HC Deb 07 March 1854 vol 131 cc453-62

said, he rose, pursuant to notice, to move for a Select Committee to inquire into the postal communication between London and Scotland. He was induced to take this course in consequence of the great inconvenience which was experienced by the public by reason of the ineffective condition of the existing arrangements. He did not wish unnecessarily to cavil with the conduct of either the railway companies or the Post-Office authorities, but he wished to convince the House that the present system was ineffective, unsatisfactory, and detrimental to the public interests. The direct line for postal communication appeared to him to be the Great Northern line, and any one who was acquainted with the arrangements on that line would agree with him that it was equal, if not superior, in punctuality, speed, and regularity, to any other railway in the country. The House would naturally imagine that this was the route adopted for the conveyance of the mails; but it was not so. At present the mails were conveyed to Edinburgh and Glasgow, viâ Derby, by the North-Western line, and at Tamworth, near Derby, considerable delay was occasioned by the concentration at that place of several lines. The consequence of that concentration was, that the London letters, which were of vital importance to the districts to which he more particularly referred, and also the letters from towns on the eastern coast, were delayed at Derby, to wait the arrival of trains on the numerous branches. From that circumstance a very general delay took place in the arrival of the mails at their destination. The average delay which occurred in the latter months of last year in the arrival of the mail train at Newcastle was, in the month of August, thirty-four minutes; in September, thirty-five minutes; in October, forty minutes; in November, fifty-two minutes; and, in the month of December, it was no less than sixty-nine minutes every day. It was unnecessary to state to the House that such delay in a manufacturing and commercial district was the source of considerable inconvenience. Mails which were due at seven o'clock frequently arrived at eight, and then, considering the time occupied in sorting and distribution, the delivery did not commence till ten o'clock, and sometimes even later, and this grievance was increased by an arrangement by which some of the local mails were concentrated upon the main line. Remonstrances had been made upon the subject, and petitions bad been presented to that House, but with no effect. He did not consider that the delay was produced by the insufficiency of speed on the London and North-Western Railway; on the contrary, the speed appeared to be very considerable. It appeared that the speed of the rains which carried the mails was, on the average, from London to Derby, thirty-three miles an hour; from Derby to York, forty miles; and from York to Newcastle, forty-five miles and a quarter: an hour, so that an increase in speed would not correct the irregularity. North of Newcastle, the inconvenience was, of course, I felt in a still greater degree. Edinburgh and Glasgow, and other towns in Scotland, had complained; and, with respect to many of the cross-posts communicating with Newcastle and other important northern towns, the delays were of a very serious description. It had been said that the terms asked by the Great Northern Railway for the conveyance of the mails was too high, but he had obtained those terms, and they did not appear very high to him. They proposed to convey the mails from London to York, and from York to London, 190 miles each way, for the sum of 2s. a mile; and if the Post Office only employed the down train to convey the mails, their charge would be is. 6d. per mile. At present there was a train leaving the station of the Great Northern Railway Company a quarter of an hour later than the last train of the London and North-Western Company, and that train arrived at its destination, Newcastle, regularly and punctually at five o'clock in the morning. That alone was a just ground for employing the Great Northern Railway for the conveyance of the mails to the north; and he did not think that the question of expense should stand in the way when the object to be gained was of so great importance. As the case stood at present, the railway authorities blamed the Post Office, the Post Office the railway authorities, and the public very properly blamed both, and he wished for this inquiry to be made in order that it might be found out which was right. He wished to remind the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Wilson) that he was not speaking on behalf of any rural district, but in behalf of a large commercial manufacturing population, and he hoped that the Government would permit the inquiry to be made, for he felt convinced that the result of it would be to convince a Committee of that House that the Great Northern Railway was the proper one which ought to be employed for the conveyance of mails to Edinburgh and Glasgow.


said, he seconded the Motion, believing that the subject was one of very great importance. Great inconvenience had been occasioned in his own immediate neighbourhood by sudden alter- ations which delayed letters to London twelve, and to Liverpool and Manchester twenty-four hours. At the same time he made great allowance for the Post-Office authorities, and did not at all agree with those who attempted to throw obloquy upon them, for it must be remembered the Post Office was in a transition state, and it was not so very long since letters were carried by mail-coaches. The many difficulties which the Post-Office authorities had to encounter well entitled them to the forbearance of that House and of the country. Much of the evil was to be attributed to the arrangements between the railways and the Post Office, and his belief was, that so long as those arrangements continued it was impossible the Post Office could perform the despatch of the mails to the satisfaction of the country. He thought a Committee would be of service for the purpose of considering the arrangements of the railways with the Post Office, with the view of giving the Post Office authority to command the services of any railway company to carry the mail at a reasonable rate. At present they were acting antagonistically to each other, the Post Office trying to get the service done for the lowest possible amount, and the railways, in many cases, exacting enormous sums. He thought there ought to be more accommodation for Edinburgh, for the House would be surprised when he assured them the number of letters despatched daily from Edinburgh exceeded those from the city of Glasgow. ["No, no!"] He had seen, however, a return to that effect. The Great Northern was twenty-seven miles shorter, and he hoped it would be employed; in fact, it would be greatly for the advantage of the public to employ both railways.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the Postal Communication between London and the Cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, with a view of ascertaining whether greater despatch and punctuality can be attained in the transmission of letters, as well between the termini as the intermediate places.


said, with regard to the observations of the hon. Gentleman opposite, relative to the presumed difficulty of an increased expense of employing the Great Northern line of railway, he was quite ready to admit that if that were the only matter that stood in the way of a better regulation and arrangement of the postal communication to the north, it wild be the duty of the Government at once to contract with that Company. Although at the pre sent moment they had a contract whit] enabled them to send any quantity of letters at any time of the day by other lines that would be no excuse against further expenditure for the public benefit and public convenience, and, were that the only reason, the Government would be prepare, to enter at once into a contract with the Great Northern line. But the question was much more complicated, and, he must say, referred very much to the convenient, of the district to which the hon. Gentle man had alluded. It would be quite impossible to send a mail direct from London to the north without very materially inter feting with and prolonging the despatch of letters from other parts of the country. By the present arrangement a mail went from London at night, and on its arrival a Tamworth was met by the mails from Ireland and the west of England, and till whole of the north mails were delivered seven or eight o'clock in the morning. But if they were sent by the Great Northern direct, the mail would arrive at York jus an hour earlier than the mail which went by way of Tamworth, and therefore, it order to get letters delivered an hour ear her north of York, they would lose a whole day for the Irish and west of Eng land letters, which met at Tamworth that was the real difficulty of the case What was wanted was to find out some means by which, without delaying letter: from other parts of the country, they conk accelerate the mails from London. If the hon. Gentleman could discover some means by which, by a combination of railways or otherwise, they could send letters from Ireland and the west of England so as to arrive at Newcastle and the north of England in a reasonable time, the Government would be prepared to enter into a contract with the Direct Northern line at once. He must, however, really ask the House to consider the very great extension of business which the railway companies in connection with the Post Office had to perform, and the Post Office to conduct. In one week in 1850 the number of letters passing through the Post Office was 6,852,000; in the corresponding week of last year it had increased to 7,126,000, and the last weekly return was 8,329,000. It was quite obvious, where business was increasing at that rapid rate, and when, as his hon. Friend behind him (Mr. Cowan) bad admitted, the Post Office was in a tran- sition state, as to the mode of conveying letters which in many new parts of the country was daily coming into operation, it was no great matter of surprise if they occasionally, or even frequently, witnessed irregularty in the arrival of the mails. He was perfectly free to admit that the present state of the law was very inadequate for the proper performance of the service, and he thought the frank admission he had made in the earlier part of the Session, when he was asked questions about Post-Office irregularities, and the way in which he had always met those inquiries, showed that there was a disposition on the part of the Government to investigate the question. He was therefore, not about to oppose the Motion, but to ask the hon. Member to assent to different terms. He (Mr. Wilson) had had complaints from Newcastle, from the north of England, from Edinburgh, from Glasgow, from Wales, and from Ireland, and therefore it would be an invidious and a comparatively useless undertaking to appoint a Committee to inquire into one single grievance. Believing that the hon. Member would concur in it, and feeling confident that the Postmaster General would feel thankful to the House for any information or assistance it could give on the subject, he would suggest that the Motion should be one to inquire into the cause of the irregularities in the conveyance of mails by railways, and also to consider the best mode of obtaining speed and punctuality. A Motion of that kind would have no reference to any particular part of the country; it set out no special complaints or grievances; and it was open to the House to refer any grievances to such a Committee. By adopting that Motion they would only be doing at once what it was proposed to do separately. He was quite sure the hon. Gentleman was actuated by a desire to consider the whole matter, and not the particular inconvenience only to which his own locality was exposed; he trusted he would at once accede to the alteration, and save him (Mr. Wilson) the necessity of moving an Amendment.


said, he would advise the hon. Member (Mr. Liddell) to adopt the suggestion of the hon. Secretary to the Treasury, because, although he would have supported the appointment of the Committee in the terms proposed, he was aware that there were several towns in the east of Scotland also suffering inconvenience, and asking for inquiry.


said, he did not dissent from the proposition made by the hon. Secretary for the Treasury, but he must permit him to express a doubt whether the subject proposed to be embraced in the inquiry would not he so large as to be beyond the power of a Committee of the House to decide in a reasonable time.


said, he did not propose that the Committee, though more extensive in its character, should go into the whole subject at once. He was not prepared definitely to state such would be the case, but he thought it very probable that the great importance of the matter brought forward by the hon. Member would obtain for it priority. There would be nothing to prevent the Post-Office authorities from going on with reform while the Committee proceeded with the inquiry.


said, he thought the inquiry proposed, on the one side, was too limited, while that suggested on the other might be open to the objection that it was too extensive. The matter seemed to him to be one not for a Committee at all, but for immediate legislation. Let them look at that magnificent railway the Great Northern, passing through populous and important districts, with a train called a mail train, yet carrying no letters. Living upon the line of that railway himself, he did not see why he should not have the advantage of a day mail as well as gentlemen who lived at Tamworth. If there was any difficulty in arranging with the railway companies, it was the duty of the Nobleman at the head of the Post Office to introduce a measure by which that difficulty might be removed. He believed there was no other country in the world in which the great advantages which were here available would be thrown away from a failure upon the part of the Government to do its duty, by proposing such legislation as might be necessary in order to turn them to account.


said, he wished to call the attention to the House particularly to the transmission of the day mail which had been alluded to by the hon. Member fen Pontefract (Mr. M. Milnes). The day mail was now sent off at Euston Square by the half-past nine o'clock train in the morning, and did not reach York until four in the afternoon, while the express that left London by the Great Northern al the same time arrived at twenty minutes past two, being a difference of one hour and forty minutes; if letters were sent by that train they could be distributed through the north a good deal sooner than they now were. He also thought some inquiry into cross-posts necessary, and at the same time would allude to a Report which had been made at his instance, some years ago, with respect to the transmission of the cross mails from Yarmouth into the Midland districts. He thought the present subject one well worth examination, with a view of accelerating postal arrangements.


said, he was confident that, if complaints against any one of the Government departments were justifiable, it was against the Post office authorities. He was certain that if they would only avail themselves of the trains actually in existence for communicating between London and Scotland—and he meant only the express trains—that by such an arrangement they would amply accommodate not merely all the important towns between London and Carlisle, but also those lying between Carlisle and the whole west of Scotland—such as Paisley, Glasgow, and Greenock. He trusted, however, that in the inquiry which was about to take place, some notice would be taken of the local abuses which had crept in, because he could not but feel that the Post-Office authorities in Scotland were by no means clear from blame. In Glasgow, for instance, not only had they to suffer from deficient postal communication, but the post office itself was a mere mass of rubbish and ruin. At the same time, he owned with regret that it was exceedingly necessary the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Board of Works should display a little more activity and zeal in respect of these matters than he had shown since his entry into office. Had the noble Lord the Member for Totness (Lord Seymour) remained in office, he felt sure the Glasgow post office would not now be in its present dilapidated state.


said, he was anxious to show to the House that it was not alone the great towns on the immediate direct line between London and Edinburgh that suffered from the existing deficiency; for there were many districts far removed from 'the great towns which not only suffered, but suffered in a still greater proportion. For example, there was a large district of the county which he had the honour to represent which depended for its letters upon the important town of Hull, to which letters were brought direct by the principal mail train, to be conveyed thence to the district just alluded to by what he might term an auxiliary train, the departure of which was so arranged as to allow of the mails being forwarded shortly after their arrival in Hull, when the London train reached Hull in proper time. If, however, from any cause, there was a delay in the delivery of letters to the inhabitants of Hull—say of two hours—that detention became of much more serious magnitude to the country districts, and for the reason that the auxiliary train having started without the mails, the London letters were detained until the departure of the next train, which often happened, as was the case during the winter season, to be a luggage train. He himself had forwarded to the Postmaster General a memorial, showing that during a space of fifteen consecutive days the mails had been delayed four hours on each of twelve days. It was quite apparent, then, that some alterations were necessary, and if the Postmaster General had not the power to effect them, let the Legislature itself interfere in the matter. As, however, all such efforts at legislation ought to be preceded by inquiry, it appeared to him that the proposition of the hon. Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Wilson) was quite sufficient to bring about that remedy which the country had a just right to look forward to. He, therefore, was prepared to concur in the Amendment of that hon. Gentleman.


said, the complaints of the inhabitants of the town which he had the honour to represent were very great and very just. In his opinion, the delay was attributable to the Post-Office authorities. All that they had to do was to give notice to a railway company of the time of departure, and the speed at which they wished a mail train to travel. It was the duty of the company immediately to put on such train, and the amount of remuneration was left to arbitration. If the Postmaster General thought it right to send the mails by the Great Northern Company, let him give the necessary notice, and the train would be at once provided. The advantage to Hull and the district around that town, would no doubt be very great, if the complaint mentioned by the noble Lord (Lord Hotham) should be attended to. The grievance was much greater north of York. By a judicious alteration the merchants of Sunderland, Newcastle, and Shields—a district comprising upwards of 400,000 persons—would have their letters placed on their breakfast table. It was impossible to make the necessary improvement north of York by the present route, and he did not see why that district should not have the advantage of the most direct line of communication. He thought the appointment of a Committee most desirable, but should have preferred the adoption of the original resolution, inasmuch as the Committee would have been able to present their Report in a shorter period.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Select Committee appointed. To inquire into the causes of irregularity in the Conveyance of Mails by Railways, and to consider the best mode of securing speed and punctuality, and for remunerating the Railway Companies for the services which they perform.