HC Deb 05 April 1889 vol 334 cc1699-702
MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether Her Majesty's Government have any intention of reducing the price of the official postcard to the same level as that at which practically the same card, duly stamped at Somerset House, can now be purchased from any ordinary stationer; whether two Departments of the State, the Inland Revenue and the Post Office, in effect compete one with the other in the production of an article which has always been understood to be the monopoly of the latter; whether Her Majesty's Government have as yet arrived at any decision upon the offer contained in the letters from Messrs. De la Rue, dated the 9th and 21st November, which were laid upon the Table of the House towards the close of last Session; and, if so, whether he will state what annual saving, or other financial outcome, as compared with the year 1887–8, will result to the British and Indian Governments respectively under the contract made last year and under any arrangement that now may be about to be entered into with Messrs. De la Rue for the supply of British and Indian adhesive stamps, postcards, wrappers, envelopes, and Indian stamped papers; and, whether there is still an objection upon the part of Her Majesty's Government to lay upon the Table of the House any Reports in connection with this subject that may have been made by the different Departments concerned since the date of Messrs. De la Rue's letter?


also asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he was aware that, in consequence of the price of postcards charged by the Post Office, as compared with the price at which they may be purchased at stationers' shops, the number of postcards printed and sold by private persons had during the last three years increased from 5,000,000 to 50,000,000, and that one firm alone makes a profit of £300 a year by the sale of privately printed postcards?

MR. HANBURY (Preston)

Is it the fact that this offer has already been five months before the Treasury, and that until it is confirmed Messrs. De la Rue will be receiving £500 a month more than they are ready to accept by the contract.


The hon. Gentleman behind me asks whether Messrs. De la Rue's offer has not been five months before the Treasury, and whether during that time a loss has not been incurred. A loss may have been incurred, but we have been simply paying what we are bound to pay under the existing contract, and I do not think that the loss has been going on for so long a period as five months. I think I shall be able to satisfy the hon. Gentleman that advantage will have been reaped from the delay, inasmuch as Messrs. De La Rue have now proposed to shorten the period of the contract from 10 to seven years, or rather to take the contract for 10 years under the condition that it may be shortened by either of the contracting parties to seven years. If the offer of Messrs. De La Rue is accepted, it is the distinct intention of the Government to reduce the price of the official postcard. I am not prepared to say whether it will he reduced to the same level as that at which the same card can be purchased from the ordinary stationer. It is not the fact that the Inland Revenue and the Post Office compete with one another in the production of an article which has always been understood to be the monopoly of the latter. The annual saving as compared with the year 1887–8, which would result to the British and Indian Governments respectively under the arrangement which can now be entered into on the basis of Messrs. De La Rue's offer, would be to the English Government in one year £26,478 3s. 8d., and to the Indian Government £14,041 15s. 8d., making altogether £40,519. The total saving would be in two years to the English Government £52,956 7s. 4d., and to the Indian Government in two-and-a-half years £35,104 9s. 2d., making a total saving of £88,060 16s. 6d. As to the acceptance of these proposals, the Government, I freely admit, have found themselves in the greatest possible embarrassment with regard to it. They are convinced that it would involve a great saving to the country to accept the terms offered. But they have before them the Report of the Select Committee, stating that there ought to be competition in contracts of this kind, though that Report is hedged round by a phrase saying, "Where it is possible to do so for such short periods as the interests of the public might demand." We are firmly convinced—the Postmaster General, the Secretary to the Treasury, and myself—that we should do better to take this saving of £88,000 that is offered than to risk it by an appeal to competition under the present circumstances of the case. The circumstances are most peculiar. The Inland Revenue, and especially the Controller of Stamps, have examined the terms most carefully, and have compared them with the price of paper and stamps in foreign countries; and the competition which was entered into in the Indian contract has shown that the calculation of the Controller of Stamps was perfectly correct, and that if we proceeded on that basis we should get as good terms as could possibly be obtained. But for the Report of the Select Committee we should unanimously have no hesitation in accepting the contract; and I am bound to state that it is our wish and almost our deci- sion to accept that contract, so as to be able to realize the saving, and reduce the price of these postcards at once. If strong remonstrances are made by Members of the Committee, or by any large portion of this House, they will deserve the most respectful consideration. But in the absence of such remonstrances Her Majesty's Government will think it their duty to accept the contract.

MR. GRAHAM (Lanark, N.W.)

May I ask whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer will undertake, before he accepts the contract, that no firm shall have it which does not pay trade union prices? I press for an answer.


I confess that the question is a difficult one, and I do not know whether it is the view of the House that in all Government contracts, not the market price, but trade union prices should be demanded for the employés. I think it would lead to controversy, and open up a subject of extreme complication; and though the Government are most anxious that those employed tinder Government contracts shall be properly paid, I am afraid that such interference would cause considerable difficulty.

MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)

Would this contract absolutely shut the door to a proposal to enable persons to prepare their own postcards and to put stamps on them?


There will be nothing in the contract to prevent this. It would be a separate matter for the consideration of the Postmaster General.

In reply to Mr. HEATON,


said the new contract will be for ten years from now—that is, eight years beyond the contract now running. But the total addition will be only five years instead of eight years, if the Government should have reason to think that they can make better terms at the conclusion of five years.