HC Deb 27 February 1840 vol 52 cc665-8
Mr. Wallace

rose pursuant to notice, to move, That it is the duty of the Postmaster-general to afford all reasonable facilities and accommodation to communities who have not a post-office or a post at present, especially to such as have a desire to send their letters openly and legally, and who shall apply to the Postmaster-general for the usual means of doing so: that the case of more than 1,000 inhabitants in the parish of Bowden, in the county of Roxburgh, as represented in their petition to this House, is one of great hardship, and directly in point; therefore, that the prayer of the petitioners should be granted, by the Postmaster-general, affording to them similar post-office accommodation to that enjoyed by their neighbours in the adjoining parishes. The House would recollect that a petition upon this subject had been presented; that the inhabitants of the district to which he referred had expressed their willingness to defray the expenses of a post-office in their own part of the country, if the Postmaster-general would appoint a person to that situation. He was quite aware that the Post-office had recently been put to a great deal of trouble by the new regulations, but when the immediate consequences of these fresh arrangements had passed away, he was sure that the Postmaster-general himself would see the necessity of making a total change in the management of the country post offices. He had recently received a letter from a gentleman in Leicestershire, describing the condition of that part of the country as regarded post-offices. Between the towns of Leicester and Nottingham, of Melton-Mowbray and Market Harborough, there was no imme- diate post-office communication; they had coaches enough, but no direct post-office communication, and there were many places in Kent and Essex, as well as in other parts of the country, which were similarly circumstanced. He felt perfectly satisfied that any improvement in this respect would greatly conduce to an improvement of there venue derived from the Post-office, and he was equally certain that in the present year the deficiency in that revenue would not by any means be so great as the opponents of Post-office reform were disposed to anticipate. He did not believe, that the deficiency would amount to anything like 1,200,000l. or 1,400,000l., but, on the contrary, he felt perfectly convinced that it would not exceed 700,000l., and that the subsequent improvement in that branch of the public income would fully repay the loss. The letters now passing through the Post-office were triple the number that passed previous to the alteration in the rates of postage, and in many places they had increased fivefold. In Newcastle they were now four times the number that they had been. In Dublin they were fivefold, and in various parts of Ireland three and fourfold. At first the new system could not possibly give universal contentment, but he had confident hopes that the effect of the stamps proposed to be used would be to afford great public accommodation. The whole of the change made was one of immense importance to the community at large, and therefore they ought not unduly to complain of any deficiency which it might occasion; but the representatives of the people should look attentively to the means which were to be adopted for supplying that deficiency; and now that they had taken a burden off the poor, they should not consent to a fresh burden being imposed in lieu thereof upon the same parties; they should rather make the rich pay the expense of the improvement. It occurred to him that there were three modes in which the deficiency might be provided for: one was an equalized legacy duty, affecting real equally with personal property; the second would be a fixed duty upon corn; and the third a property tax.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

declined to follow his hon. Friend through the whole of the observations which he had addressed to the House, but should rather content himself with shortly stating the grounds upon which he thought it his duty to oppose the resolution. When the arrangements for carrying the plan of penny postage into effect were about to be adopted, his noble Friend the Postmaster-general brought before him a statement of what might be done for the purpose of extending the system of the Post-office; and it could not be denied that since then, as well as before that time, a considerable extension had been accomplished. In consequence, however, of the great increase of correspondence since the introduction of the new system he took upon himself to direct that no steps should for some time be taken with any view to an extension of the Post-office department, and he recommended his noble Friend to make no change that could be avoided till the pressure of the great transition to the penny postage had in some degree abated. He admitted that it was the duty of the Postmaster and of the Government to extend the system of the Post-office as widely as possible, not only as an accommodation to the public, but as a valuable source of revenue; yet still it must be felt that the present was not the proper moment to press the Government or the Post-office for any changes that could possibly be postponed, and he hoped that his hon. Friend the Member for Greenock would withdraw his motion.

Mr. Lucas

thought there would be great public advantage in having a map of the United Kingdom, displaying the Post-office accommodation, and the proportion which it bore to the wealth, population, and general circumstances of each district.

Mr. Hume

hoped, that his hon. Friend the Member for Greenock would not, under present circumstances, press his motion.

Sir R. Peel

said, that he wished to take that opportunity of inquiring from the right hon. Gentleman opposite, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when the House might expect to have laid before them the returns relating to the Post-office, which had some time ago been ordered; he wished also to know how soon it was probable that stamped covers would come into general use.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

regretted that he was not in a position to say how soon it would be in the power of the Post-office to introduce stamped covers. It was intended in the first in- stance to limit their use to the twopenny post district—at all events not to extend them beyond the local posts, so as to keep their operation within the immediate view and knowledge of his noble Friend at the head of the Post-office, and after the experiment had been tried upon a small scale, it was proposed to effect its general adoption. Various difficulties had presented themselves in the course of the measures which had been taken with reference to the stamped covers; there had been some mechanical failures in carrying the designs into effect, and, owing to several causes, he did fear that some time must elapse before they could be brought into general use.

Sir Robert Peel

said, that he presumed the right hon. Gentleman opposite meant by the twopenny-post district that which formerly was subjected to a twopenny rate, and that which now formed the London district.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

replied, that that was what he meant. The object with which it was proposed to limit it to that district was for the purpose of having the working of the stamped plan as much as possible under the eye of the General Post-office. The returns to which the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, referred, were in course of preparation, and he hoped before long that it would be in his power to lay them on the Table of the House.

Sir R. Peel

agreed that there was likely to be considerable advantage in making a partial experiment. He thought that the right hon. Gentleman opposite ought to consider well the proposition for having a special cover for the London district, and there could be no objection to its having a general circulation if posted within the district, as was the case with the printed covers now used by Members of Parliament. They must be put into a particular office, but might be carried to any part of the United Kingdom.

Motion withdrawn.