HC Deb 04 August 1853 vol 129 cc1294-6

said, he wished to call the attention of the Government to a subject of some importance to the country. It could not have escaped the notice of the Government that a large number of petitions had been presented from different parts of the United Kingdom, and also from the Colonies, from Canada, the West Indies, and other of our various colonial possessions, in favour of the establishment of a cheap and uniform system of colonial and international postage. He undertook, and in fact was under promise, to bring this subject under the consideration of Parliament, and he gave notice for a Committee on the subject, thinking that a Committee was the best mode of proceeding for the purpose of inquiring into the present state of foreign and colonial postage, and to ascertain how far it was practicable to make a uniform charge of a penny for the transmission of letter from any part of the United Kingdom to parts beyond the sea where British mail packets touched. He submitted the proposal of this Committee to the Government; but the Session was far advanced at the time, and considering that the Government had themselves submitted a proposal to the Colonies for reducing materially the rate of colonial postage, and rendering it more uniform, he thought he should be exercising a wise discretion in not pressing his Motion during the present Session. His object, therefore, in rising on the present occasion, was to explain why he did not bring forward the Motion, and to explain that at an early period next Session he should renew the Motion, when be hoped the Government would see no objection to appoint a Committee for inquiring into the whole question of foreign and colonial postage. The right hon. Baronet, the late Secretary for the Colonies, took a deep interest in this question, so much so, indeed, that he wrote a very handsome letter to a society of which he (Mr. M. Gibson) was a member on the subject; and if the right hon. Baronet did not become a member of the society, he at all events forwarded them a donation. The right hon. Baronet felt the importance of the question whilst holding office, and he pledged himself, if he got the opportunity, to bring about a cheap and uniform system of colonial postage—


No, it was the Postmaster General.


said, that might have been so. His object was not simply confined to the question of postage rates between this country and the colonies, but involved also the question of foreign postage. Nothing could be more anomalous or unsatisfactory in that respect than the present state of things. In the United States a letter was carried 3,000 miles for three halfpence, while at home a letter was carried to any part of the United Kingdom for a penny; but the transmission of a letter across the narrow sea to Calais cost no less a sum than 9½d. Now, he proposed that the transmission of letters across the sea should be limited to a penny also. Tine present Prime Minister, on a recent occasion, when a deputation waited upon him on the subject, said, if the shipowners were prepared to undertake the carrying of letters at the uniform rate of a penny, he believed the objection to the proposal would cease. Well, now, he was prepared to state that an offer had been made by the Glasgow and New York Steam Shipping Company to carry letters from England to the United States, and vice versâ, at the rate of a penny per letter. They were prepared to run fortnightly steam boats, making as rapid a passage as possible between the United Kingdom and the United States; and he understood they were ready to undertake the same service to the Australian Colonies. With regard to foreign postage, he knew that there were a variety of complicated arrangements respecting postal communications; but all of these were fit subjects for a Committee to inquire into, and he should therefore propose next Session that they be referred to a Select Committee, together with the general subject of ocean postage. He would not then enter into details beyond mentioning this single fact, that the emigration which had taken place had rendered the correspondence between the working classes of this country and their relatives in foreign lands very extensive. Their relatives in the United States, Australia, and the Canadas, frequently sent letters to this country containing money for the poorer portions of their families whom they left behind; and it was stated by Mrs. Chisholm, that in one case a letter arrived from Australia addressed to a poor woman then in a workhouse in this country. The postage on the letter came to 3s., and the party to whom it was addressed being in a workhouse, and having no means to pay the postage, the letter was returned to the colony. Now, it actually contained 25l. for the maintenance of the poor woman, who was then in the workhouse, and unable to pay the postage. This was only one of many cases of a similar kind where letters had been returned in this way, and he might therefore be excused from mentioning this simple fact, carrying as it did a volume in itself. He hoped, then, that they would be permitted to have a Committee at an early period next Session to inquire into this question; and having now given his explanation of why he did not feel it to be his duty to bring the matter forward this Session, he trusted it would be deemed satisfactory there as elsewhere.


said, he regretted that the subject had not been taken into consideration at once. He had had the honour of presenting many petitions from Sheffield and other places, praying that increased facility for postal communication with the Colonies might be provided, and the subject was one in which he took great interest. Before the reduction of the rate of postage in this country took place, the annual number of letters conveyed through the post-office amounted to about 75,000,000, while this year the number was expected to amount to 400,000,000; and the gross annual revenue at present was greater than it had been before the reduction was made. He most cordially agreed with the principle that the postal arrangements of the country ought not to be made mere matter of revenue, but that in a great commercial country like this the utmost facility should be afforded for postal communication.