HC Deb 24 July 1838 vol 44 cc582-9

The Chancellor of the Exchequer moved, that the House resolve into a Committee on the Post-office Bill.

Colonel Sibthorp

opposed the motion, because he thought it inconvenient to discuss a bill effecting a great change in one of the public establishments at so late a period of the Session, and because he suspected that the Government brought forward the measure, which created new appointments, not from considerations of public advantage, but for the purpose of giving themselves the dispensation of patronage. Three new commissionerships were to be created by the bill, and they were to be patent offices; so that, however badly the duties might be performed, the holders of them could not be removed. This change, which would throw an additional burden of 1,900l. on the country, was proposed without any good reason, and he should therefore move, by way of amendment, that the bill be taken into consideration that day six months.

Mr. Goulburn

thought the change proposed by the bill called for some statement from the Government to justify it. If it were intended to appoint the commissioners for life, he should certainly object to such a proposition.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, the Government could not fairly be accused of introducing this bill from a desire of patronage, for their object was to make a change the necessity for which had been long felt. So long ago as in 1797, under Mr. Pitt's Government, the change now proposed had been recommended, and the consolidation of the Scotch and Irish post-offices with the English Post-office since that period made the change more requisite. Under Lord Liverpool's Government, too, a report in favour of this change was presented by the commission of which Lord Wallace was the head. He quite concurred with the right hon. Gentleman in thinking that the head commissioner should not be a permanent officer, the great object being to obtain Parliamentary responsibility. But the other two commissioners should be permanent, in the same manner as the subordinate commissioners of the Woods and Forests, or the official under secretaries of state for the various departments. A more effective system of post-office administration was absolutely necessary. As an authority on this subject he might quote the Duke of Richmond. If ever there was an individual qualified to give perfect satisfaction as Postmaster-General, it was the Duke of Richmond; and yet, notwithstanding the great energy of mind and assiduity of application which ho brought to the office, his administration was far from giving satisfaction, owing entirely to the fundamentally defective system which prevailed in that department. Fie hoped the bill would be allowed to go into Committee, especially as it had passed the House last Parliament, while its principle had been sanctioned by at least five successive commissions.

Sir R. Peel

was not content to rest this question entirely upon authority. The Duke of Richmond had been referred to by the right hon. Gentleman as a high authority—the man of all others best fitted to administer the Post-office department; and yet what course had the noble Duke taken with respect to this very bill? When it reached the House of Lords last year, he gave it his most decided opposition. Then the right hon. Gentleman cited the commission of 1797, which reported in favour of the principle of this bill; but if Mr. Pitt approved of it, why did he not adopt it? Why had the successive Governments since that time not carried the principle into effect? The right hon. Gentleman's reference to authority upon this matter had not the slightest weight or applicability. If it was thought necessary to have a Parliamentary officer with a seat in that House, instead of the Postmaster-General, why was the same principle not to be applied to the other revenue boards of Customs and Excise? At present the Post-office was administered by a political officer—the Postmaster-General, with a salary of 2,500l. per annum, and a secretary; now it was proposed to have three Commissioners, the first having 2,000l., and the other two 1,200l. each, with, he presumed, a secretary besides. He objected to the increase of expense from 2,500l. to 4,400l., and he very much doubted whether the advantage of having the head Commissioner, a Member of that House, subject to change with different Administrations, would be anything like an equivalent. He thought the bill very clumsily drawn; the superfluous phrases with which it abounded, were quite amusing. He should oppose the committal of the bill.

Mr. Labouchere

said, the present system of administering the Post-office, was a most vicious one, and had been condemned by every man who had paid any attention to the subject. The best system for the management of the Post-office, in his view, would be to place it under the charge of a Commissioner, who should devote his whole time and energies to the duties of his office, and have a seat in that House, in order that he might be immediately responsible to it. He was rather surprised to hear the right hon. Baronet lay so much stress on the difference between the salary of the Postmaster-general, and those of the proposed Commissioners. When the management of a revenue of 1,500,000l. and the whole correspondence of the country, was to be considered, he thought it the most miserable impolicy to regard the difference of 1,000l. The right hon. Baronet had talked of the good old system under which the affairs of the Post-office were formerly managed. He would only remind the House that in those days, the late Secretary for the Post-office had an income of 5,000l. or 6,000l. a-year, which was more than was now sought for the salaries of all the proposed Commissioners. There were also two Postmasters-general with 2,500l. a-year, two more for Ireland, and one for Scotland. He did not think that this department could be compared to the Customs or Excise. Besides the other important functions fulfilled by it, it was often engaged in negotiations with foreign Governments, to which there was nothing analogous in the business of the other Revenue boards. As to the objection that the office of the Chief Commissioner was to be of a political nature, he did not think it would be right or fair to any Government to debar them from placing at the head of such a department as the Post-office, some political friend in whom they might have confidence. Whether or not the proposed change were adopted, of this he was quite sure, that no system could be worse than that which now existed, and if they wished to place it on a better footing, they should begin by reforming the office of the Postmaster-general.

Sir R. Inglis

defended the memory of the late Secretary of the Post-office from the aspersion cast upon it by the right hon. Gentleman. He thought that respect to his memory would have been sufficient to ward off their attacks, and he regretted that more good feelings had not been evinced than to make them. There was no department of the public service better managed than the Post-office under Sir F. Freeling, and the public had never a better servant.

Mr. Labouchere

explained: He had said nothing in diparagement of Sir F. Freeling, he had not even mentioned his name, and any observations he had made were directed against the system and not against those individuals who may have had the management of it.

Captain Boldero

said, that the sum of 5,000l. or 6,000l. a-year enjoyed by Sir F. Freeling, was a great part of it, in lieu of perquisites appertaining to his office, which he had conditionally relinquished. He had held that most onerous and responsible situation for a period of fifty years, and a better servant the public never had. It was too bad, therefore, that he should now be disparaged, and the feelings of his family hurt by the observations of the hon. Member.

Mr. Labouchere

again denied, that he had said anything disparaging of Sir F. Freeling, and asserted, that in anything he had said, he had not the slightest intention of reflecting for a moment on his memory. He did not make the remotest charge against him, and he believed, that the Post-office and the public had derived benefit from his services.

Mr. Warburton

thought it would be a great improvement to issue a temporary commission for two or three years, to superintend the great changes now taking place in our internal system of communication, and to prevent the Post-office from becoming exclusively a revenue department, instead of a great public engine for facilitating and increasing the intercourse between various parts of the country. No Administration could hold place which resisted the demands of the public for a speedier and cheaper system of conveying letters.

Mr. Wallace

did not think it would be for the advantage of the Post-office that the Chief Commissioner should have a seat in that House, and could not see, if that principle were recognized, why the members of the Board of Customs or Excise, should not also have seats. With regard to putting this office under a commission, he believed that it was absolutely necessary; he believed that the time had come when a great change must take place, and really working men be put into that department. They must no longer have the absurdity which ran through the whole establishment of the Post-office. He should most cordially support the proposition for a commission, however much he might object to some of the details.

The House divided on the original motion. Ayes 81; Noes 56: Majority 25.

List of the AYES.
Adam, Admiral Kinnaird, hon. A.
Aglionby, H. A. Labouchere, H.
Archbold, R. Lefevre, C. S.
Baines, E. Lemon, Sir C.
Ball, rt. hon. N. Martin, T. B.
Bannerman, A. Melgund, Viscount
Bellew, R. M. Mildmay, P. St. J.
Bernal, R. Morpeth, Lord
Blake, W. J. Morris, D.
Bowes, J. Muskett, G.
Bridgeman, H. O'Brien, W. S.
Briscoe, J. I. O'Connell, J.
Brodie, W. B. O'Ferrall, R. M.
Brotherton, J. Parker, J.
Campbell, Sir J. Parnell, Sir H.
Chalmers, P. Pechell, Captain
Childers, J. W. Phillpotts, J.
Clayton, Sir W. R. Redington, T. N.
Conyngham, Lord Rice, rt. hon. T. S.
Craig, W. G. Rolfe, Sir R. M.
Crompton, Sir S. Salwey, Colonel
Curry, W. Somerville, Sir W. M.
Dalmeny, Lord Strangways, J.
Divett, E. Stock, Dr.
Elliott, hon. J. E. Style, Sir C.
Evans, G. Thomson, C. P.
Finch, F. Thornely, T.
Fitzroy, Lord Tollemache, F. J.
French, F. Townley, R. G.
Gordon, R. Troubridge, Sir E. T.
Grattan, J. Vigors, N. A.
Hawkins, J. H. Wall, C. B.
Hayter, W. G. Wallace, R.
Heathcote, J. Warburton, H.
Hector, C. J. Westenra, J. G.
Hindley, C. Wood, C.
Hobhouse, T. B. Wood, Sir M.
Hodges, T. L. Wood, G. W.
Howick, Lord Visct. Yates, J. A.
James, W. Maule, hon. F.
Jervis, S. Stanley, E. J.
List of the NOES.
Blackburne, I. Graham, Sir J.
Blennerhassett, A. Grant, F. W.
Boldero, H. G. Herries, J. C.
Bramston, T. W. Hodgson, F.
Broadley, H. Hog, J. W.
Bruges, W. H. L. Holmes, W.
Canning, Sir S. Hope, hon. C.
Chandos, Marquess of Hope, G. W.
Chute, W. L. W. Kemble, H.
Clive, Lord Viscount Knightly, Sir C.
Darby, G. E. Lockhart, A. M.
Eastnor, Lord Visct. Lowther, Colonel
Ellis, J. Lowther, J. H.
Eastcourt, T. Lucas, E.
Farnham, E. B. Lygon, hon. Gen.
Gibson, T. Mackinnon, W.
Gladstone, W. E. Mahon, Lord
Gore, O. W. Neeld, J.
Goulburn, H. Palmer, R.
Palmer, G. Sinclair, Sir G.
Parker, M. Somerset, Lord G.
Parker, R. T. Trench, Sir F.
Peel, rt. hon. Sir R. Vere, Sir C. B.
Pigott, R. Verner, Colonel
Praed, W. M. Wodehouse, E.
Richards, R. Wood, T.
Round, J.
Rushbrooke, Colonel TELLERS.
Sandon, Lord Visct. Sibthorp, Colonel
Sheppard, T. Inglis, Sir R. H.

House in Committee, first Clause agreed to.

On the second Clause, fixing the salaries of the Commissioners,

Colonel Sibthorp

said, he saw no reason why the aggregate salaries of the Commissioners should exceed the sum paid at present to the Postmaster-general, and he had resolved to move accordingly, and take the sense of the House upon it.

Mr. Wallace

thought the salary of the Secretary might be added, but if the question came to a division, he should certainly vote with the hon. Member for Lincoln.

Sir R. Peel

was ready to take the sense of the House as to whether there should be any commissioners; but if there were to be commissioners, he would maintain that they ought to be sufficiently remunerated; he therefore could not support the proposition of his hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln, because, though perfectly ready to determine that the conduct in chief of the Post-office should be vested in an individual, he was unwilling to seek the attainment of that object indirectly. If the House resolved that there should be commissioners, he thought their remuneration ought to equal that of other commissioners placed at the head of public departments; he should therefore recommend that the Chief Commissioner have 2,000l. a-year, and each of the other commissioners 1,200l., of course still adhering to his original opinion that it would be much better to have one efficient chief officer.

Clause 5, as amended, was agreed to.

On Clause 6, enacting that the person first appointed commissioner may sit in the House of Commons as a Member,

Mr. Hume

said, that when the Bill was originally introduced, he strongly pressed his objection to this clause. He did not see the utility, much less the necessity of it, feeling as he did, that the time of the commissioner would be much better occupied if directly devoted to the affairs and arrangements of the Post-office, than in answering questions in that House. He should therefore move, that this clause be struck out.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, according to the proposed plan, there was a necessity to have a Member in that House to represent the office.

Colonel Sibthorp

agreed with the hon. Member for Kilkenny, that there was no necessity of having a gentleman sitting at the elbow of the Chancellor of the Exchequer as a representative of a public office, merely to answer questions, to which, judging from past experience, as regarded Her Majesty's present Ministers, they would in all probability get very unsatisfactory answers.

Sir R. Peel

thought that the reasons, upon the whole, preponderated in favour of the head-commissioner being a Member of the House of Commons.

Mr. Labouchere

hoped, that the House would agree to this clause, which he thought was the most essential part of the bill.

The House divided on the question, that the clause stand part of the bill.

Ayes 69; Noes 37: Majority 32.

List of the AYES.
Acland, Sir T. D. Hobhouse, T. B.
Adam, Admiral Hodges, T. L.
Aglionby, H. A. Hodgson, R.
Archbold, R. Hogg, J. W.
Ashley, Lord Holmes, W.
Ball, rt. hon. N. Hope, hon. C.
Baines, E. Hope, G. W.
Blake, W, J. Howard, P. H.
Brabazon, Lord Howard, Sir R.
Bramston, T. W. James, W.
Brodie, W. B. Lemon, Sir C.
Brotherton, J. Lucas, E.
Campbell, Sir J. Martin, T. B.
Cavendish, C. Melgund, Visc.
Clayton, Sir W. R. Morpeth, Visc.
Clements, Lord Visc. Morris, D.
Craig, W. G. O'Connell, J.
Dick, Q. O'Ferrall, R. M.
Elliot, hon. J. E. Parker, J.
Estcourt, T. Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.
Finch, F. Pinney, W.
Fleetwood, H. Redington, T. N.
French, F. Rice, E. R.
Gibson, T. Rolfe, Sir R. M.
Gordon, R. Sandon, Lord Visc.
Graham, Sir J. Stock, Dr.
Grant, F. W. Strangways, J.
Grattan, J. Strutt, E.
Hardinge, Sir H. Thomson, C. P.
Hawkins, J. H. Townley, R. G.
Heathcoat, J. Troubridge, Sir E.
Verner, Colonel Wood, G. W.
Vigors, N. A. Wood, T.
Warburton, H. TELLERS.
Westenra, J. C. Labouchere, H.
Williams, W. A. Steuart, R.
List of the NOES.
Blackburne, I. Lockhart, A. M.
Boldero, H. G. Lowther, Colonel
Broadley, H. Mackinnon, W.
Bruges, W. H. L. Mahon, Visct.
Canning, Sir S. Neeld, J.
Chalmers, P. O'Brien, W. S.
Clive, Lord Visc. Parker, R. T.
Darby, G. Pusey, P.
Douglas, Sir C. E. Rose, Sir G.
Dunbar, G. Rushbroke, Colonel
Ellis, J. Salwey, Colonel
Gladstone, W. E. Somerville, Sir W. M.
Gore, O. W. Thornely, T.
Goulburn, H. Trench, Sir F.
Greene, T. Vere, Sir C. B.
Hayes, Sir E. Wallace, R.
Henniker, Lord
Hillsborough, Earl TELLERS.
Ingestrie, Visc. Hume, J.
Kemble, H. Sibthorp, Colonel
Lascelles, W. S.

Clause agreed to.

Remaining Clauses agreed to.

The House resumed.