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I have experienced this difficulty lately in regard to carmen's wages. There is no recognised rate of wages in that particular trade, but it was obvious to me that the men were underpaid and overworked. After some communications on the subjoct, what I have been enabled to do is to go to the contractors and say— " I do not say that at the present moment there is a recognised rate, but I am going to say what 1 think you ought to pay, and what I consider a fair rate of wages in the trade." I am bound to say that the contractors met me in a fair spirit, and I think the arrangement come to has given satisfaction to the persons in the employment of the contractors. The wages for single horse men is 25s. a week, and for two horse men 27s. a week. In addition to that they both get a complete uniform which represents Is. 3d. a week.
Mr. SEDDON (Lancashire, Newton) : Does that apply to the provinces as well as to London 1
*mr. SYDNEY BUXTON: No, it applies to London. As to the provinces I am still in correspondence. I think my hon. friend has drawn my attention to one or two cases in which the men have been underpaid. I am very glad that the cases have been brought to my attention. These were cases in which the wages appeared to be unduly low, and I f-hall have the matter inquired into at the earliest possible opportunity. The same remarks apply to the clothing contracts, but unfortunately in regard to these it is not easy to act at once. Ihe contracts had in some instances been entered into before I really had sufficient time to study the question. In regard to all those matters we are hampered by existing contracts, and for some time to come that will be so in many cases. There again it seems to me that it is not right to accept necessarily the lowest tender. It seems to me that the contracts should be spread over a large area so that one could get experience of the way in which the various employees are paid, and further that when new contracts are given out there will be a better chance of choosing between the good and the sweating employers. I think something can be done by spreading the contracts over a large area, and by being by no means tied
Mr. Sydney IJuzton.
down to taking the lowest offer. Then as regards employment at the Post Office factory at Holloway, I told the Committee last year that I had endeavoured, as far as possible, to average the work over the year, that is to say, to arrange, as far as possible, the work of thos eemployed in the factory so as to spread it evenly over the year, and thereby prevent the necessity of discharging a large number of men at one time and taking them on at another. The carrying out of that policy has taken some time, but I think it has now been placed on a basis which will obviate the system of employing a minimum of men at one time and adding largely to the number of temporary hands at another. There is a matter in connection with the factory which I think will interest the Committee. There has been instituted at the factory a system which I understand is in operation at a considerable number of private establishments. It is what is called the " suggestion system." That is to say, any workman employed there may make suggestions as to the design of tools, the improvement of machines, or the methods of manufacture, the saving of material, and the prevention of accidents. They are encouraged to make their suggestions by rewards given to them when they propose anything of a practical character, and I am glad to know that in eloven months no less than 108 rewards, averaging from 5s. to £5, have been given to various workmen under the Post Office for suggestions of that nature. I think that everybody will agree that that is a good thing to do. It will interest the men in their work, encourage them to make suggestions, and to have confidence that, if the suggestions should be carried out, they will be rewarded. Therefore it is a scheme which merits the attention of the Committee.
As to the enormous number of men engaged in the actual postal work and the claims they have put forward for improved conditions, their case is now before a Parliamentary Committee. That is in accordance with what they themselves desired, and it is not for me to anticipate —for I have no knowledge whatever— what may be the conclusion at which the Committee will arrive. This, I think, I may say, however, that as the men themse'ves desired a Parliamentary Committee, which I thought they were entitled to have, I presume, now that they have appealed to Caesar, they will be preparod to accept the verdict which Csesar may give. In regard to sanitary improvements, medical services, Home Office inspection, and other matters of that sort, alterations have been made which we hope will improve the conditions of the service. We have been endeavouring as far as we can to limit the over-pressure in the summer season, and the excessive overtime to which that often leads. Unfortunately, while in the summer time the work increases, the staff at that time is at a minimum, owing to the holidays which are granted at the best season of the year. We have endeavoured, as far as possible, to deal with that situation, and while it is necessary to employ a certain amount of temporary labour, we have endeavoured in other ways, and by other means, to diminish the over-pressure and the overtime during the summer season.
There is another matter to which the Committee will allow me to refor, for I know that it is one in which a good many Members take an interest. That is what I may call the blot on the escutcheon of the Post Office, namely, the position of the boy messengers. We have to part with a very large number of these boys at the age of sixteen. I may siy that we part with them at that age because we believe that if their services are to be dispensed with at all, it is better for them to go then rather than at eighteen or nineteen years of age. The position of the matter is this. It is a matter over which I have no control. It is due to an arrangement of some years standing between the Post Office, the War Office, and the Admiralty, under which—and I think very legitimately— ex-soldiers and ex-blue-jackets of good character, on leaving the Army and the Navy, should be received into the service of the Post Office. These men were accepted if there was nothing serious in their record against them in order to prevent their going on the streets. The arrangement was that onehalf of the postmen's places should be given to ex-soldiers and ex-sailors and the other half to the boy messengers. I confess that it has distressed me very much to receive communications from many parents and others on behalf of those boys whose services have to be
dispensed with at sixteen years of age. It is useless to say to the parents that when the boys came into the service of the Post Office at thirteen or fourteen years of age they were informed that it was not a permanent service, and that they had signed a paper to that effect. Every parent, of course, thinks his own child is the best, and that ho will certainly succeed, and the parents caunot be persuaded that they have not to a certain extent been taken in when they are asked to take the boys away from the Post Office service. We have given as much time as possible to the consideration of this question with the view of limiting the severity of the treatment of these boys, and I think that we have with some success mot the problem. I have now come to an arrangement with the War Office under which, while declining to take a single ex-soldier more into the service, or to place further posts at their disposal to the displacement of the boy messengers, there is to bo greater elasticity. In future instead of the ex-soldiers being as now entitled to certain places, I have full freedom to distribute them as fairly as I can among the various branches of the service. Representations were at once made to me that, in adopting this course, we were injuring the interests of the telegraphists or of the learners who would become telegraphists, and that we were endeavouring to introduce those men in order to reduce wages, and so forth. I can hardly believe that those who made these assertions really made them in good faith. It is quite well known that the effect of introducing these men into those positions is to create vacancies for boy messengers, and that not a single person in the service can possibly suffer from the intrusion of these ex-soldiers. They will be taken on the establishment when they have had a certain amount of training, at the same rate of wages and on the same conditions as the present telegrapists. There is no question of introducing cheap labour or anything of that sort. We are doing what we can to direct the attention of employers and others to the boy messengers, and, I am glad to say, in some cases very successfully. It depends very largely on the energy and enterprise of the postmaster, and I should like to pick out particularly tho postmaster of Derby, who has been most successful in finding these boys,
places for these boys, many of whom have been enabled, by the admirable training he has given them, to obtain places on their own initiative. At one time there was some prejudice against these boys. They were not, perhaps, as smart as they might be, but having seen a good deal of the article, I beg to recommend it as a first-class article.
Last year I told the Committee that I fully recognised the Post Office associations as trade unions, with a right of combination and of respresentation through the representatives of different classes. I have nothing to regret in having done so. I think it is the right thing to do, and I believe it has been a satisfactory step. Indeed, I have gone further lately, and have drawn up fresh regulations in consultation with the associations themselves in order to carry out smoother working in regard to this matter. It has been my strong and earnest desire throughout to bring about better relations between the various classes of the postal service, and to bring them, as far as I can, into personal relations with the heads of the Department, because I am a great believer in personal relations as a means of smoothing over difficulties and removing antagonisms. I think these associations and those they represent were inclined to be over suspicious in regard to the Department. They profess to think that the Department was actuated by sinister motives. I am quite certain that the desire of all those who represent the Department is to do their best and the greatest possible justice to the staff as a whole.
The Postmaster-General's position is not an easy task. He has to bear the fierce light of publicity. There are upon him the eyes of some 40,000,000 of population, the eyes of 670 Members of Parliament, all of whom have constituents with eyes upon them, and there are also something like 150,000 watchful and critical employees. Nor is it a light task, because his relations with such a large army of employees must necessarily lead, not "only to tho larger questions to which I have referred, but also to personal matters, all of which are difficult and take time, and many of which aro very painful, though some are amusing. I can only express my indebtedness to hon. Members who write to me, or buttonhole me, or question me,
Mr. Sydney Buxton.
for the very conciliatory way in which they treat me in regard to these matters. The service is a great one. I believenay, I am sure—that it is actuated from the top to the bottom, with very few exceptions, by real zeal and interest in the work of the Department. 1 have had many opportunities during the last year of meeting all classes and all ranks of Post Office servants, and I have been very much struck by the public zeal which actuates this great service, and which, I think, is appreciated by the public. I have endeavoured during the time I havo been at the Post Office to make advances in every direction. I have done something, or havo, at least, endeavoured to do something, for the comfort and convenience of the public, and [ have endeavoured, as far as I could, to improve the conditions of those working in the Post Office and to bring about a better understanding and more cordial relations.
*mr. HENNIKER HEATON (Canterbury) said he would endeavour to presenta picture of the Department from the public point of view. The revenue of the Post Office and Telegraphs Department was £22,000,000, and the expenditure was £17,600,000. The profits of the British Post Office amounted to £4,600,000, exactly £1,000,000 sterling over the amount they were ten years ago, although the expenditure had increased to a large extent. The predecessors of the right hon. Gentleman had sought, in the interests of the public, to limit the amount of the profits which should go into the Treasury. It was held that the Post Office ought not to make profits, and the proposal was made that all above the present profits should go towards extending, cheapening, and facilitating postal communications. He recommended that suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman, who had been going about tho country thanking the Chancellor of the Exchequer for having given back to him but a small proportion of the enormous profits which had been made by the Department. His right hon. friend had made a speech which put him in considerable difficulty. Last year the right hon. Gentleman employed 195,000 or nearly 200,000 people," w bicb. was 50,000 more than ten years ago. In five years 250,000 people would be employed in the Post Office service, and no doubt,
they would be continually making demands upon the Postmaster-General. He would suggest to him a system which would put an end to those calls upon his time and attention. The suggestion was that there should be appointed a Public Service Board similar to that which had been established in Australia. The board there consisted of three able men free from political influences, irremovable by Government, who dealt with all questions in relation to wages and emoluments paid in the various public services, and their decisions gave general satisfaction. Such a body dealing with the complaints of Post Office employees would relieve the Department and Members from much annoyance and from what might become a source of danger to the public service. In an inquiry for establishing such a board the right hon. Gentleman would have everv assistance from tho Opposition side of the House. From a study of post offices in various parts of the world for the last twenty years, ho could say that the British Post Office was one of the best in the world, but it had a number of faults which no business mind could tolerate. The Postmaster-General was armed with full authority against the public and had no responsibility for the defalcations and errors of his servants. No private person conducting such a business would bo allowed such irresponsibility, and he suggested that tho powers and authority of the Postmaster-General needed revision. The right hon. Gentleman had obtained a cheer by his reference to the reduced postago to Canada. Under the now system a pamphlet woighing a pound could be sent to Canada, 0,000 miles away, for Id., a wonderful concession for which they were thankful; but then to send a pamphlet or magazine to the Reform Club half a mile off would cost 4d. The arrangement with Canada, moreover, was mean to an extraordinary degree, and one which could not long bo tolerated. When he worked hard for postage reduction he did not bargain for a system by which magazines could be sent to Canada for |d. each while those sent across the road would cost 3£d. in postage. By the new arrangement Canada was made to pay two-thirds of the postage. It was an astonishing arrangement, and would excite laughter here though perhaps not in Canada. The Canadian people were our most
loyal people and they wore grateful for improved means of communication, but to make them pay two-thirds of the cost of the reduction in postage of our magazines was ridiculous. He was surprised to find that the PostmastorGoneral made no roferonce to the inconsistencies of foreign postal rates. From Dover to Calais the postage of a letter was 2Ad., but that letter could be sent to" Fiji, 12,000 miles, for Id. A letter could be sent to New York for 2id., but through the United States to Vancouver, 6,000 miles, it could be sent for Id. Stronger efforts should be made to removo such anomalies. He appealed to the Postmaster - General to begin a universal penny postage with the United States, where there were probably more British-born subjects of the King than in his distant dominions elsewhere. These people sent £1,600,000 in small postal orders to this country in the course of the year, and tho establishment of a penny postage would be hailed with satisfaction by the English - speaking world. In the telegraph system reforms were required. From this country to France the rate was 2d. a word, but in France, as in England, it was £d. a word. Why did we shout for entente cordiale and charge France for a telegraph from Dover to Calais four times as much as we chargod for a message from Dover to Ireland 1 It was astonishing, to people who had considered the question, that postal reforms had been carried in the teeth of Post Office opposition, and one reason he found in the fact that, though the Department was conducted by men of high honour and ability, it had not had a business man at its head since tho time of Henry Fawcott—not a man who took into his councils the business men of the country. In France a consultative committee of business men were always sitting with the head of the Department to consider what was best for the general convenience, and ho commended the appointment of such a Committee to the right hon. Gentleman, together with the establishment of a Government printing office. In Australia and in the United States post office and other printing was dono in Government offices with savin-,* of public money and many other advan tages. There were many other matters worthy of attention, but he would content himself with saying that never was there more need for an Imperial Postmaster - General who would consult with our Colonies and dependencies, and with foreign countries, upon the question of telegraph communication. The public scarcely realised the importance of this subject, and the opportunities there were for economy in expenditure. An amount of (something like £4,000,000 sterling was spent in telegraphing in the year. To the Cape the expenditure was £500,000. In telegraphing to Australia we spent more than £1,000 a day, to India and the East almost the same sum, and to the United States £1,000,000 a year.
♦me. ANNAN BRYCE (Inverness Burghs) said he was astonished that the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down should have indulged in the criticisms he had on the actions of the Postmaster-General when he was perfectly well aware that that of which he complained did not depend on the action of his right hon. friend, but on the action of the Governments of the respective countries concerned. The public owed a great debt of gratitude to the Postmaster-General for what he had done in the way of reductions.
*mr. HENNIKER HEATON : What reductions ?
*mr. ANNAN BRYCE : In the increase in the weights from \ ounce to 1 ounce, and the reduction of the postage on weights above 1 ounce, which would make an enormous difference to the countries within the postal union. Any criticisms which he might have to make of the actions of the right hon. Gentleman in connection with the Motion he proposed to move he made with great reluctance, because everyone knew the interest the right hon. Gentleman took in the details of his Department and would be convinced of his interest both in its financial condition and in the position of the staff. He had recommended himself to everybody in the House by the consideration with which he met the suggestions made to him,[and there was no doubt that since he came into office there had been much better feeling throughout the country in regard to the Department. He himself had to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the way in which he had dealt with a
Mr. Henniker Heaton.
complaint in regard to a matter in his own constituency. The right hon. Gentleman's action in that case would meet with the gratitude of the staff in that constituency. He proposed to move to reduce the right hon. Gentleman's salary by £100 purely with the view of calling attention to a matter of great interest to Scotland. About two months ago a very influential and important deputation waited on the Postmaster-General with regard to underground telegraphic communication with Scotland, and the answer given by the right hon. Gentleman to that deputation was not altogether satisfactory. The right hon. Gentleman showed great knowledge of the subject and great sympathy with the deputation, but explained that unhappily from his financial position he was not able to gratify to the extent he desired the wishes of the deputation with regard to the extension of underground telegraphs. It was well known that, owing to the overhead communications only, telegraphic communication in Scotland was liable to be interrupted during the winter, and last winter there was a very long and serious interruption. The Postmaster-General, although he was aware of this, was able to proceed only very slowly in the conversion of the present overhead into an underground system. The right hon. Gentleman said he would this year be able to complete only the communication to Edinburgh, and although the necessity of communication to Dundee and Aberdeen was very urgent indeed, owing to the slowness of the work it would be many years before they would see safe underground communication between those towns and the rest of the Nor;h of Scotland with the South. He begged to move.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item A be reduced by £100." —(Mr. Annan Bryce).
Sir F. BANBURY (City of London) said the hon. Gentleman who had moved the reduction had no doubt good grounds from the point of view of Scotland obtaining underground in place of overhead communication, which it was evident the climate there rendered more