§ MR. SEELY
, in calling attention to the Report of the Select Committee on the American Mail Contracts, said that these contracts had been objected to last year on various grounds. It was said that they ought not to have been entered into for so long a period as eight years; that it was unwise to pay a fixed subsidy annually to certain firms, irrespective of the number of letters carried; 1129 and that to do so was not only injurious to the public purse, but likewise to private shipping firms not subsidized. It was argued, on the other hand, that these contracts would be self-supporting, and that the rate of increase in the number of letters had of late years been such as to justify a reasonable expectation that we might gradually reduce the postage to the United States, without loss to the revenue. The question whether these contracts would be self-supporting came under the consideration of the Select Committee, and by the term "self-supporting" it was understood that the sea postage of 4d. would cover the payments to Messrs. Cunard and Inman. The Committee reported that for the year 1868 the amount of sea postage had been £68,400, and that from Queenstown it had been £51,600. The right hon. Gentleman the late Chancellor of the Exchequer alleged that the. sea postage in 1868 was £101,000; and he apprehended that the right hon. Gentleman was supplied with a statement of the gross amount of the postage at. 6d.—4d. for the sea postage and 2d. for the inland postage. In the calculation of £112,000 given to the Committee for the postage for this year, it was supposed that there would be 2,738,457 single rates of letters, which would have amounted to £76,068. At 6d. he believed that these letters would only amount to £68,461, so that there was an error there of £7,607. In the same estimate £16,742 was taken as the receipts from newspapers at 2d. each, but on the 1st January, 1869, the postage was reduced to 1d., so that £8,371 must be struck off from that amount, making a difference of £15,978 to be deducted from the £112,000, which would leave £96,022. But, further, one-third must be taken off that, as the amount of the two inland rates of 1d. at each end, making £32,007. So that instead of £112,000 they arrived at a sum of about £64,000; and instead of the contract being self-supporting, it would probably entail a loss of upwards of £40,000, which, if the North German Lloyd contract was continued, would be increased to £50,000 or £60,000 per annum. But that was not all. The right hon. Gentleman calculated that the £112,000 would arise from an increase of 10 per cent on the amount of last year. Mr. Chetwynd, in his evi- 1130 dence before the Committee, stated that the numbers of letters to and from the United States had been as follows:—In 1863, 2,461,440; in 1865, 3,367,670; in 1866, 4,066,284; in 1867, 3,916,759; and in 1868, 4,875,802; but Mr. Chetwynd did not, until he was cross-examined, state that he had taken as the bases of his calculation the year of the Civil War in America, when the number of letters fell off 1,250,000, and that he compared it with the year 1868, when the postage was reduced from 1s. to 6d., and when the number of letters otherwise would have been 3,750,000; so that, instead of the annual average increase being 19 per cent, it would have been only ¾ per cent. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman was not justified in assuming, from the figures of the past year, that there would be an increase of 10 per cent. If it were to be said that the sea postage was the measure of the loss, and that the United States did not pay as much as they Mere expected to pay, he asserted, on the authority of a Parliamentary Paper (No. 42, letter of the 28th of November, 1868, page 50), that it was known at the time the calculation was made that the United States would not pay more than 15 cents per ounce for letters to England; and it must have been known at the same time that Messrs. Cunard would have only one day's letters; and, therefore, there was no reason for supposing that the amount that Mould be received for postage by Messrs. Cunard's vessels would be much more than was realized. Of course, a Chancellor of the Exchequer could not be expected to examine these figures minutely; but heads of Departments ought to be very careful that these calculations were intrusted to competent persons. A ground taken in defence of these contracts was, that no better offers could be obtained; but persons sometimes created difficulties for themselves, and it was so in this instance. No doubt the Post Office had better offers in 1867 than in 1868: in 1867 Mr. Inman tendered, but, according to his own account, he was not dealt with fairly, and he complained that, although his vessels were as good as the Cunard Company's, a preference was shown to Messrs. Cunard both in regard to payments which he was not to have, and exemption from penalties to which he was to be subjected. Mr. Inman evi- 1131 dently thought it was of no use fighting this leviathan Company, and, therefore, he thought it more politic to coalesce with it. Thus the country was deprived of a very excellent shipping competition for the public service. The Hamburg Company did not offer as good terms in 1868 as they did in 1867, because they trove harshly treated by the levying of penalties. In February, 1868, they paid a penalty of £300 because a vessel did not start at the hour fixed, although she readied her destination thirty-four hours before the time stipulated. Another ship which started in May last behind time arrived eighteen hours before the stipulated time, but had to pay the penalty. It was, therefore, little to be wondered at that private companies viewed the regulations of the Post Office with particular aversion. He understood that the Treasury had given notice of their intention to terminate their contract with the North German Lloyd's Company, to the great disadvantage of American correspondents in London and the southern counties. A Return published by the Committee showed that during the six months ending September 31, 1868, 75 per cent of the American letters went by way of Queenstown and 25 per cent by way of Southampton; but there were three days' collection of letters for Queenstown and only two for Southampton; and if Southampton had had three days' collection its percentage of the despatch would have been nearly 40 per cent. The calculations proved beyond dispute the advantages of the route. Though, perhaps, such matters should not be decided on the principle of generosity, it could not be denied that the North German Lloyd's had some claims upon the Government, because there; was no doubt that but for the existence of this company the Post Office would have been unable to make the bargain they had made, bad as it was. It had been urged on behalf of the Cunard Company that loss was incurred by calling at Queenstown. Mr. Burns estimated the loss at £10,000, Mr. Inman at about the same; but Mr. Guion put the loss down at a £10 note, and it was supposed the former witnesses included in their estimate the whole of their establishment charges at Queenstown, while Mr. Guion spoke only of the additional expense on the presumption that an establishment at Queenstown was not necessary. All the shipping companies going between 1132 Liverpool and the States called at Queens-town; and it was to the interest of all to go regularly, to keep the utmost punctuality, and make the greatest speed possible. Their success as passenger and cargo ships depended on these considerations, and therefore there was no necessity for Government to pay any company additional rates on any one of these accounts. Nor was it necessary for Government to pay extra for fixed days, because the National Steamship Company of Liverpool, for instance, had 500 agents in every part of the world, and any change in the days of starting would cause the companies great expense. It was alleged that they would not get vessels to run in the winter; but the fact was that Mr. Inman's ships were running in the winter during fourteen ox-fifteen years, and those of Mr. Guion for four or five years. Although the Committee appointed to inquire into the postal contracts recommended that they should not be confirmed, they had become valid. Hon. Members were perhaps aware that by a Resolution of the 24th of July, 1860, mail contracts were to be laid upon the table of the House for one month before they could be regarded as binding; but the contracts he alluded to were signed on the 11th or 12th of December, and it would have been a farce to lay them on the table when it was well known the House would adjourn in a day or two, and not re-assemble for more than a month. By the first portion of his Motion he proposed to make it obligatory to have the contracts on the table during thirty days on which the House sat, so as to prevent the possibility of a miscarriage under similar circumstances. In this case, however, the contracts were laid on the table on the 2nd of March, and within two days he moved that they be disapproved. In deference to the wish of some friends whose opinion he respected, he altered his Motion by requesting an inquiry upon the subject, and on the 12th of March a Committee was granted. It was not possible for the Committee to meet until the 17th of March, and with the greatest diligence on their part they were not able to report until the 23rd. On that day Parliament adjourned for the Easter Recess until the 1st of April. If the word "month," in the Resolution had meant a calendar month there would have been time to take the matter into consideration on the 1133 day the House met; but there were conflicting; opinions on the subject, and the weight of testimony was that a lunar month was meant. The time, therefore, had expired before Parliament met, and thus it happened that they were unable to discuss the question, and also, as he feared, were saddled with a very heavy loss. It was with a view to prevent such a thing happening again that he was about to propose his first Resolution. With regard to his second Resolution, he was met by this argument—"We are saddled with these contracts for eight years; what is the use of talking about them now?" There had been three Committees on the subject—one in 1853, another in 1860, and the third this year—and all of them had practically come to the conclusion that it was not wise to enter into contracts for carrying the mails to the United States for any lengthened period, and that it was not necessary to remunerate the contractors by a fixed payment. Now, if all Postmasters General were of the same mind, it might perhaps be needless to lay down any very specific rules; but, if after the Committee of 1853, the subject had been taken into consideration by the House, and the Resolution bearing on it adopted, the country would have saved a large amount of money. In the Report of 1860 it was stated that in 1857 Messrs. Cunard applied for an extension of their contract, which did not expire, until 1862—that was nearly five years in advance. The Duke of Argyll, then Postmaster General, protested strongly against this extension, on the ground that it was opposed to the recommendation of the Committee of 1853, and that it would prevent the diminution of the cost of mails across the Atlantic, and thus the reduction of the postage. On the 2nd of March, 1858, the Treasury refused to grant the extension. Then came a very singular affair. On the 20th of the same month, only eighteen days after this refusal, Messrs. Cunard made a second application. Between the two periods there had been a change of Government; on the 29th of March, the Admiralty recommended the Treasury to comply with the demand; and on the 20th of May, 1858, the Treasury did agree to the extension of the contract, from the 1st of January, 1862. to the 31st of December, 1867. The subsidy of £173,000 to the Messrs. Cunard was accordingly continued for another 1134 period of six years. Lord Stanley of Alderley was Postmaster General in 1866, and in a Paper bearing date the 8th of February, of that year, he said—Had the contract with Messrs. Cunard been allowed to expire on the 31st of December, 1861, a great portion of the annual loss which we sustained would have been saved.He further said that contract prevented the diminution of the postage from 1s. to 6d.; and further, that the Liverpool and New York Steam Company had offered to take the mails for the ocean postage from and to the United States, and they had run with great regularity with the mails of the United States for the ocean postage. On the 26th of April, 1866, Lord Stanley of Alderley asked the Treasury to authorize him to contract for the conveyance of the mails to the United States upon the basis of of the sea postage; and on the 13th of June, 1866, the Treasury gave him the authority to do so. But Lord Stanley of Alderley ceased to be Postmaster General, and they had now these two contracts entered into for a fresh period of eight years. Now, he would say there ought to be some uniformity, not in the opinions of Postmasters General, but in their principles of action; that it was desirable to limit the period, and that they should put all companies on the same footing. The Committee of 1853 reported that the preference given to subsidized lines was calculated to injure other lines, and that opinion Mr. Inman stated very distinctly in a letter to the Treasury, on the 26th of November, 1867. The result of all that was to raise up a sort of power that could hold its own against the Government of England, and even of the United States; for, in answer to Question 1611, Mr. Inman actually stated that he had nothing whatever to do but telegraph that night to the United States to stop all postal communication between one country and the other. Now, he was not fond, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said the other night, of "cockering up" such institutions or firms as might damage us hereafter; and it was with a view to prevent such consequences that he should propose his second Resolution. Now, what was the result of our policy, and that of the United States, in dealing with the same business? Up to 1868, we paid yearly to Messrs Cunard £173,000; the United 1135 States, though they sent rather more, got their mails conveyed for less than £40,000. For the next eight years we must inevitably pay £105,000 to Messrs. Cunard and Inman; and if we continued to employ the North German Lloyd, as he hoped we should, the entire amount would be £120,000; but he ventured to say that in that period the United States would not pay £50,000. Looking therefore, to the recommendations of three Committees, of two Postmasters General, and of Treasury Minutes, the House might justly come to the conclusion that there was no necessity for fixed subsidies for a term of years in the ease of the service in question. The Duke of Montrose, then Postmaster General, on the 13th of December, 1867, gave notice to the United States to terminate the Convention entered into on the 13th of June, 1867; and, being anxious that the whole of the facts relating to that matter should be in the hands of Members, he had himself moved for a Return which should have contained all the particulars to which he was about to allude. But the Post Office was not able to give a portion of the Papers which he asked for. It was not able to give the Memorandum of Mr. Trollope. He should mention that, when the Duke of Montrose gave notice to the United States, to terminate the Convention, his Grace assigned no reasons, but said he would send over Mr. Trollope to explain his reasons and negotiate a new Convention. Mr. Trollope accordingly went over and gave to the Post master General of the United States a Memorandum, dated April 26, 1868; and there was a reply from the American Postmaster General to Mr. Trollope, dated May 23, 1868. It was a most singular thing that the English Post Office had no copy of that memorandum of Mr. Trollope, and therefore conceived that it could not give either that document or the reply to it. Now he found, from a pamphlet which he had in his hand, that the reasons assigned by Mr. Trollope for terminating the Convention were that we paid 24 cents per ounce for the letters we sent to the United States, while the United States paid only 15 cents per ounce for the letters they sent to England; and Mr. Trollope very properly said in his memorandum that the ships which went backwards and forwards were the same, and therefore there was no reason why 1136 we should pay more than the United States did. But Mr. Trollope understated his case, because the 24 cents per ounce that we paid were only for the sea postage, whereas we paid not only the sea postage, but also the whole of the gross postage; and the entire 6d. rate was swallowed up in the payments to the contractors. Replying to Mr. Trollope's observation, the American Postmaster General said that that was owing to the different mode of inviting tenders adopted on this side. Mr. Trollope proposed that there should be a joint contract between the two countries for a term of five, four, or three years; but the American Postmaster General answered that by law he could not enter into contracts for more than two years, and that he thought it better to leave to each Post Office the power of making its own contract. He would next proceed to direct the attention of the House to the third Resolution. The Select Committee of this year had before them the representative of the National Steam Ship Company and Mr. Guion, who stated that they had made an offer to convey letters weekly by Queenstown throughout the year at the rate of 1d. an ounce or one-third of 1d. per letter. He might be told that the boats of those gentlemen were not so fast as those of the Messrs. Cunard. He admitted that they were not as fast as the Messrs. Cunard's quick boats, but it was extremely probable that they were as fast as their slow boats; and, moreover, if persons preferred to pay the slow 1d. rate to the quick 6d. rate, he did not see why the House—supposing no loss were sustained by the arrangement—should object to it. Let the mercantile community have their 6d. rate by the subsidized lines, and let the poorer classes have a 1d. rate by the vessels of the National Steam Company, or other parties whose boats might reach New York one, or even two days later. They had now two rates to Brazil, two to several other States of South America, and two also to India. By a 1d. rate he meant a 1d. rate from any part of the United Kingdom to any part of the United States. It might be said it would not pay, but, at all events, they would only take one-third of 1d. for the ocean postage, whereas they now took the whole 6d. for the ocean postage, and thus entirely sacrificed the two inland rates to 1137 convey the letters of the mercantile community. The Duke of Montrose, writing to the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce in December, 1868, admitted that it was by no means certain that between the large towns hero letters might not be collected and delivered for a halfpenny. Mr. Scudamore said that the Post Office authorities had ascertained as well as they could that the average cost of collecting, transmitting, and delivering inland letters was about three farthings each; and he added that if no letters were sent to the United States the expenses of the Post Office would be very little diminished; and, further, that even supposing there was a loss in the case of such mails—that was, for the mercantile community—it was quite fair to apply the gross postage, namely, 6d., for their conveyance across the Atlantic. Why, then, he asked, should they not equally apply the gross postage of 1d. for the conveyance of the letters of the poorer classes across the Atlantic if it was required, which he did not think it would be? It might be said that if they had two rates there would be fewer letters at the 6d. rate; and he frankly admitted that there might be. But if the question were not complicated by the 6d. rate, together with these atrocious contracts, they would have no difficulty in the matter. The letters ought to be sent at the rate they actually cost, instead of the poor man having to pay more in order that the rich man might pay less. It should be borne in mind that the great bulk of the letters which would go tinder a 1d. rate would probably never be written if they were charged 6d. He now wished to call the attention of the House to the large number of people who were interested in this question. He had obtained an approximate account of their number. The hon. Member for Longford (Major O'Reilly) had procured from a friend a Return which he said might be relied upon, and which stated that, in 1860, there were in the United States no fewer than 2,199,079 persons who were natives of the United Kingdom. He also learnt from the Emigration Commissioners that from 1860 to 1868, both years inclusive, 960,734 persons had gone from the United Kingdom to the United States. He might assume, indeed, that there were at least 3,500,000 of people in the United States who had relatives or friends 1138 in the United Kingdom; for it was highly probable that a considerable number of those who had gone to the United States did not declare themselves British subjects, having a motive to make themselves out to be United States' citizens. Altogether he calculated that there were 10,000,000 people interested in the question of a 1d. postage to America. It was no easy thing for a poor man, whose wages, perhaps, were only 6s. or 7s. a week, to pay 6d. for the postage of a letter; besides, he believed the lowering of the rate would be an advantage to the mercantile community as well as to the poor. The companies which carried 1d. letters would enter into a generous rivalry, and their vessels would in the end make the passage more rapidly. Every Member of that House was no doubt anxious to do anything which would tend to bind the two countries together, and what was more likely to bring about so desirable a result than the adoption of these Resolutions? Perhaps it might be said, however, that the United States would refuse to consent to such a plan. Well, if they did, we should not have injured ourselves by proposing to improve the postal communication between the two countries. But he did not think a refusal on the part of the United States was at all probable. It was evident, from documents published in the United States, as well as here, that the authorities in the United States were anxious to reduce the rate of postage, while it was our own Post Office authorities who had placed obstacles in the way. Mr. Seward, in particular, had declared that he was desirous to see the rate reduced to the lowest practicable standard. He expressed an earnest hope that the House would agree to the Resolutions, as he felt it would be a disgraceful thing if, in the first Session of a Reformed Parliament, it did not give to the poorer classes of this country a cheap means of communication with their friends and relatives in the United States.
§ MR. BAZLEY
seconded the Motion, being profoundly convinced that the reduction of the rate of ocean postage would not only he a great convenience to commercial men, but an advantage to the whole community. If these services were thrown open to the shipping interest generally, not only would private vessels perform the passages quicker in 1139 the end, but there would be a saving of at least £750,000 to the nation annually, so that in an economical point of view alone the reduction of the rate would prove of immense importance. The late Government had committed an error in not allowing sufficient time for competitors to come forward when they advertised for tenders for eon tracts. Companies and merchants who purposed entering into competition for the conveyance of the mails required time to pre-pare vessels for the service and to make their arrangements. Now the two or three months which the late Government gave for competitors to declare themselves was not sufficient for this purpose, he hoped that in future Government would give ample time for tenders being offered by people who were capable of conveying the mails efficiency and expeditiously. Unless something like a year's notice were given neither economical nor efficient tenders could be obtained. As regarded the duration of the contracts, he thought that they should only be made for three instead of eight years. He hoped also that from this time we should begin lessening the amount of subsidies. He regarded them as little better than a waste of public money, for no one could doubt that the resources of private traders were amply sufficient for the conveyance of our ocean mails, and we could not do better than throw ourselves upon their energies. Upon the whole he was of opinion that great good would result from the adoption of the Resolutions.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That Contracts, made subject to judgment of the House, should be submitted to the House at as early a period in the Session as possible; should lie upon the Table for thirty days on which the House sits; and, upon reference to a Select Committee, should be subject to the decision of the House on the Report of the Committee."—(Mr. Seely.)
§ MR. GRAVES
said, that no one could regret that the fullest inquiry and discussion had not taken place before the contracts were entered into more than the contractors themselves, and they had even been willing that the period for the ratification of the contracts should be enlarged rather than that the Recess should be shortened. A report that Her Majesty's Government, at the instigation of the hon. Member who took an 1140 interest in this question, would call the House together before the expiration of the lunar month, in order to take the sense of the House on the contracts, had become generally circulated, and reaching the ears of the contractors, they authorized him to state that they would extend the time for consideration rather than inconvenience hon. Members; but no action having been taken with reference to it, he had not felt it to be his duty to inform the House at the time of the intentions or the wishes of the contractors, though he had named it at the time to the late Chancellor of the Exchequer and other Members of the late Government. The hon. Member, in introducing this question that night, had done so with considerable moderation, and. looking at the matter from his point of view, with some force and ability; but, in alluding to the Report of the Committee adverse to the contracts, he had omitted to state that it was only owing to a mere accidental circumstance that a Report approving the contracts moved by an hon. Member did not become the Report of the Committee. He did not wish to place too much stress upon that fact; but he would ask the House to look at the evidence laid before the Committee and to judge for itself, rather than to rest too much upon the Report itself. He—and he believed many of his Colleagues—had been greatly struck with the peculiarity of the evidence laid before the Committee on behalf of the Post Office. It was not unnatural that the authorities of that Department should have placed their views before the Committee, but it was rather surprising that they should have thought fit to place before the Committee the view of Mr. Pearson Hill, a subordinate clerk in a Department which had nothing whatever to do with these contracts. Of the evidence of Mr. Frederick Hill, the uncle of that gentleman, he must speak with more respect, because his age, official position, and experience entitled it to considerable weight, though no one could help feeling that he had been pursuing a theory of his own for many years, which only showed that there were as many differences and rivalries in the Post Office as in the outer world. Mr. F. Hill had stated his belief that the time had arrived when these subsidies might be abolished; but, though he had held these opinions for 1141 many years, whenever he had sought to put them into practice they had always been found delusive. The evidence of Mr. Scudamore, a gentleman well known to that House, if it did not absolutely prove the case of the contractors, showed that the contracts were the most favourable that the Government could obtain. He would not follow the hon. Member through the long course of his arguments; but he would just allude to one or two points which he thought should be thoroughly understood by the House. The hon. Member had alluded to the slow boats of the Cunard service which] sailed on the Tuesday, and he had. to some extent, compared them with the boats of the National Company. He had no desire to draw comparisons between the Cunard and the Inman boats, and any other companies which were not under review; but, as a good deal depended upon the matter, he should be obliged to compare the working of the steamers of the various companies which had been carrying our mails during the first three months of this year. He found, from a Return which was moved for by the hon. Member who introduced this Motion, that in the first month of the present year, the North German Lloyd's vessels, sailing on Tuesday, had been overtaken three times by the cunard boats sailing on the same day, while the latter had been six times overtaken by the former, while the In-man boats had only twice being overtaken by those vessels. The average duration of the passage of the various boats was as follows—The Cunard fast boats, or Sunday vessels, 11 days and 4¼ hours; the North German Lloyd's, 12 days 8¾ hours; the Cunard Tuesday boats, 12 days 12¼ hours; and the Inman boats, 12 days and 20½ hours. These figures showed that the service as now conducted secured the regular, speedy, and safe transmission of the mails across the Atlantic. The hon. Member had alluded to the North German Lloyd's as having; been unfairly dealt with, but when the matter came to be thoroughly investigated, it would turn out that, so far from the North-German Lloyd's or any other foreign company suffering under their competition with those of England, they were, on the contrary, highly favoured in the contest. Thus, for instance, the French line received a subsidy of 16s. per mile 1142 as against the 2s. or the 2s. 6d. that the English companies received; while the North German Lloyd's carried all the mails of the North of Europe, in addition to a share of the English mails, whereas the English companies were prohibited from carrying foreign mails. The receipts of the North German Lloyd's for carrying the foreign mails must, therefore, be regarded as a subsidy in their favour as compared with the English companies. Then the English vessels were liable to a number of surveys from which foreign vessels were exempt, and Mr. Inman stated, in his evidence before the Committee, that the English vessels had to undergo as many as eight surveys before they could leave port, and that if they were relieved from those surveys they could carry the mails at a much lower cost. The lightness of the build of foreign steamers fully accounted for their speed, and he was greatly aggrieved by his vessels being brought into competition with them. Then, coming to the United States, there were no steamers sailing tinder that flag in the Atlantic—at least, none of any importance. The United States were naturally desirous of doing what they could in the shape of reduction of postage; when they thought the expense of that reduction was to be thrown upon other countries. But they had a preference for their own flag, and a decided preference it was. To European vessels they did give only 15 cents per ounce; they now gave 20 cents; but there was a law in the United States providing that every vessel sailing under the American flag carrying the mails should receive the full postage—from 30 to 33 cents per ounce. It might be said that Act was passed in 1858; but, to show that the feeling then existing was still dominant, an Act passed the Congress on the 27th of July last for a weekly or semi-weekly mail from New York to Bremen, touching at Southampton and Liverpool. The sea and inland post, according to the Act of 1858, was to be given till it reached 400,000 dollars. The Company might also issue bonds, the interest not to exceed 250,000 dollars, and the bonds to be certified by the Post Office. The Postmaster General of the United States, in his last Report, alluding to this particular Act, authorizing and empowering him to contract with the Commercial Navigation Com- 1143 pany of the State of New York under special charter, stated that, after a thorough examination of the subject in all its bearings, and having consulted the Attorney General on the legal questions involved, he had decided that it was impracticable to make a contract for only weekly or semi-weekly service, and accordingly he had declined to execute the contract. He had however, advised the Company of his willingness to make a conditional contract by American steamships of sufficient number to form a service of at least four times outward per week. Another Act, or rather Bill, was introduced last Session into Congress for another steamship company, to be called the National Company, and by it the Postmaster General was authorized to make a contract. The compensation for mail service was to be the amount of land and sea postages to arise from mail-able matter during the period of fifteen years. The rates established by law ranged from 30 to 33 cents per ounce under the American flag. He was, therefore, justified in stating that other nations seemed to look after and give a preference to vessels under their own flag; and he hoped in this great desire for competition, and for the encouragement of foreign competition, we should not lose sight altogether of the national advantages connected with those great steam lines, and where the natural trade was insufficient to support them as they ought to be supported this country would not permit them to be over-weighted by the more favoured vessels of another nation. But would moderate postal contracts give that encouragement to national enterprise which he thought our great steam companies had a right to expect from the country? With regard to the fact that the Messrs. Cunard's Tuesday service was not really what they would wish it to be, or what they meant it to be, the hesitating tone adopted by this House had prevented the ordinary increase of their fleet; but since their contract had been ratified they had entered on the construction of two or more vessels of large size and superior class, and when they could bring those new vessels to bear on the service they would find the Tuesday's service as satisfactorily conducted as their other service, with which no one could find the slightest fault. It was true they had asked for the two services £70,000, but he 1144 called that an extremely moderate sum for two services. Then, it had been asked, why pay as much for the Tuesday's service as for the Saturday's? It was not so, and if he were asked to divide the gross annual sum, he would say £50,000 should be allotted to the latter and £20,000 to the former. It should be remembered that the Saturday service went to Queenstown for the mails, and mails only, and did not take steerage passengers, owing to Emigration Act regulations, while the Tuesday boats were enabled to embark steerage passengers as well as mails. Now, let us contrast the efficiency of such services with the arrangement with the United States for the conveyance of our homeward mails? It was a most irresponsible service. The arrangement was made from week to week. There was no obligation to be ready on a certain day and at a certain hour. Notice was sent to the Post Office of the time the vessels would leave; the letters were sent on board, and the steamers left; but there was no penalty to enforce punctuality. The charge was fixed, till lately, at 15 cents per ounce, but the parties combined and demanded 20 per cents, which the Postmaster General of the United States was obliged to give; but there was nothing to prevent them demanding 25 or 30 cents per ounce; and the United States Postmaster General would be obliged to yield. Under these contracts such uncertainty, such combinations, such demands, would be simply impossible. Now as to the Resolutions of the hon. Gentleman, he (Mr. Graves) cordially concurred in a large portion of the first. He thought that the Government were much to blame in not having laid the contracts before the House this Session, sufficiently early as to afford an opportunity for their consideration before they were ratified by the Government. Very early in the Session he had put a Question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether the Treasury had approved of the ratification of those contracts, and had authorized the Post Office authorities to complete them? He was at the time aware that a draft contract had been sent to Mr. Inman, of Liverpool, for his approval and signature, and he naturally concluded that such a step would not have been taken without the sanction of the Treasury. Now, although 1145 the right hon. Gentleman answered him in the negative, it came out in the evidence of the Post Office given before the Committee that the present Treasury had sanctioned those contracts. There was thus a discrepancy between the statements of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the evidence before the Committee which, if the right hon. Gentleman were present, he thought demanded some explanation. It was proved that the contracts entered into by the late Government had been ratified as far as possible in February by the present Government. With regard to the second Resolution of the hon. Member he (Mr. Graves) felt some doubt whether it was wise for the House to bind itself by abstract Resolutions which were to come into effect sonic eight years hence. During the last nine years this House had been adopting Resolutions with regard to contracts which were found to be valueless when the time came, because the fact was overlooked that there must be two parties to every bargain. And the Government, receiving no response when it advertised for tenders, ought not to incur the risk of being put into a position in which it might fail in obtaining any suitable carriage whatever for the mails. It was well known that the North German Lloyd's and Hamburg Company positively refused to go to Queenstown, the only other company, besides these two, which tendered, being the National Company, whose vessels at present, whatever they might be hereafter, were certainly unequal to the requirements of the postal service. The reason given by the North German Lloyd's for declining to call at Queenstown was remarkable and deserved the fullest consideration; it was that their vessels would have to cross the track of outward and homeward bound ships, and this they considered could not be done without endangering life and property. The third Resolution, to which his hon. Friend doubtless attached the chief importance, was that which contemplated the establishment of an ocean 1d. postage system. To that proposition he had on a former occasion stated two objections which he then entertained—first, that it would have the effect of unsettling the whole postal system of the country, inasmuch as it would be difficult to resist a demand for the reduction of inland postage if letters 1146 were carried from London to New York for the same uniform rate of 1d.; and, secondly, because it would be impracticable to carry out a mail service such as the country required upon a basis of ocean 1d. postage. If we attempted to throw over the existing contracts with a view of leaning upon ocean 1d. postage, carried on in such vessels as would agree to that arrangement, we should be resting upon a broken reed. At the same time he confessed he had considerable sympathy with the hon. Member in his desire to bring about, not probably a penny rate, but a cheaper rate of postage than the present. And it was well worth considering whether, in vessels such as those of the National Company or of Messrs. Guion and others—vessels of the best class, and entitled to every confidence—letters not requiring great speed, might not be conveyed at a cheaper rate of postage. But such restriction should not be confined to letters. Anybody who knew anything of the class of communications passing between emigrants in America and their friends at home knew that correspondence was mainly kept up by newspapers rather than by letters. So much was this the case that out of 100 sacks of mails landed at Queenstown he ventured to assert that eighty would contain newspapers. Among the classes to whom he alluded newspapers were actually more valuable than letters, for thought was more freely interchanged and knowledge more widely disseminated by the aid of newspapers than by letters, which briefly and with difficulty they were able to write. But, however beneficial might be the effects of any reduction in ocean postage, he trusted it would not interfere with the reasonable and more moderate demand which he had brought forward some time ago for a reduction upon printed matter under two ounces and upon newspapers. Charity began at home, and if times were favourable to a reduction, inland postage, he considered, had a primary claim. He had only to add a few words by way of explanation. On a former occasion he had made some remarks implying that there had been, on the part of the noble Marquess at the head of the Post Office (the Marquess of Hartington), a want of impartiality in dealing with this question. He had not then at his command the same complete information which he now possessed, or he should 1147 not have made any suggestion touching the impartiality of the noble Lord. He accordingly felt bound to state now that if any obstacles had been thrown in the way of the ratification of these contracts they had not been obstacles created by the noble Lord. He made this statement in justice to the noble Lord, and hoped his remarks would be accepted in the spirit in which they were offered.
§ MR. CANDLISH
said, no one could call in question the way in which the Messrs. Cunard had performed this service. The question concerned the future rather than the past, and he hoped the Government would see their way to accept the Resolutions, especially the second and third. In 1867 a most important contract with the Peninsular and Oriental Company was laid upon the table a few days before the end of the Session, when it could not receive the attention of the House because the Session was practically at an end, all but a few Members having left town. That contract involved twelve years service, and an outlay of not less than £6,000,000. It should be remembered that these contracts were only likely to be brought before the House by independent Members, and they had practically no access to the House for a month. A notice of thirty days was, therefore, the more necessary. With respect to the third Resolution, he did not see how the Government could resist it, seeing that it would, if carried into effect, provide for the conveyance of three letters for 1d. when the charge was now 6d. Two firms in Liverpool were ready to enter into a contract for this purpose, and he did not see how the Government could consent to the payment of a larger amount. It was for the interests of civilization to bind together countries which could not be too strongly and closely drawn to each other.
§ MR. DENT
, as the Chairman of the Committee to whose Report the hon. Gentleman had called attention, said he had heard with regret the remarks made in disparagement of the evidence given by Mr. Frederick Hill before the Committee. With respect to the contracts that came before the Committee, it appeared to him that the clause giving the House power to confirm or suppress them was only operative in two cases—in cases of public policy, and where there was the imputation of fraud or 1148 political jobbery. If a question arose in regard to public policy, it was, in his opinion, a very bad and injudicious course to refer a matter to a Select Committee which could be better discussed and decided by the House itself. It was the duty of the Government either to defend the contract or give it up, and not to put the responsibility upon a Committee. The policy of the Post Office had, up to 1867, been in favour of the views now advocated by the hon. Member (Mr. Seely)—that the ocean mail contracts should be for short periods. But, in 1867, a change seemed to have come over the Department, and the result was the contracts with Messrs. Canard in 1868. He thought the right hon. Gentleman the late Chancellor of the Exchequer showed some weakness in this matter. When Mr. Inman offered his contract the late Government ought to have stood by him, and not to have made those terms with Messrs. Cunard. Mr. Inman then saw it was of no use fighting any longer the battle which he had so gallantly fought for seventeen years. He thought, too, that the Post Office were excessively blame-able for the information they supplied to the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, as to the results obtained from the postage, and on which information he approved the contracts referred to. He thought that contracts entered into by the Government ought to be adhered to, as a general rule; but still, if it could be shown that they were founded on an incorrect basis of figures, the House would he bound to take action in the matter. The only difficulty he felt was with regard to the third proposition. Had the present contract not been in existence he should have had no hesitation in supporting it; but he felt considerable difficulty in doing so seeing that the contract was to last for eight years, and that it might' occasion a loss which the Revenue could not afford to bear. Whether he should be able to give his support to that Resolution must depend on what the noble Lord at the head of the Post Office might say on the subject.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
said, the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Seely) had attacked the hon. Gentleman the Member for Scarborough (Mr. Dent), and had also characterized the information placed before the late Government by the officials of the Post Office as fal- 1149 lacious. These charges were not, in his opinion, well founded. The hon. Member for Lincoln seemed to think that the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, in sanctioning the contracts, was under the impression that they were to be self-supporting, talking into consideration the sea postage only. But in a letter signed by the Duke of Montrose, the late Postmaster General, he recommended the Treasury to adopt the contract, stating that the subsidy of £ 105,000 would be more than covered by the correspondence conveyed, which would produce £112,000. It was quite clear that the calculation was founded on the gross, and not on the mere sea postage. The Committee stated that under no circumstances would the gross postage exceed £102,600, and supposing the Southampton conveyance to continue the amount would be diminished by £12,000. The Committee had taken as the ground of their calculation not the sums which the Post Office would receive for the service, but the sum which the various companies would have received if they had been paid according to the weight of the letters conveyed, and not by a fixed subsidy. The two sums were not identical. The hon. Member for Lincoln had discovered several, gross errors in the calculation by which the £112,000 was arrived at. It was possible that in the hurry of calculation some errors might have arisen: but if there were any, they were errors not in the total of the sum received, but in the number of letters on which the calculation was founded. The £l 12,000, which was assumed to be the gross amount, was received in the last year, and the probability was that, at the ordinary rate of increase, a larger sum would be received in the present year. The Post Office had been attacked for not laying those contracts on the table at an earlier date. The fact was that they were finally signed by the Duke of Montrose in September; but, owing to certain negotiations which were pending, it was not until the end of February that the necessary signatures of the contractors were obtained. With regard to the Resolutions of the hon. Member for Lincoln, he must state that he could not give his full assent to any one of them, though he sympathized with the hon. Member in respect to the motives which induced him to bring them forward, and he should be glad as far as possible to 1150 meet his views. He concurred in the statement in the first Resolution that these contracts should be submitted to the House at as early a period of the Session as possible, and he would suggest that they should be presented to the House in such a way as to afford ample opportunity for their consideration. The Resolution went on to say that the contracts should lie on the table for thirty days on which the House sat. If that portion of the Resolution should be adopted, it would make the period, which, he believed, was now a fixed period, an uncertain period. Now it would not be fair to contractors if any additional element of uncertainty were introduced into the matter, and he greatly feared that any clement of that kind would tend to restrict competition. He would mention the case of a contract now under consideration. Advertisements would very shortly be issued for the conveyance of the mails between Dover and Calais, and they proposed that tenders should be sent in on the 1st of October. It was probable that within two months from that date the Post Office and the Treasury would be able to make up their minds as to the contract they would accept, but under the existing rule the contract would have to be laid on the table in the month of February, so that it would not be valid until March. Thus, under the most favourable circumstances, the new contractors would only have two or three months to collect their ships, get their staff ready, and make other arrangements. The existing rule, therefore, tended very much to restrict competition. It was quite evident that the old contractors under this system had a great advantage, for, their ships and staff being ready, they could risk nothing by tendering for a renewal of the contract, whereas a new contractor might either be driven to delay his preparations until he was sure of the contract, and would then have to make them in a great hurry, or he would make preparations which might be unavailing, as the contract might not be approved by the House. It might be said that the contract ought to be completed, so that it might be laid on the table during the present Session. But there was a great disadvantage in that also. It was not desirable to make arrangements so long in advance as that. The public would lose under such circumstances all the 1151 chances of some new competitor coming forward, of some large contractor having a portion of his capital disengaged at the time; and, in fact, unless in the case of some great service, like the American or. Peninsular and Oriental, he did not think that tenders should be invited a very long time before the service was to begin. Of course, all the inconvenience which would occur under the present arrangements would be aggravated by any change which made the time longer or more uncertain. He believed that the thirty days' system did give sufficient opportunity for this House to call in question any contract. It was an accidental and unforeseen circumstance which caused the failure of the present year, and it was hardly worth while, in consequence, to lay down a rule which might be practically inconvenient, in the way he had described. As to the second Resolution, his hon. Friend had anticipated the objection to it. It asked the House to affirm what should be the policy of this country with regard to mail contracts seven years hence. Now, it was not very desirable that the House should so bind itself. He firmly believed that the contracts now in existence were the last of that nature which would ever be entered into for the American mail service. It was not probable that contracts for fixed subsidies and long terms of years would again be made. But he did not think that the position was strengthened by laying down principles on which the House was to proceed seven years hence. His hon. Friend reminded the House of an instance in which the contract had been renewed four or five years before the expiration of the old one. That was true, but there was no chance of the recurrence of such an event. A new contract could not be made without being laid on the table, and the House had a better opportunity of rejecting a contract made under such circumstances, which had not come into immediate operation, than it had in the case of an ordinary contract. As long, therefore, as the rule of a month's notice existed, there was no fear of the House being taken by surprise. The third and most important Resolution would bind the country to enter into negotiations with the United States Post Office for the establishment of 1d. postage. He understood that his hon. Friend favoured the plan 1152 of a double postal service between this country and America—one to be conducted by the present steamers at a comparatively high rate of postage, and another to be conducted by slower steamers at a very cheap rate. He was sure that the House would sympathize very much with his hon. Friend in his wish to extend the benefit of cheap postal communication between this country and the United States, and no doubt it was a subject of very great importance that means of communication between the two countries should be cheapened and facilitated. Still, he could not help thinking that his hon. Friend and the advocates of 1d. ocean postage somewhat overrated both the possibility of the change and the results which would follow it. They seemed rather to anticipate that the same great results which had followed the establishment of 1d. inland postage would follow the establishment of 1d. ocean postage. Well, he could not help thinking that that expectation was a very exaggerated one. In the first place, they must consider that many of the conditions were entirely dissimilar. It was impossible that correspondence should be multiplied as it was in the case of the inland postage. A letter could not be despatched to America in less than three weeks and an answer received; while in the United Kingdom a great many letters might be despatched and answered. It was impossible, therefore, that in this way only could correspondence multiply to the same extent. Besides, there were large classes of the population of the two countries who were not in any communication whatever with each other, or were ever likely to be. In the United Kingdom it was impossible to say with whom they might not be in correspondence within any given time. But most of us knew that under no circumstances whatever would our correspondence with America become a very large one. There were certainly two classes of the community who corresponded very extensively between the two countries—namely, merchants and emigrants. Now, the mercantile community were not very greatly interested in this question of cheap postage. What they wanted was a certain, rapid and safe means of communication, and he believed they were quite willing to pay a much higher rate to secure those advantages than they 1153 would be to pay a lower rate and forego any of them. No doubt to the other class—the emigrants—Id. postage with America would be a very great boon; but he doubted much whether it would be as great as some supporters of the ocean penny postage imagined. In the first place, the emigrants did not generally belong to a class to whom letter-writing came very easily, or who corresponded much even at home; and it was also true, as had been already stated, that they adopted another very convenient and perhaps tolerably satisfactory mode of correspondence by an interchange of newspapers. That this was so was shown by the relative proportions of letters to newspapers that passed between the two countries. Last year, when the postage on a newspaper was 2d., the proportion of newspapers to letters was five to six, whereas in the case of inland correspondence the proportion was one to ten. It was probable, therefore, that the expectation of many persons on this subject would be disappointed. No doubt, if the postage on letters were reduced, it was probable that a considerable number of additional letters would be sent instead of newspapers. But that change would not in any way benefit the revenue. There was another point for consideration. He should be glad to see a penny postage, though he thought that exaggerated expectations were entertained as to the benefits that it would produce. But if a change were made there must be two parties to it. The American Government must be convinced as well as the English Government. Now, his hon. Friend had not given quite a candid account of the negotiations between the two Governments. It was not the case that the United States Government had always been anxious to reduce the postage, and the English Government always interposed obstacles. It was our Government which, in 1857, proposed a reduction from 1s. to 6d., and it was the United States' Government which by refusing to adopt so low a rate delayed that step until 1867. It was true that previous to 1867 the American Government took a very different view, and in 1867–8 suggested a reduction to 3d. Not one word which had been said or written tended to show that, if a penny postage were adopted the American Government would accept one-third of a 1d. for the inland postage, which would 1154 be a lower sum than they charged for their own letters. Again, he did not know what special reason there was for making the postage to America so much cheaper than it was to other foreign countries. To India the charge was 1s. or 9d.; to China, 1s.; to Canada, 6d.; and to Australia, 6d. There could be no doubt that if a cheaper rate were adopted for America, there would be an outcry which, probably, would be successful for a reduction of the postage to many other foreign places. That might be a very good thing; but it could not be effected without a serious sacrifice of revenue, because experience had shown that a reduction of postage to a foreign country was not followed by any very rapid increase in the number of letters. The House must therefore be prepared to consider whether those advantages were worth a considerable sacrifice of public revenue. He must also point out that the alternative system proposed by his hon. Friend would be a complete novelty. It would be novel not only to this country but, he thought, to any country. It had not hitherto been the plan of any country to adopt two rates of postage for letters passing between the same places by the same route. The system hitherto adopted in this country had been to adopt the best system of transit we could, and pay a fair remuneration for it. They did not charge one rate for letters by the Limited Mail to Scotland, and then send another, at a cheaper rate, by the luggage train. He did not mean to say that the fact of the plan proposed by his hon. Friend, being against all previous practice, was an insuperable objection to it, nor did he mean to say that, except the loss of revenue, there was any great objection to it. It would be impossible to say what sacrifice of revenue it would entail, because we could not say how much of the purely mercantile correspondence would continue to go by the quick steamers, and how much would go by the slow steamers; but no doubt the loss of revenue would be considerable. In accordance with The terms of our Convention with America, we were bound to consider the question of the reduction of the postage at a time not now very far distant; and if his hon. Friend were not disposed—as he hoped he was not—to press his Resolutions to a division, he could assure him that he was willing to 1155 consider with, the United States Government what reduction might be made in the whole of the postage between the two countries, and also to consider his hon. Friend's proposal of alternative rates. His hon. Friend would see that, while he thought there were objections in detail to all of his Resolutions, which went rather further than was expedient, he sympathized with him in principle. He believed it was quite possible, without any sacrifice of revenue, to make the reduction proposed by the United States Government—a reduction to 3d.—even under the existing contract, in three or four years, and if the House should be willing to make some sacrifice of revenue, that reduction might, perhaps, be made at an earlier period. Under these circumstances, he hoped his hon. Friend would not press his Resolutions.
§ MR. SEELY
, referring to the evidence of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Hunt), said that, the right hon. Gentleman told the Committee that, when he spoke of the sum of £101,700, he alluded to the sea postage. He thought that the Reformed House of Commons would only do a gracious thing in reducing the postage in such a manner; as would enable poor people to communicate with their relatives across the Atlantic, and he believed they might do so without loss of revenue. If the United States would not agree it was not their fault. All he asked the House to do was to pass a Resolution which would compel the Postmaster General to enter into negotiations with his brother Postmaster General of the United States.
§ MR. HUNT
said, he had not intended to take part in the debate, unless some attack were made on his conduct, and as he understood none had been made he did not consider it necessary for him to occupy the attention of the House upon the Motion, having so fully addressed the House upon the subject on a former occasion. He, however, felt bound to make one or two observations on what had been said, because the hon. Gentleman the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Seely) had pointed out that he had stated in his evidence before the Committee that the sea postage and not the gross postage amounted to £101,000. The noble Lord the Postmaster General, in order to show that he (Mr. Hunt) knew that the £112,000 upon which the calculation was based was the gross postage and not the 1156 sea postage, had quoted a letter, dated the 12th of October. But the noble Lord had failed to observe that that was a letter to the Treasury, and referred to a communication which had been previously made to himself, and also to a letter of the 1st of October to the contractors. Now, the fact was that he gave authority to make the reduced offer to the contractors in one of the last days of September—he believed it was the very last day of that month—and the letter from the contractors to the Post Office was written on the 1st of October. The letter of the 12th of October, to which the noble Lord referred, was the official communication recounting all the proceedings sent by the Post Office to the Treasury, and that was not the letter he received before being empowered to make the contract. What occurred between the Post Office officials was by word of mouth. When he asked for the estimate of the postage that would be earned he certainly understood that the estimate given referred to the sea postage, though it was but fair to the gentleman who gave that estimate to state that that gentleman understood it otherwise. It was, however, on the understanding that it was the sea postage that he made the contract, and it was on that supposition, that he addressed the House the other day.
said, his noble Friend the Postmaster General had pointed out the difficulty which would attend the substitution of an uncertain for a certain period in reference to the contracts, but his noble Friend had omitted to state what would, he believed, be more satisfactory to his hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Seely)—that the Government intended to propose that in these eases where it was the practice to lay the contract on the table of the House a plan should be substituted by which the judgment of the House should be distinctly taken. It was the intention of the Government that on such occasions a Vote should be asked for and then the opinion of the House would be distinctly taken and the responsibility of the Government become complete. This change, however, involved much consideration, and would require that the Resolution by which proceedings were now directed should be rescinded. He trusted, however, that his hon. Friend Would be content with that statement, and not press his Motion.
§ MR. AYRTON
observed that the suggestion made by his right hon. Friend at the head of the Government could not be carried out at once, because it would be necessary that the Resolution by which the present practice was regulated should first be rescinded. The suggestion, when acted upon, would relieve the House from considerable embarrassment, because at present there was no rule by which the decision of the House should be invited; and that opinion might be taken either at the instance of a private Member or by a Member of the Government. He hoped, after what had been stated, the hon. Member (Mr. Seely) would withdraw his Resolution.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That Contracts for the conveyance of Mails to the United States should not in future be made for longer than three years, and that the payments should l>e regulated by the number or weight of letters, newspapers, &c. conveyed."—(Mr. Seely.)
said, that the Resolution was one which could not be said to err as far as its matter was concerned. The Government were not prepared to say that it might not be possible to go even further than this Resolution did, and to take even a shorter period than that mentioned by his hon. Friend. As he, however, believed that they were not at present in a position when the House could fairly be asked to decide such a matter, he should certainty, if the Resolution were pressed, move the Previous Question.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, proposals having been made for a regular conveyance of Mails to the United States at the freight of a penny per ounce of letters conveyed, negotiations should be entered into with the United States Post Office, for the establishment of a penny postage, which shall include the inland rates in the two countries, as well as the sea conveyance."—(Mr. Seely.)
§ MR. AYRTON
trusted that his hon. Friend would not press his Resolution in the terms in which it was framed after the assurance which had been given by the 1158 Government, because it was quite impossible that that House should in a moment commit itself in a most precise manner to the particular form in which arrangements should be made for fixing the rate of postage to the United States. The hon. Gentleman had rendered great service by bringing this question under the consideration of the House, and the hon. Gentleman must be aware that nobody sympathized more than he himself did with the object in view. Indeed, in the last Parliament he was one of those who pressed its consideration very strongly upon the late Government, and he was then very anxious to obtain an opinion of the House averse to the course pursued, because he felt that if we were to be committed to any prolonged contract it would interpose very serious obstacles in the way of a reduction of the postage to the United States. The House, however, in the last Session refused to adopt the view he advocated, and the contracts having been made before the advent of the present Government to power they now found themselves in a very different position. But it was now almost impossible for the House to bind and pledge itself that it would take the precise course suggested by his hon. Friend, although the Government were as anxious as his hon. Friend was that the postage between this country and the United States should be reduced at the earliest possible period, and in the manner that might be found most practicable. He would, therefore, suggest to his hon. Friend that he should be content with the general expression of opinion which had been given that evening. If his hon. Friend was not content with the assurances which he had received, he would propose that those assurances should be; put in a more distinct form by the Resolution that he would now propose—That it is expedient that Her Majesty's Government should take into consideration, and should endeavour to learn by communication with the Government of the United States, whether it is practicable to establish a greatly reduced rate of Postage between the two Countries.It was quite clear that Her Majesty's Government could not take this matter entirely into their own hands. It must necessarily be the subject of considerable negotiation with the Government of the United Suites, and he should like to know what would be the position of Her 1159 Majesty's Ministers if they were compelled to approach the Government of the United States with precise instructions from the House of Commons. He would be rid of all responsibility as a negotiator; but if he went with a general indication of what was desired, he would have all the advantages he had a right to demand in carrying on negotiations. Therefore, he trusted the House would not take a course so embarrassing to the Government as that suggested by the hon. Member, but would believe in the assurance given by the Government, and put in the form of the Resolution he had read; and he hoped the hon. Member would leave the matter in the hands of the Government to be carried out as time and circumstances might permit. He concluded by moving the Resolution as an Amendment.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "it is expedient that Her Majesty's Government should take into consideration, and should endeavour to learn by communication with the Government of the United States, whether it is practicable to establish a greatly reduced rate of Postage between the two Countries."—(Mr. Ayrton.)
§ MR. E. T. HAMILTON
said, the Resolution proposed to be substituted for that of the hon. Member for Lincoln was nothing but a vague undertaking on the part of the Government to enter into negotiation with the Post Office authorities at Washington. He should be sorry to throw distrust on the sincerity of the Government, but he could not forget an observation which had fallen from the noble Lord the Postmaster General, which showed that he endorsed the views of Mr. Scudamore, and was of opinion that we were justified in taking the whole postage as a set-off against the subsidy. For that reason he hoped the hon. Member would adhere to his Resolution as being much more definite than that of the Government. A serious objection to the latter was that it omitted to record the important fact that a distinct offer had been made to carry the letters from this country to the United States at 1d. per ounce, or one-third of a 1d. per letter.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
The objection we feel to the Resolution of the hon. Member for Lincoln is that it is somewhat too definite. It prescribes 1160 too precisely the manner in which we are to approach the Government of the United States and to conduct the negotiations. No doubt, it is an important element in the case that the offer referred to has been made; but it is perhaps assigning too much importance to it to embody it in the Resolution. Offers have been made by respectable companies to carry letters at a 1 d. per ounce, but we have no absolute security that these companies would be willing and able to continue for a length of time to carry the mails at that rate.
The hon. Member for Lincoln has already expressed his willingness to withdraw his own Resolution. It is hardly consistent with respect to a foreign Government to indicate so precisely in a Resolution of the House of Commons the method to be adopted. Nothing could be more businesslike than the speech in which my hon. Friend sketched his plans, and I should be glad if his expectations could be realized, but it would not be convenient to the Government to go to the Government of the United States bound so minutely, and it would not be respectful to commence negotiations with a definiteness which should rather belong to their conclusion.
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and negatived.
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Resolved, That it is expedient that Her Majesty's Government should take into consideration, and should endeavour to learn by communication with the Government of the United States, whether it is practicable to establish a greatly reduced rate of Postage between the two Countries.