rose in conformity with the notice which he had given, to bring forward a Motion respecting the state of the Post-office. Before he proceeded, he begged to state, that in any remarks which he might be induced to make, he wished the House to bear in mind, that when he spoke of the Officers of the Post-office, he only alluded to them as public men, and that, beyond that, he had no knowledge of them. He was in a similar situation with regard to the Gentleman who had conducted the Revenue Inquiry, on whose Report the observations which he should have to make were chiefly founded. He was satisfied, from that Report, that the department of the Post-office was capable of much more extensive utility than it was likely to attain as long as the present system was persisted in. That system had now been acted upon for fifty years, and he was more and more convinced, from what he saw, that the Post-office could be administered more advantageously to the public if a great change were to take place. Before he proceeded to the subject matter of his Motion, he should very briefly revert to what had been said of him in another place by a noble Duke, who was formerly Postmaster-General. He would not recriminate on that Nobleman, but he thought that he should have no difficulty in showing that 373 in the view he took of the matter he was right, and the noble Duke was in the wrong. If inquiry were granted, he would undertake to prove this to the satisfaction of any one. He wished also to observe, that if in the course of his observations he alluded to the mode in which the business of the Post-office was conducted during the time the noble Duke was at the head of that Department, that he merely referred to him as the public officer, and not as a private individual. A similar observation he also wished to make with regard to Sir Francis Freeling. A document had been laid on the Table entitled "Papers relating to the Post-Office," and he had no hesitation in saying that they were more delusive than any papers that he had ever seen, as coming from a public department to that House. He felt bound to make this observation in justice to the gentlemen who had conducted the Revenue Inquiry. He confessed that his views on this subject had not been changed by the letter which had been written by the Duke of Richmond in answer to the Report of the Commissioners. In a document which had been laid on the Table in April, 1834, on the state of the revenue, there was a return of the revenue of the Post-office for a certain number of years. This return was for Great Britain, and did not include Ireland. Now, he contended that in this document there was not less than 1,097,000l. unaccounted for. He trusted that the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be directed to this subject. It certainly was not the way in which the public money should be accounted for in that House. He denied that any office could be well managed where such immense sums were allowed to remain floating for such a length of time, and where the accounts were in such a state that they could not be readily understood. He objected to the constitution of the Post-office, and thought that the office of Postmaster-General should be discontinued. There had been not less than five Postmasters-General within the last twelve months, and it was impossible that any man could make himself master of the details of an establishment like the Post-office, or even with its general business, in a short space of time. For seven or eight months of the year there had been no Postmaster-General and all the duties of that office had been delegated to the Secretary of the depart- 374 ment. The business transacted between the Postmaster-General and the Secretary was carried on in a most objectionable manner. The Secretary opened all documents, and wrote his opinion in the margin, and this opinion generally influenced the head of the office. This system had been strongly censured by the Commissioners of Revenue Inquiry. Again, the accounts between the Post-office and Treasury were kept in such a complicated manner that it was utterly impossible that they could be correctly kept. In consequence of this he was satisfied that the Treasury often sanctioned proceedings which they never would do if they were acquainted with their nature. The first thing he complained of was, the delegation of duties in the Post-office; secondly, that it was a trading company; and thirdly, that it expended money received through it without first getting the sanction of the Treasury, as was the case with the two great departments of Excise and Customs. One of the great objections to the present system was, that it frequently happened that individuals were appointed Postmasters-General, who besides being unacquainted with the duties of the office, were wholly without any habits of business. When Lord Maryborough at the age of seventy-two became the apprentice of Sir F. Freeling, he should like to know what his Lordship was likely to learn? He would say let there be a commission or some other arrangement, he did not care what it was, so that the business was likely to be better done. It was to be recollected that immense patronage was at the disposal of the Postmaster-General, and the manner in which it had been exercised, was not favourable either to the morals of the public or the efficiency of the office. He found from a return for which he had moved of the appointments of deputy postmasters and postmistresses, during the last five years, that there were on an average 386 original appointments in the year, and that they were worth 90,400l. a-year. The number of promotions were remarkably small. He observed in this return that many females had been appointed to discharge the duties of the post-offices in the country. He had heard that in some cases females had received the appointment instead of their husbands, in order that the latter might not be disqualified for voting at elections. Whether this was the case he knew not, 375 but he thought it improper that females should be intrusted with the performance of public duties to which so much responsibility was attached. The merit of the arrangements at the Post-office was not Sir F. Freeling's, it belonged to Mr. Palmer, the inventor of mail coaches. Sir Francis Freeling had carried it into execution, and now was the time when a change had become necessary, in consequence of his great age, to alter the system and carry into effect the improvements that might be considered desirable: advantage should be taken of this opportunity, for none more favourable was likely to offer itself. The income at present received by the Secretary was 4,165l. a-year; and the under Secretary, received 800l. a-year, making 4,965l. a-year to these two officers. To this was to be added, the value of the Secretary's house which he estimated at 1,000l. a-year, taking into consideration that he had no taxes to pay, and that he was supplied with coals and candles. In his opinion, the duties might be performed most efficiently by two commissioners with 1,000l. a-year each, and by a secretary with 800l. a-year, and an under secretary with 400l. a-year. All the duties of the office might be most efficiently conducted at an expense yearly of 3,765l. For the Secretary's house there was no use. There was no night duty performed at the General Post-office; it had been so contrived that all night duty was avoided at this office, which was an exception in that respect to all the others in the kingdom. With a view to the more efficient dispatch of business, and to afford the public greater accommodation, he would have the clerks take the night duty in turns; and as they would be entitled to accommodation, he would divide the house amongst them. He observed that there was a charge of nearly 2,500l. a-year for greasing, oiling, and cleaning the carriages; he thought he might venture to say that none of this money was spent out of St. Martin's-le-grand. He would move for a return in detail from the Money-order office, of the whole amount of poundage charged by postmasters upon post-office money orders, in each of the last three years. This office was established for the purpose of enabling the poor to transmit to their poor friends any sum to the amount of 5l. in a way that was not to cost them any thing. Now what was the return? Why that 376 the post-office knew nothing about it, because it was not in their department. The return said, "The Money-order office is a private establishment, and the business carried on by private capital, under the sanction of the Postmaster-general; but as no accounts connected in any degree with it are kept at the Post-office, no return can be made by the Postmaster-general to the above order of the House of Commons." Now he wished to know with whose capital the establishment was carried on? Was it not the country's—Whose were the servants? The country's. Where were the accounts kept? At the Post-office of the country. He hoped that the House would not be content with such a return as this, but that it would order another and more complete one. The House would see who received the emolument derived from this source of plunder. Eight-pence in the pound was the sum taken by this jobbing from the poor parent or child, instead of being allowed to send the money free. This was not all; the Post-office made an order necessary, and thus the parties were put to the additional expense of a double letter. What became of this 8d.? There were two or three officers in the country who divided it amongst them; in London they raised 8d. in the pound, and the Post-office people put it in their pockets. Who they were who did so they refused to tell; but if the House would grant him a Committee he would undertake to discover them. In the country the deputy Postmaster, who took in the letter, put 3d. of the 8d. in the pound into his own pocket with the sanction of the Postmaster-general; the sum of 3d. more went into the pocket of the deputy-Postmaster to whom the order was sent; the remainder found its way to St. Martin's-le-Grand to the General Post-office. Yet they said they knew nothing about it. A Register-office for the safer transmission of money would be a better establishment. A Register-office had saved as much as 12,000l. a-year to the bankers in Ireland by the recovery of cut notes, and the Post-office saved 1,000l. a-year in law expenses. Under this arrangement, every man who paid for his letter was sure that it would reach its destination. A person paying 1s. had a right to have his letter registered, and that was the usual course adopted with money letters. The consequence was, that letters were not, as in this 377 country, thrown into the fire, and the money put into the pocket of the person who broke them open. He would recommend the establishment of such an office as this. Next came the mail-coach department, which he had last year characterized as a job. He complained of another defective Return. He had moved for a Return in detail of the amount paid to the contractor or contractors for furnishing mail-coaches, distinguishing the number in use in England, Ireland, and Scotland. The Return furnished stated that the "average" number of mail-coaches in use "in England and Scotland," may have been about 250 per annum in each of the last ten years; in Ireland about seventy-four. This was the same Return as was made last year. Why, when the House ordered a Return distinguishing the number in use in England, Ireland, and Scotland, were they furnished with only an average Return of the number in use "in England and Scotland?" The fact was, the Post-office did not choose to tell them why they were paying 25,000l. or 30,000l. a-year more than the coaches were worth, if paid for by the mile. There were three men in England who could give the required information, and he would tell the House who they were—they were, Mr. Vidler, Sir F. Freeling, and Mr. Johnson. Scotland had nine of the coaches out of the 250. The coaches were of a miserable description, they were most incommodious and shaking; in short they were infernal machines. It was owing, in a great measure, to the solicitor that the necessary Returns were not made. He was paid by fees, and there could be no check upon him. Of course the more he engaged the Post-office in litigation, the better for him. He could mention an instance in which the solicitor had been called on to give an opinion. He decided that some papers might be sent abroad open in a box, but the Act would not allow them to be sent closed without charging a postage on them. The arrangements respecting the transmission of papers from our own colonies was most objectionable. The paper he now produced he had received from New York and it had cost him one halfpenny. [The hon. Gentleman unfolded the paper and spread it upon the floor of the House; much laughter was excited by its immense size. Some hon. Members cried "Read read."] He had rather decline the reading 378 of it. The amount of the subscription for that paper was ten dollars a-year, 40s. Two newspapers had been sent to him from Canada; on one side they were Canadian newspapers, but the other side by some hocus pocus was converted into a ship letter, and he was charged 3d. for each. The system of conveying newspapers by the London post was bad. Why was a poor weaver to be charged 2d. if a newspaper was sent to him only in the next street, while another paper was sent some hundreds of miles into the country free of charge? He must deprecate, too, the power the Post-office possessed of creating penny-posts in the country. Reverting to the mail-coaches he said that for expedition they were quite second rate. He hoped the time would come, now that that there was a Whig Administration, when the objections he was urging would be obviated, and when the approach of the livery of the royal mail would be hailed as ensuring a vast accession of knowledge. The evidence which had been given by Mr. Godby, the present Secretary to the Post-office in Ireland—a reluctant witness, it should be remembered—showed that the work required was equally well done by the stage-coaches as by the mails. There were some mails in this country which went at the rate of ten and ten and a half miles an hour; why should not all go the same rate? He was sorry that when the Duke of Wellington had taken so many offices on himself, he had not taken the office of Postmaster-General; if his Grace had done so, he was sure that he would have introduced a great change in these matters, and would have said that if such a speed were accomplished in certain particular instances, it should be accomplished throughout the whole system. When he had last year brought this subject before the House, he had mentioned the great want of accommodation by mail-coaches, and of communication by steam in Scotland. The then Postmaster-General (the Marquess of Conyngham) subsequently had stated in the other House, that every convenient communication by steam had been established. This, he would again contend, was not the case; steam communication had been established in some cases where none other was practicable; but it had not been substituted for land conveyances, where it would have been more efficient. It was a great abuse and job to send letters for Scotland through 379 Donaghadee and Portpatrick, instead of sending them direct by steam up the Clyde. He next came to a subject of great importance, and one which called for a speedy examination—the system of the steam-packets belonging to the Post-office. In the year 1830, it had been reported by the Commissioners that the outlay upon these steam-packets had then amounted to 630,000l., with a dead loss of 300,000l., making no calculation for interest, which might be taken at twelve and a-half percent upon the cost. Up to last year the outlay might be estimated at 1,300,000l. Some curious information had also been furnished in respect to the plan pursued in the building of their packets. At a certain period nineteen of them had been built; seven of them had been built at Harwich at a cost of 23l. per ton, the other twelve had been built in the Thames, at the rate of only 19l. per ton. If this were not evidence of favouritism or jobbing, it certainly looked to him something very much like it. A similar system had been pursued in reference to the establishment of stations for the repair of the packets. There existed beautiful docks, well fitted for the purpose at Dublin; but instead of using them, an extensive establishment had been laid down at Holyhead. Again, some of the vessels were taken to Portpatrick—a poor miserable place—instead of being brought up the Clyde, and why? Because, if taken up the Clyde, the repairs would have been executed at a much cheaper rate, and then there would have been no job. The simple result of the whole system was this—that an immense sum had been laid out upon the building of packets for the Post-office, which, if sold tomorrow, would not produce one half of their cost, and yet which could not be kept at a loss of less than 100,000l. a-year. Then there weret he emoluments of the Captains of Post-office packets which were enormous in comparison to the pay of officers in the King's navy. He was sure that the services of as good men might be obtained for one-half, or less than one-half of the money now expended. Another thing he would advert to was the advantage which would arise from the establishment of a system of check receipts for securing the speedy and safe transmission of money through the country. He was sure that it would have the desirable effect of preventing the many serious losses which now 380 fell so heavily on individuals in consequence of the robberies which took place under the present defective system. He referred to one or two cases of those losses which had been attended with peculiar hardship to individuals; yet the Post-office had still refused to make them good or to give any compensation to the parties suffering. He thought that the various details which he had brought before the House were amply sufficient to show that very material alterations ought to be undertaken in the different departments of the Post-office. He contended that no desecration of the Sabbath would be caused by the delivery of letters on Sunday. Indeed, if such a change were effected, the desecration of the Sabbath, which now took place by sending expresses on important and urgent occasions, would cease. He saw no reason, also, why the two departments of the Post-office—the general and twopenny posts—should not be consolidated and the duties of the two establishments performed by the same servants. If this alteration were made in the present system. the public of London might, as the inhabitants of the other cities now do, receive their general letters and those of the twopenny post through the same hands and at the same time. He would say one word on what he thought the disgraceful system of plundering the letter-carriers, by means of the superannuation fund. Some payments were made by the letter-carriers into this fund, which, if placed in a Savings-Bank or Annuity office, would yield a considerable income but they were put off at the Post-office with a stipend miserably small, and they could get no account of the money which was lodged for their benefit in the fund to which he had alluded. The hon. Member begged leave to read to the House the resolutions he had last year submitted to the Post Master-General. They were as follows:
- 1st. That the Post-office is a great and most important establishment, declaredly for the convenience and advantage of the whole body of the people, rather than one of revenue.
- 2nd. That the net revenue of the Post-office has been falling off of late years.
- 3rd. That every other branch of the revenue has been increasing, and very generally in proportion as the rates of taxes have been diminished.
- 4th. That the same result may fairly be expected to follow a general reduction of the rates of postage; and a more liberal and extended post communication.
- 5th. That the convenience and advantage of the people will be best consulted by a low rate of postage; and post communications established with every village in the empire.
- 6th. That two and one penny posts can only be considered as local posts.
- 7th. That two and one penny posts, therefore, can injustice be viewed only as short distance posts; and in fairness, and on principle, must be conducted on the same rules as longer distance posts.
- 8th. That to superadd two or one penny postage to letters charged with general postage, merely because it suits the convenience of the Post-office to cause the delivery to be made by the local post, is unjust, becase it is against the true spirit of distance being the sole and only rule of charge of letters.
- 9th. That to charge newspapers with two and one penny postage, merely because it suits the Post-office partially to transmit a portion of them through a local post, is still more unjust, because the declared practice, as well as the principle of the law is, that newspapers shall be delivered free of postage; and it is a perversion of this principle, and a quibble raised against the true spirit of the law, over and above being in violation of the unalterable right of equal taxation, to charge postage on newspapers going short distances, while they are legally sent, in all directions, hundreds of miles, free of all charges whatever.
- 10th. That no postage whatever shall be demanded or paid in future, on newspaper, sent by post in Great Britain or Ireland.
- 11th. That no postage shall be demanded or paid (without the previous sanction of Parliament) on newspapers sent from foreign countries.
- 12th. That prices current and the like mercantile communications, having their covers open at the sides, shall on payment of 2d. each pass by post to every port of Great Britain and Ireland, our colonies and dependencies, and to all foreign countries.
- 13th. That prices current and the like mercantile communications sent as above from foreign countries, shall be conveyed by post in Great Britain and Ireland, our colonies and dependencies, on payment of 2d. over and above the foreign charge.
- 14th. That letters addressed to, and by, Members of Parliament, from and to our colonies and dependencies, shall pass free as they do in this country.
- 15th. That letters shall be charged by weight and that charges on letters having envelopes, or on double, or such like letters, shall be discontinued.
- 16th. That Members of Parliament, when resident in London may frank on Monday the number of letters allowed by law on Sunday, as well as those on Monday.
- 17th. That it shall be declared lawful, as it unquestionably is just, for persons everywhere to send, carry, and receive letters by private conveyances of any kind, provided there is no
382 post communications to and from the places where such letters are sent from and to.
- 18th. That the arrival and departure of mails from London should be at different hours, according to circumstances.
- 19th. That a morning and evening mail should be despatched daily on all the great lines of communication—the hour of the morning departure to be made convenient for conveying the morning newspapers.
- 20th. That every mail-coach should average the rate of ten miles an hour.
- 21st. That this arrangement would simplify and cheapen the communication with Ireland.
- 22nd. That it would be the means of placing the whole mail-bags under cover, in place of being piled on the top, and injured by wet, as at present.
- 23rd. That all Post-office communications by steam-packets should be effected by contract.
- 24th. That post communications by steam-packets, hired for the pupose, or being traders should be established wherever the time required be less by sea than by land.
§ The hon Member concluded by moving for "a Select Committee to inquire into the management of the Post-office."
§ The question having been put,
§ Mr. Labouchere
rose and assured the House that he did not offer any objection to the course which the hon. Member for Greenock had proposed out of any disrespect for him, or by way of disparaging the credit which he deserved from the House and the country for the interest which he had taken in, and the industry which he devoted to, this very important subject; and still less did he object to the Member's Motion because he undervalued the subject itself—a subject extremely important, not merely as a question of revenue, but more especially one which involved the comfort and commercial interests of the whole community. The hon. Member for Greenock had laid down many principles in the course of his speech from which he was far from differing. He quite agreed with him that with respect to the Post-office establishment, while he believed that many departments of it were admirably conducted, yet there were many branches of it which required the most serious and searching investigation which could be bestowed on their management. Speaking from their small degree of experience and the short time during which he had devoted his attention to this subject since he became appointed one of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the Public Offices, he was bound to say, that the im- 383 pression produced upon his mind from that inquiry, so far as it had been hitherto pursued, was, that there was very great room for improvement in the system itself, and in the different modes and regulations by which it was carried into operation. He confessed that he did not consider the appointment of a Select Committee the only or the best mode of instituting an inquiry into the subject. The period of the Session at which this Motion was brought forward (though he believed that the lateness of the period was by no means attributable to the hon. Member for Greenock)—the time, he repeated, at which it was proposed to enter on this complicated and various inquiry, embracing such an immense number and such different details, part only of which had been touched on in the speech of the hon. Member for Greenock, that of itself, constituted no slight obstacle on the ground of prudence to appointing a Committee of inquiry on this subject. But he must also express his opinion, that this was a subject which might be much better investigated by a Commission composed of a few persons, than by a Committee of that House, provided, of course, that the House was willing to give credit to the Members of that Commission for a determination to proceed in an upright and honest manner to investigate the subject thoroughly, and to act fearlessly and honestly by the public in conducting of the inquiry. He could only say, that it was now but a year since the Commission on this question had been instituted, and notwithstanding the changes in the Government which had taken place within that period, he thought he should be able to show that the Commissioners had not been idle in the performance of the task which had been allotted to them. One very important result of the inquiry had been, that a total change of system had been effected in one branch, by determining that one of the most improvident contracts which had ever been entered into—he meant the mail coach contract—should cease on the 5th of January next. At this moment, indeed, the matter was submitted to public competition, by the permission which was given to send in tenders for the supply of coaches for the next year. There had been under this contract a most absurd charge for oiling and greasing, of 2,400l. which was abolished, leaving it for the 384 future to be borne by those who furnished the coaches. With respect to the facilities of communication with foreign countries, the good effected by the labours of the Commission on this ground was, that a Bill was now before the House by which he had little doubt a more expeditious and less expensive mode of exchanging letters and papers between this and other countries would be effected. The constitution of the Post-office was a point of the first importance. The hon. Member had truly stated that it was the opinion of the Commission of Revenue Inquiry, of which Lord Wallace was at the head, that it would be advantageous to the country to substitute a Board of Commissioners with general directing authority in place of the Postmaster-General. He was not prepared to give a decided opinion upon that question, but he could assure the hon. Member and the House that it should obtain the immediate and deliberate attention of the Commission, of which he had the honour to be a Member. He could state, in the name of his brother Commissioners, as well as on his own part, that they would apply themselves to the whole subject, which had been submitted to their investigation with no other object or intention but that of considering what was best to be done for the management of the great public department to which their inquiries referred, without regard to any question of patronage, or to the manner in which individual interests might be affected. The hon. Gentleman had talked of the private speculations of persons connected with the Post-office. Now, certainly, nothing was more liable to suspicion than that the officers of any public department should engage in private speculations. He perfectly agreed with the hon. Gentleman in the principle which he had asserted on that point; and it would be the endeavour of the Commission to establish that principle in practice. He must say, however, that he rather regretted the harsh language in which the hon. Gentleman had indulged, and that on very insufficient grounds, in speaking of several of the public servants connected with the Post-office Department—among others the Solicitor to the Post-office. He agreed with the hon. Gentleman, that there were many reasons why it was more expedient that that gentleman, or any other placed in a similar situation, instead of being paid for his services by a nominal 385 salary, made up by a commission on the work he performed, should be paid altogether by salary. But the hon. Member did the gentleman who now held the office of Solicitor great injustice, if he supposed that he was influenced in the discharge of his duty by pecuniary or unworthy motives; for to him (Mr. Labouchere) it was well known that that gentleman had devoted much time to the consolidation of all the Post-office Laws—an object which he trusted would ere long be effected. With respect to the present system of Steam-packets, the hon. Gentleman had stated that it was well worthy of consideration whether the system of contract or of establishment was the better. The Commission would go into that investigation with every disposition to probe the matter to the utmost. But was it not evident that inquiries so extensive, and embracing so many topics, and such minute investigations, would be much better left in the hands of the Commissioners now engaged in the undertaking? The Commissioners had the power of making inquiries on the spot in a manner which no Committee of the House of Commons could possess. For all these reasons he trusted that the hon. Gentleman would not press his motion.
was favourable to the Motion of the hon. Member for Greenock; and differed entirely from the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken as to the superiority of a Commission to a Committee of the House of Commons in making an inquiry of this nature. He knew from experience that a Commission was inefficient to grapple with so strong a body as the Post-office department. When he had the honour to belong to a Commission of that nature, the Post-office almost set them at defiance; and it was found by the Commission to be a matter of the greatest difficulty to extract from the Post-office any information necessary for the elucidation of the inquiry. The Post-office authorities were, equally negligent in complying with the orders of the House. A paper was called for by the House in October last; in March and April last the application for this return, which was one of consequence, was renewed, and it was not forthcoming on the last day of April. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman could say whether it had since been made. [Mr. Labouchere: The return has been made.] Then with respect to another return which 386 was ordered, stating the expenses of the outfit of vessels, with other particulars, a return was sent in, stating merely the tonnage of the vessels and minor details, omitting the most important facts, namely the expense of outfits, &c. He agreed that the management of the office required a change, and he did not think the Gentleman who filled the office of Secretary adapted his notions to the altered circumstances of the times. With respect to the question whether contracting for steam-packets, or having an establishment of them, was the preferable course, he (Lord Lowther) had a paper which showed the number of miles that the mails were carried by contract, and the number of miles that they were carried by the establishment; and from that paper it distinctly appeared that the contract system was nearly a hundred percent, cheaper than the system of establishment. The cost of the steam-packet Post-office establishment between Dover and Calais was 14,000l. a year; and just before he ceased to be a member of the Commission to which he had alluded, an offer had been made to perform the work by contract for half that sum. The question of fees was also one of great importance. It was not that he grudged to any public servant the fair emolument to which he was entitled; but whenever an attempt had been made to secure better accommodation for the public in this department of the public service, the fees had always been found to stand in the way. Fees had been abolished in every other public department, why not in the Post-office? With regard to the Solicitor of the Post-office, he was quite willing to allow the merit of the gentleman who held that office; but it was a fact that the expenses of that department of the Post-office were greater than the expenses of the same department in the Customs or in the Excise. It had been said, also, that there were no sinecure offices in the Post-office. Now, it was a fact that a gentleman who had been appointed to the office of Receiver-general at the Post-office, was immediately afterwards made Private Secretary to the First Lord of the Treasury. Either the office of Receiver-general should be abolished, or it should be made an efficient office. Owing to some circumstances or other, the Post-office revenue had not increased as it ought to have done. If in 1797, and at a less rate of postage, it amounted to 800,000l. con- 387 sidering the increased activity of commerce, the natural inference was, that it should be of much larger amount at present than from the returns it appeared to be. Unquestionably a vast sum was wasted in the establishment of steam-packets, than which he was convinced no system could be more impolitic. At Liverpool the Post-office packets reduced their fares from 30s. to 10s. to defeat the competition of individuals. The same took place with the Post-office packets to Ostend; and when the Commission to which he had belonged endeavoured to obtain information on the subject, owing to the existence of a combination they had found it exceedingly difficult to do so. It was absurd on the part of the Post-office department to maintain an establishment of steam-packets. Who was there in the Post-office that could possibly know any thing about nautical matters? The consequence of their ignorance was, that they bought stores and other necessaries at random, and at exorbitant prices. Convinced, as he was, that a Committee of the House of Commons would be more likely to get to the bottom of all these mysteries than a Commission, he should support the Motion of the hon. Member for Greenock.
§ Dr. Bowring
supported the Motion. The subject was one of the greatest interest. It was certainly most extraordinary, considering the prosperity and wealth of this country, that it was the only part of Europe in which the Post-office revenue had not of late years greatly increased. He had had occasion to know that the communications of the late administration of the Post-office with the French Government had been made in a most uncourteous and unaccommodating spirit; and that the French Government felt much annoyed at the circumstance, and much indebted to his Majesty's present Ministers for their readiness to remove the existing inconveniences.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
observed that there was no one whose opinions on this subject were entitled to so much weight as the noble Lord the Member for Westmoreland. The noble Lord possessed the two best elements of knowledge on the subject. He possessed a knowledge of the principle on which the office in question ought to be conducted, and he possessed a knowledge of the fact as to the manner in which it had actually 388 been conducted. There was no material difference of opinion, he was also bound to say, between the hon. Member for Greenock and his Majesty's Government. On the contrary, the course which the latter had adopted showed that there was a great coincidence of opinion between them. By the measures in progress, his Majesty's Government affirmed their conviction of the existence of certain evils in the Post-office department, and of the propriety of applying adequate means for the removal of those evils. The only question was how that desirable object could best be effected. With respect to the general principle on which the Post-office department ought to be conducted, the noble Lord could not hold stronger or more decided sentiments than he did. He was delighted to hear the noble Lord acknowledge that it was not because the existing practice was an old one that it should therefore be protected. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) was unequivocally of opinion that having adopted the principle of substituting salaries for fees in all the other public departments, the same course ought to be pursued with reference to the Post-office. For, as the noble Lord had justly observed, fees stood in the way of efficient reform; considered, as they were, in the shape of vested interests. But he must take the liberty of saying, that so long as from the first formation of Lord Grey's Government, the question connected with steam-packets was considered. One of the first acts which he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had performed at the Treasury was to make an application to certain persons at Liverpool with respect to a contract for conveying the mail by steam across St. George's Channel. He had received a communication which induced him to anticipate that there was an inclination on the part of the person in question to contract for the conveyance of the mails by steam between Liverpool and Dublin On again coming into office, he had written to those persons to ask if they would engage in the undertaking. Their answer was, that circumstances had so changed since their last communication on the subject, and the commerce between Liverpool and Dublin had become so much more important to them than any consideration connected with the Post-office, that they were not disposed to embarrass themselves with any contract respecting the mails. 389 He did not state this fact as any argument against the system of contracts; for his opinion was, that wherever that system could be carried into effect, it ought to be carried into effect. But he stated it in order to show, that the adoption of that system was not always so easy as it might appear to be. He would now revert to the real point for the consideration of the House. It ought to be remembered that the period at which they were discussing this question was near the middle of July. Government had already issued a Commission to inquire into the various important points of the case, and were advancing in the career of improvement. If a Committee of the House of Commons were to be now appointed, was it likely that that Committee would accomplish the object in view so successfully as the Commission? In his opinion, the better course would be, to allow the Commission to proceed, and to lay their Report on the Table of the House in the early part of the next Session; and then, if the hon. Member for Greenock should be dissatisfied with that Report, it would be competent to him to move the appointment of a Committee, as a supplementary means of inquiry. But he must protest against the Commission of his Majesty's present Government being treated, as it appeared from the statement of the noble Lord that the Commission of the Government to which the noble Lord had belonged, had been treated. The noble Lord was a man of firm character; but really he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) was at a loss to understand how a high and responsible officer of State could, now he was out of office, come down to the House and complain of the stubbornness and obstinacy which, when he was in office had rendered it difficult for him, and those who were associated with him, to extract information necessary from public servants, for the public service. If his Majesty's present Government yielded to such presumed stubbornness and obstinacy (respecting the actual existence or non-existence of which he would not say a single word), he would say, that they were unworthy of their situation. If any obstinacy and stubbornness were shown by the heads of any public department, that stubbornness and obstinacy must be met by vigour and resolution. Let his hon. Friend make a report of any officer, high or low, in the depart- 390 ment of the Post-office, who refused to give any information which the Commission might think it desirable to obtain, and he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) would take upon himself to say, in the name of his Majesty's present Government, that twenty-four hours should not pass without the removal of that officer from his situation. Let the House consider how much it was the practice to proceed with inquiries of every description connected with the public service, by Commission. But if the practice which the noble Lord seemed to have adopted were generally to prevail—if, having taken no step when in office to remove persons who dared to withhold information, a public servant should, when out of office, come down to complain of such conduct, that public servant would, in his (the Chancellor of the Exchequer's) opinion, show that he had been guilty of a great neglect of duty. On such a principle as that, his Majesty's present Government would certainly not proceed. Their Commission should not be defeated in its object by obstinacy or stubbornness. No sinecure, whether in the Post-office, or any other department, should stand in. their way. He put it to his hon. Friend, therefore, the Member for Greenock, whether it would not be better, for the present, to permit his Majesty's Ministers to persevere in the course which had been adopted. Let him recollect, that during the period at which his Committee must necessarily be inoperative, the Commission would be working its way to the production of an efficient Reform. He must say, also, that he thought his hon. Friend ought to have used more caution in making personal charges; especially when his Motion was for inquiry. Into those charges generally he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) would not enter. But he must say, in justice to a noble Friend of his, whose name had been introduced by the hon. Member for Greenock, that no individual could be more anxious fully to discharge his duty when at the head of the Post-office than the Duke of Richmond. When that noble Duke entered on the office of Postmaster-general, he found a most overgrown and objectionable Post-office establishment in Ireland. He immediately applied himself to the consolidation of the Post-office establishments of the two countries. And he could assure his hon. Friend, the Member for Greenock, that if he had directed his 391 attention as much to the Irish Post-office establishment as he had to the English Post-office establishment, he would have found more to complain of in the former than in the latter. There was no defect of vigour on the part of the Duke of Richmond, nor any shrinking from responsibility. The noble Duke, however, had very great difficulties to contend with; and there never was a man connected with the public service who more boldly encountered them, or who came out of the encounter more blamelessly. If, however, the House thought that the Post-office system was such as to take away all responsibility from those on whom it ought to fall, then he would admit that it was a fitting subject for inquiry; indeed, for such an inquiry as was now actually going on under the Commission. The Government and the House had but one object to insure with respect to that department—the fullest and most satisfactory execution of the duties it involved. This his Majesty's Government were determined to attain; but if his hon. Friend thought that Ministers were not sincere in their declarations, he would, of course, have the candour at once to avow it. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by repeating his request that his hon. Friend would wait till the Report of the Commissioners was placed on the Table of the House.
explained. He had not complained of the heads of the department having refused the production of papers; he complained of the tardiness, or obstinacy, on the part of witnesses and other persons in refusing to produce papers before the Commissioners.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
understood the noble Lord to state that the inquiry had been impeded by the stubborn and obstinate nature of the department in withholding evidence which the Commissioners required. He would take it upon himself to say, that if any person connected with that department should be shown to refuse to give information to the Commissioners, that person should be dismissed from his office the next day.
§ Mr. Hume
said, if he differed on this occasion from the right hon. Gentleman who had just addressed the House, it was not from any doubt he entertained of the honest and anxious desire of the right hon. Gentleman or of the Government to reform the system on which the Post-office was now conducted. He thought, how- 392 ever, that his hon. Friend, the Member for Greenock, had made out a case which demanded inquiry. The only question was, how that inquiry should be conducted. Lord Wallace commenced his investigation of the system in 1825, and continued it through the years 1826, 1827, and 1828: at last, certain papers were laid by him before the House, and he had ever since been urging, that something should be done in respect to the facts obtained; but his efforts had been vain. The present Ministers had been in office four years, and what had they done on the subject? The amount of reform in the Post-office might be as an unit to a hundred. If the right hon. Gentleman were sincere in saying, that any person connected with the Post-office who refused to return answers to questions put to him should be dismissed, then he would say, that Sir Francis Freeling was the man who ought to be dismissed. He would prove this by a Return made by Sir Francis to an order of that House, which was the grossest insult ever offered to Parliament since he had had a seat in it. A Return was ordered in detail, of the whole amount of poundage charged by Postmasters in Great Britain and Ireland upon Post-office money-orders, stating the purpose or purposes the said poundage was applied to, and the amount paid in London, Dublin, and Edinburgh; also, the sums total paid in England, Ireland, and Scotland in each of the last three years, ending 1st of January, 1835, and distinguishing the same. What was the answer? Why, this: "The money-order office is a private establishment, the business of which is carried on by private capital, under the sanction of the Postmaster-General; but as no accounts connected in any degree with it are kept at the Post-office, no Return can be made by the Postmaster-General to the above order of the House of Commons." A second Return was ordered in detail, of the amount paid to the contractor or contractors for furnishing mail coaches in the United Kingdom, distinguishing the number in use in England, Ireland and Scotland, in so far as this can be done; also, in detail, the duration, nature, and amount of the contracts, and the name of the contractors, and whether by open tender or by limited tender; stating the limits, if any, and when the said contract or contracts were last entered into and expire, and the rate or rates of contract for the last ten years, 393 ending 1st January, 1835. What was the answer?—"The expense of furnishing the mail coaches is paid, not from the Post-office revenue, but by the contractors for horsing them, at rates varying from 2¼d. to 3½d. per double mile. The Post-office has not the means of furnishing any account of the amount paid." Who then countenanced these contracts? Was any man holding a public situation to give such an answer to the House of Commons with impunity? All he desired was, to get such a man before a Committee of that House. A Committee could do what a Commission could not; for a Committee could bring such a person to the Bar of the House. He saw no reason why the Commissioners should not go on with their inquiry at the same time that the Committee should be sitting. As an instance of the defective state of the Post-office department he would mention the case of Worthing. He despatched a letter on Sunday to Mickleham, but it did not reach that place till Tuesday; for the letter first went to Worthing, a place many miles out of the line of road; yet Mickleham was on a high road, and three coaches started from London to that place every day. He hoped, after the case that had been made out, his hon. Friend would press his Motion to a division, as there was sufficient time during the present Session to enter into the inquiry.
Mr. Evelyn Denison
preferred the inquiry to be continued by the Commissioners; but so satisfied was he of the existence of great abuses in the Post-office Department, that if, during the recess, the Commissioners should not be able to bring the Inquiry to a close, nobody would be more ready than himself to support a Motion for a Committee early in the next Session.
§ Mr. George F. Young
was not induced from his own experience of Committees to believe that a Committee was the most desirable tribunal to be selected; he would therefore support the proposition of the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but he should feel himself at liberty to support a Motion for a Committee next Session if the Commissioners should not previously have brought their labours to a termination.
§ Mr. Warburton
approved of the appointment of a Committee, because he thought they might jointly carry on the Inquiry with the Commission. Of course 394 the two tribunals would not take up the same lines of Inquiry, but would proceed in different directions. He was desirous to expedite the investigation of a department which had shown so much delinquency.
§ Viscount Howick
said, it was quite impossible that two Inquiries, one instituted by a Committee of that House, and the other by a Commission, could go on at the same time. The authority of the Commission would immediately be superseded by the higher authority of that House, and they would be obliged to leave their Inquiries, which were at the present moment vigorously proceeding, and were likely to lead to beneficial results, in an incomplete state. The hon. Member for Bridport had spoken of the existence of delinquency in the Post-office. That was undoubtedly a very serious accusation, and would the Officers of that establishment be allowed a fair opportunity of vindicating themselves, if two distinct bodies were sitting indifferent places inquiring into their conduct at the same time? The hon. Member for Middlesex had complained that very little progress had been made by the Government with regard to the Amendment of the Post-office Establishment during the last four years. Now the fact was, that notwithstanding the changes of Administration which had lately taken place, and which had necessarily impeded in some degree the inquiries of the Commissioners, a Report had been presented respecting the mail-coach contracts, and a Bill was before the House relative to the communications with foreign countries. Under these circumstances, he thought that the House might be convinced that the Inquiries of the Commission would be vigorously pursued. The individual at the head of that Commission was Lord Duncannon, and he certainly was not a person likely to be foiled in an endeavour to ascertain the real state of the Post-office by any stubbornness on the part of the Officers of that establishment. If, however, it should be found that the Commission did not produce the desired results, he would undoubtedly next Session be ready to support a Motion for the appointment of a Committee. At the present moment he trusted that the hon. Member for Greenock, who deserved the thanks of the House and the Government for having taken the pains to obtain 395 so much information on the subject would not press his Motion to a division.
, in reply, said, that he had perfect confidence in his Majesty's Government, and in the assurances that had been made by them, that they would attend to the subject he had brought before the House. He had brought forward the Question on former occasions and had been requested by Lord Althorp to withdraw his Motion because a Commission would be appointed. He agreed with several hon. Members, however, who had addressed the House, that a Committee up stairs would on every account be more satisfactory than a Commission issued by the Crown. They had last night an instance of a difference arising between Commissioners where one of them differed from his associates, and chose to make a separate Report. Supposing, however, that a Commission was appointed, they might have to wait a considerable time for the evidence, and when they had it laid before them they would not know how it had been given; but before a Committee up stairs they would be able to learn the nature of the evidence and to understand its different bearings. He did not intend on that occasion to follow up his Motion by pressing it to a division, in consequence of the confidence he had in the present Government, although he had been recommended to do so. The only object that he had in view in bringing the subject before the House was to obtain a full inquiry. He was satisfied, however, on the present occasion with the declarations of his Majesty's Ministers, and he hoped that the suggestions that had been thrown out on the subject would be taken into consideration with as little delay as possible. The hon. Member withdrew his Motion.