§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £10,141,304, 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, 1919, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Post Office, including Telegraphs and Telephones."—[NOTE: £16,000,000 has been voted on account.]
§ The POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Mr. Illingworth)
I regret that again I have to open my speech on the Post Office Estimates by saying that during the past year further restrictions have had to be made on the postal facilities which have been enjoyed by the public for so long. That is not particular in any way to the Post Office, as many other large undertakings, such as the railways, through the force of circumstances, have been compelled to adopt the same course. Though a certain number of restrictions have been imposed, I am glad to say they have not been so numerous as they have been in previous years. I am afraid I cannot say to-day that we have reached the end of these curtailments, yet I hope that in 2234 the future they will become gradually fewer and fewer. In many cases these restrictions have been made necessary by the taking off of trains, and the circumstances under which the railways are more or less helpless on account of the shortage of engines and also on account of the shortage of staff for repairing the rolling stock and also providing the railways in other respects. I am told that many of these men are working a good deal of overtime, and that they want to have a rest on Sundays. Consequently, in various districts, the Sunday post has had to be cut off altogether. In some of the more remote country districts, where the population is sparse and the post is very small, the difficulty has been one entirely of road transport, men who have been drivers of mail carts having been called up for the Army. There have also been the difficulties of getting suitable horses, the shortage of supply and the high price of petrol. In many of these cases there have been demands for very much higher remuneration on the part of the contractors, and in cases where the service was already run at a heavy loss I have considered that I should not be justified in incurring the extra expense.
There is still a large number of men of the postal service in the Army. It is now close upon 80,000. Three thousand have been discharged and returned to the Post Office, and have been given the work which is most suitable for them. Many men will be liable for military service under the new Act, but I do not think, taking into consideration the low medical category of many of them and the necessity of retaining them in the Post Office for carrying on the service of the country, that many of them will be able to be spared. As the War goes on year by year there is more and more work carried out by the Post Office which might not fall strictly within its purview, but with its large ramifications all over the country it has been considered the best authority for doing it. Of this the largest amount of work is caused by the Army allowances and pensions to the various dependants of soldiers. The Army, Navy, and Royal Air Force in this respect entail over 4,000,000 counter transactions per week. Many hon. Members who take a special interest in the fighting forces, and also many members of the public, have made frequent requests that these men should be paid on Fridays, but I am afraid that 2235 Friday is already taken up for other payments, and that the payments to the lighting forces cannot be made on that day. Each set of payments has its allotted day—soldiers' wives on Monday, their dependants on Tuesday—these are the two largest classes—naval and military pensions on Wednesday, allowances to wives and dependants of sailors and the Royal Air Force on Thursday, and on Friday the old age pensions are paid. It will be generally conceded, in view of the special circumstances in which the old age pensioners are placed, that they have the first claim to be paid on the day which is considered the most convenient day of the week—that is, on Friday. So it is quite impossible that all these people, most of whom wish to be paid on Fridays, should be accommodated in that respect. Saturday is always a busy day, and it is quite impossible to make any payment on that day. There is much more work in connection with stamps undertaken by the Post Office in consequence of the War. There are the Income Tax and Entertainments Duty stamps. These are issued in many denominations, and entail a lot of work and time at the Post Office counters. Also in the future we have to look forward to Luxury Tax stamps, as I understand this tax, when it comes into force, will be collected by means of stamps through the Post Office. There is also the War Loan, when one happens to be on the market, and also the sale of War Savings Certificates, which is, of course, of daily occurrence. Through the Post Office, since the beginning of the War, nearly £300,000,000 have been subscribed. Many of these subscribers have been depositors in the Post Office Savings Bank, and though many of them have subscribed quite considerable sums, it is very gratifying to know that the depositors are now higher by over £20,000,000 than they were at the beginning of the War.
Another matter which is spasmodic, but still causes a large quantity of work, is the question of air-raid warnings, which sometimes entail as many as from 10,000 to 20,000 telephone calls. I have called for volunteers to undertake this rather onerous duty, and it has been met in a very ready manner by the telephone operators. I think if thanks are due to anyone in the Post Office for work which has been done all through the present 2236 year it is more especially due to these telephone operators who have so willingly undertaken this duty. Thirty-two of them have been awarded the British Empire Medal for meritorious service carried out in this respect. Everything is being done as far as possible to assist the Ministry of Food in its rationing schemes, and an enormous number of ration papers, or food tickets, or what anyone likes to call them, are being distributed by the Post Office. Also papers are either distributed or exhibited in the Post Office disseminating information of all descriptions, mainly having reference to the War and the fighting forces. The increase of telephone, telegraph and postal work for the fighting forces is very much larger, and continues to grow month by month. All this extra work causes more counter work in the Post Offices, and this all has to be grappled with as well as it can be with a much smaller staff than we had before the War. I believe at present something like 25,000 fewer people are employed in the Post Office than before the War. Those hon. Members will think it is perhaps rather unreasonable for their constituents to complain, as they very frequently do, that the service is not so good as it used to be, and that they suffer considerable inconvenience through the overcrowding of post offices, which, of course, were not built to transact this enormous amount of business. I am sure when it is brought home to them what the Post Office has to try to do they will accept the position in a reasonable and rational way, as the vast majority of the population of the country has already done. I am afraid present indications are that the work will grow more rather than less.
The staff of the Army postal service is rather larger than it was a year ago, and though the work it has to do is slightly less there is no waste of staff, as it is able to conduct the business in a more satisfactory and more efficient way. Although strictly speaking under the military authority, all ranks are drawn from the Post Office. They are enlisted in the Royal Engineers and Special Reserve. The non-military element, which is employed solely at home, consists of 140 discharged soldiers and some 1,200 women. As one might expect, the bulk of the correspondence goes where the greatest number of troops are, which is in France, and the post now consists every week of some 10,000,000 letters and about 350,000 2237 parcels. At Christmas time, in 1916, there was a very great congestion of the parcel traffic, which caused a great deal of delay, and I am afraid many of them did not receive their Christmas pudding till several days after it was due; in fact, in the New Year. I thought we had better make some arrangements to prevent this occurring again, and this last Christmas the notice that no parcels would be accepted for delivery for the troops in France for several days before Christmas had very happy results. The parcels were all posted in very good time, and were delivered when they ought to have been, and very few indeed were delivered after the Christmas day. The post this Christmas was rather less than last. It amounted to 20,000,000 letters and 4,000,000 parcels. A special cheap telegraph service has been provided for the Dominion Forces from Overseas— troops, doctors, and nurses—at about a fourth of the ordinary charges, and to those troops serving outside Europe who are either sick or wounded telegrams can be sent free of charge provided they are sent through official sources. The 1d postage up to one ounce to troops serving abroad is still maintained. There has been considerable increase in the post for prisoners of war and for those interned in neutral countries, because lately there has been a large increase in the number of prisoners. I have not got the figures quite correct up-to-date and the position is somewhat uncertain, but letters last year at about the some period were 89,000 per week, and they are now 116,000. The parcels also increased very considerably, as last year in the same period they were 85,000 a week, and now they are 126,000. Unfortunately such a large increase of traffic caused for awhile the suspension of the parcel traffic altogether, as there was a large accumulation and there was not sufficient shipping to deal with it. This has now been got over, although the demands are increasing every week.
One of the outstanding features of the year is the large increase in the cost of working the Post Office. A war bonus has been granted varying from 6s 6d. to 14s. per week, and a claim has also been put in recently for a round increase of wages of 20s. a week for all the staff, both male and female, with half rates for juveniles; but as this is now or shortly will be before the Arbitration Board, I do not propose to say anything about it now except that the cost will be several millions more. ' 2238 The bonus which has already been granted cost some £6,000,000 per annum, and with other extra costs which have necessarily been incurred, have made it necessary to increase the charges in the Post Office services. The 1d post, which was first introduced by this country, and which has been of such inestimable benefit to mankind all over the world, has I regret to say been—I will not say abolished, because I hope it is not abolished—but suspended. I am glad to say that of the great nations of the world we were the last to relinquish it. It is rather over a year since the London address was altered by the addition of numbers to the letters. At the end of the first month after this change some 32 per cent. of the letters were correctly addressed. At the end of September, 1917, that number had increased to 43 per cent.; in January, 1918, to 46 per cent.; and on April 30th, 1918, to 54 per cent. These results are very satisfactory and exceed the expectations which were formed by officials who were most conversant with this part of the work of the Post Office. The number indicates the delivery office, and it is of great assistance to the temporary officers, who have not to find out to which delivery office each street belongs. This lends itself to more rapid and economic working of the sorting and delivery of letters. A list was issued hurriedly of some 5,000 streets. This has not been found to be complete enough, and another book has been printed which contains about 20,000 streets, and I hope will be ready in the course of ten days or a fortnight. This book will not be distributed free to the public. There will be a charge of probably 3d. or 4d. per copy. I am not quite sure of the exact price, but it will be fixed in the course of a few days before the book is issued. I am sure this small sum will not be grudged by the public, because it will ensure a very much larger number of letters being correctly addressed. The letters "will be delivered more rapidly, and I trust more accurately than they have been in some districts.
Automatic telephones, for which great expectations were entertained before the War, have not been developed to that extent which one would have liked, but the Leeds Exchange, I am glad to say, has been completed, and I had the pleasure of opening it for the public service early in May. This is the largest automatic exchange in Europe, as it contains 2239 at present some 6,800 lines, and the ultimate capacity will be somewhere in the region of 15,000. I have no doubt that after the War the development of telephones in this respect will be very considerable. There has been a general tendency for generations to substitute mechanical means for human energy, whether it be of brain or of labour. This system will be especially useful in this respect, as anyone is liable to make mistakes when they have to deal with long strings of figures and sometimes have to wait to get through. In this case the subscriber is responsible for the accuracy of the number. Although I have not got the exact percentage of wrong numbers given by the subscribers in the first few weeks of the working of the automatic telephone in Leeds it amounted to an extraordinary number. I am quite sure that some of these subscribers who used to complain frequently about being put on to a wrong number may come to the conclusion that they were more to blame than the operator, and that it is quite possible that though they thought they had given one number, they had given another.
§ Mr. ILLINGWORTH
It is quite successful, except for the mistakes which the subscribers make in giving the wrong numbers. Mechanically, when they give the right number, it works very well.
§ Mr. ILLINGWORTH
No, there is no operator. The tunnel for the post office tube railway is now completed, though the equipment will not be begun until the War is over, as both the material and the labour is wanted for munition purposes, and for the use of the forces in one way or another. The more I see of this railway, the more convinced am I that my right hon. Friend (Mr. H. Samuel) was quite right when he instituted that great scheme. It will save an immense amount of traffic on the road and ensure the more rapid transit of mails from station to station.
I have referred to a few of the points that have occured in the Post Office during the year, but naturally the most interesting part of the Post Office work is in connection with the War, and that is 2240 work which at present cannot be made public. When it is divulged in the future, I am sure it will show what an immense help the Post Office has been to the naval and military forces in matters connected with the War. I must ask the public to put up a little longer, at any rate, as long as the War lasts, with a service which is not quite so satisfactory and efficient as it was before the War, and to accept the assurance that the Post Office is doing its best under very difficult circumstances. I am sure that when the general public know of the extra work that has to be carried out by the Post Office, with a smaller staff, they will recognise that they are not suffering as much inconvenience as they might have done under less efficient officials than we have at the Post Office at the present time.
§ Mr. ROWNTREE
We all desire to congratulate the Postmaster-General on the record of work that the Post Office has accomplished with depleted staffs and under very difficult conditions. I want, before going into any details connected with the postal service, to deal with a question which affects the life and conditions of all the postal servants. The Postmaster-General referred to the large number of postal servants who are working abroad and who have joined the Army. We know that numbers have given their lives in France. I think it is extremely important that when we pay our tribute to those who have fallen it should be not mere; lip service, but that we should desire to think of what they have been striving for, and the future conditions in the industrial world which the men returning from France desire to come back to. I think those who have made inquiries as to what the men are thinking in France in regard to industrial matters feel that there are four great questions that they are interested in and which they hope will be very different on their return from what they were before. There is a demand for better wages, a demand for better housing, and a bit of land, a demand for better education for their children, and lastly, the point to which I wish to draw special attention, there is a demand that their status and their position in industry shall be different from what it has been in the past. If you ask the men in the camps at home you will find that they, too, are thinking on the same lines, and that, 2241 speaking generally, the four points I have mentioned are points which the workers to-day are demanding and expecting.
I think it is well that we should recognise the enormous change that there has been in regard to industrial questions, and especially with regard to the question of status. It is well known that there is a feeling of disappointment in the ranks of the postal service, that the Postmaster-General has not been able during the year to establish some kind of joint council in the Post Office service. I have heard this question discussed during the year at a large number of conferences of workers. If you try to put this demand for status in a few sentences, I think it would be like this, that the demand of the worker is not merely an economic demand but a human demand, that it claims from the employers and managers a clear recognition of his rights as a person, and that employers cannot regard human beings as merely hands or so many units of brain power or muscular energy. What is asked is that employers should co-operate with the workers, and treat them as they would wish to be treated themselves. That position involves the surrender by the employers of the supposed right to dictate to labour the conditions under which labour should be carried on, and the acknowledgement that all matters affecting the workers should be decided in consultation with them. I know that that is a very large demand. It is, in fact, the beginning of self-government in industry, and those who advocate it must be prepared to travel a very long way. I am perfectly certain that unless that demand is conceded, and unless employers are willing in this country to try to meet it, it is useless to try to maintain industrial harmony here.
What has been done by the Post Office to meet this demand? Last year when the Vote was being discussed I alluded to this question, and suggested to my right hon. Friends that during the year they might be able to bring joint councils in the Post Office into being. A month later the Whitley Report was published. I know the Chairman will excuse me when I say that all engaged in industry are greatly indebted to him and his Committee for that Report, and for the suggestions that they have put before the public, which go so far to meet the conditions which I have outlined. As I believe this is the first time that the question of the Report has 2242 been discussed in this House, perhaps I might indicate what is really suggested in that Report.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I must warn the hon. Member not to travel too wide. He can deal only with the subject so far as it is relevant to the Post Office. This is not an occasion for a general discussion on the Whitley Report.
§ Mr. ROWNTREE
I shall, of course, obey your ruling, and I believe that what I am going to say is all germane to this Vote. I want to point to the suggestions made in this Report as to the subjects that should be subjects of discussion by these joint councils. They are subjects which, I think, everyone connected with industry will see are of practical importance to any industry, and especially so, it seems to me, to a great national service like the one we are to-day considering. The signatories of the Whitley Report suggest that there shall be a central joint council representative of employers and employed, and that there shall also be district councils and committees in the individual shops in the industry. The signatories hint that there must be all kinds of variations in the way in which this is administered, but, speaking broadly, that is the general scope of their recommendations. Then, when we come to the point of what subjects shall be discussed by these councils, I find they include the better utilisation of the practical knowledge and experience of the workers, means for securing to the workpeople a greater share of responsibility in determining the conditions under which their work is to be carried on, the establishment of regular methods of negotiation, for fixing and adjusting earnings, piece-work prices and so on, technical education, and many other things. These are the questions which, during the past year, the members of the Post Office staff have been asking the Postmaster-General to agree that" they should be dealt with by joint councils. To show the importance that the Government attach to this matter, I may inform the Committee that on 20th October, 1917, the Ministry of Labour announced that the War Cabinet had decided to adopt the Whitley Report as part of the policy which they hoped to see carried into effect in the field of industrial reconstruction, and they went on to add that the Government are very anxious that such councils should be 2243 established in well-organised industries with as little delay as possible. An offer was made of Government assistance in setting up such councils, and during the past year the Ministry of Labour have been diligent in trying to induce private industries to agree that these council should be set up.
I believe it is admitted by all who have given thought to this question—by those engaged in industry—that probably the Post Office provides the most hopeful field for experiment in this direction. It is a national industry, it is well organised, it has a high standard of intelligence amongst the workers, there is no trouble regarding foreign competition, and the workers themselves are anxious that such councils should be set up. You often find in private industries that the workers are doubtful as to the expediency of such a step. Questions of private profit turn on it. But here, as far as one can see, this demand on behalf of the workers for the setting up of joint councils is practically unanimous, and I think it is felt, by large numbers outside, that, at a time when the Government, I think quite rightly, are spending considerable sums of money in urging that this scheme shall be set up in industry generally, that it would be wise to begin at home, and that the Post Office does provide, for the reasons I have stated, the most hopeful field for experiment. There is, therefore, a very urgent demand that the Postmaster-General and his colleagues should be willing as quickly as possible to make the experiment. At conferences which I have addressed during the last few months again and again it has been asked of me by private employers, "Why should we in our industry adopt this scheme when the Government refuses to adopt it in the Post Office and in some of the other public services?" Really those who are responsible for the conduct of the Post Office have in the past few months provided arguments for those who do not wish to accept the Government policy in this direction. The failure of the Government to meet this demand is also bad for the Post Office itself. I am the last person which would desire to exaggerate the feeling amongst workers at the pre-sent time, but I am perfectly certain that there is unrest and discontent among postal workers in many places 2244 to-day, and that discontent and unrest could be removed if only there were in existence councils of the character I am dealing with, consisting of representatives of the management on the one side and of the workers on the other, to deal with the large number of questions which are not getting adequate attention at the present time. There is a suspicion, moreover, amongst the workers with regard to the delay of the Post Office in taking action in this direction; they cannot understand it. I am certain that those who desire to see waste prevented in the future and who are anxious to secure increased efficiency in industry—those who increasingly give themselves to the study of the question of satisfying the legitimate demands of the workers with a view to making their lives comfortable and happy and removing grievances as quickly as possible—will agree with me that if those grievances are not removed, and if there is suspicion and discontent amongst the workers, it is impossible to get the volume of work from the men and women that you should get, and which I believe they desire to give, and, therefore, on the grounds of national efficiency and national economy, it is essential you should, as far as possible, make industry run easily in this respect.
To come down to greater detail, what are the sort of questions which might be discussed by councils such as I have indicated? Here, of course, there will be differences of opinion. My own feeling is, and I think I may say my own experience goes to show, that the more trust you can. put in these councils, the greater responsibility you can place upon them, the more likely is it you will get a willing response and that you will get real efficiency in industry. Therefore, I would not be afraid to allow the councils to discuss questions like that of promotion. Anyone who knows anything of the postal service must be aware how extraordinarily difficult that question is and how much rancour there is amongst postal servants, because they feel they are under a system of promotion which is not fair. It has been all the more so this year, because of the great increase of work in connection with the Civil Service. Men and women have been poured into the different branches of the Civil Service, they have been given high salaries, and many postal servants feel that they have not had a chance of having their claims considered 2245 and that preference has been given to outsiders. There is a very strong feeling on that question.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
Would the hon. Gentleman propose to refer to these councils the general question of promotion or only the question of promotion as it affects individuals?
§ Mr. ROWNTREE
Certainly I would band over a general question. Naturally the central body would deal with the general question, while the district councils and the works committees might deal with individual cases in their own districts. I do not feel, however, that I am carrying the Postmaster-General with me in this regard. I expect he thinks the difficulties are too great in that respect. But my feeling is that there could be a system whereby the Postmaster-General would be very much helped if the question of promotion were referred to the joint council. A much clearer question has reference to the conditions of employment. Again, those who know anything of the postal service are perfectly well aware of the complaints continually arising with regard to meals, changes of duty, leave, and equipment of offices and shops where the work is done. These are all questions which should be dealt with by the joint council, and I believe it would be found that if this system of joint councils were inaugurated a great many of these questions, which after all are small in themselves, but which loom large if week after week and month after month the grievance goes on and is not remedied—I believe it would be found that these questions would be satisfactorily and well settled by such joint councils. Then there is the question of demobilisation. That wants dealing with by the Post Office and by other industries in the same kind of spirit. I believe, rather late in the day, the Post Office has set up a demobilisation committee—a small one—and has invited two representatives of the workers to sit upon it. In my opinion that is a question which should be dealt with by the central council itself. Already I know that an arrangement like that is being made in some other industries.
I am anxious not to go into further details, as there are other Members to follow on this question, but I do wish my right hon. Friends to recognise the importance of this subject, not only from the standpoint of the Post Office, but from the standpoint of other Civil offices, 2246 and from the still larger standpoint of the general movement in the country. Those who are interested in this question see perfectly well that the feeling of all trade unions is that they are going to expand, through the adoption of this scheme. They know that in the future they are not merely going to think of obtaining increased wages, but that they are going to think of the importance of industry as a whole, and certainly, in a great national service like this, where any profits that arise go to the State, and where the improvement of efficiency in organisation is of great national advantage, you can, I think, get the wholehearted and enthusiastic support of the trade union in giving effective co-operation to the State. I do hope that during this year my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General will be able to get a system of joint councils started in the postal service, and that from the very start he will not be afraid to consult the trade union as to the form which it should lake. The Postmaster-General should be careful not to make the mistake which the Admiralty have just made, but from the very start should frankly discuss the whole question with the trade union. I believe if he is able, during the year, to bring the council into being, he will do much to promote the efficiency of the Post Office, and to promote good feeling and co-operation amongst the postal servants, and will also do much to help the whole movement in the country, which I consider is one of vital importance, if you are to get anything like industrial harmony and efficiency in the industrial world.
§ Mr. WILES
I am sure every member of the Committee sympathises with the Postmaster-General, in grappling, during this time of stress and of war, with many great difficulties of every kind. Still, I must say that even in war time one does expect a few grains of comfort in the Postmaster-General's annual speech. I have now listened for twelve years to the annual statement of the Postmaster-General, and I think the statement we have heard to-day is the most dreary account I have ever heard of the working of this great machine, which spreads its tentacles from one end of the country to the other. I had hoped that my right hon. Friend, with his experience of industrial life, would have revived the old bones of the Post Office, and I imagined that he would have given some hope in 2247 his speech of reforms of some kind. I had hoped that he would have told us something about the aeroplane service that is being established. We have heard of that through the newspapers instead of through the mouth of the Minister. We read the other day that experiments were being made with an aeroplane postal service between Paris and London, and I had hoped that to-day he was going to tell us that it is to be established, as I believe it will be, and that it will not be long before our mails to our Allies will be carried through the air.
§ Mr. WILES
It may be after the War, but the experiment is being made. We know that the difficulties of transport are so great that our railways are so overloaded, that our roads are being so worn out, especially in London, by mail carts and mail vans, which use them by night and by day, that if we can get some new form of delivering the mails it will be a great advantage in every way. There is one matter to which I should like to call the attention of my right hon. Friends, and that is the tremendous amount of work which is being thrown upon the Postal Department by other Departments of State. A large number of new Government offices have been set up, probably necessarily, because of the War. All those offices are putting upon the Post Office an enormous amount of labour. Their letters consist of a large foolscap sheet, in a franked envelope, and, as economy is insisted upon in the use of paper, it should be seen whether these communications might not often as easily be made by post card. I suggest to the Postmaster-General, with his great ability, he should fight these Departments, and try to obtain from them proper credit for the enormous services which the Post Office renders them and the State. Letters are now carried largely by girls, and, if you have a peeping-eye, you can see that the girls, or the older men, carrying the letters usually have among them several big Government franked-letters to one stamped. I suggest to the Postmaster-General that, in the interests of his Department, he should see that these new Departments set up by the War Cabinet, and all the Departments of the State, whether it be that of the Shipping Controller or the Commission on Sugar, or the Commission on Leather 2248 —that all these Controllers, whose name is legion, ought to be charged for the services rendered to them and the State by the Post Office. I want the right hon. Gentleman to be able to put before the Committee next year, if still in his present position, what is the cost to the State of carrying this enormous amount of stationery about from one end of the country to the other, I believe largely unnecessarily. It would not be proper, however, to discuss that now. What I want to see is a business-like account kept of what the Departments of the State cost us in using the services of the Post Office. I do not think any account is kept at the present time. I believe that each Department, whether it be the Ministry of Shipping or whatever the Ministry, sends these letters out without any regard to expense. I do not say that all the communications should be stamped, for that would be unnecessary labour, and I want to save labour, but I submit that every Department should keep an account of every letter sent through the Post Office, in order that we may have some idea of the amount of work which they throw upon that Department, and I think if that were done the right hon. Gentleman would not have such a dull account to give of what the Post Office does when he makes his annual statement next year.
My hon. Friend behind me reminds me of the unnecessary telegrams that are sent out by these Departments to which I refer. I believe that the telegraph department of the Post Office still shows a large loss, and I think that, in the interests of economy, a check should be put upon those Departments which send out these unnecessary telegrams. When a man sends a telegram, for which he has to pay 6d. or 9d.—the latter being the charge now—he keeps his message down to the price he has to pay. The Departments pay nothing for telegraphic services, and I think the right hon. Gentleman does not grumble enough. I want him to bring these Departments to book, and I believe that, among them, the greatest offender is the War Office. I am not going to complain as to the use of the telegraph on behalf of our men serving in the field of battle and in foreign countries; they should have all the help we can give. Still, I do know this, that inland telegrams sent out by the War Office are largely unnecessary, and I think that these Departments, whether 2249 it is the War Office or any other Government Department, should be charged by my right hon. Friend a proper amount for the services rendered by him and by his officials, in order that a proper estimate may be formed of the vast services rendered to the country by the Post Office. There are one or two other matters to which I should like to call his attention. The first is the difficulty which has arisen in regard to typists in the Post Office. The typists unfortunately, or fortunately they may think, belong to the Postal Telegraph Clerks' Association, and that organisation has put their case before the ' Postmaster- General. I understand that the reply of the right hon. Gentleman was that the typists must not belong to the Postal Telegraph Clerks' Association, but should belong to an association of their own. It seems to me that this is one of those little things which, by cast-iron rules, are a cause of trouble to the Post Office Department. A private firm is far more reasonable to deal with. The cast-iron regulations of the Post Office are always causing annoyance, and generally it is these small, petty annoyances which are a source of all the Department's staff difficulties. It hardly seems to me within the domain of the Postmaster-General to say to his staff, "You must belong to this trade union or that trade union." If the typists wished to join the Postal Telegraph Clerks' Association, why should not that be enough for the Postmaster-General, and why should not questions as to the conditions of labour come before him in the ordinary way? I do hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Assistant Postmaster-General, when he comes to reply, will deal with this point, and that he will agree that these typists have been treated in what appears to me to have been a very unreasonable way. Another small matter which I want to put forward has reference to the K Company of Royal Engineers. My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham was going to deal with this question, but he is not in his place, and therefore I should like to say a few words about it. The men of the K Company of the Royal Engineers before the War gave part of their services to the State as soldiers, and then they came back to do their work as ordinary men in the Post Office, having served in the Postal Engineers. The 2250 grievance is that the three years which they serve as engineers and as soldiers—a far more risky occupation—for the same State or the same firm, so to speak, is not allowed to count for their pension allowance. That is very unfair indeed. It is a small matter, because there are not a great number of these men, but it is one of those little things that would make the working of the Post Office much easier. I would ask my right hon. Friend to consider it, and I hope that he will be able to give a satisfactory reply. It is not a new grievance. It has been raised many times before. The Holt Committee, even in 1907,. reported as follows:Your Committee recommend that the whole period of service in K Company, where it is followed by established service in the Post Office, be treated as postal service and not military service for the purpose of computing Civil pensions, and that the pensions of officers already retired be accorded accordingly and the arrears made good to them.This Committee was appointed a great many years ago, and this is an old grievance, and it seems to me that the time has come when it should be cleared up satisfactorily. The Member for York (Mr. Rowntree), in a most interesting speech, has dealt with the application of the Report which bears your name to Post Office work. He dealt with it very exhaustively, and in a far better way than I can deal with it. He has made an appeal to the Postmaster-General from the highest standpoint, as well as the standpoint of the Post Office and of efficiency, which is almost irresistible. The Committee must remember that the Government, through the Ministry of Labour, almost compels private firms to put the Whitley Report into effect. Controlled firms must do it, and private firms have very strong pressure brought to bear upon them to put the Report into effect. The Government, with members of the Labour party and Wade unionists in their innermost counsels, are sending out these instructions and giving this advice by the Ministry of Labour, and yet, I understand, the Postmaster-General will not consider putting the Report into operation so far as his great business is concerned.
§ Mr. WILES
I am sure that my right hon. Friend knows that I would not have any misunderstanding about it, but at any rate he will agree with me that up to the present time the Whitley Report has not been put into operation in the Post Office. We shall be on common ground there. I want to point out to him the necessity of doing something of the kind, having regard to the fact that private firms are almost being compelled to do so, and in many cases with great success. My hon. Friend has said how satisfactory it has been in many cases. It is true that in other cases the men themselves do not desire it, but in a large organisation like the Post Office it could be begun in a small way. It might be tried in a town like Leeds or Sheffield. I quite agree that it must be a fairly large town. It could not possibly be put into force in a town where there are only a few employed, but I contend and I feel sure that the general policy of the Whitley Report could be put into force throughout the Post Office. The trouble in the Post Office is the difficulty to relax its cast-iron regulations. It is so old and it is so large that it really wants thoroughly stirring up, but the War has gone on so long that I am afraid it must be put off for some time. I feel that good advice could be given by members of the staff in many of the Departments. There are very highly skilled and highly-trained men of considerable intelligence and ability who are most anxious to give their services in assisting the State Post Office. I might suggest that some of those men who spend their time in organising deputations to the right hon. Gentleman, or in holding meetings, he might consider better employed if they were using their organising ability and their knowledge in helping the Post Office. There are in the Telegraph Department, in the Telephone Department, and in the Engineering Department, men of ability who, if they were helped and encouraged, and not snubbed, 2252 could bring forward new schemes for greater efficiency in Post Office work. I notice that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Mr. Clynes) made a speech the other day at Manchester with reference to the Whitley Report being applied to the Admiralty. I understand that some committees have been set up in the dockyards, but I suggest that it was hardly the best way to start by saying how they were to be set up, and in the case of the Post Office it would be better to confer, to a certain extent, with the men who are working in the Department, and who will work and assist the Post Office on these committees. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food, with reference to a scheme that had been started by the Admiralty, said:He had read with misgivings the circular issued by the Admiralty to the various Government yards laying down exactly the constitution of some of the workmen's committees and in imposing limitations upon them. It would not do for a Government or a private firm to throw rules at the head of men and say, 'We have laid down these regulations which you must follow 'I suggest that it would be much better, when the Post Office comes to deal with the Whitley Report—I see that a weakening is taking place with my right hon. Friend and I hope that he is going to tell us that he proposes to deal with the matter this year—the right hon. Gentleman would consult the many intelligent and expert men that he has in his Department. At the present time there is nothing to encourage them to invent anything, or to economise in working, or to speed up that great institution. Now is the time when he has a great opportunity, and I trust when he comes to make his reply that he will give us some hope that the Post Office is going to put into force the suggestions thrown out by the Whitley Committee.
§ Mr: H. SAMUEL
The dominant factor in the position, so far as the Post Office is concerned, during the War, arises from the circumstance that 80,000 of the men in the Post Office service have been sent to join our Armies and our Fleet. The consequence of that has been a necessary curtailment of facilities in almost every direction, particularly since the withdrawal of this amount of labour has been accompanied by an immense mass of new business, to which the Postmaster-General to-day has made reference, directly arising out of the War. 2253 Facilities have been curtailed. Fortunately for the Postmaster-General, he has a very docile public to deal with in these days. In the presence of the great anxieties and sorrows of the War all minor troubles are put aside, and the public at large acquiesces, if not readily, at all events reluctantly, in the withdrawal of many postal facilities to which they are accustomed. Most unfortunate is the fact that accompanying this curtailment of facilities has been an increase in the Post Office charges. I regret more than I can say that it should have been found necessary, after seventy-five years of 1d. postage, to suspend, I hope, as the Postmaster-General also hopes, only for a time, the postage rates to which we have been accustomed. I wonder what our Friend Sir John Henniker Heaton would have thought had he survived to witness this revolutionary change! I cannot doubt, however great may be the financial difficulties immediately after the War, that public opinion, when peace has been restored, will soon demand the restoration of the 1d. postage rate.
In that connection I wish to make a suggestion to the Postmaster-General and to the Government. Proposals are in the air for the establishment of a system of decimal coinage. The scheme, which has most generous support is that which retains the sovereign as the standard and divides the pound into 200 pennies or into 1,000 milles. Instead of 960 farthings in the pound there would be 1,000 milles. The penny then would have 25 per cent. higher value than it has now, and, if decimal coinage came in on that basis and if the penny postage were restored, the Post Office would find itself in receipt of a 25per cent. higher revenue on the letters that it carries. All its charges would be increased by that amount, and it would be able, in spite of the higher cost of labour likely to follow the War, to restore its old services in all their former perfection, so far as they were perfect, and yet give a very considerable profit to the State. Each letter would, in fact, bring in five farthings, and at last the old rhyme to which we are accustomed in our childhood might be heard at St. Martin's-le-Grand:You owe me five farthingsSay the bells of St. Martin's.If that were done it would be so great an advantage to the Post Office that I hope the Postmaster-General will lend the 2254 weight of his official support to the proposal for establishing a decimal coinage, if only for the reason that it will enable him at one and the same time to restore penny postage, and yet to maintain the finances of the Post Office. Before the War the one Post Office which I will not say equalled but tended to rival the British Post Office in efficiency was—if I may be allowed to mention it as an historical fact—the German Post Office, and that was very largely because the German charge for each letter was 10 pfennigs, which is not 1d. but a ¼and having that larger revenue for the services rendered they were able to give very efficient service.
Passing from that, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned two matters connected with the Post Office, both of which were subjects in which I took the keenest interest when I had the honour to fill the post he now occupies. The first is the tube railway from East to West of London, which I am glad to find it has been possible to complete during the War so far as the tunnel is concerned, though, of course, the provision of the electrical equipment and appliances must he suspended. I am particularly gratified to hear that he, bringing a fresh mind to the project, endorses it, and is convinced that it will be of value to the Department and to the State. The second matter relates to the automatic telephones. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that in Leeds the largest automatic telephone establishment in Europe has been opened. I could have wished that he would have told us something of the degree of satisfaction it has given to the people of Leeds. I think the Committee will probably expect that. I have no information that would warrant me to express any opinion, but I shall be glad if the Assistant Postmaster-General would tell us how far this installation has been able to overcome the difficulties which are always inevitable in the establishment of a highly complicated piece of machinery such as that. In the year before the War I visited America, the United States and Canada, largely with a view to examining the telephone systems in force there. I found that in the West of Canada automatic telephones existed, and were very popular and highly approved by the subscribers to the system. In the United States, on the other hand, the system had been adopted only to an exceptionally small 2255 extent, and I think if we are able, as I hope we shall be, successfully to work automatic telephones in this country, we shall be able for once to give a lead to our telephone friends in the United States, who in other respects have been so very far in advance of what has been accomplished in this country.
The only other topic on which I would venture to trouble the Committee is the subject that has been referred to by each previous speaker in this Debate except the Postmaster-General himself, that is, the application to the Post Office organisation of the principles embodied in the Whitley Report. I think this House has every reason to be proud that, while its Speaker has been able to point the road to a remodelling of our political constitution, the Chairman of its Committees has been able to lay a foundation for the reorganisation of the constitution of industry. For my own part, I believe that the Whitley Report is a State Paper of profound importance. After the War we all hope that the relations between employers and employed may be placed on a better footing, free from the bitterness and friction that has characterised it in the past, giving on the one hand to the workers comfort and a higher status, and on the other securing, perhaps, a better output. The principle has always been laid down that the State should be a model employer of labour. In these days it has been made clear that in the opinion of the Government—I think quite rightly —one of the conditions of model employment is the adoption of the principle of the Whitley Report, and I do not see on what ground a Government Department should regard itself as exempt from that obligation. For my part, I believe that the principles of the report can be applied in a Department such as the Post Office, not only without danger, but with very great advantage. We have, indeed, during the last ten years gone very far towards that end. Lord Buxton—Mr. Sidney Buxton when he was Postmaster-General—created something of a domestic revolution in the Post Office by, for the first time, recognising the trade unions and endeavouring to take them into consultation with himself as Postmaster-General and working with them on friendly terms, instead, as had previously been the case, of holding them at arm's length and refusing even to recognise their existence. Soon alter he had carried out 2256 that change in practice he resigned from that Department. I had the privilege of succeeding him, and carried on the system and developed it a good deal beyond the point at which it was then left. I think, on the whole, that has been a very successful experiment. No doubt there have been difficulties from time to time, no doubt there has been friction, but I am quite certain the difficulties and the friction would have been infinitely greater if the trade unions had not have been recognised.
It has been, during the last ten years, the custom of the Postmaster-General frequently to meet in conference representatives of the National Joint Committee of the trade unions, and the postmasters of the various towns are also required to meet the local branches, either singly or in conjunction with one another. In this way the conditions of labour in the post office are constantly under discussion and under review. But the Whitley Report proposes only that these conferences should be regularised and periodical, that they should deal with a considerable group of subjects some of which, perhaps, have not hitherto come within the purview of the meetings between the Postmaster-General or the local postmasters and the representatives of the men. The Whitley Report makes no proposal that the councils shall deal with the commercial management of businesses. They are to deal with the conditions of employment and matters relating to them. They are, indeed, to stimulate the employés to make suggestions for technical improvements here and there, but the work of the counting house, if I may so express it, is not intended to come within the purview of the national, the district, or the works committees. Indeed, the representatives of the employés have not had the training or the experience which would enable them to. be useful advisers on that side of business. Nor does the Whitley Report make any suggestion that these councils should deal with so delicate a matter as the promotion of individual workmen to be foremen, or to higher posts. I imagine that in the application of the principles of this Eeport—or rather these Reports, because there have been several—to a State Department such as the Post Office the main lines of the proposals will be followed, though no doubt adaptations might be necessary here and there on account of the differences between public and private 2257 employment. I hope that we may hear to-day from the right hon. Gentleman the Assistant Postmaster-General what the Government propose to do in this regard. I hope that we shall hear of it from the Postmaster-General himself. I know that this matter has been under discussion for very many months, and I am not prepared to lay the blame of the delay at the door of the Post Office, or of my right hon. Friend. I can well believe that in this, as in so many other matters, the long interval that elapses before the Government takes action is due, to the War Cabinet, the War Cabinet which is always congested with business, which insists upon managing not only the whole conduct of the War but also all our domestic concerns, with the result that continually, again and again, this House has to complain of prolonged delay, frequently causing friction and difficulty, in the decision of questions of importance. I hope, however, that my right hon. Friend will have been able to secure attention to this most important matter, and that he will be able to inform this Committee, which, as the speeches have shown, is keenly interested in the matter, what course the Government propose to take in this large question.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
The Post Office has undoubtedly become an enormous business concern. We know there are employed there 250,000 men and women, and that the receipts stand at round about £32,000,000 with a profit of about £6,000,000 per annum. This has been built up from small beginnings, and I believe that we have not by any means reached the limit of the possibilities so far as the Post Office is concerned. I am quite sure it will launch out in new directions, and also that it will develop many of its present undertakings with regard to banking, and the like. My view is that if the Department is to reach its highest point of efficiency and service the labour side of the Department must be looked into very carefully. At present in large degree the Post Office is an autocracy tempered by public criticism, and I want to ask whether under those conditions you do really get the best out of the men and women in your employment, and whether you have brought to a maximum the spirit of responsibility and co-operation. That is the point which in various ways we are trying to emphasise this 2258 afternoon. Everybody believes that the post-war conditions in many respects are going to be different from those that obtained before the War, and this must be no less true, so far as labour is concerned, in nationalised industries than in those not yet nationalised
The value of labour has been recognised during the War, and we are pleading that such new machinery shall be established as will give to the workers a new interest, a more direct interest, in this huge organisation of which they form part. It ought to be borne in upon them that in work like the Post Office work they are fulfilling a social purpose and are filling a social need, and it ought to be seen that there is a greater diffusion of the sense of responsibility and pride in enterprise. The trade unions are growing very strong in the Post Office. There are well over 100,000 organised now, and that movement is going to grow much stronger still. The character of the trade union movement and the nature of its functions in the Post Office, however, will depend very largely on the attitude towards that movement shown by the Post Office management. You can either make that attitude wholly critical and somewhat hostile in tone or you can make it a constructive movement. You can call it in and make it beneficial in the highest degree, a real help and a real guide for the Department. You can develop the spirit in which every man and woman in your employment will want to be more helpful and will want to help to improve the conditions of service.
I believe that as one step in this direction we ought to establish joint committees in the Post Office on the lines of the Whitley Report, and that any difficulties or dangers that may be created in regard to the application of these principles to privately-owned industries are greatly minimised when it comes to an enterprise like the postal service. My hon. Friend the Member for York showed that there are special arguments why the principles of the Whitley Report should be applied to the Post Office. The nation here in regard to its own business ought to give a lead to private employers, and since you have other Government Departments to-day—the Ministry of Reconstruction and the Ministry of Labour—impressing upon the private employers of the country the need for adopting at once the principles of the Whitley Report, surely that is an additional argument why you should set your own house in order first. 2259 The Post Office also is a nationalised concern, and therefore it should have a finer spirit than that merely of commercialism and money-getting, and there ought to be a far greater degree of cooperation between the management and those in its employment. There ought to be all round a spirit of genuine service, and my firm opinion is that the application of these principles will certainly tend wholly in that direction. If you will set up joint committees of the kind indicated you will get more and more your employés to face with you your difficulties, to understand something of your problems, and to share on certain questions at least responsibilities with you, and I believe it will be good for the management, for the employés, and for the nation at the same time.
The hon. Member for York pointed out that you have a very special kind of employéin your service. The character, the ability, and the intelligence of the men and women in the employment of the Post Office are on very high lines. If you take, for example, the number of men who are guilty of defalcations, and so on, who abuse your trust, it is very low—less, I believe, than 1 per cent. of the people in your employment—-and therefore you have got men and women of skill and of ability and of a high range of intelligence, and they are willing to work with you and asking to work with you, for the whole of these organised workers are urging that the principles of the Whitley Report should be applied to the Post Office service, and so far it is the Post Office itself that is standing in the way. These organisations are well over 100,000 strong, and they have a joint working committee, so that the unions are all linked together and are friendly in their attitude toward each other. These unions have been pleading for a long time that this step should be taken. The Postal and Telegraph Clerks' Association, one of them with a very large membership, signified approval as far back as July, 1917, and said they were quite willing that the Whitley Report should be adopted so far as the Post Office is concerned. They have written to the Ministry of Reconstruction and the Ministry of Labour about it, and the other unions have come into line and lave taken up the same attitude and are asking why there should be this long delay in putting these proposals into effect. The only intimation they have got so far 2260 has been a reply—I think, from the Ministry of Labour, stating that so far as the Post Office was concerned the question of how and in what degree the proposals of the Whitley Report can be applied to the Post Office is receiving careful consideration. That is a very guarded and a very official reply, and it does not take them very far. All this time other Government "Departments are holding conferences all over the country to tell private employers what is their duty in this matter. The Minister of Reconstruction addressed a meeting at Glasgow on 4th April, a meeting of the Glasgow Trades Council, and he was strongly urging in favour of these joint committees, and this was the first question he was asked when his speech was at an end:" Does Dr. Addison consider he is justified in preaching the doctrine of joint control, and how does he expect private employers to accept joint control in view of the attitude of Government Departments, particularly the Post Office; and does he know that members of the Whitley Report have declared the Post Office to be a suitable institution for the introduction of this scheme?" What can a Government orator say under such circumstances? All that Dr. Addison could say was, in the usual official language, that he would take this matter into account and give it his most serious and most earnest consideration.
I wish to ask whether the present machinery is adequate in regard to the relations between the Post Office and this great mass of a quarter of a million of workers. I think for myself that the management at present is in many ways rather remote from the workers, and when you are dealing with 250,000 people with passions like yourselves, and jealousies, and hopes, and suspicions, and aims like yourselves, you are up against a very difficult human problem which requires careful management and control; and I am sure of this, in regard to a great institution like the Post Office, that again and again grievances which could have been remedied at the start if they had been dealt with promptly are allowed to fester, to become acute, and to drag on month after month arousing much bad feeling and much ill-will, and if you can get machinery for anticipating some of these troubles, and preventing them, you will go a long way towards establishing better relationships all round. Friendly discus- 2261 sions time and again would smooth the way, and prevent many of the difficulties arising altogether.
Now, what is the present position with regard to the organisation of the Post Office? We have got the centre of organisation at St. Martin's-le-Grand. We have got fourteen districts each in charge of a surveyor, and then we have got the postmasters under the various surveyors; and when grievances begin far down there is the utmost difficulty in getting the matter put right, and very often delays occur that need not occur at all. Although the trade unions are recognised by the Post Office, the machinery even now is somewhat difficult to operate, and it begins sometimes with perhaps a signed memorial in regard to conditions, or wages, or hours, or meal reliefs, and so on, and that memorial is acknowledged. Very often delays occur even there, and a matter that should be put right promptly is allowed to drag on. In other cases you have the question of discipline and disciplinary measures, and there once more the unions must not under any account take note of these questions until the damage has been done, and they are never called in to help you, but are expected rather to fight you if you do something wrong. I suggest that, so far as these public services are concerned, the unions could be doing much better work than that, and to a much larger degree than at present they could help you to get rid of your difficulties if you gave them the opportunity to do so. How can the employés put right their grievances now? There is the extreme step of a strike. The have been strikes from time to time in the Post Office, and sometimes as many as 400 and 500 men have been dismissed for going on strike, but does anybody want to strike in the postal service? The men and women in your employment least of all desire to be driven to any step of that kind, and a strike, especially in a public service, produces great bitterness and public inconvenience.
What is the alternative at present to the strike? To a very large extent it is to put pressure upon Members of this House in regard to various grievances in the postal service. Members of this House are asked to raise questions, and sometimes the pressure that is put upon them produces an inflamed state of things. We have had postmaster-generals speaking from that bench who applied very strong 2262 language to the postal employés in regard to the methods they were supposed to adopt. I am not going to enter into that either one way or another, but in my view if you get this tribunal set up, a tribunal accepted by both sides, and fair to both sides, you would get rid of nine-tenths of these questions that come up for discussion in this House, and you would also get rid of a great deal of the political pressure put upon Members of this House in regard to comparatively small matters, I have a question here in regard to the promotion of assistant clerks. They are a class common to the Civil Service, including the Post Office. In all Government Departments except the Post Office, and in two branches of the Post Office, namely, the Savings Bank Department and the Accountant-General's Department, the assistant clerk has an opportunity of promotion to the second division, the scale rising to £300. In the Post Office, however, with the exception of the two branches referred to, second division clerks are not employed, and consequently the assistant clerk has no opportunity of promotion to the second division. Well, here is a grievance arising, and their opportunities are curtailed; they are kept down to a maximum of £200, and so on; but if you had a joint working committee, such as this we are now discussing, this is the very kind of problem that could be brought up and properly solved by it.
If you are in doubt as to the scope and nature of the complaints that come up for discussion in this House, I will turn up the index of the Official Report for a few months, and here are some of the matters that came up for discussion in this House in regard to the Post Office: "Remuneration for Sub-postmasters," "Holidays for Postal Employés," "Grievances of Postal Clerks," "Wages and Hours of Mail Cart Drivers," "Educational Facilities for Girl Messengers," "Effect of Pensions where Officials are doing Munition Work," "Pay in London and the Provinces," "Pay in Relation to the Cost of Living," "Remuneration of Postmasters for the Sale of Insurance Stamps," "Pay of Sub-postmasters for War Loan Work," "Pay for Sunday Work," "Pay for Supervising Officers," "War Bonus for Temporary Workers," "War Bonus for Employés." Would it not be a good thing that you should set up a joint working committee to deal with all these questions? Surely the pressure 2263 of business in this House is of such a character that you should be able to get rid of a great many of these matters, and you would be able to settle them in a much more satisfactory way if it was done by those with an inside knowledge of the facts! At present these grievances accumulate, and very often at last we set up a Fawcett Committee or a Tweedmouth Committee, or a Hobhouse Committee, to examine the grievances and decide what shall be done. Very often after these Committees have reported there is usually a long delay before the Reports are made, and the trouble is growing all the time. Often afterwards there is a feeling aroused as to the interpretation of the award, and that it is not being interpreted in a proper way. In all these ways we seem to get examples of the kind of work that could be done if something on the lines of the Whitley Report were adopted. You would get matters like pensions and superannuation allowances dealt with on fair lines, and you would infuse in regard to labour conditions more of the spirit of democracy into the Post Office and less of the spirit of autocracy, which simply wants to impose conditions on the workers regardless of their feelings. In the old days we used to get autocracy on these questions, but to-day we believe that the masses of the workers ought to have some voice in a matter of this kind.
There is one other point, and it is that, if you are going to adopt the proposals at all, let it be done on broad, right lines. Do not, in some bureaucratic spirit, make some niggardly and ungenerous proposals. That has been done by the Admiralty, although they say it has been done only in an experimental way. It would have been far better on the part of those other Departments if they had left the matter alone, because they have done harm, and the Admiralty in regard to these proposals made the mistake of ignoring trade unions and of restricting nominations to those who have been five years in the Service; and so, under this scheme of the Admiralty, all the old methods are going to continue, and the Admiralty propose to change everything whilst leaving everything absolutely unchanged. If you are going to do that, then your committee is going to be stillborn, and no real purpose will be served. There may be difficulties in regard to applying these principles to the Post Office. I asked a question to-day in regard to this matter, and the reply has 2264 just been put into my hands, and I suppose this is the latest pronouncement in regard to applying the Whitley Report:The question of applying the principles of the Whitley Report to Government Departments is a matter which does not concern the Post Office alone, and, pending a decision of the Government on certain general questions, I am not in a position to make any announcement.Apparently the Admiralty thought it was a matter which concerned them, because they rushed in with a special scheme with regard to the Whitley Report. I suggest to the Post Office that before coming to a decision as to how they are going to apply these proposals they ought to have a consultation with the workpeople themselves as to the lines along which they ought to move, for these are matters which concern the management and also those employed. It is the essence and spirit of the Whitley Report that they are matters which concern both, and if it is going to be properly done it must be properly taken in hand. I suggest that we should have a Conference with the representatives of organised labour in the employment of the Post Office, in order to see that the proposals are adopted in the right spirit and the right way. Such a Conference ought to be useful in many directions. I would again impress upon the Postmaster-General that there is a great possibility for good work, and for removing feelings that exist sometimes of ill-treatment or of lack of consideration. The final word in regard to these questions will still rest with the Postmaster-General, and be subject to this House, and in this way it will be possible for an agreement to be reached.
We know to-day that new democratic ideals are merging. I do not believe it is possible to have democracy in politics and bureaucracy in industry. I believe that industry will have to be more and more democratised, and the workpeople will have to be made more and more partners in all these great public concerns. If you are going to have the new spirit about which we hear so much when this War is over, then you will have to provide the machinery through which the new spirit can express itself. If you do not do that you will go back to the pre-war feelings and troubles. The reconstruction of society is not going to come from above from people in authority alone. In the reconstruction in regard to conditions of life, and working-class conditions, the workers will also claim to have a voice. They are not going to have their lives 2265 arranged for them in Government offices by reconstruction committees sitting in private in Whitehall, Downing-street, and elsewhere. They are going to claim some say as to how they are going to Live under the new conditions.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
That may be true, but I am not dealing with the question of State socialism for the moment, or with business probity, but these are questions which will have to merge. I wish to develop responsibility amongst those in the employ of the Post Office. I wish to see the general level of service increased. I wish every worker to feel that he is not a mere cog in the wheel, but that he shares in this great enterprise, and feels worthy of his trust.
§ Sir W. RUTHERFORD
It has been my ill-fortune for the last sixteen years in this House, on every occasion when the Post Office Estimates have come forward, to feel it my duty to call attention to a number of matters which are going on in a way which I, at all events, felt was highly unsatisfactory. It would be ungracious of any of us to get up here to-day and complain about delays in the delivery of letters or about the curtailing of Post Office facilities. We all know that a very large number of the employés of the Post Office are to-day fighting for us, and we appreciate the difficulties under which that enormous organisation is being carried on, and I think the whole community is quite prepared without any complaint to put up with any little inconveniences to which they may be subjected. On the other hand, I think that, in view of the great loss of efficient servants, the Post Office ought to be congratulated upon the amount of efficiency and success which, having regard to these difficulties, they have up to the present achieved.
I have long been of opinion that the British Post Office is probably one of the most backward institutions on the face of the earth from the point of view of commercial efficiency. I do not know whether the Committee is aware of the fact that in the reign of King Charles we had the penny post in London. It was then done by private enterprise, and there were six deliveries a day, and the charge was one penny. I do not know that we have progressed very far in the nature of advancement since that time, at all events as 2266 regards London. We have now got the price up again. Immediately the State took over this work the price was put up all over the country. In fact, it became an institution run by paid officials, and it was governed in an autocratic manner, which is always a defect which is bound to lead to inefficiency. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cleveland (Mr. Herbert Samuel) alluded to the fact that in his judgment Germany before the War had a very efficient postal service—in fact he said that it was next in efficiency to the British postal service. My inquiries are to the effect that before the War probably the Japanese postal system was the most efficient. We all know that the Germans had organised a very efficient service, but the right hon. Gentleman did not point out even as regards the German service that they had in all their principal towns a service under which five letters could be sent for a penny. From any part of the Empire of Japan to any other part for ten years before the War ten letters could be sent at the cost of 1d. I do not think that the British Post Office has anything to boast of with regard to the rates it is charging or with regard to the facilities that are given in this country. It seems to me that if all our modern improvements in the nature of transport and organisation or even a fair proportion of them had been brought to bear upon the postal service, we should have been able at least to send four or five letters anywhere in the British Empire to-day for 1d. As a matter of fact the inefficiency and the charges have not improved over any decade of years for the last 100 years, compared with the general transport arrangements and the general efficiency of all kinds of institutions conducted by private enterprise.
There are three points which I think we ought particularly to pay some little attention to to-day. The first point is a comparatively short one, and it is the treatment of the men in the K Company, This is rather a small matter, but it is just exactly one of those points which if the Whitley Report were adopted would automatically disappear, and it would be dealt within a friendly way. I am not going to delay the Committee by going into details. The nature of this treatment has already been pointed out, but the principle at the bottom of it is that a Committee of this House expressly set up to deal with this, and a number of other difficulties, did deal with the point and did 2267 make a special Report upon it recommending a friendly adjustment in a perfectly sensible way, but the Post Office, when it received that Report, declined to carry that decision into effect. I took an active part in this House in connection with the inquiries of no less than five Committees which have dealt with postal matters. I do not know whether the Committee is aware that on each of those occasions although the members of those Committees were nominated by the Government of the day, and although some of them had sittings lasting over a year, investigating all sorts of matters and points relating to the subjects referred to them, only one or two of the principal points decided by those Committees as being fair and reasonable were adopted, and, as a rule, the Post Office when it got the Reports declined to give effect to them. It almost makes one think that in a matter of this sort in connection with the Post Office it is perfectly useless to appoint a Committee if, when the Report is brought in, the Post Office declines to carry it out. That is one point. Then there is the matter of the typists, to which reference has been made. Here, again, although it is a very small point in itself, it is a matter of great importance as one of principle. One of our recent Postmasters-General, Lord Buxton, adopted the plan for the Post Office of acknowledging the authority and position of the workers' unions. It was thought when that great improvement and amelioration was made that, at all events, there would be some chance of a large number of these points of grievance disappearing. I am glad to say that there were a vast number of small grievances of all times and descriptions which were satisfactorily dealt with and solved, because the employés in the Post Office were, for the first time, able to be represented collectively and able to make some general arrangement for the whole body.
It was an excellent reform. It has done a great deal of good, but what has happened in connection with the typists, of whom there are now a considerable number employed—far more than used to be employed? They desired to belong to and did become members of the Postal Telegraphists' Association, which is one of the principal unions concerned. The Postmaster-General said, "We will not allow this; you must form a union of your own." There are some hundreds, probably a 2268 thousand or two, of typists, who asked, "What is the use of a union of our own, what influence will such a union have, representing as it will do a comparatively small number of people; why should we go to the expense, annoyance, and difficulty of forming an association of our own, why should we be compelled by the Postmaster-General to join any other union except the one we desire to join—the principle union of the service?" They claimed to be represented by the union of which they had become members and to which they subscribed. The Postmaster-General turned round and said, "I will not acknowledge this movement, I will have nothing to do with ft, I will not listen to any of your matters which come through the Postal Telegraph Union; I will not permit you to be members or to be represented by that union. You must form a union of your own." My point is this: that if the principle is admitted—and it was admitted—that the Postal servants should be represented by their union, surely to goodness that should, as a corollary, carry with it that they were entitled to join such unions as they thought fit, and to be represented by people to whom they had entrusted their interests ! I entirely agree that in the last eighteen months since this question arose there has been difficulty all over the country, and I have been entirely unable to understand the attitude of the Post Office on this point.
The other matter to which I just want in a word or two to refer has reference to the Whitley Report. The Post Office employs a quarter of a million people. It has amongst its employés poets, painters, authors, dramatists, literary men, men of high organising power, men of very great ability, men of culture, and men whom, on a great many points, we here would be delighted to meet. At the present moment the great service to which they belong gives them an average income of something under £250 per annum, with practically no prospects of advance, and it is under the autocracy, and is sat upon by two or three highly-paid officials at the head office. I am prepared to give the present Post-master-General and the Assistant Postmaster-General every credit for the efforts which, I am sure, they have both been making as intelligent and reasonable business; men to try and get over some of the cast-iron red-tape—[Laughter]—with which this great Department has been bound. The only thing which will carry out my metaphor is this: steel bands, which would 2269 be an equivalent, I think to some extent, to the kind of thing I am mentioning— steel bands under which this Department is at present run. The same difficulty has been fought by preceding Postmasters. What they have done we do not know, for it does not come out into the light of day. But I think I can see some of my hon. Friends who are here to-day going in for some very wholesome and wholesale reforms in connection with places like the Post Office if they only got the chance.
There is in my mind no doubt at all that in this highly intelligent, well-educated body of men many could be of great use to the State, could make valuable suggestions, and would be and are willing to work together in improving the status, and the machinery, and indeed the whole administration. At present they are simply kept down not by the Postmaster-General, not by the Assistant Postmaster-General, but by about half-a-dozen highly-paid bosses! [Laughter.] Yes—who are safely installed at headquarters and who have made up their minds that the people who are underneath them shall not have any outlook if they can possibly manage otherwise. The Post Office ought to set an example in regard to these matters. What is the use of this great and very important question of industrial reconstruction and reform being dealt with in an intelligent manner, in a manner which strikes the imagination, and strikes all of us as being so practical and so beneficial in so many directions; what is the use of apostles going about the country preaching that this Report should be adopted by private individuals when one of the greatest employers in the country, the Post Office, is not at present willing or ready to adopt it? The Post Office ought to have been one of the first to adopt the Whitley Report, and to show by its example that it approved of the principles and reforms advocated. May I add this one word of further appeal upon this subject? I believe the right hon. Gentleman is going to adopt the Whitley Report. I do not believe that the Post Office, in spite of its present government and arrangements can or ought to stand out. May I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to do the thing properly when he or his Department is doing it. Let there be no emasculation of the Report, no laying down of a number of conditions which will make it difficult, if not impossible, 2270 to properly carry out, but let the Report be adopted as a whole, in the letter and in the spirit.
§ Colonel Lord HENRY CAVENDISH-BENTINCK
I desire to associate myself with the appeal so eloquently put forward by the hon. Member for York and other Members that the Whitley Report should be adopted by the Post Office service. It is said that this War is a war which has liberated a great many new forces. Undoubtedly this War has been, and will be, a war of liberation, but whether there is much new in these new forces I am not so certain, because human nature is the same now as it was in the days of the Garden of Eden. Human nature has struggled from the very earliest days, towards self-realisation. It is quite certain that this War has given a great impetus towards that tendency. That is what is meant when we speak of things, not being the same after the War as they were before the War. Undoubtedly the people of this country are not going to be satisfied with being treated, as they were before the War, as the soulless machines; they are going to ask for a much fuller recognition of their humanity. I do-not say that the new tendency has much affected either the upper classes or the middle classes. What elements of "divine discontent" have been starring in those two classes have been treated with the marvellous magic by the Prime Minister, who has appeared in shining armour with bushels of decorations, baronetcies, and knighthoods, and has allayed that feeling of discontent. But there are great masses of the people, workers with brains and workers with their hands, who are not to be put off with these gew-gaws, and who are demanding, in the words of the poet Wordsworth, that—They shall be treated not as senseless members of a vast machine, a tool or instrument, employed as brute mean without acknowledgment of common right or interest in the end."I really and honestly believe that the only danger to the stability of our society and of our institutions is that these new democratic ideals should be stemmed and obstructed. Happily, the Whitley Report. has pointed out the way in which these new forces may be guided into safe and peaceable channels. If we have only the statesmanship and wisdom to call to-our councils those who work and associate them with those who direct the work, I am perfectly certain that the result will 2271 show us how very reasonable, sensible, and patriotic are the great masses of the working people of this country. I am thankful to say the movement, inaugurated by the Whitley Report, has achieved remarkable progress in the country. It has been very greatly obstructed by the non-possumus attitude of the Postmaster-General. Those who have been advocating its cause in the country find that those who wish to obstruct are some employers, and the first question they ask is, "What are you yourselves doing in the Government?" My hon. Friend the Member, for York and I and several other Members raised this question this time last year, and we were told that it was under discussion. Whenever we have asked a question we have always got the same answer. I really do think it is time the Postmaster-General got a move on in this matter. There is no doubt that the Feeling in this House is in favour of the adoption of the Report in the Post Office service, as the Postmaster-General must have perceived by this time.
A great many hard things have been 3 aid about the Post Office this afternoon. It has been called a piece of cast-iron red-tape by my hon. Friend, and other Members have called it a soulless autocracy and a rigid bureaucracy. I am not given to strong language myself, but I cannot help thinking that there is plenty of evidence which makes it necessary that the wind of the autocracy should be tempered to those who are employed in its service. my hon. Friend the Member for Attercliffe instanced the grievance of the assistant clerks. Here is, as he said, a very good illustration of the necessity of some form of the Whitley Council for the post Office, because it is rather ridiculous hat we Members of Parliament, should lave to bother the Postmaster-General in debate and by questions in order to get such apparently unjust things put right in the Post Office service. Take, or instance, the question of the assistant clerks. When they joined the service hey were told that the second division clerkships would be open to them, but when they are told off to go to the Post Office service they find there are no such things as second division clerkships, except in the Savings Banks and the Accountant-General's Department. Here s where the autocracy comes in. The Postmaster-General refused to do any- 2272 thing more for them, but to allow them to go to third-class clerkships. That is of no use to them, because there is no promotion. It does not mean that they will reach any higher salary. If they are not allowed to go to the second division clerkships they ought to be allowed to be transferred to other Departments, but the Postmaster-General has stepped in and refused to do this. I do think these people have a genuine grievance, and I do hope my right hon. Friend will kindly give it his serious attention.
I would like to draw the attention of the Postmaster-General and the Assistant Postmaster-General to a question to which I and other Members have often drawn the attention of the official heads, and that is the grievance of the second-class Post Office engineers. In 1911, when the National Telephone Service was taken over by the Government, a new class was created, called the assistant engineers. Half of the second-class Post Office engineers were transferred to that new class, but the remaining half—that is to say, about 150—were told that they were redundant. Those people had served in the Post Office, some for twenty years and some for more, and, so far as they knew, they had served with complete credit, and their qualifications were never called in question. They, of course, felt it a very great deal after twenty or twenty-five years' service, which, so far as they knew, had been perfectly satisfactory, to be told that they were redundant, and that all avenues for promotion were closed to them. Since the beginning of the War forty-four of these men have been transferred to the class of assistant engineers, but there are still over a hundred who have now waited with great patience and great patriotism since the beginning of the War for a redress of their grievance. Of course, the War has gone on very much longer than they expected, and they have now asked me to bring their case forward in the House. I would ask my right hon. Friend to give the grievances of these people his careful consideration, because there is no reason for believing that these men are inefficient, or that they are unworthy of promotion, and I must say it cannot possibly lead to contentment in the public service that, after twenty-five years of service, men should have to join a redundant class, and have all avenues of promotion closed, and their career, as it were, ruined.
Colonel Sir F. HALL
I have listened practically to the whole of the speeches made this afternoon, and I cannot help thinking that the Postmaster-General must realise that the general feeling right through the Committee is that if the Government are advising, as they should advise, the adoption of the Whitley "Report, they, at all events, should see that they put their house in order. It is all very well to go to a person and say," We think this is an extremely good thing, and we recommend its adoption." The man will turn round and ask, "What are you going to do?" "Oh!" they say, "we are recommending it." But are you doing it? The Post Office have got to do the same as all other Government Departments, and I think if they adopt the report in to to it will be a great deal better for the Government service in general. As was said by the Noble Lord just now, it should not be necessary to have to bring such cases as the redundant engineers before the House of Commons. I have had the same case time and again, and I would take this opportunity of expressing my gratitude to the right hon. Gentleman and the Assistant Postmaster-General for the great assistance they have given me in that matter. I am pleased they recognised and promoted recently eight of these redundant engineers. But that is not enough. There are still sixty to seventy of those men who have been in the service for anything up to twenty-five years. When the class was created in 1912 there were 150 of the second class who were promoted to the new class, but 150 were brought in—people from different walks of life—and were placed over the heads of these Post Office employés. If it is said they cannot do the job, I am here to say that if the men cannot carry out the job they are not entitled to have it. But you have used these men as the tutors, and I should like to know on what grounds the newcomers were placed in the better posts, which I should have thought ought to have been allocated to the Post Office employés, provided they could carry out the job. That is the sort of thing which causes grievances. What have various Postmasters-General said? "We will look into this after the War." We had the same answer in 1915. It was admitted then there was a genuine grievance, but they said that during the War they could not look into it. That was three years ago, and we do not know 2274 when this War is going to finish. Are we to say that we cannot redress a grievance, and that every grievance has to be left till after the close of the War? I sincerely hope the right hon. Gentleman will continue not only the sympathetic treatment that has been given, as shown by the promotions, but that he will consider the case of the sixty or seventy men remaining. I have received letter after letter on this very subject, and I hope that the matter, having been brought before him this afternoon by the Noble Lord, will receive that support and assistance which we maintain should be granted.
There is another topic which I would like to bring before the Committee, and it is one which I have ventured to bring forward several times recently—namely, the hardship with which the sailor is treated at present in regard to postage. I am told it is a small item. If so, the more easily is it put right. One is a little surprised to receive a reply to a question such as that which I received the other day. First of all, I did not believe that these people could be so handicapped, and I put down a question, and having got a reply, I put down another question to see whether redress could not be got. I received a reply thatOne of the reasons for granting free postage to troops belonging to the Expeditionary Forces was the difficulty of obtaining postage stamps in the theatres of war.Really, it is too ridiculous to put forward that difficulty. I have yet to learn that 10,000,000 or 20,000,000 postage stamps are going to take up an enormous amount of transport. From my own personal experience, it was not a question of obtaining postage stamps, but we had to obtain all classes of money for our men. Could we have turned round and said, "We are most fearfully sorry we cannot pay you. You must accept our apologies, and we will pay you at the end of the War, because we have not the necessary cargo space." I suppose that my right hon. Friend felt in a great difficulty as to what to say, and I can sympathise with him. I do not want anybody to think that I am raising any objection to the soldier having a free postage. I have seen what an advantage it is to him. and I want that advantage extended to the men on the ships. I suppose one of the reasons for the opposition is the idea that the men in the Mercantile Marine will also want this privilege. Why should not they have it? They are facing all the difficulties 2275 just the same as the sailors in the Navy. It is not going to cost much. You have no reasonable excuse. I hope, at all events, that this matter will be pressed again and again until the concession is made.
I do not want to put down a reduction of the salary by £100. I want the Government to meet me magnanimously on this point, and I purposely did not put down a Motion for reduction. But that is not because I do not intend to press this matter in a proper manner until the claim is met. I hope that I will get support from all quarters of the House. Perhaps some hon. Friends, when addressing the Committee hereafter, may be able to impress on the Postmaster-General that they are in sympathy with the demand to give this privilege to the sailor as well as to the soldier. Perhaps Members representing the naval constituencies will deal with the matter. I cannot understand why they have allowed it to rest where it is for such a long period. Perhaps they were not aware of the disability under which the sailor is labouring. Unfortunately, while we speak in hundreds of millions and even thousands of millions of money in this House, we are sometimes put off on a matter like this, which involves small cost. Are the soldiers to be told that they got free postage because there were no stamps, and not because we want to show that we appreciate what they are doing for us? The soldier will not appreciate that. I put down a question to-day to the Admiralty to see if they would approach the War Cabinet, and I cannot help thinking that we have friends in the War Cabinet who will perhaps be able to come to the decision that we are not asking anything unreasonable. It may be said that the sailors are in home waters to-day and in foreign waters to-morrow. I do not mind whether they are in home waters or in foreign waters. They have to face privations just as great as those of any of the units in the fighting theatres of war, and I hope the same consideration will be given to them.
There are one or two other matters which I have previously raised on the financial statement of the Postmaster-General. One of these is the question of wages. I am not going to press the matter to-day. I cannot quite understand the difficulties. We are told that £6,000,000 of money has been paid, and that the war 2276 bonus has been increased from 6s. 6d. a week to 14s. a week over the pre-war wages. But the tramways people have got 20s. a week. It is the duty of the Government to see that they are model and not miserable employers of labour. If it costs Post Office employés to-day 20s. more to live than in pro-war days it is the duty of the State to see that that money is provided. It costs £6.000,000 at present, and I realise that it will cost considerably more to give this increase, but as this is before a Board of Arbitration I hope that the decision to be arrived at will give complete satisfaction to the employés. I hope that the Postmaster-General will not think that it is all a question of debit, because instead of having a penny postage to-day he has got a l½d. postage, and though there may be a certain amount of loss on one side and perhaps a somewhat smaller revenue from the postage, yet whatever the revenue it is the duty of the Government as model employers to see that their employés are given such a reasonable salary as will enable them to live in no worse conditions than in pre-war days.
§ Major Sir B. FALLE
I wish to associate myself absolutely with what has fallen from my hon. and gallant Friend as regards the postage of sailors' letters, and I would like to ask my right hon. Friend if he will give us some information as to what the Post Office will do. We mean to press this matter until we get this concession. We do it because it is an absolutely just claim. We know what the Admiralty view is and we know that it is the Post Office and Treasury which stand in the way. The Post Office must take the matter up and bring it before the Treasury and oblige the Treasury to do the fair and just thing to the sailor. No reason has boon offered for not giving to the sailor the advantage which the Army now possesses. The excuse which has been given is a bad excuse and a bad excuse is worse than nothing. The idea that our soldiers cannot get postage stamps is really too ludicruous for words. Considering that every single letter which a soldier writes has to be censored by his immediate commanding officer surely it is absurd to say that the commanding officer at least could not have a few stamps doled out. They would not take very much room in his luggage. Of course, if the officer could not do so the officer in the district who has to censor the letter could do so. The Navy carries the Army on its back. It 2277 not only takes it to France, but it takes the food and ammunition to France. Because it does all these things it should not be placed in a position inferior to that of the Army. If we had no Navy we should not have a single soldier in France, or if we had we could not feed them and supply them with munitions. The soldier is able to write as often as he likes, and he writes pretty often. I have had to censor a great many letters, and I know how often a soldier writes home, but the man in the North Sea is not given the same privileges as regards postal chances as the soldier. I think the attention of the Assistant Postmaster-General has only to be called to the matter for him to see the justice of the claim to give to the matelot what the soldier already has.
§ Colonel Sir C. SEELY
I desire to support what has fallen from the hon. and gallant Member and the hon. Member for Portsmouth as to granting to sailors the same privilege of free postage as is enjoyed by the soldier. The reason given for the special privilege in the case of the soldier is not a strong one. I cannot help thinking that the real reason for granting this to the soldier is two-fold: first, because no one realised in the beginning how large a force the Army would become, and, second, it is in itself a reasonable grant, and that reasonableness applies to sailors in the same manner as it does to soldiers. In ordinary times women know where their husbands and sons are, but in the conditions of war the whole matter is altered. When a ship leaves port no man knows where she is going or when she is coming back. Therefore, I think it would be a very great boon to the wives and mothers of the sailors to extend to sailors this advantage which you have given to soldiers. Of course, I know the difficulty which faces the Treasury and the Post Office owing to the loss on the sale of stamps, and owing to the fact that this no doubt will increase to a considerable extent the number of letters sent. A cost which applies only during the War is quite a different matter from a permanent cost which will exist after the War. This cost is not a serious matter in time of war, and it would apply only to the War and to no other period. We have never, in pre-war times, been in the habit of allowing soldiers free postage for letters home even when they were stationed long distances from home, and I do not suppose that anyone suggests that this privilege of franking letters 2278 should remain after the War, but I do not see why it should not be possible to grant this privilege to men in the Navy which has been granted for such a long period to men in the Army. I am afraid that it is only one instance of what has been the gravest mistake that we have made during the War. So great was the success of our Navy when the War began that to a certain extent we forgot them. Their success was so overwhelming that people forgot both the work that was placed upon them and the value of their services, and matters like this were forgotten in the same way that matters of far greater importance wove also forgotten at the same time. I press this matter most strongly upon the Government. I do not agree with the hon. and gallant Member who brought it forward, because it is one of such absolute justice that I feel obliged to move the reduction I have put down, not with any idea of carrying it to a Division, because I have no doubt whatever that now that it has been brought to the attention of the Post Office they will grant to sailors this perfectly obvious privilege, which ought to have been given to them at the same time it was given to the soldiers, and thereby give the mothers and wives of these men the advantage which the mothers and wives of the soldiers possess of hearing from their sons and husbands at a time when they get no information, other than their letters, as to whether they are alive or of their health or of what their condition is.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. and gallant Gentleman cannot move the reduction standing in his name because there is already an Amendment before the Committee.
§ Mr. REA
May I express the hope that my right hon. Friend will lend a sympathetic ear to the eloquent pleas put forward on behalf of the sailors, who are running very nearly the same dangers as are the soldiers, and who are entitled at least to equal privileges, if that can be arranged? When the right hon. Gentleman is considering the matter, I should like him to see whether the same privilege cannot be granted to those men of the Mercantile Marine who are serving with the Fleet, because they are entitled to it equally with the men of the Royal Navy, in that they run very nearly the same risks. I did not rise to take part in the general discussion, but to refer to 2279 a remark made by my right hon. Friend in the earlier part of his statement in regard to the reduction of postal facilities. We all admit that we must submit to inconveniences in war-time, and my right hon. Friend will not imagine that any of us are anxious to make unnecessary complaints, but really in some cases he is carrying his deductions to an extent that appears to be a little unfair to some parts of the country. The Committee will imagine, from the fact that I am paying an unwonted visit to this box, that I am here to make a contribution to the Debate on behalf of my Constituency. My right hon. Friend is aware of the circumstances in which the Sunday delivery has been curtailed throughout the country. We are willing to recognise that in some districts the Sunday delivery must be stopped, especially where the reduction in railway facilities calls for it. But in my own Constituency of Scarborough this causes particular hardship. That town has suffered much more than any other town in the country in consequence of the War. It is half ruined, but it is doing its best to avoid going into bankruptcy during the War, and in order to do that it hopes to secure a few visitors—it cannot expect many—from week-end to week-end. The town was progressing slightly and making a little money when my right hon. Friend bowled us right out by depriving us of the Sunday postal service, which was one thing that induced the West Riding manufacturer, whom he knows, to come to Scarborough for an occasional week-end rest. The result of the curtailment of the Sunday postal service is that the West Riding manufacturer, leaving his office for a much-needed rest on a Friday afternoon, can get no letters until he returns to his office on Monday morning. The consequence is that he does not come to Scarborough. Unfortunately, we know that men in business cannot get complete rest from it, and that we must keep in touch with it. We would submit to this interference if it were necessary. The letters for delivery in Scarborough actually arrived there, I believe, on Sunday morning, and I understand they are also sorted, yet the Post Office will not allow them to be delivered to us. Because they will not find the minute expense involved in calling out a small number of postmen to deliver them, the letters lie there until Monday morning.
§ Mr. REA
We have been refused every facility for which we have asked. We were told it would cost almost as much in labour to put letters at the disposal of callers in a box as to deliver them. It is not really a question of facilities or of labour, because I know the postmen in the town are all there, and would do the work because they would get extra money for it. If the letters are there and the labour is there, and there is nothing to be saved, I cannot see anything except what an hon. Member opposite called "the cast-iron red-tape of the Post Office" that stands in the way of the delivery. I would appeal to my right hon. Friend to put his foot down firmly upon these out-of-date officials. They have never paid for the delivery of letters between eleven and one o'clock on Sunday, and therefore the Post Office will not do it. It is a quite unreasonable restriction to put upon the amenities of a town which depends upon these facilities for its livelihood. I would ask my right hon. Friend to view with sympathy the very urgent request I put forward that this very small expenditure should be made for the benefit of my unfortunate Constituency.
§ Sir J. FLEMING
I desire to raise two points which have not been mentioned so far in the Debate. The first is in regard to telephones. The present charge for telephones in this country is considered by all of us to be excessive. I remember that at one time the City of Glasgow had a municipal telephone system, for which the annual charge was £5. I think Hull also had the same sort of system at about the same price. When I occupied the civic chair in Aberdeen, we discussed introducing the municipal system there, but as even then it was in the air that the Government would shortly take over the telephones, and as there was a doubt about the connections from one town to another, on the whole we came to the decision that we would not embark on a municipal telephone system, trusting that in the course of time the Government telephone would become as cheap as the Glasgow telephone or the Hull telephone, namely, £5 a year. In place of that the telephone charges have risen steadily. There is nothing that hampers trade more than a high charge for a telephone. A great deal is said at present in the country 2281 about reconstruction after the War and what is going to be done to help the business men, workmen, and the various members of the community to do their best to build up after the War those industries which have been so sadly broken down. I cannot conceive anything which would help business more than a cheap telephone system. The Postmaster-General very properly spoke in terms of high praise of cheap postage and of what it has done for the country, the Empire, and, indeed, for the world. I maintain that a cheap telephone system would not only awaken the business efforts of the country, but that in the end it would pay. A dear telephone is not a paying subject When the last increase was made I do not believe that many people dispensed with the telephone, because when one has a telephone he does not like to give it tip. I am sure, however, that there are hundreds of thousands of people who have declined to put in a telephone but who would have done so had the price been cheaper. I would ask the Postmaster-General to keep this point before his mind. I know that at present he cannot think of a reduction in the price, but I ask him to keep it before his mind continually so that some day this country may not be behind Scandinavia, where the telephones cost £3 to £4 a year.
§ Sir J. FLEMING
Wages in Scandinavia at the present moment, as I happen to know, are as high as they are in this country. The chief thing which makes the installation of telephones in this country so costly is the prevalence of absurd Board of Trade Regulations. Telephones have to be so constructed as to last to all eternity. Movement in the electrical and telephone world are so sudden and constant that it is a great pity to spend as much money on a system which in a few years may be scrapped and a new one introduced. If less stringent restrictions were laid down as to the erection of telephones they could be installed a good deal cheaper. The charges are high for the use of the instrument itself, but another very irritating petty charge is made for the use of a second bell. A good many folks who have a telephone in their houses put it into a cloak-room or some neutral room where no one in the other parts of the house can hear it. If the door is closed a second bell is put either in the direction of the kitchen 2282 or some other part of the house where the whole of the occupants will hear it. The cost of that bell itself mid its erection cannot be more than 5s. or 6s., but I will put it as high as 10s. I know that in the case of one installed in the house in which I happen to live it could not have been more than 5s., although, of course, that was the pre-war price. What do we have to pay annually for the use of this 5s. or 10s. bell? Five shillings a year for the use of it. I have lived seventeen years in my present house; consequently I have paid £4 5s. for the use of a bell which does not belong to me and which goes back to the Government! Immediately I leave the house. It is a petty, irritating charge, which ought to be beneath the policy of a great Department like the Post Office.
Another trifling thing about the telephones is the Telephone Book. When the Government took over their assets from the National Telephone Company I sup pose it took the book over as well. At all events, it has followed up the principles of that book to this day. The paper is of the most wretched description. You cannot handle the Telephone Book in a busy office more than a month or two before it is dog-eared, dirty, and done. It contains advertisements which are painful to the eye when one is reading down the alphabet to find a person's name. It is ridiculous for the Post Office to earn money in that shabby manner. I would advise the right hon. Gentleman to follow the example of Glasgow. The Corporation of Glasgow is looked upon as a model all over the country, not even excepting Birmingham. The Corporation of Glasgow took over the tramway system and, when they did so, they found the cars owned by the private company all bespattered with advertisements, inside and out, back and front. When they took over the cars they took the whole of the advertisements away, and now on all the cars of the Glasgow tramway system you will find nothing but a simple description of the route the car takes. If a municipality can afford to do that, why cannot the Government afford to drop out these irritating advertisements? Put them in the front or the back of the book if you will, but at all events take them out of the middle, and allow people to read the Telephone Directory with something like comfort. I hope the Postmaster will excuse one who has very seldom spoken in this House from mentioning these matters, 2283 but I think the country will be with him if in the near future lie introduces a cheaper system of telephoning, and I believe that cheaper system will pay.
Another matter of' quite a different nature which I have never heard referred to to-day, or in any previous Postmaster's statement, is as to unclaimed savings bank deposits. That is a matter I have thought a good deal about for many years, and I should like to say a few words about it, in the hope that some day heed will be given to the suggestions I make. I asked, by way of question, last year, if I could get the amount standing to the credit of dormant accounts which had not been intromitted with for twenty years. I wanted that return as a starting-point for another question as regards the treatment of those deposits. However, I was not accorded the information. I was referred to a statement in the Savings Bank.Report where it gives the amount of the accounts which had not been intromitted with for five years. That, of course, is useless for my purpose. Accounts which have not been intromitted with for five years need not be tabulated at all, because that is no long period, but an account that has been dormant for ten years, certainly for twenty years, requires to be looked into. I know something about this matter, because I was for a great many years chairman of the Aberdeen Savings Bank Board, and I took this matter up and caused a public notice to be inserted in the newspapers that on a given date the names and last known addresses of all those with accounts dormant for ten years would be exhibited. The amount which had been dormant for ten years at that date was £5,960. Of this, £3,000 was claimed within a very short time, and for the comfort of the Postmaster I might tell him that the great bulk of that money was re-deposited. That was twenty-one years ago, and at present there is still £800 of that money unclaimed. If you take the deposits in the Trustee Savings Bank and the Post Office Savings Bank, add them together, and take the same ratio of the money lying dormant for ten years, it comes to over £1,000,000. Many of these deposits are in small sums. They are sums which no one in this House would think worth consideration, but they belong to poor people, who have poor relations, who would find them very acceptable if they only knew they were there, but they have no opportunity of 2284 Knowing they are there. I do not know if any other bank has ever tried this experiment of letting it be known they arc there. I should like the Postmaster to consider the suggestion that once a year, on the 1st January or 1st June, or whatever date he likes to fix, the names and last known addresses of all those who have money lying on deposit for ten or twenty years should be exhibited in the post offices where those sums lie, so that an opportunity might be given for the public to know of them, and for the proper claimants to get the money. It does not belong to anyone in particular until it has been found out what has become of the depositors. Savings bank books are lost by shipwreck, by all sorts of accidents, by fire, and through sheer carelessness. They are lost by men going abroad and forgetting all about them. The money consequently belongs to no one. The man dies and no one takes any interest in him and no one knows that he had his bank deposit. But if they were exhibited once a year in the post office to which the deposit belonged an opportunity would be given to the depositor to recover the money. In the course of time these various lists might be collated, published in a book, and issued at a small cost. I hope the Postmaster will give favorable consideration— first, to the cheapening of the telephone, and, secondly, to giving people an opportunity of knowing what money is lying unclaimed for a period of, say, ten. fifteen, or twenty years.
§ Mr. HUGHES
I have listened off and on to most of the speeches delivered in this Debate, and I notice that one com plaint made against the Postmaster-General by an hon. Friend of mine on the opposite side was that his speech had not been interesting enough and, indeed, that it had been dreary. I am thankful to any Postmaster-General who drops out of his annual speech the traditional jokes to which we used to be accustomed. I have listened now for twenty-seven or twenty-eight years to speeches from Postmasters-General, and they generally repeated the same old jokes about the misdirecting of letters and matters of that sort, although we were weary of them, just as Chancellors of the Exchequer repeated their traditional jokes. I thought the speech of the Postmaster-General was one of commanding interest. He showed how a great Department had been deprived of thousands of men, had had put on it 2285 enormous new public services, and had come out of the test very successfully indeed. It was not dreary or uninteresting to me.
We have had a speech from my hon. Friend (Mr. Rowntree) who, not for the first time, has brought forward a pro position that the Post Office system should be run by what I think he calls a joint committee, consisting to a certain extent, perhaps half, of the workers, and for the rest by those opposed to the workers. I remember him bringing the proposition forward some months ago, when he addressed the present Postmaster-General and implored him, to my knowledge, about five times in six minutes, to take it seriously and recognise that it was a serious proposition. The Postmaster-General has been here sufficiently long for us to recognise that he is a serious man. He is not given to airy persiflage. He can look at things from a serious point of view. Yet my hon. Friend (Mr. Rowntree) kept rubbing this into him that it was a serious proposition. Perhaps what he suggests is a good thing. He said it was good not only for the Post Office, but for all Civil Service Departments and also for what he called, rather vaguely, the movement generally throughout the country. Among his many activities he is a newspaper proprietor. Would he allow the newspapers that he controls to be run by committees composed as to one half of the writers, reporters, printers — those who I maintain provide the brains— and as to the other by those who provide the money? I doubt if he would. If he does not do that his continual demands here for applying such a system to the Post Office cannot be regarded as real, and must be regarded as merely a political movement, possibly founded on the fact that there are a good many Post Office servants in the city of York.
§ Sir J. SPEAR
I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would consider the desirability of closing the post offices in provincial towns on market days for one hour instead of two? The increase of business by country folk coining into the towns makes it very in convenient that the offices should be closed for two hours, and it does not help the employés very much, because the in creased business and the limitation of hours create greater pressure on them by congestion of business when the offices are reopened than would be the case if the 2286 closure were for one hour instead of two. It also militates against the obtaining of Post Office certificates.
§ Mr. FRANCE
I would like to add a few words to the appeal which has been made to the Postmaster-General in regard to the concession to sailors in the matter of postage. I do not say this because I represent a naval port; I do not. It is in consideration of the justice of the situation. I was very much impressed with the answer which was given and which has been read to the House this afternoon as the reason why this concession was not made to sailors. It seemed to me an ingenious example of the ability of those who draft answers to questions. The reason apparently why soldiers do not have to put postage stamps on letters coming from France to England is not an appreciation of the risks of the work they are doing, but merely the mechanical inconvenience caused by the difficulty of providing them with postage stamps. I should have thought that that difficulty could have been got over by the provision of payment upon the letter being stamped, if that were the real reason for this con cession being made. I do not think the answer does justice to the intention of the Government or the intention of the House. I think the concession must have been made because the Government appreciate the fact that men fighting in the Expeditionary Forces should have this concession, and if that applies to soldiers, I think it applies with equal force to the men who are serving under conditions of great danger and great in convenience to themselves in the other branch of His Majesty's Service.
I was going to raise the question of the treatment of men in the Post Office who come under the head of the grievances of K Company— an old grievance of long standing. I understand that the Chairman of the Committee (Mr. Holt) which dealt with this matter seven years ago, and which recommended that this grievance should be attended to, is going to raise this matter, and as he was chair man of that important Committee upon Post Office Conditions, I should prefer to leave that question to him. But I would urge very strongly, as I was a member of that Committee, that the matter should be settled. It was a Committee considering the conditions, wages, employment and pensions, and as it came to 2287 a conclusion seven years ago and recommended five years ago that this long-due payment, and the payment of arrears should be made to these men in the matter of pensions, I trust the Post Office will press— I do not put it more highly than that— as they promised to do, on the Treasury in order to see that this long standing grievance is put right and that these men get what is due to them. In regard to the subject introduced by the hon. Member for York (Mr. Rowntree), and the Motion of the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. Anderson), who pro pose that the principles of the Whitley Report should be applied to the Post Office, I would like to remind the Committee that the Committee to which I have referred, which sat some years ago, was one of those periodic organisations, clumsy in themselves, and devised for the purpose of going into the question of grievances and the difficulty in relation to wages, employment, and conditions of work. It is not as the hon. Member (Mr. Spencer Leigh Hughes) says, in order that these servants may run the business but that they may assist in doing what the Whitley Report desires to do, that the relationship of those employed and those who employ should be so improved that there should be a new atmosphere and a co-operation in purpose which will make for harmony and efficiency which in the past too often has been absent.
I believe that the Post Office would provide a good example in which the experiment, which, we understand, the State is about to devise, could be carried out. I understand that questions were asked in the Committee as to what were the type of industries in which this experiment could be made. There were four answers, but I shall only refer to two of them. One was: "Those industries in which both employer and employed are highly organised." That surely applies to the Post Office. You cannot have an employer more highly organised for this purpose than the State. On the other hand, you have in the Post Office service a number of very highly organised, intelligent men, in associations which are recognised and have been recognised for many years. The other reply was that the experiment should be adopted by those industries not so highly organised. I prefer to take the first of these two examples. I hope the Postmaster-General will do so and 2288 recognise that the Post Office is an industry which is highly organised on both sides, and that he will take action to put into practice the precepts which he is asking others to adopt for the benefit and advantage of the nation.
§ Mr. PEASE
Any visitor to the House this afternoon may be struck by the number of criticisms which have been made in regard to the Department which I represent, but it is possible to feel a little surprise that there has been no criticism whatever in regard to the questions affecting the War in relation to the Post Office. I have heard no complaint in regard to letters or telegrams to or from the various theatres of war. That is a different position from the one I occupied last year, and I think there must be some sense of satisfaction that the Post Office staff has been able to accomplish a very great work. The Postmaster-General, in his address this afternoon, which covered a very wide area, stated that we were delivering in France every week about 10,000,000 letters, and that practically the same number were sent back to this country. When we consider the difficulty of delivering letters in other parts of the world it must be realised that the work is on a very large scale. Some of the criticism which we have listened to this after noon— and I find no fault with any of it— has been with regard to matters of trivial importance; but we are a wonderful people, and even in the midst of the greatest War in the history of mankind we feel strongly in regard to these matters, and rightly so, because we wish to try and put the whole work upon a proper basis. I will deal with the criticism of my right hon. Friend (Mr. H. Samuel), who was Postmaster-General when I first went to the Post Office, as to the reply which was given, or was intended to be given, this afternoon by the Postmaster-General in reference to the Whitley Report. He said that he could not say anything with reference to the question put to him, be cause the matter of applying the principle of the Whitley Report to Government Departments was a matter which did not concern the Post Office alone. The matter is, or will be, very shortly before the War Cabinet, and in these circumstances it is not possible to say anything further, nor do I know what the decision is likely to be.
I think that this afternoon there was a misapprehension shown by the speech of 2289 the hon. Member for York in regard to the relation of the Postmaster-General and myself to the trade unions. My right hon. Friend the ex-Home Secretary in his speech referred to the revolution which was carried into effect by Lord Buxton some time ago, and the relationship which existed between trade unions and himself on the two occasions when he occupied the position of Postmaster-General. It is difficult to say exactly what the position would be if the Whitley Report were carried out to the full, but I have no doubt there are certain matters which could be well discussed between a body of that kind and the Post Office. With regard to the question of conciliation and arbitration, the record of the proceedings for 1917 of the Conciliation and Arbitration Board was recently published. Twenty claims on behalf of Post Office servants were heard by the Board in the year 1917, of which fourteen were settled by arbitration and live by conciliation, and one claim is out standing. Twelve of the cases dealt with by arbitration were settled by war bonus awards in May and December, and the total amount of money received is £6,000,000. The total amount of money for the last award in December was over £2,000,000. The remaining two cases relate to claims (1) by the National Federation of Sub-postmasters for increased remuneration for (a) dealing with Army and Navy allowance forms and (b) the issue of War Loan and Exchequer Bonds, and (2) by the London supplementary clerks for (a) the retrospective application of a scale of pay introduced in 1910 and (b) the application of the scales of pay recommended by the Holt Committee with out the increase in hours, recommended by the Committee.
I mention that because some criticism this afternoon gave the impression that the Post Office was an absolute autocracy. Everyone in the House knows perfectly well that, so far as these matters are concerned, the question of wages is outside the Postmaster-General's jurisdiction The award is made by the Arbitration Committee, the chairman of which has been sitting here this afternoon. The bonus is a very considerable amount. In regard to the question of the charge for postage for sailors, sailors are in exactly the same position as soldiers who are at home. Soldiers who are abroad on foreign service have free postage, but the soldiers at home pay postage in the ordinary way, as do sailors I understand that the appli- 2290 cation that has been made this afternoon is that postage should be free for all soldiers and sailors, and also the Mercantile Marine.
§ Mr. PEASE
I understand what the hon. Baronet says in regard to that, and I will see that the matter is considered. It is quite impossible for the Postmaster-General to give an answer on such an important question as that without consulting the Cabinet in regard to it. My Noble Friend (Lord H.. Cavendish - Bentinck) brought forward the question of redundant engineers. I was under the impression that I had brought papers this afternoon in regard to them, but I am sorry to say I have not done so. If he will allow me, I will look into the case further, as I do not feel qualified to speak in regard to this question fully without having the papers. I will communicate with him and give him an answer, which he can publish if he thinks desirable. The hon. Member for Liverpool (Sir W. Rutherford) brought for ward the question of expensive postage, and said that he thought that in Japan it was possible to post five letters for a penny. I do not know how that is arranged, but the charges in the different countries in regard to both the post office and the telephones depends to a great extent on wages, and anyone who realises what the wages are in Japan should know that there is really no basis for argument in regard to the two countries. I am sure that everyone would be only too desirous of reducing the charges for the telephone, for the telegraph, and for all postal facilities if it were possible. The difficulties of labour in the Post Office are very great, something like 80,000 men having gone from our service, but we have endeavoured as far as possible to treat fairly all applicants for telephone facilities. We should like to connect anyone asking for a telephone, but we have not got the operators or anyone to instal it. The difficulty has been very great, because we have been obliged, especially in regard to the Air Service, to provide a very large service for the new Government Departments, thus using a great deal of the labour which we had left to us. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Islington(Mr. Wiles) referred to the question of aeroplane postage. Anyone who has an eye to the future can see the day coming when we 2291 shall have an opportunity of sending our letters by aeroplane to a very large extent. I can remember, in the history of the town which I represent, that when rail ways were first adopted there was no idea that there could possibly be the extension of the-railway system that we see to-day. It is quite possible that some day the right hon. Gentleman and myself may be able to go in an aeroplane to Iceland one evening and round by Tokio the next morning. As far as one can see, there is no reason why the aeroplane should not be used to a very great extent for carrying letters.
§ Mr. PEASE
I am very glad the right hon. Gentleman asks me that question. The reason nothing has been done in regard to this question is that the aeroplanes are required for war work. We have no doubt at all that a postage system can be inaugurated whereby aeroplanes are used for carrying letters and parcels, but in view of the very great demands that there are at the moment for aeroplanes for the Military and Naval Service, it has been decided at present not to proceed in the matter. The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned the question of economy. We have paid great regard to the question of economy, among other outside things— in paper. We had an expert down recently; he spent a long time in investigations atone of our Depots in order to see what saving could be effected in paper, and all the saving he could suggest amounted to about £30 a year, which is a negligible amount in view of the enormous amount of paper which is necessarily used. I need hardly say that we shall endeavour to carry out all the economies of which we are capable.
§ Mr. PEASE
With regard to the question mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, the Post Office is credited with the expense of the telegrams of the various Departments, naval and military. If he will investigate the matter further, he 2292 will find that is the case with regard to all the Departments. He must have made a mistake, in regard to that matter. It is not possible for us to arrange the amount of work which, is done by these various Departments. There may be in many cases telegrams sent which are unnecessary, but as far us the Post Office is concerned the amount is credited to them.
§ Mr. PEASE
Yes, it applies to every thing. The question of the Liverpool typists, which was raised last year by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool (Sir J. Harmood-Banner), has been raised again this afternoon. The question is a comparatively simple one. There are something like fifty-six unions of various kinds. Most of our staff naturally belong to manipulative unions, but typists should belong to clerical unions. It is an essential condition to recognition that the union should be composed of classes which have a community of init rests. About 700 typists arc employed, about half in London and eighty-three at Liverpool. The Postal and Telegraph Clerks' Association arc anxious that the Liverpool typists should join them and the typists there arc agreeable, but other typists are not. I would ask the House this question: Would it suit the general policy of trade unions if any discontented members were to secede from their union and join another union in which they had no community of interests, or were to form a new union? Associations are constantly claiming to be consulted as to the conditions of service of the staff, and they are allowed to take questions of remuneration to arbitration. The system of consultation cannot be made workable unless members of grades are represented by one union only Arbitration or conciliation proceedings cannot take place if no one association can claim to speak authoritatively for any one grade. The Post Office is not composed of one class of workers; it consists of dozens, and claims might be put forward by several associations on behalf of the same class inconsistent with each other. This would result in hopeless confusion.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
May I ask whether the Post Office dictates in any way as to the organisation that workpeople shall 2293 join, and whether, seeing there are only two or three hundred typists, they are of themselves to form a competent trade union in place of their being allowed to join an existing strong trade union?
§ Mr. ILLINGWORTH
The only point that we lay down is that they should join a union in which they have community of interests. The typists are a clerical body and the Postal and Telegraph Clerks' Association is a manipulative body. They must join a body in which they have community of interests.
§ Sir J. HARMOOD-BANNER
Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that there is no objection to them joining a union, but only a stipulation as to which union they shall join?
§ Mr. PEASE
I am sorry if I did not make it clear, but I said that last year in debate. I want to refer to a point raised with regard to postal facilities at Scarborough. The Postmaster - General very much regrets having to reduce postal facilities in this country, but it is impossible to avoid doing so. The question with regard to Scarborough has arisen and has been dealt with on more than one occasion. I should have liked to have been able to say that we agree to what my hon. Friend asks, especially in view of the fact that owing to its geographical position Scarborough has been hit by the circumstances of the War. The general abolition of Sunday deliveries in the provinces was considered, among other measures of retrenchment, in 1916, and it was decided not to proceed with general abolition but to deal on their merits with cases where the public convenience of Sunday delivery appeared to be obtained at too great a cost. Such was the position at Scarborough. The railway facilities are not such as to permit us to make a Sunday delivery at Scarborough. I regret that is so. but as far as I know there is not any likelihood of -us being able to make a change.
§ Mr. ROWNTREE
The right hon. Gentleman knows that the Sunday papers manage to penetrate there by carrier or cart or some way or other. There is that way of getting over the difficulty.
§ Mr. PEASE
I am sure that my hon. Friend would be only too glad if there were no Sunday delivery in the country at 2294 all. In reference to the automatic telephone exchange, I do not happen to have had the privilege of going to Leeds to see it, but I have, some little knowledge of it at Darlington, because that was the first place in which it was inaugurated. The same position is taken up in regard to automatic telephones as in regard to other telephones. A great many com plaints are made with regard to the system, but I am informed by a very high authority that it is quite impossible for there to be any mistake of any kind so far as automatic telephones are concerned, and I believe that to be the case. This system, as is generally known, is adopted to a very large extent in America, and Canada, and the difficulty of an ex tension of it in this country is really a question of money to a very large extent, because the capital required to inaugurate the system all over the country would be a colossal sum. This service has been in operation in the Epsom district for some time, and I believe it gives more or less general satisfaction, 'but, as in the case of everything else in this world, there are some people who are conservative in their opinions and who prefer the human element in telephones. Personally, I think the day will come when we shall see a very great increase in automatic telephones in this country, and I believe it will be an advantage to the State. When I first went to the Post Office I was under the impression that a much larger number of the mistakes were due to the operators than I now believe to be the case. I believe that a great many of the mistakes that are made are due to wrong numbers being given by the subscribers and by sub scribers not carrying out the rules which are perfectly plainly put before the public in the books which have been delivered to almost every house in the country. I wish to say a word with regard to the co-operation of the public in the adoption of the new postage rate. The result has been most satisfactory from the Post Office point of view. In the E.C. district the average day showed about 1,500 in stances of incorrect postage under the old rate, while under the new rate the number is 3,000 out of a million and a half, which is a negligible number. I think, under the circumstances, it will be considered that the public has responded well to the appeal which was made to them.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen brought forward the question of Post Office Savings Banks. I do not know whether 2295 it is possible to carry out the suggestion he made, but I may say on behalf of the Department I represent that the matter will be carefully considered, and I will endeavour to send him a reply in regard to that question. It is a matter of very great satisfaction, in view of the financial position of the country, that there is now more money in the Post Office Savings Bank than there was when the War began. With regard to the question raised by the hon. Member for Tavistock, I am very sorry indeed that there has been inconvenience caused in that market town through want of postal facilities. As on all occasions, I shall be only too glad to consider any representations that are made, and, if the matter has not already been investigated, I will look into it and see if we can meet the hon. Gentleman on the matter. In regard to all these difficulties it must be realised that these are not normal times, and that it is quite impossible to obtain the same terms in this or any Department as existed before the War. In regard to the present staff of the Post Office, no one can possibly expect that we can get as good work from those who are now doing the work as we obtained from the old-established staff, employed for so many years in the Post Office. Still, whatever may be the shortcomings and difficulties which are inseparable from the conditions of the service in war-time, I have some reason to believe that the general public are more or less satisfied with much of the work that is now being done by the Department. Doubtless mistakes are made by this as by other Departments, and I quite recognise that there has been a very considerable amount of delay in the delivery of letters, but it will be seen that this is hardly avoidable in these times of stress. I know that some Members of the House have been inconvenienced by the non-delivery of letters at the proper time, but taking into account all the difficulties of the situation, I think it must be acknowledged that the staff of the Post Office have been able to accomplish a great deal of work. In all the various questions which have been put there was none as to wireless telegraphy. Every one realises that this is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, invention of modern years, and when the history of the War comes to be written, and it is possible for us to make public the work accomplished by the Post Office, especi- 2296 ally in the Scientists' Department of the Post Office, I think that it will be a very great surprise to many members of the community, and that everyone will realise that the Post Office staff, and all those connected with the Department which I represent, have in circumstances of no small difficulty tried, as far as possible, to contribute to the needs of the Navy and of our Army in the field.
§ Mr. HOLT
I do not rise for the purpose of entering into a general discussion on Post Office matters, but I think it will be conceded that members of the public, taking all in all, look upon the Post Office as having done very well considering the difficulties under which they have to work. There is one consideration which I should like to urge upon the right hon: Gentleman the Postmaster-General, and it is that he should make the last delivery as late as possible at night, and the morning delivery as early as it can be done, for that would really be a great convenience, as it would enable a letter to be received and answered in the same day. But my object in rising to-day is again to press upon the attention of the Government the case of the K Company of Royal Engineers, whose case was investigated by a Committee over which I had the honour to preside. The K Company, as we under stand it, are only nominal soldiers. They were Post Office men, who enlisted nominally in the Army, so that the Army could have the right to the service of competent Post Office servants to carry on the postal service which is necessary for the Army in the field. The Report of the Committee deals with that matter, and it states that the men in question while serving in the K Company of Royal Engineers were employed on Post Office work, and the time they served in the K Company was to be counted to the Post Office, but, owing to the time served in the K Company, these officials suffer a loss of between five and twelve years' service when pension comes to be calculated. That is the point of the men's grievance. While serving in the K Company these men, though Post Office servants, were nominally soldiers, yet they are to be deprived of years of service when estimating pension. The men say that it was represented to them at the time when they were invited to join the K Company that their service in that company would count for pension, in spite of the fact that they were acknowledged as members of the 2297 Army. The fact is that a circular inviting these men to enlist in the K Company was issued in June of one year, and another circular was issued in 1909, and these two circulars were equivocal on the subject of pensions; but a circular which was issued in 1907 was undoubtedly clear that the service would not count for pension. The men's case is this, that when it was made clear in the 1907 circular that this period would not count for pension, the enlistment stopped, and then a circular was issued in 1909 leaving the point at least open to doubt, in order to get persons to enlist in the K Company at all.
The Committee, which consisted of nine members, drawn from all quarters of the House in the usual way, considered the matter very carefully, and they recommended that the members of the K Company should be regarded as the established servants of the Post Office, and treated as Post Office servants for the purposes of pension, and that correction should be made accordingly, and arrears made up to the men. The Committee were absolutely unanimous in their recommendation, and I submit to the Secretary to the Treasury that when the matter was referred to a Select Committee of this House, and when evidence has been heard on both sides, the representatives of the Post Office did not dispute the justice of the men's claim. That is quite certain. The representatives of the Treasury did not choose to attend the Committee to put their case. That being so, it does seem to me that the Government are morally bound to observe the recommendation of the Committee. After all, the proceedings of that Committee were in the nature of an arbitration on whether or not these public servants had or had not received what was properly due to them from the public exchequer. The Committee unanimously came to the conclusion that the men had made out their case, yet for four or five years the Government have refused to make good their recommendation. I think that is treating the Committee with very little respect, and that it is treating the men very unfairly. That sort of treatment is likely to make bad feeling and bad blood in the public service. After all, these public servants put their case to arbitration and won, and then the Government turned down the matter, saying, "You won your case, but we will not accept the award." 2298 I submit that is really a denial of justice to these men. I am told that owing to-technicalities legislation will be necessary to enable these pensions to be paid. I do not believe there will be any difficulty in getting through the House as quickly as you like a Bill making it clear that the pensions shall be paid to these persons in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee. Therefore I very strongly, as strongly as I possibly can, urge the Secretary to the Treasury to-reconsider the decision of the Government, and to do to these men what the Committee, over which I presided, believe-to be fair.
Mr. T. WILSON
I endorse every word the lion. Gentleman opposite has said, and I think the men of the K Company have proved their case, if ever anyone proved a case, and I am surprised that the Treasury have not seen fit to carry out the recommendation of the Committee. I hope, however, that the Government will be in a position to give a favourable reply on the subject. There is another class of men to which I wish to refer, a similar class recommended for an increase of wage by the Committee, and I am informed that nothing was done to meet that recommendation, except that recently a war bonus was given. I refer to Class 2 draughtsmen, who get a £5 increment until their remuneration reaches £200. Draughtsman in other public Departments receive £400 a year, and in the case to which I refer I am satisfied as to the justice of the claim which is put forward. In one municipality they advertised for men of this class— that is, Class 2 draughtsmen— and they offered £4 a week to begin with, and if that can be done in the case of a municipality or in the case of commercial establishments, surely an institution like the Post Office should be in a position to pay higher salaries to men of a similar class, in their employment! I appeal to the Postmaster-General to give favourable consideration to the claim of these men. On the question of the right of the workers to decide for themselves to which union they will belong, I do not think there need be any difficulty what ever in dealing with any claim if it is put forward by an organisation to which the workers belong making the claim, and any decision given by the Post Office for or against that claim ought to be accepted by the typists, whatever may be the society to which they belong I hope, 2299 for the maintenance of good relations between the Post Office authorities and their servants, that there will be no attempt to stand in the way of any particular body of servants choosing the trade union to which they wish to belong, for any such attempt would be an interference with the liberty of the subject. But it may be that the typists will eventually get into a society which will cater more immediately for their wants.
§ 8.0. P. M
§ Mr. BALDWIN (Joint Financial Secretary to the Treasury)
I rise for the purpose of answering, in as few words as possible, the appeal made to me by the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Holt) to give reconsideration to the case of the K Company men. I do not propose, in view of the suggestion I have to make to him, to argue the case at all this evening, but I will tell him exactly how the matter stands to-day. The decision which the Treasury have, been asked to give has required a great deal of consideration, because, although the number of men affected is not large and the amount of money involved is not great, there are a number of complications which perhaps do not appear on the surface of the case, but which render it very necessary to be very careful from a monetary point of view. My hon. Friend will remember that he put down a question to me a month or two ago, and that, in answering it, I expressed a hope that we might have an opportunity at an early date of conferring together on this subject, because I felt he had not been fully apprised of the point of view which we hold at the Treasury. But, and I expect it is because we have both been pretty fully engaged lately, we have not yet been able to effect this meeting, so I offer him definitely now that, on as early a day as possible, we shall hold a conference at the Treasury, at which I hope some representatives of the Post Office will be present, and then the hon. Member will be able to put the case in which he is interested, and which he knows so well, having dealt with it in the Report of his Select Committee. If that be done, I can promise that there shall be no delay in coming to a decision on this question, which I agree with him, whatever the decision may be, is now over-ripe for settlement. I hope that that will be satisfactory to my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. ROWLANDS
I want to ask the Assistant Postmaster-General, who has promised to give consideration to a question affecting sailors, not to take too long a time in arriving at a decision. Like the hon. Member who brought this question before the Committee, I have been astounded at the replies received to the various questions we have put. I have in my own Constituency, among the river side population, many men who feel they have a very just grievance because they are not put on the same conditions as the soldiers. We contend that the advantage given to the soldiers is one to which sailors on active service are equally en titled, and if the concession can be made I am sure it will be most highly appreciated, I think the Postmaster-General, in an answer which he gave on this subject, made a slight mistake in advancing reasons. He suggested the only difficulty was in regard to postage stamps. But surely this is a concession which ought to be given to men who are bearing the brunt of the struggle in the interests of the rest of us at home, and I therefore hope that the Post Office authorities will give the matter most earnest consideration and arrive at a decision as quickly as possible.
I, too, hope that this concession already granted to the soldiers will be extended to the sailors as quickly as possible. I think there arc reasons for pressing the Amendment to a Division this evening. I have listened to a greater portion of the Debate, and I think the House cannot be satisfied with the answers given on some of the subjects raised this afternoon. For instance, on the question of the Whitley Report we have had an assurance that the matter is going to be considered by the Post Office, and that the subject will be laid before the War Cabinet. But, as the Committee well knows, the Admiralty has already moved in this matter, and surely the Committee is entitled to ask itself whether the Post Office ought not also to have moved and to have brought this new organisation into being throughout the Department. During the last hour and a half we have had many grievances discussed, and if the Whitley Committees had been brought into existence many of those 2301 topics would have gone automatically to those bodies and the grievances which take up so much of our time in this House would have been solved. I hope, therefore, my hon. Friend will press this Amendment to a Division this evening, because on the two main subjects which we have debated we have not yet received any definite assurance such as I think the Committee is entitled to. I am anxious to ask the Government as to one farther point. In the early part of May I asked a question of the Assistant Postmaster-General with regard to the Post Office Estimates, and whether the Post Office accounts would in future be presented in a more complete fashion1? I got an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that he would communicate with the Treasury on the subject. I wish now to ask whether the Estimates to be presented for the forthcoming year will be so framed as to enable Parliament and the public to understand which sections of the service are paying, and which are being carried on at a loss? I have no desire to develop this point this evening, but unless I can have some assurance in regard to it I certainly shall vote for the Amendment. In the White Paper which has been issued in regard to the Post Office Estimates the expenditure is put down at £26,000,000 and the receipts at £35,000,000. On a commercial basis the expenditure is £42,000,000 and the receipts £45,000,000. In other words, the accounts presented to Parliament are quite misleading, and fail to give a true picture of the financial position of the Post Office Unless I get some assurance from the Postmaster-General that this matter is going to be considered in a sympathetic manner during the coming year, I shall have to go reluctantly into the Lobby in favour of the Amendment.
I did not, unfortunately, arrive in time to hear the Post master-General's statement, but I rather gather from what has been said by the Assistant Postmaster-General that a question affecting the Post Office engineers has been considered. Now there are a number of engineers employed by the Post Office whose case I brought before the predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman two or three years ago. They number seventy or eighty. They were engaged on certain terms, but subsequently a fresh class was created and the effect of that was to postpone their promotion and to 2302 prevent their going on with the kind of work for which they were engaged. The grievance affected, I believe, eighty men. There have, I understand, now been some eight promotions, but the remainder of the men labour under a great sense of grievance, because they are not receiving the salaries which they claim they are entitled to. They appeal for a reconsideration of their case, and they draw attention to the fact that in these times of high prices they are in a much worse position than they would have been had they continued on their normal duties. I also want to raise a question arising out of the upset of the railway arrangements of the country. An enormous number of parcels formerly sent by railway are now sent by post. The Department refuse absolutely to accept any liability for damage done to a parcel containing liquids, no matter how carefully that parcel may have been packed. Every body recognises that the present staff cannot be expected to be as skilful as the ordinary regular staff of the Post Office, and as a consequence great damage is caused to parcels. Had they as they would have been in normal times, been dispatched by railway, the railway companies would have accepted responsibility for damage done, and I would suggest that, if the Post Office undertakes the duty of delivery and accepts payment for the same, it should also accept responsibility and make good any damage done to the article while in its charge. I had brought to my notice some tune ago a case in which a parcel was never delivered. The Department made inquiry about the missing parcel and could not prove delivery, but because the sender was unable to prove delivery— he had nothing to depend upon but the assertion of the person who ought to have received it but did not— the Department, because of the inability to prove a negative, which is an impossible thing, disclaimed liability for the missing parcel. May I suggest that in cases of that kind, seeing that business men are now compelled to use the Post Office instead of the railways, the Department ought to take the same responsibilities as private carriers?
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported To-morrow; Committee to sit again To-morrow.