HC Deb 28 June 1833 vol 18 cc1302-5
Sir Henry Parnell

then said, he had a petition of considerable importance to present, on which he wished to Say a few words. It was the petition of the News-venders, Agents, and Dealers in News papers, resident in London and its vicinity. It was signed by upwards of 200 of that respectable class. They complained very much of the Post-office Clerks, Clerks of the Road, and Post-masters, interfering with their trade. They said, that those clerks exercised their official influence greatly to their injury, by Incoming traders in newspapers. They possessed this influence, unlike the officers of any other department under Government, and contrary to every sound principle of trade, for every body must perceive that the filling of an official situation must give that particular class of officers a great superiority in carrying on the trade over others who were not connected with the Post-office. They further complained, that by the privileges allowed to clerks of the Post-office, foreign newspapers were charged double their prime cost abroad, and that this increased price went into the pockets of those officers, to the great detriment of the public revenue. They particularly complained, that this practice was allowed in the foreign Post-office, in respect to English newspapers going abroad, and that the circulation, therefore, of English newspapers, was very much curtailed beyond what it would otherwise amount to, in consequence of which the petitioners suffered very considerably. They expressed great regret at finding that the offers on the part of the French Post-office, to do away with the impediments affecting the transmission and circulation of newspapers between the two countries, had not met with that readiness on the part of our Government which they had expected, and which was most desirable. There would be great advantage, he believed, derived from putting an end entirely to those restrictions on newspapers, not only extending information generally, but also increasing the revenue of the country. He himself had had an opportunity of consulting the Postmaster in France, and he was ready to bear testimony to the truth of the allegation in the petition; that individual having stated to him, that the French were quite ready to co-operate with the Government of this country, in avoiding all difficulty at present in the way of carrying on correspondence by means of newspapers, between the two countries. The petitioners also complained, that the Clerks of the Post-office, in addition to other advantages which they possessed, were allowed to put newspapers addressed to their agents or customers, into the mail-hags, up to the moment of their delivery to the mail, while the petitioners were obliged, upon each paper posted after six o'clock, to pay the charge of one halfpenny, and were also subject to total exclusion after half past seven o'clock. The petitioners submitted they were entitled to the consideration of the House, from contributing extensively to the revenue of the country. The right hon. Gentleman, in conclusion, declared his intention to move for a Committee to inquire into the circumstances, provided some other hon. Member did not take up the subject.

The petition having been read at length.

Sir Francis Burdett

concurred with his right hon. friend who had presented the Petition, that it was most desirable to give every facility to communications of the nature to which he had adverted; but he did not see any necessity for moving for the appointment of a Committee. It appeared to him to be quite sufficient to have drawn the attention of his Majesty's Ministers to the subject, who had the means of doing all that was wished to remedy the evil. It was desirable, in every point of view, that every facility should be given upon the communication.

Lord Althorp

said, that as his right hon. friend, in presenting the petition, had referred to negotiations that had been concluded with France and the Government of this country, it might be right for him to say a few words on that subject. In those negotiations his Majesty's Ministers had not been able to comply with all the propositions of the French government. He was not competent to enter into many of the circumstances connected with the negotiation, but it was thought impossible to agree to all the propositions. With respect to the particular point involved in the petition as to newspapers, he agreed with his hon. friend, that that species of communication should be as free as possible, and that if restrictions existed, they should be removed. The plan, however, upon which this department of the Post-office was conducted, enabled the Government to carry on the business at a considerably less expense than it would otherwise be obliged to be at. If the fees of the clerks with respect to newspapers was abolished, it would be necessary for the Government to increase the salaries of the persons employed in the Newspaper Office. The question, in his opinion, must be looked upon as a balanced question, and not quite so clear in favour of the petitioners as his right hon. friend described. He agreed that everything ought to be done to facilitate the communication between France and this country, but the difficulty was on which side the postage should be paid. His Majesty's Ministers had every wish to do this as far as they could consistent with the safety of the revenue.

Mr. Buckingham

said, that nothing could be more improper than that official men should engage in trade. It was particularly improper in the Post-office, where it was important that the vigilance of the clerk should be devoted to his duties up to the last moment. The practice of the Post-office with respect to newspapers sent to or from the Continent, absolutely threw impediments in the way of their circulation. In the internal communications of England, however, the matter was worse. At the present moment the most intense interest was felt in the country on the proceedings of that House, and the consequence was, that the greatest rivalry existed between the Newspaper proprietors to keep their presses open till the last moment, and thus convey the latest intelligence to their customers. The proper dealers who undertook to transmit the newspapers into the country were the news-venders, and it was literally true, as stated by the right hon. Baronet opposite, that they furnished all the capital by which it was done. Contrary to this practice, in most businesses a great sum of ready money passed on both sides. The stamp was the chief expense of a paper, and the general run of establishments tried to go to the Stamp-office with the money in their hands, whilst a very short credit, indeed, was given to the larger establishments. The news-venders in this town came with ready money to the Newspaper Office, or at furthest paid their bills every Saturday. The amount of money which they paid in this way was, perhaps, about 100,000l. per week. The news-venders were obliged to give their customers many months credit. The clerks of the Post-office, on the other hand, had numerous advantages over the newsmen. They were not obliged to be furnished with a large capital, and had it in their power to receive papers at a later hour than the newsmen, who were obliged to pay a fee of 1d. for every paper after a certain hour, which went, in case of papers forwarded by the clerks of the Post-office, into their pockets. There was another evil of which, perhaps, the noble Lord was not aware. There were certain literary publications, which, containing no politics, were not obliged to have a stamp; but if a stamp was put upon them, they went post-free. A newsman sending a literary publication into the country, had to buy it stamped. Now, he was informed by Mr. Johnson, who supplied the whole of Ireland with newspapers, that numbers of The Literary Gazette were passed through the Post-office unstamped. Of course this must occasion a great loss to the revenue. Another advantage that the clerks of the Post-office had over the newsmen, was in their being able to write to the postmasters in the country, who were their agents, free of expense, and the post-masters to answer them in like manner, free of expense. This enabled them to supply papers in the country at half the commission other people were obliged to charge. He thought, therefore, that the sooner the fee system was abolished in the Post-office the better.

Lord Althorp

said, he believed the hon. Gentleman was mistaken in saying that the fee paid on newspapers, at the last half hour of admission, was saved to the clerks of the Post-office.

Petition laid on the Table.

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