§ MR. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
said, he was sorry to draw the attention of the House from this subject back to the remarkable conduct of the Ministers, and especially the Posmaster General, in not making any answer to his hon. Friend the Member for Wigtonshire (Sir Herbert Maxwell). He had risen to speak upon the question when the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Jesse Collings) had caught the Speaker's eye. He observed the Secretary to the Treasury in his place; and he hoped that, as the Postmaster General was absent, he would deal with the question which had been raised by the hon. Member for Wigtonshire as to the patronage of the Treasury in the case of the smaller Postmasterships. That patronage was a great misfortune both to the State and to individuals. It was admitted that the hon. Member for Banff-shire (Mr. R. W. Duff) had obtained the appointment of Postmaster for his local agent at Keith—a solicitor—and it was obvious that great injustice might be done to other legal practitioners in the town by the circumstance that all telegrams passed through his office. It was an unusual course for a Member of the Government to take to remain silent when a question was raised impugning the manner in which the patronage of his Department bad been administered. This silence was the more remarkable that the right hon. Gentleman had, some few years ago, voted in support of a Motion almost identical with that which had been put on the Paper by the hon. Baronet the Member for Wigtonshire but which he was not able to move by reason of the Forms of the House. The Motion to which he referred was also supported on that occasion by the Secretary to the Treasury, the present Under Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Ashley), the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain), and by several other Members of the Government. He hoped the Secretary to the Treasury would assure the House that the Treasury was willing to hand over this patronage to the Post Office.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, he thought that his hon. Friend the Member for Eye was quite justified in calling atten- 189 tion to the great want of courtesy on the part of the Government. Surely the question now raised was of sufficient importance to claim some little attention even from Her Majesty's Government. The absence of the Postmaster General at that moment was somewhat significant.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, he was aware that some speeches had been interposed; but he thought the Government should offer some explanation of their silence, and tell the House that they either would or would not look into the matter.
§ MR. COURTNEY
said, that the discussion had been raised an hour ago in the presence of the Postmaster General. He himself had not been in the House when the discussion began, and the Postmaster General left when the discussion dropped. ["No!"] At all events, the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Jesse Collings) got up and raised a discussion on a new subject. The hon. Member for Eye had attacked him (Mr. Courtney); but he knew as little about the matter as the hon. Member for Eye himself, so that his attack was perfectly uncalled for.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
held that it was the duty of the Members of the Government to remain on the Treasury Bench until the House went into Committee of Supply. Not long ago the House had to comment on the absence of Ministers from that Bench, which showed what a great change was coming over the conduct of the Business of the House. Unless hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who received pay for sitting on the Treasury Bench attended to their duties, it was high time the House took the matter into its own hands.
§ MR. WARTON
said, that the present conduct of the Government was part of a system which began the very first night of the Session by having a Minister present who was not to speak, and by having the Minister absent who was to speak. So, that night, they had a Minister present who said he knew nothing whatever about the subject before the House, and the Minister who knew about it was absent. He thought the House had a right to complain of this.
§ MAJOR GENERAL ALEXANDER
, declared that the conduct of the Postmaster General in leaving the House without replying to the speech of the hon. Member for Wigtonshire (Sir Herbert Maxwell) was unworthy of a right hon. Gentleman occupying such a position. In his (Major General Alexander's) view, the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) was right in expressing an opinion that the patronage, as far as the appointment of Postmasters was concerned, should not be in the hands of private individuals, but of a public Department.
§ MR. BIGGAR
observed, that the Members of the present Government were too much in the habit of blowing hot and cold, advocating political purity when they were in Opposition, but pursuing a different course of conduct when they came into power. The case brought before the House was a glaring instance of indirect corruption, and the real reason the Postmaster General did not reply was that he felt the transaction was indefensible. All these appointments should be made by competitive examination. It was most unjust that a political attorney should have the means of knowing what private telegrams to his political and legal rivals were about. In his opinion, judgment ought to go against the Government in this matter by default.
§ MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON
complained of the contemptuous manner in which a question affecting the interests of the agricultural labourers had been treated by the Government, and expressed his surprise that when a charge of having perpetrated a job had been brought against the Government, the Secretary to the Treasury, who knew nothing about the matter, had been put up to reply.
§ Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.