HC Deb 02 March 1837 vol 36 cc1186-9
Mr. Labouchere

rose to ask the leave of the House for the introduction of several Bills, to consolidate the laws relating to the Post office. Those laws were now scattered over the Statute Book. There were 141 Acts, or parts of Acts, relating to the Post-office—they were so numerous, and so scattered, as to lead to great inconvenience to the public, as well as to the department which they regulated. He thought, and had long felt, that it was extremely desirable that those Acts should be consolidated, and so arranged as to be easily understood, and of easy access. He felt it his duty to the authorities of the Post-office, and more particularly to that very intelligent and valuable officer of the establishment, Mr. Peacock, its solicitor, to say, that when the Commissioners turned their attention to this subject, they found that the Post-office authorities had already given it so much consideration, that little more remained to be done than to submit these Bills to the House. The Government had long felt the necessity for such a consolidation of the laws, and he believed the reason of the delay had been a fear, on their part, that as the Bills must comprise every point relating to the management of the Post-office, they would lead to much discussion, and would, therefore, interfere with the progress of more important Bills. He had felt so strongly the force of that objection, that, notwithstanding his extreme desire for a consolidation of those laws, he should not have felt himself justified in introducing the Bills, had he not communicated with those gentlemen who usually took part in the discussions relative to the Post-office, and had their assurance that they would consider them as Bills merely for consolidating the laws, and as not interfering with the other matters already before the House relative to the Post-office. The Bills which he proposed were four in number. The first was simply to repeal all previous Acts relating to the Post-office. The second was to regulate the criminal laws relating to the Post-office. The third related to the management of the Post-office, and the rates of postage; and the fourth to the privilege of franking letters. He had stated, that the measure he proposed was one of mere consolidation, and that it contained no substantial alteration. At the same time, in that which related almost entirely to the criminal law, he believed there was no difference of opinion, as to the policy of the alterations which he meant to propose. He was therefore desirous of stating these alterations. This Bill related almost entirely to the differences existing between the punishments for the same crimes in the English and Irish Post-office. A very much heavier penalty attached to some offences in England than in Ireland. Offences to which the punishment of death attached in Ireland, in England were considered only misdemeanors. He was sure the House would not longer allow these differences to remain on the statute-book, and he therefore proposed to alter the criminal law in this respect. The offence of robbing the mail-coach, or of stopping it with intent to rob, was punishable with death in Ireland. In this country the punishment was transportation for life; and he proposed that this penalty, in future, should attach to the offence in Ireland as well as in England. He proposed also, that the offence of stealing a letter, or opening and detaining it, should be visited with the same punishment in Ireland as in Great Britain. There was one other point of difference relating to the two countries—namely, the privilege of franking enjoyed by the Irish Members and the English Members. He proposed, in future, that the privilege be assimilated. He would conclude by moving for leave to bring in a Bill to alter the criminal law relating to the Post-office.

Mr. Wallace

seconded the motion. He could assure the House, that after a most anxious inquiry into the laws, it WAS now proposed to consolidate, he was convinced that this was one of the most beneficial measures that had been brought before the house for a long series of years. The laws upon this subject amounted in number to 160 or 164, he could not say which, us they were in such a state of confusion, as to render it almost impossible to determine which had been repealed, and which had not. He thought great good would be effected by making one or two good laws out of the whole.

Mr. Hume

thought it was of no use to pass laws, unless there was an efficient executive to carry them into effect. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, last year, had introduced a Bill for the purpose of altering the executive of the Post-office; that Bill passed that House with little or no opposition, but in another place it was thrown aside, on the ground that they had not time to attend to it. It was of great importance that the change in the Post office proposed last Session, if it were to be introduced this Session at all, should be introduced as soon as possible. The proposition was, to place the executive in Commissioners instead of one Postmaster General, who was a Peer, and had too much to do elsewhere, to enable him to attend to the affairs of the Post-office. He (Mr. Hume) did not think that there would be much advantage derived by having the head of the Post-office in the House of Commons; but he was unwilling to throw any difficulties in the way of the plan of the Government. He hoped that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would state that he intended speedily to introduce the Bill, so that it might have full consideration in the other House, and not be rejected under the plea, that it was sent up there at a late period of the Session. There was no department of the public revenue that required so much attention as the Post-office. The amount of revenue derived from the Post-office was the same indeed as it was fifteen years ago, which could only be attributed to great neglect and mismanagement. It was therefore due to the country, if the Post office were to be made a source of revenue, which he thought a bad principle, that it should be rendered as advantageous as possible. He trusted they would soon have a Post-office executive, which would render that department efficient for the purposes for which it was established, and productive of profit—at present it was neither.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

adhered to the opinion which he had expressed last Session, that the Post-office department, in its present stale, was defective. He admitted also, that in order that measures of this kind should be brought to a satisfactory conclusion, they ought to be introduced at an early, not at a late period, of the Session, in order to give time for their consideration in another place; and, without pledging himself to the details of the measure, he would state, that it was the intention of the Government to introduce a Bill, in a few days, on the subject.

Leave was given to bring in the Bills.

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