HC Deb 08 May 1815 vol 31 cc191-8
Sir James Shaw

, on rising to move the second reading of the new Post-office Bill, adverted to the Report of the Committee, which the House had now perused, and which was so diffuse and clear as to leave no doubt upon the subject. He observed, that the only difference in the calculations of expense, arose from the difference of the proposed grounds; and the committee was decidedly in favour of the ground in the plan, Number 1, being that of Saint Martin's-le-Grand. The hon. baronet then explained the difference of the four plans which had been considered, and also the difference of the calculations of expense. The select committee, on presenting these different plans for the consideration of the House, had thought it incumbent on them to express their opinion as to that which was most eligible, and which appeared to be No. 1. An hon. member had certainly made a great impression on the House, by stating that the enormous sum of 700 or 800,000l. would be necessary for this building; but if he (sir James) could have thought such a sum would be required, the measure should never have had his support. On the contrary, however, there was every reason to believe that the expense would not exceed 244,400l. and considering the sum to be taken towards it from the Orphans' Fund, it would appear that the city would have to contribute very materially towards it. He concluded by moving, That the Bill be read a second time.

Mr. Gordon

objected to the motion, on the ground that the public ought not to be called on to pay such a sum of money, without a strong case being made out of the necessity of building such a post-office at all. On that head there had been no question whatever asked by the last committee, but they had merely referred to the report of the former committee; and even in that there was, in his opinion, no case made out which would justify the House in giving countenance to the Bill. The Post-office had been carried on for many years in the present situation in which it stood, with every advantage to the public. It was true, Mr. Freeling when before the committee had stated, that they had wanted a new Post-office for a long lime, but they could not prevail with the city of London to agree to it before. He could not, therefore, but be a little surprised, that the City should all at once come forward and join their aid to the Government in saddling the public with such an enormous expense, at the moment when the burthens under which they laboured were so great. He objected also to the reason assigned by the City for now agreeing to this measure, because great part of the money was to be taken from the Orphans' Fund. He denied that the City had a right to apply that fund to this particular purpose, and said the consequence would be a continuance of the tax on coals and wines imported into the port of London for three years longer than it ought to continue, which would be laying an additional burthen on the inhabitants of the city of Westminster, and the parts adjacent to London, for the benefit and advantage of the more distant parts of the empire. He sifted the evidence of Mr. Hasker and other witnesses who had been examined, and observed that they were all in some degree belonging to the Post-office; and when one part of their evidence was compared with another, it appeared to him to be little better than a delusion. He adverted to that part of the report which stated that the new building should be devoid of ornament, to which he objected as much as he did to the adoption of the measure at all. If we were to have a new building on which 244,000l. was to be expended, he thought, that as a public edifice, it ought to have the advantage of ornaments and decorations. It was true he would not wish to set the entrance resembling a triumphal arch, but he would have the ornaments such as to distinguish a public building of this kind from the gloom of a prison, or the melancholy appearance of an hospital. His main objection, however, was to the very great expense, at a period when the country was so little able to bear it; and as such, he should divide the House on the second reading of the Bill.

Mr. Hammersley

said, he had carefully examined, with the other members of the committee, the numerous and great inconveniences attendant on the old Post-office. Great numbers of the valuable servants of, the Government, employed in carrying on this truly beneficial branch of the revenue, were shut up in close rooms, dirty and covered with, smoke, so that their health must be in danger, one would almost think, from suffocation. It had been obliged to be enlarged from time to time, and was a mass of old houses taken in and added at different periods, which rendered the communication of one office with another extremely difficult, and very often apparently dangerous to persons under the necessity of passing in haste from one to another. The passages, also, were so narrow and ill contrived, that as there were several hundreds there at a time in the course of the day, it was surprising they should come off without broken bones. With respect to the new Post-office, he thought the necessity of it was apparent; and as to its situation, he was inclined to think it as favourable as any that could be obtained. He agreed with his hon. friend who spoke last, that though no triumphal arches were necessary, yet in a public building of that nature, there ought to be a degree of magnificence in its ornamental decorations.

Sir Joseph Yorke

said, that while honourable members were differing about decorations to new buildings, he must beg to remind them, that there was an old public building in this metropolis that was still unfinished. He meant Somerset-house, which was left in such a state in some parts of it as to be a disgrace to the country.

Mr. Western

was against the Bill. He did not see any thing in the Report which could warrant the adoption of such a measure, while the burthens on the people were so oppressive. Admitting that it would be an improvement, it was still incumbent to show an urgent necessity for it. The Orphans Fund, from which part of the money was to be taken, was a fund derived from taxation, to which the inhabitants of London and its vicinity were peculiarly liable. But was this measure more peculiarly advantageous to them than to the people of the whole empire? It was known that this fond had been applied to many public purposes: it had been applied to the building of Blackfriars-bridge: but from this and all previous applications of it, the inhabitants of London derived the benefit. The case in the present instance was very different; and therefore if the object was desirable, the public at large should bear the burthen. This was not the moment to involve the country in any expense that was not strictly necessary; and as no necessity had been shown for the measure, he should vote against the motion.

Mr. Charles Long

repeated the grounds on which the former committee had framed their Report. Their opinion was, that the present Post-office was totally inadequate to its object, and they had agreed that the plan. No. 1, was decidedly the best, and would be the most economical. In allusion to the remark of Mr. Western, that the public ought to bear the expense, the right hon. gentleman observed, that the greatest portion of the expense was to be borne by the public at large, and a moderate part by the City. The reason for appropriating a part of the Orphans Fund towards this expense was, that it combined a great public advantage with a considerable improvement in the city of London. He was decidedly in favour of the Bill, although he would have preferred the proposition foe altering the present Post-office, if it could possibly have been adopted.

Mr. Bankes

would not on any occasion-be inclined to go beyond the expenditure prescribed by actual necessity. He must admit that the present Post-office was extremely inconvenient; but he thought that as the business which had been for so many years conducted at it, was a pattern of dispatch and regularity, there was no necessity for the new building. But if it were necessary, he did not believe a better site could be chosen, as the ground was not dearer than it could be purchased anywhere else. It was a wrong idea that the business required tire constant attendance of such a number of persons, who had been represented as shut up in a lazaretto all day. On the contrary, they were not in attendance more than a few hours a day. He was, notwithstanding all he had heard and read on the subject, clearly of opinion that it would be better the business should stand over for the present.

Mr. Butterworth

thought those gentlemen who were on the committee must be satisfied that the removal of the Post-office was absolutely necessary. For the last 14 years the present Post-office had cost the country on the average not less than 6,000l. annually for repairs. The inconveniences of the present Post-office he described to be very great. He urged the importance of coming to an immediate decision, as the inhabitants of St. Martin's-le-Grand had been for the last two years in a state of great uncertainty, which ought now to be terminated with the least possible delay. The present establishment subjected those employed in it, to more inconveniences than was known in Any of the government offices. It was true, a part of the business was necessarily done by candle-light; but the situation of those who were thus occupied, ought to be ameliorated as much as possible, by giving them lofty apartments. At present—would the House suffer it to continue?—a valuable body of the public servants, were compelled to labour in offices from which both light and air were excluded. The building of the new Post-office would employ many hands now out of work. When completed, arrangements might be made so that large parcels might be forwarded by the Post-office (especially to Ireland) which could not at present be done. He proceeded to set forth the various advantages which would result from the proposed measure, and strongly insisted that the able and satisfactory manner in which the business of the establishment had been conducted for the last twenty years, furnished no argument in favour of the continuance of inconveniences which were not known in other government offices.

Mr. Holme Sumner

was still of opinion that there was no necessity for building a new Post-office, and that even if it were desirable, the present was not the time for carrying such a design into effect. Where the present building stood, there were 2,000 square feet, which had not been built upon, and 13,000 more between the two lanes and the church close to it might be purchased at an expense of 38,000l.; and these, with the 25,000 square feet already occupied, he was of opinion, would give an area sufficiently large for all the business of the Post-office, which had hitherto been transacted so well within a space of 25,000. The plans for the new Post-office were on a grand scale; one went to occupy 64,000 the other 50,000 square feet: but he saw no reason for supposing that nearly three times that space was now requisite, which had formerly been sufficient. The Inland-office was well managed by the present arrangement. The average daily delivery was 38,000 letters, but on Mondays there was usually an excess. The committee had seen 44,000 letters sorted and put in order for delivery in the course of 45 minutes; and how, without the aid of magic, the business of that department was to be performed quicker by any change which could be made, he had yet to learn. The estimates given in, had to him been very unsatisfactory; and on these accounts, in in the present state of our finances, he thought it very improper to incur the expense which must be attendant on building a new Post-office. He gave a detailed history of the Orphans' Fund, from its establishment in the time of Richard 2, down to the present period, and denied that the City possessed the right of appropriating that fund as they had taken upon themselves to do, and to tax a portion of the people as they had done. From the Orphans' Fund the City had drawn—for the building of Blackfriars-bridge, 90,000l.; and subsequently, to take off the toll, 64,000l. more. When the City was about building Newgate, 100,000l. had been taken; to buy off the London-bridge toll, 30,000l.; to repair the Royal Exchange, which was said to be in a very dilapidated state, 10,000l.; and to improve, the river, 8,000l., in all nearly 300,000l. For every subsequent improvement this Orphans' Fund had been the milch cow, from which the means were drawn. The new Debtors' Gaol was paid for out of the Orphans' Fund. He was of opinion the City ought to meet such charges out of their own means. The adjoining counties of Hertford, Essex, and Surrey, had defrayed the expenses of their gaols in a very satisfactory manner. It was true, it might be said that the city of London had to provide gaols for the county of Middlesex, but for this it was remunerated. If it chose to give up the remuneration it received, let it do so, and let the expense of the prisons be met by a county rate.

Mr. Grenfell

recapitulated a part of the second report of the select committee appointed by the House to inquire into this subject, recommending the building a new post-office. That report was drawn up on the spot, and agreed to unanimously, with the exception of the member for Surrey. He should vote for the second reading of the Bill.

Mr. Holme Sumner

said, he had omitted to move as an amendment, that the Bill be read a second time this day six months.

The Speaker

remarked, that it was too late for the hon. gentleman to make such a motion, consistently with the usage of the House.

Lord Milton

was surprised that none of the City members had risen to vindicate the city of London from the charge preferred against them by the hon. gentleman, who had represented them to be disposed to pay part of the expense of this great undertaking out of funds which were not their own. While pretending to pay out of their own pockets, they in fact imposed a tax, not only on the city of London, but on the city of Westminster, and on all places in their vicinity, as in all the duty on coals tended to advance the price of fuel. Before the city came forward in aid of such an undertaking with their pretended generosity, they ought to show that they did not do this out of the funds of others; and this done, unless they derived a greater benefit from the proposed change than the inhabitants of other places, the expense ought to be borne by the public at large. At all events, if they did contribute towards the new building, they ought to do it at their own expense, and not out of funds which they had appropriated to themselves by means which he would not describe.

Sir William Curtis

said, the City intended to contribute towards the expense of the new Post-office out of their own funds. They meant to raise a sum of money for that purpose by duties on wine and coals brought to the port of London. An hon. gentleman had correctly given the history of the Orphans' Fund; but he had not stated the means by which it was taken from the City in former times. Thank God! the country had now an honest Government! but formerly the country was differently circumstanced, and in troublesome times Government had laid hands on the money entrusted to the City, which formed the Orphans' Fund. By the advances made from the Orphans' Fund the City had not benefitted alone, and when the hon. gentleman talked of what Surrey and other counties had done, he wished to ask what places had been benefited more than Surrey by those measures of which he complained? The toll on Blackfriars-bridge had been considered an inconvenience; and from this, as well as from that on London-bridge, the public had been relieved, and Surrey bad paid nothing for the benefits thus conferred on her. In the same spirit the funds of the City had furnished the means of building a court-house at Westminster, and another at Whitechapel. He then, referred to the great improvements which had been made in the City itself, and wished those who could remember it as long as he could, to compare its former state with what it now was. He wished them to look, for instance, at Temple-bar and Snow-hill. He denied that there was any thing in the Orphans' Fund that made it one with which the City ought not on such occasions to interfere; and concluded by declaring, that they were not reduced to the pitiful and disgraceful expedient of putting their hands upon funds which were not their own, in order to carry into execution those plans which they thought it their duty to support and countenance.

Mr. Bennet

said, that when the city of London had come to Parliament on the subject of the Orphans' Fund, they had spoken of it as having been dissipated during "the late troubles," but had not said a word of its having been seized by the Government.

The House divided:

For the second reading of the Bill 149
Against it 70
Majority —79

Lord Milton

wished to know in what manner the Bill was to be committed.

The Speaker

said, that as private claims were connected with it, it must, in the first instance, go to a committee above stairs, who would report upon it, and, subsequently, it would come before a committee of the whole House.