HC Deb 19 August 1833 vol 20 cc756-8
Mr. Tooke

presented a Petition from Mr. Oxenham, a Solicitor of Taunton, complaining that a parcel of deeds which he sent by the mail had been opened and detained because there were two letters inside. The letters related to the deeds and other business between him and his agent. The petitioner had received a letter from the Solicitor to the Post office, stating, that he had incurred two penalties. Soon after he received another letter, stating that the Postmaster-General would compromise the matter, by exacting only one penalty.

Mr. Secretary Stanley

begged to make an explanation which had been furnished him by his noble friend, the Postmaster-General. The Post-office having the monopoly of carrying all letters and the Exchequer deriving a considerable amount of revenue from it, perhaps with less in convenience than from any other mode, that monopoly must be strictly protected; and mercantile, commercial, and other houses, which transmitted a great number of letters, could not have facilities for evading the payment of letters, by sending them by parcels and by coach, while all other parties were obliged to pay. Perhaps the House was not aware of the extent to which the system of sending letters by parcels had been carried. It came to the knowledge of the Postmaster, that, at many of the principal coach-offices, bags were made up every day for the purpose of forwarding by coach paper parcels full of letters. Several of these parcels had been stopped and sent to the Postmaster. One parcel was found to contain forty-two letters, and another as many as 200. It was ascertained, that a bag had been regularly made up at the Gloucester and Bristol mail offices on the 31st of May, the day when the petitioner's letters were found; that bag contained sixty letters, and, on the following day, forty-two. They were in parcels of two, five, or six letters. There was no excuse that there was any additional speed or additional convenience by that system, because the letters were sent by the usual mail, only that every day the Post-office was defrauded. In consequence of this seizure of letters, the Postmaster-General was threatened with legal proceedings, to which the latter replied, he was anxious to meet the parties in order that the law might be known and established. However, no person thought proper to try the question; and the Postmaster-General therefore thought fit, in order to bring the question to an issue, to select a case for prosecution, and have the point decided at law—not with any vindictive feeling, or a desire to recover penalties, but only to let the public know, that such fraud could not be permitted to go on with impunity. On the 31st of May, two letters were put into a parcel with some deeds by Mr. Oxenham, the petitioner, addressed to his correspondent in London; but the hon. Member (Mr. Tooke) was wrong in stating, that both these letters referred to the deeds; only one referred to the deeds, and the other to some other business. The exception in the Act of Parliament related to letters referring to and accompanying goods sent by a common carrier, and not to deeds; but certainly it would be acting harshly if deeds were not considered in this respect in the light of goods. Mr. Oxenham called at the Post-office, and received his deeds, but copies were taken of the letters. He could not see that the Post-office department could do fairer than select this case of Mr. Oxenham upon which to try the merits of the question; and the House should bear in mind that the case was in course of trial.

Mr. Hardy

said, that if the Post-office had not the power of opening parcels to see whether a fraud was committed upon the public revenue in any case in which they had good reason to suspect that a fraud was attempted, he, for one, should be ready to give them that power. The accommodation which the Post-office afforded was most excellent, and he thought that fraud upon such an admirably conducted branch of the public service ought to be prevented. Any one had the power to send letters to any part of the country by a friend.

Petition laid on the Table.

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