HC Deb 21 April 1815 vol 30 cc0-770
Mr. Tierney

presented a Petition from the merchants, ship-owners, and others, interested in the trade of India, praying relief in a matter of which the petitioners complained relative to the postage of letters to India. He begged leave to call the attention of the House to an Act which had passed last session, subjecting letters sent to India with a charge of postage. Up to the time of the passing of that Act, the letters to India had always been carried out by the regular ships of the India Company, which were all known to have their voyages ascertained and fixed, and by which of course those who had friends, relatives, or commercial connexions in India could be certain of their letters being carried safe and direct to the place they wished to send them; or if their correspondents should happen to be in the interior of the country, they were sure their letters would be landed at the port to which the ship was dispatched, and from thence forwarded immediately to those to whom they were directed. By the Act in question, however, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, always feelingly alive to the increase of the revenue, had provided, that in future all letters should be liable to a certain rate of postage to be paid for each letter, which was to be conveyed in the best manner the Post-office could find out; for there was no regular mode even yet established by which there was the smallest certainty of such letters thus charged reaching the place of their destination. On the payment of one third part of the postage thus fixed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, such persons as wished to write to India were allowed to send their letters by any ships which they could themselves find out were destined to the part of India to which they had occasion to write, or to the nearest port, from which they must trust to chance, whether their letters might ever reach the place to which they were addressed. Country ships were now almost the only medium through which letters could be conveyed, and nothing could be more uncertain than that conveyance. It happened frequently, that the owners of a country ship advertised their intention of sailing to a certain settlement; but before their departure, and after great numbers of letters had been sent on board them, addressed to persons residing in that settlement—for instance, Bombay—the owners of the ship, from intelligence in the mean time received, or from various concurring circumstances, were obliged to change the first destination, and the ship was sent to Madras: perhaps she would arrive at the latter place just before the monsoons set in, and then she could not leave Madras, or at least could not get round to Bombay in less than three or four months; so that all intelligence of a commercial nature was rendered perfectly nugatory and useless, and those which bore the affectionate effusions and communications of relatives or friends, were in a state of the greatest doubt and uncertainty of ever being received at all by those who would naturally be waiting for and expecting them with the keenest solicitude and anxiety. This was the awkward and extraordinary situation of hundreds of parents, relatives, and commercial communicants, in return for being charged with the postage of their letters, and from which they now by their petition prayed the House to relieve them. It was impossible to enter into all the minutiae of calculation which might have influenced the Chancellor of the Exchequer to endeavour to increase the revenue of the Post-office by such uncommon ingenuity;—but he believed it would be thought extremely hard by the people of this country—for instance, those residing at Greenwich, Richmond, Putney, and many other towns at a greater distance where no mail-coaches travel,—if, in addition to an extra charge on their letters, he was to deprive them of the post-boys with their horns and ponies, or that by a payment of one-third of such postage he should allow them to send their letters by any means which they might themselves find out. This was exactly the case with those who had correspondents in India, and who might now be in a manner said to be actually cut off from all communication by letters that could by any means be depended on. Having stated these circumstances, he would not longer take up the time of the House. There were several gentlemen present who were better acquainted with the circumstances of the case than he was, and who were infinitely more deeply interested in the business. In fact, he was no way concerned in it; but as he had been applied to for the purpose of presenting the petition, he felt it his duty to make the short statement he had submitted to the attention of the House; and he hoped the right hon. gentleman would so far consider the hardships of the case as to suspend this postage and restriction in sending out letters to India, at least till the Post-office could perfect the plan they had in contemplation, by which correspondence might be conveyed to India with as much certainty and security as it was to any or all of our colonies in distant parts of the globe.

The Petition being brought up and read, he moved that it do lie on the table.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

stated, that he hoped very soon to be able to present to the House some provisions for the conveyance of letters to India, which would give that great branch of the empire the same facilities of correspondence as were enjoyed by our other colonial possessions. He hoped that gentlemen who might be concerned in this question, would suspend their opinions till the measure should be produced.

Mr. Finlay

observed, that we had at present no means of communication with the foreign colonies, except by merchant ships; he was convinced that the commerce of the country had materially suffered by this Act, and that it would be better to repeal it altogether.

Mr. Forbes

spoke in favour of the prayer of the petition, and urged the illiberality of subjecting persons with small incomes, as were most of the families whose children were in India, to the payment of heavy postage, in order to correspond with them.

Mr. W. Smith

said, that certainly revenue was a great object with the Post-office; but it was unquestionably a matter of the greatest injustice, that persons so deeply interested as those were who had connexions of interest or affection in so distant a part as India, should not only be subjected to the many grievous inconveniences and anxieties they must of course suffer, but that they should be made to pay for it into the bargain. He mentioned an instance within his own knowledge, of a clergyman with a large family, a friend of his, and a considerable part of whose family was in India, who had mentioned to him the numerous vexations and anxious doubts he had suffered from this novel and unmatured plan of raising a new branch of revenue; and could not help giving it as his opinion, that it was highly unjust that the Post-office, which was originally instituted for the purposes of public convenience, should be converted into a mere instrument of revenue.

Sir J. Mackintosh

said, that India was the only part of our colonial possessions with the communications and correspondence of which he was at all acquainted, and he thought it was not only unjust to charge a rate of postage on letters for which no certain conveyance was yet provided, though the act had passed nearly a twelvemonth, but it was also extremely cruel and impolitic to cut off the means of conveying affectionate remembrances to those who had left their native country, and would be a means of cutting asunder the knot which, as long as it remained entire, could not fail to make the natale solum the grand object of affectionate recollection, and so place the mother country as the object of most pleasing remembrance, while absent, and of the most ardent wishes to return to it as soon as circumstances and opportunity would permit. He therefore hoped the postage would be suspended till the plan and accommodation could be made ready. As it was situated at present, he repeated it was both impolitic and unjust, and tended to tear asunder the tenderest and most powerful feelings of human nature.

Mr. Lushington

said, it was premature to judge of the operation of the Act as yet. The plan was in great forwardness, and would be completed as expeditiously as possible.

The Petition was ordered to lie on the table. After which Mr. Tierney then presented another Petition, from the parents, friends, and relatives of those persons who bad quitted this country to reside in India; which was also ordered to lie on the table.