HC Deb 07 May 1886 vol 305 cc530-7
MR. HUTTON (Manchester, N.)

, in rising to move— That the interests of the people urgently require that on letters, newspapers, and printed matter there should be a discontinuance of the charges of higher rates of postage in Great Britain than those which are charged to the public in other countries for Postal Service by British steamers carrying Mails to and from the Colonies and the possessions of Great Britain in India and elsewhere, said, the question affected something like four-fifths of the population of the British Empire; and what he asked was not a boon, but a simple act of justice. Something like double the amount of postage was charged for letters sent abroad by our own steamers than for letters posted abroad for the possession of this country, and an act of injustice was there fore done to our fellow-subjects. He did not propose to interfere with the fiscal administration of the country, nor would he say a word against the administration of the Post Office. As far as inland postage was concerned the Department was most ably administered; but in regard to the foreign and Colonial postage an injustice was done to the interests of the country. It was calculated some time ago that the population of this country had increased something like 1 per cent per annum, while the communications through the Post Office had increased something like 4 per cent per annum in the last 30 years. In England and the United States there was, at the present time, about one letter per head of the population written every week; in Australia the proportion was about one letter per head every two weeks, while in India it did not exceed one per head every twelve months. Were we to reduce the postal rates, there would, in his opinion, be a very considerable increase in the amount of correspondence sent abroad; and instead of the Treasury incurring a loss, there would probably be a very considerable addition to the profits of the Post Office. The meaning and purport of his Motion was that this country should not have, as it now had, simply a Treaty on paper with the different countries of Europe, but that the British people should be put in the position of taking advantage of the benefits to be derived from the Postal Union. Some weeks back the Secretary to the Treasury stated that all the civilized nations in Europe and America belonged to the Postal Union, and that its representatives met and fixed the rates of postage for the different countries forming the Union. He further stated that the charge fixed for postage was 2½d., with the power to charge another 2½d. for ocean service. But England was the only country which had taken advantage of the power to charge the extra 2½d. for ocean service; and the result was that if advantage was to be taken of the Postal Union people must go out of the British Empire to do it. A great injustice was thus inflicted on the people of Great Britain, on our Colonies, and on the population of India. The last meeting of the Postal Congress took place some time in February. The result of it was that while this country lost money every year it allowed foreign countries to use our Post Offices and steamers to send their letters by at a lese charge than we paid ourselves. He wished to draw the attention of the House to the rates now charged. Every letter sent from this country to India, Ceylon, China, and the East weighing ½ oz. had to pay a postage 5d.; whereas letters sent from any other country in Europe to the same places paid only 25 centimes, or something less than 2½d. The same difference occurred with regard to newspapers. Every newspaper 2 oz. in weight sent from this country to the places he had named was charged 1½d., while in Calais the same newspaper could be posted for ½d. Commercial papers going from this country paid 7½d., while in Calais they could be posted for 2½d. In the case of samples, a 4 oz. packet for the East cost in this country 3d. postage; but in France and Germany only 1d. The French had their own steamers running from Marseilles to India by which might be sent from here a 10 oz. packet for 5d.; whereas the cost by English steamer was 7½d. If the Government pleaded that they were losing money on the present service, the reason obviously was that samples were sent by the French steamers because they were taken at a great reduction. The same anomaly existed with regard to postage in India. Commercial and legal documents to this country were charged 3½d., and to other European countries 2¼d. The same excessive rates for postage to the East were also charged in this country for letters and other things sent to our Colonies, to the West Indies, and to the West Coast of Africa. Letters for these Colonies might be posted in any part of Europe—Odessa for instance—and sent thence viâ Liverpool, Southampton, or wherever the mail might go from, at a charge of 2½d.; whereas people living in the neighbourhood from which the mail started had to pay 4d. That was a great injustice to the mercantile community of this country. The same difference in rates applied to printed papers; 1d. for 2 oz. was charged for printed papers in Great Britain, while they could be sent from across the Channel for ½d. It was extraordinary that these anomalies should have existed so long as they had done; and a great many mercantile men told him that they were unaware of them till recently, when they discovered them by accident. It might even be worth while, in the case of firms having a large correspondence with the East, to send a clerk every Friday morning to Calais to post their letters. He had heard of one firm which was able to save £200 to £300 a-year by adopting that plan. He was informed by one of Her Majesty's Consuls in New Caledonia, who was a scientific man, that he could send a letter to England for 2½d. but that it cost 5d. for a reply. That gentleman was in the habit of making up boxes of natural history collection and sending them to England, and he found it much more advantageous to send them through Prance, as the charge was only ½d. for every 2 oz. up to 10 oz. Moreover, since he had sent through France he had had scarcely any breakages; whereas the same boxes sent to England were nearly always broken, and were then charged letter rates. This was the experience of the advantages of the Postal Union to England by a gentleman in Her Majesty's Service. It was stated on a former occasion by the right hon. Gentleman that the Colonies had expressed no dissatisfaction with the present arrangements. The Colonists whom he had met in this country, especially Indians, had expressed the very greatest dissatisfaction at the large charge made for the conveyance of letters from this country. The Civil Service Estimates showed that India contributed £70,000 a-year to the Postal Service to the East, while Ceylon and the Straits Settlements and other places made up the subsidy to about £83,000 a-year. The Postal Report published last year stated the estimated receipts for the postage of letters and papers between India and this country to be £55,000. He was informed that that sum of £55,000 did not cover the whole of the Post Office receipts for the transmission of our mail to India. Mulhall's Tables for 1884 stated the amount of letters received in India from Great Britain in a year as 9,000,000. At 5 d. each those would have yielded £180,000 per annum. The estimated receipts of £55,000 were obviously without taking the Government Correspondence and despatches into account. He did not believe that the ultimate loss to this country, if his proposal was adopted, would exceed £120,000, which ought not to be charged to the Post Office, because the lines of steamers were subsidized, not merely for carrying purposes, but that we might have good vessels at the disposal of the country in the event of any emergency arising. If we wanted a thing done properly we must pay a fair and proper price for it; but as Her Majesty's Government did incur expenses for subsidies for mail and telegraph service to Zanzibar, West Africa, and St. Helena, and charged those expenses to the Imperial Exchequer for other similar services rendered, he failed to see why that deficiency should be charged to the Post Office Revenues. He trusted the facts he had put forward would receive the attention of Her Majesty's Government; and he hoped the House would have not only an expression of sympathy such as they had had on previous occasions, but that Her Majesty's Government would be able to see their way to rectify what was really a great injustice on those men who went out as the pioneers of our commerce and civilization, to benefit the trade and industry of the country, and who ought, at least, to look forward to receiving their communications from the Mother Country regularly and at a cheap rate. He believed such a course would bring closer the ties of friendship and sympathy between England and her Colonies, and would reflect credit not only on that House, but on Her Majesty's Government. He would ask the House to consider the auspicious words uttered by Her Majesty the Queen, a few days ago, when she expressed the hope that— This undertaking may be the means of imparting a stimulus to commercial interests in all parts of the British dominion by encouraging the arts of peace and industry, and by strengthening the bonds of union which now existed in every portion of the Empire. He trusted the Government would consider the sentiments expressed in those words, and would endeavour to at least do that justice which, every loyal subject of Her Majesty was entitled to. In conclusion, the hon. Member moved the Resolution which stood in his name.

SIR RICHARD TEMPLE (Worcester, Evesham)

seconded the Resolution.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the interests of the people urgently require that on letters, newspapers, and printed matter there should be a discontinuance of the charges of higher rates of postage in Great Britain than those which are charged to the public in other countries for Postal Service by British steamers carrying Mails to and from the Colonies and the possessions of Great Britain in India and elsewhere,"—(Mr. James Hutton,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, he was somewhat in a difficulty in dealing with this Resolution, because it was, in another shape, a repetition of a Motion brought forward on March 30, to which it had been his duty to reply in a speech of considerable length, and he did not wish to inflict upon the House a repetition of the statement he then made. The hon. Member, perhaps, would therefore excuse him if he did not go again into the Colonial question. He was also rather puzzled by the difference between the hon. Member's speech and the terms of his Motion. However, on the present occasion he would confine his remarks exclusively to the injustice of which the hon. Member complained—namely, that letters posted in England for India were charged 5d., whereas if those letters were posted in Paris for India they would only be charged 2½d.—the letters being carried by the British mail steamer—and that, therefore, there was the apparent injustice of a differential rate between this country and France. He might observe, at the outset, that there was no such differential rate at all, except with reference to the two places mentioned by the hon. Member—namely, the West Indies and the West Coast of Africa. There was no differential rate for a letter between this country and France to Australia or Canada or our principal Colonies. The only differential rate was between this country and the West Indies and the Gold Coast; and the postal communication between Great Britain and the West Indies and the Gold Coast was such a bagatelle that it was hardly worth the trouble of calculation. The question really rested upon the postage between this country and India, and on that he would give an explanation which he hoped would be satisfactory to the hon. Member. Some years ago this country went into the Postal Union, in which there was a uniform rate of charge—namely, 2½—whenever a letter was delivered within the limits of the Union. Certain countries inside the Postal Union were great carriers by sea, and some others were great carriers by land; and we must, as commercial and business men, look at both sides of the question. We carried the ocean postage, but we did not carry the land postage. He was sorry to say there was heavy loss on the whole of the postage; and though there was an apparent loss in our carrying letters from France to India for 2½d., they must remember, as against that, that they had their letters carried for the same rate across the Continent of Europe; and the letters carried at a cheap rate by us were small in comparison with the letters carried at a cheap rate across the Continent. When these terms were fixed, those in charge of the interests of this country thought they made a good bargain, and he also was satisfied that they did, because, even if they carried letters from France to India at a low rate, they got a corresponding advantage upon the other side. The postage between Europe and India was almost entirely English postage, as the commercial transactions were practically English. Lastyear India bought something like £52,000,000 worth of goods from Europe, and of that amount £50,000,000 was from the United Kingdom, and only £845,465 from France. The receipt from French postage to India was £1,600, and no corresponding advantage would be gained by doubling that amount. The hon. Member said, they ought to deal with this question on the principle of justice. Well, the principle of justice was that a man should pay for what the service rendered to him cost, and our Indian and Colonial Postal Service was carried on at a loss of £1,000a-day. [An interruption.] "Cheap," an hon. Member said; that might be so. [Mr. HENNIKER HEATON (Canterbury): No, not cheap; chiefly India.] Oh, chiefly India. What was the Indian correspondence? It was a correspondence mainly between the Anglo-Indians and home. He did not wish to depreciate the importance of that correspondence; but who ought to pay for it? So far from that correspondence being a failure, the increase was enormous, and the business communications were of vital importance to this country. The principal loss of £136,000 was upon India, and they taxed the Natives of India something like £68,000 in order that the Anglo-Indian community might have their letters carried at a considerably less cost than that service entailed. The House, he thought, understood the nature of the case. They were losing £365,000 a-year by their foreign and Colonial postage; but they made no differential charges except with India, West Africa, and the West Indies. The hon. Member contrasted the French and English Post Offices unfavourably to that of this country; but in that contrast he might have referred to the charges for internal postage in France. In France they charge 1½d. for every letter only weighing half an ounce, whereas in this country we only charged 1d. for a whole ounce. The hon. Gentleman's argument was that because we carried, say, one-tenth, or a much smaller proportion, of the correspondence at a great loss, under a bargain which they thought redressed itself in another Department, they should carry the other nine-tenths also at a loss. If we reduced the postage to India it would entail a further loss, and was that loss to fall on the English or the Indian taxpayer? He knew the answer which would come from more than one quarter of the House—namely, that the Post Office should be treated as one concern, and that, as there was a profit of £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 a-year, the loss should come out of that sum. Rightly or wrongly, they had made the Postal Revenue a portion of the Imperial Revenue; and if they were going to say that the whole Revenue of that Department was to be spent for the postal consumers, if he might so describe them, and were prepared to put on 1d. or 2d. extra on the Income Tax to make up that loss, did they not think that the people at home, whose letters made up that profit, would make a claim to share in the benefit by reduced charges on their own letters? They would have an outcry from the working and commercial classes, upon whom the postal charges were a heavy tax, and these classes would say that those who earned the profits had the first claim on the benefit. He hoped the House would not embark on so great a question as that; and he was satisfied, from the consideration he had given the subject, that the wise and experienced permanent officials of the Post Office, under Postmasters General of both political Parties, had made the best bargain for this country, and that at present the English Post Office would contrast favourably with any Post Office in the world.

Question put, and agreed to.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," again proposed.