§ (39.) £12,000, Customs.
§ (40.) £18,200, Post Office.
MR. J. COWEN
said, there was only one point to which, at this stage of the Estimates, he wished to call attention. Since the present Government had been in Office he had been favoured, as he presumed other hon. Members had been favoured, with a request to nominate someone to act as messengers in the Post Office. It was a very paltry piece of patronage, involving a salary to the person appointed of 18s. or 20s. a-week. They had done away with a large amount of patronage, and it would be an extremely desirable thing if this remnant of a bad system were also abolished. It would be better to intrust the appointment of these small officers to the postmaster in the district. He mentioned the matter because he was sure it only entailed upon an hon. Member a larger amount of trouble than was necessary, and often it provoked ill feeling amongst his constituents. On a recent occasion, in the county of Northumberland, where it so happened that neither of the hon. Members were supporters of the Liberal Mi- 1001 nistry, this small piece of patronage was not exercised, but a gentleman who lived entirely out of the district was asked to make the appointment. It would be well for the Post Office and for all parties if the practice of asking Members of Parliament to nominate persons for these small offices were discontinued altogether.
§ EARL PERCY
said, it was perfectly true that since the present Government came into power the appointments to these small offices had been placed in the hands of gentlemen who had not lived in the county, and whose sole claim to the patronage was that they were defeated candidates. Although it was not for him to criticize the motives which induced Her Majesty's Government to distribute their patronage in this manner, and although he had nothing to urge personally against the gentlemen whom they had appointed, yet, at the same time, he would point out to the Committee that whether or not it was desirable, for purely political purposes, to intrust to unsuccessful candidates all these appointments, it was extremely undesirable that they should be in the hands of persons entirely unacquainted with the requirements of the districts in which their patronage was exercised. A good deal of interest was excited with regard to these appointments in the various districts, and much competition arose with reference to them; and for that reason the matter ought to rest, at any rate, in the hands of persons well acquainted with the needs of the localities. He rather inclined to the opinion of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, that it was better to take the appointments out of private hands altogether.
§ MAJOR NOLAN
said, he never knew when he could recommend for patronage, and he wished his constituents, at any rate, knew when he could not do so. There was great uncertainty with regard to these Post Office appointments at the present time, and he should be very glad if the Government would put a Return on the Table of the House showing the names of persons who recommended in each constituency. The Report would be received with much interest both in Ireland and by Irish Members in this country.
§ MR. J. W. PEASE
fully agreed with the remarks of the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Cowen) that the pa- 1002 tronage conferred on Members of Parliament, especially upon county Members, involved them in a great deal of trouble; for it was generally found that when one person was pleased by an appointment a great many more were disposed to quarrel with the appointment made. The change suggested would, no doubt, be of advantage to Members of Parliament; but he was not sure it would equally benefit the country. It had always been the practice to confer this patronage on defeated candidates. In his own county it had been exercised during the last Administration by the defeated candidate, the noble Lord the Member for the County of Down; and he was glad to say that he believed that whatever Party bad been in power it had been exercised with great advantage to the public, and as he believed was always the ease, with fairness.
§ EARL PERCY
explained that he had no objection to political patronage being placed in the hands of anyone who agreed with the political opinions of the Government in power, and who was resident in the county and understood its requirements. He said it was more important that the service of the Post Office should be performed in an adequate manner by those who knew the country than to allow the appointments to be in the hands of defeated candidates.
§ MR. BEAUMONT
said, he had some acquaintance with Mr. Clay, to whom allusion had been made, and he was able to say that gentleman had a perfect knowledge of local requirements.
§ MAJOR NOLAN
thought the Postmaster General would see there was good reason for the proposal that a Return of the persons who exercised patronage in the matter before the Committee should be included in a Return and laid upon the Table of the House.
§ MR. FAWCETT
said, the question raised rather concerned the Secretary to the Treasury than the Postmaster General. The appointments made were purely Departmental so far as the Office over which he presided was concerned. If his hon. and gallant Friend desired to move further in this matter he suggested that a Question should be asked on Notice.
§ MR. LITTON
said, if he thought any good would result he would be glad that the Return asked for by the hon. and gallant Member (Major Nolan) 1003 should be given. There was, however, a great distinction between an officer appointed in the country districts, and one in the Office of the Postmaster General.
I must remind the hon. Member (Mr. Litton) that the Question before the Committee is a Supplementary Vote of £18,200 for the Post Office, and that the present discussion would more correctly arise upon the general Estimates.
§ MAJOR NOLAN
said, in deciding not to press his question, he did so entirely because the subject had been ruled out of Order.
§ Vote agreed to.
§ (41.) £9,000, Post Office Packet Service.
§ (42.) £34,390, Post Office Telegraphs.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
remarked that the excess of £16,500 under this head was very largo, and thought some explanation ought to be given to the Committee as to how it had been occasioned.
§ MR. FAWCETT
said, the revenue under this head had increased beyond the sum estimated to the extent of £100,000. The hon. and gallant Baronet would see that it was quite impossible that so large an additional revenue could be received without some increase of expenditure. The whole of the Supplementary Post Office Estimate was due to the fact that the entire postal revenue had increased by upwards of £400,000 beyond the Estimate.
observed, that a portion of the Vote was due to the litigation in connection with the Telephone Company, the result of which had been to place a monopoly entirely in the hands of the Post Office authorities. It appeared to him that under the spirit of the Post Office Telegraph Act, on given conditions, any member of the public was entitled to demand any service or licence that might be performed or granted by the Post Office. Now, the Post Office had granted licences to certain individuals, enabling them to start telephonic exchanges; but it refused to grant licences to others under precisely similar conditions. That, he thought, was rather an infringement of the spirit of the Telegraph Act, and would therefore be glad of some information upon the point. 1004 He understood that one reason alleged for refusing the licences in question was that so many wires would interfere with the safety of the public. The safety of the public, however, was a subject for the consideration of the various local authorities, and had nothing whatever to do with the Post Office authorities, who, so far as this matter was concerned, had only to deal with the licences in accordance with the spirit of the Act. The more the competition created by these means the better, in his opinion, for the public good.
§ MR. FAWCETT
said, at that moment it would be almost impossible to give any decision upon so complicated a question. The Government had allowed existing Telephone Companies to continue their business under certain conditions; but numerous complaints had been made by the local authorities of the increase of wires, and the Post Office had concluded that it would generally be better to carry on the business themselves rather than to licence new Companies. As far as he was concerned, he would do everything in his power to supply the public with telephonic communication at the lowest rate, and with the least possible inconvenience.
§ Vote agreed to.