§ SIR HERBERT MAXWELL
called attention to the impropriety of appointing solicitors in practice to Postmasterships. The hon. Baronet had given No- 175 tice of the following Resolution, which, however, by the Forms of the House, he was precluded from moving:—That, in the opinion of this House, the responsibility of appointing to Postmasterships, whatever the salary attached to the appointment, should rest solely with the Postal Authorities, and that the present system of making such appointments in certain cases conditional upon a nomination by Members of Parliament, endorsed by the Patronage Secretary to the Treasury, is anomalous, and calculated to interfere with the efficiency of the Postal and Telegraph Service.He remarked that the Motion was not at all of a personal or local character, and that it was one which had a very wide application. As it originally stood on the Paper, it applied specifically to an individual case in his own country—namely, the appointment of a solicitor to the Postmastership of Keith on the recommendation of a Member of that House. But now he brought the matter forward entirely in the public interest; and hon. Members opposite would be the more inclined to admit this if he reminded them that this Motion was verbatim the same as one which was submitted to the House by the hon. Member for Glasgow in the last Parliament, and supported by a considerable number of the Gentlemen who now sat on the Treasury Bench. The support of the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite whom he had mentioned divested the Motion of anything like a personal or partizan character. He believed there could be nothing said against Mr. Fraser, who had been appointed Postmaster at Keith, either as regarded his private character or his business qualifications. But it so happened that a very sinister colour was thrown over the transaction by the fact that Mr. Eraser was at the time of his appointment political agent of the hon. Member for Banffshire (Mr. R. W. Duff). That position he had since resigned; but the wider objection still remained. In the two instances in Scotland in which solicitors had been appointed Postmasters, of which Inverness was one, both appointments were made previously to the telegraph being taken over by the Post Office; consequently, the objection which he and most people entertained to solicitors having access to controversial confidential information conveyed in telegrams did not apply in those cases. But the objection did apply now; and 176 therefore he submitted that the appointment of a solicitor, as in this case, to an office which gave him such an insight into the affairs of his neighbours was most undesirable and improper. The terms of the present Motion, as he had said, were identical with one moved in the last Parliament by the hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron). In that case his hon. Friend the Member for Bucks (Mr. Fremantle) had recommended an individual in his own county for a certain Postmastership. This individual was not a solicitor, so there was no objection to him on that ground; but the hon. Member for Glasgow characterized his appointment on the recommendation of the hon. Member for Bunks as a discreditable piece of jobbery. The hon. Member for Bucks candidly said the reason he nominated him was not only that he was well fitted to discharge the duties, but that he was a good Tory. Perhaps that was the reason which led the hon. Member for Glasgow to characterize the appointment as a piece of jobbery. He, however, did not wish to use any such expressions as to the recommendation of his hon. Friend the Member for Banffshire (Mr. Duff); but if he did he should have a precedent which was endorsed by the support of eight Members of Her Majesty's Government when in Opposition, including the present Postmaster General. It was on no personal or private grounds that he objected to this appointment. He appealed to the Postmaster General whether it would not be in the public interest that appointments such as this should be made by the Department over which he presided, and entirely without any reference either to the Member for the county in which the office was situated, or to the Government candidate at the last Election? It would be in the public interest, and in the interest of Members themselves; because he could imagine few things more irksome or more harassing than to have to decide between the competing claims of half-a-dozen candidates for some twopenny-halfpenny post office in a rural district. He submitted these considerations to the Postmaster General in the hope that the right hon. Gentleman would show himself of the same mind as he was in 1878; and if he was not able to support the Motion by his vote, that he would give some very good 177 ground for departing from the conclusion at which he then arrived.
§ MR. R. W. DUFF
said, he was not prepared to go into the general question which had been raised by his hon. Friend; but in the course of his speech he had alluded to an appointment for which he (Mr. Duff) might say he was responsible. With regard to Mr. Fraser's appointment, at the time the office became vacant he (Mr. Duff) applied to the usual authorities to know if a practising solicitor was capable of holding the appointment, and he ascertained that such an appointment had frequently been made. There was no doubt Mr. Eraser was admitted to be a most competent person for the office. A Memorial had been addressed to the Postmaster General since the appointment had been criticized, to which there were 989 signatories, two-thirds of whom were householders in the district, expressing their confidence in the appointment. On the other hand, a Petition had been got up against Mr. Fraser, signed by eight individuals, two of whom were non-resident, and who happened to be agents of the Conservative Party in the district. His hon. Friend had also alluded to an occasion when a similar subject was brought before the House some years ago. On that occasion he (Mr. Duff) voted in favour of these appointments being given by the Treasury; and he was much obliged to his hon. Friend for recalling the fact, because it was a proof of his (Mr. Duff's) consistency on the present occasion. With regard to the opinions entertained by the Postmaster General, he thought his right hon. Friend would rather like to see the appointments in the hands of the Post Office; but during the time he had been in Office the Treasury had always exercised that patronage, and he did not suppose those who held Office under the Treasury would like to see it given up. And if his hon. Friend would refer to the Division List in 1878, he would find that all his own Friends connected with the Treasury were in favour of these appointments being given to the Treasury. With regard to the fact of a Postmaster being a solicitor, he had no doubt objection might exist on the ground of his having access to telegrams; but, on the other hand, the Post Office was not prepared to pay people to do the work of the Post Office exclusively. 178 If an appointment of this kind was given to a grocer he would equally know all about everything that was going on among the other grocers, and he did not know that such an appointment, would be any improvement upon the present system. He might remind his. hon. Friend, in view of his objection to a solicitor having the appointment, that the Inverness Post Office, which was a much more important office than Keith, was given, he believed, by a Conservative Member who was very much respected—Mr. Baillie.
§ MR. R. W. DUFF
said, that was quite true; but the Conservative Government never cancelled the appointment after that date. He did not think a case had been made out against the appointment in question; and he was quite satisfied it was one which had given great satisfaction to the neighbourhood.
said, he thought that the hon. Member had done good service by calling attention to the matter. This was the only instance of patronage in which a Member of the Party which happened at the time to be in Office was allowed to recommend a person to the Public Service, not for his fitness to discharge the duties of the office, but because he happened to be a political supporter. In that question both Governments were equally to blame; but he was quite sure that the Postmaster General would not say one thing when in Opposition and another when in Office; and he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would support the Motion. He had no desire whatever to throw any blame in this matter upon the present Government, because he was confident that if the Front Opposition Bench were occupied when the Estimates were being discussed, the Members of the late Government would have to confess that they were as much to blame with regard to this subject as their political opponents. The real fault lay with the system under which these appointments were made. He trusted that now that the attention of the Government had been drawn to this subject, that system would be put an end to.
§ SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLFF
, with all due respect to the hon. Member for 179 Banffshire (Mr. R. W. Duff), contended that the recommendation of Mr. Eraser was not a fortunate one, because he was a political agent.
§ SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLFF
said, he was, at any rate, a political partizan. Supposing a political agent happened to be a Postmaster, with access to the telegrams, and during an election an important telegram happened to be sent for the opposite Party, it would take some time to reach its destination. And supposing, also, that in the middle of some professional case, conducted by the Postmaster as a solicitor, a telegram came which was of material importance to the opposite side, and referring to some point of law, would he not be open to a temptation which ought not to be thrown in the way of a public official? The Government should look carefully into these matters, which appeared liable to lead to grave abuses.