course, at a very early date to taking over the whole of the vast enterprise of the National Telephone Company, and arrangements are now being rapidly pushed forward in order to facilitate that transfer at the end of next year. Two Departmental Committees are at work within the Post Office, one dealing with the question of telephone plant, and the other dealing with many details of the important questions arising from the transfer of the staff of the telephone company to the Post Office. Arrangements are also proceeding for taking a joint inventory—an inventory jointly by the company and the Post Office—of the plant of the company. Every step within our power is now being taken in order to secure that the transfer, when it comes— one of the most gigantic industrial operations that this country will ever have known—that the transfer, when it comes, will be effected with the utmost smoothness.
§ Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that subject, can he tell us anything about the financial arrangements that will be necessary?
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
A Bill, of course, will be required for the purpose. It is not intended as at present advised to introduce that Bill this year. It will be introduced next Session, and that will be the moment when it will be necessary to consider the question of finance, but it is anticipated that the terms of the transfer will be in accordance with the agreement, and I have very small hope that those terms can be settled otherwise than by arbitration, as provided for in the agreement entered into by the late Government. The system of wireless telegraphy provided by the Post Office also shows very rapid progress and extension. One of the many instances of enterprise which made the administration of my predecessor 509 noteworthy was the purchase last autumn of the wireless telegraphy stations around the coast belonging to the Marconi Company and to Lloyds. That purchase by the Post Office has been amply justified by the results. These wireless stations are working with complete success, and the Committee will be glad to know that within the last three months the number of messages sent and received has doubled, showing that the services of these wireless stations are appreciated by the shipowners. I am now holding an inquiry as to the distribution of these stations round the coast and as to the desirability of opening new ones in places such as Newcastle, and that district, where stations are not at present in existence, and I hope before long to have a complete ring of stations all round the coast of Great Britain and parts of Ireland, which will be, I believe, of great service to the shipowners. Shipowners, therefore, would be well advised to proceed as rapidly as may be with the equipment of their vessels, for I feel convinced that when this system is established completely round the whole of our coasts it will be found of the greatest possible value to them in their business operations; it will be found of service to their passengers where they carry passengers, and, of course, it would be indispensable for summoning assistance to vessels on our coasts which are in distress.
The telegraphs also at last, after several years of decline, begin to show some expansion, and the figures of telegraph receipts, which have suffered in recent years from the competition of telephones, now begin to show revival. The Post Office has spent two millions in laying down underground cables in various parts of the country to protect our telegraphic communications from interruptions by storm, and that work is being continued, a considerable sum being taken in this year's Estimates for the further extension and completion of the underground telegraphic service. An interesting experiment will shortly be tried in connection with the Savings Bank. At the suggestion of the Controller I propose to render available to the public money-boxes or home safes, as they are called, which would-be depositers would keep in their homes, and in which they can accumulate very small savings. The depositor will have the box and the Post Office will keep the key, and I trust I may be able to earn some of the merit which belongs to those who save 510 uncertain virtue from temptation. The experience of the trustee savings banks and other savings banks abroad has been that these home safes do promote thrift and do cause money to be saved which otherwise would be spent. Further, it is a convenience in the administration, because it leads the deposits to be made in larger accumulated sums instead of with greater frequency and in smaller amounts.
The Post Office is placing its services, as it is always ready to do, at the disposal of other Departments, and experiments are about to be made in the use of the post offices in the smaller towns as agencies for Labour Exchanges. There are, of course, many places which are not large enough to warrant the establishment of a separate Labour Exchange, but, as an experiment, in a certain number of these places the post office is to be available for workmen and employers for transmitting their applications for situations or for workpeople and for the notification of any vacancies which may exist.
The payment of old age pensions through the Post Office is proceeding smoothly and with rare complaint. In a score of different directions in recent years the Post Office has come more and more closely into relations with the lives of the people from childhood up to old age, and it is not surprising that recently a young mother entered a post office, and, asking for the registration counter, desired that her infant, whom she presented, should be registered there. I wish it were possible in the early days of my tenure of the office of Postmaster-General to be able to confer what I am sure would be a great boon to the country in the extension of our system of penny postage. Cheap post and telegraph rates for international purposes are, of course, of the greatest possible value in assisting commerce, in promoting social intercourse, and in fostering international goodwill, and the value of the cheap postal and telegraph services which are rendered by the Post Offices of the world to the various nations of the world can, perhaps, only be fully appreciated if one imagines them absent. Imagine the whole of our international postal and telegraph system destroyed or non-existent; imagine that the nations had never brought it into being, and one realises what the value of our postal and telegraph system is to our commerce, to the spread of the knowledge of the world among the peoples of the world, and in helping the nations to be less separate and less hostile. Per contra, one 511 can estimate from that the high value of further extensions of cheap postal and telegraph rates between the different countries of the world. As a matter of fact, more than half the letters which leave this country every year go to other countries with which we already have a penny postage rate; and I am sure all of us must feel sympathy with the efforts of the hon. Member (Mr. Henniker Heaton) and those who act with him in season and out of season, with a zeal which we must all admire, to extend our system of international penny postage.
But the zeal of the hon. Member sometimes takes too little account of facts and figures. His case rests upon these suppositions—that we can establish a system of penny postage on the Continent with France alone; that the loss would be very small in the first instance; that it would soon be recouped by a large extension of postage with France, which would involve no additional expense; and that in any case, even if the loss be considerable, we ought not to reject the offer which he tells us the French are only too eager to make. As a matter of fact, the immediate loss of revenue, if penny postage were established with France alone, would be £95,000; but I do not think it possible for this question to be considered as though it related only to an arrangement between ourselves and one country upon the Continent, although with that country we are, it is true, bound by special ties of friendship. Our correspondence with Holland, Belgium, and Switzerland is very large, and our trade also. Our correspondence with Germany is equal to our correspondence with France, and our trade with Germany is larger. The hon. Member is always emphasising the anomalies of the present system. Eleven thousand miles from London to Fiji, he says, one penny; twenty-one miles, from Dover to Calais, 2½d. For my own part, I feel quite unmoved by these quotations of anomalies. The whole system of penny postage in itself rejects the idea of distance being the basis on which charges should rest, and the Imperial penny postage, of which he was long the advocate, which enables you to send messages for 11,000 miles for a penny, is in itself an absurd anomaly when you consider that it costs a penny to send a letter from Westminster to the Strand.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
The present cost of Imperial penny postage is £155,000 a year loss, and it increases as our correspondence increases. Before Imperial penny postage was established, every year, on the average, the postage to the outlying parts of the Empire increased by five per cent. per annum. Since Imperial penny postage our correspondence has increased by nine per cent. per annum, showing an increase of only four per cent. per annum since the introduction of penny postage, and on each letter, on an average, there is a loss, and the more our correspondence increases, the heavier the loss will be. It is well worth paying, in my opinion. We cannot regard these matters solely from the commercial point of view, and for political reasons, and for the sake of promoting the unification of the Empire, I think the expenditure involved is fully justified.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
There are always anomalies, and must necessarily be anomalies, in the rates of postage once you have surrendered the principal which prevailed before the time of Rowland Hill, and have adopted the rule that there should be uniform rates and not rates varying on a scale according to distance. Mark the anomaly which the hon. Member and his friends now propose to create. They say a penny from the West of Ireland to the Pyrenees —the furthest point of the United Kingdom to the furthest point of France— and 2½d. is still to be the rate from Dover to Ostend, or from Harwich to the Hook of Holland. I am quite sure that an arrangement of that kind could not be permanent. It might be established in the first instance, but it could not be long maintained if our other neighbours desired to share the penny postage system. An extension to Germany would double the loss, and an extension to the other countries of Europe would give a total loss per annum of about £400,000. This sum could not be quickly recouped. It would gradually diminish year by year, but there would be left a very small margin of profit on the interchange of correspondence between ourselves and other European countries. It is a profound delusion to believe that the increase of correspondence does not mean an increase of expenditure by the Post Office. The hon. Member (Mr. Henniker Heaton) says: 513 "15,000,000 letters to France. What is that? A mere drop in the ocean, merely equal to your post for one day." But each dose of 15,000,000 letters means immediately, or in the near future, very nearly a pro rata increase in the expenditure. The charges to the Post Office of the railway and shipping companies, especially the railway companies, for the carriage of mails, vary very closely with the increased weight that they have to carry. The South Eastern and Chatham Railway Company for example twenty years ago received less than half what they now receive in annual subventions from the Post Office, because of the less weight of the mails compared to what it is now. The cost of the carriage of mails across London varies precisely in proportion to the number and weight of mail bags carried, and the sorting staff is adjusted with the utmost nicety to the work it has to do. Therefore, in all these directions, as fast as you increase your correspondence so you increase your expenses, and it would be absurd to suppose that all the increased traffic which the cheap postage rate would bring, means so much more revenue to the Post Office without a closely corresponding expenditure.
In the last five years concessions to the staff on one hand and to the public on the other have cost the Post Office over a £1,000,000 per annum. In 1906 there was a reduction of parcel post rates costing £60,000. In the same year a reduction of postal order charges cost £40,000. In 1907 a reduction in the foreign and Colonial rates cost £190,000. In 1908 penny postage with the United States cost £136,000, though this is slowly being recouped—a total, with other minor concessions, of £499,000—and the result of the Stanley and Hobhouse Revisions of the remuneration of the staff involved a further expenditure of £670,000 a year. There has been, of course, some increase of business and some increase of profit following on that growth of business, but the fact remains that the net surplus of the Post Office which is payable to the Exchequer has been reduced in the last five years by very close upon £1,000,000 per annum, or about 25 per cent. In spite of these large expenses in the past, since now trade shows signs of rapid revival, and if the Post Office Revenue expanded this year, I will not conceal from the Committee the fact that I personally should have been prepared to go to the 514 Chancellor of the Exchequer and make proposals to him for further facilities for the public. I am not in a position to say what reception those proposals would have met with. But before doing so it was necessary to ascertain whether it was really the case, as has frequently been stated, that the French Government in this matter of penny postage were only waiting for advances to be made from this side of the Channel in order to accept the proposal.
The hon. Baronet (Sir Edward Sassoon) spoke, in a question which he addressed to the Prime Minister lately, of the declared readiness of the French Government to assent to penny postage. The hon. Member (Mr. Henniker Heaton) has made it clear-that he, for one, believes very firmly that the French Government are very ready to enter into an arrangement of this character. I was recently in Paris, and although I was not in a position to make any formal representations to the French Government I took the opportunity of going to see M. Millerand, who combines the office of Minister of Public Works with that of Minister of Posts and Telegraphs, and I discussed the matter with him. M. Millerand heard, with much surprise, of the statement that had been made by hon. Members opposite in Parliament as to the attitude of the French Government, and declared that on no occasion had he authorised any such statement to be made. He sympathise cordially with my views as to the desirability of facilitating, by the cheapest rates that circumstances allowed, inter-communication between our two countries; but he pointed out that recently France had reduced her rate on domestic postage in the provinces from fifteen to ten centimes, that, in common with the other countries of the International Postal Union, she had lately raised the weight of letters which could be sent for twenty-five centimes abroad, and had also lowered the charges on other letters in her foreign correspondence, and these changes had caused a very considerable diminution of the French Postal Revenue. In these circumstances he assured me that his Government could not see their way, at all events for the time being, to consider the question of a further reduction of rates for foreign postage, and he gave me leave to make clear in this country what the attitude of his Government was. So much interest is taken in this question 515 in this House, and also in Chambers of Commerce and in other quarters outside the House, that I think it my duty to tell the Committee precisely how the matter stands and to express my regret that, for the time being, this reform, which everyone regards as a very desirable one, must necessarily remain in abeyance.
I turn now to another group of questions in which many hon. Members take a keen and constant and. legitimate interest—questions affecting the well-being of the staff. The relations between the Postmaster-General and the staff entered upon a new phase when my right hon. Friend and predecessor, with great courage and, I am convinced, with great wisdom, officially recognised the associations of the staff and entered into direct communication with them. The policy of my right lion. Friend has my whole-hearted sympathy. I think it is impossible to expect in. a vast service such as the Post Office, which has in its employment over 200,000 men and women, working under conditions of employment of infinite variety, that there will be no grievances, and no legitimate grievances. It is impossible to expect or imagine that their conditions of work are incapable of improvement, and for my own part I find it is of the greatest possible advantage to discuss round a table with the representatives of the trade unions, who are usually men of much ability, questions on which they are experts, and on which they are able to throw much useful light. I have so far received fifteen deputations representing different branches of the staff, and as those interviews usually last two to three hours, and are preceded and followed by much correspondence, it enables many points of detail—a large proportion of them arise out of the interpretation of the Hobhouse Report—closely affecting the comfort and well-being of the staff, to be discussed thoroughly, and with advantage to the staff and not less to the Postmaster-General.
I have carried a step further the recognition of the associations. The step taken by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Buxton) was declared to be experimental, and the associations were limited to cases affecting classes in the employment in respect of the representations they had to make to the Postmaster-General. Individual cases were excluded from their correspondence with the Postmaster-General, and for some time past the: associations have asked to be allowed 516 to represent the grievances of individual members, and to call the attention of the Postmaster-General equally to individual cases where it was represented that further inquiry was needed. After carefully considering that request with my advisers, and after anxious consideration on my own part, I thought it was wise, and, indeed, beneficial, to make this extension except in matters of promotion. I hold strongly that the selection of individual men for the higher posts in the Post Office must remain with the Postmaster-General alone, and on that subject he cannot receive representations from the trade unions of the staff. But in other cases of individual grievances I have extended the principle of the recognition of the associations, and so far am happy to say that the extension has given rise to no evil, and is working very smoothly. The direct and continuous communication between the organisations of the employés and the Postmaster-General has, I trust, relieved Members of Parliament of many difficult cases to which otherwise their attention would have been drawn by their constituents. It has, I am convinced, introduced better relations between the Department and the employés. There has been, I regret to say, some delay in dealing with memorials from the associations, which have been numerous, but steps have been taken to reduce these delays to a minimum.
With respect to the workpeople employed by contractors, the new Fair Wages Clause sanctioned by the House of Commons is, of course, being inserted in all new contracts with the Post Office. We have an inspector continually at work, devoting his whole time to inspecting the conditions of employment of the workpeople in the employment of contractors who are working for the Post Office, and seeing that the terms of their contracts are properly observed. He insists upon the most rigid observance of the fair wages conditions. It is right that that should be done on behalf of the Government, not only in the interest of labour—and that, of course, is a matter of prime importance— but also in justice to fair employers, who have a right to claim that they should be safeguarded against the illegitimate competition of rivals who may be less scrupulous than themselves. I have every reason to hope and believe that the Post Office is now on the way to become, if it has not already become, free from the reproach that the Government is maintaining in its 517 own employment a sweating system which in private employment Parliament and the Government are anxious to suppress.
There have been some difficulties in respect of employment in the factories belonging to the Post Office. The character of the work there has been changing in recent years. Telegraphy has been giving way to telephony, and a great number of the processes are different from what they were formerly. French polishing, which was carried on on a large scale by hand, is now being done by machinery, and there are many changes in the industrial conditions closely affecting those factories. Very often the cost of production is somewhat high. I have, however, been doing my best to avoid discharges from the factories, and we have lately made it a rule that where discharges are indispensable the men who have been a long time in the service of the Post Office and are still efficient should not be selected for those discharges, and that it should be the youngest men with the shortest service who will be most likely to get employment elsewhere. I have appointed a Departmental Committee, of which my hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General (Captain Norton) is chairman, to investigate with officers of my staff the whole of the conditions of production in the Post Office factories with the view to their being placed on a more satisfactory footing. Another Committee has been appointed in the last few weeks to investigate the question of telegraphists' cramp—a technical Committee presided over by the hon. Baronet the Member for the Border Burghs (Sir John Barran). I have long thought that it was a reproach to any industry that the workers in that industry should be exposed by its processes to the contraction of diseases peculiar to that trade. As chairman of the Departmental Committee of the Home Office on Industrial Diseases I was instrumental in having telegraphists' cramp scheduled as entitling sufferers to compensation under the Workmen's Compensation Act, and now that I am myself at the Post Office I am eager to adopt any means that science can devise in order to provide what is far better than either compensation or cure for disease of that character, and that is prevention of its occurrence.
With respect to the girl operators in the telephone exchanges there have lately been sensational statements in the Press as to the effect upon their physique of the employment in which they are engaged. 518 Grossly-exaggerated figures have been published, which, on inquiry, prove to require to be divided by two or three, or even by ten, in order to give a fair picture of the facts. But the truth remains that the work of the telephone operator is of a character that does impose a certain strain upon the nervous organisation. My right hon. Friend, some months ago, set on foot a medical inquiry into the conditions of employment in the telephone exchanges. That inquiry was conducted by the second medical officer of the Post Office and the principal female medical officer. The inquiry is now completed, and the report of the committee reached me two days ago. The investigators visited a number of telephone exchanges and examined 250 of the operators, and in their report they make a number of suggestions for improvements in the allocation of hours, in the intervals for meals and rest, and they express the hope, that some improvements may be devised in the instruments they use, and so forth. I have given instructions that the recommendations in this Report shall be regarded as matters of urgency, and I hope in the near future to be able to effect any improvements that may be found by the medical officers and my technical advisers to be practicable in that branch of the work of the Post Office.
I turn, lastly, to another matter, in which I know this House, as a whole, takes a close interest, which I fully share, and that is the conditions of employment of the boy messengers. The present position is, to my mind, by no means satisfactory. There are 15,400 boys employed by the Post Office, and at the age of sixteen three out of four of these boys are discharged without any training that really fits them to secure skilled or permanent employment. The boy messengers of the Post Office have the advantage, it is true, of being subject to discipline, but their work is not of a character which trains them in habits of steady and sustained application, and it is not of a character which fits them to engage in any skilled employment outside the Post Office. I have long felt that it is among the children that lies the best hope of social reform. We of this generation have the duty cast upon us of coping as best we can with the social evils affecting our body politic and of providing as best we can cures for them. But we have cast upon us also the still higher duty of saving, if we can, the next generation from being face4 by those social evils at all. I am sure the House will be glad if the Post 519 Office should no longer withdraw from among the boys of the nation this vast number, and absorb two of the best years of their lives and then turn them into the general labour market unfitted for any skilled or permanent employment. The facts of the case are as follows. The total number of boys is 15,400. Of these 6,700 each year cease to be employed as messengers. Their services are no longer required. Of the 6,700 about 700 are dismissed because their character or physique is not very satisfactory. A certain number yield too often to the wayward impulses of youth. I came across the other day an official reply of a telegraph boy, who, having misconducted himself on several occasions, was asked for a written explanation, and he replied, with much simplicity and, perhaps, some little pathos, "I have tried very hard to behave myself, but find I cannot do so." There are a certain number of boys of that type. There remain 6,000 against whose qualifications there is nothing to be said, and the natural question arises, Why not employ these boys as adults in the Post Office instead of discharging a large proportion? Already 1,600 are employed as postmen and in other capacities. They are kept on until the age of eighteen as messengers, and at eighteen they are employed, as a rule, as postmen. Almost all the other vacancies on the staff of postmen and porters are filled now by ex-soldiers and ex-sailors. There are 1,300 old soldiers and sailors engaged in the Post Office annually, in accordance with an arrangement which was entered into by the late Government about ten years or more ago. It would go very far to solve the problem if these posts were taken away from the old soldiers and sailors and given to the messenger boys, but that is a course I am unwilling to adopt. Not only has the old soldier or sailor a claim on the State not inferior to that of the messenger boy, but his difficulty in finding employment is greater than that of the messenger boy, because he is more advanced in life and finds it more difficult to get regular occupation. Therefore, I should be very unwilling to suggest to my colleagues in the Government that the present arrangement, by which half the postmen's and porters' places go to messengers and the other half go to ex-soldiers and sailors, should be discontinued or modified.
After deducting the 1,600 messengers who now find employment in the Post Office when they reach the age of eighteen, 520 there remain 4,400 for whom no employment at present is found in the Government service. There are three directions, in which this evil—for it is a great evil— can be remedied: by reducing the number of boys employed, by finding more posts for them in Government employment, and by fitting them for such outside employment as can be secured for them. In order to work out the details of these various suggestions, I have appointed another Departmental Committee, which is presided over by the Secretary for the Post Office, Sir Matthew Nathan, 'who fully shares my interest in this question. My hon. Friend the Member for West Leeds (Mr. T. E. Harvey) is a member, and there are representatives of the Education Department and other officers of the Post Office. That committee has been working with great energy and is throwing a great deal of light on various aspects of the problem. Already certain points have become clear. First, the Post Office can economise a very appreciable portion of the existing boy labour which is employed. I think it is better to reduce the number of boys employed as far as possible than to employ a larger number and subsequently dismiss them. Of course, Post Office employment offers to parents considerable temptations. The wages are high; it is very respectable employment; and there is a prospect that one out of four boys will obtain permanent employment in the Post Office. Therefore they are often induced by these reasons to send the boys to the Post Office because there is a demand for boy labour there, instead of putting them to some skilled trade, which would provide them with a permanent occupation in life. I therefore desire, if possible, to decrease the number of boys so as to avoid dismissals. It is much easier to find places in the post office for girls than for boys, because they are needed as telephonists and in other capacities. It has been suggested that a great deal of the outdoor work of the boy messengers might be done by girls. That suggestion I have rejected, for I consider that the girls engaged in such occupations would be exposed to dangers and temptations from which at so early an age they ought to be protected. But there are some hundreds of indoor boy messengers employed in the great buildings of the Post Office in which a female staff is already employed, and their places, I think, might gradually be taken by a corresponding number or—for possibly we may be able to dispense with a small 521 proportion—by a certain number of girl messengers. Then, again, it is possible that we may be able to make use to a larger extent than now of the system of pneumatic tubes for despatching messages and sending telegrams from place to place, and in addition certain classes of telegrams might be delivered, with the consent of subscribers, by telephone, thus economising boy labour, the written telegraphic message being forwarded as a confirmation by the next post.
I hope by these means we shall be able to reduce by 1,000 or possibly more the number of boy messengers at present employed. There are a few hundred posts which might possibly be given to boy messengers in the Post Office, and which are not at present given to them. I have endeavoured to enlist the sympathy also of my colleagues in the War Office and the Admiralty, and I hope that some hundreds of boys may be absorbed by those Services, possibly in the Royal Engineers and possibly also as wireless telegraph operators to a larger extent than now upon our ships. It is not contemplated that they shall be transferred in the ordinary way to the rank and file of the Army or Navy, but there are special posts which might suit the boys themselves, and, if so, I desire that they should be given an opportunity of obtaining them. In these ways we hope that we may be able to increase by 50 per cent. the number of posts provided for the boys in Government employment. There will remain, however, still a considerable margin unprovided for, and into that aspect of the case the Committee is prosecuting its researches with great industry. There are already in the various large towns and in some of the smaller towns excellent institutes provided by the Post Office for the use of boy messengers. They are partly of a recreative character and partly educational and with great devotion are voluntarily managed by senior officers of the staff. Many boys, with the assistance of these institutes, are now able to find employment in outside occupations, but I am afraid that many of the posts given to them are not posts which have any prospect of permanency. Boys also are now encouraged to attend local continuation schools, and half of the fees of those schools are paid by the institutes. Along similar lines I hope that further development may take place, and that boys may more and more be made to fit themselves for outside employment if it is found impossible to absorb them all in the Post Office. But the 522 Committee are here again giving their close attention to the possibility of keeping a certain proportion of the boys to a somewhat higher age, and enabling them to do other work in the Post Office in the meanwhile. All these plans will take time to develop, and to reach their full effect, and I should like to make clear to-day that parents should not assume from what has been said that in the future we can guarantee a permanent career for all boys who enter the Post Office service. But I do feel very strongly that the Department should not rest content until they are able to secure that every boy of good character and physique who enters their service should be secured an opportunity either in the Government service or out of it, of obtaining permanent and useful employment. Towards that end we are now actively working.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
May I ask will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the arrangement under which half the places in the Post Office are reserved for ex-soldiers and sailors is a matter which would be considered by the Committee that had been appointed?
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
No, it is not within the reference to the Committee. It is a matter of general policy, and not of Departmental policy, and for the reasons that I have already expressed the Government do not see their way to terminate an arrangement which I am sure is of the greatest possible benefit to large numbers of men who have rendered valuable services to their country in the Army and Navy. Very many plans on other subjects are now being developed in this busy Department which are not, however, ripe to be laid before Parliament. All of them are inspired by those two sentiments which must always animate a Postmaster-General, a desire to maintain and develop for the public a cheap and efficient service, and to secure for the staff healthy and just conditions of employment.
§ Mr. STAVELEY-HILL
Whatever criticism one may have to pass on certain portions of the administration of the Post Office, I am quite certain that all who have listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate its interesting character and its lucidity. Those Members of the Committee who were in the last Parliament will remember that ever since 1907, the date of the publication of the Hobhouse Report, on the discussion of the Post Office Estimates, we have dealt with that Report more or less in detail. It 523 is not my intention to-day to deal in detail with that Report, nor to give illustrations of the prices of commodities and of food in various towns as examples of how hardly that Report works out. Those who have given to me their views represent not one class of the Post Office Service, but the whole class, and they do not desire in any way to criticise the Hob-house Report itself. They have to abide by that; and, though they may not like it, they are compelled to abide by it. But what they say is, and what I venture to point out to the Committee, that it is not the effect of the Report, but the interpretation which is being given to it by the Post Office which they do not like, and which, I venture to suggest, does not correspond with the meaning that was put upon the Report. Prior to the Report of the. Hobhouse Commission the salaries of postal clerks were fixed on the volume of work. The Committee recommended this, plus the cost of living, and many offices have been left without any increase, and in some cases they have been actually reduced. Prior also to the Report of that Committee the postmen's wages were fixed by cost of living, and the Committee recommended the unit of work as well, and yet 900 offices have been reduced. When one looks at the Report of the Committee one cannot but come to the conclusion that there has been some misinterpretation by the Post Office in their reading of the recommendations of the Committee.
In paragraph 258 the Committee say: "They have very carefully considered the evidence tendered to them by Mr. Wilson Fox, of the Board of Trade, in explanation of the inquiry by that Department into the rents of working-class dwellings and the prices of commodities and rates of wages in seventy-one towns. They are of opinion that it is both desirable and possible to have a satisfactory classification of the various towns and districts in the United Kingdom for the purpose of assigning to each its proper standard of wages. They recommend that any resulting classification by the Post Office should be based upon the volume of work as ascertained by them, plus the cost of living in the locality as a whole, as ascertained by the Board of Trade." That is a paragraph to which I would draw attention as not having been properly carried out. Had it been properly carried out then the salaries would have been graded in an equitable 524 way, and the salaries would have been increased in all departments, except Class 1, which was not recommended for a rise in salary. What is the result at the present time of this interpretation? It is more or less chaos. Sorting clerks and postmen are entered in different classes in their respective wage scale, although the Committee recommend that they should be in corresponding classes; and also, as between adjoining towns, there are disparaties, and in a few cases—I believe this is not common—there are disparaties of 9s. per week in Belfast and places adjoining Belfast, whilst a difference of Vs. or 5s. is common in Manchester, Liverpool, Edinburgh, and elsewhere. The paragraph which I have read to the Committee says that wages shall be based on the volume of work, plus the cost of living in each locality as a whole. Had that been carried out, the wages of every postal and telegraphic official would be higher. The Post Office have avoided that by not paying any attention to the word "plus," but have altered it to "modified." In proof of that, I refer to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, who then occupied the position of Postmaster-General, on 16th July, 1908. In that speech he said:—Classification should depend on two elements—first on the units of work: and. secondly, that Visit should be where necessary, modified by the cost of living.The Post Office could not carry out this interpretation, and the Postmaster-General had perforce to grant a somewhat different classification, otherwise the wages of almost the whole of them would have been reduced. When I looked to see what was the intention of the Committee on the one side, and the result of its interpretation by the Postmaster-General on the other, I examined speeches made in this House by some Members of the Committee. Five of them, two no longer in the House, and three still here, who made speeches last year or before on this very subject, showed quite clearly that their intention was to raise the wages generally. No Member of the Committee ever raised any dissentient voice. But the Department have acted, I suggest, contrary to what was intended by Members who were parties to the Report in reference to adding the cost of living in each locality as a whole, and they have also largely ignored the recommendation concerning the unit of work. The Department, I think, does not give sufficient credit for work in sub-offices. In many towns, such as Stoke-on-Trent, Teignmouth, and other places, the 525 sub-offices do more work than the head office does. Had their work been brought into computation then the wages must have increased in each case. The Post Office in computing the units of work not only ignored the volume of work done by the sub-offices, but where there was a possibility of doing so that volume has been artificially reduced. There are places like Crewe, Stafford, Rugby, and other great railway centres where hundreds of men are employed, both indoors and out of doors, on thousands of bags of correspondence, but no credit is given in respect of that work. In the Telegraph Department there are many thousands of service telegrams. Departmental telegrams are not reckoned as of any value, although the Committee will see that they cause as much work and give as much trouble as any form of departmental duty. I have endeavoured as shortly as I can, and without going into any unnecessary details, to show the Committee how, in my humble judgment, and that of many in the Post Office, this Report of the Hobhouse Committee has not been interpreted in the proper spirit. I have put down a Motion for a reduction of the Vote in the hope that I shall get from the right hon. Gentleman or the Assistant Postmaster-General a sympathetic answer, but I have no desire to take up the time of the Committee or to put it to the trouble of a Division. It is in the sincere hope that these difficulties to which I have referred and these injustices to a large number of persons may be dealt with that I have ventured to bring them to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. THOMAS WILES
I think Members on both sides of the House will congratulate the Postmaster-General and his immediate predecessor on the commercial and financial success of last year's work in the Post Office. I think we should all congratulate him on the improvements he has made in efficiency, for many of us have given him, perhaps, a good deal of trouble in bringing to his attention the various grievances that must necessarily arise in such an enormous Department as that which is under his control. Before I refer to some grievances I should like to make a little suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman with reference to the selling of stamps. Many Members of the House and others often buy their stamps in shilling, two-shilling, and half-crown books, and upon each book there is a small charge. From the business point of view I would suggest to the Post Office that they should 526 have shilling, half-crown, and five-shilling books, and not charge anything for the book. I think it could be made to pay with advertisements in the book, and in which could be put postal information. I am sure, besides, that a number of the stamps sold in that way would never be used. I am certain that it is the experience of railway companies, in reference to return tickets, that it is best to sell them cheaply because so many return halves are lost. If my right hon. Friend would consider my proposal I believe he will find that it will be really a convenience to the public and also prove a paying system to the Post Office. I should also like to thank my right hon. Friend for the way in which he dealt a few weeks ago with a number of men who were discharged from the gutta-percha works. I believe those works are almost closed, because of some other invention which renders the use of gutta-percha no longer necessary. Men have been engaged in those works for many years, some of them twenty-five or thirty years, and they have not been on the established staff. I should like to thank the right hon. Gentleman for having found places for these men in other branches of his Department.
Last year I referred to the question of Sunday delivery in the country. It seems to me that where great towns in England —London, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, and thirty or forty other large towns of the United Kingdom—do without a Sunday delivery of letters, it would be perfectly easy, and hardly any inconvenience would be felt if the Postmaster-General could see his way to giving a free Sunday to postmen all over the country. In rural districts the postman has often on a Sunday morning to go perhaps two or three miles to deliver a single circular or some communication in a halfpenny wrapper, perhaps a prospectus about a rubber company or something from a money-lender, or may be an account rendered. I feel that if great towns can do without a Sunday delivery, the Postmaster-General might—as the Home Secretary has done in giving one day's rest to the police—see his way to giving rest on Sunday to postmen in the country. Last year, when I mentioned this on the Postal Estimates, the President of the Board of Trade, who was then Postmaster-General, did reduce by half an hour the time during which post offices in the country are open on Sunday mornings. The hours used to be from eight o'clock to ten o'clock, and the right hon. 527 Gentleman altered that time from 8.30 to ten o'clock in the morning. I think postmasters in the country would rather get up earlier, and that the office should be closed at 9.30 in the morning, and I think if the right hon. Gentleman could reduce the time of opening by another half hour the reduced time would be found adequate for the sending of telegrams and the transactions of a little extra post office business on the Sunday mornings. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will give his consideration to the question of Sunday deliveries and also the case of the postmasters in the country as to Sunday opening. I desire also to bring under the notice of the right hon. Gentleman the question of sub-postmasters. Under the Hobhouse Committee's Report a new system of paying the sub-postmasters was adopted. I think there are something like 22,000 sub-postmasters in the country. The new system proposed to give them all an advantage, but while it gave an advantage to 19,000 sub-postmasters to the other 3,000 it was a disadvantage. I can give the right hon. Gentleman one or two cases. There is one case in the country where the sub-postmaster is in, receipt of £320 a year gross, out of which he is paying for the services of three assistants and £75 a year for rent, rates and taxes, besides devoting the whole of his time to the Post Office service. If he had remained under the old scale his remuneration would have continued to increase according to the growth of the business of his office, while under the new unit scale he gets no increase of pay until the work of his office has grown by more than 50 per cent. This means that as the work of the office increases the sub-postmaster has to provide more and more assistance, so that personally as his work grows he gets less and less for his own services. There is a case in London where the amount paid is £494, out of which the sub-postmaster has to pay the wages of six assistants. The office occupies highly rented premises in the West End of London, and before any increase can be obtained under the new scale the work of the office must have grown by 84 per cent. There are two or three thousand of these cases affected by the Hobhouse Committee's scheme. I think some method or system might be found Ly which the sub-postmaster's assistants could be dealt with.
§ Mr. WILES
They are full-time assistants. I can give the names of the offices. I think perhaps in the case of these sub-postmasters the system might be revised, or they might have the option of going back to the old scale. If they had the option of going back to the old scale it would be better for them than is the case under the recommendation of the Hobhouse Committee. Therefore I suggest to the Postmaster-General that these officers should be afforded an opportunity of having their case thoroughly reconsidered, because it seems rather hard that 19,000 men should get an advantage, while 3,000 who are in unusual circumstances should derive no advantage whatever from the Hobhouse Committee's scheme. Then I should like to say a word or two about the London telegraphists. It will be remembered that in 1881 and up to 1890 an advertisement was issued to London telegraphists informing them that they might enter the Post Office service with the hope of receiving a salary that would rise to a maximum of £190 a year. The advertisement set forth the general conditions of service, and it concluded with these words: "With the prospect of attaining to £190 a year." After 1890 this advertisement was withdrawn, so that no more men entered the telegraph service with that prospect put before them; but the men who entered the service in consequence of the advertisement which appeared from 1881 to 1890, are still there, but they have not attained to the maximum which was promised, and they rightly regard that as a breach of faith by the Department. The advertisement induced them to enter the service in the hope and belief that they would receive the maximum, but the highest amount which any of them has attained to is £169 10s. 10d. per annum. I believe that is the highest amount paid. This question has been brought up many times. My hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General, I believe, brought it forward; it was before the Tweedmouth Committee in 1895, and before the Norfolk-Hanbury Conference in 1897. The Committee appointed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire (Mr. Austen Chamberlain), who was Postmaster-General, also had the question before it, and it was brought up in the time of Lord Stanley, who was Postmaster-General. The claim was ignored, 529 and the Tweedmouth and Norfolk-Hanbury Committees expressed the view that £160 a year was sufficient remuneration for a telegraphist.
It seems to me that those men who entered the service under that advertisement should be considered. It may be said that they can rise to a higher class, but I think the Postmaster-General will find in connection with the telegraph department, that between 1880 and 1890, when that advertisement was in force, no man ever reached a higher class. There is a senior man in the department forty-five years of age who has been there nearly thirty years, and he is 120th on the promotion list. There have been, during last year, only five telegraphists raised to the higher standard in the Central Telegraph Office. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will tell us what the prospects really are of the London telegraphists, and if he will extend the advantages promised by the advertisement, to which I have referred, I am sure that the London telegraphists will look upon him as having solved a great problem.
I desire to draw his attention to another class, and that is the large number of un-established men in the stores department, the engineering department, and the factories. It has often been boasted that the Government should be model employers. May I say that they are not yet model employers as far as those departments are concerned. I think there are nearly 4,000 men in the engineering department, many of them there for years upon years, and yet they never can get on to the establishment. I suggest that a model employer would place those men on the establishment. They are regular workers, and are spending the best years of their lives in working in those departments. They should have the advantage, which practically every other department in the Post Office has, of being placed on the establishment. There is another class which I have spoken about previously in these Debates, and a class which I think has the strongest claim of any of the classes for revision, because somehow they have always been overlooked. I refer to the postal porters. They are a class of men employed only in London to the number of about 1,200, with the addition of a few who go with the mail vans to different parts of the country. This class of worker has not had his maximum raised since 1882, nearly thirty years ago, when he got an increase from 27s. to 30s. It is quite true that at the Hobhouse 530 Committee these men put their case, and very excellently, before the Committee, and they got their minimum raised. But the older men have but little to hope for. They have few chances of getting into a higher grade, and for thirty years, unlike any other department, they have not had their maximum touched. They are men who have to live near their work in zone I, where rent has increased and rates since 1882, while the requirements of living a decent. civilised life are far greater than then.
In addition, the duties they have to perform now are far heavier than they were before. Originally, they only transferred mails in bulk from one place to another— and a very dirty job I can assure my right hon. Friend, because the mailbags are still dirty, although carried by motor cars and trains. They have also more responsible and intelligent work, such as sorting and stamping, and from time to time they have a large amount of money and very valuable merchandise in their charge. They receive no Christmas boxes, and they get no share of the Christmas boxes which are given to other classes. Time after time these men have memorialised, in a respectful and proper way to the Postmaster-General. I trust that the Postmaster-General may see his way to give these men a better chance. Another matter I may mention is that the postmen in five of the London offices, under the Hobhouse Reports, were unfortunate enough, through the zone system, to get their maximum reduced. There are five or six of those offices in the South-Eastern part of London, where the maximum has gone down from 34s. to 32s., and from 32s. to 30s. I think it is time, perhaps, that the right hon. Gentleman should reconsider that zone system and have a fresh map made, and ascertain through the Board of Trade the cost of living in the different districts. I hope, if possible, he may be able to remedy the grievances of those men who happen to live or work in those unfortunate places. I ask his attention to the various matters I have mentioned and trust that he may during his term of office give the postmen one day's rest in seven by doing away with the Sunday delivery.
§ Mr. HENNIKER HEATON
During the last quarter of a century I have had a good many dealings with the British Post Office, and after the speech of my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General I say it is just as parochial as it was twenty-five 531 years ago. In the year 1898 a great conference was held in London to promote the establishment of Imperial penny postage. It sat for three weeks, and for twenty-one days the then Postmaster-General strongly opposed the proposal. To-day we have the great happiness of having in these Debates the then Postmaster-General of Canada who proposed Imperial penny postage. It is curious, after listening to the right hon. Gentleman stating that he could not afford penny postage to France, to remember what occurred in 1898. The then Postmaster-General, after saying they could not afford imperial penny postage, put up the Secretary to the Post Office to agree to two penny postage, but on the twenty-first day the Postmaster-General, to the horror of those who were opposed to the proposal, voted for Imperial penny postage, after getting all the delegates from the Post Office to speak against it in the strongest possible manner and endeavouring to influence delegates from the Colonies against it. In view of that instance where the Government ordered the Postmaster-General to vote for Imperial penny postage, I do not despair of our able and new Postmaster-General taking up a different line within a year. In my experience all the declarations of the Postmasters-General against great reforms have always ended in the Postmasters-General giving in. What are the facts to-day 1 A few months ago, led by the Member for Hythe (Sir Edward Sassoon), we waited on the Postmaster-General and asked him to establish penny postage in France. He said he was favourable but he had not the money. I gave him evidence that the French Government were in favour of it. The Postmaster-General visited France and the Postmaster-General of France with great courtesy told my right hon. Friend that he was against penny postage and, falling in with his views, said he could not afford it.
§ Mr. HENNIKER HEATON
It is what was described but I can tell him that the Members of the French Government are entirely in favour of penny postage. I informed the Postmaster-General that if he would allow me to go over to France I would bring him back the consent of that Government to penny postage in forty-eight hours. The right hon. Gentleman 532 said "No" to that, but that the replies would be very interesting. The Member for Hythe (Sir Edward Sassoon), a great financier, came forward to help us, and put forward a scheme for the supply of the money for carrying out penny postage to France. What answer has the right hon. Gentleman to give to that? Why did he not receive that offer? If the right hon. Gentleman really intends to establish a penny postage with France we can put a scheme before him which will cost him nothing. What occurred in the case of America? I desired to get penny postage to America. I was told through the officials that the American Government did not want it. I went over to America and got the consent of the Government there, but it was only by getting large, monetary securities and guarantees that the English Government agreed to penny postage to America. I have got the whole of the correspondence and letters on that matter, and they are extraordinarily interesting. I do implore the right hon. Gentleman to appoint a small committee of financial gentlemen, led by the hon. Member for Hythe, to provide the necessary capital to meet any cost, although it is expected that that would disappear in three years. The right hon. Gentleman says there are fifteen million letters going to France every year. But what is that in the three thousand million letters we deal with annually, or what is that compared with the increase during the last ten year of one hundred million letters annually. The fifteen million letters sent to France are but a drop in the ocean.
What is the state of matters to-day? A more ridiculous condition of affairs does not exist on the face of the earth. There is a distance of twenty-one miles between Dover and Calais, with 40,000,000 people desiring to correspond, but the postage is 2½d., and the Postmaster-General will not raise a finger in the endeavour to make the communication as cheap as it is to America. The French Government themselves have established an Imperial penny postage, as they send letters to the Society Islands, a distance of 12,000 miles, for a penny. We send letters to Australia, also 12,000 miles, for a penny. The two countries march side by side in this respect, and yet for a distance of twenty-one miles they decline to make this arrangement. Here is another ridiculous state of affairs, showing how parochial the Postmaster-General is. The day before yesterday a ship arrived at Southampton from America with 100,000 letters 533 for Berlin, and a few thousand letters were put on at Southampton also for Berlin, but the latter had to pay 2½d. New Zealand is a specially advanced Colony, which is very popular in this country. It is a small Colony, with a million people and a small revenue, and yet New Zealand has established universal penny postage with all the nations of the earth. To-day you pay a penny in New Zealand to send a letter to Italy. From here the postage is 2½d. It is a disgrace to us. From New Zealand to Servia the postage is a penny; from here it is 2½d. The arguments in favour of penny postage with France are overwhelming. If my right hon. Friend is not satisfied that the French Government will accede to his request and reciprocate, he can still arrange to send letters to France for a penny, as we do to Australia, although the return letters are charged twopence. If the Postmaster-General wishes to earn renown in his office by establishing penny postage with France, he can do it to-morrow. The Postmaster-General of Canada had a l½d. postage from Canada to the United States, while it was a penny from the United States to Canada. He came here and moved, in the face of the opposition of England, a resolution in favour of penny postage for the British Empire; it was consented to by the Cape of Good Hope, and carried. The Postmaster-General obeyed his officials. In that he did what most politicians ought to do. The officials of this country are the highest-minded and most honorable men I ever met, but they are slow and very difficult to move. Their progres sometimes is not so fast as the public desire. I ask my friends not to abandon hope. I have no doubt the hon. Member for Hythe will call us together to see the Postmaster-General and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in order to get over the money difficulty—which can be got over in a month, if only the right hon. Gentleman will give us power to arrange the matter. I have just spent three weeks in France, and I am assured that the French Government will be agreeable. If, instead of saying he is interested in what the French Government do the Postmaster-General will trust me to convey the message that he is favourable, and that he will agree if we can get over the opposition of the French Government I am assured that the matter can be arranged.
There are a few minor matters to which I wish to refer. We shall never be a great Empire until we can communicate by tele- 534 graph as cheaply with New Zealand as we can with Ireland. If the Postmaster-General desires to serve his country, he will look at the facts and figures which I can place before him, and set to work to reduce the cost of cable communication with every part of the British Empire. I can send a telegram to Australia (8,000 miles) at sixteen words for a shilling; but from here to India—not more than 4,000 miles—the charge is 2s. a word; that is, 32s., for what can be done, in the case of Australia, for a shilling. Land cables can be constructed at a fifth of the cost of submarine cables, and if the right hon. Gentleman would arrange with foreign Governments, he would be able to communicate with India at an enormous reduction on the present rate. Will the right hon. Gentleman appoint a Committee of business men to see what can be done to reduce telegraph rates to the Continent to Id. a word, and to reduce considerably the rate to India? The present rates are for the millionaire; we want the telegraph throughout the world to be for the million. I can live only for about seventy years, and it takes three months to write to Australia and receive a reply. That is too long a period for my time of life. If the rates were only fair I could telegraph to Australia and get a reply in three hours. By taking up the question of telegraphic as well as postal communication and dealing with the matter properly my right hon. Friend would redeem himself from the charge of being a parochial Postmaster-General, and become an Imperial Postmaster-General.
Reference has been made to the Sunday delivery of letters. A great many people want a Sunday delivery in London. I am not in favour of making the Sunday delivery general, but for special letters on matters of life and death or other matters of importance an express threepenny delivery in London, with a special stamp for such delivery, would enormously increase the revenue and be greatly appreciated by the public. It is not generally known that we have a Sunday delivery in London, although not as cheap as I suggest. A person in any part of England, by paying from 6d. to Is. 6d., according to the part of London to which the letter is addressed, can now ensure delivery on Sunday. I suggest, however, that a Sunday delivery at the rate of 3d. per letter would be very acceptable to the people. Another point is with reference to postcards. This is the only country in the world where postcards 535 are not sold at their face value. At Gibraltar the other day I bought a halfpenny postcard for a halfpenny. The Post Office sell the penny postcards for a penny; but why do they wring pence from the poor by charging three farthings for halfpenny postcards? Ours is the greatest Post Office in the world, but it is undoubtedly the meanest. If a trader brings a million postcards and asks, "Will you stamp them at a halfpenny each?" the reply is, "Oh, no; I must make a charge for stamping them." That is the regulation. If my right hon. Friend will consent to sell halfpenny postcards at their face value he will earn the gratitude of millions of poor people. Further, this is the only country in the world that has not a Government printing office. Why do not the Government have in connection with the General Post Office a great printing office to print their stamps and do work of that kind? In consequence of their not having such an office the Post Office pay much more for their postage stamps than any other country. An enormous sum of money would be saved by the establishment of a Government printing office. The first Committee On which I sat when I entered Parliament was one to inquire into certain printing contracts, and within a fortnight the contractors said they would take £40,000 a year off their contracts. That is the state of matters. Anyone can go and test the figures in the Library. They took £40,000 a year less for their printing of the stamps. Facts like that from an eminent firm ought to arouse the attention of the Postmaster-General to the necessity for establishing a Government printing office. Let me touch upon another matter which is a great annoyance. The first clause, I think, in the Postmaster-General's law is that "he shall not be responsible for any robbery or any loss by the public due to a blunder or mistake made by his subordinates." If Carter, Paterson and Company did that sort of thing the general public would drop them in a week. I have the case of a gentleman who, on 1st June, posted a letter in which was enclosed 5s. worth of postage stamps. These were found in the possession of the postman, who was arrested for stealing the letter. The reply of the Postmaster-General to the gentleman, who wanted his 5s. back, was that, although the Postmaster-General regretted to say that there was evidently little doubt that the missing postage 536 stamps were stolen by the postman in question, still, as the writer would be aware, in respect of the loss of any postal packets the Postmaster-General was protected by law against any liability. The Postmaster-General expressed himself sorry for the loss sustained by the writer, but concluded that he was precluded from giving any compensation. I do not know how to characterise a thing of that kind. The Postmaster-General had found that the postal stamps had been taken, but pleaded that under the law he was not responsible. There was another case of a letter-telegram sent to a ship at Rangoon, in connection with a ship's coaling transaction, and by a mistake £3,000 loss was sustained. The parties concerned sued one another. The Postmaster-General and his legal adviser were present in court, and explained that they had nothing whatever to do with the matter. "Certainly," said the Postmaster-General, "my office has blundered, but here is the law protecting me." Just imagine a thing of that sort! I think something ought to be done in a case like this, some protection given to the public, and the Post Office made responsible like common carriers for goods lost by postmen.
There is a little thing here. It is incredible that the Post Office should be so mean, but they issue a reply-telegram form which is only available for two months. You have to pay 6d. for it, or 2s. whichever the case may be. If you do not use that reply-telegram within the two months it is useless, the money is confiscated, and the person concerned has no redress. I have had hundreds sent to me. These reply-telegrams ought to be made available not for two months only, but for a year. For years we fought for postal orders. These are not cashed now after a certain time except by the payment of an extra additional rate. I think in five years a postal order exhausts itself. After a hard fight the Postmaster-General agreed to issue these postal orders. One other matter which interests some thousands of people, and that is the parcels rates that exist between this country and the Colonies. Here is another instance of the small parochial spirit. For years there was not a man at the Post Office who had seen any country but France. We never had a commercial man in the Post Office in those years; perhaps now there is one! Some time ago I asked the Postmaster-Generalwhether he was aware that parcels sent by parcel post from this country to Germany and Denmark cost, for carriage 2s., whilst similar parcels from Germany 537 and Denmark to this country cost only ls.5d., whether he was aware that from Switzerland, in the centre of. Europe, a parcel to Norway costs 1s. 5d., whilst a similar parcel from this country to Norway costs Is., or nearly 50 per cent. More; whether he was aware that a parcel from Switzerland to this country costs Is. 10d., and vice versa 2s. 6d.; whether the latest agreement with Japan provides for a cost of 4s., where Germany only pays 2s. 7d.: whether he was aware that German postal rates for parcels to seventeen European countries are only half of the average cost from this country?These are facts or they are not facts. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that they were facts, and then made the usual extremely dexterous answer which rendered the matter useless to meet. There is not a great merchant in the City but has written hundreds of letters and appealed in vain for a change.
These are only a few matters, but they are a few which irritate the people, and they justify what I have just said of this greatest and meanest Post Office in the world. It is only fair for me to add that we have made great efforts, and that we are the most honourable Post Office in the world. We have officials of high standing and great honour, and there is less dishonesty in our Post Office than in any other. Another matter I should like to refer to is that I should like to see the small books of stamps sold, as in Switzerland, at their face value. There is just one other little comfort that travellers might be given, and which I find in every other country except our own. If the Postmaster-General will grant what I ask he will confer a great favour upon the travelling public. That is to put letter-boxes on regular through trains. Under this arrangement there could be letter-carriers at the various stations who could empty the boxes when the trains arrive. At present, if one wants to send a parcel off quickly, one has to rush to a railway station, pay 2d. or 3d. extra, then it has to be sent on by the guard. Let me conclude by saying that I am very grateful to the House for their indulgence to me and for all their kindness to me for the last twenty-five years. This is the last speech that I will make within these walls.
§ Dr. ADDISON
I would like to associate myself with what the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Islington (Mr. Wiles) has said in recognising the most sympathetic manner in which the Postmaster-General has dealt with the matters which have come before him in his Department. I should like also to associate myself with one or two matters mentioned by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. The hon. Gentleman the Member for South 538 Islington referred to the postmen who in many districts have to go many miles to deliver a few letters on Sunday. I cannot but think that, seeing there are many of us who manage to dispense with our letters on the Sunday, the people in these country districts can do the same. I am sure it will be a very great boon to those who have to tramp many miles in the country districts on the Sundays; I believe myself that such delivery is quite unnecessary. In regard to the post cards it will be a very great convenience if they can be sold at their face value. However, the matters which I should like to bring to the attention of the Postmaster-General are two. Before I come to them I should like, on behalf of some of the postal employés at Mount Pleasant, to express thanks to the Postmaster-General for the very sympathetic attention which he gave some time ago to the representations which were made on their behalf, and which have resulted in the removal of some of their grievences. I feel sure that in the matters I now mention that they will receive the same sympathetic attention. My friend the hon. Member for South Islington referred to the condition of the postal porters in the London area. I would like also to add a word on their behalf. I have a large number of these men living in my Constituency, and perhaps it is for that reason that one is more particularly familiar with their state. In 1882 their wages were fixed at the maximum of 30s. per week. That is a long time since. The work of these men altered to a very considerable extent from that time until the sitting of the Hobhouse Committee. There are many respects in which I think they can fairly claim to be regarded as more skilled officers than they were looked upon when their wages were fixed at 30s. The point which I should like to impress upon the Postmaster-General is that he would allow these men to come before him as a deputation to state their case in regard to the maximum wage. It is alleged—and I myself, although I have read the Hob-house Report on the matter, am not able to express any definite opinion—that their case in regard to the change in duties as affecting the maximum wage was not as fully put before the Committee as they think it deserved to be. There are certain matters which concern the point which seem to some extent to warrant their statements. Before I refer to that I would like to point out that these men have to live in the central London area, and 30s. 539 per week is the most they can ever hope to receive. The lady telephonists, for instance, have as a maximum, and they are unmarried, 28s. per week. These men are mostly the fathers of families with considerable responsibilities resting upon them, and I think they have certainly a very great claim. When their maximum was fixed at 30s. per week they were not, for instance, allowed to handle loose correspondence—they only dealt with closed newspaper vans, and so on. Their cleaning work is now taken by unestablished men who receive 24s. a week, and the fact that these cleaning duties are taken away indicates that more responsible work is now being done by those men. I press upon the Postmaster-General the desirability of receiving these men in deputation, and of letting them state their own case. On 19th December, 1907, a deputation from these men was received by the late Postmaster-General, but, unfortunately, there was some misapprehension as to the preliminary correspondence, because he did not find himself able to discuss with the deputation matters of the alteration of the maximum wage. I should be very glad if the Postmaster-General would consent to receive a deputation of the men upon this specific question. With regard to the cost of living, I see by a report on wholesale and retail prices that in 1882 prices were higher than for many years after, but if you look at the index of prices for the last ten years, as given by Mr. Salvey, you will see that in 1897 the index of prices as compared with the standard of 100 was of 80.5, and in 1907 it was 103.9. That is to say, the cost of the living of these men has materially increased; it has increased by over 20 per cent. during the last twelve years; and we know, of course, that as these figures only reached to the year 1907 there has been a very considerable increase in the cost of food since then— larger than even during the last twelve years. I have a statement from the family of a man employed as a postal porter, in which he gives, so far as it could be ascertained by the help of his wife, the increase in prices in certain commodities during the last four or five years. I need not read them to the House, but we all know that bread and beef and bacon and sugar, unfortunately, and many other articles, have increased in price.
Moreover, these men have to live in a somewhat limited area, and we are told that the more satisfactory dwellings, with 540 certain exceptions, are beyond this area, and in this limited area they have very often to put up with very unsatisfactory dwellings. We hope to see a great improvement in that respect, but nevertheless the rents of these dwellings within the limited area have certainly increased at least Is. a week. I think, therefore, that the increase in the cost of living and the increased duties which these men have to perform fully warrant an alteration in their case. They are engaged in distinctly responsible duties, yet they have nothing more to look for than 30s. a week. I think their case wants reviewing, and I earnestly ask the Postmaster-General to receive a deputation of the men upon these specific points, and if he can raise their maximum salary it will be all the better.
There is one other matter, appertaining to drivers and mailmen employed by contractors, to which I should like to refer. I really think, from a very intimate knowledge of these men, that there is no class of labourers in London that works under more disadvantageous conditions than carmen. They have to leave their homes very early, and they do not get back again until late at night. And, indeed, that is why some of us would like an extension of the polling hours on polling days. I know in my own division there are some 600 carmen, and more than 400 of them could nor, possibly get home in time to vote, and that is a very serious fact, and shows that they have long hours of labour. There are many casual men taken on at certain times in the day by the mail-van contractors, and these men have to go and wait about to look after jobs, and when they get a job I am sorry to say that certain contractors employ them at only 4d. an hour. That is a wage with which the Postmaster-General, I am quite sure, if he looks into the matter, will be very much dissatisfied, and although it does not come directly within the supervision of the Postmaster-General, nevertheless it deserves close investigation.
As a matter of fact I had investigated this morning the actual condition of one of the men employed in these circumstances. I will give one specific case, which is often more illuminating than a very large number of figures. The particular man whose case I take—I do not give his name and address to the House, but I will give them to the Postmaster-General if he wishes— was employed for twenty-seven years by a large firm of contractors, but as the staff was being reduced he was dispensed with, I suppose because of his age. He then 541 became an odd man with a firm of contractors for mail drivers to the Post Office, and he receives when he gets a job 4d. per hour. The other day he got the sack, unfortunately, because of some accident to a horse. This man has a wife and seven children, of whom one boy earns 10s. a week on a van. He is evidently entering upon the same miserable work as his father. This man has six children, therefore, under fourteen, and the mother is in bed with a baby aged five days. This particular case was investigated this morning because one of the children required a pair of spectacles. Here is an interesting revelation of family history arising in connection with the examination of school children. This particular child had been ordered spectacles three years ago at a cost of 2s. 9d., but the 2s. 9d. proved a deterrent, and in consequence of not being able to afford the 2s. 9d. the child had to go without spectacles for three years. This is a family depending upon Government employment of a casual kind. All they have apart from what the man can earn is the wage of this boy who gets 10s. a week. I feel very strongly that a thorough consideration by a competent Committee of this whole question would certainly devise a more satisfactory arrangement than that. I hop 3, seeing the great competency of the Post Office in many departments, that the time is not far distant when they will employ their own drivers, and not give the work to outside contractors. I am satisfied, seeing the sympathetic attention which the Postmaster-General has given to other cases, he will give the same to this. I commend, therefore, to the right hon. Gentleman's notice these two cases—the men working for contractors and the case of the porters, and I ask him to receive a deputation from the latter, and if he does so, I am sure he will give their case sympathetic consideration.
§ Sir EDWARD SASSOON
I cordially agree with what has been said by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, as regards the somewhat unsatisfactory condition of the mail drivers and carmen. I know, in my own Constituency, several complaints have been made which it has been my duty to bring to the attention of the Post Office from time to time. But I must confess that those complaints have been very favourably considered, and most of the grievances under which those people suffered have now, I understand, been very largely mitigated if not altogether removed. I venture to join in the expressions that have fallen from speakers 542 on both sides of the House as to the lucid clearness and businesslike precision of the statement made to the Committee by the Postmaster-General, and therefore, although I have been delinquent enough to put down a Motion for the reduction of his salary by £100, I can assure him I am not animated with feelings of the slightest hostility towards him, nor do I fail to appreciate the very good and effective work which his Department has done since he has succeeded to it. I also appreciate the fact that he has succeeded to a position the labours and the duties of which are of great magnitude and complexity, and are increasing every day, and I am the last person in the world to be at all captious or fault-finding with the right hon. Gentleman. I should like, in passing, to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has looked into the matter of the despatch of mails from here to France by the circuitous route of Dover and Calais, instead of the natural and proper and shortest route of Folkestone to Boulogne? No doubt the hon. Gentleman the Assistant Postmaster-General (Captain Norton) will be able to throw some light upon this rather important matter.
I was interested to observe the curious way in which the estimates of possible loss consequent upon the reduction of postal rates increase when made by officials of the Post Office. I remember last year, when I had the honour of introducing a deputation to the Prime Minister upon this subject, he assured us that the possible initial loss would at the outset be £82,000, then it was increased from £82,000 to £85,000, and this afternoon the right hon. Gentleman told us that the total loss would be £95,000, so these losses grow like mushrooms. I do not understand on what basis these estimates are made.
There is another rather important point, and that is in regard to the recommendation made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcester (Mr. Austen Chamberlain) last year. He advocated the establishment of a Departmental board to which would be remitted all grievances and all the different matters that require remedy on the part of the staff of the Post Office. I think that is a most excellent suggestion, because it would remove all those invidious complaints that are made to Members of this House, and which they themselves are unable to remedy, and it would considerably lighten the work of the responsible Ministers of this House.
543 6.0 P.M.
I would like to know whether any effect has been given to the recommendations of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Worcestershire with regard to the appointment of a Departmental Board. As to the reduction of the postal rate to France, the Postmaster-General used the usual stereotyped objection to the granting of that reform. He said there would be financial difficulties of an insuperable character, and he also told us that if we gave that concession to France it would be impossible to withhold it from Germany, Belgium, and Holland. We have not yet heard that those other countries have moved in the matter at all, and when they do ask for it that will be the time to consider it. Germany, Belgium, and Holland are able to confront a possible loss on postal reductions, and surely this country is sufficiently imbued with the advantages of an extension of postal facilities to afford some loss for a small number of years. The French Post Office through their Government, have unofficially given us to understand that they will be ready to consider the question of this reduction in a friendly spirit, and they are willing to confer with us as to the ways and means of bringing about this reform. The hon. Member for Canterbury has shown that he is possessed of a superabundance of knowledge on these questions which enables him to jog successive Postmaster-Generals, and he has assisted to bring to fruition some of the most beneficent schemes of postal reform. The hon. Member struck a pathetic note at the end of his speech when he told us that this would be the last time he would be able to address the House upon postal matters. I regret it very much, and I am sure that regret will be shared by a great many other hon. Members. I have seen the Minister of Commerce and the Minister of Posts and Telegraphs in France unofficially, and they assured me that the Government would be perfectly willing to grant any possible loss on a postal reduction if they knew the British Post Office would be ready to meet them half-way in the matter.
§ Sir E. SASSOON
Three years ago. I know that since then the Budget has attained enormous proportions, and naturally the French Government are going in for economy. Therefore I am not surprised at what the Postmaster-General has 544 told us. I know that in France two Bills-embodying a reduction in the postal rates were tabled in the Chamber of Deputies by an ex-Minister of Commerce and by a very prominent French deputy. These Bills had the countenance and support of the Government of the day, but owing to the cold-water douche thrown upon it by the present President of the Board of Trade both those Bills were withdrawn. It is not encouraging for France to proceed with postal reforms when this country shows no inclination to meet them halfway. It is all very well for the Postmaster-General to raise the objection of there being a financial difficulty, but what are the facts? The Post Office in this country shows a clear revenue to the Treasury of something like £4,000,000 sterling every year. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman, with such a resourceful colleague as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, would have been able to extract from the Treasury the necessary sinews of war. There should be no difficulty about this matter in the case of a huge mechanism like the Post Office. It seems to be now a question of wringing more money out of the taxpayers of this country and those who have to resort to the Post Office for the transaction of their business. As to the increase in the emoluments for the service contained in the Estimates, no doubt the worth of the Post Office people is increasing every day, and they are worthy of the increased financial support which the right hon. Gentleman is giving them. But where does the public come in? It has always been an axiom well recognised that where the staff and the service received financial recognition, the general run of the public should also be allowed to participate in the benefits of increased business and the increased revenue produced. I would like the Postmaster-General to remember that this reduction of the French postal rate is not demanded only by a very small knot of people on this side of the House, and if he would look over the list of Members of the last Parliament who have expressed a very decided amount of sympathy with this reform he would be convinced of the extent and scope of the sources from which that sympathy was derived. All I would impress upon the Post Office and the Government is that the inherent obviousness of this claim has gained by recent occurrences which have brought us into friendly intercourse with the French people, and this fact makes the concession 545 of this postal reduction overwhelmingly opportune and necessary. The 80,000,000 of people who inhabit the two countries concerned must regret that a little strip of water a few odd miles wide should be allowed to operate as a bar and hindrance dividing these two peoples, and impeding and handicapping their commercial intercourse. Yet nothing has been done, and nothing appears likely to be done in order to put a stop to this scandalous state of things. In connection with a recent deputation I suggested to the Postmaster-General some means of overcoming the financial difficulties in regard to this reduction. I told the right hon. Gentleman that he might resort to annuities spread over twenty-five years in order not to place any undue burden upon the people who will get the benefit, but also other people, the idea being that the burden should be spread over a certain number of years so that it should not fall upon a short period of two or three years. I think that would be a very practical solution and one which does not offend the canon of any financial law. I know the right hon. Gentleman scouted my proposal at the time, but he seems to forget that this reform would be a very productive affair. Does he not believe that if the postal rate between England and France was reduced that the rate of expansion and productivity in regard to our transactions with France would be so enormous as to enable him to recoup in a very few years any possible loss which might occur? I think it would be found that the loss to the Post Office at first would be infinitesimal. This little burden is vexatious, and a most irksome charge upon those who transact business with the French people. I have had some experience in connection with obtaining reforms of this sort in regard to cables. I know at the time that the companies interested in cables said a reduction of their rates was quite impossible, and hon. Members know what happened. With regard to Imperial penny postage, Sir William Harcourt estimated the loss at £1,000,000 sterling.
§ Sir E. SASSOON
At any rate it was nearer £600,000 than £150,000. The right hon. Gentleman told us to-day that it was £150,000. Consider for a moment the reduction of rates in the United States. It is working all right there, and business is extending by leaps and bounds. I think the Postmaster-General ought to take 546 courage at that result. We do not want any piecemeal reform, and we do not want a reduction of twopence. We know if you reduce the rate by one halfpenny now the whole question would be shelved and burked for a whole generation. I entreat the right hon. Gentleman to leave aside those sinister forebodings, and that sterilising influence which comes over a Minister in the atmosphere of a bureaucrat. I do not believe any difficulty will be found in inducing the Treasury to grant the necessary funds based upon annuities extending over twenty-five years, and in that case the whole trick would be done. The right hon. Gentleman must remember that there is a vast mass of ignorance among the proletariat of both countries, and it is mainly and principally owing tc the fact that the rates of postal communication are so exorbitant to poor people that there is not that amount of communication passing between the two countries there should be. If the Postmaster-General would take this matter in hand and could bring it to a successful issue, he would do an enormous amount of good in producing an era of lasting peace between these two great and enlightened nations.
§ Mr. BENTHAM
I associate myself with the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Henniker Heaton) in saying that we have the greatest postal system in the world, and I believe there have been a large number of wrongs put right in the postal service; but I believe also that there are more grievances which, if brought to the notice of the Postmaster-General, will eventually be put right. It is with that idea that I wish to draw his attention to one or two matters. Some of my Constituents who are in the Postal Service have had the misfortune to have had their maximum rate of pay— never very enormous—reduced. Before 1st January, 1908, the maximum rate for postmen in the Gainsborough Division was 24s. per week. It is now 23s. per week for the same class of work. I know those who are getting 24s. will continue to do so, but all those to come after will only receive 23s. Nobody likes his salary, or the prospects of his salary, reduced. I do not suppose the right hon. Gentleman has ever had his reduced, and I have never had mine reduced; but I am given to understand that it is an exceedingly unpleasant proceeding. These men are picked men. They are bound to be honest and straightforward, and we have to rely on them to a great extent. When they come in at eighteen years of 547 age they get 16s. I do not think there is very much to find fault with there, but when they attain their majority they only get 21s., and they have to look forward to a maximum rate of 23s. per week. Living is dearer than five years ago, and it is rather hard on those who are coming along that they should have their prospective maximum salary made only 23s. per week, whereas previously it was 24s. per week. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will notice these cases—there are many more of them throughout the country—and restore the maximum rate to what it was originally. That would remove a very large amount of discontent, but even then the salary would be extremely moderate.
The right hon. Gentleman said he had a small Departmental or Medical Commission with regard to the diseases which might occur among telephone workers. Will he be able to circulate that report, or place it on the Table of the House, so that the House may have an opportunity of seeing it? I feel it would be most interesting. Some time in 1911 we propose, I understand, to take over the National Telephone Service. I should be glad if the right hon. Gentleman would say something about that. It is generally understood we are going to take over this service, but whether we are really going to take it over I very much doubt. It is a matter of very great national importance, and I shall be glad if the right hon. Gentleman will say what he intends to do. I am associated with one of the municipalities which have taken their courage in both hands, and have most successfully instituted a telephone undertaking. The City of Hull, at the direct instigation of the postal authorities, under the Postmaster-Generalship of one who everybody in this House will remember, and will say was one of the greatest Postmasters-General we ever had, Mr. Hanbury, instituted a telephone system to the great benefit of themselves and everybody concerned, saving the city £16,000 a year. It is the best telephone service I have ever had anything to do with, not excepting that of London. We want to be left alone, and we will continue to pay the Postmaster-General a royalty of £2,000, which he never earns, and to which, from one standpoint, he has no right—we are quite willing to pay that hush money if we are only left alone, so that we can continue the beneficent work we have been doing in that city for some years.
§ Mr. NEWMAN
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £50 in respect of the salary of the Postmaster-General.
I do not move to reduce the salary of the Postmaster-General by £50 in any spirit of malice. I have to do it in order to call attention to one or two facts. I hope the right hon. Gentleman appreciates that. I wish to draw attention to certain facts in connection with the placing of contracts for stores for the postal telegraph and telephone services. The Post Office, like the two big sister Services, the Army and Navy, has factories under its direct control. At Mount Pleasant and Holloway there are factories for producing the stores for use in the postal service, and it is the endeavour of the Postmaster-General, as it is of the heads of the other great Departments, to retain sufficient work at those factories to keep the staff permanently employed. It is, I know, also their endeavour to make those factories model employers of labour. That is not always very easy.
There have recently been deputations, speeches on both sides of the House, and also demonstrations, tending to show that the employés at the Army factories at Enfield and Woolwich do not regard themselves as being treated as they ought to be treated by the State as a model employer of labour. I do not pretend to have the same knowledge of the conditions of employment at Mount Pleasant and Holloway as I have of the conditions at Enfield, but the information I have leads me to believe that the Postmaster-General is a model employer of labour, and that the conditions there are model conditions except in one great and vital particular. Lately the right hon. Gentleman have not been able to retain a sufficient amount of work for the staff employed there, with the inevitable consequence that numbers of men have had to be dismissed. He told us in his opening speech that he is as careful as he can be to send away men who have not been employed there very long; but I have reason to know that a few days ago a man who has served a little over twenty years was dismissed from Mount Pleasant. The right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Buxton), in 1906, claimed that he had done something more than to make Mount Pleasant a model factory He claimed that as the conditions of labour at Mount Pleasant were model conditions, so the conditions of labour at the factories and workshops against which Mount Pleasant and Holloway were to be asked 549 to compete should also be model conditions, and that before any firm was allowed to obtain a contract the Government should endeavour to secure, as far as possible, that that firm employed labour under the best possible conditions.
The right hon. Gentleman said that, of course, was a somewhat difficult and onerous task, and in one or two instances he had had to call the attention of firms to which he had given contracts to certain points regarding their treatment of their hands. In one case, at any rate, he directed that a certain firm should be struck off the list of those to be employed by the Post Office altogether. He said that to aid the Post Office in this task he had appointed an inspector, with a roving commission, to go about inquiring into the conditions of labour of the firms doing Post Office work, and to see that the firms who had Post Office contracts employed labour under fair conditions. I have reason to believe that that inspector has done his duty to the best of his ability, and the present Postmaster-General, I believe, has extended this system, and has now almost a sub-branch of the stores department. It is the duty of these men to go about and put those firms who are endeavouring to get on the list of Post Office contractors through their paces, and to see that they employ men under fair conditions of labour. They are asked to do that, but they have to do something more, because the contract notes provide that the work shall be executed at a specified place. Take, for example, a great firm in my Division of Ponder's End. Supposing the Ediswan Company got a contract under the Post Office, they would have placed in their contract note words to the effect that the work is to be executed at Ponder's End, Middlesex, by the Ediswan Company. It is easy to see, if you have in this body of inspectors men of probity and resource, you may have full confidence that the proper conditions are carried out, and while I am convinced that the men who have been appointed are men of probity I do think we want something more. My suggestion is that they should have practical experience. They ought to have practical experience of factory life. They ought to have some knowledge of the process of manufacture, otherwise they cannot efficiently perform their duties. I regret to say that these inspectors do lack this experience. They are, I am informed, splendid clerks, but they are not practical men, and therefore they 550 are open to be hoodwinked in many important particulars. They may go down and inspect a factory. They will be received by the manager and they will be given a cup of tea, but they will not be in the position to ask the vital questions which a practical man would ask if he were sent down by the inspector of factories. Let me take another case, that of works specified to be done at a certain factory. I fear that contracts are gained by certain firms who, as a matter of fact, do not execute the work in this country. They are firms with branches abroad. They get the contracts in England, but, as a matter of fact, the work is done abroad, and it is perfectly obvious that that may be so unless the inspector is in a position to test it. Take again the Ediswan Company. Supposing they contract to manufacture so many hundreds of electric lamps. They have worked abroad, and it is very easy to understand that the work may be done abroad by sweated labour, but that something may be done to it in this country in order to get it passed by the inspectors as having been done here and unless these men are absolutely experts they cannot tell whether the work has been executed abroad or not. Therein it is possible to see the injustice which is done to firms in this country. I am convinced that the Postmaster-General will agree with me on this point. Last night the hon. Member for King's Lynn, who was supporting the Front Bench on the question of the Super-tax, spoke of the lunatic finance of Tariff Reformers. As a humble dweller on the back benches, may I, as a Tariff Reformer, appeal to the Postmaster-General to give an intelligent form to contracts, so that English labour may have fair play, and work which is specified to be done in England shall be carried out in this country. I am convinced that the right hon. Gentleman will be only too glad to carry out this, and to have really practical men appointed to overlook this work. As a matter of fact, I understand that during the last few weeks a really practical man has been appointed to this particular branch to help the inspectors in their duty, and I simply ask that practical men shall be the rule and not the exception.
§ Mr. BOWERMAN
I desire to raise four points. The first is with regard to postmen being called upon to do duties hitherto well recognised as the duties of sorters. That, I understand, is carried; 551 on to a somewhat large extent, the result being that while everybody wants to see these men advance, they are being paid at a lower rate than the recognised payment of sorters. The result is a strong feeling of unrest among the men, and 1 would submit to the Postmaster-General that he should give consideration to this point, and if anything can be done to allay that unrest and put the matter on a better basis than at present, it will afford great satisfaction to the men concerned. My second point is with regard to the night duty of sorters. It appears they come on at midnight on special conditions as to payment, and at six o'clock in the morning they revert to the ordinary terms of wage. I want to submit to this Committee that if a man works from midnight until six o'clock in the morning, there is no reason why at a later hour his labours should be valued at a lower rate. Why after six o'clock should they be put on the lower scale? Their work cannot be less valuable. The men feel that they have not been treated quite as they ought to be in this respect, and I respectfully submit the point to the attention of the Postmaster-General. The third point I will put in the form of a conundrum. It is, When does temporary employment cease to be temporary employment? The unestablished system means casual labour. In many cases men are employed two years and upwards and still continue to be treated as temporarily and casually employed. I submit that there ought to be a termination of the period of temporary and casual employment, and that some line should be drawn at which a man should become a permanent hand and be placed on the establishment.
I will not go into the figures with which I have been supplied, but I would deal with one department only—the engineers and stores. In the engineering department 86 per cent. of the men are unestablished. In the stores department, 72 per cent. of the men are unestablished, or, in other words, are temporarily employed. In the factories department 93½ per cent. of the men are on the unestablished list. The result is that they are deprived of certain advantages which the established men get. Many of these men have been employed from ten to twenty years. In the engineering department eighty-eight men have been in the service more than twenty years. In the stores department seventeen men have served beyond that 552 period, and in the factories department fifty-eight men have put in more than twenty years service. Thus 163 men are temporarily employed who have put in upwards of twenty years service. Is it a matter of surprise that these men should feel they have not been quite fairly treated? I hope the right hon. Gentleman will look into this matter and give it his favourable consideration. I had the advantage of introducing a deputation to the right hon. Gentleman a few months ago, and he treated it very sympathetically. As a rule, Ministers are sympathetic, but their sympathy does not always take a practical form. In this case, however, the right hon. Gentleman did extend to the deputation practical sympathy, and I therefore express my hope that at the earliest possible moment he will deal with the points which were placed before him, and that he will meet the views which were expressed.
EARL of RONALDSHAY
The Postmaster-General took some credit to himself for relieving hon. Members of this House of a very considerable amount of correspondence with their constituents with regard to postal questions. He was, to a certain extent, justified in doing so, but I do not think, at the same time, he has entirely got rid of the difficulty. My experience, in the course of the last General Election, was that Post Office servants in the neighbourhood of my Constituency suffer under an inordinate amount of grievances, and grievances which equally appear to affect Civil servants throughout the country. I have four points which I should like to bring under the attention of the right hon. Gentleman. In the first place, I want to say a word on behalf of postal porters. The hon. Member for South Islington has already had something to say in regard to them. The grievance is that for thirty years past they have had no revision of their salaries; their duties have increased, but their wages have not gone up. For some reason or other they seem to have escaped the attention of the various Committees which have, from time to time, sat upon Post Office questions. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to give his very best consideration to this class.
My second point is in regard to telegraphists. Their case also was mentioned by the hon. Member for South Islington, and I want to say a word on behalf of those who joined the service in answer to a circular sent out by the Civil Service Commissioners between 1881 and 1890, which contained the promise that they should have 553 the prospect of reaching to a maximum of £190 a year. That advertisement seems to me to approach very much to a practical illustration of hope deferred making the heart sick, because, although that prospect was held out to them some years ago, I believe that no member of that particular grade has ever succeeded in obtaining that particular maximum yet, and it is somewhat hard that now, under newer regulations, I believe, all possibility of their ever obtaining the maximum of £190 is put an end to. I think that is a very substantial grievance. The third point I want to raise is with regard to the telegraphists in the Central Office and in the London district. Telegraphists in the Central Office have attained to a maximum of 65s. per week, whereas telegraphists in the London district can only attain to a maximum of 62s. We, therefore, have this curious anomaly, that the man who is performing in the Central Office in one part of the City precisely the same duties as a man in another part of the City can attain a maximum of 3s. per week more. In connection with that point I should like to say that the women in that case receive equal treatment both in the Central Office and in the London district, and that appears to be a source of particularly irritating annoyance to the men, and also, if I may say so, seems to be a refutation of the argument of most people who are in favour of women's suffrage, that women are unable to get justice or equality with man without having the vote. In this case they seem to have succeeded a great deal better than the man in securing equal treatment.
The last point to which I wish to call attention is the case of the employés in the cable room. I understand that in 1905 a special allowance of 2s. 6d. was made by the late Postmaster-General to the employés in the cable room on the ground that they had to have a special knowledge of foreign languages. Subsequent to that a special allowance was recommended in the Report of the Hobhouse Committee I think to all telegraphists over the age of twenty-five upon the attainment of certain qualifications. Surely it was intended in the case of the men employed in the cable room that that special allowance on grounds of technical efficiency should be, in addition to the special allowance of 2s. 6d. granted for proficiency in languages. In practice it has not been taken in that sense, and the result is that a man employed in the cable room who was entitled to the extra sum of 2s. 6d. for his 554 proficiency in languages, and is also entitled to the extra sum of 3s. for certain technical qualifications, does not, as a matter of fact, get the extra total of 5s. 6d., but he only gets an extra total of 3s. That is to say, in his case his proficiency in these technical qualifications only brings him in an addition of 6d., whereas in the case of other individuals who are not employed in the cable room, and who have not his proficiency in languages, they receive the full 3s. That appears to me to constitute a grievance on the part of these gentlemen. That is all I require to draw attention to this afternoon; but, in conclusion, I have a suggestion to make to the Postmaster-General which has been made on many occasions before, and that is that it really might be an immense advantage, both to the employés of the postal service and to the public at large, if it was found possible to set up a board of conciliation similar to those boards which have already been set up by the Board of Trade for adjusting differences between capital and labour. If it was possible to set up a board of that kind, in which the employés in the service would be represented as well as the employers, with, if necessary, an appeal to an impartial arbitrator, that, I think, would surely give satisfaction both to the employés themselves and to the public at large. The question of deciding these grievances, which are felt on the part of the employés of the State, is, and must be, one of very great difficulty and delicacy; and it would, I think, be of advantage to public life, as a whole, if some such proposal as I have ventured, however briefly, to outline could be taken into serious consideration by the Government of the day.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I listened, for my own part, with deep satisfaction to the remarks which fell from the Postmaster-General, especially with regard to the conditions prevailing for the youthful servants of the Post Office. The right hon. Gentleman's office, as Under-Secretary of State, was rendered notable by the work he did in solving certain urgent and pressing problems relating to the young, and in taking up the conditions under which the boys are employed at the Post Office he is carrying on the traditions which we associate with him. I think the Postmaster-General carried the House with him when he spoke of the importance of creating such conditions of labour among the young as would lead to the solution of many of our social problems. I will go further and I will say, and I think 555 in doing so I should be interpreting the spirit of the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman, that it is the urgen duty of the State to create such conditions of employment as would be an example to the private employer. We can hardly expect the private employer—we can scarcely compel him to lift up to a high standard of action in this matter unless the State similarly attains a high standard of action. With regard to the Post Office, it is notorious that the conditions of labour are most unsatisfactory so far as these relate to the boy messengers, and I am sure we all rejoice that the Postmaster-General has appointed this Committee of Inquiry with a view to bringing to an end this unsatisfactory state of affairs. But I do wish to ask the Committee to consider why it is that this unsatisfactory condition prevails, and I would remind the Committee that it is a modern problem. I think I am right in saying that up to the year 1897 the Post Office did absorb practically the whole of the boys it employed as messengers, and it was in that year that the Cabinet of the day—not the Postmaster-General of the day—decided that half the places which were available for porters and for postmen should be reserved for ex-soldiers and ex-Sailors.
I should be very sorry to be misunderstood in this connection. I do not for a moment deny that it is the duty of the State to provide for its ex-soldiers and its ex-sailors. It is the duty of the State so to do, but what I do think is a subject for legitimate discussion is whether this particular manner of providing for ex-soldiers and ex-sailors is the best and proper method. I would remind the Committee that this provision is made at the expense of a great number of boys, and it is therefore an uneconomic and wasteful system. It has been called attention to in the Report of the Royal Commission upon the Poor Laws,, and I should like to remind the Committee that one of the appendices of that Report contains a statement on this matter which was made by the then Postmaster-General, now President of the Board of Trade. The then Postmaster-General spoke without enthusiasm of the system under which these places had been reserved for ex-soldiers and ex-sailors. Though he was not at that moment prepared to disturb it, he placed upon record that he had no responsibility and that his predecessor had no responsibility for it, but that this 556 system had caused the problem since the year 1897 What I would beg the Postmaster-General to-day to do is to consider whether it would not be helpful to reopen this question with the Government in order to consider whether there is any better and any alternative way of making provision for ex-soldiers and ex-sailors in place of that which is done at the expense of so much of our best national material. It appears to me that one justification for urging this reconsideration of the question is to be found in the establishment of a national system of Labour Exchanges. Surely ex-soldiers and ex-sailors who have received their training in the Army and in the Navy, and who are suitable for the responsible duties of postmen, are also entirely suitable for other forms of labour in the industrial world, and it seems to me possible that, through the good agency of the Labour Exchanges, the Government might find it possible to make adequate provision for the ex-soldiers and ex-sailors. I do press that at least the matter should be considered, and that we should not regard ourselves as tied to an arrangement made by a past Government. Otherwise it appears to me that it will be a long time before the Committee which has been appointed will find any way in which the Post Office can completely absorb as men the boy messengers. I should like, in conclusion, to make two suggestions which, I think, if carried out, would help forward the solution of "his problem. The Postmaster-General told us that the messengers were encouraged to avail themselves of continuation schools to follow up their training. I would suggest that the time has come when that attendance at continuation schools should be made compulsory on the part of these boy messengers.
At some of the large centres there is undoubtedly a large amount of discipline exerted over these boys, and the training, in a measure, is good, but at post offices in the smaller towns and in the suburbs of our big cities there are two or three boys engaged, and during many hours of the day the work is slack, there are few messages to be taken, and the result is that the boys spend a considerable part of the day under little or no discipline, killing time as best they can in a small waiting roam, This is bad for boys, especially when a year or two later they are to be discharged and find employment in the first occupation that comes to hand. I think, compulsory attendance at continuation schools 557 would undoubtedly, apart from giving them further and better education, be valuable training from the standpoint of discipline alone. It would correct these features which are inseparable from their life as messengers. The further suggestion that I desire to make is that while the Postmaster is awaiting the suggestions of the Committee that he has appointed he should try to ensure that the boys who are now annually discharged should be enabled to find work before they are discharged, possibly through the agency of the Labour Exchanges. It appears to me that with this new machinery in hand it might be possible to arrange for possibly the whole of the boys who are going to be discharged to be put in the way, before they are discharged, of finding other employment. I beg the Postmaster-General to recognise that I make these suggestions not, I hope, in a critical spirit, but only in the desire of helping forward the realisation of that system to which I am quite sure he is resolved ultimately to attain.
§ Mr. A. STRAUSS
I desire to call the attention of the Postmaster-General to a matter with which he is familiar, and which has caused intense discontent among the London sorters—I mean the inequality of the maximum rate of pay as between the sorting and telegraph departments. There was a report under the Hob-house Committee which recommended that the maximum rate of pay for the telegraph department should be raised to 65s. per week, while the rate of pay for the sorters remains at 62s. Even the Hobhouse Commission was not infallible, and the reasons which they gave for placing sorters at a disadvantage really show that they have not sufficiently considered the subject m all its bearings. This is the recommendation of that Committee:—Taking into consideration the fact that the conditions of service in the Central Telegraph Office are becoming less favourable owing to the altered nature of the work of the office, and the fact that annual leave cannot be granted to telegraphists on such favourable conditions as to sorters, your Committee recommends that the scale of pay of male telegraphists should rise by increments of 2s. 4d. to a maximum of 60s.The sorters' maximum, however, remains at 62s. per week. You may therefore say that the Commission gave as their reasons the conditions of service and more particularly the conditions of annual leave. As to the conditions of service, they are rather less favourable than those of the telegraphists. By conditions of service they could only have meant either less chances of promotion or less favourable hours of attendance, for the examination 558 of telegraphists and sorters are identical and they are both drawn from the same class. The chances of promotion are actually less favourable to the sorters than they are for the telegraphists, for in the Central Telegraph Office there is one supervisor to five men, while on the opposite side the proportion is one supervisor to ten men, so that the chances of promotion are certainly about double in the telegraph department what they are in the postal department. As for the hours of attendance, in the Central Telegraph Office there is hardly any night work and no early morning attendance at all. It commences at seven in the morning, while the sorters have to commence their attendance at four o'clock in the morning and a good many work throughout the night. Therefore there only remains that special ground given by the Committee, the case of annual leave. That, of course, may be slightly different as regards the junior side, but as regards the senior men, those who receive a maximum of 65s. a week, they choose their own time. They are not restricted to the winter, but they may choose any period of the year. It is quite evident that the Commission overlooked that fact when they recommended that the telegraphists should rise to 60s. per week and did not extend the same benefit to the sorters. All these facts are well known to the Postmaster-General, who is equally well aware that there is discontent on that point among the London sorters. I myself acknowledge freely that the Postmaster-General is animated by every desire to do justice to the great staff over which he presides, but my complaint is that he is rather fettered too much to these maximum recommendations of the Hobhouse Committee, and I should like him to follow his predecessor, whose weakness in that respect was soon overcome, as is proved in several instances. There are in London 6,097 sorters, but the number of those who receive the maximum is only 1,147—a trifling expenditure as compared with the importance of removing a grievance among such a large number of useful people. I appeal to the Postmaster-General to give the matter favourable consideration and, by altering the rules, to remove the irritation, which is not only justified but is very natural indeed.
§ Mr. WALTER REA
I should like to associate myself with the congratulations which have been showered on my right 559 hon. Friend on his well-deserved promotion and also to associate myself in the thanks which have been expressed for the very many improvements which have been introduced in the postal service during the past twelve months. As this is the only occasion in the year when we can make our grievances heard, I should like to allude to one subject on which there is a considerable amount of uneasiness among the commercial classes. I mean the approaching absorption by the Post Office of the National Telephone Company's-affairs. Commerce has no reason to be very grateful to the National Telephone Company, but, on the other hand, we have been able to get some concessions from them so long as it was possible to threaten them with something like competition, j My hon. Friend has given a very striking instance of how competition by the Hull Corporation has saved the ratepayers many thousands a year, and we view with some alarm the prospect of a monopoly which may be carried on, it is true, by the Government nominally for the benefit of the community at large, but which will nevertheless be a Government monopoly, and if carried on on uncommercial lines—as I fear it is at present—will leave us very much worse off j than we are now. We have some reason to be afraid, too, because we notice that the National Telephone Company is gradually stiffening up its rates. I am not sure whether that is with a view to claiming more goodwill, but I feel quite certain that the result is going to be that the unfortunate subscriber and user of the telephones will have to pay for all this j enhanced price, and it makes me very nervous as to whether we shall not have to pay a largely-increased price for the services at our disposal, unless the Post Office take extraordinarily good care that a great deal of the material that is now in use by the Telephone Company is only taken over at scrap prices, unless, indeed, it is thrown upon their hands.
Although we do not love the National Telephone Company, yet we have no reason to feel very satisfied with the work of the Government telephones. Matters have been put before me which show that the cost of installation of the telephones by the Government is 50 per cent. greater than the cost of the company's. The figures were given in full faith, but if my right hon. Friend says they are not correct I accept his word; but there were some striking figures as to the disparity of the 560 initial cost of the Government telephones and the company's telephones and the corporation telephones, and also, I think, the annual operating expense of the Post Office telephones is very considerably greater than either the Telephone Company's or the corporations, who are working exchanges at the present time. All this has to come out of the consumer, and we sincerely trust that between now and the end of next year, when, we understand, the transfers take place, the Government will take a lesson from some of the great commercial concerns, which are used to having to meet competition, and will treat the user of the telephones in a commercial spirit. We feel that there is some risk that our facilities may not be increased, but diminished, and I find there is some anxiety lest the system, which I believe to be peculiar to the Post Office telephones, should be extended to the national telephones, of having only a day service in some cases, and that we shall be cut off during the night. That is one of the most important facilities which we have from the National Telephone Company, and though I shall be told by the Post Office that it does not pay to keep telephones going during the night, in a great business such as the telephone industry they ought to take the good with the bad, and consider the convenience of customers, rather than take the narrow view of pounds, shillings, and pence. Then we have not been very much encouraged by our experience of the London telephone system since it has been in operation, good as in many respects it is. I suppose it is inevitable in a Government Department, but the commercial user of the telephone is irritated by the amount of red tape with which the whole service is tied up. I will give the Committee an example. Only a week or two ago a useful concession was made in connection with the Post Office telephones. It was that people who had telephones should have their telegraph messages telephoned to their houses. That was a most admirable concession, but the House will be surprised to hear that it works out in such a way that you may not get your telegrams until considerably later than if they were delivered in the ordinary way. A Post Office official rings you up, presumably a clerk, and in the case of a private house he asks whether the person who answers is the person named in the telegram, and if she does not perjure herself the telegram is not delivered until the lady is brought, it may be from bed, to 561 get the telegram. This is a bit of red tape that would not be allowed in a commercial concern at any rate. I have to complain of the high-handed way in which telephone officials refuse information. I find the London subscribers seething with discontent over the excesses in charges. I do not suggest that the Post Office authorities are charging anything but the exact amount, but we who are users of the telephone have no means of checking the charges. When we make inquiry we get no satisfaction. We are told that there is a machine which checks it automatically, and that the charge is right. This is not the way a commercial affair should be carried on. We look to the Post Office not to carry on the telephone undertaking in this way. These complaints are easy to make, but difficult to prove or disprove. It is almost impossible for an individual subscriber to the telephone to substantiate to the satisfaction of the Post Office officials the particular complaint he has to make. He may find, when he rings up the Exchange, that it is impossible to get through, and he may find that there was no justification for not putting him through, but unless the subscriber when he starts— and I have done this lately—has his watch in his hand so as to be able to speak definitely to the time when the call is made, the Post Office absolutely refuses to take any trouble to inquire into a complaint. They may give some reason for not getting through, and though the subscriber knows that it is inadequate, he can get no satisfaction. Therefore, this is the only way in which we can bring these things to the notice of the senior officials who really have the power to put them right. That is my excuse for asking the House to listen to what I have said on this not unimportant question, which affects the commercial community very considerably. I am not saying this out of any desire to belittle the great benefit we have received in London from the telephone service. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to see before the end of next year, when we are to take over the National Telephone Company, that the undertaking is so organised that it will be carried on with a larger amount of sympathy towards the users and in a true commercial spirit.
§ Mr. SANDERSON
I desire to join in the appeal which has been made to the Postmaster-General with regard to the 562 rate of wages of postmen. I am informed that since the Report of the Select Committee was presented the maximum rate of wages has been reduced. It has been pointed out already that the cost of living has gone up. That is so not only in the towns, but also in the country districts. Further, it has been stated—I am not able to substantiate this, for I do not know whether it is true or not—that some of the Members of that Committee have said that so far from their intention being that the maximum rate of wages should be reduced, their intention was exactly the contrary and that it should be increased. Well, it seems to me, if that be true, there is at all events a case for inquiry and a case for the earnest consideration of the right hon. Gentleman. I am sure he will understand that I feel how inconvenient it is for an outsider—one not in the administration—to interfere in any way with the departmental administration. At the same time I would like to say that in the Constituency I have the honour to represent there is a good deal of feeling in regard to this matter. If the right hon. Gentleman will give me an opportunity, I will be glad to give him the instances which have been brought to my notice. I am sure he will recognise that I am not bringing forward this matter in any party spirit whatever, but simply in order that justice may be done and that hard cases may receive consideration.
I wish to bring to the attention of the Postmaster-General the question of the use of lifts by the postmen in London. Since people in recent years have shown a fancy for living in flats in the huge buildings with which we are so familiar in the large towns, and in London especially, it seems to me that the labour which has been thrown upon postmen has been considerably increased. Hon. Members can imagine what the delivery of letters at these flats means. Some of the buildings are ten or twelve stories in height, and it must be a terrible labour for a postman to have to tramp up these stairs—I do not know how many times a day. In some of these places the postmen are allowed to use the lifts, while in others they are not. I do not suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that any request should be made to the owners of the flats that the postman should be allowed to use the lift and to stop at each storey; but it seems to me that it would not be unreasonable that a postman should be taken up to the top of the building in the lift so that he might deliver letters one storey after another on the way 563 down. I think that is a practical suggestion. I brought this matter before the Department not long ago, and I wish to acknowledge the courteous reply which I received from the Postmaster-General. He stated, in effect, that there are some of these places where postmen have the facilities, and that efforts would be made to obtain the same facilities in places where they had not hitherto been given. I would like to know whether those efforts have been successful. I would ask the Postmaster-General not to accede to the request made by the hon. Member for Mid-Lanark (Mr. Whitehouse) with regard to the practise of employing ex-soldiers and sailors. Personally, I hope that no departure will be made from the system of giving consideration to our ex-soldiers and sailors They are men who have given a very important part of their life to the service of their country, and have thereby to a very large extent unfitted themselves for competing in the ordinary labour market. I am quite sure that throughout the length and breadth of the country the opinion of a large body of people is that great Government Departments like the Post Office ought to give consideration to such men. I believe it is also the opinion of a large body of the Members of this House that the present system should be continued.
§ Mr. S. COLLINS
I should like to associate myself with the hon. Baronet the Member for Hythe in the eloquent tribute he paid to the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Henniker Heaton), who has devoted many years to successful efforts in bringing about postal reform, and I am sure we all hope that he may be in the House to see crowned with success the effort he is making for the establishment of penny postage with our neighbours across the Channel. I thank the Postmaster-General for the sympathetic way in which he referred to the young life in the Service of which he is the head. When he referred to the boy messenger who stated how hard it was to behave and that he could not do it, some of us sympathised with that boy and remembered that we had somewhat similar experiences ourselves. I hope the boy will read the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and that it will help him to lead a better life. I hope the Department will do something to provide good moral education to assist the boys in the Service. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be able to devise some 564 scheme for that purpose. Many of the boys come from very poor homes where they have very little inducement or encouragement to lead a good life. Perhaps something could be done by the Department to help and encourage them to employ their evening hours in a profitable way, so that they would be able in after life to look back with pleasure and pride to the work they did in the Post Office. I should like also to impress upon the right hon. Gentleman the importance of his giving attention to the cases of the telegraphic clerks, as referred to this afternoon by several hon. Members, and I would respectfully ask him to bear in mind that they were recruited in the same way, they passed through the same school, and they were sent indifferently to the London districts or to the Central Telegraph Office. For thirty years the pay and prospects of London men have been similar—at whatever office they were stationed—and to set aside this precedent seems to inflict a grave injustice. Then a reconsideration is urgently necessary not only of what is actually Metropolitan area, but also of the fact that the maximum wages now paid to the indoor staffs varying from 52s. at Woolwich, Croydon, Kingston, Richmond, etc., to 48s. at Ilford, and 44s. at Brentford, are not in accordance with the wages paid in the London postal area, considering that these offices form a part of one continuous town, and that the cost of living is not affected by their being counted as provincial offices. And may I also lay stress upon the need of giving attention to the grievances set forth by the hon. Member for South Islington in the cases of the New Cross and Kenning-ton districts, and also to the hardships of the carmen, a class of men often the most poorly paid and hardest worked. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will give all these cases his most earnest and careful consideration.
§ Mr. FORDE RIDLEY
I should like to ask the Postmaster-General for some information as to what system the Post Office proceeds on in deciding the classification of the various offices, I mean, in particular, in reference to towns which are contiguous or continuous. I happen to represent in the city of Rochester a city which is a continuation of and is connected with the town of Chatham. Those two towns are virtually one and the same, yet the rate of pay in both is entirely different. I approached the right hon. Gentleman, and was greatly obliged for the 565 courteous reply which he sent to the letter that I addressed him. The point which 1 wish to raise is that if there are certain towns which are continuous, and where, because they are continuous, a certain uniform rate is paid, why should not this apply to all towns equally situated throughout the country? We have in the towns of Plymouth and Devonport two places which are virtually one town, where, for one reason and one reason only, the rate of pay and classification is made identical. If that is so, why does not the same rule apply to such places as Rochester and Chatham? Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will enlighten me upon that matter, because I do feel that it is very much to be deprecated that there should be any favouritism, or apparent favouritism towards one town as compared with another. All ought to be treated upon the same footing. I cannot sit down without referring to some remarks which fell from the hon. Member for Mid-Lanark (Mr. Whitehouse), in regard to the employment of old soldiers and sailors. In common with the hon. Member on my right I deprecate any disparaging remark about the employment of old servants of the State. I, for one, only wish we could go further than we do at present, and that when we engage our messenger boys we should arrange to enlist them on leaving in the service of their country and hold out the prospect that when their service as a messenger boy is over, instead of being dismissed to start life afresh, they should be drafted into the Army with the full undertaking that if they serve their full time and conduct themselves well and efficiently they would be taken into the postal service as grown men.
§ Mr. SEDDON
There are two questions that I think should be inquired into. The first is with reference to the mail drivers. I want to congratulate the present Postmaster-General and the late Postmaster-General for what they have done with reference to this deserving class of servants. I am quite conscious that the power of the Postmaster-General is somewhat limited by the fact that it is contract labour. But even when good has been done evil also has sometimes come out of it. For instance, there was what I consider a particularly hard case in the town of Exeter. The mail drivers there were working under very bad conditions. Their hours were exceptionally long and their wages were exceedingly low. Complaint 566 was made to the Post Office. Inquiry was made and on that inquiry an improvement took place. One of the individuals affected happened to have an artificial leg. For years he had worked for the present contractor and the previous contractor. There had not been a single word against his efficiency and there was not a mark against him. But when they were asked to improve the conditions of service and give a slightly increased wage and a reduction of hours, then this unfortunate fellow, with his long record of good service, was informed that his services were no longer required. I think this is a very unfair case, and I would ask the Postmaster-General to use his good offices that this man should not be penalised because an improvement of conditions was effected. With reference to the general question of mail drivers under contract labour, I think that the special Commissioner who has been referred to would do very good service for a useful class of the community if he could extend his inquiries to some of these men in the country districts. I think that the London Members will agree with me that mail drivers have been well treated, comparatively speaking, in the London district, that is, comparing their present with their former condition—but there is a real grievance in many of the country places, and I would ask the Postmaster-General to give a special hint to the officials who make these inquiries to investigate the cases of these men. If this is done, I trust that the result will be beneficial to the mail drivers in the country. With reference to the constituency represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Cathcart Wason), I do not wish to take anything out of his hands, but having visited those remote islands in the very busy season when the herring industry is most active, and when a very large outside population come to the place in the steam drifters or trawlers, I find that amongst those connected with the business there is very strong complaint against the inadequate postal facilities between the mainland and these islands.
Mr. CATHCART WASON
Does the information of the hon. Gentleman come from the Mails Committee, the County Council or from private sources?
§ Mr. SEDDON
The information came from the traders who are a main factor in the life of the country, and from the owners and representatives of the ships 567 and from those connected with the industry. I may say, so far as the information conveyed to me is concerned, that the complaint is pretty general, and I trust that inquiry may be made to see whether these remote islands are getting fair play in the matter of postal facilities.
§ Captain JESSEL
I am very glad that an hon. Member opposite has drawn attention to the fact that next year, under agreement with the National Telephone Company, their system will be taken over by the Post Office. The hope was expressed that the Post Office would be pleased to give the same facilities as are now afforded by the National Telephone Company. On this point I may mention a matter which occurred recently in London to a friend of mine. A certain telephone was taken, and the service was discontinued on the Saturday at 12 o'clock. My friend went down to the office, and was informed that he could not see any official there, and he could get no redress whatever, because it happened to be on Saturday. He was told that nothing could be done until the following Monday. The incident may interest the House, because it happened that this telephone was laid on to a committee room, and the election day was Saturday. The result was that these unfortunate people could not use this telephone on the very day it was required. I do think that some responsible official should be at one of the exchange offices to put these matters right, and that people should not have to wait from Saturday morning—probably at mid-day—to have communication restored. Another question to which many of my friends on this side, and a great many Members on the other side, have drawn attention, is the difference in the rate of pay among those who are in the same district.
A suggestion has also been put forward as to the alteration of the postal districts. I think that would be a good thing. It is a good many years since the postal districts in London were made, and considerable objection has been taken to the letters that are fixed to some of the postal districts in London. If the right hon. Gentleman would like to go into the matter, I can assure him that, especially in my own Constituency, there is a certain combination of letters not particularly in favour among the inhabitants of that district, and if there could be some readjustment or rearrangement of that combination it would be an extremely popular 568 movement on the part of the Postmaster-General and the Post Office authorities. Reference has been made to various grievances on behalf of the telegraphists, the sorters, and especially those who, I think, may be called the permanently temporary employés. They are all grievances, and very real grievances, on the part of the personnel. All of us who have been through elections are well aware of the fact that at election times we are bombarded with questions which affect personnel. I quite sympathise with those who raise these questions, and they are very important, as most of us know from the Hobhouse Commission. But I do ask the right hon. Gentleman now if he cannot come to some decision on this question which will apply, not only to the Post Office, but to the whole Civil Service? The Board of Trade set an extremely good example, when the right hon. Gentleman the present Chancellor of the Exchequer was President of the Board of Trade, in devising these concilation boards. Speaking for myself as a director of a railway, I can say how very well they work. Why should not some sort of system of that kind be devised in the Post Office or in other great public Departments? One certainly has pressure put on one at election times by public servants, but they have no other way of bringing forward their claims; and it seems to me that the number of complaints by Civil Servants will increase, and we all know it is increasing, if this sort of extraordinary system continues. As my hon. Friend reminded us, some 12,000 men of the National Telephone Company will come into the postal service, and no doubt a readjustment of the staff will take place, and there may then be a great many grievances requiring attention. I believe I am right in saying that there are more Civil servants employed in the Post Office Department than in any other Department of the State, and if the right hon. Gentleman could make a beginning by way of establishing a conciliation board on the same lines as have been adopted by railway companies a great benefit might result. I am sure that sooner or later we shall have something of the kind. Many as have been the benefits conferred by the Postmaster-General during his tenure of office, none would have a more permanent effect than the initiation of some great measure of the kind I suggest. It would be of permanent benefit not only to the service itself, but of permanent advantage to the men employed.
Mr. CATHCART WASON
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend (Mr. Seddon) for having brought forward the question of the position of traders in Shetland and the Orkney Islands, but I should like to point out to the Postmaster-General, in regard to the matter, that there is a strong local committee which has been specially set up for the purpose of dealing with the subject of the mails. The county council also have taken a very active part in this question, and as far as I know those two very important bodies have made no very strong representation or complaint upon the subject. For many years past the islands had suffered very seriously from lack of postal communication, especially in the winter time, and it is entirely owing to the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor in office (Mr. Buxton) that we have an improved mail service given to us at a very large extra cost. That has been of an enormous advantage to every inhabitant in those islands, and we are really not at all so badly off as my hon. Friend seems to think. Of all the great Departments of the State there is none that has treated us so well as the Post Office. In one of the large islands where there are 300 or 400 people, for many years past, in fact until the present moment, they have practically had no communication whatsoever with the outside world. It is also due to the action of the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor in this matter that this island will be brought into touch with the outside world by means of a wireless telegraph station. I wish to express the fervent hope that the right hon. Gentleman will spend a portion of his well-earned holiday in a visit to that particular district. My right hon. Friend is a great traveller in different directions himself, and I can assure him that if he pays it a visit he will receive a cordial welcome. The point to which I wish to call his attention has reference to two great Departments of the State—the Admiralty and the Post Office. The Board of Admiralty for several years past have had a fleet at what is known as Scapa Flow, and I desire to call my hon. Friend's attention to the mail communications between the mainland of Caithness and Orkney. On account of extra railway facilities the old mail route from the mainland was abandoned, but the present service is very unsatisfactory, starting as it does from Thurso and giving us all the worst of tides and weather. If by means of motor in the meantime the mails could 570 be conveyed to Gill's Bay from the railway and thence to Scapa there would be a great saving in time and expense. My right hon. Friend if he visits the district will see for himself that the change of the mail route would be of enormous advantage to His Majesty's Fleet stationed there. I am extremely gratified at having had an opportunity of saying a few words in defence of the action of the Department with regard to my own Constituents.
§ The ASSISTANT POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Captain Norton)
Perhaps I may be permitted on behalf of my right hon. Friend to deal with the various matters before the Committee. The question of classification has been referred to, and also the question of the cost of living in any particular locality. If the cost of living was made the only basis, then in certain large towns like Birmingham, where living is cheap, the employes would get wages lower than they would in some of the small towns such as Epsom, where it. is dear. The Hobhouse Committee gave very substantial advantages to postal employes as a whole, and if they were unable to do it in every individual instance, it was because such a result was inseparable from the scheme as a whole. I may mention that there has been an increase of wages in no fewer than 4,800 offices, and a diminution of wages in only 750 offices, and that affecting future entrants only. Moreover, the late Postmaster-General dealt with the recommendations of the Hobhouse Committee in the most generous manner. He placed the most favourable interpretation upon the Report of that Committee, and as a result he has secured a very much better scheme and very much better wages for postal employes than they would have enjoyed had he not taken that action upon the report of the Hobhouse Committee. Then, again, classification has been constantly revised. For example, since January last three offices have been placed in another class. Besides these three, four towns, Douglas, Loughborough, Ton-bridge and Tralee are all about to go up into a better class, so that really what hon. Members have been contending for is practically in operation. My hon. Friend the Member for South Islington drew attention to the question of the sale of stamps in books, and suggested that they might be sold in packets from a shilling. He also suggested that they should be sold at face value, and that the cost should 571 be met by receipts from advertisements in the book. We have recently been dealing with this matter, and I find for some reason or other that advertising in these post office books is not found to be popular.
§ Captain NORTON
We are prepared to meet any advertising agent who will deal generously with us in the matter. As regards Sunday work in the country districts, every effort is being made to reduce it, and whenever an application is made by a local authority, that application meets with the heartiest support of the Department. I may point out that my right hon. Friend the late Postmaster-General made the following statement:—My desire is, as to Sunday labour in the Post Office, that if any district which at present has a Sunday delivery desires it to be discontinued, and the local authorities are prepared to move in the matter. I shall be glad to give instructions accordingly.As regards the question of sub-postmasters, my right hon. Friend is quite prepared to reconsider any hard cases among the 3,000 to whom the hon. Member referred; and he will look into it very closely. Then as regards the £190 per year maximum to telegraph operators. I am one of those who speak with great diffidence upon that subject, inasmuch as in former years I brought it forward in this House. The telegraphists were of opinion that there had been some breach of faith in reference to the matter. These men claim they were brought into the service upon the understanding that, provided the performed their work efficiently, they would rise to £190 per year. Owing to classification a small proportion of these men have received benefits, and a certain number of them have got into better positions. I frankly admit, however, that there is a certain number who can never rise to £190 per year maximum. I have used my best efforts with my right hon. Friend to reconsider this question, and it is now under his consideration to see if anything can be done. Then I come to the question of the postal porters. At 572 first sight no doubt it would appear that their case is a very hard one, but when you come to look into the matter more closely it seems that the Hobhouse Committee, who went fully into it, dealt out to these men ample justice. For example, in 1882 their initial wage was 18s., whereas their initial wage at the present time is 25s. But the main point is that whereas these men formerly could seldom rise beyond the position of porter, now, against 1,461 porters, there are 129 head porters with a maximum of 52s. a week; thirty-six foremen porters with a maximum of 48s.; 113 bagmen with a maximum of 45s.; and seven overseers with a maximum of £210 a year. Whereas before 1908 the porters had only from 150 to 170 superior posts open to them—that is to say, their chances were formerly one to nine, whereas at present they have 285 superior posts, and their chances are one to five.
When we come to look into the other advantages which these men have I find that they have allowances for good conduct stripes, pensions, uniform, medical attendance, sick leave, and holidays. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is what is given to every other man in the department."] Their initial wage has been increased and their prospects of promotion are greater than they were formerly. The advantages I have mentioned have been valued by actuarial calculation, and are found to amount to £17 18s. 8d. per year, so that formerly while they had £l 15s. 6d. it is now £1 19s. 3½d.. Added to that there is another allowance of Is., so that these men are now in a better position than they were by 7s. per week. The porters employed at railway stations have a further special allowance of 5s. per week. Although it has been said that these men have not been fairly treated by the Hobhouse Committee it will be seen that their position is by no means as bad as is contended.
The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Henniker Heaton), whose impending departure from the House we all much regret, referred to further matters. We have had him from year to year bringing forward postal questions, and I think it is admitted on all hands that he has done much for the postal service. He mentioned the subject of cables. There is a very great difficulty in dealing with the matter of cables because, in the first place, the whole 573 system of telegraphy is in a changing condition. If a State-owned system of cables is to be undertaken it would be necessary to consider the Marconi development and other changes, and there might be considerable difficulty with the self-governing Colonies. There would be practical difficulties in the working and development of the scheme. There would be the question of the adjustment of relations with existing cable companies, almost all of which are British. A Committee has been investigating this matter, and the recommendations are now under the consideration of the Department. The hon. Member also referred to the question of Sunday deliveries and to the sale of postcards at their face value, matters which are receiving the attention of the Postmaster-General. The hon. Member for Hoxton (Dr. Addison) mentioned the question of the mail cart drivers. Our position with reference to this is that we have made every effort to see that the men are paid the proper rate of wages, and I believe that one contract has been terminated, and that in other cases warning has been given to contractors that they must carry out the Fair Wages Clause. Moreover, our inspectors are constantly in touch with the contractors, and endeavour to do all that is possible to see that fair wages are paid in all cases. The question of boards of conciliation has been brought forward. My right hon. Friend has received a large number of deputations from the various organised bodies in the Post Office, and those bodies and the trade unions are not at all of one mind as to boards of conciliation. Speaking for my own part, and considering the success which I maintain the Hobhouse Committee has achieved, I should say it would be much more satisfactory, not only to the men themselves but also to Members of this House, if from time to time, say after a decade of years, a Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry dealt with such matters as these.
The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Bentham) mentioned the taking over of the National Telephone Company. It is definitely settled that the company shall be taken over. As to the question of the Hull municipality it is possible they may be left in the position in which they are if that is the general desire. I give no pledge on the matter which is under consideration of my right hon. Friend. It is quite possible they may be, and, on the other hand, it is quite possible that they may 574 not be. The hon. Member for Enfield (Mr. Newman) has, I think, been misinformed and mixed up two questions as to inspection. The inspection of the goods is all done by technical men, but the other inspection relates to the wages sheets, and conditions of work. The officer who performs this duty is an expert on these matters and thoroughly understands the whole question of the manufacture of goods. The contractors are carefully supervised, and the wages clause is very rigidly enforced. The hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Bowerman) referred to the question of employing postmen as sorters. It is a very difficult and rather complicated matter. Quite recently my right hon. Friend discussed it with a deputation, and he has given it very careful consideration. It has also been urged that a number of unestablished men in the engineering department should be placed upon the established staff. It would, however, be absolutely impossible with certain classes of labour to place the men on the established staff, because the work which they do is not continuous. At present as many as 62 per cent. of the men on the maintenance staff of that department are on the establishment. The hon. Member for Hornsey (Earl of Ronaldshay) also mentioned the question of the porters and the telegraph clerks, with which I have dealt.
As regards the cable-room staff and their two allowances of 3s. and 2s. 6d., the question is under consideration, and it is hoped it may be possible to effect some alteration in their conditions. The question raised by the hon. Member for Mid-Lanarkshire (Mr. Whitehouse) was very fully dealt with by my right hon Friend. The point brought forward by the hon. Member for Scarborough (Mr. Walter Rea) about the National Telephone Company. is a very large one, and I have not the time now to go into it fully. I may say that every effort will be made to secure the undertaking for the public on the very best possible conditions. It will be taken over on tramway terms; there will be no payment for goodwill, and the case will doubtless go to arbitration. The interests of the public will be carefully considered. In reply to the hon. Member for Rochester (Mr. Forde Ridley), I may say there is no favouritism in the matter of classification. If the adjoining cities of Rochester and Chatham were to form one for local government purposes the difficulty would disappear, but at the present moment, although the cost of living is practically 575 the same in both places, the units of work differ very materially. As to cost of living we go simply by the reports of the Board of Trade, which takes the greatest care in framing them. I have now dealt with practically all the matters that have been mentioned, and I hope the Committee will allow us to take the Vote.
And, it being a Quarter past Eight of the clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means, under Standing Order No. 8, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.