HC Deb 12 March 1883 vol 277 cc309-12

Resolution [March 10] reported.


said, that at this time in the morning he would not occupy the House more than two or three minutes; but as this was the last opportunity he should have of saying a word with regard to the Civil Service Estimates for the year, he wished to enter his protest against an amount of Estimates which exceeded anything which the House had ever before experienced, and, in particular, he wished to draw attention to, and ask for, an explanation upon the Post Office Estimates. The Post Office Estimate this year amounted to the very large sum, including the Works' Estimate, of £4,726,401, being an increase of £300,000 on the Estimate of last year, which was in its turn an increase of £200,000 over the Estimate for the preceding year. Well, this increase at the Post Office of £300,000 was intended to earn an estimated income of £150,000, so that the net income of the Post Office with this £300,000 would be £150,000 less than it was last year, if the Estimates were realized or not exceeded. When they came to the Telegraphs, the question was still more grave. The Votes passed for the Telegraph Service this year, included in the Ways and Means Report, amounted to £1,588,717. Last year they were £1,413,000, showing an increase of £175,000 in the provision for telegraph expenses; and last year there was an increase of £l46,000 on the year preceding. In 1871 this expenditure was £1,277,000, and in 1883 it was £1,588,000. In 1881 the gross income was £1,600,000, and in 1882 it was £1,630,000; that was to say, that with an increased revenue of £30,000 there was an increased expenditure of £146,000. There was an estimated increase of revenue this year of £20,000, bringing up the gross revenue to £1,650,000; but that extra £20,000 was obtained at a cost of £175,000 in expenses. The result was, that the net revenue of the Post Office, which was in 1881 £2,803,000, fell, notwithstanding the great increase in gross revenue, to £2,796,000 in 1882, and if the Estimates were realized—or not more than realized—this year, it would fall to £2,490,000. So that the expenditure was going on greatly in excess of the revenue. During the last three years they had reduced the net revenue by upwards of £300,000, and had increased their expenditure by £500,000 in the Post Office, and £300,000 in the Telegraphs, which was a most alarming condition of affairs in a trading undertaking. The Government undertook the conveyance of letters and the despatch of telegraphic messages as a matter of business, and that business was going back seriously, the result, so far as telegraphs were concerned, being shown in the Return presented that morning. According to that Return, the balance in 1881 was merely sufficient to pay the interest on the capital employed. It went up from £207,000 to £296,000, and then in 1881 to £325,000. It fell in 1882, according to the Return, to £213,000. He had estimated the amount at £216,000, but he had no doubt that the figures in the Return were much the more correct; and now, assuming that the Estimates of revenue were realized, there would be only £60,000 available for interest, on a larger amount of capital embarked. These figures were of a most serious character, and demanded an explanation from the Government. He was bound to say that while it was only to be expected that in a great business concern like this the expenses would grow, at the same time, it was dangerous for them to grow so considerably in advance of the increment of business.


said, he was sorry the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General had not been aware that this important discussion was about to be raised, otherwise, at all risks, he would have been in his place. As the right hon. Gentleman had been advised that it would not be well for him to remain until the late hour to which it was supposed the House would sit, and as it was not anticipated that his presence would be indispensable, he had asked him (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) to represent him in any discussion which might arise. It must be admitted that the increase in the Post Office Estimate was a very serious one; but, as hon. Members were well aware, it was almost wholly due to the increase in the salaries of postmasters, letter-carriers, and other officials forced on the Postmaster General—or agreed to by him, after very careful consideration, in consequence of the action of Members of the House on all sides. No doubt, the increase which had been made in the salaries made the account appear a bad one. He had been unable to follow the figures quoted by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. H. Smith), and he had not been aware that it was intended to raise the discussion, otherwise he should have taken the precaution to properly inform himself with regard to all these details. It had only been suggested to him a couple of hours ago that reference was to be made to the subject, and he had done his best to inform himself as to the figures. The figures he had obtained, bearing upon the past three or four years, certainly did not in any way bear out the right hon. Gentleman's statement. If he compared income with expenditure, during the years the present Government had been in Office—that was to say since 1880—he found that, though the expenditure of the Post Office had considerably increased, the income had increased in somewhat larger proportions. In the year 1880, for instance, the gross income of the Post Office was £6,550,000, and the net increase was about £2,500,000. Since 1880, comparing that year with 1882, he found that there had been an increase in the expenditure of £256,000, and an increase in the income during the period of £473,000; therefore, the net income had increased during the three years by the sum of £218,000, or, relatively, more than the gross income. These figures, of course, did not include the current year, but only the expenditure down to the end of the financial year of 1882. It showed, however, that during the first two years the present Government had been in Office, though the expenditure had increased, the income had increased to a greater extent. He quite admitted that in the current year there had been, a considerable increase of expenditure; but he believed he was correct in saying that the income would also increase largely—not, perhaps, in proportion to at the expenditure, but it would turn out the end of the financial year, most likely, that the income had increased nearly, if not quite as much, as the expenditure. The proportion would not be so great as last year, but, looking at the aggregate income, it would not be much worse. The account would work out better than the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. H. Smith) anticipated. He quite agreed that the Telegraph Account was not so good. The incomes of the Telegraph clerks had been raised almost as much, relatively, as the incomes of the Post Office clerks, but the income of the Department not having been so great, comparatively speaking, the account did not balance so well; but, taking the two services together, it would turn out, he thought, that the net income had increased relatively to the expenditure. He frankly admitted that the increase of expenditure, owing to the raising of salaries, had been a large and a serious one, and that it was necessary that the outgoings of the Departments should be most carefully watched in the future; and he was sure the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General would welcome any assistance from the Front Opposition Bench and any other part of the House in resisting the pressure which, he was sorry to say, was so often put on the Government from the other side of the House, to increase the salaries of officials.


said, the figures he had read had been extracted from the Finance Accounts. He would give them to the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Shaw Lefevre), and if he found any error in them he could raise the Question again on the Ways and Means Bill.


merely wished to point out that since the present Government of Retrenchment came into Office the Civil Service Estimates had increased by £3,000,000.

Resolution agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir ARTHUR OTWAY, Mr. CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER, and Mr. COURTNEY.

Bill presented, and read the first time.