§ Mr. Robert Wallace
said, that, in rising to offer a few observations on the subject of the Post-office, he was well aware that he was undertaking a task of no small magnitude. His reason for undertaking it was his conviction that it was essentially necessary that this department of the public service should be placed soon upon a different footing. On a former night he had addressed himself to the transactions between England and France, and he had expressed his unqualified approbation of the course which had been pursued by the late Postmaster-General. As to papers entitled "Papers relating to the Post-office," which had been handed round to the Members of that House, he could not understand what right any party had to place such papers in the hands of Members; they were not papers that had been ordered to be printed by the House—they were not authorized by the Speaker, and no party, therefore, had a right to send them round in the manner in which they had been distributed. As to their contents, he would say, that they contained more delusive and inaccurate statements than could be well put together in such a compass, and on such a subject. This document enumerated various improvements that had been effected in the Post-office, and for which the Postmaster-General took credit. Now, if any one would take the trouble of going through the Reports which had been made by the Commissioners of Inquiry on the subject, it would be seen that all those boasted improvements had been long since recommended by those Commissioners. In advocating a change in the system of the Post-office, he wished to lay down in limine four great and leading principles. The first was, that the head of this department should not have the power of allowing his duties to be delegated, or to delegate them. The second was, that no monopoly should be allowed to exist in a public department. The third was, that the public money should not be devoted to the purposes of speculation. And the last, and not least, was, that it was contrary to sound principle for any party in the receipt of revenue to be allowed the right to disburse it. The right and proper way to keep just and fair accounts in every department obviously was, that every department in the receipt of revenue should pay it over to the Treasury, which should 856 alone have the authority to disburse it. He must say, that it appeared to him that the Postmaster-General had powers delegated to him which it was not in the power of royalty to grant; they were powers in fact inconsistent with the rights and privileges of both Houses of Parliament. The hon. member for Northampton, on a former occasion, had insinuated that he (Mr. Wallace) had endeavoured to obtain the patronage of appointing the post-master for the town he represented; now he would just read the letter which he wrote to the Treasury on the subject, to show that such was not the case. The hon. Member read the letter, in which it was stated that he felt it to be his duty, as Representative of the town of Greenock, to apprise the Lords of the Treasury of the death of the post-master of that town; that he understood that the practice was for the Member of such towns as Greenock to recommend a fit and proper person to fill that important office; but that he would not do so until he had been informed by their Lordships that he had the right to do so. When he had been applied to by his constituents on the subject, he replied that he believed he had no right to make such a recommendation; that it had certainly been exercised by the Representatives of towns in an unreformed Parliament; but that he had written to the Treasury respecting it, and that if it should appear that he had such a right, he would forward his recommendation to the Treasury, and let them deal with it as they might think fit. He would leave the hon. member for Northampton to say, whether that looked like seeking for the patronage connected with the appointment to this office. The hon. Member next adverted to the intercourse between this country and France. He believed, that there was much more liberality in the French Post-office than here. The packet from Dover went with a mail, but came back without; and it was the same with the French packet; and consequently the expense was doubled; but he understood that the blame rested with the English Post-office, and that very liberal offers had been made by the French Government to ours. Whether they would be accepted remained to be seen. He was afraid they would not, for our system was altogether sordid and illiberal. There was one point to which he especially called the attention of the House—namely, the 857 detention of our correspondence with all parts of the world one day in the week by the Post-office not sending out a mail on Sundays. Entertaining, as he did, as much respect and reverence for that day as any man possibly could, he thought it monstrous that our correspondence with the whole civilized world should be suspended for the sake of such a minor consideration. The hon. Member quoted from the papers relating to the Post-office the description there given of the duties of the Secretary to the Post-office, and complained of the immense powers possessed by him. It was a fact, that the late Postmaster-General, and more especially his predecessor in that office, had been under the government of the Secretary to the Post-office. The power and patronage wielded by the Secretary were far too great to be possessed by one individual. It appeared from those papers that his salary amounted to no less than 4,160l. per annum, 3,000l. of which, it was stated, was paid to him by way of compensation for privileges which he had formerly possessed. Now he (Mr. Wallace) would contend, that those privileges which the Post-office Secretary formerly possessed were completely illegal—that he was, therefore, entitled to no compensation for relinquishing them—and in his opinion, that officer should not only have the amount which he now received as such compensation reduced altogether, but that he should be obliged to reimburse what he had already received on that score. The next department he had to notice was the Mail-Coach Department. It was the general opinion that nothing could exceed the Mail-Coach Department of this country. Formerly that opinion was perfectly correct, but nothing was more incorrect than such an impression at the present time. He could himself name twenty coaches, not light coaches like the mails, but heavily laden stages, that left London daily, which were better served, better horsed, and which kept a better pace than several of the mails, and which kept as good time as the quickest of the mails. How did it happen that such coaches, carrying a great load of luggage and a crowd of passengers, could compete with the mails, which carried few passengers and little luggage in addition to the Post-office bags? It would be a great accommodation and convenience to the public if the mails carried greater loads, 858 which they might easily do, than they did at present. The hon. Member condemned the monopoly of building the mail-coaches enjoyed by Mr. Vidler, and recommended that it should be thrown open to competition. The hon. Member next proceeded to complain, that, with the exception of the General Post-office, there was no place open for receiving letters from seven o'clock on Saturday night until ten o'clock on Monday morning. He considered that a great inconvenience to the public. Why should there be only one delivery and one departure in the day? Such was not the case in any other important place. In Liverpool, for instance, such was not the case. He had heard that it was given as an excuse for not sending things by the Dover mail on a particular night, that the mail was overloaded. Then why, in such a case, not employ two coaches? He had never heard of a trading company, and such he considered the Post-office, complain that it had too much to do. If it had too much business for one mail on the Dover road, it should run two. The Post-office at present proceeded upon the mere grovelling system of collecting a revenue, without any reference to the improvements that might be made in the system. He was convinced that if the Post-office system were placed upon a more liberal footing, the revenue collected by it would be much greater, and all the complaints which were now so generally made throughout the country respecting it would cease. He thought that two mails should start from London at different periods of the day, on the North-road, on the Dover-road, and some of the other great roads. He was of opinion, that two mails should depart from the Post-office in the day, one at ten o'clock in the morning, and the other at ten or twelve o'clock at night. Such a system, particularly on the northern road, would be productive of great public advantage. He was sure that it would pay. But suppose it did not, surely the people that travelled by the North-road had as much right to expect the Post-office to send two mails for their convenience on that road, as it despatched three sets of steam-packets to Ireland for the convenience of passengers. He would not have any of those steampackets taken off. Justice should be done to Ireland, but why not apply the same principle to England and Scotland? He had last year moved for a Return of 859 the number of prosecutions that had been instituted against persons for illegally conveying letters; that Return had since been made, but not in conformity to the terms of his Motion. However, it would show the system that was carried on by the Post-office Solicitor. The office of the Solicitor to the Post-office also required examination, for he believed many things took place there, which the Postmaster-General knew nothing at all about. In Scotland the Solicitor of the Post-office demanded, that letters should be sent him for the purpose of prosecuting the lieges, and many persons had, in consequence of his proceedings, been fined illegally. In England the Postmaster-General put a stop to these proceedings on his own authority, but in Scotland they were carried to a great extent. In Glasgow one man received notice that he had contravened the law, and incurred penalties by sending letters otherwise than through the Post-office to the extent of 570l.; and it was said, that the proceedings against him were founded upon information. This, however, was not the fact, for the Post-office had opened the letters, and were guilty of felony in doing so. It appeared from the Return which he had moved for, that the informations which had been lodged in England amounted to 200, while in Scotland, in the same time, they amounted to 524, and in Ireland they amounted to only eighteen; why should there have been such an extraordinary number in Scotland? It was the practice of the Post-office authorities to go to the coach-office and seize the parcels there, and if they found any letters in them, to prosecute the persons sending them. They had no right to do so. Such a practice was productive of great inconvenience and annoyance to the public, especially to professional men, such as solicitors, who were in the constant habit of sending important parcels by coach. He was informed by solicitors at Gloucester, that they experienced such annoyance from the Post-office opening their parcels, often containing as they did important and delicate documents, that it was their determination to employ a person to go at stated periods with their parcels to London, to defend them, and not allow the Post-office to touch them. In the Return he had moved for, the places where the informations had been laid were required, but no such thing 860 was given. The plain inference was, that it was not thought advisable to give it. For every 5l. levied under such informations, of which the Post-office received 2l. 10s., an expense of no less than 15l. was incurred, which went into the pockets of their professional men. The proceedings of the Scotch solicitor to the Post-office, to which he had already referred, were, he had no doubt, quite contrary to law. The Post-office department was conducted with so much secresy, it was kept with all its proceedings so much out of the public view, that nobody could know anything certain of its interior management; and it was therefore impossible positively to prove many of the charges which the public believed, and which he believed, to be well-founded as regarded the Post-office. One of these charges was, that during the sorting of letters parties were allowed to select letters for an early delivery. He understood that such was the case. Within the last few days a friend of his, living in Dorset-square, applied to the postman to know whether he could have his letters by the early delivery; and the reply was, that he could, by paying 5s. or 7s. the quarter. No such practice should be allowed in a public office. With regard to his (Mr. Wallace's) letters, about which he complained last year, he was still convinced that the seals had been broken, and that they had been opened by the Post-office. He believed, too, and his correspondents believed, that his letters and their letters to him continued still to be opened. It was only three days ago that he received, through the twopenny-post, two letters, one of which had been delayed two days, and the other one day longer than they ought in their delivery. He wrote to Sir F. Freeling to know why they had been delayed, and why they had been sent to him through the twopenny-post. The reply to his letter was, that though it was true his letters, which had travelled through the General Post-office from Edinburgh to London, had been missing for two days, yet where they had been during that interval could not be accounted for. Sir Francis Freeling said, that he had endeavoured to trace them, but his efforts had been in vain. He (Mr. Wallace) would leave it to the House to judge whether this most extraordinary circumstance did not serve to show the necessity of reforming the two post-offices. 861 He would propose, that the two establishments—the general and twopenny post-offices—should be consolidated; and whenever it could be done one general system established. The system of charging poor persons who lived in villages one penny extra for every newspaper or letter addressed to them was most odious, for in effect it exacted a tax from a class of individuals ill able to bear it. This was not the time to press in any, the least degree, upon the industrious classes, and he contended that in respect to their letters and newspapers, they ought to be placed on the same footing with the rich man. He admitted, that there were many excellencies and conveniences arising from the Post-office establishment, but still it was also contaminated by many evils, of which he sought by the present Motion to cleanse it. One of those evils was the impost upon the poor man to which he had adverted, and he could not conceive on what grounds it could be maintained, especially when the aristocracy of this country were born to have their letters passed free. Another amendment also loudly called for in the Post-office arrangements of this country was a more equal regulation of the rates of postage than were at present in force. In this respect the example set by the French Government was well worthy of imitation. He was prepared with the whole of the French scale, and with the French Post-office laws, as lodged with every postmaster throughout that country, so as to enable every man to know whether or not he was cheated. He also strongly deprecated the present course followed in this country with respect to the Sunday post. In this feeling he was corroborated by the authority of Sir F. Freeling himself. This system, under which letters might lie in all the small post-offices throughout the country for many hours, afforded a facility for taking out money from letters so deposited, and of which the country had much reason to complain. The extent of peculations thus effected, and indeed thus assisted, could scarcely be accurately known, for the return which had been made was confined, as the hon. member for Northampton had stated it necessarily must, to the amount of monies taken out of letters for which parties had been prosecuted. Here, then, was another ground for complaint, for it would seem as though the head of the Post-office could stand in 862 the situation of Judge, and either dismiss his officials from the service on a charge being made, or prosecute, as he might think fit. This was a most unconstitutional power to place in the hands of any one individual or body of individuals, and was one which he much doubted whether the Sovereign possessed the power to delegate by his patent. From the detention, too, of the mails on Sundays (for though the coaches travelled, the mail-bags were detained) another evil arose—namely, that however important the business, however serious the nature of the communication, and however urgent its object, no man could send a letter (not even by coach, for it would subject him to a penalty) from the metropolis for a space of forty-eight hours—namely, from seven o'clock on Saturday night, to seven o'clock on Monday night. In illustration of the ill effects of this system, he would mention a circumstance which had come under his own observation at the receiving-house at Charing-cross, where an individual, whom he subsequently ascertained to be a servant of Lord F. Fitzclarence, with a most creditable feeling, was anxious to send some pecuniary assistance to his brother, who he had reason to believe was in a dying state in Birmingham. The man arrived a few minutes too late at the receiving-office, and his distress was indescribable. He seized the reins of the horse, declaring he would give all he possessed in the world if his letter were taken. He had subsequently on the following Monday franked the letter containing two sovereigns for the man; but this fraternal gift, by the delay which had ensued, might have reached its destination too late to be of benefit to the party whom it was destined to assist. Doubtless many such instances were of daily occurrence, but this alone served to show the, necessity of the mail being regularly despatched on Sundays. He could not understand why they should not be sent. He had made inquiry at the Post-office, and the answer he generally got was, that Sir Francis Freeling humbugged them all; that he kept his town house and his country house; and loved his ease too well to have Sunday mails. He now came to a matter which he was quite sure the House was not at all prepared to hear—he alluded to the steam-packet service in the employ of the Post-office department. He must first remark, that the Returns 863 connected with this branch of the department were most fallacious, and had been prepared in a manner not only totally different from that followed at the Treasury, Navy, and War offices, but from which it was impossible for any individual to gather accurate information. Dismissing this point, however, he must remind the House that the Post-office had erected an immense establishment of steam-packets, contrary to, and in the very teeth of, the recommendation of the three Commissioners of Inquiry, as contained in their 22nd report. One of the objects of the speculation thus commenced was shown by the evidence of Mr. Freeling, the then acting Postmaster-General of the day. He said, "A few days since, I received a letter from Mr. Lees (the Secretary to the Irish Post-office) and from the agents at Holyhead, that the steam-boats had commenced operations, and that from the extensive scale upon which they are conducted it may be expected that their combined exertions will complete the annihilation of the regular profits of the general steam-packets." The Post-office, however, commenced to build their steamboats without plans or specifications being previously furnished, and the whole proceeding was conducted in a most extravagant manner; while, if the boats had only been built by contract, as had been recommended by the Commissioners, they might have had not only a better but a much cheaper supply. Though the Clyde had been the first to send forth steamboats, the ports on that river had suffered greatly from the course pursued by the Post-office. A company, which had been formed amongst his constituents to place a steam-boat on the Dublin station, which of course beat all the Post-office sailing packets, had made several offers to the Post-office, in order to save their interests from being destroyed by a competition with public funds. They had first proposed to carry the mails for nothing; this was refused, unless the Post-office was allowed to put into the vessels commanders of their own selection. The company acceded, but were met by a new demand—viz., that the vessels should sail at such hours as the Post-office should appoint. In this also the company acquiesced, provided it was undertaken to return the boats in as good condition as they received them. A direct refusal terminated the negotiation, and the result of the monopoly 864 of the Post-office had been the ruin of two out of three families who had embarked their property in the company. In the same way the Liverpool Steam Company, knowing that it could not compete with the public money, offered to carry the mails for nothing, but it was refused. It was not right that the public money should be used to crush private enterprize, and yet, in the case he alluded to, the Post-office packets had entered into a competition with the Liverpool Company to reduce the fares, and had, he believed, carried over in one year 5,000 or 6,000 persons for nothing. Out of this system also had grown up a most expensive land establishment for the repair of steam-boats at Holyhead, to which the boats from Milford and other stations were all taken. In this establishment there was a nice coterie, who no doubt had snug pickings, for nothing was done by contract, neither was anything supplied by tender. He would not trouble the House with the details of the amount of the expenses of the Post-office steam-boat establishment; but it would appear that in nine years, beginning in 1821, and ending in 1830, the Treasury were in advance to that department not less than about 670,000l.; for the four years since he estimated 400,000l. more would be required; and therefore, calculating interest at the rate of five per cent, there could not now be less to the debit of the Post-office than a sum of 1,300,000l. A great deal of indignation had formerly been expressed with reference to the mode in which the affairs of the Post-office had been conducted in Ireland, but nothing had been said of the state of things in the same department in Scotland, in which one system of plunder prevailed, until the Commission of Inquiry went forth, and the whole was hushed up. This took place at the time Mr. Freeling was at the head of the general department, and he (Mr. Wallace) maintained he was accountable for all that took place; on the inquiry it turned out, that eleven sorters in the Edinburgh and Leith post-offices were implicated in criminal practices—that a combination of twenty-one letter-sorters had realized, by peculation, 2,000l. a-year for a long period; and that in all no less than thirty-six officials were implicated in the division of plunder, while others had perjured themselves in order to escape the investigation. He meant to contend, 865 by implication, that the same practices still continued, inasmuch as the same parties continued in office. Scotland had also to complain, that the whole of the mail-coaches, save one, had been stopped, and that, desirable as it would be, no mails were sent by the numerous steam-boats navigating the Clyde, and which afforded so admirable a means of communication with the Highlands of Scotland and with Ireland. The only mail-coach, instead of going direct, travelled round by Stranraer, and through the county of Ayr, in order to maintain those immense jobs, the harbours of Portarlington and Donaghadee, while a direct communication by steam from Greenock to Ireland would effect a saving of time of not less than thirty hours. It was impossible that such a state of things could much longer continue, though the Post-office seemed to look to its revenues rather than the convenience of the public. He had already stated, that the mail coaches had been stopped in Scotland, and the mail bags, with their valuable contents, were either conveyed on horseback or in light carts; but the routes of many were so circuitous as to deteriorate even from these modes of conveyance. It had been communicated to him by his friend Sir T. Brisbane, that letters to the town of Kelso were taken a circuit of seventy-five miles, though they could be directly conveyed by a route not exceeding forty miles. Indeed, this inconvenience was so strongly felt in some districts, that the editor of the Kelso Mail had established a post of his own for the transmission of his newspapers. Who wished to see these twopenny-halfpenny reductions made, for which the Government had chosen to take credit to itself? He really hoped, that persons would be found to take a more liberal and extended view of things. He would not detain the House longer than five minutes, whilst he read a few extracts from the evidence given by the late Postmaster-general before the Committee of the House of Commons appointed to inquire into the reduction of salaries. [The hon. Member proceeded to read the extracts, making comments upon them from time to time, with a view of showing that great abuses and jobs existed in the Post-offices of Scotland and Ireland which had not been remedied.] The opinion of the Committee before whom this evidence was given was against the performance by 866 a single individual of the duties which were attached to the office of Postmaster-general, which was in favour of his Motion for a Committee of Inquiry. He had selected these extracts from a very large and voluminous body of Reports, almost half a-yard thick, and he would not weary the House by going further into them. Before, however, he sat down, he must advert to the sentiments of the late Secretary for the Colonies, when he was attacked by the hon. member for Bath on account of the proceedings taken by the government of Lower Canada—namely, that as the Government was on that question placed on its trial, it was necessary that an inquiry should be instituted to prove the Government had acted in a manner befitting the honour and interests of the country. In that sentiment he entirely concurred, and it applied with unabated force to the present question. Complaints were loud against the Post-office system of mismanagement; let the noble Lord satisfy the public that these complaints were ill-founded, by setting an inquiry on foot that would disprove the charges brought against the Post-office. Let the noble Lord, too, remember the sentiment to which he gave utterance on the 14th of December, 1830—" Thank God, the time for governing this country by patronage has passed by." It was worthy of the noble Lord's consideration. The hon. Member concluded by saying, that whatever the talents and the industry of any one man might be, the avocations of a Postmaster-general were too multitudinous for one man to discharge them to the public satisfaction, and on this ground, in common with those which he had before urged, he trusted the House would not refuse its support to the Motion. He moved, "That an humble Address be presented to his Majesty, praying that he will be graciously pleased to appoint a Commission to inquire into the management of the Post-office and packet service."
§ Mr. Edward Lytton Bulwer
thought, there were many matters connected with this subject which rendered inquiry desirable; amongst others of considerable importance, was the deficiency in the payments to the revenue, amounting on the average to 517l. 14s. 3d. weekly. His hon. friend had alluded to the situation of Solicitor to the Post-office. The salary of the individual who held this appoint- 867 ment was 300l. a-year; and it was generally thought, that this sum was all that the Gentleman received from the public on account of his professional assistance. The fact was, however, that this 300l. was paid only as a kind of retaining fee, and that the annual emoluments of the office were not less than 2,500l. Hon. Gentlemen opposite might doubt his statement, but he gave it on the authority of the Report of the Committee of 1829. Now, it was an admitted principle, that a Solicitor ought not to have an interest in creating legal difficulties, and in increasing the correspondence, for his share of which he charged at the rate of 6s. 8d. per letter. The Solicitor to the Post-office, like other Solicitors to public bodies, ought to derive his whole emolument from a fixed salary. He would next speak of the Two-penny-post Department. The average mileage of the General-post was 7l. per mile for the year; but throughout the Two-penny post offices it amounted to 11l. for the year. Struck with the disparity, the Commissioners who were formerly appointed, after investigating the matter, suggested an expedient by which they might get rid of the whole of the expense of the mileage. The proposal was, that a contract should be entered into with the proprietors of the regular coaches on the roads, who should be made to give security for the proper discharge of the duty intrusted to them; it was at the same time suggested, that their remuneration should consist in their being exempted from the payment of the turnpike tolls. This, it was thought, would pay the short stages amply for carrying the bags, and while the public would get all the advantage of the business being performed, there would be saved the whole of the extravagant charge for mileage. He must say, that he did not, as a general principle, approve of the appointment of Boards for the despatch of business; responsibility was unnecessarily weakened by trusting to five persons a duty that might be discharged by one. But in the case of the Postmaster-general, the individual ought to be one who was accustomed to the routine of business, and who was completely master of all the details connected with his particular office. The principle that ought to be kept in view by him who was at the head of the Post-office was, that this department was the great medium of communication of all private and public 868 interests, and it was his duty to see how far he could extend the advantages of that communication. Was that principle likely to be acted on under the present system? Now, if a Duke resigned, they must look out fur an Earl or a Marquess to fill his place. He did not wish to discourage noblemen from taking office, but regard ought to be had to their being in every respect fully qualified for the duties they undertook to perform. They at least ought not to be invariably selected to the exclusion of other persons, who, if permanently appointed, would gain greater experience, and discharge their duties more efficiently. During the last ten years education had increased, commerce had increased, and there had been more political excitement than usual, which always occasioned an additional amount of correspondence. Not withstanding this, the revenues of the Post-office during the last ten years had diminished. It was calculated, that the relief afforded to the public for the last ten years in the reduction of charges, amounted to 25,000l.; but the number of letters had increased 15,000 a day since 1829. In 1829, the average number of letters was 15,000 a-day less than at present. If, then, they took that calculation as their basis, it would be found that the revenue should have increased more than five times the amount of the 25,000l., from which the public was relieved. During the last ten years, in which period the revenue of the English Post-office was stationary, that of the Post-office of France had doubled. It appeared to him, that on these facts they must arrive at one of three conclusions. Either our scale of charges for the transmission of letters was too high, or the Post-office revenue was not well collected; or the expenses of the establishment were not in a fair proportion to the profits. Whatever the cause of the deficiency, he thought, that a sufficient case was made out for an inquiry. He hoped, that the noble Lord would not refuse his consent to the proposed investigation.
Mr. Vernon Smith
said, he had undertaken to offer a few observations to the House on this question, having been personally requested to do so by the noble Duke who had lately presided over the Post-office Department. He trusted, however, that the House would do him the justice to believe, that he would not 869 appear there merely as an advocate; he assured them, that his views entirely coincided with the statements that he was authorised to make. He begged further to assure them, that in all the intercourse that he had ever had with the noble Duke, he had found in him the greatest candour, combined with the most perfect willingness to entertain such objections as might be made to any of the proceedings of the Post-office, and if he thought the suggestions worthy of consideration, and subsequently of adoption, he invariably carried them into execution with that integrity of purpose which distinguished his manly character, and which made his secession from office, if he might then allude to that subject, a severe deprivation. He would address himself to a few of the facts of the hon. Gentleman opposite, if such his statements could be called, after he himself had told the House, that he gave them without being able to vouch for their accuracy. One of the charges made against the Postmaster-general was, that he had produced certain information to the House; and it was asked, was it ever heard of before, that a Postmaster-general volunteered information? It was rather extraordinary that at the very moment when this objection was stated, the hon. Gentleman submitted a Motion to the House, the object of which was, to obtain information. As regarded the information being volunteered, however, it would have been well if the hon. Gentleman had searched the journals of the House before he made the charge: because, if he had so done, he would have found that, on the 4th or 5th of March last, the paper in question was ordered by the House; a Motion to that effect being made and agreed to. Before the hon. Gentleman recommended the renewal of the old Commission which had been appointed, he ought to consider to what extent the arrangements he had in view were already in progress. The hon. Gentleman suggested, that the revenue of the Post-office ought to be kept completely under the control of a Revenue Board; to this it might be replied, that it was so at present; for no money derived from the establishment could be expended without the sanction of the Lords of the Treasury, The hon. member for Middlesex might think this an incompetent Board; at all events, he must admit, that the Post-office revenue was under some control. The 870 hon. Gentleman had recommended that Sunday Mails should be established. He (Mr. Smith) had personally no objection to them; but he believed that the hon. Gentleman would find considerable difficulty in obtaining the sanction of the House to his proposition. He would remind the hon. Gentleman, that Sabbath Bill, No. 1. and Sabbath Bill, No. 2. were not yet disposed of, and he would submit, that it might be considered a strange affront to the hon. Members who had brought in those Bills, to propose, in direct opposition to them, the despatching of Mails on the Sunday. [Mr. Hume: The Mails go now.] He knew they did; but they carried no letters, and were not publicly sanctioned, as they would be by the conveyance of letters. He, however, would leave the hon. Gentleman to settle this matter in his own way with the House. The hon. Gentleman, in referring to this point, had brought some severe charges against Sir Francis Freeling. The hon. Member said, that Sir Francis Freeling wished to enjoy his Sundays. He did not think it very unnatural that such a wish should be entertained; but it could hardly be supposed, that that consideration alone would be sufficient to prevent despatching Mails on a Sunday. The hon. Gentleman had other grounds of complaint against the Secretary to the Post-office. He admitted him to be the civilest of all public functionaries; but he, at the same time, quarrelled with him for taking on himself authority. The hon. Gentleman's recommendation was a Board with a Secretary; but what Board could be mentioned, the Secretary or Chairman of which had not the principal authority. The Secretaries of the Admiralty and Treasury Boards were in constant communication with other public bodies. There must be one person who was, in fact, the executive authority, to whom matters of detail were delegated. As regarded the compensation which the Secretary to the Post-office ought to receive, that was not properly a subject of Post-office inquiry. If the hon. Gentleman thought the present salary too much, let him bring the matter as a distinct motion before the House, when no doubt it would be dealt with as the House dealt with every similar question, justly and economically, though he would remark, that he believed the present remuneration to be as strictly founded in justice as any 871 remuneration could be. But if it were not, it was a financial matter for the House, and it was unfair to bring it forward in aggravation of the charges made against the Post-office. The hon. Gentleman recommended, that the contracts for the lines of road should be open to competition, and they were so; but it was not thought discreet to trust in every case to the highest bidder so important a contract as that of the conveyance of the mails. The office was limited, therefore, to a certain number of persons, who were known to be responsible, and to be the most likely to undertake the business with all the responsibility; the practice was, to take the highest offer made by those individuals. The hon. Gentleman had talked of a new scheme, but he was at a loss to discover in what it consisted. It appeared to him, that the hon. Gentleman laid down no broad principle, but confined himself to little matters of detail. If it were proposed to abandon the revenue derived from the Post-office, and to make the establishment a means of communication only, that would be a tangible question, and would be a fair matter for the consideration of the House; but the hon. member for Greenock had not gone that length, and he was not aware that the hon. member for Middlesex had; at all events it did not appear to him that such a reduction would be much in accordance with the present state of the revenue. The hon. member for Greenock asserted that the Post-office was unpopular: he would ask the hon. Member how he made out his case. Nothing was said in the country of the unpopularity of the Post-office. During the present Session there had been very few attacks made on it, and what there were had proceeded wholly from the hon. member for Greenock. There had been, he believed, two petitions from Cheltenham, in which the hon. member for Greenock had taken great interest; but it so happened, that they were laughed to scorn, and turned out of the House. What could make the hon. Gentleman so anxious for the appointment of this Commission he could not conceive, unless, as he bore the name of him who was at the head of the old Commission, he wished himself to be put at the head of the new one. The hon. Gentleman took such a continued interest in the question, that he might be considered a sort of standing Commissioner in his own per- 872 son. Could the hon. Gentleman seriously wish to renew the old Commission which had sat for eleven years, and cost the country 90,000l., and merely to carry out proposed petty investigations, there having been as yet no great principle of improvement laid down? Allusion had been made to the opening of parcels by the Post-office. The fact was, that parcels were never opened except on positive information that letters were in those parcels. If the Post-office was to be allowed to protect itself, it was necessary for it to have this power. But it was said, the principle of competition ought to be acted on, and that the public ought to be allowed to avail itself of that conveyance which was cheapest. This, however, brought them back to the question of revenue, which was one the hon. Gentleman must settle with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the House. The hon. Gentleman had also availed himself of the aristocratic ground of objection; he had asserted, that the Two-penny Post was principally collected from the poor; but could it be said, that the inhabitants of Hammersmith were poorer than those of Grosvenor-place? It was proposed by the hon. Gentleman to extend the distance, at present confined to a circuit of twelve miles round London, to every capital town. The effect of such a change as this would be a material increase of the postage in country towns. The charge for delivering letters in them was at present only 1d. Then the hon. Gentleman complained of the difficulty of making complaints to a Duke; but if there was ground of complaint, why could it not be as easily stated to a Duke as to a Board? The fact was, that the hon. Gentleman had not been sparing of his complaints: he had railed against the late noble Postmaster-general almost the whole of the time the noble Duke was in office. The hon. Gentleman had complained that some returns moved for had not been produced; but it was difficult to comply fully with the wishes of the hon. Gentleman in this respect, he having moved for a return of all the letters "gone and missing." Certainly a preference had been given to Government-built packets, rather than to having them built by contracts; and it was difficult, perhaps, to say which was most advantageous; but it would not be considered that the country had not derived very great benefit from 873 the principle which had been acted on, when it was considered, that the Government, by the employ of steam-boats, might be said to have brought them to their present state of perfection. With respect to the letter-carriers, who had been described as walking paupers collecting pennies, he begged to inform the House, that these individuals were allowed to receive the pennies for working the extra hour, in order that it might act as a greater inducement to them to call at houses for letters, than they would have if they received a fixed sum. It was an accommodation to the public for these persons to be allowed to receive letters after the offices were closed; and making their remuneration dependent on the number of letters they obtained was a security against the public convenience being neglected. The hon. Member who last addressed the House had alluded to a weekly deficiency amounting to 517l.; but there was an error in this statement, the calculations being made without reference to the incompleteness of the return. Reverting to the proposal to establish a Board, he must say, that he preferred individual to divided responsibility. But the hon. member for Greenock inquired why not apply the principle of individual responsibility in other cases: for instance, why not, in place of the Treasury and other Boards, make the Chancellor of the Exchequer responsible? He (Mr. Smith) might not object to this, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer could get through the mass of business that would devolve on him under such an arrangement. But there was this difference: the Treasury Board, besides being a Board of Control, was a Board of Appeal; and this power of appeal was principally available when property was concerned. As a challenge had been given to point out the improvements which had taken place in the Post-office Department, and the advantages possessed by individual control over that vested in a Board, he would point out the consolidation which had taken place between the English, Irish, and Scotch Post-offices, and the beneficial results which had ensued. The advantages derived from this measure could not be denied; and he would not hesitate to call upon the Irish representatives then in the House to bear testimony to their extent. The proposed arrangement with regard to newspapers 874 was another measure of improvement, which, when carried into effect, would be found greatly beneficial. He would not enter into further details; but he would assert, that there was nothing proposed to be effected by the commission moved for by the hon. member for Greenock, which the House itself was not competent to effect. Already some progress had been made in improving this department, and still more important measures were in contemplation, some of which had been suggested by the Commissioners of Revenue Inquiry. Amongst these was one of particular importance, namely, the free transmission of newspapers to foreign parts, and the receipt at home of foreign newspapers free of duty. Improvements in the Two-penny-post transmission were also in contemplation. In addition to these alterations, perquisites would be abolished. Ireland, he believed, would be included in the arrangements. The attendance of the noble Duke who had been at the head of the Post-office department had been observed upon; but he (Mr. Smith) challenged proof of any other person who had filled the office having been more attentive to its duties. He would put it to the House, whether the hon. member for Greenock had made out a case which called upon them to engage the country in so tedious and expensive an inquiry as his proposition involved. What, he would take leave to ask, would be the effect of this tiresome and expensive inquiry? Why, its only effect would be, to impede and oppose the improvements which he had shown were already in progress. The calling of officers to give evidence would not only prevent the development of the proposed improvements, but also delay the daily business of the departments in which they were engaged. With respect to the papers of which the hon. Member had spoken, they could not, by any possibility, have been given, because the Commission had been put an end to by a Treasury minute before those papers were made out. The reason of this, perhaps, was, that commissions at the period alluded to did not work with the same quickness, nor were they so efficient as those of later appointment. A better plan than the Commission now sought for would be to propose a committee on the Postage Acts. It had been contended, that the proposition for reciprocal freedom of foreign and English 875 newspapers had originated with France. Surely this was a paltry object of contention; but if it were to be considered a matter of importance, he was prepared to show, that it originated with the Duke of Richmond, or at least that it was he who brought the plan into execution. They were now about to enter into such reciprocity with France, and it was to be hoped that two great countries, separated only by a narrow channel, and which had hitherto been looked upon as natural enemies, would henceforward have no rivalry injurious to either, but rather enter into an emulation beneficial to both, tending to develope their resources, and enable them freely, and with equal advantage, to interchange the surplus productions of their labour. Nor was it only with France that interchange was to take place. It should also extend to our colonial territories, for it would be hard to grant to France that which we denied to our own colonies. The duties would be taken off from all newspapers passing to or from the colonies and the mother-country. The advantages arising from this arrangement would be of great benefit to the former, as, instead of their own narrow journals, whose matter was in a great degree restricted to local scandal, they would have the advantage of more enlarged and able prints. He hoped the House would agree with him in the view he had taken, and negative the hon. Member's Motion. He would move that they should go into a Committee on the Postage Acts; but he found, that such an Amendment was contrary to the orders of the House.
§ Mr. Hume
supported the Motion, and was of opinion that a Commission of Inquiry would be of great service. In the days in which the former Commission was granted, it certainly was difficult enough to procure inquiry, and yet, notwithstanding the difficulty and the delay with which in those days such inquiries were burthened, the Committee then appointed produced evidence enough to show, that the department which they were appointed to investigate was in a most miserable condition. Were the few improvements which had been so ostentatiously pointed out sufficient to satisfy the House? The hon. Gentleman had sneered at Commissions. Was not this rather odd in a Member of a Government which abounded in Commissions? If the Ministry would grant a 876 Committee in the next Session on this question, he would advise his hon. friend who had brought forward the Motion not to press it; but otherwise he would advise him to proceed with it. Much stress had been laid on the reciprocal exchange of newspapers, and it was argued as a great boon; but looking at it as pound, shilling, and pence matter, it was not of such very great importance. Still he would not deny the very considerable advantages which, in another point of view, were likely to accrue from it; and he must admit, that it was a measure calculated to put an end to the hostile feelings which had so frequently existed between this country and France. But he would show, from the hand-writing of the noble Duke to whom this measure had been attributed, that he himself did not set a higher value on it as regarded revenue than 3,500l., and that so far from viewing it as an object of public advantage, he considered it as of little import. Here the hon. Member read a letter signed, "Richmond," written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and dated July 16, 1833, stating that the free transmission of English newspapers, and the circulation here of foreign ones, formed the only emoluments of the officers of the Foreign Post-office. It stated the amount to be about 3,500l., and added that if those emoluments were done away, and the salaries charged upon the revenue, it would be merely to accommodate a few foreigners here, and some English abroad, with articles of luxury. Surely, continued the hon. Member, after expressing such opinions as these no credit on this head could be claimed for a nobleman who only acquiesced in a measure when he could no longer resist it. These boasted improvements were put forward to blind the House to the real state of the question—that they might ask, "Will you meddle with such a system so complete, or in such a state of being completed?" There was not, he contended, in Europe, a system so defective as ours. Our system was confused through excess of legislation. There were no less than 107 Acts of Parliament applying to the subject: and if they intended to effect any good purpose, and do away with the confusion which at present existed, they should consolidate the laws upon this subject. The whole question might be comprised within the single and simple point,—was the present Post-office system calculated to work the greatest good at the smallest expense? No one could say, that it was; the present system 877 was conducted at a loss of 70,000l. a-year to the country. Another point he would state was—and he would put it interrogatively—did the Post-office afford the greatest facilities of communication? Was the system of transmission of letters and papers the safest, the most expeditious, and the best? He would say, no; and the country would respond to him. It was a grievous delusion to fancy, that because a particular and isolated portion of the system could be defended, the whole of the Post-office arrangements were, therefore, unassailable. It was like the ostrich, that while it thrust its head into a hole in the sands, foolishly fancied its body was secure. So, because a particular department of the Post-office was not obnoxious to attack, the entire system was on that account to be held exempt from reprehension. No doubt, well-meaning individuals maintained that, forsooth, because the Mail did not leave London on Sunday, no irregularities were committed. But those "good easy men" must have thought that all the Mails in the country ceased travelling on Sunday. The people of Barnet, however, might receive and send off their letters on Sunday, a privilege the people of London could not enjoy. Was that right? The people of London surely were entitled to the same privileges as the people of Barnet, or of any other place. The inequalities between the condition of the people of London and those of almost any other place, would alone deserve the serious interposition of Parliament. Why should not the people of London be allowed to send out and receive their letters two or three times on a Sunday. In the present advanced state of society there should be no difference between the rate of postage here, and on the continent; or here between one place and another. He (Mr. Hume) would advance another suggestion, that the 2,000,000l. now received by the Post-office should be paid into the Exchequer, for in that case the people would have a more direct control over the fund, and that the payments necessary to be made should come from that quarter. It would be much better that there should be appointed officers by the Treasury to make payments to the Post-office functionaries, than that the present plan should be continued. It was maintained, in opposition to the proposition of those who would remove the existing abuses of the Post-office, that the propounded system of amelioration would be attended with 200,000l. additional ex- 878 pense; but when the great facilities of conveyance and the improved state of the roads were taken into account, that objection would vanish. The fact was, they should take the whole charge of the roads of the country, and introduce a scale of payment on the roads. There should be three posts leaving London on every day, and, at twelve o'clock on Sunday, there should be a post leaving town, as there was every other day. The foreign conveyance to America and the Indies was left perfectly free on Sunday as on every other day. Why, then, should the transmission of letters from London to various parts of England be suspended on that day? The Clyde steam-boats offered to carry letters whenever they sailed, and they were not allowed by the Post-office; that was a gross and wanton act of infringement on the public interest. He would contrast the conduct of the French and the English Government, and by the contrast show how illiberal and unwise was the British Government. In France, they paid according to the distance; not so here. In France, one should not pay the postage of seventy miles, though the letter travelled only forty-seven miles. What he mainly contended for was, that there should be allowed a free transmission of letters and papers on both sides.
§ Lord Althorp
said, if a choice were to be made, he would prefer the appointment of a Commission to a Committee, because he thought it would be more likely to succeed; but the question was whether, under existing circumstances, it would be desirous to address his Majesty to appoint such a Commission? Before, however, he addressed the House on that point, he would advert to some of the observations of the hon. Member who had brought forward the Motion, and also those of the hon. member for Middlesex; and he must say, either that he had misunderstood them, or they had not a clear and distinct view of the regulations under which the Post-office ought to be placed. At one time they considered it simply as a source of revenue, and complained that the revenue had not increased. At another, they regarded the revenue as a matter of trifling consideration, and thought that should be disregarded when it in any way interfered with the convenience of the public. Now, he had no hesitation in saying that the public convenience ought to be considered, and that, at the same time, the revenue ought not to be thrown overboard. On this mixed principle, it was 879 that the department was wont to proceed, so that when a public application was made for a new line of conveyance for the Mail and so forth, the Post-office considered not alone what would be the degree of convenience to the public, or how the revenue would be effected, but it regarded both conjointly. With respect to the transmission of newspapers, it was the intention of the law, that the stamp should be used only once, and therefore his noble friend objected to the indiscriminate transmission of newspapers after date. The hon. member for Greenock complained of the number of Acts of Parliament relating to the Post-office, and wanted a bill of consolidation. Such a Bill was prepared, as well as one for consolidating the law relating to stamps; and nothing but the want of time for passing them through Parliament, prevented him from bringing them forward. With respect to the delivery of letters in the metropolis on Sunday, he had no great objection to it; but considering the feeling which prevailed generally in the country, he did not think that it would be prudent to make the alteration. It was true, that letters were delivered on Sundays in all other parts of the empire except London; and that the extension of the practice to London would put into employment only some additional letter-sorters and deliverers; but still for the reason he had mentioned, he was not disposed to try the experiment at present. The hon. member for Middlesex had suggested, that all the revenue of the Post-office should be paid into the Treasury, and all the disbursements for the office paid out of the same department. That might be a good plan but it was followed neither in the Customs, nor in the Excise, and the hon. Member should extend his principle to them as well as to the Post-office. He, however, had not yet heard any person propose that. The hon. member for Middlesex said, that the revenue of the Post-office had not increased, although internal communication was much more extensive than formerly. That was partly owing, no doubt, to the Post-office having given the public much increased accommodation. It was also owing in part to letters being transmitted through private hands, and he believed that this breach of the law was carried to a great extent. The hon. Member said, that all persons should be allowed to send their letters in the way they liked best. That sounded very well as 880 an abstract proposition; but if the country kept up an expensive establishment for the transmission of letters, it was necessary that it should possess the monopoly of transmission. He considered the Post-office as a revenue department; but he thought that, keeping that circumstance in view, every thing possible should be done for the convenience of the public. It was said, that Mail-coaches were less convenient for travellers than other coaches; but he doubted the statement, because it was the interest of the contractors to obtain as many passengers as possible. As to the Motion before the House, he thought that unless a case of necessity were established, it would be unwise to appoint a Commission. The House ought not to agree to the Motion unless they were of opinion, that the Government was using no endeavours to introduce improvements into the department of the Post-office. Commissions ought not to be issued except in cases in which the Government had not the powers of prosecuting inquiries. This was the case with respect to the Excise department, and there a Commission issued. There was no circumstance connected with the Post-office into which the Government was not as competent to inquire as a Commission would be. If, however, it should appear that Government could not prosecute the inquiry efficiently, he hoped that he should not be accused of inconsistency should he hereafter call upon the House to sanction the appointment of a Commission.
§ Mr. Buckingham
complained, that the old Post-office packets had been superseded by gun-brigs. The former were excellent vessels, whilst the latter were insecure and unfit for the service. A person resident at Falmouth had informed him, that from 1793 there was not a single instance of a Post-office packet having been lost, whilst in six years no fewer than seven gun-brigs had foundered at sea. From their construction the latter vessels were very liable to be taken a-back. He would undertake to prove, that there was specie enough lost in one of the gun-brigs to defray the expense of a new set of packets. The hon. Member also complained that newspapers published in our own colonies were subject to a duty on being brought into England. When he was sent from India, he brought some newspapers with him, for which he was compelled to pay 30l. He memorialized 881 the Treasury on the subject, and stated that he wanted the papers principally as evidence in his own cause, but he received for answer that on that account he should be the less reluctant to pay for them.
§ Mr. Labouchere
said, that it was the intention of the Government to employ as packets vessels built upon a new principle.
§ Major Beauclerk
suggested, that after the explanation which had been given on the part of Government the Motion should be withdrawn.
§ Mr. Robert Wallace
said, that every argument he had heard against his Motion tended only to strengthen his conviction of its propriety. He was certainly not willing to press the question to a division, but he saw not the slightest reason to regret having brought it forward, for he had no doubt that the discussion which had that evening taken place would lead to beneficial results, and eventually to the correction of those faults in the establishment of the Post-office which had been made the subject of complaint.
§ Question negatived.