§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
§ 3. "That a sum, not exceeding £15,336,380, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1916, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Post Office, including Telegraphs and Telephones. [NOTE.—£11,500,000 has been voted on account.]
§ The POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Mr. Hobhouse)
Last year I laid before this House in connection with the Post Office Estimates an estimate for revenue which came to £31,700,000, and an estimate for expenditure which came to £26,152,000, showing an estimated balance of £5,500,000. We were in a very fair way to realise that large surplus had not the War, with its consequent disturbance of trade and industry, interrupted our revenue. As a consequence of the outbreak of War, there was at once an immediate shrinkage in Post Office revenue, and we dropped in the course of the financial year a revenue of no less than £2,100,000. The greater part of this came under the heading of Postal Service, £1,350,000; Telegraphs, £100,000; Telephones, £650,000; so that in all departments of the Post Office service there was a very substantial loss. On the other hand, expenditure went up by a very great sum, and I want to dwell upon this because of something which I wish to say at the end of my essential remarks. We sent a large number of men to the Colours, and we had to provide substitutes, and the cost of substitution, quite apart from the services rendered, came to £750,000. There is to be remembered in connection with Post Office servants serving with the Colours that some enlist voluntarily and some go back to complete Reserve service, and their military pay and their separation allowances are found by the War Office. Any balance of civil pay falls upon Post 739 Office funds, but in the case of those Post Office servants who are recruited either for the Army Post Office, or else for the Royal Engineers signal units, the whole cost of the civil pay falls upon Post Office funds, and only military pay upon the War Office. In the case of these latter men the Post Office are not only paying for services which they do not receive during the War, but they have to pay for the whole cost of substituted service.
The consequence is that the recruiting of so large a proportion of the Post Office staff has led to a very large increase of Post Office expenditure. The net increase of expenditure coming to £280,000, we find that at the end of the financial year our realised income was £29,650,000, actual expenditure £26,430,000, and our estimated surplus had shrunk from £5,500,000 to £3,250,000. This year I anticipate both a smaller revenue and a larger expenditure. I have put the revenue at £30,400,000, and the expenditure at £26,836,000—a surplus, in round figures, of £3,500,000. But, in addition to that expenditure, I shall have to provide, during the coming twelve months, for a very considerable amount of outgoings connected with the War, and nothing but the War. I have very imperfect data to go upon. Putting war expenditure in the coming twelve months at £2,000,000, if my estimate is right, the surplus falls to a sum of about £1,500,000.
There is one department of the Post Office the state of which, I think, must give universal satisfaction, and that is the Savings Bank Department. It was natural enough that at the outbreak of hostilities, when it was plain that we were in for a war with a very powerful adversary, and that the continuance of hostilities was bound, therefore, to be over a long period, there should have been a very sharp run upon the Savings Bank—a run accentuated by the actual shortage of coinage during the early part, and even up to the end of August. By the end of that month the net withdrawals from the Savings Bank Department were £2,500,000 in excess of deposits made, but from the end of that month confidence replaced panic, deposits began to come in very freely, and before the end of September they had exceeded the withdrawals, and so completely had the tide turned that when I got the last return at the end of March from the Savings Bank Department, the deposits from the quarter ending 740 31st March had exceeded the withdrawals by £4,400,000 or £3,000,000 in excess of the corresponding period in the previous year. I think that that is a fact which ought to be received with great satisfaction by the country as pointing to the sound condition of the finance, trade and industry of the country, and showing that amongst the class of people who use the Post Office Savings Bank, the smaller traders and the artisans, there is not only a desire but an ability to save in a substantial manner.
Curiously enough, only last night I came across some figures which purported to set out the position of Germany in respect of savings banks, and I found that, basing their calculations upon a third of the savings bank returns in that country—and they belong apparently not to the Imperial Government but to the local governments—those figures purport to show that their savings, during a corresponding period of that year, would have come to something like 900 million marks. I am not in a position to test those figures in any way, but I confess that I should be very sorry to exchange their 900 million marks for my £4,400,000. There is only one other financial point I should like to touch upon at this moment, and that is the expenditure upon postal buildings. The post offices in this country hitherto have always been built out of revenue, and that is a financial system of which much can be said, but it has this patent disadvantage, that in the years of abnormal expenditure the provision of postal buildings becomes exiguous and inadequate, and reduces postal administration to a state very often of chaos and confusion. We recognise that while the Treasury act upon a system which makes provision from revenue for buildings which will probably last for fifty, sixty, or even seventy years or longer, some curtailment is inevitable in view of the War. There have been two financial periods within the last two years when owing to this system of construction which is about to be curtailed, an alarming degree of arrears has accrued, and we have again during the present year to deal with the arrears from those two periods. Consequently, the moment this War is over there will be forced upon the Treasury and the Post Office a different system of financing their buildings, and we shall have to have recourse to loans instead of revenue in order to provide the sums which have become very necessary, if we are to find 741 adequate accommodation either for the Post Office staff or the people who use the post offices.
There is one other topic I wish to allude to, and it is the question of cables and codes, a subject which has been exciting the country and upon which I have answered many questions in this House. It was clearly necessary when the War broke out that the service of telegrams, expressed in code and cypher should be at once brought to an end, because they were the clearest, quickest and easiest way of affording information to the enemy, and the information thus given could not be checked or controlled by our censorship. Consequently, plain language had to be resorted to. In my judgment the Cable Censor has had a very difficult, task to perform, but he has endeavoured to carry out that task with as little harshness as possible, and he has got through a strenuous task in a way which has inflicted the least possible hardship on British trade. I know there has been a substantial loss to traders in this respect through the abolition of codes. The adoption of codes had the practical result of enormously reducing cable charges, and the moment the firms who used the cable on a large scale had to resort to plain language their expenses went up 300, 400 or 500 per cent. in the course of a week. Beyond that the congestion caused upon the cables by the use of long plain language telegrams has had the result that they were unable to deal with the traffic thrust upon them and the cable companies had to discontinue the deferred and weekend telegrams which were a source of great, convenience to many persons who were desirous of sending immediate and urgent telegrams. It has, however, been found possible to restore the deferred telegram system, and a great deal of the telegraphic communications of the present day are sent by that means in order that the Censor may take advantage of it. To some extent we have been able to restore the code for extra-European countries. With regard to the use of several codes, a certain amount of objection has been offered to so small a number being permissible, but I have to point out to those who object that the use of a large number of codes merely tends to delay if those telegrams have to be deciphered, because the clerk who sends the cable gets accustomed I to the use of one particular code and sends the telegrams with comparative case and eventually quite as easily as a plain- 742 language telegram. But if that clerk has constantly to use different codes his powers of transmission are enfeebled and he is not able to deal so rapidly with telegrams for a large number of firms. We have had complaints that the codes we have extended are not those which the public generally use. It came to my notice the other day that the representative of a commercial firm who had urged us to give up some of our existing codes only a few weeks ago withdrew their original list and substituted their second list, which they said was equally useful; but only three of the original codes appeared in their second list, which showed clearly that they were undecided, or perhaps ill-informed, as to the relative value attached to our codes and theirs.
I will pass altogether from that side, however, and I should like to tell the Committee a little about the connection of the Post Office service with the military forces, both in France and elsewhere, which I think may be of interest. The connection between the Post Office and the Army and Navy is unostentatious, but it is very close, and I believe it to be indispensable to their continued value as fighting forces. We have sent a large number of our staff to France. They have done exceedingly well there and have earned special commendation from the Commander-in-Chief, to which I believe they are fully entitled, for the services they have rendered. In performing those services they have paid a pretty heavy toll. Some 700 or 800 have been killed and a large number has been wounded out of the comparatively small force which up to the present moment has gone to the front. That, however, has had no deterring effect upon the readiness of the staff to enlist. In fact, my difficulty is not to find people ready to enlist, but to find reasons for holding back those whose services are really quite as indispensable for the country while they are remaining over here as they would be if they proceeded overseas to join the military forces of the Crown. We have got about 1,200 postal servants who are, actually engaged in delivering correspondence at the front, and I have had a great deal of testimony to the speed and punctuality with which letters and parcels have been distributed to the troops. I am able to say, not on my own authority but from letters which I have received, and from what I have been told, that there, is a great moral value in the close, constant, and immediate touch 743 which can be kept up between the troops serving in the trenches and their friends and relations at home.
Many letters have disclosed to me the fact that after three, four, or five days continuous service in the trenches men have come back wearied out to their rest camps and have been revived and reanimated in spirit quite as much by the letters and correspondence which they have received as by the more material refreshment which they may have derived from food and bodily comforts. When men have been almost depressed and overwhelmed by the brutalities with which they have been day by day and hour by hour surrounded in the trenches over long periods of time, I can myself conceive that to come back to something which brings them in touch with their homes and with familiar scenes, from which many of them fear, and unfortunately with only too much reason, they may be permanently severed, and to come back to the sight of familiar handwriting and read announcements of domestic interest and joy, will reinvigorate them and reanimate their minds and fit them once more for their duties.
Soldiers have taken full advantage of the opportunities which we have given them for correspondence. We send out to France—I think the figures are interesting—every day about 400,000 letters and about 50,000 parcels. That is a trainload of something like eighty or ninety tons of stuff. To Egypt and the Dardanelles we send out weekly about 250,000 letters and 5,000 parcels; and we send to the Fleet weekly about 2,000,000 letters and about 45,000 parcels. That requires a very efficient organisation indeed, and I hope I may be allowed to say in this House that the rapidity and certainty with which all this vast amount of correspondence reaches the Fleet and the Army has given universal satisfaction. We have made some special arrangements for the Colonial troops. They are not so much concerned with easy and speedy communication with England. Their hopes and interests are centred in some distant land, and for them we have provided a special week-end telegram. I will not say "we," because I must do justice to the cable companies to whose generosity this arrangement is due. We have managed to arrange with the cable companies for a week-end telegram at a quarter of the ordinary rate per word. They can telegraph freely and easily to 744 their relations in New Zealand, Australia, or wherever it may be. This privilege is also extended to British troops serving outside France, so that from the Dardanelles or Egypt, or wherever troops may be, communications can be sent speedily, bringing to the relatives of those abroad news of their health, comfort, and success.
In the case of extended British and Colonial troops outside France, information as to the progress or fatal termination of disease is sent to the relatives as to the progress or fatal termination of disease or details of convalescence free of all charge whatever. Neither have we been neglectful of the prisoners of war in Germany or elsewhere. Under the Postal Union Convention, free passage of both parcels and letters is assured, and by mutual agreement between Austria, Germany, and England that free passage of correspondence is extended to civilian persons who are interned either here or in the countries with whom we are at war. They have made ample use of their facilities. The Dutch Post Office has kindly taken charge of all this correspondence, and both brings to this country and takes from it such messages as are sent to prisoners of war on either side. [An HON. MEMBER: "Without charge?"] Yes, without any charge at all, and I think that we are indebted to them for their courtesy.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
The Swiss Post Office is only concerned to this extent, that money orders either from or to Austria are sent through the medium of the Swiss Post Office, and they transact this business for it. I should like to say a word or two about the ordinary Post Office work. We have lived for nine months under war conditions. Correspondence with foreign countries has either been suspended or minimised, and we have ourselves reduced facilities at home; in particular, I have cut down all telegraphic facilities for race meetings. It seems to me that the telegraphic staff which is very badly needed for the carrying on of the ordinary commercial business of this country or for serving the needs of the Army and the Navy can be much better employed than in giving facilities for people for amusement and pleasure. Although I have reduced facilities here — I think I have done so with the almost universal consent of this country—we are still affording better postal arrangements, more 745 speedy and freely, than are given by any other country in Europe at the present time. I am afraid that the time may come when I may have to ask the public of this country to agree to a yet further curtailment of postal facilities. I hope that it may not be necessary, but, if they will acquiesce in the future as they have done in the past with good nature to the necessary restrictions which I may feel it my duty to place upon them, they, on the other hand, may rest assured that I shall not do it unless it is absolutely necessary for the benefit of the country.
I said that we had sent 35,000 men to the War. We have recruited nearly 23,000 people, 20,000 men and 3,000 women, to take their places in the postal service. I gave very strict instructions that in recruiting this temporary labour people of non-military age and married men should have the preference, but, notwithstanding the endeavours of those who acted on my behalf to carry out those instructions, I am sorry to say that we have got no less than 11,000 men of military age at the present time in our service, and that of those 11,000 no less than 6,000 are single. I think it becomes a question whether we are wise to retain those men in our service—whether they could not be giving better service to the country, not necessarily in the Army as soldiers, but as helping to meet, the industrial wants of the Army and the Navy, than by staying in the ranks of the Post Office. I do not profess to have made up my mind on the matter, but I do think that the subject is well worthy the consideration both of this House and of the Postal Department. An HON. MEMBER: "I take it that they are physically fit?"] That is one of the matters we shall have to go into. There are those who are not physically fitted, although they have been military men.
On the telegraph side we have been pressed by industrial conditions, and by the recruiting of the staff. At the Manchester office no fewer than one-half of the made telegraphic staff have enlisted, and if it had not been for the loyalty to the State of the old pensioned staff, it would have been impossible for us to get through the congested business with which we have had to deal. I have pointed out that substitution for the men we have sent to the Colours has been very costly. There has been a demand—a great and increasing demand—for labour throughout the country, and that has reacted on the wages 746 which we have been in a position to pay to the temporary staff. I think in every class of temporary employés, I will not say at every office, it has been necessary to raise the wages of those whom we have thus recruited, but, even with these raised wages, it has been difficult, especially on the telegraph side, to get suitable persons. You cannot teach a person cither to receive or transmit a message in a fortnight, or even in six months. We have had, therefore, in order to get over this difficulty, to replace in many cases men by women and boys by girls. These changes are due to the necessities of the War. I have no intention of replacing permanent employés by casual labour, or of determining questions as to employment after the War by reference to decisions arrived at in consequence of war requirements and necessities. There has been some uncertainty amongst the staff of the Post Office on that point, and I therefore wish to make the position perfectly clear and plain.
But closely allied to this question of remuneration has been an issue which has been brought to my notice by a demand on behalf of the postal associations for a war bonus for postal servants. The application which was presented to me was closely followed by a similar application presented by the Civil Service Federation to the Treasury, and it became clear—indeed it was clear before—that this was a question which would affect not merely the Post Office, but the Inland Revenue, the Excise, and all the other Departments in which there are a large number of employés. It became, therefore, a question not for the Postmaster-General, but for the Government, and the Government as a Government, gave the fullest and most careful consideration to the proposals that were made. After very full and careful inquiry into the facts of the case, they instructed me to inform postal servants that they were unable to accede to this request for a war bonus. In this connection it is necessary to remember that a great many similar agitations, although not based on similar reasons, have been put forward for an increase of wages.
I think in nearly all the cases in which the Government has been concerned the demand for an increase has been based not merely on the increased cost of living, but also on the increased strain and pressure put upon those engaged in the work. That certainly was the case with regard to the railways and with regard to many 747 other trades and industries in this country. It is not possible to assert, I think, that there has been any real strain and pressure on postal servants except in those cases where the strain and pressure has been well remunerated by the overtime which has been earned in connection with it. The principal strain has occurred in the telegraph offices—in the G.P.O. in London, and in other telegraphic centres throughout the country, and also in the sorting offices, and, in both of these categories of work, large sums for overtime have been earned by the persons employed in them. In many cases the earnings have doubled the ordinary pay. Overtime is paid by the Post Office at a rate and a quarter for the first six hours, a rate and a half for the second six hours, and double rates for over twelve, hours, and the consequence is that it is not unusual to find senior telegraphists and sorters taking home as much as £7 or £8 a week for a little more than sixty hours' work, and even in a few isolated cases £10 or £11. It is impossible, therefore, in the judgment of the Government not to consider that they have been amply remunerated and recompensed for the pressure which has been put upon them.
With regard to female telephonists there is very little overtime there, and the same may be said generally of the remaining classes in the Post Office. It therefore comes down to this, that so far as Post Office servants are concerned, the demand has been based, and I think property based, upon the issue as to whether or not the Government should meet, by advanced wages, the rise in the price of commodities. It must not be forgotten that the permanent staff of the Post Office and of other great Government Departments have I not, like ordinary industrial workers, to make hay while the sun shines. They are not liable to dismissal in a period of slackness, nor are their wages liable to be reduced when prices of commodities fall, or when the staff is no longer wanted. They are certain of an adequate pension when they are no longer able to work. Their future is therefore not uncertain. It is assured. But in the case of the unprivileged industrial worker all these compensations are wanting. He has got to save during the time of high wages. He never knows when that time may pass away. Trade generally, or the trade of the particular person for whom he works, may fall off, and he will have to suffer. He may 748 have to leave his employment and begin all over again. If he is unlucky he may have to shift his home, and perhaps even he may have to start in au absolutely new industry. From all these disabilities the permanent Civil servant is free, and that is a great advantage which cannot be overestimated The earnings of the ordinary industrial worker fluctuate with scarcity or plenty of work. They rise and fall with the barometer of trade. They share the prosperity or adversity of the general commerce and trade of the country.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
During the last eight years there have been large surpluses, and the wages of postal servants have been increased by £2,000,000 a year.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
I beg the hon. Member's pardon. I misunderstood his interruption. The wages of permanent Civil servants have gone up with the prosperity of this country. They have not gone down in times of slackness. The Civil servant claims to have his wages fixed in times of prosperity, and they are fixed with the express approval and sanction of this House, under conditions laid down by this House. But side by side with such a claim goes the obligation to accept that same wage when there are deficits and not surpluses, economies and not generous outlay. The House has twice revised the pay of Post Office servants during the period this Government has lasted, and on each revision there has been a substantial addition to the wages of postal servants. I regret I have been obliged to convey to them the inability of the Government, of its own motion, to make this grant at a moment when the expenditure is nothing less than appalling, when taxation is greatly increased, and when most people at all events think it will still further be increased to meet the necessities of the War. The whole fate of the country depends on its ability to meet the ever-increasing cost of a War of which history has furnished no parallel whatever.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
The decision of the Government was conveyed to the postal 749 servants, and, in reply. I received a letter, addressed to me as the spokesman of the Government, asking that the decision of the Government should be submitted, like similar refusals by employers, to arbitration. Such a claim seems to me to stand on a ground altogether different from that which I have just indicated. As a Government, we have insisted that employers and employed, when they differ as to the wages to be paid and received, should submit to the arbitrament of outside persons the claims and the refusals on either side. I do not quite see how that which is best for other parties should not be equally satisfactory for the Government and its employés. The Government may be prejudiced in this matter. They may take too serious a view of the financial position of the country, and the ability of the country to bear the large burden I have indicated. They may, on the other hand, think that because the Post Office itself has so large and so many charges proposed to be levied upon it, it, may be necessary to carry on the work of the Post Office, as it never bas been carried on in history, out of the taxation of this country. We may be mistaken in the amount of sacrifice which we think all classes in this country can properly be called upon to bear. We are prepared therefore to refer these questions to arbitration. But I wish to make it perfectly plain that, before the arbitrators, we shall sustain to the best of our ability the arguments which I addressed to the House a little earlier in my speech. It will be our duty to put before them our belief that the rise in prices is not, in itself, in war times, a sufficient reason for making advances in the wages of the permanent Civil servants whose earnings are not subject to the fluctuations of trade and industry. Whatever the result of that arbitration may be, we shall accept it loyally, and we shall expect the staff of the Post Office to accept it equally loyally. We live in times which are, perhaps, the most serious the British nation has ever had to face, and during their continuance we cannot have any dissensions in our ranks as to the amount of wages to be paid and received. I hope, I have made the position of the Government clear upon this point, and I hope the decision I have announced to the Committee will be accepted by the Committee.
§ Mr. WARDLE
I am sure that those who speak to-day for the postal servants will accept the statement just made by 750 the Postmaster-General with gratitude and satisfaction. Of course, we and the the Postal Association will do exactly what the Postmaster-General himself has said the Government will do, namely, put the case they have to the fullest extent, basing their plea not only upon the increased cost of living, but also upon the stress and strain of which he has spoken, and in so far as they have, any arguments to prove that, they will bring them before the arbitrator or arbitrators whom the Government will appoint. The Committee may congratulate itself on the fact that the Government have decided to take this step. It is an extremely important step, and it is the first time in the history of this country that the Government have taken such a step.
§ Mr. WARDLE
I know that so far as the House was concerned it was decided that the principle ought to have, been adopted before, and I myself years ago argued that it should be. I hope there will be a great extension of this principle in the future. So far as the cost of living is concerned, we on these benches on a previous occasion raised the question of what the Government intended to do in face of the abnormal increase in prices which had taken place. There seemed at that time, as there seems now, to be but two methods of meeting it. We invited the Government to take one method, but they preferred to take the other. The increase in wages to meet the increased cost of living has to some extent met it in some instances. If it is right in the one case that an increase in wages should take place in order to meet the increased cost of living, surely it is an argument that applies all round. I must confess that I listened with some astonishment to the figures of earnings given to the Committee by the Postmaster-General. On the spur of the moment it is very difficult indeed to reconcile them, and to ascertain how, for 62 or 63 hours a week, such abnormal sums as £10 or £11 could possibly be earned, as stated by the right hon. Gentleman. As I understand the position, the normal working week is 48 751 hours, and overtime does not start until 48 hours have been worked; therefore 60 hours cannot be the point at which a man leaches double time. If it be true, as the right hon. Gentleman stated, that men are taking as much as £8, £9, or £10 ft week in consequence of this overtime, we have no sympathy to waste in that direction.
Our main plea is for the lower paid men and women. The right hon. Gentleman has made a great point with regard to the temporary staff he has employed, and has given the Committee to understand that these men and women are being paid rates of wages higher than he has ever had to pay them before. Those rates were miserable before, and they are miserable yet, in the case of the temporary men and women. A case was cited to me yesterday of a woman who, in this city, is being paid by the Post Office the sum of 18s. a week, out of which she has to pay her fares and 3s. 6d. for her meals. When those items are deducted these women have an exceedingly small sum upon which to attempt to lead a respectable life. With regard to temporary men particularly, cases have been cited to me where the wages are excessively low. I believe that even taking the permanent staff, there are not far less than 59,000 whose wages do not exceed £1 a week at the present time. In regard to the lower paid servants of the Post Office, an increase of wages is eminently desirable in the times in which we live. I am one of those who, in this crisis in our country's history, do not desire to see any cleavage between classes, or any strikes or industrial unrest; but when we read of cases such as those of which we have been reading during the past week or two, where one firm of millers has increased its profits from about £80,000 to £360,000 in one year, there can be no wonder that among a section of our people industrial unrest should occur.
Passing from that subject, the Committee as a whole must have been exceedingly gratified at the work which the Post Office has been doing in this national emergency. It has upheld the traditions of the Civil Service, and I believe that the compliment that the right hon. Gentleman has paid to the men who, under the stress and strain, have been serving their country equally with the men at the front, is thoroughly and honestly deserved. The statement he has made with regard to deposits 752 in the Savings Banks discloses the fact that the people have recovered equanimity, and also that they have put the money which they could put into the Savings Banks. An hon. Friend behind me suggests that they are saving it instead of drinking. I hope that is true. In any case, they are saving the money, and to that extent they are assisting their country as well as themselves.
With regard to the question of postal buildings, I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is one of growing urgency, and which will some day have to be faced by this House. The provision of suitable buildings for the postal arrangements of this country is greatly behindhand. When I sat on a Select Committee with the right hon. Gentleman some years ago—I think it was in 1907 or 1908—we found then that this problem was very acute, and it must be much more acute now. The necessary sanitary arrangements and ventilation for the staff cannot possibly be kept up to the high level at which they ought to be in some of the old-fashioned buildings still used by the Post Office, which ought to be replaced by better buildings at the earliest possible moment. I should like to see some method adopted by which a proper system of regular building should be carried through, and, if it is necessary for the Post Office to have a capital account, that it should have one in regard to this matter, and the Estimates come before this House in the proper and ordinary way. That would be a much more businesslike proposition than the present method.
The only other point I would like to raise is with regard to the right hon. Gentleman's statement that out of the 20,000 men recruited 11,000 were of military age of whom 6,000 were single men. I hope he will pause before he takes a step—if he should feel compelled to take it—of attempting any kind of compulsion in this matter. It is an exceedingly dangerous principle. The House has expressed itself, fairly unanimously, with regard to any ordinary private employer bringing pressure to bear upon his employés to enlist or to take service in other ways by dismissing them from his service. If the Government themselves lead in that direction there will be industrial chaos, and a very serious position will arise. If these men are in a position to enlist, and if they are physically fit for enlistment, it would be better if of their own free will they could be released from the service and could take 753 their stand in the ranks, but I hope the right hon. Gentleman will pause before he sets an example to private employers which will cause them to think the Government is leading the way in what I may call an indirect method of compulsion for enlistment. I am one of those who have done my part and shall continue to do my part in urging voluntary enlistment, because I believe the country's life is at stake, and that we ought to do all we can to help it.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
It has been my duty on more than one occasion to criticise the statement made by the Postmaster-General from year to year. On this occasion, however, it is a pleasure to be able to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the statement he has just made, and upon the work which the Post Office has done during the last nine months on behalf of the soldiers at the front. The Post Office has worked admirably to keep up communications between our men at the front and their relatives at home, and while the Postmaster-General congratulated his staff, I think the House of Commons ought to congratulate the Postmaster-General, as the head of that staff, on the efforts he has personally made to carry out that very great object. I desire to raise one or two points of commercial interest at the present moment, but before doing so I must, say one word with regard to the concluding remarks of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. The figures which the Postmaster-General gave were figures which he gave to mo in answer to a question which I put down yesterday in order to ascertain how many men were employed on this temporary work in the Post Office of military age and military possibilities. I entirely concur with the hon. Member below the Gangway that it is not right for private employers to apply compulsion to their employés in order to get them to go to the War. I have had some few employés of my own, and I have applied no compulsion at all. I merely put it to them that we were doing what we could, and I am glad to say all who were of military age and unmarried have gone to the front, and one at least has gone who will never come back again. I want to put it to the hon. Member that the Government is in rather a different position. The Government will have to get, before this War is over, every available man to put in the field. I may be wrong, but I believe there will be an enormous additional call for 754 men before the War is completely over. The Government naturally wants to avoid conscription, but if they are to avoid conscription they should, in my opinion, as employers, set the example of not taking on any fresh men of military age and military possibilities. I have no doubt the Post Office did not quite think of the importance of this matter when they took on these 6,000 young unmarried men, and I suggest to the Postmaster-General that every effort should be made, not by compulsion, but by putting the necessities of the country before these men, to get them to enlist—and, remember that they are temporary men taken on for temporary work—and, above all, under no circumstances from henceforth should the Post Office take on another single man of military age for temporary work if by any possibility his place can be filled by a married man or an older man. That is absolutely essential in the interests of the country, and of our Army which is fighting for us, and which will need, from time to time, further reinforcements.
There are two points that I should like to call attention to. One is the question of the control of our cables in war time, which is, I think, of vast importance, and the other the question of the number of codes which are allowed to be used during war time. Many of us on this side of the House have from time to time supported proposals for an all-British cable round the world. I suppose there is no one today who would not support that proposal if it were possible to be carried out. I wonder whether the Committee realises that all the cables between this country and America are in alien hands. About 1912 they all passed into American control, although, of course, it would have been possible at that time for the English Post Office to have refused to grant landing licences in Ireland or England except to English cables, but these licences were granted. I believe the Anglo-American Telegraph Company and the direct United States Company were both transferred to the control of the Western Union Telegraph Company of New York. I admit that these are in the hands of friendly aliens, but I think it is known that it is possible to-day to cable to New York and, by arrangement with New York, get the cable back again into Germany. It may not be easy, but it is quite possible, and I think it would be undoubtedly to the advantage of this country that we should at this juncture 755 very seriously consider the desirability of this all-British cable. It is mentioned in the public Press this morning that in 1912 the Postmaster-General's predecessor, when this question was under consideration, replied to the hon. Member for Bournemouth, who raised the point, and made this somewhat remarkable speech:—The hon. Member who spoke, first, as to where we are at war with some European countries, and, secondly, as to the sending of a cypher telegram which could be deciphered by an employé of an American company who might communicate with a European Power if we were at war. Really, such a contingency is so remote that I do not think the House should make any costly provisions to meet it.I do not want to rub in the remoteness of the contingency, but, considering that that speech was made, I believe, within a very few weeks, certainly a very few months, of the return of Lord Haldane from his celebrated mission to Berlin, when at least he knew something of the position, it showed the official mind in regard to this matter, that war was so remote that it was not necessary to take costly provision against it. I do not think the provision of one cable between here and Canada would be of such vital cost compared with the enormous amount of money which this country is pouring out, and will pour out, before the War is completed. I think that the application of these cable companies for licences will very shortly come up for renewal, and, while I do not want to ask the right hon. Gentleman for any pledge to-day, I suggest that he should give his most careful consideration when these licences come up for renewal as to whether it would not be possible, at all events in one or two cases, to impose the condition that there is much more English control over the companies than there is at present.
There is one other point of considerable, importance to the commercial community in regard to the censorship over code, cables. Business between ourselves and our Colonies and India, and those nations with which we are still permitted to do business, is conducted nowadays almost entirely by cable, especially financial operations of vast magnitude, the sale and purchase of parcels of produce, and so forth. The old days of writing to your Agent in India and making an offer for indigo, and writing to America making an offer for cotton by letter are as far removed as the old days when those commodities arrived here by sailing ship. It is all done by cable, and many of our big merchants 756 spend enormous sums, running well into five figures, for the cost of cablegrams to foreign countries. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to the commercial community that, while they realise that there must be difficulties in time of war, those difficulties should be minimised as much as possible. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us that we were to carry on business as usual, and I am quite sure the Post Office, and I hope the War Office, will desire to enable the country to carry on business as usual, putting only the very minimum of discomfort upon the commercial community that is necessary in the interests of the safe conduct of our armed operations on the Continent.
There are, of course, a large number of codes, certainly a dozen, which might be permitted to be used with advantage to the commercial community. In October of last year, the Post Office, associated with the Board of Trade, selected four codes and allowed them to be used—Scott's Code, the A.B.C. Code, Lever's Code, and the Western Union Code. As far as I can gather, very little communication or consultation took place between the Post Office and the commercial community before these four codes were sanctioned. Lever's is an Anglo-German production, very largely used between Germany and America before war began, and for aught I know, very largely used between Germany and America at the present time. The Western Union is also an American code, so that the only two fairly British codes which were permitted in October were Scott's Code and the A.B.C. Scott's Code is purely confined to shipping houses. It is a shipping code, and is used by large numbers of shipping companies in communication with the Colonies and their foreign departments. But it is only right to say that there were during the South African war, three codes permitted for use between England and South Africa. It is rather remarkable that one of the codes which was allowed to be used then was not allowed to be used last October; Broomhall's comprehensive code. I should like to know whom they consulted before they allowed these four codes and prohibited all other commercial codes. The Eastern Telegraph Company, which, of course, has an enormous number of commercial cablegrams, could have given every information as to the codes which were most used by the commercial community, and, after all, the codes which the Postmaster-General 757 ought to desire to permit are those which are most used by the commercial community. But that company was not consulted. More than that, I am sure the Committee can hardly believe that the London Chamber of Commerce was not consulted. They comprise almost all the users of cablegrams and codes in London. The whole of the great commercial community is centred in that Chamber, and before these four codes were selected, and all others blotted out, it was not even consulted by the Government. Upon that a great discussion arose in the Press and, to some extent, in this House. I had the honour of bombarding the right hon. Gentleman with questions from time to time, but he is a very difficult Minister to get anything satisfactory out of in the way of questions. From his own point of view he must be an admirable head of a Department in respect of staving off an inconvenient questioner.
However, after a time, he, or the Board of Trade, or someone, reconsidered the matter, and three more codes were allowed to be used—Meyer's Code, mainly used for the produce market between the United States, England, and Germany; Bentley's Phrase Code, and Broomhall's Combination Code. I have no personal interest whatever in codes or anything of the kind, but I have taken a great interest in this question during the last six months, and have found out that there are a few men who are compilers of codes. I never knew there was such a profession. What I want to put to the Postmaster-General is this: Why, when you have allowed several codes, can you not be a little bolder and allow another? I believe a dozen would really satisfy the needs of the commercial community. France, curiously enough, allows eight codes, although the business between France and foreign countries and our Colonies by cablegram, compared with the business between England and all her vast Colonies is infinitesimally small. It is a rather curious fact that the eight French codes which is permitted by France allows a Frenchman to communicate in that code with our British Colonies, and allows a British colonist to use that code in communicating with France, and yet he may not use the same code to communicate with his Mother country. I cannot help thinking that that point must have been overlooked. It seems such a piece of official stupidity. There may have been 758 an excuse for allowing a code to be used between Australia and France, and yet not between Australia and London.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
The explanation is very simple. A person in Australia wants to use it in communicating with France, but does not want to use it in communicating with England.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
We have conducted this discussion perfectly amicably, and I quite realise that the right hon. Gentleman wants to meet the views of the commercial community, but I am trying to find out upon what his information is founded, whom he has consulted, and whether he really cannot go a little further so as to satisfy these users of commercial codes. I am not sure that it would not be possible to allow, under restriction, the use of certain private codes.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
The right hon. Gentleman might consider it. Some of the largest financial houses in London and the banks, I believe, have their own private code. I have been in consultation with many of them during the last few months, and I am informed that it is crippling then business and crippling the business of London because these private codes are not allowed to be used. Surely it is possible to investigate these codes and to note who is to use them. I do not suppose the right hon. Gentleman would suggest, for instance, that the London and Westminster Bank, the Union of London Bank, or any of our great banking concerns, are going to use their private codes to convey information to the enemy. I want the Committee to realise the position. I know from information which has been supplied to me that if I want to communicate anything to Germany it is very much easier to communicate if I use non-code language than if I use code language. It is quite possible to make out a perfectly inoffensive telegram to the effect that mother started with so many children, which would be interpreted as meaning on the other side that certain ships had gone out in such and such a way. I am told by the experts whom I have consulted that it is easier to convey information of that kind in non-code language than it is in code 759 language, because code language is prepared for certain definite technical purposes and it is impossible to use it for the kind of information that a spy would be likely to utilise it for in sending information abroad.
I do not want to advertise any particular codes, but I should like to read an extract from a letter I have received from one of the largest cable companies, namely, Reuters, who have branches all over the world. They write to me as follows:—The suppression of the use of commercial codes has inflicted severe injury on the mercantile community without, so far as can be seen, any commensurate political advantage. The small number of codes at present authorised is applicable mainly to social communications, affecting merely 10 per cent. of users of the cable, the remaining 90 per cent. being commercial and financial firms to whom no coding facilities have yet been granted.I will not say that that statement is exaggerated, but I should think myself that the percentage between 10 and 90 is too high. At any rate, I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman could get the information. Now take the rubber code, which is forbidden. Everyone knows of the vast business that goes on between London and our Colonies in rubber. There are firms and companies who prior to the War were in the habit of using the rubber code almost exclusively. Firms with capital amounting to upwards of £100,000,000 sterling are forbidden from using the code that they have been accustomed to use, and they are forced either to use plain language or to get themselves acquainted and their correspondents acquainted with a different code. Everyone knows, who has had experience of code messages, the difficulty of taking up the use of a new code. I suggest respectfully, and in the highest sense in a non-political way, to the right hon. Gentleman that he should give his very careful consideration to this matter, perhaps more in consultation with the London Chamber of Commerce and the commercial community, and that there should be a general reconsideration of this whole code question. When he started in October it may have been thought that the War would have been at an end in a few months. Now we realise that we are in for a very severe and possibly a prolonged war. However long the War lasts we shall go through it, and however long it lasts I am quite sure the right hon. Gentleman, with his interest in the Post Office, will desire that the restrictions 760 which he feels it necessary to inflict should do as little harm as possible to the commercial community. I hope he will be able to give us some indication of the reconsideration of this question in conjunction with the whole of the commercial comumunity.
§ Sir J. McCALLUM
I did not intend to make a speech this afternoon because the subject has been dealt with so effectively and comprehensively by the Postmaster-General, but I feel it my duty to rise to congratulate him on the statement which he has been able to make. Those of us who were privileged to sit on the Holt Committee had revelations made to us during the seventeen months we were occupied which showed what an excellent institution the Post Office is. During that time we were frequently on duty thirteen hours a day, sometimes on three days and sometimes on two days per week, often sitting from eleven o'clock in committee, and after concluding the business of the Committee continuing to sit in this House even up to twelve o'clock at night. As the result of our deliberations we had knowledge conveyed to us which showed that our Post Office is the most perfect, the most complete, and, I think, the most effective system of postal arrangement in the world. Next to our Post Office comes that of Switzerland, which has originated perhaps more new methods of procedure than any other post office we know of. In congratulating the right hon. Gentleman on his speech, I would say that it has shown to us very clearly that wherever we may be weak in our position as a nation we are strong in our postal arrangements. An institution that can produce a profit of £5,000,000 in normal times is one that surely stands on a good foundation.
During the time we were members of the Holt Committee we realised that if there was a deficiency at all in the Post Office it was that auxiliary labour was not properly attended to. I think the auxiliary labour is worse paid in the Post Office than in private firms, and I do hope the right hon. Gentleman will see that if possible during these trying days we are passing through he will do something to make an improvement in regard to this class of labour. I rejoice exceedingly to learn that he is referring the bonus dispute to arbitration. Most firms in the country just now are making great sacrifices. Even where profits are not being made they have in many cases decided to pay bonuses to 761 their workpeople, and it would be a pity if an institution like the Post Office, which is so efficient in many ways, should neglect the interests of those who are toiling from early morn to dewy eve without proper remuneration. I acknowledge that some of the departments of the Post Office are well paid and better paid than are private departments, but there are other departments which we cannot overlook, because they are not having a living wage irrespective of the pension and other things, which are in themselves most satisfactory. I think it would be wise in making these arrangements as to arbitration to give full facilities, as I have no doubt the Government will, to the Post Office servants to present their case in a manner which will enable them to make a statement as full and comprehensive as the statement that the Government will be able to make. I sincerely trust that the issue of this arbitration will be that a bonus will be granted on the grounds of the justice demanded by the worker and also as an example to the nation, so that private firms may follow their good example. I think it will have a good moral effect upon firms who are still lagging behind. I can speak for Scotland. Almost three-quarters of the employers have started a system of bonus, and I believe that when the War is over the employers in Scotland will not be one bit the poorer for the way they are standing by manual labour and giving moral support and financial support to men who are sacrificing themselves at home in the public service.
§ Mr. WATSON RUTHERFORD
For the past ten years I have consistently supported in Committee what I conceive to be the grievances for the time being of certain sections of the postal service, and it has been my duty year after year to communicate with the various Postmasters-General and to put forward, not only the general grievances of some of the Committees and sections of the postal and telegraph service, but also a vast number of individual cases, and I take this opportunity of acknowledging that the present Postmaster-General and his able coadjutor (Captain Norton) have on each occasion invariably received me with courtesy and consideration. I take it that this is not the year, and this is not the occasion, when any general grievance ought to be gone into. We are engaged in a most terrible War. The circumstances are quite exceptional, and only the exceptional side of them ought at this moment 762 to seriously call for our attention. I think that we ought to congratulate the Postmaster-General upon the speech he has just made. I congratulate him upon the work which has been done, the vast exceptional work which has been done, and I congratulate him upon the way in which, I presume with the consent of the Government, he has come here to-day to agree to arbitration in regard to the claims of the lower-paid servants of the Post Office.
I was very glad to hear the Postmaster-General say that when the arbitration takes place the Government will loyally accept and will carry out the decision arrived at, because the first movement in which I took some part was a similar affair, and the result was unfortunate. An outside Committee was appointed, called the Bradford Committee. That Committee had to go into the grievances of a vast number of postal servants, and when the decision was given the Government Department responsible, that is the postal authorities, declined to carry it out. I do not know of a more regrettable occurrence in the history of the whole Post Office than that a Committee should have been appointed, that it should have sat for a whole year and have investigated the state of affairs in regard to the telegraph service and other Departments, and that when its Report was issued the Postmaster-General of the day should have thrown it over and declined to carry it out. It was a scandal, and it has certainly caused since a great deal of the annoyance and trouble to which we have been subjected. I think the stipulation which the Postmaster-General has made to-day is a perfectly fair one. He says, if the Government in advance agree to loyally carry out the decision of the arbitration, it is reasonable to stipulate that the postal servants should do the same and loyally abide by the decision. That is a perfectly fair stipulation, and I think it ought to be understood that when the Postmaster-General and the Government are going out of their way to agree to this exceptional method of meeting exceptional claims, and agreeing in advance to abide by the decision, the other side should meet them in the same way. I think that we should congratulate ourselves also upon the splendid figures in the Savings Bank. It was quite natural that on the outbreak of War there should have been considerable withdrawals. But the tide soon 763 turned, public confidence was re-established, and that money, and more also, has since come back, which is exceedingly gratifying. We should be grateful to the Postmaster-General and to the Department for all the work which they have done to facilitate telegrams and telephone during this difficult period.
There is one matter in respect of which I must take a different line from that of my hon. Friend who has just addressed the Committee. In reference to foreign cables. I wish to acknowledge the ability and efficiency of the Department, at all events in one direction. It has come to my notice that in the case of certain countries of Eastern Europe with which direct cable communication has been cut off, it has been, exceedingly difficult to communicate with them commercially. We are under a direct debt of obligation for what has been done in this respect in the case of Rumania and other countries in Eastern Europe which are not at war with us, and we owe a debt of gratitude to the Post Office, and also to the Foreign Office, because when cables became impossible commercially for those countries the Foreign Office lent its powerful aid, and, through the instrumentality of the Embassies and the Consular Service, commercial cables have been forwarded, and every care and trouble have been taken by the Government to help traders to receive these communications. In these times of stress and difficulty we are under a deep obligation to any Department or Service which has risen to the occasion, and I think that the Post Office has risen to the occasion during this last financial period. I, for one, cannot refrain from thanking the Postmaster-General and his coadjutor, both of whom have helped in this Department, and I think that it is only right that we should give expression to our congratulations from this side of the House.
§ Mr. ROWLANDS
Like the rest of the Members who have spoken, I have to express my congratulations on the very clear, able, interesting statement made by the Postmaster-General. I wish, on behalf of the large number of the staff, to thank him for having accepted the proposition to submit the question of war bonuses to arbitration. I know that he has already received the thanks of those who are mainly inside London. This question of war bonuses is not one of an ordinary application for an increase of wages; it is a question of having considered the conditions 764 of employés in the Post Office, not in reference to an increase in wages, but in reference to the circumstances in which they are placed by the increased cost of the necessaries of life. We have just outside London a very large number of employés of the Post Office, who, owing to the conditions of the service do not receive the London rate of wage, but who, we know, have to pay the London prices for the necessaries of life, and we feel that when their case comes before the Postmaster-General or the arbitrators it will receive due consideration. We believe that they have a case worthy of consideration, and one that will receive acknowledgment when it is duly considered.
I asked a question last week with regard to the rate for parcels sent to our men at the front, and I received a very clear answer that the ordinary postal arrangements for parcels up to 11 lbs. applied. Unfortunately I was not in my place when the question was answered. If I had been I would have asked whether it is not possible to make this fact known more publicly. The reason I say that is this: I had brought to my notice several cases of people who were not aware of the fact. The general public, and especially a great number of relatives of those at the front, are not as conversant with parcel post regulations as we are, and I would like to know whether the Postmaster-General cannot make some public announcement so as to advertise more freely exactly what parcels they will carry, limiting the rate to 11 lbs.; so that persons who wish to send more than 11 lbs. will have to apply to the War Office or elsewhere to get their parcels through. It may not seem a very important thing, but it is one in which a very large number of persons are concerned, and I feel confident that now that I have drawn the attention of the Post Office to the matter they will give it their consideration and see whether some further publicity cannot be given.
§ Mr. POLLOCK
I desire to draw attention to the position of surveyors' clerks in the Post Office. In the Holt Report it was decided that a very considerable increase should be given to them. First-class surveyors' clerks were to have increases from £310 rising by £15 up to £380; second class, from £210 by £10 up to £300; and third class, from £90 rising by £7 10s. up to £120. Those figures represent very considerable increases upon the existing scales of pay. The Holt Report was published in August, 1913. The next year came and the Postmaster-General 765 from time to time held out hope that the scales of pay which were indicated by the Holt Report would be put into force. For instance, on 27th January, 1914, he made the following announcement in the Post Office circular:—The Postmaster-General is in correspondence with the Treasury with regard to the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee and a further detailed announcement will be issued later. It will not, as a rule, be practicable to make the revised payments at present, but arrears will be paid back to the 2nd February.Again, on 3rd April, 1914, announcing the alterations, the Postmaster-General stated:—The Postmaster-General regrets that it has not yet been practicable to consider fully the claims of those classes which were not represented before the Select committee, but the examination of their claims is being proceeded with and a further announcement on the subject will be made in due course. So far as they are settled, the scales of pay and conditions of service which will obtain in future are stated below. As explained in the Post Office circular of 27th January, alterations of pay, where not already carried into effect, will be dated back to 2nd of February.That sustained hope. The surveyors' clerks have been waiting, believing that when the proper time comes they will receive the increase of pay and that it will be dated back to the particular date which the Postmaster-General has mentioned. But they are still waiting.
On the 15th March I asked the Postmaster-General whether or not the increase was to be given, and I asked it for this reason: I understand, and I believe my information is correct, that the money that is required for the increased pay of the surveyors' clerks was included in the Estimates for the Post Office for 1914–15—that is to say, that it has already been voted by this House. If that be so, and, looking at the assurances which have been given by the Postmaster-General, surveyors' clerks had undoubtedly good reason to hope that during the financial year that has now passed, or at any rate during the latter part of it, some announcement would have been made which would have brought the hope entertained so long into something more substantial than a hope, and that the recommendation made would be carried into effect. But that is not so. A deputation was received by the right hon. Gentleman on the 9th December. It was then stated by him that the scheme was still under consideration and must go to the Treasury. On the 18th of February this year we heard, in reply to a written inquiry, that it had not yet been practicable to present to the Treasury the proposals applying the Holt, revision to the clerical classes. Why not? If the money has been voted by Parliament, how 766 is it possible for the Treasury to hold up benefits which have been passed, and at any rate for which the possibility of payment has been taken by the Post Office itself in their Estimates?
Those are facts which give rise to a great deal of heartburning on the part of a class, not a very large class, but certainly a class which is entitled to have its position improved. If we are to take the Holt Report, even if we do not take it in its entirety, it indicates that they have made out a good case for, at any rate, some substantial increase in their pay. I bring the matter forward in the hope that I shall get a clear answer upon it. My sympathy certainly goes out to these men and other classes in the Post Office from this point of view. We have been told that they were entitled to have their position considered. Their position was carefully considered by the Holt Committee, and was fully discussed for a good many hours last year, and the promises which are made are often so vague and uncertain that they really come to look upon them as illusory, and I can well understand them losing heart at having promises made to them which, it may be for a good reason, are not carried into operation. The grounds for which they ask for an improvement in their position, as to the rise in the cost of living and so on, have been proved. Is it the Treasury which stop the way or is it the Post Office? The surveyors' clerks, at any rate, are entitled to an answer on this point. They are entitled to ask whether the money which was voted, apparently in the Estimates of 1914–15, has been secured or allocated for ultimate distribution among them, and I am entitled to ask, as a Member of this House, whether I am right in saying that the money has been voted specifically for this purpose. If so, whether it will be used for that purpose, or whether it will be ultimately paid back to the Treasury, if the Treasury do not sanction this increase in the rate of pay. I want, some information upon this question, and I do not use the word in any indirect sense—I want clear information. I want something which will put an end to the misgiving which has been felt by the class to whom I have referred. I would rather have a certainty than be told a year or two hence that the Treasury had thought the matter over, and that the Post Office would endeavour to do what it intended to do last year, namely, to provide the money, which so far they have not been able to do.
§ Mr. HOGGE
Perhaps the most important fact that was disclosed in the speech of the Postmaster-General was the accumulation of savings in the Post Office Savings Banks. So far as I understood his figures they amounted to as much as the Chancellor of the Exchequer deducted from the Drink Bill in the first year in which he imposed the duty on beer and whisky. It is interesting, in view of the discussion which has taken place in regard to the amount of drink supposed to be consumed by the British workman, that during the short months of the War stress, he has actually laid aside in the Post Office Savings Banks of this country more than was deducted by perhaps the most stringent action ever taken by any Chancellor of the Exchequer towards the reduction of the drink bill. I rose, however, because I want to be quite clear in regard to the Postmaster-General's statement, whether or not, in submitting the war bonus to arbitration, everybody will be included. When one hears, as one does, that it includes everybody under a certain fixed salary, one remembers that there are in the Post Office, particularly, for instance, in the General Post Office in Edinburgh, men who are not on the established staff of the Post Office, men who are known as members of the unestablished staff, such as doorkeepers, lift attendants, and others, who at the present moment are not in receipt of what Members of this House would consider a living wage. I know one case particularly, in which a man was appointed so far back as 1896 to a responsible post on the unestablished staff at 22s. a week, and he has had no increase at all from that date. It is typical of that class of labour in the Post Office. It does seem to me that when we are talking about giving a war bonus to men, who, at any rate, are in receipt of a living wage, that the class to which I have referred should be kept in mind. I should be glad to know from the Postmaster General whether the offer to submit this matter to arbitration applies simply to the class of people whom the Post Office Federation have put before the right hon. Gentleman, or whether it will include everybody.
There is another point, and it has reference to the employment of temporary staffs. Has the Fair-Wages Clause been suspended by the Post Office with regard to these men. There are men being employed to fill up the vacancies caused by those Post Office employés who have 768 volunteered for service at the front. Preferably, all men who are married are employed; and those who have wives and families to support are being employed at wages which are not anything like near the current rate paid for the same work in the Post Office. I know, for instance, that in some cases the employment of women labour is being encouraged, and the reason given is that women are more adaptable to the work required than is the case with male labour. That is being used to the exclusion of men. I should like to make a remonstrance about a remark made earlier in the Debate on the other side of the House, with regard to possible compulsion, and in reference to the desire expressed that in all cases the men employed should be married. I would point out that there are a great many unmarried men who support as large a number of people as married men; and simply to take the view that, because a man does not happen to be married, he is not to get the chance of a job, seems to me unjust and most unfair, because in many cases the unmarried man has to support his old mother, or it may be, as is often the case, an invalid sister, or people of that kind.
The third point I want to raise is the reference of the complaints of the Post Office employés to the Medical Referee at the Treasury. That is a point in which I am extremely interested, because I think the Post Office servants do not in my judgment get fair play from the Post Office authorities. When the Holt Committee considered the matter it was possible, so far as my experience goes, when the local medical officer at the Post Office was in Edinburgh, or Dublin or Cardiff, or wherever the local post office might happen to be, to turn an employé down because of his medical certificate. It is absolutely impossible to get some kind of reference here in London if other as strong evidence were forthcoming on the other side. I have a case in mind in which I was not convinced myself that the Post Office employé who was turned down in that way was turned down for a sufficient reason. I took the trouble and pains to have that employé examined by the very finest medical opinion that could be got in the city of Edinburgh—as fine medical opinion as any the Post Office have at their service. That opinion was entirely contrary to the Post Office medical opinion. I submit that in a case of that kind there ought always to be a reference to a neutral medical referee. I notice 769 from a reply to a question that the Post Office have agreed to submit that to the medical referee of the Treasury. I should like to know, in that case, is the other side entitled to bring independent medical evidence or is the position this, that the Post Office servant who is turned down has practically not the opportunity of bringing the medical evidence of the doctor he has himself consulted? I think it is only fair and just that he should, and I wish the Post Office would do that.
Like everybody else, I am interested in what has been said with regard to the efficiency of the Post Office during the War. The only complaint I have is one that strikes me as humorous. It is illegal for anybody abroad to post to this country any information with regard to lotteries. Complaint has always been made by my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General that owing to the provisions of the law they could not stop these letters coming through the post. Those letters are now being posted to this country marked "Passed by the Censor." That seems to mc to be one of the humours of the Post Office. They have an opportunity of stopping what is illegal, yet they do their best, through the hands of their own censor, for these letters being regarded as legally posted when marked "Passed by the Censor." I suppose it would be difficult to stop these letters just now, but it docs strike me as rather humorous.
§ Sir RICHARD COOPER
A prominent feature of this afternoon's Debate has been the congratulations showered upon the Postmaster-General, and as one interested in the working of the Post Office from a commercial point of view, I certainly share with other Members of the House the general satisfaction which is felt at the manner in which the Post Office has been conducted during this time of very great difficulty and anxiety. But whilst the Postmaster-General receives all these congratulations, it must not be forgotten that it is largely, if not mainly, due to the loyalty and exertions of the staff, from top to bottom, that that success has been achieved. There was one passage in the interesting speech of the Postmaster-General which I think it would be quite wrong from many points of view, and from a public point of view, to allow to pass unchallenged, and that was a statement which I took down as accurately as I could the moment he made it. He laid down the doctrine, which is entirely new, that an increase in prices is not enough 770 in itself in time of war to merit an increase of wages. Since he has agreed to arbitration for the Post Office officials I might pass this by, if it were not for the fact, and the very important fact, I submit, that the people of this country will rightly look to the great Government Departments as examples of what they ought to follow in dealing with problems which may be new and, for the most part, have no precedents.
If the Postmaster-General has actually acted on that supposition, and if he thinks that doctrine is shared very largely by the Members of the Government, I venture to say that a very dangerous example is going to be put to the whole of the country, which will not, if the War is prolonged, tend in the end to the interest of the people. As a matter of fact, I think all Members of this House ought to feel at the present moment very great responsibility, whether in regard to Government workers or workers outside, as to any large or drastic claims for an increase of wages which, in present circumstances, must come upon the country as additional national expenditure. We know quite well that the Government have got before them not only the question of this year, but of subsequent years. Most of us, perhaps—like myself—do not very accurately understand finances, and we do not know how eventual needs are going to be met. It is not the part of the House, I think, to rashly support any claim made upon it for increased expenditure; but my hon. Friend the Member for the City of London will hardly be so satisfied when I say that in this case I am honestly persuaded that something—I do not say very great, but something—ought to be done, without allowing the matter to go even to arbitration, although I recognise, as I think we all recognise, that the Government have taken a very proper, and perhaps what may be the wisest, step under the circumstances. The extraordinary fact is this, that on the 11th of February last we had a Debate in this House on the subject of the increased cost of living, upon which we all know the claim of the postal workers is principally based; it is not the only basis but the principal one, and in that Debate, when it was adjourned to the 17th of February, we find that the President of the Board of Trade, who surely should be perhaps the best authority amongst Members of the Government on the subject of what is the right 771 thing to do in case of wages, taking the very opposite point of view from that which the Postmaster-General has laid down this afternoon. On that occasion the President of the Board of Trade said:—It does not much matter to a man who earns £1 a week now when he only earned 18s. before, if the cost of living went up 2s. If it goes up to a higher level than the measure of the increased wage, that man is suffering a hardship. … It has been asked, have the Government done their best? I think they have. In the dockyard and Government works we have raised wages. … Wages have been raised in the armament companies; it may be they have not been raised enough, but they have gone upwards"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th February, 1915, col. 1189, Vol. LXIX.]Here we find two of the leading Ministers on a matter of very great importance, by way of example to the employers of labour in this country, entirely at variance and holding two entirely opposite doctrines. I shall be quite brief, as this matter under discussion is now going to arbitration, but I do submit to the Assistant Postmaster-General that if in his Department and if in other Departments of the State the Government want to do the right thing, and that is all they ought to be asked to do and nothing more at the present time, they have got to take into account the mind of the masses of the people in this country and the principles that actuate and have actuated the postal workers and people of this country. It was put to me last week by a postal worker as the reason why he supported this request in this way. He said, we have seen these enormous increases in the cost of living, we have seen the Government attempting to take action, and Debates in Parliament, to try and take some steps to keep prices within bounds, and especially to prevent the exploitation of the people and of the country at a time of difficulty like the present. The workers of this country are feeling aggrieved, and the postal workers are feeling aggrieved, because, in spite of the enormous increases they know for a fact that there are employers who are exploiting this country to an extent that is a disgrace to such people. And the Government, in spite of their heroic protest and their heroic expressions of determination, have done absolutely nothing in the case of coal and in the case of wheat to relieve the situation.
I am not going any further into that this afternoon, but I do submit that it is useless for us, the representatives of the people, and for the Government and for the leaders of the people in this country to be appealing for patriotism, as we rightly do, 772 and for unity amongst all classes at the present moment, unless in every department, in private works and in all forms of employment, and especially in Government employment, we are going to do something, and not talk. We have done nothing but talk about this subject for nine months, and the Government have done nothing. As long as we continue on lines like that, it cannot come as any surprise if there is this dissatisfaction amongst any class of the people. I am not going to say it has operated to very considerable disadvantage, because I do not think it is so serious as that, because the loyalty of the people is above that; but it might be so if it were not for the trust we can repose in the people. I think there might also, were it not for that fact, have to be added to the three enemies—Germany, Austria, and Drink—mentioned by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, another enemy, namely, the unjust treatment of great masses of the people in this country.
§ Sir WALTER ESSEX
The Report made by the Postmaster-General to-day indicated no great new departure in the enterprise carried on under his care. At the same time, such figures as he was able to give us, manifested to a certain extent the magnitude of that gigantic, and I suppose unequalled, case of national trade. If it had not been for these troubles which have interposed, I suppose we should have had him, in his quiet and courageous way, introducing some new piece of activity and public service into the splendid organisation under his control. I have watched the growth of the Post Office in this country and its allied departments with a very great deal of interest for a long number of years, and I have watched that progress, which has been so remarkable and so enormous, with a very great deal of pleasure, but I see, as anybody must do who looks into it at all, that there are still large spheres of usefulness in which the Post Office might well become a worker, and at other times probable departures would probably occur to the Postmaster-General of the day. With regard to the remarks made by the Postmaster-General as to the Savings Bank deposits, he is, of course, to be congratulated upon their increase and upon their return, it may be said, to the normal, but I do not think he is quite entitled to pat himself on the back for that, when one remembers the present abnormal rate of interest, deposit interest, offered by outside banks. I fancy, if he looks into the 773 matter at all closely, he will see that to that stringency some of that satisfactory increase to which he called our attention is partly due.
The third item to which I propose to refer has to do with a very significant statement which the Postmaster-General made in this House as being the expression of the determination of the Government upon this question of submitting to arbitration the claims of the postal employés for a further sum by way of War bonus. It was a very significant utterance indeed, and I desire to emphasise this about it: It was an expression, he was careful to say, as from the whole Government, and that he was speaking on their behalf.
§ Sir W. ESSEX
This may seem to the acuter mind of the hon. Baronet a very simple thing, but he will allow me to say that I link that statement up with one that I heard from his own side from an ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer some little time ago, stating that in his opinion also it was necessary for the Government to take in hand speedily some organisation which should deal with all servants of the State, all Civil servants, whether in the dockyards, the post offices, or what not, and hold an even balance as between them and the State.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
All I meant to say was, when the hon. Gentleman remarked that the Postmaster-General was speaking for the Cabinet, I supposed he was, as it has hitherto been generally supposed when a Minister makes a statement that he speaks on behalf of the Government.
§ Sir W. ESSEX
I understand that he gave rather more than ordinary emphasis to his remarks, and I read into that that there had been deliberation upon this, as though it had been viewed as a possible departure on wider lines to go possibly in the future beyond the scope of the immediate instance under consideration. I linked that up with what I had previously heard from the Front Bench opposite from an ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer of a desire to deal in some similar way with all employés of the State, and I was wondering if I am not now entitled to ask whether the intention or the mind of the Government on this point is forecasted, and whether this House is to be, in large measure, relieved of these discussions in 774 the future, and whether some independent and wholly impartial authority is to act as a permanent board of arbitration in these and all kindred subjects, which, with our ever-increasing body of public servants, are steadily arising from time to time. I thought it was a very remarkable expression of the Government's intentions, and I do hope we shall be told how far it was intended to go. I think the postal servants are to be congratulated equally with the Postmaster-General in the decision that has been arrived at in this matter. I feel they have a grievance, and the enormous increase in the cost of living presses with peculiar hardship on the lower branches of the service. But there can be no hardship that they cannot lay with their figures before the Court of Arbitration, whatever form it may assume, and they, I have no doubt, will be equally ready to accept whatever the decision of that Court may be, and to act loyally on it as good Englishmen at a time when all disputes must be settled as smoothly and as thoroughly and as quickly as is consistent.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I entirely agree with what the hon. Gentleman has just said, that it would be very desirable to arrive at some method of dealing with these questions of wages and other similar topics with regard to State servants without having them matters of discussion in this House. I never think the House of Commons is at its best when it is dealing with that particular kind of grievance. It is obvious that we are none of us really quite impartial in such a matter, and such matters ought to be settled with absolute impartiality. I do not in the least suggest, that the Government ought to take up so large a question at a time like this, and I think they would be very foolish to do so; but I hope in some future year, when we have the opportunity of considering these questions with greater freedom and greater time at our disposal, or rather with a more liberal spirit of mind at our disposal, that some such permanent settlement may be possible to be arrived at. I did not rise for the purpose of dealing with that subject, which has been quite sufficiently referred to; but there is one particular point in the administration of the Post Office which I have already pressed upon the consideration of the Postmaster-General and which I propose to do again, that is, a question of the free carriage of postcards from wounded soldiers in this country to their relatives. The Postmaster-General is aware, and possibly the 775 Committee may be, that at the request of the War Office, a system was established by the Red Cross Society by which in the case of every wounded soldier sent home to hospital, a postcard is given to him which is filled up by him with the name of the relative to whom he wishes it to be sent, and on which he merely states that he has arrived in England and is at—Hospital. The name of the hospital is filled in by the hospital authorities, and in that way relatives obtain the earliest possible information of the arrival of the wounded soldiers.
That system has been, as a representative of the War Office told us the other day, a very great boon to the soldiers and their relatives, because up to its adoption, it was sometimes the case that a soldier would arrive in this country and be here for several days and sometimes even for a longer period in a hospital here, without the relatives knowing anything about it. That is a very important matter. It was at the request of the War Office that this work was undertaken and carried out by the British Red Cross Society. It is now being carried out by the Red Cross Society in the sense that they provide the postcards, which are distributed to the soldiers by Government servants—by the embarkation officer at Southampton, and those under his control—and to that extent it is recognised as an official service. It is nothing but a Government duty being carried out by private individuals at the request of the Government. The only reason that the Society, and not the Government did it, was that it was desirable that it should be done quickly, and the Society was able to do it straight away without consulting the Treasury or anybody else. Having carried out a duty which everyone recognises to have been a considerable benefit to our soldiers, I think we are entitled to the consideration of the Government in this respect. So successful has the work been with our soldiers that, at the request of the Canadian Red Cross Society and the authorities of the New Zealand Dominion, a precisely similar plan is being carried out for their soldiers, and, I hope, with equal success.
All that we ask is that these postcards should be carried free. That, I think, is a very moderate request. Any postcard sent by a soldier on active service until he reaches this country, and even if posted on the quay at Southampton, is carried 776 free; but if he waits until he gets to hospital the halfpenny has to be paid. I cannot understand why the Government do not see that in a matter of this kind they ought to act with generosity and, as I think, with justice. In this matter our Government is very much indeed behind the Government of every Continental country, especially of our Ally, France. The French Government go much further. Every Red Cross letter, even every British Red Cross letter, is carried free in France as a matter of course. We are only asking for the free carriage of a particular class of postcard, which was brought into existence at the request of the Government and is utilised for purely Governmental purposes. We say that, under these circumstances, it is the greatest possible hardship that the cost should fall upon charitable funds provided by the public instead of upon the funds of the nation. I do not for a moment suggest that they will take such a course, but if the Red Cross Society ceased to do this work, the Government would have to do it. They would then have to pay not only the postage, but the cost of the cards, and all the other incidental expenses connected with them. Under these circumstances I think that the claim we make is a strictly proper one, and I hope the matter will be reconsidered and that, in consultation with the War Office, some fair settlement of this grievance, which is not very large monetarily, but is very serious from the point of view of principle, will be arrived at.
§ Mr. ANEURIN WILLIAMS
I am one of those who have heard with a great deal of pleasure the announcement that it is proposed to refer the question of the war bonus for Post Office employés to the consideration and judgment of an impartial authority. That is a principle which should be of immense value, not only in this particular case, but in the politics of this country, and should relieve Members of Parliament from a very unenviable position in regard to questions of wages. In this particular matter, I have no sort of doubt that it is the right course to pursue. We have been told by the Postmaster General that when the question comes before the authority for decision the Government will bring forward the arguments which they have already adduced against the granting of the war bonus. I sincerely hope that they will reconsider that decision, and will not press those arguments in the case of the lowest paid 777 workers. What one means exactly by the lowest paid employés is a little difficult to define—perhaps 25s. or 27s. a week for married men, and different sums for unmarried people. It is beyond doubt that those who are below some such limit have not the means to provide for themselves adequately, to pay the increased cost of living, and to provide properly for their families. I hope, therefore, that the Government in their case will not press the objections which they have taken. I am afraid that the case of the lowest paid workers has been prejudiced by the way that this demand for a war bonus has been brought forward. From the letters which have been circulated to us, and from an answer which was given to a question on the subject, it would seem that there has been some proposal for a war bonus to people earning as much as £200 a year. I do not think it is a reasonable thing to ask in time of war for a bonus to be given to people earning as much as that. But it is an entirely different matter when you come to the lowest paid class of labour, and we know that in the Post Office there are unfortunately a very large number of very low paid workers. Something was said in the answer to which I referred as to all classes sharing the burden of increased cost of living. I do not think that that applies at all to people who already have not the means properly to provide for their families.
There is a very strong general claim for considerable advances in the Post Office service. It was recognised to some extent by the Report of the Holt Committee, although some of us thought that it was not recognised to an at all adequate extent consistent with the principle that the Government ought to set something of an example to other employers in treating their employés well, paying them well—not, of course, paying extravagantly, or going wildly ahead of the ordinary conditions of the country, but setting something of an example as a good employer. The general feeling of the House was that the Report of the Holt Committee was inadequate from that point of view, and a Committee was appointed to consider the Report and make a further recommendation. I am sorry that, even in war time, it has not been found possible to get on with the work of that Committee more quickly. I believe that something is being done, but the work is not being got on with very quickly. I hope 778 it will not be very long before the proceedings can be hastened and we have a Report from the Committee. I am perfectly certain that to these low-paid workers every day's delay in improving their condition is an additional day's injustice. Even in time of war, I think we can afford to attend to this matter. It is surely those of us who have enough for ordinary necessities, and some little margin over, who ought to bear the cost of the War. For it to be borne by those who already have not enough to provide the proper necessaries of life is, in my opinion, neither just to them nor, in the long run, expedient for the country.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I do not think that anyone has yet spoken in this Debate in the direction of economy. I thought that the hon. Baronet the Member for Walsall (Sir R. Cooper) did so at the commencement of his remarks, when he pointed out that the expenditure of the country was already very enormous, that it would probably be much greater in the future, and that before plunging into further extravagance there was some little necessity for considering where we were to get the money from. But after having enunciated those very good sentiments, and having been encouraged, as I hoped, by the cheers that I gave him, he turned round and said that he thought under certain circumstances other principles ought to be followed. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. A. Williams) made a very nice speech, full of excellent sentiments; but if he had thought for a moment he would have remembered that during the last twenty-three years there has been a continual increase in the wages of Post Office servants. I have been twenty-three years in the House of Commons, but I have never known the Post Office servants to be satisfied, or a Debate in which they have not found some excuse for asking for a rise in wages. The more their wages have been raised, the less satisfied they have apparently been, and the more they have asked. Since this Government has been in office there have been, I believe, on two occasions, rises in the wages of Post Office servants.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I am informed by the Assistant Postmaster-General that it does, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will take the statement of one of his own leaders to that effect.
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
Yes, if the hon. Gentleman will assure me that the wages of the lowest grades are satisfactory; but I do not think he can.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
That is not the point. What I said was that there had been increases in wages. The hon. Member asked whether that applied to the lowest grades, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Captain Norton) intimated that it did. Now the hon. Gentleman shifts his ground, and wants to know whether the wages are satisfactory, which is an entirely different question. I know that in asking for a little economy I am a voice crying in the wilderness. I dare say the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster-General agrees with me, but there is so much pressure from Members behind him, and, to a large extent, from Members on this side of the House, in the direction of increased expenditure, that it is probably beyond his power to stop it. But I would point out that there is an increase in this Vote of £609,556, which is a very large increase, especially at the present time. Salaries, wages, and allowances have increased by £394,000 since last year. That, in my humble opinion, as an old-fashioned economist, is a very large increase, especially as it is an increase upon an increase. That apparently does not weigh with the hon. Gentleman opposite.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I was not blaming the right hon. Gentleman; I was really taking his part, because I was pointing out to his followers, who have been blaming him, that he has already been doing what they desire, and that there have been increases in wages. Stores, other than engineering materials, have increased by £147,540. On turning to page 83, where the details are given, I find that mail-bags and baskets—perhaps here I shall have the support of the hon. Gentleman opposite, because mail-bags and baskets do not eat anything, and the cost of living does not apply to them—have increased from £151,000 to £215,000. Why should we spend £64,000, or 33 per cent. more this year on mail-bags and baskets? Then there is a small increase on the uniform clothing of £5,000, of £238,000 to £243,000. There appears a new item which did not appear last year; allowances 780 in lieu of uniform clothing, £76,000, so that apparently, though there is this new item, in face of it there is the increase, though only a small one.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I am asking for an explanation, though I do not know about being satisfied with it. I feel compelled to raise one question—if I am only a solitary voice—in the interests of the taxpayer and economy. It is not a good business to spend a sovereign if you can get the same article for 19s. That is one of the beliefs in which I have been brought up. I do not know about hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
My hon. and learned Friend who sits beside me, with that quickness that characterises him, says that that is the doctrine of Free Trade, of which the hon. Member opposite is a great supporter.
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
That is not the doctrine of modern Free Trade so far as labour is concerned, and has not been for the last thirty years.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I do not know the difference between ancient and modern Free Trade. I suppose Cobden was an ancient Free Trader, and he it is whom hon. Gentlemen opposite follow. But I must not follow that point or I shall be out of order. Engineering materials, I see, show an increase of £157,000, though the engineering establishment shows a decrease. I do not quite understand that. If the engineering establishment has been able to be run at a lesser cost I presume it is because they have done less work? How, then, is it that materials have increased by £157,000? There is a large increase of the charges on the debt. I suppose we cannot help that, but the total, as I have said, is an increase of over £600,000, which I myself am sorry to see. I think that the nation at this time is very highly taxed and though none of us begrudge anything of the amount that we are being taxed for purposes of the War, still we do think that a little economy and a little of business principles are necessary, when the ordinary Budget of the country is over £200,000,000, without taking into account the War expenditure, which amounts to £2,000,000 a day. I am sorry for the right hon. Gentleman because I believe he 781 wants to do the right thing. I believe he would be economical if he could, but I am afraid it is not within his power. I am endeavouring to assist him, and I trust that it will be of service to him. I have mot said anything about arbitration. I think on the whole I had better not, because the right hon. Gentleman has committed himself to that policy, and nothing that I can say would alter it; and I have some idea that on the whole it may be good to set up a tribunal independent of the House of Commons altogether with which to deal with the question of wages. It is a big question, which, of course, cannot be dealt with at the present time. Therefore I will not enlarge upon it.
§ Mr. RAFFAN
I would like to raise one point which may be regarded by the authorities as a comparatively unimportant one, though it is of considerable interest to a very large number of telephone subscribers. In the country districts and the country towns these are familiar with the irritation that comes from the fact that communication with the neighbouring villages or neighbouring towns is very frequently charged for as a trunk call. That irritation is hardly compensated for by the advantge which comes from the knowledge that such subscribers may comumunicate with a town very often twenty, thirty, or forty miles away in which they have no interest at all, and that they are only charged with the local call. I have long been familiar with this grievance at my own home. If I desire to communicate with neighbouring towns, especially in the same urban district, only some three-quarters of a mile away, I am charged with a trunk call, whereas I can communicate as a local call with other towns from which I am separated by ranges of mountains.
I would not have troubled to bring that personal grievance to the attention of the House, but I have to-day received a very lengthy correspondence from a rural district council in my Constituency, a correspondence which this rural council have had with the Postmaster-General. It refers to a proposal to set up a call office in the township of Lowton. The proposal of the Post Office authorities is to set up a call office at a post office in one portion of the village which will be attached to the main exchange, and a call office at another end of the village a mile away, which they propose to attach not to that exchange but to another. The net result will be that when these call offices are set up any 782 person using the call office at Lowton Post Office will be charged as for a trunk call, and if he desires to communicate with other people in the same village some half or three-quarters of a mile away he will be charged differently. I think that is absolutely indefensible on any principle of any kind. It cannot even produce revenue, and to my mind it can only produce more irritation.
It is admitted, as a matter of fact, in the course of this correspondence between the district council and the Secretary to the Post Office, that such a state of things exists, and a statement is made that it is proposed to make an alteration. So far, therefore, from defending it, the Secretary admits that this system of the delimiting of areas is an obsolete one. On 14th October last the Secretary to the Post Office stated that it "was the intention of the Post Office to make the system of charging for intercommunication between exchanges dependent on distance, and not on the boundaries of areas which were arbitrarily fixed many years ago ….." If this were adopted it would meet the grievance. I should like to press on the Postmaster-General that this is a matter of very considerable importance to a very large number of people. I should like to ask whether, in the six months which have intervened since that promise was made, any practical steps have been taken to bring about the desired change? This is not a matter, I suggest, which should be allowed to drag on indefinitely, but at the earliest possible moment some such change as suggested should be made. If that were done it would not only remove a great source of irritation, from personal subscribers to the telephone service, but possibly secure increase of revenue and attract additional subscribers. I hope when the right hon. Gentleman replies he will favour me with some answer as to what has been done in the matter, and I trust that by this time next year we shall have this change made.
§ Colonel YATE
I have just received a telegram from the Leicester branch of the Postmen's Federation, and, on their behalf, I thank the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster-General for having granted them the arbitration they desire. I trust that that arbitration will be able to bring about a settlement acceptable both to the taxpayers and to the postmen. The point on which I specially wish to ask the Postmaster-General 783 master-General about is as to what provision has been made for the employment of ex-soldiers and ex-sailors. This is a special thing which will come up for consideration shortly, and for which it is very necessary to have arrangements made in advance. The Return of Employment of Ex-Soldiers and Ex-Sailors for 1914 in the various Government Departments is in my hands, and I can congratulate the right hon. Gentleman so far in this, that it shows that the percentage of ex-soldiers and ex-sailors employed by him for the year to be 29.16, which is 2 per cent. better than shown in the Returns of 1913. I have not applied for the Return for this year. Under agreement with the Financial Secretary to the Treasury last year, I said I would not apply for the Return this year because of his promise to give me the report of Sir Matthew Nathan's Committee, which was then sitting. Since then Sir Matthew Nathan has left the Treasury, and I believe that, the Committee has not reported.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
They sent me an Interim Report the other day upon this very subject. It is receiving very careful attention. I hope that as time goes on I shall be in a position to apply that Report practically. Being an Interim Report, I do not quote it, because the Committee may make small additions, and alter some of their suggestions.
§ Colonel YATE
I am very glad to hear what the right hon. Gentleman says; but as we have not yet seen the Report—
§ Colonel YATE
I hope it will be published, and then we shall have something to go upon. The right hon. Gentleman stated the number of men who had been enlisted in the Post Office since the War commenced. I hope that when the soldiers return from the front that not only will the old postal employés be reinstalled in their previous offices, but the whole of the temporary men engaged will be replaced by ex-soldiers and sailors. I should like to recall the fact to the right hon. Gentleman that the agreement that was made some years ago was that 50 per cent. of the total appointments of the Post Office should be kept for ex-soldiers and ex-sailors. At present we have only got 29 per cent., which leaves 21 per cent. of places to be provided. I hope every endeavour will 784 be made to complete that agreement, for many places will be required at the end of the War; and I think we ought to have two-thirds or three-quarters at least of all the appointments in Government Departments reserved for ex-soldiers and ex-sailors. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to look at this matter well in advance so that two-thirds of the appointments in the Post Office shall be reserved for ex-soldiers and ex-sailors on their return from Foreign service. I trust he will be able to give us an assurance that this matter will receive his consideration.
§ Mr. RENDALL
In regard to the present refusal of the Post Office to deal with Red Cross letters, I should like to support what was said by the Noble Lord opposite. The point may seem a small one, but I think it is really one which the Post Office has not been just in dealing with, to say nothing of being generous. What the Noble Lord has told us I think most of us know. Supposing a man is wounded in France and goes to a French hospital, the letters which he may write there during his illness are sent here free, with no stamp whatever on them. I think it is rather hard that, directly one of our wounded soldiers gets home from France and gets into a Red Cross hospital he has to pay for all letters he sends. It is not a large matter, but I do think it is a matter which the right hon. Gentleman might deal with, and deal with at once. I do not see why we should not follow the example set in France. I think, indeed, we ought to set an example; it involves but a small expenditure, and I think the right hon. Gentleman ought immediately to grant this concession.
With regard to the arbitration proposals, I do not quite understand what the hon. Baronet meant, I will not say by throwing cold water on them, but by throwing cold water on any proposal which is likely to lead to a perfectly just arrangement as between employer and employed. Whilst he was speaking the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Aneurin Williams) interrupted and asked the hon. Baronet whether he thought the wages of the lowest grades were now satisfactory? The hon. Baronet said that was not the point. I should think that w-as the point. I venture to say we have no right to employ labour in the production of anything if we cannot pay satisfactory wages. If we are unable to pay satisfactory wages we must not have the work done, and, as regards the lower scale of Post Office employés, 785 although the wages they were getting before August last were perhaps sufficient under the circumstances, Ave are bound to admit, as the result of increased prices, that they cannot be sufficient now. If the hon. Baronet thinks they were only just sufficient then, they must be insufficient now.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
May I point out that hitherto wages have not risen merely because there has been an increase in the total cost of living, but only one or two items? Is it not a fact that wages are far higher now than in the '60's and '70's, and that the cost of food is no higher now than in the '60's or '70's?
§ Mr. RENDALL
But it will not be denied there has been an increase in the cost of living which amounts to two, three or four shillings in the £ within the last nine months, and it is obvious that if a man received 20s. or 25s. a week nine months ago and that was only sufficient for him, his wife and family, then it cannot be sufficient now. Therefore I am personally delighted that the right hon. Gentleman has dealt with this matter in the only way in which I think it ought to be dealt with. He is now enabling both parties to the dispute to go before impartial arbitrators, and to try to get a decision which shall really be in accordance with all the facts of the situation.
The only other matter to which I want to allude is another matter for further expenditure. I am sorry to hurt the hon. Baronet's feelings, but I think the Postmaster-General, no doubt owing to great difficulties in getting his revenue, and owing to the great decrease in revenue, is rather inclined to be parsimonious, and not to carry on the business of the Post Office in the way he might. I ventured to call his attention during the last month or two to what I think a rather bad case in the neighbourhood of Bristol. This neighbourhood concerns a very large industrial population. In the outskirts of Bristol there is a certain place called Bitton, in which parish there is an agricultural village which has a Sunday delivery of letters, and letters are also collected. In the parish there also happens to be a large industrial population lying between the old country village and 786 Bristol, and in regard to this large industrial population of men engaged in making boots—there being many boot factories dealing with the War Office in quite a large way—there is no Sunday delivery of letters, and letters are not collected from that part of the parish. I have called the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to this matter more than once lately, and sent him a resolution passed by the local authority. I quite realise the right hon. Gentleman has lost many Post Office servants during the last few months; at the same time, it is hardly fair to a growing industrial population, when that neighbourhood asks for ordinary postal facilities, that they should be denied, merely on the ground that it has not been done in the past, and that the money cannot be afforded or the labour obtained; because the answer to all those objections is that he is giving these facilities already to the agricultural part of the parish and to other parishes throughout England whose business needs are far less than the needs of this particular area to which I have alluded. I do hope the right hon. Gentleman will deal with that particular point.
§ Sir J. D. REES
Will the right hon. Gentleman once again give his attention to the question of casual labour in the Post Office? I do not complain of his answer to my question the other day. The right, hon. Gentleman said he had no intention of assigning permanently to casual labour duties ordinarily performed by the regular staff. I think that is a satisfactory answer, but he said the arrangements made in respect of casual labour and munitions of war did not apply to Post Office servants. I confess I do not altogether see why, although, no doubt, he has good reasons; but I would ask him to look into that matter again. He also said that he could not keep any record of departures from custom in respect of casual labour. I would suggest that the great cities might be able to do that; at any rate, I would ask him if he would kindly take it into consideration once more.
I would also ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he could not, even in spite of the present war conditions, expedite some rearrangement of the geographical 787 zones of rates and conditions as to telephone calls. For instance, it would appear at first sight, and I think even after second sight, to be somewhat unreasonable that places in Middlesex should have every call made to London a trunk call. I really wonder that the Postmaster-General has the face to receive subscriptions. Is it reasonable that every use these subcribers have for their telephone is twopence extra? At the same time, persons in that position may talk freely to St. Albans, with which they have no connection whatever, and are cut off from the next place which adjoins their own area. I think a large number of subscribers in North London would, like myself, be extremely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman if, even in these times, he would do something to make this service more satisfactory. One would think a satisfactory telephone service would have been almost a war service. I should certainly have thought it was a matter he could have arranged, and I would beg him to consider this matter, as well as the other one to which I venture again to ask his attention.
Sir HENRY DALZIEL
I desire to mention one matter I have already brought before the Post Office on several occasions. It is a question of very considerable interest to the commercial community in Scotland, and more particularly to my own Constituency. It is a question concerning the taking off of a very important delivery in regard to letters. I am afraid that in this matter red tape has somewhat predominated. For the life of me I cannot understand the attitude of the Post Office in the matter. In a commercial constituency such as my own, of course, very large Government contracts have had to be undertaken at very short notice, and, owing to the delivery that has been taken off by the Post Office letters posted in London, say, before six o'clock on Friday night, arrive late on Saturday, and the result is they are not dealt with until Monday, and very often Government departments are asking for a quotation as early as Monday, and certainly not later than Tuesday. It took the Post Office over three months to give me a definite decision in this matter, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman there is in my opinion a real grievance. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will reply that a large number of postal servants have volunteered for 788 the front, and in consequence there is not the same amount of staff. It seems to me pretty hard that if you ask your leading citizens to facilitate in every way their men going to the front they should be immediately punished by having their business arrangements interfered with. So far as I know the right hon. Gentleman has not reduced the staff, because I think that would be rather a tall order; but what he has done has been to take on temporary labour. I can understand the position of the Government in the matter if he were going to say that this would cost a considerable amount of money, but I am assured, as a result of very careful consideration, that what I ask for can be carried out without any increased cost at all.
Why should the Government, simply because they have made a general rule, say that they cannot make any alteration in this matter? Why inconvenience the whole public simply because they have come to a general line of policy? The right hon. Gentleman, as I understand, had some sort of investigation into the matter, because I have been told that the matter cannot be satisfactorily dealt with. Here you have the whole business community—men who are doing all they can to help the Government—and it is of vital importance to them that they should get this particular delivery restored to them, and yet the Government say, "We have made a general rule." I am assured on the highest authority that the cost would not be increased, and if the right hon. Gentleman, who has been a Home Ruler for some time, will allow us to have Post Office Home Rule in Kirkcaldy. I guarantee we will carry out this reform without any increase to his Department. I do earnestly appeal to the right hon. Gentleman again to look carefully into this matter. I must say I was astounded at the length of time it took the Post Office to give me a decision—something between three and four months. I am bound to say I should like to see a little more business method in regard to matters of that kind. I know the pressure upon the right hon. Gentleman, but this is a matter which might be settled right away, and I do beg of him, in the interests of the whole community—it is a real public, urgent matter—that he will see whether he cannot cut some of the red tape surrounding the matter and, if the cost is not to be increased, let the local arrangements be carried out.
789 There is just one other small point of a general character I should like to mention, and that is the arrangements that are in existence for sending parcels to the front. I have had a very considerable number of letters from poor people who have complained of the cost of sending small parcels to the front. I have not verified the facts myself, but they inform me that they have to pay 1s. for sending a comparatively small parcel to the front. That seems to me to be a grievance, but I understand that you can send a parcel for 3d. if you send it through the forwarding officer at Southampton, and I am told that the Post Office are refusing parcels. Another correspondent informs me that in order to get over the difficulty of paying for the parcels, the best way is to put a heavy brick in, send it to the proper quarter, and it will be forwarded to the front, and he informs me that he succeeded in sending a parcel by inserting a brick, or something like it. I think parcels sent by poor women to their sons and husbands at the front should be sent free, and special facilities should be afforded them. At any rate, it seems to me to be a hardship that poor persons sending an article, probably not worth more than 6d. or 2s. 6d., should have to pay a shilling in order that it may be forwarded. I hope that whoever replies for the Post Office will tell us exactly how the matter stands in regard to parcels. I can assure the Postmaster-General that there is a great deal of ignorance as to the best way to go about this matter.
§ Sir JOHN BARRAN
I have a very small grievance of my own to deal with. I rise simply to make a practical suggestion upon a matter which, I believe, has not been referred to in this Debate. It has to do with the Post Office Savings Bank, about which I am sure everybody was glad to hear that the deposits, which fell in the early part of the War, have recovered and even advanced beyond their previous account. Very good wages are being paid where Government work and other similar work are in progress, and they are in many cases 35 or 50 per cent. beyond the amount which the workers usually earn. The Department has already offered facilities for a convenient reception of these moneys in or immediately opposite some of these works. That system is already in progress in some of the dockyards and in a limited number of other works, but for every pound that is deposited in a temporary Post Office 790 Savings' Bank many thousands of pounds go by, and a large percentage finds its way into channels which are undesirable. The suggestion I make is one to which I hope the Postmaster-General will give sympathetic consideration. The facility now offered in this respect is, I believe, very little known to employers or to the general public. I ask the Postmaster-General whether he can see his way to take steps in some way or other to give more publicity to the fact that the Department is prepared to set up these temporary post offices for the reception of savings in all places where they are likely to be made use of. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to overcome any technical difficulty in the way of setting up these post offices in order that as large a proportion of the earnings as possible of the workers may be intercepted between the pay desk and the undesirable places to which that money often finds its way. I am convinced that if a large proportion of these additional earnings which the workers are getting at the present time can in that way be safely banked, it will be an invaluable stand-by in the rainy day which is sure to come, and if this is done I am sure the workmen, when that day arrives, will look back with gratitude to the right hon. Gentleman for giving such facilities.
§ The ASSISTANT POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Captain Norton)
On behalf of my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General I propose to reply as briefly as possible to the various questions which have been put by hon. Members. The hon. Member for Brentford (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) drew attention to the question of cables, and pointed out that they were for the most part in the hands of aliens at the time of the outbreak of war, and he suggested that had we known that war was about to break out we should have acted differently. Doubtless that is so. There are at present seven codes, and the hon. Member suggested that these should be increased. Of course, every class of trade has a code which is favoured more than another, and it would be quite impossible to draw the line at seven. At the present moment the question of increasing the number of codes could scarcely be considered, seeing that we are at war, and it is a matter of great moment that, although every facility should be given to commerce, the question of the protection of the realm should be paramount. The hon. Member for West Derby (Mr. Watson Rutherford asked whether the postal 791 services were prepared to agree to the arbitrator's decision. I feel perfectly satisfied that as the postal employés desired to enter into arbitration, they will be ready to abide loyally by that arbitration, and I should be very much disappointed if that was not their line of action. The hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Rowlands) asked for more public information with reference to the parcels post. I take it that the Press will give full publicity to all that has taken place in this House to-day, and I think the public are very fully informed on these matters by means of the Press.
The hon. Member for Warwick (Mr. Pollock) referred to the question of the increase of pay of surveyors' clerks. I should like to point out that there is great difficulty in dealing with that question, inasmuch as the views and recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Civil Service are bound up with that question. It is very difficult to carry out the arrangements. The Treasury are now considering the matter, and I can assure the hon. Member that the case of his friends will not suffer in consequence. The hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) pointed out that the scope of the arbitration was not defined. I may say that in regard to this matter it has only just been decided that we shall go to arbitration, and everything else connected with the question of arbitration is a matter for future consideration. We hope the arbitration will also apply to those on a low scale of wages, and it is precisely to deal with this matter that the arbitration is to take place. The question of the higher class and better paid class is not involved. The hon. Member also spoke of fair wages, and said he hoped that the Fair-Wages Clause would not be infringed. I am not aware that there is a single instance where there has been an infringement of the Fair-Wages Clause brought to the notice of the Government which has not been instantly dealt with. If my hon. Friend will give me any cases, so far as the Post Office, is concerned, they shall be instantly dealt with. With reference to what was said about a medical referee, I would point out that we give a reference from our own medical officer, but the question whether that reference should be further investigated and referred to another medical officer is one which my right hon. Friend could not tolerate, because we all know that doctors disagree and the final decison is left to us.
§ Captain NORTON
I do not think my right hon. Friend is prepared to go any further than he has gone in this matter: in fact I may say that he is not prepared to go any further. The hon. Member for Walsall (Sir R. Cooper) hoped the Government would be a model employer. I may say that it has been the ambition of the Government to be a model employer. He also referred to the question of wages, but he left out of consideration in the instances which he gave that the Post Office servants are employed under altogether different circumstances to those engaged in other industries, because they have fixed and definite positions—
§ Captain NORTON
Yes, and pensions. The Noble Lord the Member for the Hitchin Division (Lord Robert Cecil) drew attention to the question of allowing the Red Cross Society to come into the same position as a Government Department with reference to postal matters.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
That was not my request. What I did ask was that a certain set of particular postcards instituted at the request of the Government and for the Government should be carried free.
§ Captain NORTON
The answer to that is that the War Office has distinctly laid down that men in France and on the other side of the Channel are practically on active service, and the moment the man crosses the Channel he ceases to be on active service. That is a line of demarcation which I think the Noble Lord will admit is a very broad line.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
No. I do not. That is not quite my point. The particular service I referred to was undertaken at the request of the Government and the War Office, and in this matter we are only acting as the agents of the Government. If we cease to do this work everyone knows that the Government would have to do it for themselves.
§ Captain NORTON
There would be great difficulty from a postal point of view, and the loss to the revenue would be very great. It would be very difficult in many cases to make certain the origin of the postcard.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I am sure that he has done his best, and I know the great difficulties with which he has to contend in meeting all the demands made upon him, but really he has not appreciated the point. These are printed postcards, which can only be used for the single purpose for which they are devised. They cannot be used for any other purpose. The idea that there could be great leakage of revenue by all the staffs of the hospitals using them is purely chimerical. It could not possibly take place.
§ Captain NORTON
If we did it for that particular association, we should be obliged to do it for all similar associations.
§ Captain NORTON
At any rate, my right hon. Friend has gone into the matter with the greatest care, and he has come to the conclusion that he cannot meet the Noble Lord.
§ Captain NORTON
The hon. Member for North-West Durham (Mr. Aneurin Williams) spoke of low-paid workers. I am not aware at the present time in the Post Office there are any exceptionally low-paid workers who are doing a full day's work. There are a number of auxiliary postmen who do a certain amount of work for a certain number of hours, and who have other employment and are glad to earn extra money, but my right hon. Friend is not prepared to admit that there are any full-time men whose pay is unduly low. The hon. Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) drew attention to the subject of economy with reference to the expense for baskets and bags. I might point out that in consequence of the fact that we carry some eighty-six tons weight of mails across the Channel daily we have had to increase them, and, moreover, the price of flax has been unduly great, and has increased the price of the bags. The expenditure on clothing to which he referred is due to the fact that we have given allowances to our officers in lieu of clothing, because we sold the cloth with which we make the uniforms of the men to the War Office at their special request in order to facilitate the clothing of the troops.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
How is it that the ordinary expenditure for clothing has 794 increased? Surely if an allowance has been given instead of clothing, the ordinary expenditure ought to have decreased?
§ Captain NORTON
That is due to the increase in the contract price for clothing. The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Raffan) spoke of the question of telephones, as also did the hon. Member for Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees). There is great difficulty at the present moment in rearranging these areas. It was pointed out on a previous occasion how the difficulty arises. When the National Telephone Company first started business they naturally chose the best and most productive areas from their point of view. When the Government took over those areas and linked them up with the Trunks, there was naturally a large number of anomalies. We are endeavouring to reduce those anomalies, but we can do very little until there is a complete rearrangement both as to zones and as to prices with reference to telephones generally.
§ Mr. RAFFAN
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will excuse me for directing his attention to the letter of October in which it was stated that they were considering the question of charging by distance, and not the question of areas at all. May I ask whether that proposal has been abandoned and, if not, whether it is likely to be put into operation?
§ Captain NORTON
No, it has not been abandoned, and it will be carried out as soon as circumstances permit. It is very difficult, as the House will understand, to carry out these large changes during war time. No doubt, immediately the War is over, the Committee which has been appointed will at once set to work again.
§ Captain NORTON
I am afraid so. The hon. Member for Melton Mowbray (Colonel Yate), referred to the question of the employment of ex-soldiers and sailors, and hoped that upon their return the men who had given up their places would be restored. My right hon. Friend will undoubtedly restore those men to the same positions they occupied prior to the War. Steps are being taken, in conjunction, with the Committee to which my right hon. Friend referred, to bring about the normal arrangement that 50 per cent. of the vacancies should go to ex-soldiers and 795 sailors. That is being done in connection with the reduction of boy labour in the Post Office.
§ Colonel YATE
May I say I hope that the normal arrangement of 50 per cent. will be increased to at least 75 per cent.?
§ Captain NORTON
That is another question. Of course, I can give no guarantee that will be done. That is outside the question. Men who have gone to the front will be restored to their original places when they return. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Sir H. Dalziel) spoke about a delivery being taken off in his particular constituency. Let me assure him that the difficulty has not been one of labour, but one of fitting in of the mail services. That is why it has taken so long. Every endeavour was made to meet his wishes. It seems a simple matter perhaps to those unacquainted with it, but I can assure my right hon. Friend that the dovetailing in of all these different services, not only the services to Kirkcaldy, but of those to all the country around, takes a considerable time to investigate. Everything possible has been done, and the most careful consideration was given to the matter.
Sir H. DALZIEL
The reason the hon. Gentleman now gives was not referred to in all the letters I have received on the subject; other reasons were given.
§ Captain NORTON
I am now giving my right hon. Friend perhaps the most important reason. No doubt the other reasons given to him were also of weight. He referred to the question of parcels sent to the front. I have seen numbers of complaints in the Press with reference to parcels going to the front. I would like to point out that the first duty of the military authorities is to supply the troops at the Front with ammunition and the necessaries of life. Therefore all these parcels that go to the front are luxuries. They are not necessities to the soldier. The War Office are naturally most anxious that nothing should fail so far as ammunition and food are concerned, and they press us not to send any more parcels. We already send, as my right hon. Friend has said, eighty-six tons. We send 400,000 letters and 40,000 parcels, roughly, every day. It is not that the military authorities are unable to provide sufficient transport. The fact is that the rails and the roads are unable to carry them. The roads 796 throughout the whole of the north of France are in such a state that they will not stand any more traffic. It would be well if the country realised that the Post Office are prepared to carry any number of parcels or letters, but that the military authorities are unable to assist us in getting those parcels and letters to the front.
§ Captain NORTON
The Member for Hawick Burghs (Sir J. Barran) has brought to our notice the question of temporary savings banks in works. I am glad that he has done so, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be only too glad to meet his views and give the suggestion that he has made his most careful consideration. I think I have now dealt with practically all the questions put to me.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
The hon. Gentleman was not perhaps in the House when I made my speech, but I gave a very definite pledge on that subject. I do not like to repeat it in different language, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman will do me the honour of reading my remarks to-morrow.
§ Sir W. ESSEX
Has the right hon. Gentleman anything more to say on the part of the Government with regard to the proposed arbitration?
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
No, I think I would rather not add anything to-day to that which I have already said.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I must express my profound regret at the decision of the Postmaster-General with reference to the postcard question. I do think that it would have been well for him and his colleagues, at any rate, to have understood the elements of the subject before they addressed the Committee upon it. It is perfectly plain—every one of the reasons given by him showed it—that the hon. Gentleman who replied was not even in a position to understand what was really asked for or what was the real question intended to be raised. I do hope that the Post Office even now will try to understand what really is the point, and consult with the War Office, who I am quite certain will say that the work being done is a work of public importance undertaken at the request of the Government, and one, 797 therefore, which comes well within the rule of the Post Office to carry letters which are really on Government service without payment. I confess that I think the decision of the Postmaster-General is extremely unfortunate. It will produce an extremely bad impression, and it is founded upon a want of knowledge of the real facts and the real circumstances of the case which does not do him credit.
§ Mr. MACMASTER
No reference was made to the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Kirkcaldy Burghs (Sir H. Dalziel) with regard to the cost of sending parcels, to the front. I quite understand the point that was made by the hon. Gentleman that munitions must have precedence, but that does not dispose of the question of the cost of carrying parcels, which, of course, might have to go by a slower means of conveyance. It is common knowledge that throughout the country the poor as well as the rich are engaged in making up parcels to send to the front for those who require them. Many of these parcels are actual necessities, such as mufflers and shirts and socks. Poor people meet together and make up a small parcel to send to a relative, and they find it rather hard that they should have to pay one shilling postage. Although the reason given may be a justification for lack of speedy dispatch, it is no justification for excessive charge on a small parcel of comparatively small value. I therefore associate myself with the views expressed by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ 7.0. P.M.
Sir H. DALZIEL
I must say that I am disappointed at the attitude of the Government with regard to even the smallest suggestions that are made. We have had to-day an exhibition of what we have previously experienced in other Departments. Not one single suggestion from a Member of Parliament is ever accepted. We might almost as well close the House altogether, so far as the assistance of Members in matters of vital importance to their constituencies is concerned. Take my own point. I have been nearly six months trying to get something done with regard to this one little point, which deals with a big commercial community. I do not know how many shillings I have spent on telegrams in trying to get an answer. The town council has adjourned week after week, trying to get a reply. I have sent telegrams, half-a-crown apiece, trying to get an answer 798 on a simple question of this kind, and then they come down to-day and give me an altogether different explanation. It is unworthy of the Government and of a business Department. My right hon. Friend may be too busy, but, whatever it is, he surely cannot have given his personal attention to this matter. The Post Office, like every other Department, is wrapped up in red tape. No business man who looked into this little point could refuse to give it, if he were not bound up by red tape. I can assure the Committee that at the first opportunity I shall go into the details of the matter, giving the correspondence and the number of telegrams I have had to send to get a reply,, to see if we cannot infuse a little business element into the Post Office. My hon. Friend, in reply to the question asked, did not really touch upon the point I raised. The question is this: How is a poor woman to pay a shilling for sending out a small parcel? I ask for information on that point; I wanted to be told how, if she desired to send a pair of socks to her son at the front, she could best do it, and the reply I got was they were so-full up with demands for the conveyance of ammunition and that sort of thing that it was impossible to give the facilities I suggested. I am glad the Noble Lord intends on a future occasion to press the question he put forward with regard to postcards, and I hope that we shall have a proper opportunity on Report to deal with that matter. On this I am not going to be waived aside as I have been in regard to another question. I only trouble the Government when I think I have a real grievance. I never heard a more unsympathetic reply from a Government in regard to a suggestion on a small point. I know it is not the fault of the hon. and gallant Member; he, at any rate, is a sympathetic man. He was simply voicing the opinion, I suppose, of the permanent officials. It really looks as though the Government is so hard up for revenue that it has to make the poor wounded soldier pay for a postcard to announce to his friends that he is returning from abroad. Surely the wounded soldier at the front should be able to send such a card home without the receiver having to pay for it. I certainly shall support the Noble Lord when he raises the question.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
I do not think my right hon. Friend did justice to himself. 799 Neither did he do justice to the conversation which he and I had on the subject of the delivery of letters at Kirkcaldy. I have gone twice into this matter personally; once, the Papers came to me in the ordinary official course, and once at the special request of my right hon. Friend, I sent for them and went into them at considerable length. I allowed no detail in the arguments for and against to escape mc and to the best of my judgment I decided the question upon what I thought to be the merits of the case. I have not the Papers here and cannot now therefore refresh my memory. But I think it is sufficiently good to enable me to state the facts. We had to cut off some deliveries at Kirkcaldy, as in other towns in Scotland and England. My right hon. Friend wrote to me that the new delivery, which I think was made at 9 a.m., cut off the delivery of 600 or 700 letters which, in the ordinary course, came from the south. I said we would try and rearrange the early delivery so as to include the letters from the south, and we did so. We gave them on the first delivery a larger delivery than they had ever had before, and that is what my right hon. Friend calls paying no personal attention to the case.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
The right hon. Gentleman also used the word "slipshod" I am sure he will withdraw the charge he made against the permanent officials, for they have really gone into the matter most thoroughly. With regard to the question of parcels, I have on several occasions in this House given very full answers to questions, and I hope I have not dealt with the subject in an unsympathetic manner. It is quite true that we convey a large number of parcels from London to Southampton or any other port of embarkation, but there these parcels are handed over to the care of the Army Post Office under the direction of the military authorities. I have been out and seen the arrangements made for the carriage of the parcels from the point of embarkation to the firing line. We carry something like eighty or ninety tons of stuff a day. The French railway authorities can only put at our disposal a certain limited amount of railway accommodation, and the military authorities have had to choose between the carriage of an immense amount of parcels — some of 800 them quite valueless from the soldier's point of view, and some, of course, most valuable—and the cutting short of certain necessary military supplies. If we reduce the rate, or, as has been suggested by some hon. Gentleman, send the parcels for nothing, we shall be invaded by an enormous number, which would completely block the transport of correspondence and the great bulk of useful parcels that go to the front. I ventured at Christmas time to write a letter to the papers pointing out that many of the parcels were filled with perishable material which was useless from the soldier's point of view. I examined some of the parcels. I found one containing a slice of cake, a handful of nuts, a pair of socks, a collar, half a ham, and a chicken, all jumbled together in a cardboard box, and it would never have reached the soldier in a useful condition.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
Yes, possibly, and I had it repacked and sent to the front. But if we are to have an unlimited number of parcels of that sort the effect will be to cut off from the soldiers at the front many things that are urgently wanted. There is no unwillingness to carry on our part, but there is inability to carry such an enormous number as would be sent if we were to reduce our charges. Another point raised by the Noble Lord, on which we have had some interviews and discussions, was the question of postcards. We have tried to draw a line, which my hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General said was a broad line. On the other side of the water we give free postage, but on this side we ask that a single rate, and not a double rate of postage, shall be paid. In these cases a postcard may be posted, so far as the soldier in hospital is concerned, without putting a stamp on it, but when it is received by his relatives they are asked to put a halfpenny stamp on it. They are not, as they would be in the ordinary course, charged the double rate. The State has made very generous separation allowances to the dependants of the soldier, and I do not think it is too much to ask that, in order to maintain a system which has prevented the abuse of free postage, they should be called upon to pay a single rate of postage for the information they receive. If the Noble Lord were in my position, he would be more alive to the abuse that has existed, 801 which still, to a certain extent, exists, and which would spread out if the present position were reversed, and I think he would have been found giving utterance to some of the sentiments I have ventured to address to the Committee.
§ Mr. MORTON
I beg to move, "That the Committee do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again." I should like to have more than one night for the discussion of these Post Office questions, and I want to discuss them in Committee rather than on the Report stage, because it is more convenient. We do not, of course, want to hamper the Government in these days.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
We have had a very useful discussion. I do not think that we have any of us wasted time, and if the hon. Gentleman wishes to go on with the Debate, I do not see why he should not do so. But I do not feel called upon, in the name of the Government, to accept the Motion, and I hope the Committee will not.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I do not think it matters very much, because we shall be able to raise these matters on a future occasion. I should have thought that it 802 would have been a convenient course to have kept the Vote open, since there are many Members profoundly dissatisfied with the reply from the Treasury Bench. But still, there will be ample opportunities for raising these questions, and we shall be able to show the Post Office officials and those who represent them in this House that the House of Commons is not a mere nonentity.
§ Question put, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and negatived.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported to-morrow; Committee to sit again to-morrow (Thursday).
§ The remaining Orders were read and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 3rd February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Thirteen minutes after Seven o'clock.