The Chancellor of the Exchequer
moved the second reading of the Postage Duties Bill.
§ Mr. Goulburn
did not intend to engage in a discussion, or to call upon the House to vote against the second reading of this bill, which he had only had in his hand that morning; but he must be allowed to say, that he never saw a better specimen of a summary mode of disposing, not only 624 of the question of postage, but of a great many other public questions. The bill gave the Treasury the absolute power of reducing the duty, or of raising it, exactly as they might think proper, without any limitation whatever. He never saw a bill which gave such large discretionary powers, and if it were carried, there was no reason why those two great branches of the revenue, the Customs and the Excise, should not be regulated by the same compendious contrivance, that of giving unlimited power and discretion to the Treasury. The right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had stated, on a former occasion, that the Treasury already possessed the power of reducing the rate of postage. Now, he wished to call the attention of the House to the way in which that power had been conferred, because it would bring to their notice the manner in which the support of the House was obtained, to measures, the operation of which, at the time, was by no means foreseen. The right hon. Gentleman acted wisely in not relying entirely upon the powers which he already possessed, when he proceeded to reduce the rate of postage, for he (Mr. Goulburn) was sure that such a course would have caused a great outcry on the part of every man acquainted with the way in which the power in question had been obtained. The act of the 7th William 4th, and 1st Victoria, cap. 34, proceeded upon the old and true constitutional principle of laying down the rate of postage, payable upon every letter according to the distance. The act gave no power to the Treasury to remit any part of the charge, but stated specifically what the charge should be in every case, a whole page of the act being devoted to these details. That act passed on the 12th of July, 1837. The date was important. On some day in July, it was stated to be expedient to regulate the postage of letters to the East-Indies, and a resolution was proposed in consequence, respecting the rates of postage of letters to the East-Indies, and particularly with reference to those carried by way of Suez. But it was not understood that the resolution was intended to relate to the postage upon any other letters than those directed to the East Indies, and no observation was made to that effect, either on the resolution being agreed to, or the report being received. A bill was brought in to carry into effect the resolution, and no one could imagine 625 that a bill to regulate the postage of letters to the East-Indies, would contain a provision, enabling the Treasury to reduce the rate of inland postage in this country. However, the bill was brought in, and its title expressed, that it was a bill "to impose rates of packet postage on East-India letters, and to amend certain acts relating to the Post-office." Now, the resolution on which that bill was founded related to the East-Indies alone, and not a word was said, in any stage of the measure, about inland letters. Must it not then be said, that this power was obtained, in the first instance, by deceiving the House? It was in this act, and this act only, that was contained the power to the postmasters to reduce the rate of postage on colonial and inland letters, and any other British postage, to such extent as the Lords of the the Treasury should direct. He agreed that it was very prudent of the right hon. Gentleman, not to rely exclusively upon that power. Then with regard to the present bill, he had only to say, that in an arrangement of that complicated nature, there never had been a bill of this nature submitted to Parliament before. They were about to risk a revenue of 1,500,000l., and to trust entirely to the superior judgment of the Treasury to devise the means by which the plan was to be effected. They were giving to the Treasury enormous powers—the power of augmenting the rate of postage without limit, the power of interfering with the right of franking, either wholly or partly; so that an order of the Treasury might declare, that the House of Lords should alone be deprived of the right of franking, or that county Members should be excluded from it, or that Members for boroughs might enjoy it exclusively, or, in fact, impose any other restriction it pleased. It was to have the whole discretion as to the covers being on stamped paper, or a stamp being placed upon letters, while the bill contained, as far as he was aware, no penal provision to prevent forgery. The whole matter was to be left in the hands of the Treasury. By this bill, therefore, they were about to confide to the Treasury powers which might be fatal to the best interests of the country, and which, under any view, could not be had without considerable danger.
§ Sir R. H. Inglis
shared in the opinion of his right hon. Friend, the Member for the University of Cambridge that it was 626 not fit or prudent to give to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Secretray of the Treasury the power contained in this bill. He contended that the power of altering the rates of postage, however objectionable those rates might be, was a power which constitutionally ought not to be given to any individual. There was nothing in the bill to prohibit the Treasury, not only from taking the privilege of franking from the House of Lords, and continuing it to the House of Commons, but of continuing it only to one class of Members in the House of Commons. He did not accuse her Majesty's Ministers of entertaining such a project, but of bringing forward a bill liable to that interpretation. He was sure there was not one person in the House who believed that this bill had received the cordial support of her Majesty's Government. He would ask, if it were not absolutely forced upon some Members of the Government? He would ask, the Chancellor of the Exchequer to state whether he did not bring forward this measure in opposition to the Postmaster-general, and all those officers, whether past or present, who had been, or were connected with the fiscal arrangements of the Post-office? If the bill could be defended upon the ground of its giving to the poorer classes the advantages to be gained from it by the wealthy classes, he believed it would receive a more general sympathy on his side of the House. But it did no such thing. It was a plan in itself for the benefit of the great traders. It was a plan which had been brought forward to obtain public favour. He certainly did think that it had been introduced partly on political grounds, and partly, but mainly, for the purpose of benefiting great mercantile houses. Look to the number of mercantile men that had been examined before the committee; look to the number of the petitions in favour of the proposed plan, which they did not conceal would be highly advantageous to them. Before the franking privilege was limited, they had heard that it was worth, to a mercantile house, from 300l. to 800l. a-year. At present it could not be worth less than 300l. The great advantage, therefore, which this plan held out to mercantile houses was the cause of the numerous petitions which had emanated from them, and of the meeting at the Mansion-house two or three weeks ago. He would, therefore, resist this bill. He must advert to a minor point, namely, the privilege of franking. He did not understand why this was to be abolished; or 627 why, because a tax was to taken off others, a tax was to be imposed on Members. It would be, to those who had much correspondence, at least 15l. a-year, at the reduced rate of a penny for every letter sent. To the revenue the saving to be obtained was so small, that he hoped the House would not consent to rescind that privilege. He had said, that this bill was proposed on political grounds. He would go so far as to say, that he believed no persons had been more disappointed with the division that had taken place upon this question than her Majesty's Government. He fully believed that her Majesty's Government would rest perfectly satisfied with the glory of having made the concession, that they would very willingly dispense with the triumph of a vote in their favour; and he ventured to hope that, in a future stage of the measure, the vote now for its support, would be changed into one against it. This he the more earnestly and confidently hoped, from a conviction that the affairs of the country were in a state which did not permit a relinquishment of any part of the revenue, especially a portion of the revenue so large in amount, and so easy of collection. The real question before the House was not, whether the Government could send the letters of the community from London to Edinburgh for one-twelfth of a penny each, and, therefore, ought not to charge a shilling, but what it would cost each individual to forward his own letters, if no such thing as a post-office existed. It had been observed, in support of the measure, that Parliament, so far from interfering with the interchange of ideas, ought to do everything in their power to promote that object. He submitted that, in the present state of society in this country, it was too late to make use of any argument of that kind. Why, he would ask, had they not acted under the influence of that consideration in the reign of Charles 2nd; Why not in the reign of William 3rd? Why not at different times since then? In the present state of the revenue, he thought it would be most unsafe to incur the hazard of losing so large a sum as it was stated in the evidence they were likely to lose by the proposed change. On these several grounds he did not hesitate to move that the bill be read a second time that day six months.
Mr. F. Baring
regretted, that the right hon. Gentleman should have alluded to what had taken place on a former occasion without better informing himself upon the subject. The right hon. Gentleman was 628 quite under a mistake as to what had taken place upon the introduction of the clause in the bill of 1837 to which he referred. He recollected perfectly well what had taken place upon that occasion. He had himself proposed that clause, but not, as the right hon. Gentleman said, in an indirect way. He had at the time, in answer to a question as to the nature of the clause, explained its object. He had stated, that it was advisable to give to various parts of the country the advantage of the railroad communication, which while it in many cases increased the distance, would create a saving in point of time; that by the law, as it then existed the charge of the postage upon letters was made according to the actual number of miles gone over, and that it was, therefore, necessary to introduce the clause he had brought forward to prevent the increase in the rate of postage which must otherwise have taken place where the railroad communication was increased in point of distance. The clause had been acted upon in the sense in which it had been introduced. It had been introduced for the purpose not of creating such great reductions as were proposed by this bill, but of getting rid of small grievances, and reducing the postage in small cases. The right hon. Gentleman stated, and stated fairly, that this bill conferred great powers; but it was not intended that they should be pushed to their fullest extent. The greater the readiness with which the House placed confidence in a certain department of the Government, the more incumbent was it upon that department not to abuse that confidence by exceeding the necessary exercise of the powers confided to them. He begged to remind the House that the bill contained a fair degree of restriction; and if any further check should be deemed advisable, he was ready to allow its introduction, provided it would not get rid of the power necessary for carrying the plan into operation. The bill conferred the power upon the Treasury of adopting the plan of payment by stamped covers, or in such other way as they should think fit, and also of carrying the bill into effect at what time and in what manner they should think advisable. Those powers, which did not extend beyond that, must be given to some part of the Government. Let them propose what plan they pleased, he considered it not only advisable, but absolutely necessary, to 629 give to the Executive department the power of carrying the reduction of postage into effect at such time and in such manner as they might think fit. Gentlemen who thought, that by Act of Parliament on a specific day a particular arrangement should take place all over the country could not possibly be aware of the difficulties which were opposed to such a course. Where there would be a great increase of business there would consequently be an increase of errors; and if they were suddenly to throw open the flood-gates of the establishment, they might not only inconvenience the public service, to the ruin perhaps of many individuals, but they might endanger the stability of the establishment itself. A Gentleman had recently told him, that he had lost 3,000l. by the delay in the delivery of one letter. The system, must therefore, be introduced most carefully. The right hon. Gentleman had stated, in reference to the privilege of franking, that under the bill the Treasury had the power of taking it from the House of Lords, and continuing it to the House of Commons, or any portion of its Members. Perhaps the bill did confer that power as it was worded. He would only say, that the word "partly," in reference to the privilege of franking referred not to Parliamentary but to official franking, and he would readily consent to any alteration to that effect. The right hon. Gentleman likewise said, that the Treasury had the power of inflicting penalties by a simple warrant; but if he would look at the bill, he would find, that it only alluded to the penalties imposed by the acts now in force relating to the stamp duties.
§ Lord Seymour
differed in opinion with the hon. Gentleman who had just addressed the House. So far from thinking, that this bill would not be beneficial to the lower classes, he thought, on the contrary, that it would confer great benefit upon them. He believed, that one of the great disadvantages which the poor at present had to suffer, was the want of easy and cheap communication with their friends. Now, with respect to the privilege of franking, he and another hon. Member of the House had gone to the Post-office to make inquiries on that point, and he was there told by the secretary, that some Members of the House were in the habit of using their privilege, to evade a payment, by franking more than the allowed 630 number of letters, and that one of the Members who was particularly remarkable in this respect was the hon. Member himself.
§ Sir R. Inglis
said, that when the noble Lord presumed to connect his name with a practice which amounted to nothing less than attempts to cheat the revenue, he felt bound to call the noble Lord to order, and he felt assured that he did not ask too much of the House, when he begged permission to state his invariable practice: that practice was, to keep not merely a regular account of the number of letters which he franked, but to enter the names of the individuals to whom they were addressed. If other gentlemen could state as much, it would afford him pleasure. The statement made to the House by the noble Lord was not one for which he had the least warrant in any evidence on the table of the House; and moreover, the statement to which he referred had not been, as far as he knew, made in any quarter in the terms in which it had been delivered to the House by the noble Lord. He had understood that the Secretary to the Post Office had stated that three members of that House were watched, and that he was one of those Members. He should not state who the other Members were; all he should say was, that he had been one of the number: he should state also, that two hon. Friends of his who lately went to the Post-Office, made inquiries on the subject, and the result was, that upon one occasion, and upon one only, had he been found to exceed his privilege. He certainly was accustomed to equal his number of franks, but very rarely to exceed them, and never intentionally; most rarely, indeed, had he ever exceeded the privilege; he had done so once, but if he had done so ten times, during the period that he had a seat in that House, it would not perhaps have been extraordinary. He felt ashamed to state to them as a gentleman, that he had never exceeded his privilege intentionally. When it had been imputed to him that he had been guilty of attempts to cheat the public revenue, he was sure the Speaker, if the noble Lord rose again, would call on him to state what he meant by the observations which fell from him on the subject of the privilege of franking having been exceeded.
§ Lord Seymour
said, he should be ashamed of himself if he had said anything personally offensive to the hon. Baronet, and he begged, therefore, to apologise for the expression he had used. 631 What he meant to state was, what he had heard in the committee and from the Post-office, that the hon. Baronet was one of those who valued his privilege of franking so much, that he frequently exceeded his number. He had only said what had been stated to him and other Members of the committee. He did not know whether the hon. Baronet was satisfied. He did not undervalue cheap communication throughout the country. He believed that for some time the plan that was proposed would occasion a defalcation in the revenue; but he was sure that if power were not given fairly and fully to carry this plan into effect, they would not only lose the advantage of revenue, but also the advantage of giving to the people cheap communication.
§ Mr. Wallace
said, that he had gone to the Post-office with other members of the committee, and he had been shown, among other things, the table were franks were taken which were above the proper number. Whether as a matter of joke be did not know, but it had been stated, in reply to a question, whether an accurate watch was kept over the franks, that it was impossible to do that, but that a few Members at a time were always watched, that that process was going on at that time, and amongst the number was the name of the hon. Baronet; his own name and the name of a third person whom he did not recollect. As a matter of joke, as soon as he saw the hon. Baronet, he told the hon. Baronet that they were both in the same list, when the hon. Baronet convinced him it was almost impossible, for he pulled out a list in which not only the franks were entered, but also the names of the individuals to whom they were sent. He was, therefore, quite sure that the hon. Baronet only claimed what was partly his due when he said that he kept as accurate an account as any other Member. For his own part he would offer no apology. With regard to the privilege of franking he was perfectly ready to give it up for the sake of the general benefit which he thought this bill would confer on the people at large. With regard to the powers proposed to be given to the Treasury, he certainly thought, considering that those powers would cease on the 1st of October in the ensuing year, they would be in safe keeping in the hands of the Treasury. He was convinced that this bill, if it wore passed into a law, would give 632 to the poorer classes of this country one of the greatest boons that could possibly be conferred on them, whilst it would be hailed also by the higher classes as a very great benefit. If it should happen that a falling off of the revenue was caused by adopting this measure, he was sure that the representatives of the people would be ready and willing make up the deficiency.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
would have been disposed to have left this bill on the explanation of his hon. Friend the Secretary of the Treasury, had it not been for the declared intention of the hon. Baronet (Sir R. Inglis) to take the sense of the House against the second reading; and if the hon. Baronet had not also in the course of his observations thrown out certain suggestions respecting the conduct of Government which required an answer. He was quite sure that the explanation of his noble Friend was calculated to remove any unpleasant impression that might for a moment have arisen in the mind of the hon. Baronet. Undoubtedly, his noble Friend had never intended to apply to the hon. Baronet any intention of evading the payment of postage. Whether the hon. Baronet, or any other Member, had ever exceeded the number of franks permitted, such a thing might be attributed to any Member without inferring any moral reflection whatever. To those most conversant with the accurate habits of the hon. Baronet he had given a new proof of his love for accuracy, for he had not only chronicled the number of his franks, but every person to whom they were sent. No one, however, required to be told this, either as a proof of the hon. Baronet's accuracy, or of the fact of his being incapable of violating any law, or making any improper use of the privilege conferred upon hint. He could not pass this question of official franking without suggesting that the hon. Baronet must have been sadly at a loss for an objection when he suggested the possibility of this, or any other government, using the powers given by this bill for the purpose of conferring the privilege of franking on one branch of the Legislature and withholding it from another, or of conferring it on one side of the House to the exclusion of the other. When the hon. Baronet was obliged to have recourse to such an imaginary danger as this, he thought he had a right to conclude that there was a singular deficiency of real argument against this 633 measure. The hon. Baronet had stated that undoubtedly there was a very strong feeling on the part of our great mercantile interest in favour of the present measure. So far from that being an objection, it was rather with him a very strong recommendation of the measure. Undoubtedly, a great portion of the evidence rested on mercantile grounds, and if it rested simply on that, he would say it was in itself a recommendation of the bill. Was it to be said, that this measure alone, of all financial measures, was not to be attended to, because the trading, the manufacturing, the commercial, and the banking interests were concerned in it? He knew that those parties would be greatly benefitted; but he confessed, that it was from those parties that he looked for a considerable proportion of revenue to remunerate the Treasury for the loss occasioned by the benefits which the people generally would receive. The hon. Member for the University of Oxford had spoken of the extraordinary powers given to the Treasury by this bill, upon which he had been partly answered by his hon. Friend, the Secretary to the Treasury. It was hardly possible, in adopting so extensive a measure as the present, to be able to legislate for all the details and circumstances which might be expected to arise, and therefore it was necessary that in the meantime powers of a large and comprehensive nature should be given to the Treasury. But whatever these powers might be, it should be borne in mind, that not one of them would survive the next Session of Parliament. No doubt, the new system would involve the necessity of increasing the Post-office establishments to a very considerable extent, and in his opinion, it would neither have been wise nor just to increase them to such an extent without previously obtaining the sanction of Parliament. Believing, also, that the system would involve a considerable loss to the public revenue, he did not think it wise or constitutional to encounter that loss without further obtaining a pledge from Parliament, that that deficiency should be supplied: that pledge had been given by the House, and had been most fairly and handsomely repeated by the hon. Member who presided as chairman of the committee on the subject of the Post-office. He would not now enter into the financial details by which this pledge might hereafter have to be carried into effect; that would be a sub- 634 ject for future legislation, and all he could now say was, that he had proposed it in perfect good faith, and that he believed it had been given in an equal spirit of good faith by the House. He relied entirely upon the good sense and good feeling of the House of Commons, to keep up the public credit of the country, and to make up any deficiency which might occur in the public revenue of the country by the adoption of this measure. With respect to the Parliamentary privilege of franking, which the hon. Member for the University of Oxford still supported, and, he hoped, stood alone in supporting, it was true, that the sacrifice of that privilege might be small in amount; but at the same time, be it small of great, he thought, that there would be not one feature in the new system which would be more palateable to the public that this practical evidence of the willingness of the Members of this House to sacrifice everything personal to themselves to the advantage of the public revenue. It was true, that the privilege of franking had been used to a great extent by the heads of public departments; but that was a power which had been a great deal abused, and in future it would be better, in order to avoid that abuse, that every department should pay its own postage. Every department had a direct interest in keeping down its expenditure; but there was no one which felt much interest in keeping down the number of franks. At the same time, he thought, there might be cases in respect to public documents in which it might be necessary to retain the privilege to a certain extent; but upon this point he would one day become the subject for Parliamentary interference. He would certainly preserve the right of communicating to the public in the country the Parliamentary papers; but, at the same time, he thought, that there should be some restriction on the privilege of forwarding the very heavy volumes of reports which were published by the House; or, rather, that there should be some new regulations adopted, by which the public might derive all the benefit of this privilege without throwing an obstruction in the way of the prompt transmission of other communications of more immediate importance. Now, also, that they had made their vote-office an office for the sale of their papers, he thought it would be hard that a book- 635 seller, who might purchase 300 copies of any particular document, should be able to call upon the Post-office to transmit this heavy load of volumes by the quickest mode of conveyance, to the obvious obstruction of other and more pressing calls for the public service. With respect to bills, he thought, that as they affected the future legislation, they could not be too promptly conveyed to the hand of the public. Having on a recent occasion so fully stated his sentiments upon this subject, having more particularly stated the only objection which he entertained to this scheme, namely, on the score of revenue; and, having obtained from this House, by a large majority, a pledge that any deficiency which might occur to the revenue should be made up, he would not now trespass further upon the attention of the House than, in conclusion, to move the second reading of this bill.
§ Sir R. Peel:
I will in the first instance refer to two or three minor points which have been alluded to on the assumption that this bill will ultimately pass into a law. Assuming that to be the case, I do not concur with my hon. Friend, the Member for the University of Oxford, that it would be desirable, that the Members of this House should retain their Parliamentary privilege of franking. I think, if it were to be continued after this bill came into operation, that there would be a degree of odium attached to it which would greatly diminish its value. The reason for keeping it up will, in a great degree, expire with the passing of this bill, for when Members of Parliament can receive their communications for a penny each, it will not be necessary to preserve the privilege of franking. With respect to official franking, whether the bill pass into a law or not, some alteration would be advisable. So far as the measure is an experiment I concur with the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that new regulations ought to be adopted. I think it would be advisable to require, that each department should specially pay the postage incurred in the public service of the department. If every office be called on to pay its own postage, we shall introduce a useful principle into the public service. There is no habit connected with a public office so inveterate or so difficult to be laid down as the privilege of official franking. But the benefit of adopting a new principle will be this, that the man who, acting on an uni- 636 form practice, and who, from the force of an established habit, would not refuse to frank a packet of letters for a friend, would refuse to take eight or nine shillings out of the public coffers by conferring a similar obligation under the new system. Of late years a very great extension has taken place in the practice of official franking Indeed, within the last two Sessions a great increase has taken place in the number of persons admitted to frank, and this bill convinces me, that it would be advisable to take this privilege under some new regulation. With respect to the privilege enjoyed by Members of the House of transmitting without restriction voluminous documents at the public expense, I certainly think, that this is a privilege liable to very great abuse. It is monstrous, that a Member of Parliament may send 150 volumes of Parliamentary papers of the present Session, and two hundred volumes of a former Session, through the post-office without any restriction or any charge. I apprehend, that the advantage of this privilege is very much over-rated, and I am sure that it acts very unequally. I am sure, that there are many Members of the House who would object to send packages in this way through the post-office. I am sure that there are many Members of the House who would shrink from the exercise of such a privilege. With respect to the particular regulations to be adopted, I will not now offer any opinion, but some regulations are undoubtedly desirable. I am convinced, that if the 658 Members of the House were to send the whole of the blue books received during the Session through the post-office, it would be attended with the greatest inconvenience to that department, and I shall concur in any regulation that may appear calculated to control that privilege within proper limits. There might still be the permission to purchase the papers at the public office in the usual way; but if every person can procure these books at a very cheap rate, I see no reason why the public should be called upon to pay the charge of sending them through the post-office. I stated on a former night, that, having deliberately protested against this measure, I should not think it necessary to meet its further progress with any vexatious opposition. I am not surprised, that my resistance to this measure has been ineffectual. I know very well, that whenever the 637 Chancellor of the Exchequer declares himself in favour of the remission of any tax all resistance to such remission becomes vain. I know very well, that if the Secretary of the Home Department were to declare, that the disturbers of the public peace were to be kept free from any control or interference, we could expect nothing but to have the country overwhelmed with confusion and disturbance. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has the control with respect to taxation, and when be declares his intention to remove a tax, all resistance must prove unavailing. I stated that, in the present circumstances of the public revenue, I objected to increase the risk, and I think, that the right hon. Gentleman has given me a very ample vindication of the course I have pursued. The right hon. Gentleman says, that he wishes that more time had been given for consideration, and that he might have full means of estimating the loss of revenue. The right hon. Gentleman admits, that he ought not to have brought forward the subject without the calmest consideration. Suppose that the right hon. Gentleman had asked time for that, and had asked the House to consent to a postponement till next Session, and that notwithstanding he had been overborne by the sense of Parliament, in that case, the responsibility would rest upon the House, but at present the responsibility rests with the right hon. Gentleman himself. The right hon. Gentleman will succeed in carrying his measure, for it cannot be effectually opposed. I think, however, that in opposing this proposition I have done right, and I am desirous that the public opinion shall be pronounced on my conduct, not now or in two months after the passing of this bill, but on the day when Parliament must either abandon its pledge or be called on to make good the deficiency. The whole pledge amounts to this (and it is contained in the preamble), that Parliament will make good any deficiency that may occur. That is the whole amount of the pledge. There is no enactment, no recital in the preamble of its nature, or the extent to which it is to go. Now what passed the other night? My objection was, that no one could fix the time at which Parliament would be called on to redeem the pledge. The right hon. the President of the Board of Trade acknowledged that there would be a considerable deficit, a thing always to be 638 deprecated in a great commercial country, and stated that in the next Session we shall be called on to redeem our pledge, and to fix a new tax to supply the deficiency. That was the only distinct intimation we have had of the time when the redemption of the pledge will be required. When the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer says that his present conviction is that Parliament will redeem the pledge, he should bear in mind the reservation with which many hon. Gentlemen on his own side of the House accompanied it. The hon. Member for Greenock says, that he will cheerfully bear his part in supplying the deficiency; but I do not understand him to construe his promise as the Chancellor of the Exchequer construes it. I understand him to say, that if eventually there shall appear a great deficiency he will then consider the means of replacing it. Then the hon. Member for Bridport means to redeem his pledge, not by taxation, but after the reduction of postage shall have had what he considers to be a sufficient time for fair trial, he will consent, not to reduce taxation, but to endeavour, by some new arrangement of the revenue, to give such a stimulus to commercial industry as will, after another lapse of time, make up the deficiency. Sir, I have before expressed my apprehension that, without reference to the Post-office, there must be a continued and increasing deficit in the revenue, and this apprehension has been confirmed by what I have heard this evening. I have heard that Government, feeling themselves bound by an imperative sense of duty, propose to make an addition to our regular force of 5,000 men, which will incur an expense of at least 150,000l. a-year. We also hear of measures for the establishment of a rural police throughout the country. There may be necessity for both these measures—I say not one word as to their policy. The circumstances must be grave indeed which call on Government to submit them to the House, but what will be the effect of those measures on the revenue of the country? Shall we be able to meet this increase without reference to the Post-office? I fear, on the contrary, that the deficit now existing will be increased, and that next year it will be much greater than at present. But I will not over-rate these difficulties. I do not deny that great social and commercial advantages will arise from 639 the change, independent of financial considerations. Even if the scheme had not been proposed, I think the evidence which has been laid before the committee would warrant a considerable reduction in postage. I think we should have made the experiment of a partial reduction. It has been said that the principal advantage of this measure will be felt by the commercial interests. If so, it will only be a greater recommendation to me, for wherever commercial intercourse is facilitated, the result must be the general benefit of the country. The change must also in its extent contribute to the improvement of the lower classes, although I think that the probable benefit has been greatly overrated. I think that at least we should have had an opportunity of getting at something like the exact extent by which the correspondence of those classes would be increased before we proceeded to legislation. We might, for instance, ascertain what is the extent of the correspondence of soldiers and sailors, who, at present, have the advantage of a penny postage. It would be a matter of great importance, in fact a material element in the consideration of this question, to ascertain to what extent those parties have availed themselves of these advantages. You should recollect also that the abolition of the Parliamentary privilege of franking will in itself limit the correspondence of the poorer classes, because that privilege is often at present used for the benefit of those who cannot afford even a single penny. Thus, there is an advantage of sending a letter without any charge, for which even the general reduction to one penny will not compensate. I do not state this as an objection to the measure; I merely state it as a reason for thinking that you have rather over estimated the advantage which the poorer classes will derive from the change. Well, Sir, supposing there is a great defalcation in the revenue, by what new tax would you propose to redeem your pledge? You remit this tax on the principle that all high taxation is impolitic; for that reason you reduce the postage from 6½ to to 1d.; but on what article will you increase the taxation? I look through the long list of malt, hops, candles, coffee, &c., and I ask on which of them you expect to raise a tax of two millions a-year? Can any man deny that there will be enormous difficulty in subjecting any of these articles to a new duty? All the 640 advantage obtained for correspondence will not diminish the objections to whatever tax you may propose. I say then, that I do not deny the advantages that will result for the remission of this tax, for there is no tax the remission of which would not be of benefit to the community. There is, for instance, the tax on internal communication, the repeal of which would redress a balance of injustice, because in that part of the country in which there are no railways, and is therefore, cursed with imperfect communication, there is a charge on posting of two-pence a-mile, whereas, in those parts traversed by railways, while the people have every facility of traveling, they are free from charge. Why, no one will attempt to deny that the abolition of this tax would be a general benefit; but we are precluded from the consideration of that claim by the pressure of the postage measure. The Chancellor of the Exchequer will not listen to any proposal for reduction of taxation until this is disposed of. For my part I do not say that in the present position of our finances, I will not vote for any reduction of taxation. I attach so much importance to the preservation of public credit, so certain am I that, at a general election, the present measure might serve as a precedent for a Government to court popularity, by proposing to reduce a tax, throwing the task of supplying the deficiency on their successors, or trusting that some future Parliament will redeem the pledge of the one now sitting, that I shall not give this measure my support. Sir, I have been taunted with making this a party question, but I came down here to-night prepared to adhere to the engagement I entered in to on a former stage of the measure—to content myself with entering my protest against the principle. However, if my hon. Friend is determined on dividing the House—although, as the sense of the House has already been so fully expressed, I think it unnecessary to press it to a division. I shall certainly vote with him. However, my own intention is not to trouble the House with any harassing opposition, but to content myself with the protest I have already entered.
§ Mr. Warburton
repelled the charge that he was not inclined to maintain faith with the public creditor. On all occasions had he been prepared to maintain public credit; and on several occasions he had sup- 641 ported the right hon. Baronet, when he was attacked for doing so. He was of opinion that as the rates of postage were diminished, a great increase to the postage revenue would be made. Mr. Rowland Hill had calculated that there would be a six-fold increase; that from the number of contraband letters, there would be an increase of double the number, and that, independently of the contraband letters, the increase would be two-fold, making an increase of four-fold. The number of invoices (according to Mr. Cobden's evidence) which would be sent by post with a penny postage, instead of in parcels, would be 50 per cent. on the present number, and the additional number of letters from the working classes would be 75 per cent. Upon the whole, therefore, the estimate appeared exceedingly moderate, and he thought that the result of the experiment would fully realize, if not exceed it. It was, he owned, a bold experiment, but he had no doubt that, when the result was known, the predictions of the sanguine supporters of the plan, would be realized.
§ Mr. Elliot
said, he would trouble the House with a few remarks, as he had had some experience in a post-office department. In India, it had been found that the number of soldiers' and sailors' letters had increased to such a degree as to be a matter of complaint: they were so numerous as to be sent in boxes; and this arose solely from the circumstance of their light postage. There would be a difficulty in the pre-payment of postage in this,—that when a postman had delayed a letter, he would throw it in the fire, and the party to whom it was addressed would have no knowledge of the matter, unless every free letter was registered in a book. If some check was not resorted to, he feared there would be very great complaints on the subject of pre-paid letters. There must be also some mode devised to allow of letters being sent without stamped covers, (where persons were hurried and had no stamps,) and to secure the delivery of such letters. In India, the post-office was obliged to make a rule that no such letter should be received unless a slip of paper was delivered at the office with the letter, which was stamped and re-delivered to the person who brought the letter. But the most important matter was to invent a check to secure the delivery of pre-paid letters.—Bill read a second time.