HC Deb 27 June 1845 vol 81 cc1318-28

On the Motion for reading the Order of the Day for a Committee of Supply,

Mr. T. Duncombe

rose to move, pursuant to notice— That the Returns, No. 72 and 248, made by the General Post Office, be referred to a Select Committee, with a view of inquiring into the accuracy of those Returns; also into the present mode of remunerating by fees and perquisites certain officers of the General Post Office, and how far the duties of that establishment may be rendered more satisfactory to the public, and less unequal and oppressive to the persons engaged therein. This Motion, he said, had no reference to the opening of letters, but entirely to abuses in the management of the Office. The Returns were two, for which he had moved at the close of last Session; one of them being a Return of every person employed at the General Post Office, with the date of his appointment, the nature of the business performed, the amount of salary attached to such duty, and the fund from which the salary was paid, distinguishing what portion (if any) was derived from fees; and the other being a Return regarding the fund established by perquisites and fees. If a Committee should now be granted him, he (Mr. Duncombe) would prove gross inaccuracy, not—he was afraid—in some instances accidental, but intentional, and for the purpose of misleading the public. The remuneration of public servants by fees, gratuities, and perquisites was most improper, leading to corruption, favouritism, and dishonesty often, and was now tolerated only in the Post Office; every railway company repudiated it. One of the grossest impositions which the wit of man could devise, was the system of fees for the early delivery of letters in the city. There were certain walks, adjusted by the Postmaster General, for which the postmen paid various sums to the Post Office; and all letters arriving from the country, directed to any part of these walks, were sorted for an early and a late delivery; the early delivery being only to those who paid a quarterly sum to the postman, over and above the postage. Now, if the walks were readjusted, the present number of men could deliver all the letters as soon as the present "early delivery." A bookseller residing in Stamford-street, indeed, found that he received his letters at his private house there, from half to three-quarters of an hour earlier than at his shop in Fleet-street, though he paid for the "early delivery" at the latter. Another abuse was the window duty; merchants paying four, eight, or twelve guineas a year got their letters at a window at the Post Office. There ought to be no partiality of the sort. Another improper arrangement was, that the longer a letter carrier served in the Post Office, the less was his pay from the Crown. On entering, he had 20s. a week, exclusive of Christmas boxes; but the 20 senior letter carriers, who had been on the establishment from 28 to 43 years, received only 14s. a week; and those who had been there from 16 to 20 years were receiving only 18s. The pay was gradually reduced, the favourite walks making up for it; and hence, where the salary was but 36l. a year from the Crown, the man was receiving 100l. or 120l. from the public, plundering them. This system demoralized the men, and led to dishonesty. One man was said to have boasted that he had nearly doubled the number of quarterly houses on his walk. A gentleman in Eastcheap gave up paying for the early delivery, as he did not get to town till 10 o'clock: upon which, as he (Mr. Duncombe) was informed, the early letter-carrier passed the word on to the other, and this gentleman's letters were thenceforth delivered last of all. The Commissioners of Revenue Inquiry recommended the abolition of fees, and the substitution of salaries, graduated according to service. The men had also to perform a duly with respect to the Post Office Directory. It was a very able and accurate compilation; but the work was done by the letter carriers; who obtained little or none of the profits. It was edited by Mr. Kelly, the Inspector of the letter carriers, who used until this year (when Parliament had begun to turn attention to the Post Office) to boast in the preface of "his peculiar resources through the favour of the Postmaster General." Was it an official or a non-official work?—a public or a private speculation? If private, what right had Mr. Kelly to employ the servants of the Crown to carry on his private speculations? If public and official, the work belonged to the public, and ought not to be made the subject of private speculation and gain. By the return of Mr. Kelly, the total difference between the receipts and expenditure for that work amounted to 1,276l. 4s. 7d.; and he stated—"This work is carried on by a large private capital, supported by official resources." What right had he to use official resources, and to persecute the letter carriers in order to make them serve his mercenary purposes? Mr. Kelly stated that he had purchased the copyright, but he did not say what he gave for it. But there was reason to believe that it was a mere trifle. Why should he have the services of 200 or 300 men paid out of the public money for his private profit? It was no part of their duty, and they were not told they were required to do it when they entered the service. Mr. Kelly did not say whether the 1,276l. was profit or loss; but of course it was profit. If the House would grant him a Committee, he (Mr. Duncombe) would prove that Mr. Kelly's profits were nearly 8,000l. a year. Was this to be considered as a perquisite, and ought such an officer as the Inspector General of letter carriers to have such a perquisite? The price of the large edition of the Post Office Directory was 30s. A letter carrier, if he sold a copy, would be allowed 5s., and the book trade were allowed 6s. But any bookseller would tell the House that if he were allowed to use the same resources he could give the work to the public, not at 30s., but at 15s. The letter carriers were most insufficiently paid. He would suggest that they should be paid according to the following graduated scale:—For the first five years' service, 70l. per annum; from five to ten years, 80l.; from ten to fifteen years, 90l.; from fifteen to twenty years, 100l.; from twenty to thirty years 110l. After thirty years service they should have the option of retiring on a pension of 50l. a year. Did not these men deserve remuneration to that extent? In addition to his profits on the work, Mr. Kelly furnished a large number of copies, 200 or 300, to the Post Office, for which he was paid, no doubt, and which, when they were done with, were returned to him. In fact, he was using the stores of the establishment. The Revenue Commissioners of Inquiry recommended the discontinuance of the Post Office Shipping List, and it had been discontinued. But they had also recommended that the profits on the Packet List should be made available to the Revenue. Those profits would replace the loss occasioned by doing away with the fees he had mentioned, and enable the men to receive salaries according to his graduated scale. Mr. Kelly had recently posted up a notice in the letter carriers' department, reminding them that as the time had arrived for collecting information for the Directory for the year 1846, care should be taken to get persons to write their proper names and addresses in the printed forms for that purpose; and he trusted that he should not have to report any instance of neglect. What right had this Inspector to report men for not serving his private speculation? The same proclamation stated that 1,200l. a year was given in the shape of commission to the letter carriers for selling the work. How did that statement accord with the other made by Mr. Kelly? This Directory was a complete monopoly. In reply to Mr. Kelly's proclamation, another notice was posted up, for the discovery of the author of which Mr. Kelly had offered a reward. It was to this effect— Fellow-men, read the order emanating from your superior, and wonder by what authority he has imposed such conditions on you! Who has sanctioned this monopoly? Will you submit to have this slavery fastened on you, to serve the private interests of an individual? Are we the servants of a bookseller or of the Queen? Too long have these interests been cultivated at our expense. Men, be firm! Strike the hand that would forge your fetters. Shall you be the slaves of monopoly? — slaves to interests which are fostered by official resources? Let the devil take all dishonesty, and be honest to yourselves. Redeem yourselves by forming a capital of 1,000l. and snap the tyrannical chain which binds you. Recollect that postmen can sell any Directory they like. Let it be your own child, and not a bastard. Now, it was most disgraceful to that establishment that such a notice as that should be posted up in it. But was it to be wondered at, seeing that the men were so badly paid, that they were made to do this extra work for nothing, and that they were reported and suspended often, if they happened to miscollect the name or address of a person? He believed that if those men were to throw Mr. Kelly's printed forms behind the fire, and tell him to collect the information himself, they would be perfectly justified in doing so. There were abuses in that establishment which, if they did not require inquiry, required correction; and he believed it was only necessary that they should be known in order to secure their correction. It would not do to contradict his statements, or to say that they were exaggerated or not true. Give him a Committee, and he would prove them all. Would the House suffer itself to be imposed upon by false returns? The case of the carriers should enlist the sympathies of the House. They were exposed to hardship and tyranny, and if they attempted to make any complaints to their superiors they were sure to be stopped halfway by Mr. Kelly. They had no power to protect themselves. He believed that Colonel Maberly and Lord Londsdale would be perfectly astonished at the disclosures which would be made, if he were granted that Committee of Inquiry for which he now moved.

Captain Pechell

, in seconding the Motion, complained of the abuses in the mail-packet department of the Post Office in regard to irregularity and expense. The mails had been detained as long as six months together at the Scilly Islands; and as to expense, the Government had expended in employing two vessels to carry the mails from Penzance to Scilly 1,300l. 19s. 4d. in five years, which sum would have been more than sufficient to have paid a contract for the mail-packets for thirteen years.

Mr. Hume

wished to say a few words on the subject of the Motion before the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Cardwell) commenced his reply. He was strongly of opinion that the Committee ought to be appointed, even from the consideration of saving the Government much trouble which the Post Office Department now gave them. No hon. Member could visit the city without being astonished at the number of complaints made in all quarters against the Post Office. In every department of the public Revenue the payment of fees formerly existed to a great extent, and a Committee was appointed on his Motion for the purpose of inquiring into them. From the difficulties, however, which were found to exist in the way of a proper inquiry before the Committee, the Government of the day consented to issue a Commission having the same object in view. The Report of the Commission was in favour of doing away with these fees altogether, and the consequence was, that the payment of fees was abolished in every department of the State with the exception of the Post Office alone. The efforts of a Committee, if appointed, to inquire into the state of that establishment, would, he was satisfied, be of considerable service to the Post Office itself, as well as of great use to the public at large. It was in vain for them to attempt correcting the evils of the Post Office system without having the facts before them. The injustice of the early delivery was especially one that might be put an end to. There was no reason why, because a trader happened not to be very extensively engaged in business, and not able to pay a fee for an early delivery of his letters, he should not enjoy the same facilities from a public department as a rich man, who would consent to pay the fee. A man's riches ought not to give him an advantage in a public department over his poorer fellow citizens; and he was sorry to be obliged to say that the Post Office was open to more complaints in that respect than any other branch of the public service. There was no country in the world ever derived a greater benefit from an Act of Parliament than this obtained by the adoption of the penny postage system; but the old establishment had not been adapted to the new arrangements, and consequently much of the advantage which the system was calculated to afford to the public was lost by a perseverance in the former state of things. He, therefore, trusted that the House would support the Motion for the appointment of a Committee of Inquiry.

Mr. Cardwell

said, notwithstanding his great respect for the hon. Member for Montrose, he was afraid he could not consent to adopt his advice by granting the Motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury. [Mr. Hume: You may not, but the House will.] He would, in the first place, observe, in reply to the hon. and gallant Member who had seconded the Motion, that the hon. and gallant Gentleman had admitted one of the returns to be correct. When parties had refused to carry the mails on the terms which the state of the Revenue enabled them to offer, the Postmaster was necessarily obliged to take other measures for the transmission of letters. With regard to the question of fees, he thought he was justified, from the terms in which the hon. Member had concluded his Motion, in saying that the hon. Member did not think a Committee of that House was the most appropriate means of correcting the evils of which he complained. It was the easiest thing in the world for any person, having complaints to make, to send them to the Postmaster General, or the Secretary of the Post Office, when they would be promptly attended to. He believed there was no disposition, either on behalf of the superior or subordinate officers of the Post Office, to continue unnecessarily a system of fees. That fact had been already stated before a Committee by the Secretary of the Post Office. In many instances these fees had been removed; but they were still retained in the case of the early delivery. Now, what was that delivery? There was a large class of persons within the general post delivery to whom an early receipt of letters was of the utmost importance; and while, by the early delivery, these parties were benefited, the public at large also obtained some advantage; because the early delivery being completed before the first general delivery commenced, the letter carriers went out with a much less number of letters than they would have, if there were no early delivery, and the public generally thus received their letters much quicker than if the men had a greater number of letters to convey. Besides, the greater number of letters sent out by the early delivery were, he understood, received at the steps of the Post Office by persons specially sent for the purpose of receiving them, and thus the time of the letter carriers was not so much occupied in this matter as might at first sight be supposed. Another advantage arising from the early delivery was, that a great proportion of the foreign letters on which postage was payable were sent out by it, and thus as credit was given to them in the Post Office, the convenience of the parties was thus very considerably promoted. But the hon. Member had stated that it appeared to be very hard, that the salary of the subordinates in the Post Office diminished as their period of service increased. The reason of this was that the older officers, who became more trustworthy, were selected in proportion to their seniority for other situations to which fees were attached; and these fees, therefore, could not be abolished without giving the parties a claim to compensation. This accounted for the salaries apparently decreasing, when the amount actually received by the men in reality increased. He did not think it would be justifiable to abolish these fees, because such a course would, necessarily, impose a large increase of expense on the revenue, while it would inconvenience parties who were now materially benefited by the early delivery. With respect to the Post Office Directory, he did not think it was open to the description of being an exceedingly gross job. The hon. Gentleman had stated that there was a system of insubordination caused by the manner in which the Directory was compiled; and certainly the document which the hon. Member had been so good as to read to the House was as insubordinate a production as could well be conceived. But that only showed that there was some insubordinate person connected with the Post Office, and not that the system pursued there was calculated to cause such irregularity. It was, he believed, found necessary for the proper management of the Post Office, that the information contained in the Directory should be collected; and a part of the duty of the letter carriers accordingly was to obtain correct answers to the inquiries sent forth. That being so, it was clearly a great advantage to the public that the information thus obtained should be published. The work was commenced in 1779, by a Mr. Sparks, who was then connected with the Post Office, and it was afterwards conducted by a Mr. Pritchard, who purchased it from the former proprietor. About ten years ago, when Mr. Kelly succeeded to the office, it was proposed that he should make an arrangement with the widow of Pritchard for the purchase of her interest in it. He also advanced some amount of capital for the purpose of improving the work, and he was satisfied that the return of 1,200l. a year profit was a correct return, and that it comprised not only the actual profit, but also the interest on the capital expended. He also believed that the letter-carriers received a considerable profit from the work; and, under these circumstances, he did not think it was justifiable to designate the proceeding as a gross job. The hon. Member concluded by repeating his conviction that the noble Lord at the head of the Post Office Department would be found ready and willing to correct any evils or improprieties that might be pointed out to him.

Dr. Bowring

said, the Post Office was a public establishment, paid for by equal contributions from the community at large; but, he would ask, did it contribute equal benefits to all parties? Fees had been destroyed in other departments of the public service; but they were unjustly retained in this, and thus he who could go with a fee in his hand to the Post Office was enabled to obtain benefits which were denied to the poor man. It was often as necessary for the less opulent merchant to receive early intelligence from the Continent or elsewhere as for the wealthy man; but by the present system it was denied him. The Post Office was the most important of all to the public; and he thought, on every priciple of justice, that its advantages should be extended to every individual in the community,

Mr. Williams

said, after the three charges which were brought against the Post Office Department, he thought the Government were bound to grant the Committee of Inquiry. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cardwell) had not denied these charges, he had merely endeavoured to palliate them; but he (Mr. Williams) would ask seriously were such grave accusations to be dismissed in such a manner? The heads of public departments made it a rule, on all occasions, to defend the acts of their subordinates; but in this, the most important branch of the public service committed to the care of the Government, he trusted such a course would not be persevered in without an inquiry being instituted.

Mr. Baring

would not trouble the House with more than two or three words. Though he was not prepared to go the full length of assenting to the appointment of the Committee, he still thought the subject one which the Government ought to take under their consideration. He did not agree in terming the Post Office Directory a job; but he would not at the same time say that a better arrangement than the present system might not be adopted.

Sir Charles Lemon

said, the Papers before the House furnished a satisfactory answer to the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cardwell). It was plain that the Post Office authorities had been deceived by their subordinate officer in Cornwall, as that was the only manner in which he could account for their seeing the question in a different light from every other person who knew anything whatever about it.

Mr. Curteis

thought it was a very great hardship that he should receive his letters an hour and a half later than other persons, merely because he would not submit to pay an illegal fee. If his constituents received answers to their letters from him later than they might wish, he hoped they would know that the blame rested not with him, but with the Post Office.

The House divided on the Question that the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question:—Ayes 106; Noes 30: Majority 76.

List of the AYES.
Acland, Sir T. Dyke Holmes, hn. W. A'C
A'Court, Capt. Hope, hon. C.
Adare, Visct. Hope, G. W.
Arbuthnott, hon. H. Hussey, A.
Arkwright, G. Hussey, T.
Baillie, Col. Ingestre, Visct.
Baillie, H. J. Jermyn, Earl
Baird, W. Jocelyn, Visct.
Baldwin, B. Jones, Capt.
Baring, rt. hon. F. T. Kemble, H.
Baring, T. Knightley, Sir C.
Baring, rt. hon. W. B. Lascelles, hon. W. S.
Bentinck, Lord G. Liddell, hon. H. T.
Beresford, Major Lowther, Sir J. H.
Boldero, H. G. Lygon, hon. Gen.
Borthwick, P. Mackenzie, T.
Bolfield, B. Mackenzie, W. F.
Bowles, Adm. M'Neill, D.
Broadley, H. Masterman, J.
Broadwood, H. Meynell, Capt.
Buller, Sir J. Y. Mundy, E. M.
Cardwell, E. Neville, R.
Carew, W. H. P. Newdegate, C. N.
Clerk, rt. hn. Sir G. Nicholl, rt. hn. J.
Cockburn, rt. hn. Sir G. O'Brien, A. S.
Copeland, Aid. Pakington, J. S.
Corry, rt. hon. H. Patten, J. W.
Cripps, W. Peel, rt. hn. Sir R.
Damer, hon. Col. Peel, J.
Darby, G. Polhill, F.
Davies, D. A. S. Pringle, A.
Dickinson, F. H. Richards, R.
Douglas, Sir H. Scott, hon. F.
Douglas, Sir C. E. Shaw, rt. hon. F.
Drummond, H. H. Sheridan, R. B.
Duncombe, hon. A. Smith, rt. hn. T. B. C.
Egerton, W. T. Spooner, R.
Egerton, Sir P. Stewart, J.
Entwisle, W. Stuart, H.
Fitzroy, hon. H. Sutton, hon. H. M.
Forman, T. S. Tennent, J. E.
Fremantle, rt. hn. Sir T. Thesiger, Sir F.
Gaskell, J. Milnes Tollemache, J.
Gladstone, rt. hn. W. E. Trench, Sir F. W.
Gladstone, Capt. Trevor, hon. G. R.
Glynne, Sir S. R. Trollope, Sir J.
Gordon, hon. Capt. Verner, Col.
Gore, M. Vernon, G. H.
Goulburn, rt. hon. H. Vivian, J. E.
Graham, rt. hn. Sir J. Wellesley, Lord C.
Granby, Marq. of Wortley, hon. J. S.
Greene, T.
Halford, Sir H. TELLERS.
Henley, J. W. Baring, H.
Herbert, rt. hn. S. Lennox, Lord A.
List of the NOES.
Barnard, E. G. Forster, M.
Barrington, Visct. Hawes, B.
Brotherton, J. Heathcoat, J.
Busfeild, W. Langston, J. H.
Collett, J. Lemon, Sir C.
Crain, W. G. Marsland, H.
Curteis, H. B. Martin, J,
Dennistoun, J. Mitchell, T. A.
Muntz, G. F. Wakley, T.
Murray, A. Warburton, H.
O'Conor Don Wawn, J. T.
Paget, Col. Williams, W.
Pechell, Capt. Wyse, T.
Plumridge, Capt. TELLERS.
Tancred, H. W. Duncombe, T.
Villiers, hon. C. Bowring, Dr.

Order of the Day read, on the Motion that the Speaker leave the Chair.