HC Deb 08 February 1838 vol 40 cc906-12
Mr. Wallace

again rose to comment on another petition which he had presented from the constituents of the right hon. Gentleman then in the chair. He thought that the great constituencies of Edinburgh and Glasgow had been hardly dealt with in not having a day mail, when Dublin, Manchester, Birmingham, and other places, had been allowed the benefit arising from this recommendation of the Post-office Commissioners. But these Commissioners had also recommended that Edinburgh and Glasgow should be included in the arrangement. He had been assured that the day mail to Dublin had been established at the request of the Irish government. To this he had no objection; but if the Irish government had the power of controlling the Post-office authorities, and of preventing the extension of a similar advantage to other parts of the kingdom, he did most seriously complain. He must insist that many of the recommendations of the Post-office Commissioners had not been complied with, and one — the most necessary of any to remedy the defects of the present system—the recommendation of placing the whole of the Post-office matters in the hands of Commissioners, had been, if not entirely overlooked, at least disregarded. The change had been recommended in the report of July, 1835; but the report had not been circulated till 1836: how it had been kept back, or by whom, he did not know; still it was not delivered. In February, 1836, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been asked whether he intended to carry into effect this recommendation? His answer was, that he intended to introduce a measure founded upon the report. It was not, however, till nearly the end of the Session, the 8th of July, that a bill was introduced; it then passed through its several stages in that House, and reached the other House on the 4th of August, and was on the 12th of August thrown out of the House of Lords, because there was not sufficient time at that late period of the Session to give due consideration to so important a subject. Thus, although the bill was promised in February, it was not begun till the 8th of July—one month only before the end of the Session—and did" not reach the Lords till within the last six days, and this was all the time which was afforded for deliberation on this great alteration. He feared that it was the amount of patronage at the disposal of the Government which they were most unwilling to part with, and which rendered them careless of the inconvenience experienced by the public. In 1837 the House was promised that the bill should be re-introduced. They all knew that the death of the Sovereign caused an abrupt termination of the Session; but more than two months of the present Session had already elapsed, and the bill had not yet been re-produced. He did not see why a preference should be given to the northern parts of England and to Dublin over Scotland; and he thought that, in justice to the manufacturers of that country, they ought to have equal facilities in the receipt of their foreign correspondence. There were other general measures recommended by the Commissioners which had not been adopted. He should conclude with moving for some returns which would show the real state of the case, and bring the whole question fairly before the House and the country. But he could not help adverting specifically to one great advantage which the Sunday day mail possessed; it took down the mail into the country the whole of the correspondence which came up on the Saturday night, and, if the mail were granted to Edinburgh, the Saturday's letters would reach that city thirty-six hours before the present time. If a day mail were established, the constituencies of Scotland would be able to read the debate of that night—if it were worth reading—twelve hours sooner than they could by the present arrangement. He recommended also that, instead of starting an additional mail coach to carry the morning mail, the effect of which was to cheat the turnpike trusts of the tolls, they should employ the regular coaches, of which many were constantly running to Birmingham; and he contended that there was no fear of the loss of the mail bags by these public conveyances, although they did carry so many passengers, for he had himself seen a mail-coach carry seven outside passengers without danger to the bags; and it was established last year before a Committee of that House, that in Ireland, where the bags were forwarded by public passenger conveyances, very few, if any, robberies took place. The hon. Member concluded by moving for "A return, in abstract, of the recommendations contained in the ten reports of the Post-office Commissioners; specifying, 1st, what recommendations had been carried into full effect; 2dly, what recommendations had been partially adopted; and, 3dly, what recommendations had not been acted upon; together with the date of the report, the date when the recommendations were adopted, and the names of the Commissioners appended to the report."

Mr. Hume, in seconding the motion, wished to ask a question of the right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was satisfied that there was only one mode of removing the anomalies which at present existed, and the cause of complaint of the hon. Member for Greenock, and that mode was by the adoption of the plan suggested by the Commissioners, by changing the post-master-general's office, and allowing it to be executed by Commissioners. He hoped that no delay would take place upon this subject, and that the same excuse would not be furnished to the Lords as had been given in 1836 for rejecting a Bill of so much importance, because it reached them only within a week of the close of the Session. It should be recollected also that our Post-office establishment annually taxed the public to the amount of two millions and a half, and cost more than any other similar establishment. There was, therefore, no excuse for delay; and he would conclude by asking the right hon. Gentleman when he intended to bring in his Bill for carrying into effect the Commissioners' recommendations?

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

did not rise to object to the motion of the hon. Member, but he must complain of the hon. Member's unfairness in giving notice of one motion and then bringing forward another. The hon. Member had given notice that he should call upon the House to "consider the petition from Edinburgh, presented 5th February, for establishing a morning mail to Scotland." Instead of confining himself to this, he had made a distinct charge against the Government, and concluded with a motion for returns of what had been effected towards carrying out the Commissioners' reports. Such a course of proceeding was neither fair nor just, and nothing but the disposition felt by the Government to give every information relative to the Post-office precluded him from giving a direct negative to the hon. Member's proposition. He hoped the time would come when that House would not discuss a subject already referred to a Committee. If the House not only exercised, which it ought, and was bound to do, a general superintendence over the Administration as carried on in the different departments of the Government, but descended to the inquiry whether a twopenny post box should be opened in one place or another, he thought that they would not only be wasting the public time, but be also consuming the patience of the House; and not all the mails which should convey the records of that discussion would raise hon. Members in the opinion of their constituents, or the general character of that House. There was one subject mentioned by the hon. Member to which he must specifically refer. The hon. Member, in showing that the Government had overlooked the report of the Commissioners recommending an alteration in the present constitution of the Post-office, went logically to work to prove his statement by recapitulating from the votes of that House the steps which had been taken in introducing a Bill, which had been fought through that House for giving effect to the Commissioners' recommendations, and which had been lost in another place. To prove, therefore, that they have overlooked the report would require more ingenuity than was possessed by the hon. Gentleman. It certainly was his intention to introduce a Bill on this subject, containing enactments in the spirit of the alterations recommended by the Members of the commission. With respect, however, to the establishment of a day mail, which made a most important change in the arrangements of the Post-office, and which could only be effected by a great increase of expense, could anything be more reasonable or more just than that they should try an experiment in the first instance in a place where it was likely to be successful, and that they should wait to see the result of that experiment before they extended the plan? It must be observed also that it was only to a portion of the correspondence that a day mail was likely to be of any use. Whether letters were received at twelve o'clock at night or at six o'clock in the morning was of no earthly importance— it was only near the extremity of the line, therefore, and in the neighbourhood of London, that the day mail would be of value. If the hon. Member considered, likewise, the entire alteration which was taking place in the country with regard to the whole system of coach communication, and the lines of railroad which were being established throughout the country, he would not, as a man of common sense, wish that they should enter into changes which would entail enormous charges on the public till they saw what species of communication was likely to be permanently established. The Western Railway, for instance, was likely to be completed, and would the hon. Member wish the Government to establish a double line of communication? Many others were in progress; and with respect to the Birmingham mail, he did not think that they could find contractors who would do anything for nothing, for the number of coaches was already so much reduced, as to render travelling very inconvenient at the present moment; and the Post-office had a difficulty, even after paying double the ordinary contract price, to find contractors. The full establishment of the day mail would require the re-modelling of the whole mail establishment, and he thought that Government was acting more prudently by not saddling the country at once with an enormous mass of charges, till it saw the results of what had been already done. The hon. Member for Greenock seemed to suspect that the Government never consulted the convenience of the public; but he must observe, that the interest of the Government was directly the reverse of this, for the more letters passed through the Post-office, the more correspondence took place, and the more the public convenience was consulted, the more income would it produce, and the greater would be the public revenue.

Mr. Gillon

thought, that they ought to facilitate, by every means in their power, the transmission of letters and newspapers. The right hon. Gentleman had objected to the expense of establishing day mails, but he thought, that, having sent them to Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, and Ireland, it would not be any great stretch of generosity to extend them to Scotland. The same mail would carry the Scotch as carried the Birmingham letters. At War- rington now two mails met and ran together to Carlisle, where they separated, one going to Edinburgh, the other to Glasgow; by letting one coach carry both bags to Carlisle, and by making the second coach meet the day mail, both might be carried without the addition of a single coach. From Carlisle there were already two day mails, so that, with the same establishment, the greatest increase of assistance might be afforded to the mercantile interests of Scotland. He thought that his hon. Friend had been hardly dealt with when he had been accused of wasting the time of the House, for he considered this a most important subject. Whether he should succeed or not in the motion which he intended to bring forward for the equalization of the taxation on the various methods of internal communication, he must remark on the great absurdity of charging any duty on carriages carrying the mails, for the mileage duty was repaid by the public in the shape of an increased rate of contract, and the public were clear losers by the poundage. Valuable evidence was given before the Committee of last year by Sir Edward Lees, that great advantage had been experienced in Ireland from the establishment of mails carrying passengers and paying no duty, and no robberies had been effected on these mails, whilst many had been committed on the single-horse or foot posts. By this means, also, posts and conveyances for passengers had been established on the cross-roads of Ireland, whilst they were very deficient in all the cross-roads in England and in Scotland.

Sir George Sinclair

was of opinion, that the establishment of a day mail would be a great convenience to the people of Scotland, and that it might be obtained at a comparatively trifling expense. He would call the attention of the House to the present position of the twopenny-postmen employed in London. They had recently had some additional onerous duties imposed upon them, without their receiving any additional pay.

Mr. F. Baring

said, that he had no doubt, that the establishment of the day mail would be of great use to Edinburgh, but it was a matter in which he thought the House would not interfere. With regard to the wages paid to the twopenny-post letter-carriers, he was of opinion that the pay which they received was a sufficient remuneration for their services, al- though it was true that their duties had of late been increased by an arrangement recently made in the Post-office. At the same time, however, additional hands had been employed, and means had been adopted by which they would be entitled eventually to some remuneration: this was by their becoming entitled, on long service, to some extra pay. The plan had been adopted by the Treasury, in obedience to a suggestion which he had thrown out, and a mode of classification had been taken by which good servants of the longest standing would be the best paid. With regard to the general question of increasing the pay of the letter-carriers, he was of opinion, that any alteration in the present system was unnecessary.

The Attorney-General

felt, that he ought not to allow this subject to be discussed without expressing a hope, that the officers of her Majesty's Government within whose province the matter lay, would give the subject their most serious and speedy consideration. He had no doubt, that the establishment of a day mail to Ireland was most useful; and he had no doubt, that it was proper that it should be seen whether the plan with regard to that portion of the kingdom succeeded before it should be carried into effect with reference to another portion of the kingdom. It had succeeded, and why was it not adopted now with regard to Scotland? The line was already formed to Liverpool, and the mail might be conveyed on without much additional expense. Not only Edinburgh, but the whole of Scotland was interested in the matter.

Motion agreed to.