HC Deb 19 July 1850 vol 113 cc29-36

begged to call the attention of the House to the petition of 138 clerks in the Money-order Department of the Post Office, presented on the 7th June, and to move that an inquiry should be made into the grounds upon which the appointment of chief clerk of that department bad been withheld from the officer, who, as it was alleged by the petitioners, would, in official order, have succeeded to it. The petitioners did not come to the House to ask it to increase their miserable salaries, although 100 of them received only 70l. a year, from which there was deducted two per cent to form a superannuation fund. All they asked was, that the preferments in the office, to which they were entitled, should not he taken from them by the arbitrary and unauthorised act of the Postmaster General, or rather of his secretary, Mr. Rowland Hill. The principle on which promotions were made in the Colonial Office was, seniority combined with fitness. The rule worked well in two ways: it secured a certain degree of fitness in the clerk, and it contributed to make him satisfied, while in an humbler condition, by the hope of arriving at a better. The same rule was adopted in the Treasury and in the Foreign Office, and in that House itself, and there was no reason why it should not be universally employed. The circumstances of the case to which he wished to draw the attention of the House were these: In the year 1844, when the Earl of Lonsdale was Postmaster General, an attempt was made to place a gentleman, who was thirteenth in rotation, over the heads of those who were above him. The Earl of Lonsdale appointed a committee of the officers to inquire into his claims, and it appeared that his pretensions were rejected after that inquiry. That very gentleman had been appointed to the office of chief clerk over the heads of others. In the month of August 1848, a rule was established, by the order of Mr. Rowland Hill, by which three days in the year were allowed to the clerks in the Money-order Department of the Post Office for absence, on the ground of business or ill health; and a certain fine was imposed for every additional day's absence beyond that number. A memorial was addressed to the Postmaster General, signed by all the officers of the department, the object of which was to procure the removal of this unjust rule. The Postmaster General found a difficulty in altering the order, and the memorial did not produce any result. A second memorial was presented in September 1849, on the terms of which Mr. Rowland Hill had severely animadverted, and stated that it contained several expressions which were not true. He (Mr. Anstey) had read the memorial, and he could assure the House that there was nothing in it whatever disrespectful towards Mr. Rowland Hill, or any other officer in the Post Office. In October 1849, the gentlemen who had signed the second memorial addressed a letter to the Postmaster General, in which they disclaimed the charge of having made use of disrespectful language. To this letter they received no answer, and they naturally concluded that the matter was at an end; but six months afterwards, on the decease of the president of the Money-order Office, and the chief clerk of the Edinburgh money-order office to the vacancy, when those gentlemen complained that the order of seniority was not followed, they were informed that their claims could not be attended to unless they would make another apology for their memorial, and further degrade themselves by stating that that document contained falsehoods. Under these circumstances, not being able conscientiously to comply with the conditions, they came before the House. There were also two of the senior clerks of those who had been passed over, who had not signed the memorial; and the only reason that could be conjectured—for he only gave it as a supposition—why their claims had not been recognised, was, that they had been invited to volunteer for Sunday labour in the Post Office, but had declined. If the inquiry which he (Mr. Anstey) now asked for into this matter were granted, he pledged himself to prove the truth of every thing that he had stated; and with these observations he would leave the matter in the hands of the House.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That this House is of opinion, that inquiry ought to be made into the grounds upon which the appointment of Chief Clerk of the Money-order Department of the Post Office has been withheld from the officer who, as it is alleged by the Petitioners, in their Petition presented to the House on the 7th day of June last, would, in in official order, have succeeded to it.


seconded the Motion.


expressed his belief, that if there was one office more than another that required investigation, it was the Money-order Office of the Post Office. Some two years since he had presented petitions to the House praying for inquiry to he instituted, in consequence of the gross mismanagement of that office. He had afterwards presented a memorial to Mr. Rowland Hill, calling for a simplification of the accounts of that establishment, because two years had elapsed without those accounts being audited; and he believed that any merchant would be a bankrupt very speedily who conducted business in such a manner. The Government not having had a single person in their employ who could audit the accounts, a gentleman from the City was at length procured for the purpose. That gentleman was at the Money-order Office for three or four months, and he stated that he had never seen books kept in so slovenly a manner; that so far as he could make out, there was a sum of between 3,000l. and 4,000l. due by the country postmasters, and that although upwards of 220 clerks were employed in the department, the business, under proper management, could be better executed by 150 clerks. Mr. Rowland Hill had promised to make the necessary improvements and alterations; but, in the meantime, an inquiry ought to be instituted with the view of seeing whether the allegations made against the department could be substantiated.


said, it was really a grievance which Her Majesty's Government had much reason to lament, that there was no officer in that House connected with the Post Office to answer such statements as that which had just been brought forward by the hon. and learned Member for Youghal, or to meet any inquiries that might be made in relation to the affairs of that department generally. For his own part, he really wished that when any hon. Member had any case of this kind, on which complaints and interrogatories were to be founded, to bring forward, that he would have the courtesy to give notice of the fact, and of his intention to his hon. Friend the Secretary for the Treasury, to whose province, perhaps, rather than to his own, it more particularly devolved to supply, if possible, the desired information. Of course, in the absence of any official representative of the department in question, it was almost impossible for him (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) to be prepared with answers to questions or statements made in that place, without previous notice. But he might remark that there was one fallacy which pervaded the whole of the statement advanced by the hon. and learned Member. It was not true, as he assumed, that seniority of standing alone was the principle on which the rule of promotion in these Government establishments proceeded. This was not true of the Treasury, nor—so far as he knew—of any other of the Government departments. Indeed, he would ask the House how it could be possible for the business of Government to be conducted on any sound or efficient system were the principle that which the hon. and learned Member for Youghal supposed? The inconvenience of such an interposition as the hon. and learned Member desired at the hands of that House, would be incalculable to the public service. If the House had confidence in the Government, they must allow the responsible head of every branch of a great department to be the best judge how its management should be administered with the best results to that service. As to the grievance set forth by the petitioners, it should be observed that the person promoted over their beads by the Marquess of Clanricarde had been selected many years ago by the Earl of Lonsdale, when Postmaster General, on account of the ability be had shown in the discbarge of his duties, to go to Dublin for the purpose of reorganising and superintending a branch of the Post Office there: afterwards, by another Postmaster, removed from Dublin to undertake an analogous charge in the Post Office department of Edinburgh; and, finally, called from Edinburgh to be placed at the head of the Money-order department in London. On these facts he apprehended that the House would hold such an individual had been very properly selected for the promotion now complained of.


conceived that this case might be shortly stated thus—that, whilst these thirteen gentlemen, who not only stood, in the rotation of their seniority, in a preferable position, but had been, after examination, declared duly and properly qualified for this post, had been passed over, a party who was not of equal standing with themselves, and who had been expressly reported, in 1844, by Colonel Maberly, not to be qualified for it, had been elevated to it over their heads. Now, this was an allegation of injustice to, of unwarrantable hardship upon, the petitioners, too grave and too important to go forth to the public uncontradicted or unexplained, without being calculated to produce a very prejudicial impression against the management of the Post Office. He did hope, therefore, to hear some answer offered to the petition. It might be very true, as the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had told them, that seniority of standing was not the general rule of promotion in the public offices, which the hon. and learned Member for Youghal had supposed. But the right hon. Gentleman had not quite fairly stated the hon. and learned Member for Yougbal's assertion, which took for this principle seniority armed with fitness; and this surely the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not prepared to deny was the true principle that regulated promotion in the public departments. He must say that no answer had been given to the complaint, on its face so reasonable, of the wrong which had been done to gentlemen who were paid so inadequately for their services, that throughout the country great disapprobation had been expressed at such miserable salaries, and whose only inducement to content themselves with such a scale of remuneration consisted in the hope they might reasonably indulge of succeeding, in virtue of seniority, good conduct, and adequate qualification, to the post from which they seemed to have been so arbitrarily excluded, between the resentments of Mr. Rowland Hill and the act of the Postmaster General.


thought, if the salaries of these parties were really so inadequate, they had the remedy in their own hands, by declining to retain their appointments. But he rose to protest against the House being made a court of appeal against grievances arising out of the administration of a public department, with the details of which they were not supplied, and could not by possibility know anything. The House, in short, was a tribunal utterly unfit to entertain such a case as this.


would not have offered any remark upon the present occasion but for the singular and unconstitutional language which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had employed in declaring that the House ought on no occasion to listen to complaints against a public department, coming before it in this manner. He (Mr. Aglionby) was perhaps sorry that the hon. and learned Member for Youghal should have felt it his duty to bring forward this petition on the present occasion, seeing that on a former occasion, when the hon. and learned Gentleman moved for certain papers connected with the case of the petitioners, it appeared that, though the Marquess of Clanricarde himself had no objection to their production, Her Majesty's Government, as a body, had refused them. That refusal proceeded on a ground which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had tonight stated fairly enough, namely, the grave inconvenience of entertaining the prayer of the petition, or meeting the observations elicited by it, when there was no person present officially connected with the department referred to. On this account, and in the defect, so far as the House was concerned, of further necessary information on the subject-matter of the allegations which had been read, he did hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman would not attempt to press his Motion to a division. All must allow that so serious a charge of mismanagement in such a great department as the Post Office, was too grave a matter for discussion to be raised thus incidentally on the presentation of a petition. If the learned Member persisted, he would have Her Majesty's Government arrayed against his Motion, and he would find himself in a very poor minority. He (Mr. Aglionby) could not support the Motion in the absence of further papers. He must, however, concur in holding with a preceding speaker, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not fairly stated the hon. and learned Member for Youghal's principle of promotion, which was not seniority alone, but seniority combined with qualification. And the gravamen of the petitioners' case was, that they had been passed over in the appointment finally made to the office in question, not because they were not senior to the party appointed—not because they were not duly qualified—but because of some ill-feeling towards them on the part of Mr. Rowland Hill, by reason of some offence they had given to that individual on some previous occasion.


wished to ask one question of Her Majesty's Ministers, on their answer to which would depend the vote he should give that night. It had been alleged that the person who had been placed over the heads of these petitioners was, at no very remote period, reported by Colonel Maberly to be unqualified for the situation he held. Was this the fact or not? Although he (Mr. Hume) might agree with those who deprecated as most mischievous, on general principles, the interference of this House with the internal administration of executive departments, there might yet be cases in which the extent of oppression charged against officers in the public service might well warrant such interference. The Government must not wonder if he felt some suspicions that the complaints of these parties must be well grounded, when he reminded them that they had refused him the documents for which he had formerly moved with a view to elucidate the facts. Could they or could they not deny that the individual who had been promoted out of his turn to be the president of a certain branch of the Post Office over the heads of these gentlemen, was, in 1844, formerly reported to be incapable and unqualified for his appointment?


begged to correct an error into which the hon. Member for Montrose had fallen. The complaint was not as to the incompetency of the person who was put over the head of these petitioners, but of that person, who, having been formerly chief clerk, had just been promoted to be president of a department in the Post Office "as next in rotation," although he had been the junior of these petitioners at the time he was reported as incompetent to discharge the duties of his situation.


was glad that the hon. and learned Member had shown that the impression of the hon. Member for Montrose was a wrong one; and he hoped it would be sufficient for him now only to add that the gentleman whose promotion had given rise to this petition, was the Mr. Palmer who had been successively selected for promotion to the Dublin, the Edinburgh, and the London Money Order Departments, on account of the high opinion entertained by the Earl of Lonsdale and the Marquess of Clanricarde of his merits.

Motion negatived.