MR. GRAVES, in rising to call attention to the rates of Inland Postage on printed matter, said, the first thing which directed his attention to the subject was the discovery that in his own neighbourhood, some three to five miles from the Post Office, the great bulk of the trade circulars were distributed by hand, and not through the Post Office, and repeated inquiries satisfied him that the Post was used for the delivery of circulars to a very small and insignificant extent. He was also satisfied that the tariff of 1d. for four ounces amounted almost to a prohibition in the case of circulars, and that a concession by the Post Office of a 1d. rate for two ounces of printed matter would be regarded as a been by the commercial community. Since his Motion had been placed on the Paper he had received many communications on this subject from all parts of the country. Generally speaking, the writers approved the principle of the Motion with which he meant to conclude, but some advocated greater facilities for receiving and delivering letters; some, a reduced fee on registered letters; others, a reduction upon money letters; and some urged a greater payment to the subordinate officials of the Post Office, especially the letter carriers, in consideration of the increased work which such a project as this would throw upon them. But he did not desire to be considered a postal department reformer, and his only object was to reduce the fees for the transmission of printed matter and newspapers, a course which, if adopted,
would have the effect of promoting correspondence, and would prove one of the most valuable feeders for the legitimate business of the Post Office. In other countries, where trade and commerce were valued, great facilities were afforded for the circulation of the species of information he referred to. In the United States 1d. carried three circulars throughout the length and breadth of the land. In France, where the postage on letters was 1d. within the barriers and 2d. outside, one-tenth of 1d. carried a circular throughout the whole of the country, including Algiers. In Belgium, with a letter postage of 1d., a similar reduction was made for the delivery of circulars; England alone continued to levy a tax on the distribution of circulars, which were acknowledged to be a necessity for commerce. He had tried to ascertain the amount of circulars distributed by the Post throughout the whole country, but he had not been able to arrive at any conclusive result. By the Post Office Reports it appeared that 1,500,000 printed circulars were delivered in the London district in 1865, and, assuming that about one-third of the letter correspondence of the country was distributed in the metropolis, the amount of circulars distributed in the whole of the United Kingdom might be taken to have been at that time about 13,000,000, yielding a revenue of £54,000. It was difficult to ascertain the number of circulars delivered by private hand. A short time ago an effort was made in Liverpool to discover the number, and about 238 replies were received in answer to applications for information on the subject, showing the number of circulars delivered by private hand in that town in the course of the year approached 2,000,000; and some of the replies stated that if the postage were reduced to ½d. for two ounces' weight one-third of the number would be sent through the Post Office, and that if the postage were reduced to ¼d. nearly the entire number would be so sent. The private delivery of circulars offered a great inducement, on the score of economy, to tradesmen. In London there is a company called the Letter Circular Delivery Company, formed entirely of those persons whose circulars were delivered by means of the company, as it would be illegal for any third party to interfere with the
Post circulation; and here he might observe that, as the Post Office claimed a monopoly, that establishment ought either to deliver circulars at a moderate and economical rate or permit others to do so. One firm on Saturday sent to the company he had mentioned 50,000 circulars for distribution. Their charge was ¼d. each for circulars, and ½d. for newspapers. There was also another society which assisted in the circulation of printed matter—namely, the Corps of Commissionaires, and their charge for delivery all over London was 5s. per 100 up to 1,000, and after 1,000 the charge was by a graduated scale to 1s. 6d. if the number exceeded 10,000. It had been suggested to him that he should go further than proposing a charge of ½d. for two ounces, and propose a charge of ¼d. for one ounce. Such a result might ultimately be arrived at; but at present he thought it prudent to ask for a moderate concession, which he trusted would be granted, especially by a Government claiming so large a measure of support from the commercial interests of the country. It was only right that he should say that during last year he had repeated interviews with the then Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Hunt), and he was led to the conclusion that the right hon. Gentleman was of opinion that circulars and such-like matter should be carried at a cheaper rate, and that it was merely a question of time when such a change should be adopted. In his anxiety to obtain as much, information on this subject as possible, he became conscious of a much larger and more interesting question lying behind, one having a great bearing on the social well-being of the people. While the postage of 1d. acted as a tax on the trade and industry of the country, it also operated as a serious tax on the education of the people and the diffusion of intelligence By restricting the circulation of newspapers and cheap serial productions, which are now so popular a part of the literature of the country. When the 1d. postage system was established, some thirty years ago, 1d. papers were not in existence, and the postage might then have borne a fair proportion to the cost of the article. But circumstances were now entirely altered. The number of newspapers published in 1838 was 444, and their total circulation amounted to 26,000,000. He believed he was correct
in saying that a single paper, now published in London and printed every morning, had a greater circulation in the year by some 10,000,000 copies than the whole circulation of newspapers in 1838. In 1846 there were 555 newspapers published in the country, two of which only were sold at the price of 2d. In 1861 the number of papers published was 1,102, and of these 309 were published at the price of 1d. and under. In 1868 the number of newspapers published was 1,372, and of these 50 per cent were sold at 1d. and under. Of that number eighty-nine were daily papers, eighty of which were published at 1d. or 1d. each. He had obtained these particulars from Mr. Mitchell, a gentleman who published the Newspaper Press Directory. He had also looked into the case with regard to the periodicals and cheap serials, published in the metropolis, and he found that there again literature was gradually becoming cheaper and cheaper. There were 198 newspapers and weekly publications printed in London; 75 at a 11d. and five at ½d. Of monthlies there were 364; ninety at a 1d. and twenty-five at ½d., and all these 1d. and 1d. publications, with not half-a-dozen exceptions, have a direct religious and moral tendency, their aim and object being to educate and elevate the people in religion and morality. There was a disappearance from the list of everything that could be considered of an unwholesome character. This was a most encouraging feature in the literature of the present day, and presented a strong argument in favour of moving in the direction he now indicated to the House. Foreign countries displayed an entirely different policy, with regard to this class of literature, to that adopted in this country. Special facilities were afforded for its circulation in almost every other country, where it was regarded as a means of improvement for the people, and conferring upon them important social benefits. Belgium charged one-tenth of a 1d..; had seven daily deliveries in all large towns; and throughout the country had one delivery at every man's house daily. In Italy the same rate was established. In France one-fifth of a 1d./i> carried a newspaper everywhere, even to Algiers. In Tuscany, the Netherlands, Brazil, Portugal, the charge was only one-fourth of a 1d.; while in Switzerland it was
one-third of a 1d. The United States, however, looking to the extent of their territory, evinced, perhaps, the strongest desire to promote the diffusion of popular literature, carrying four ounces for 1d. from one end of the country to the other, and when paid by the quarter or in advance the charge was reduced to one-third of a 1d. on newspapers; religious periodicals, and agricultural publications issued less frequently than once a week being carried at a ½d., and to stimulate subscribers one copy of a weekly newspaper was allowed free within the county in which it was published. The result of this most wise and enlightened policy was apparent in the circulation of these publications. He found that in the United States over 900,000,000 newspapers were circulated in 1860—the latest return he could obtain—or about thirty-four per head of the white population. In England, unfortunately, we had no record of the total circulation of the newspapers; but, looking to the Post Office Returns, and taking everything in the shape of printed matter that went under the head of "Book Post"—which, he believed, meant everything not being a letter—the total number of packages delivered in England through the Post was last year only 102,000,000 or three and three-fourths per head of the population. The letters written amounted to twenty-six per head. France, in 1867, delivered twelve letters per head, and distributed through the post 335,000,000 of packages, or nine per head of printed matter. Belgium delivered eight and a-half letters and ten and a-quarter papers, while Switzerland sent through her post fifteen letters and eleven of printed matter per head. It was only fair to those who were the advocates of the compulsory system of education to say that, in the Report from which he took his statistics, there was an allusion made to the singular number of papers per head in Switzerland, attributing it to the fact that education was compulsory in the Cantons. These comparisons, he was aware, afforded but a poor guide to the newspaper circulation of the United Kingdom. The railways and local distribution it was well known did the great bulk of the work; but they did afford conclusive proof of how insignificant was the use made of our Post for the diffusion of knowledge as compared with those coun-
tries which he had named. If France could deliver her 300,000,000 of printed matter the policy which restricted England to 100,000,000, could not be regarded as a wise one, and ought to be altered. The towns lying on the margin of railways would always be amply provided for, but what became of the country parts lying miles away from railways, especially in Scotland, Ireland, and Wales? Where the railway facilities were small the country population required light more than the towns. The Post was the only means of communication, and they should open up its advantages to the rural districts, making each Post Office the centre of distribution, and it would be hard to say what the effect might be in time on the social condition of the people or the revenue of the Post Office. He regarded the circulation of this class of literature as indicating to a great extent the culture and intelligence of the people, and he believed that in the purity of the tone of the Press—especially of that cheap class of literature—in the extent of the demand and the celerity of the transmission, would be found the truest criterion of whether we were or were not progressing, intellectually and morally. With the view of procuring more reliable opinions on this point than he could venture to adduce from his own experience he had consulted one of the largest publishing firms in London, and though the extract was somewhat lengthy he hoped the House would allow him to road it, as it expressed the views of the trade much more clearly than he could do; and it was essential to his argument. Messrs. Cassell, Petter, and Galpin, of Ludgate Hill, in a communication addressed to him, said—
One branch of our extensive business as publishers is the issue of numerous weekly periodical publications of an educational character, both religious and secular, published for the most part at the price of 1d., and which circulate by i hundreds of thousands, and in the distribution of these we find that the number of copies sent through the Post barely amounts to one in every thousand copies issued. This fact of the Book Post being almost of no avail as a means of distribution of our publications is due, not to the lack of demand, but to the circumstance of there being no lower rate of postage than 1d. on printed matter. We now circulate through various channels 30,000,000 copies per annum of our various educational publications, and we state unhesitatingly that in the event of the adoption of a ½d. postage to carry printed matter (not exceeding two ounces) we should in a very short time be
sending through the post twenty copies of our serial publications where we are now only sending one copy. This estimate is based upon existing facts within our own present experience, without making any allowance for the active development of this mode of reaching a very largo section of the community who are being constantly and progressively educated into the requirements of a wholesale literature; and this increase would manifest itself mainly in those numerous outlying country districts where the expense of the present postal delivery is comparatively very disproportionate to the returns, and in respect to which the increased facilities would be in a still greater degree effectual in affording to the bookselling trade of the chief local towns the means of rapidly extending their operations, inasmuch as that, being now unable to count upon a remunerative mode of transmitting small packets of publications, they are in the habit of declining to keep stock, thus retarding the distribution and increasing the difficulty with which the producer has to contend. If they could, however, avail themselves of a lower rate of postage a constant delivery would in all directions be kept up, and each district would become, as it were, a distributive agency, the first copies so sent serving but as pioneers for additional and increasing demands. This feature of the result would, it is palpable, act in no small measure upon the increase of the railway traffic which would benefit directly by the transmission of considerable extra material from the seats of production to the secondary points of local distribution to which we have referred. Thus, not only would the Post Office revenue receive its advantage, but the railway revenue would be correspondingly benefited and the wide and important elements of legitimately-expanded commerce and of improving agencies acting upon the masses at large would be simultaneously brought into play. Beyond these considerations, arising out of the present condition of affairs, there are large publishing operations which could not up to this time be calculated upon as safe and permanent by reason of the difficulties in question, but which, with the improved rate of postage might be very soundly entered upon, the results to the Post Office service from these new undertakings being almost beyond present computation.
These were the grounds on which he ventured to bring this question before the House. He was conscious of the disadvantages under which a private Member laboured in bringing a question of this magnitude before the House, and he did not know that he should have undertaken it if he had not felt confident that both sides of the House—for this was not a party question—would feel sympathy for his views. He was, indeed, only the exponent of views the justice and soundness of which had been acknowledged by the Post Office itself. Last year the Duke of Montrose closed his annual Report in these words—
Other applications having for their object to lower the minimum rate of postage for printed matter sent by Post in the United Kingdom, now fixed at 1d. for four ounces, are, in my opinion,
mere worthy of consideration, with the view of seeing whether such matter not exceeding two ounces in weight could not be taken at a correspondingly lower rate. Indeed, I have, with your Lordship's sanction, made a change in this direction in the case of printed matter sent to places abroad.
The concession had already been made, both to the United States and France, to both of which countries the share of English postage on newspapers had been reduced to ½d. If the Post Office could carry newspapers for these great distances and on these expensive routes for ½d., they might surely ask that the agricultural districts of this country might be as much favoured by having their newspapers carried at the same price? Objections to his proposal might be raised on financial grounds, and it might also be said that it would interfere with the legitimate business of the Post Office. These objections were entitled to great consideration; but, after the most careful inquiry, he had no hesitation in declaring his conviction that neither one nor the other would be interfered with beyond a very short interval during the transition period. It was a favourite theory that the Post Office ought not to be a source of revenue; but he was not prepared to say that this was a correct view. It might have been true at one time when the surplus was small; but now that the Post Office contributed to the general income of the country something like £1,500,000 a year, he could not see how any Chancellor of the Exchequer could dispense with the Post Office as a source of revenue; and, so long as the facilities afforded by the Post Office were equal to public requirements and its efficiency placed beyond doubt, he, for one, would not object to let the surplus go into the public Exchequer. There was this to be said, moreover, that the Post Office was the only Department of a taxing character that gave real value in return for what the public paid. No tax was less burdensome than that which was paid upon a letter. With regard to the objection that the bulk of printed matter under the ½d. rate would be so large and unmanageable that it would interfere with the rapidity of the delivery of letters, he had more faith in the energy and adaptability of the Post Office than to accept this as a valid argument against so moderate a concession. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, at any rate,
might depend upon it that if there was this increase in the weight and bulk of letters there would be no deficiency in the revenue. Another objection might be urged that, by once touching the permanency of the 1d. rate they were endangering its stability, and that if the edge of the wedge were once inserted it might lead to the uniform rate of 1d. He shared no such apprehension, and believed that the wisest way to maintain the permanency of the 1d. rate was to remove the cause of the agitation. At present there was a demand for the conveyance of two ounces for ½ d. Make that concession, and the 1d. rate would be all the safer. He had had some difficulty in dealing with newspapers weighing more than two ounces, and those who had seen the change made in the terms of his Motion might accuse him of vacillation. His object was originally to have left the matter to the discretion of the Government; but it was represented to him that it was too vague to assert the desirability of revising the postage of newspapers, and that, if left as originally intended, an injustice would be done to the larger and more expensive papers. He had a great objection to abstract Resolutions, and he saw that his Motion must lead to the ½d. rate on newspapers. He had, therefore, determined to frame his Motion in that sense, and to stand or fall by the ½d. rate on all newspapers. With regard to the larger and high-priced newspapers, he had been urged to place the limit at 1d.; but, on looking over the statistics, he found that the number of impressed stamps over 1d. was comparatively small—not amounting to more than £13,000 per annum, which would be the measure of the boon. He should mention—in regard to his proposed ½d. newspaper stamp—that whereas now the impressed stamp carried the newspaper for fourteen days, he would suggest the ½d. stamp should only be available for one transmission, and he believed that by this alteration the revenue would gain. If the House thought fit to adopt his Resolution, no time was named when it should come into effect. He would leave it in the hands of the Government to adopt it when circumstances should permit; whether this year or next year he cared not. He would not dwell upon the indirect advantages of his Motion, except as to its effect upon the very important manu-
facture of paper. The mills for manufacturing paper were studded over the country. A great deal of capital was engaged in the manufacture, and it gave employment to a large number of persons. As the circulation of literature increased, so it gave a stimulus to the manufacture of paper. Some years ago it would have been thought impossible to draw upon the supply without enhancing the price of the article—but now no such argument could be used. Rags used to be the only material of which paper could be made, and he remembered the leading journal offering a reward of £1,000 to anyone who should discover any other material besides rags for the production of paper. Now, paper was made of vegetable materials, of which there was an unlimited supply. As the supply increased, so, of course, the price decreased, and paper which used to be sold at 7 ¼d. per lb. was now 4 ½d. The country fully recognized the part taken by the head of the present Government in this matter; but his labours would not be crowned with entire success until this free circulation of newspapers caused the increasing manufacture of paper to the extent of which he believed it to be capable. For thirty years England had enjoyed the blessings of cheap postage; she had looked on with satisfaction, if not with pride, as country after country had followed the example she had set; she was for many years in the van of postal reform, but now she was in the rear, and behind almost every other country. Stamps of twenty-five countries were attached to a sheet of paper he held in his hand, five representing our colonies, and every one of the stamps was under the value of 1d.; the lowest was 1-13th of 1d., and the highest rate was ¾d.Surely, England, with her noble free Press and her earnest desire to improve the social life of her people, would not allow it to be said she was to remain behind other countries in postal progress. Had she not the same interest as those countries in the education of her people, religiously, morally, politically, and commercially? In the hope that she would no longer allow this reflection to be cast upon her, in the firm belief that she would move onwards in the path of postal reform, with great deference and respect he would beg to move the Re-solution of which he had given notice.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
said, he had great pleasure in seconding the Motion so ably and exhaustively proposed. A few weeks ago he formed one of a deputation from the Associated Chambers of Commerce to the Postmaster General to present a memorial asking for considerable postal reforms, in order to place the commercial men of this country in as favourable a position as those of other countries. Singularly enough our treaties with European countries were much more favourable inwards than outwards as regards this country, much more in favour of foreigners than of ourselves. For instance, it was much cheaper to post a circular from Palermo to Aberdeen than it was to post one from the House of Commons to the Strand, and it was a custom in this country to send batches of circulars to Frankfort and Italy in order to save 20 or 30 per cent upon what it would cost to post them in this country. Formerly we were justly proud of being at the head of all other countries in our postal arrangements, but now we were in the rear. The postage of a circular in France cost one centime or one-tenth of 1d.; in Italy and Belgium two centimes; in Spain less than ¼d.; and even in Turkey and Greece the rate was much less than it was here. We had adopted a uniform 1d. postage, and we seemed unwilling to break through that uniformity; but there was no magic in the 1d., and there was great mischief in it so far as it applied to printed matter. The necessity for the constant circulation of price currents, market reports, and trade communications of all kinds was becoming more and more forced upon the commercial community. Companies had been started for the purpose of delivering circulars, and one had offered to deliver them at 8s. 9d. per thousand, a number the postage of which would cost £4 3s. 4d. But the Government had interfered, alleging that the companies infringed the monopoly of the Post Office. In the interests of commerce he asked that something might be done to remove the anomalies he had referred to, and he trusted the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington) would signalize his administration by making some important and beneficent changes. One of his constituents had written to him that he had 400 circulars posted in France for a certain town in that country at a 244 cost of 3s. 3d., when the postage of the same in London would have cost £5. These facts showed that there was a necessity for change with respect to circulars, and as regarded printed matter generally the question was deeper and more important. In former days newspapers were the luxury of the wealthy, and when the 1d. postage was introduced a very poor newspaper cost 6d. Now, in large towns where newspapers could be printed on the spot, or where the railway could bring them from the metropolis with lightning speed, they had become the comfort and relaxation, and, to a great degree, the means of the education of the working classes. Whereas formerly most newspapers were sold at 4d. and 5d., he now held in his hand one which could be procured at the door of the House for ½d., which gave good type, good paper, and good matter. But the result of the present postal system was that those cheap newspapers had really no circulation through the post. There were other classes of literature which circulated among the working classes of this country—for instance, a magazine published by Cassell, to the number of 4,450,000 annually, at the cost of 1d., but which when sent, say to an agricultural district, was doubled by the postage in cost, and therefore rendered too dear for the working classes to buy. He trusted the House would endorse the Motion so ably brought forward by the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves), for, although we had neglected national education, our cheap Press had given the working people of this country a better political education than that obtained by the working people of any other country in Europe.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, in the opinion of this House, it is expedient to reduce the rate of Inland Postage on printed matter to one halfpenny for two ounces, and that the postage on newspapers should be likewise reduced to one halfpenny."—(Mr. Graves.)
§ Ms. MACFIE
in supporting the Motion, said, he quite agreed with his hon. Friend (Mr. Graves), in what he had said, though he thought he had not gone quite far enough. He was sure, however, that if that important and admirably-managed Department—the Post Office—were to take the subject into consideration for itself it would be able 245 to devise a way by which, without interfering with its revenues, it might afford facilities to the public and increase its own business to the profit of the nation. He would suggest, if he might do so, that, where at least a hundred circulars were brought to a post-office and certified to be circulars, they might be stamped for delivery at a ¼d. each. He was certain that a ½d. postage would be too high for circulars, and he feared that it would be found too high for newspapers. He lived seven miles from Liverpool, and if he had a Liverpool daily newspaper or The Times through the post, they would not reach him until the morning of the day after publication. Hence his Liverpool newspaper was sent by rail, with a ½d. railway stamp upon it. But in order to obtain his newspapers he had, at some inconvenience, to send a special messenger to the railway station to fetch them. The Controller of the Penny Post was dismissed in 1700 in consequence of a complaint that he forbade the taking in of a bandbox, which showed that the idea of a Parcel Post was not new, but dated as far back as the century before last. The Post Office delivered parcels at three rates—the first was uniform with the rate charged for letters, the second was adopted for patterns and samples, and the third was the rate for books and printed matter. It was dear, and it was desirable, that the first of these rates should be reduced; and he would go farther and say that it was desirable that all parcels should be carried, under certain restrictions, at the book-post rate. If books could be carried at a profit—and he had proof that there was a large profit derived from the carriage of them—any other parcel might be carried at the same rate. A book might be sent of considerable weight; patterns and samples are not permitted to be more than 1½lb. weight. The use of the Patterns and Samples Post was lessened in consequence of its unfortunate name. If it were merely called a Parcel Post, numbers of persons would make use of it who now do not. The domestic affections are preserved by the transmission of little articles as presents, but they could not be sent by any satisfactory mode at the present time. There were places within four miles of his residence to which it would be impossible to send even the smallest 246 parcel without the expenditure of shillings. The Post Office had already had much extraneous business put upon it to the great benefit of the nation—exchange and savings banking, life insurance, the sale of stamps, and it was about to have put upon it the management of the telegraph; and latterly it had undertaken to collect taxes—that is, the dog tax. One great reason why the Post Office should seek to extend its business was that it would enable it to employ more agents who were unconnected with other occupations; for experience had shown that to place the management of the telegraph in the hands of persons in trade gave those persons an unfair advantage over their rivals in business. He hoped the Post Office, without waiting for an investigation by a Committee of the House, would themselves institute an inquiry on this subject. He felt certain the result of that inquiry would show that by adopting the hon. Member's suggestions they would immensely benefit their employés and the public.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
said, he felt sure the House would quite agree with him in acknowledging the great ability and moderation of tone with which the Motion under discussion had been brought forward by the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves). He hoped, he might add, that the hon. Gentleman would be satisfied with having invited the attention of the House and the public to the very important question involved in that Motion and with the assurances which he, on the part of the Government, should be able to give him, and would not deem it necessary to call upon the House to confirm the principle embodied in his Resolution. The hon. Gentleman had, in the course of his speech, said that he was as much as any one opposed to abstract Resolutions; but if ever there was a Resolution which, although it had been brought forward in a manner which was perfectly definite and unambiguous, was of that character the present was one. It would, he thought, be admitted by hon. Members on both sides of the House that it was not desirable, within a very few days of the publication of the Financial Statement of the Government, that the House should deal in a separate and disjointed way with a portion of the revenue. The hon. Member for Liverpool had not stated—and he no doubt had not the 247 facilities necessary for making the calculation—what the amount was of the revenue which would be affected by his proposal, and it was his duty to offer, as far as he was able, some explanation to the House on that point. He had caused a calculation to be made, from which he found that the number of newspapers which now passed through the Post Office with the impressed stamp amounted to 37,000,000 a year; the number with a stamp affixed to, 32,000,000; the number of books and packets under two ounces dealt with by the Resolution to over 8,000,000; and the number of circulars now paying letter rate and contained in covers to no less than 116,000,000. From the whole of these articles a revenue of £656,000 per annum are derived, and, of course, the immediate—he would not say the ultimate—result of the proposed changes, must be the loss of half that revenue. ["No, no!"] He heard hon. Gentlemen dispute that statement. Of course he admitted there would be a recovery; but that recovery would not be immediate. The first result would be that these articles, which now paid 1d. at the Post Office, would only pay ½d. The hon. Gentleman had observed in the course of his speech that the revenue derived from the Post Office was a very legitimate source of revenue, raised without any very great inconvenience or hardship, and as such a revenue with which it would be the duty of any Government not to dispense. He was obliged to the hon. Gentleman for making these admissions; but, if so, then he must admit that the question must be looked at, he did not say exclusively, but to a great extent, from a fiscal point of view. That being so, he must ask how far the loss of revenue which the adoption of the Resolution would cause was likely to be recovered? It was very difficult—if not impossible—to say what would be the extent of that recovery. The hon. Member had not attempted to give the House any estimate on the point, and he did not see how even the Post Office authorities themselves could make any approximate estimate of the time in which the loss would be recovered; but it would certainly be necessary for the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Estimate for the first year after the proposed change came into effect to provide for a loss something like that which he had mentioned. 248 It was evident, therefore, that if the subject were ever to be taken up by the Government, it must be considered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer when preparing his Budget, and the House would be, in his opinion, interfering in a way which he did not think it would be willing to do with the general financial scheme of the Government if they were to sanction the reduction which was contemplated in the Resolution. The hon. Gentleman pointed out that a very small number of newspapers was conveyed by the Post Office as compared with the population of the country. That was perfectly true; but then, as the hon. Gentleman himself had explained, the Post Office was not the means by which the greater part of the newspapers were transmitted from one place to another, and it would not become so if this Motion were passed. In every large town situated near a railway station The Times might be had for 3d., and the penny newspapers for 1d.—the price at which they were sold in London, and the only purpose for which the Post Office would be much used in their case would be for the purpose of conveyance to the rural districts, and the hon. Member had made no calculation as to the probable circulation of newspapers in those districts should his Motion be carried. The hon. Gentleman referred to the trifling cost at which circulars and other printed matter were distributed by companies and the Corps of Commissionaires in large towns, and it was quite possible that if the Post Office were not protected by the monopoly which it possessed individuals and private companies might compete with it in such places. But then the Post Office performed the duties which it undertook to discharge, not for the benefit of large towns solely, but for that of the country generally, and it would, he thought, be scarcely fair to the Department or to the public that private individuals should be allowed to pick out those localities in which a carrying trade might be cheaply and easily conducted, while the most expensive and most difficult part of the work was left to be done by the Post Office in the rural districts. There was, also, another point of view in which he must beg hon. Members to look at the question. It was urged both by the hon. Member for Liverpool and the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) 249 that the revenue would very speedily recover the loss which he had stated, and he was not disposed to deny that such might be the case. It was quite evident, however, that before those anticipations could be realized the number of newspapers, book packets, and circulars conveyed by Post must be more than doubled in amount, and that change could not be brought about without very great disarrangement and very consider-able alteration in the general system of Post Office management. It would be impossible, for instance, that if the work to be done were increased to such an extent, it could be transacted within the present limits of the Central Office in St. Martin's-le-Grand. Any hon. Member who chose to go there might satisfy himself that double the present number of newspapers, books, and so on, could not pass through the Office with its present limited arrangement. There was another point to be considered. The primary business of the Post Office was, no doubt, the rapid and punctual trans- mission of letters, and he thought that great and just dissatisfaction would be felt if, for the sake of undertaking all sorts of other work, however useful, the punctuality, rapidity, and certainty which now existed in the transmission of letters were at all impaired. Already the chief difficulty with which the Post Office had to deal arose from the bulk and weight of the matter transmitted. For instance. one means of accelerating the mails had been the use of apparatus by which bags were deposited from trains without stopping the trains. It was not practicable to dispose in this way of bags containing heavy matter, and if the weight now carried were more than doubled, as it would be if the Motion of the hon. Member were acted upon, it would not be possible to use this apparatus to the extent to which it was now used. Another means of facilitating the mail was the practice of sorting the letters in the railway carriages during the railway journey; but this, too, would be rendered difficult, if not impossible, by any great additions to the bulk of the mails. He was obliged to the hon. Member for the compliments he paid in the course of his speech to the energy and forethought of the Post Office, and did not mean to put forward those difficulties as insuperable; but he wished to point out that, before asking the House to assent to 250 any change, the hon. Member ought, in justice, to allow the Post Office ample time to consider whether they could undertake this additional business without disarranging that which they performed at present. If the hon. Member consented not to press the Motion, he (the Marquess of Hartington) would engage that, before the financial arrangements of another year were made, this subject should be thoroughly looked into with a view to establish whether, in the first place, there was a reasonable probability that the loss of revenue would not be a permanent loss, and, in the next place, whether the additional duties that would be thus thrown upon the Post Office could be undertaken with due regard to the duties already laid upon them. He thought the hon. Member himself would admit that two conditions ought to be satisfied before any change were made—first, that the Revenue should not be permanently jeopardized; and, secondly, that the present punctuality and rapidity in transmitting the mails should be in no way disturbed. The observations of the hon. Member who spoke last (Mr. Macfie) had no immediate reference to the Motion now before the House; but, no doubt, the subject of the Parcel Post was one of great importance. He had great pleasure in promising that that subject also should be considered, and, on behalf of the Post Office, he might promise that in the future, as hitherto, they would not be unwilling to undertake any business which would be for the public advantage, provided it involved no unnecessary expenditure or loss to the Revenue. He hoped on these grounds that the hon. Member would be of opinion that it was unnecessary to press the Motion, and would be satisfied with the very useful and interesting discussion which had arisen on the subject.
§ MR. HUNT
said, he would not have troubled the House on that occasion but for the few words in which his hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves) referred to the views that he (Mr. Hunt) had stated on the subject last year. His hon. Friend stated correctly enough that he was favourable to the proposition; but he had rather overstated what he said on the occasion referred to. Last year his hon. Friend came to him and announced that he intended to bring this question before the 251 House. He (Mr. Hunt) replied that there was no occasion to put any pressure upon the Government in regard to this matter, because he had already taken the initiative with the Post Office to learn whether the present rates could or could not be reduced, and therefore that he would do all he could to serve his Motion. His attention had been called to the subject principally by a newspaper report of a prosecution instituted by the Post Office against certain individuals for an infringement of their monopoly. Thereupon he wrote to the Post Office authorities that there was clearly a margin for the reduction of the rates on printed matter, and he asked for a full statement of the whole bearings of the question. At that time the Post Office were fully occupied with the Telegraphs Bill, and could not lay their views before him, and then came the General Election and the event which prevented the necessity of any further consideration of the question by him. If, however, the late Government had remained in Office he hoped that the matter would by this time have been ripe for decision. He quite agreed with the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington) that the two considerations, that there should be no permanent loss to the revenue, and that there should be no interference with the regular and punctual delivery of the ordinary letters, must never be lost sight of. But he had been in consultation with the heads of the Post Office, and they agreed in recommending some such plan as this—that printed circulars should be brought to the Post Office at certain stated hours, and that if the parties were not anxious for speed, and would conform to certain conditions, they would be transmitted for a ½d. He thought it was quite possible to give facilities for sending such matter through the post under prescribed regulations of this nature. As to newspapers, there was great difficulty in adopting a ½d. rate for two ounces, because some newspapers fell within that weight and others exceeded it, so that the proposed reduction would introduce an exceptionably low charge for some as against others; That was a point which required careful consideration, and when the noble Marquess came to consider the subject, he had no doubt the Post Office would be able to make regulations which would 252 be satisfactory to the public, satisfactory to the newspapers as between themselves, and by which there would be no loss to the revenue. After the promise of the noble Marquess that the subject should be duly considered, he hoped that his hon. Friend would be contented with the discussion which had arisen, and would not divide the House. Though he had the strongest feeling in favour of such a change, he could not have committed himself to it without having a full statement of the effect of it, and as a Member of the Government stated that he had no estimate of its probable effect upon the Revenue, it would be impossible for him, having filled the Office he had filled, to vote in favour of the Motion.
§ MR. GRAVES
, in reply, said, he was greatly disappointed at the way in which his Motion had been met by the Government. He should not refuse the pressure that had been put upon him to withdraw his Motion if he were not impelled by a strong sense of duty. The argument of the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington) was exactly similar to those that were urged thirty years ago against the reduction to a 1d. rate. There had been no offer of a compromise—his Motion was met by a simple and positive refusal; and on what ground? Why, that the Budget would be brought forward in a few days. Now, according to the noble Lord, the whole amount of revenue that was likely to be sacrificed was £300,000. [Mr. GLADSTONE: Hear, hear!] No doubt the First Lord of the Treasury would think much of this sum; but, in point of fact, there would be no such. loss. He (Mr. Graves) had taken the precaution, before bringing this subject forward, to send circulars to some 200 cheap publications in London, asking them in confidence to state what, in their view, would be the increased use made of the post if the rate on printed matter were reduced. Many replied that their circulation would be doubled, trebled, or quadrupled, and the tenour of the answers he received warranted him in asserting that all apprehensions on the score of revenue might be dismissed. As to any interference with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he thought he had guarded himself carefully on this point by stating that he would leave it to the discretion of the Government when to make the reduction, and he was 253 perfectly willing to add to the Motion words to that effect. As to the correction of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Hunt), he did not intend to put his right hon. Friend's assent higher than he had himself stated. Seeing that he had no engagement from the Government, and feeling satisfied that a strong feeling existed in the House and out-of-doors on this question, he should feel bound to press his Motion to a division. He hoped that hon. Members would not allow their judgments in a vote on that matter to be prejudiced by the mistaken idea that he was seeking to interfere with the financial arrangements of the Government. He regretted that he could not accede to the appeal made to him by the Government on the one hand, and by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer on the other, and he must, therefore, call upon the House to affirm or reject his Motion.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I am also, Sir, very much disappointed that the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves) should have thought it his duty to press this question to a division; because, really, he scarcely does justice to the tone in which his Motion has been met by my noble Friend the Postmaster General. I really think that, looking to the nature of the question, and to the great interests and great pecuniary considerations which it involves, the hon. Gentleman could not have expected to elicit more from any Member of the Government than what, my noble Friend has stated. My noble Friend did not at all set himself against the hon. Gentleman's proposal: but, i being at the head of a great Department, and charged with a large responsibility, he asked for that to which I think he is entitled, and which I hope the House will give him—namely, time for carefully examining into this proposal to see whether it can be safely and properly adopted or not. I think, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman got all that he had a right to and could reasonably expect; and that he may probably be prejudicing what may be, for all I know, a good case by prematurely pressing for a division, because he obliges persons to vote against his proposal who have really no hostility towards it, but who only desire to ascertain whether it can be carried into effect in accordance with the public interests. The House 254 must remember that the Post Office is not merely an administrative Department of the Government, but that it is a great business that the Post Office conducts, which must, to a certain degree, be subject to the same rules and principles of action as other businesses; and when the Post Office is asked to make a great change in its mode of carrying on its business, upon grounds however plausible, it takes only a reasonable and proper course when it says—Give us time to weigh this change maturely and consider whether it will answer or not." We have in the Post Office a Department which not only pays its expenses, but is a source of revenue to the Government. Surely, then, it is not unreasonable to ask that, before that revenue is put in peril by any great or violent change, fair time should be allowed to see how far it can be adopted with safety? I am not competent, and I do not wish, to say a word against the argument of the hon. Gentleman; but there are considerations which must occur to every one as being raised by this Motion. The Post Office revenue is derived mainly from the circulation of letters which pay 1d. for half-an-ounce, and if they exceed half-an-ounce, another 1d. The writers of those letters are not necessarily rich people, or persons to whom the postage is a matter of indffierence; they are, in a certain sense, the helots who bear the burden of the expense of the Department. Is it. then, not a question worth considering, whether—supposing we accede to this request and carry two ounces of printed matter for a ½d., for the benefit of a particular class of the community, that might not interfere with the possibility of maintaining the 1d. postage on letters? If we make a sacrifice like this for a class which is comparatively opulent, and who wish to send out circulars for the purposes of their business, may not the poor also think that they have a claim, and may you not, without sufficient consideration, sacrifice the valuable revenue you obtain from the Post Office—and, by that means, throw a heavy additional burden in the shape of some tax on the very class which you want to relieve? I do not say that that will be so, but that the point ought to be considered. We are playing with great interests; and, Sir, I really have not £300,000 to give the 255 hon. Gentleman. And when he says that he is willing to leave this thing to be done when the Government thinks fit, I must say I hope the House of Commons will not pass Resolutions of that sort. If the House has really considered this question, and is quite certain that this thing can be done, and that nothing but obstructiveness on the part of the Government prevents it, the House has a right to compel them to do it; but if that is not so, I submit that the House will do well not to compromise its dignity, by first saying that a thing ought to be done, and then delegating to any Government the right to say whether it really ought to be done or not, and when. I hope the House, Sir, will take a juster measure of its own weight and dignity, and will not commit itself to a proposal of this kind, dealing with a very large and intricate subject, of which it is not conceivable that it can have considered all the bearings, and that it will set a greater value upon its own utterances than to allow itself to be persuaded into sanctioning, hastily and at once, a Motion, which I am sure the vast majority of those whom I am addressing know may possibly involve some dangerous error. All that can be fairly required of us is that we should carefully look into the question. We recognize the desirability of making the Post Office as efficient as possible, not only for the collection of revenue, but for the diffusion of all sorts of correspondence and printed matter. So far as we can, consistently with safety and with the maintenance of the Post Office revenue, we are quite ready to go in this direction. But I trust the House will not attach too much importance to anything they may honour with their support to attempt to force upon us a Resolution of this sort. Therefore, without pretending to say that the hon. Gentleman may not be perfectly correct in the view he has taken, but only wishing to give that reasonable time for deliberation which the Government ought to have, and also with the view of interposing between the House and its being committed to the adoption of this Resolution without greater information than it can now possess, I beg to move the Previous Question.
§ MR. BUXTON
said, he wished to confirm what had been stated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer—namely, 256 that there were many Members who sympathized most cordially with the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Graves), in the object he had in view, and who would deeply regret being made to appear to condemn his proposal, when, in fact, they were only condemning the extreme unreasonableness of forcing it upon the House after the assurances given by the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington) that it should receive the fullest consideration. The Post Office authorities had always strenuously endeavoured to do all they could for the public advantage; and the proposal of the hon. Member for Liverpool might, he thought, for the present be safely left in their hands. He trusted that, under these circumstances, the hon. Member would recognize the propriety of not challenging a division on his Motion.
§ MR. BRODRICK
said, he had not been aware of how weak the case of the Government was until he heard the speeches of the Postmaster General and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. They had repeated the old stock arguments used some thirty years ago against the institution of the Penny Post. He had been prepared to hear it urged that a very large certain loss to the revenue would be caused by the adoption of that proposal; but what had the Postmaster General told them? Why, that the total immediate possible loss would be about £300,000 a year. It lay entirely with the noble Lord (the Marquess of Hartington), to prove that there would be any loss at all. The experiment had been tried in other countries—he believed in France, Italy, Spain, and Greece—and it had worked satisfactorily. The noble Lord admitted that the only reason for the continuance of the existing monopoly was that the Post Office performed its duty to the country. Now, that, he said, was exactly what the Post Office did not do. Its duty in the large towns was performed entirely through the medium of the newspaper agents, and in the villages and the country generally its duty was not performed at all. Those facts he challenged anyone to deny. Therefore the whole basis of the argument against the Motion on that point was fallacious, and if the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves) went to a division he must vote with him.
If it is still the 257 intention of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Graves) to divide the House, I think it-desirable, especially at the commencement of a new Parliament, that there should be no misapprehension as to the precise nature, not merely of the arguments stated in this debate, but likewise of the point on which the vote is to be given. With regard to the arguments which have been stated in the debate, if these were to be dealt with at length, a very wide field might be opened, because we have such Members in the House, as the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, who looks with contempt on a question involving only £328,000 a year, and says he had no idea how weak the case of the Government was in demanding that there should be any inquiry, or indeed, that any time should be given for the consideration of such a trumpery matter as whether £328,000 a year should be sacrificed, as that could have no possible bearing on the public interest. That is not the view that will be generally taken, nor, I believe, is it the view of the Mover of this Resolution. On the part of the Government, it is contended that time ought to be given my noble Friend the Postmaster General to investigate this very important question. Time is sometimes asked by those who wish to treat it as a pretext for evading the substance of a question. In this instance that is not the case. Neither the speech of my noble Friend nor that of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer can, I am sure, have conveyed to the mind of any impartial person the idea that we wish to evade this question. The Government are as fully sensible as the hon. Member for Liverpool, who made this Motion, of the strong and special reasons which must induce us to desire a change in the law, in view of the monopoly now possessed by the Government of the low rates at which circulars especially can be distributed, and likewise of the very great public benefit that would accrue from the lowering of the charges on the transmission of printed matter. We have, therefore, a common sentiment and a common purpose. But my noble Friend thinks it necessary to have time to consider what the financial effect of the change may be, and what the administrative effect, as regards the alterations to be made in the mechanism of the Post Office, and the securities and gua- 258 rantees for enabling him to discharge his main duties to the public, so that the performance of those main duties should not be interfered with by an improvement which, however important, is less important than the performance of the main duties themselves. Under these circumstances we do not propose to go to a division with the hon. Gentleman on the issue he puts before the House; but we do not think it desirable that the House should content itself with the expression of an opinion to which it should take no means to give effect. The hon. Member has absolved the Government from the responsibility of giving effect to the opinion this year, next year, or at any given time; but it is not for the House to place on record a declaration that it is right that these things should be done, and at the same time give a general absolution to the Government as to the time of doing them. Under these circumstances my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer moves what is called the "Previous Question." Probably it is the first time that many hon. Gentlemen now in the House have heard the Previous Question moved. The effect of it will be that it commits those who vote with the Government to no adverse expression of sentiment whatever with respect to the Motion that has been made by the hon. Member for Liverpool; but simply gives them a convenient opportunity of affirming that the present is not an advantageous moment for calling on the House to pronounce a definite opinion, but that it is better to wait until the Executive has examined into the whole matter, and thus be enabled to give the House the best advice which can be afforded. That is the effect of the vote we are going to give.
§ Whereupon Previous Question put, "That that Question be now put:"—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.)
§ The House divided:—Ayes 62; Noes 229: Majority 167.