HC Deb 09 May 1837 vol 38 cc755-60

Mr. Wallace moved, that a Select Committee be appointed to report on the present rates of Postage, and especially to examine the improvements recommended, and the mode of charging Postage proposed, in a pamphlet by Mr. Rowland Hill, with a view to the general reduction of the Postage Duties. He highly approved of the suggestions in the pamphlet, particularly of the principle, that distance should not regulate the charge, but that there should be one uniform rate. The rate recommended by Mr. Hill, was very low, lower than it could be if the present amount of revenue were to be derived from the Post-office; but the principle was unexceptionable. In the United States, the charge for the letter was not more than the actual cost of conveying it. The advantages to be obtained from cheap Postage was manifest, from what occurred with respect to soldiers, who, having only a penny postage to pay, could easily communicate with their relations; and instances had been known, of persons who went into the army unacquainted with penmanship, that in a short time became constant writers to their friends. It was, he was told, observed by officers in the army, that the best soldiers had the most correspondence. Upon this point he begged to say, that he had received very valuable information from Captain Bentley. Having been a constant supporter of the Poor-law Bill, he asked of the Members of Government, whether it would not be advisable to allow those whom they compelled to go into the workhouse, to have the opportunity of communicating with their relations on the same terms as soldiers and sailors—that is, that they should only pay a penny Postage. If they did so, it would be, in his opinion, the best way of putting an end to the slanders and calumnies that were circulated respecting the working of the new system. He begged to say, that his opinion was, that as soon as stamped papers were allowed to be sold for envelopes, a great saving would be effected, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be able to get his money in advance, nothing would be lost by the country post-masters, and ultimately the Post-office, he believed, would be merged in the Stamp-office. He wished to observe, that there was one point which was felt to be exceedingly inconvenient throughout the country. It was the way in which additional postage was charged. Neither a penny nor a two penny postage ought to be charged upon letters that had already paid postage. Such had been, and still was, the practice in the Post-office; and that practice he believed to be illegal. He objected, secondly, to postage being super added in any case. As to newspapers, they were assured by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the charge would no longer be made. In England, there were not less than 1,157 penny-posts; in Ireland, 211; and 165 in Scotland. In his opinion, London ought to be assimilated to other towns—like Dublin, Liverpool, and Manchester, there ought to be several deliveries in the course of the day. In Liverpool and Manchester, there were deliveries six times a-day; and in Dublin, four times in the day. He complained of the late deliveries of letters on Mondays; this was a fault that could be easily remedied. Another change that was greatly required, in order to enable the merchants and manufacturers of this country to keep pace with those of America, was to have their letters only charged by the weight. The last part of his notice referred to the detention of letters. A most stringent Act had been passed relative to this subject, in the reign of Queen Anne; by that act it was declared, that letters should not be detained. The Postmaster-General was bound to take an oath that this law should not be violated. A similar oath was taken by all in the Post-office. He did not say, that such an oath was intentionally violated, but he must complain of the detention of letters in the Post-offices. He believed, that the great cause of the plundering letters was the detention of letters in the country, in order that there might not be a delivery upon Sunday. Instead of the letters being detained in the country, they ought to be sent to the General Post-office. In London, the letters were safe; while in the country Post-offices the letters were opened, family secrets were disclosed, and money was abstracted. He had to observe, that if he brought an action against a post-master in the country for the detention of a letter, the Postmaster-General would come forward to defend that person. This was, he thought, a just subject for complaint. Last year, an act had been brought into that House for doing away with the office of Postmaster-General. He believed, that the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government intended to do it away. That act had passed the House of Commons. There had been no division upon it in that House; but, like other good measures, it was met in the other House most unceremoniously, and very rapidly got its quietus. No sooner had the present Session commenced, than Members of the Government declared their intention of renewing Bills which had been thrown out by the Lords last Session. He bad a sort of feeling, that the Bill would not be brought in. He put a question on the subject to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, another hon. Member put the same question, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer promised to bring in a Bill in April; and he stated then, that if the Bill was not brought in, now a month after that time, he should put a notice on the books to bring in such a Bill. He had the Post-office returns, which were sufficient to half fill a portmanteau, and he was sorry to be obliged to say, that many of these returns were falsified, either by altering the terms in which the returns were made, or they were not in the terms in which the returns had been called for: With regard to the harbours of Portpatrick and Donaghadee, referred to in his resolutions, he should wait until he heard what could be replied to him on this subject by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Upon a review of the whole of the Steam-packet Department, it was his opinion that it was a disgrace to the Post-office; and that it had caused a great waste of the public money. He was glad that it had got into the hands of the Admiralty. In conclusion, the hon. Member moved for a Select Committee.

Lord John Russell

begged to call the attention of the House to the state of the' public business before them. It was certainly usual, when Bills were in Committee, that they should be proceeded with till the Committee was finished, and that while the attention of the House was occupied with the subject of the various clauses and provisions of the Bill, they should not interrupt the Committee. He had stated this to the hon. Member for Greenock before he made his speech, and that he proposed to proceed with the Poor-law Bill this evening. The hon. Member had chosen, however, to bring forward his motion, and had complained of the little progress made last year with the Post-office Bills, and also that they had not been introduced in the present Session. Now, he (Lord John Russell) would suggest to the hon. Member for Greenock, that such Bills as he thought necessary for the reform of that or any other department, were much more likely to be passed, if the attention of the House were not occupied with fifteen or twenty different motions on the subject. If, through such a course of proceedings, they were compelled at a late period of the Session, to send up a great many Bills to the other House, it would give them a justification for declining to take into consideration those Bills at so late a period. He thought, that they had had experience enough of the difficulties of such a mode of proceeding to come to some decision on the subject; and, therefore, he intended to move the Order of the Day for the House to resolve itself into a Committee on the Poor-law Bill as an amendment. He would not enter into the statements made by the hon. Member for Greenock, as he thought that the House would occupy itself much better by taking into consideration the subject fixed for this evening. He would not propose to resume the Committee to-morrow, but he would propose to resume it on Thursday.

Mr. Alderman Copeland

concurred with the noble Lord, that when a Bill was before the House it was desirable to proceed with it. At the same time he could not allow this opportunity to pass without expressing his thanks to the hon. Member for Greenock for bringing this matter forward, and for the great attention which he paid to this subject. He hoped that the Government would make some inquiry into the different rates of postage.

Mr. T. Duncombe

saw no reason why they should not proceed with the subject before the House. He was as anxious as any man to make provision for the poor in Ireland, but he saw no plea for deviation from the usual course of the business of the House. The Irish Municipal Bill had been hung up in the House of Lords till the 9th of June, and the reason was that the Irish Tithe Bill and the Poor-law Bill were not disposed of. When an independent Member of that House gave a notice of a motion which he intended to make, it was rather hard to have such obstacles thrown in his way, and therefore when it came to his turn, he would certainly make the motion of which he had given notice, and he would persist in it.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that it was far from the intention of the Ministers in taking the course suggested by his noble Friend, either to undervalue the objections made, or the plan proposed, by the hon. Member for Greenock. He certainly was prepared to show, and he thought he could state adequate grounds to convince the House, that the object the hon. Member for Greenock, had in view, would not be answered by the plan he proposed. The subject occupied the attention of his Majesty's Government at the present moment, and he hoped to be able, during the present Session, to state the result. He would ask the House if it was proper to refer a question, relating to a revenue of 1,500,000l. to the consideration of a Select Committee? He would also ask whether the steps taken by the present Government did not afford a pledge that this subject would be fully inquired into? They had already made a considerable reduction on the postage of ship-letters. They had shown at least what their wishes were, and he hoped that they would be enabled to realise them. He hoped that his hon. friend the Member for Greenock would withdraw his motion, to allow the House to proceed with a Bill that was necessary to the peace of Ireland.

Motion withdrawn.