HC Deb 17 August 1889 vol 339 cc1614-43

15. £4,752,553, to complete the sum for Post Office.


I only heard this morning that the Post Office Vote would be submitted to-day, and I think we have some cause to complain that there should have been so little notice. I shall, however, endeavour to deal with those matters on which I think it necessary to comment, and, in the first place, will direct attention to home matters. Numerous complaints have been made to the Postmaster General with regard to the charge for halfpenny post-cards. These post-cards, instead of being sold at one halfpenny each, are now sold at three farthings. Four years ago, I directed attention to the matter, and the answer I then got was, that the post-cards could not be sold at less than three farthings, because of the expense of the Stationery Department and the large sum that had to be paid to Messrs. De la Rue & Co. Nevertheless, I set to work on the matter, and, after many evasions, managed to rouse public attention to the De la Rue contract, with the result that, not only was that contract determined, but a saving of £40,000 or £50,000 a year was effected. It might have been expected that we should get post-cards at their faced value. The Postmaster General now sells them at 10 for 6d., instead of 9 for 6d.; whereas, in every country on the Continent,—in France, Germany, and Austria, at least,—they can be purchased at their faced value. When I asked the Postmaster General why he did not introduce these cards at their faced value, he said there was a loss on the halfpenny postage, and he could not afford to take that course. Now, I assert that the halfpenny rate does pay, and there was evidence to that effect before the Committee which sat on the subject. It contributes to the three millions of profit that is made by the Post Office. The Postmaster General has admitted that the total cost of the delivery of a letter is one-eighth of a penny, or half a farthing. That estimate has been given again and again by previous Postmasters General; consequently, I say a halfpenny rate does pay. I would illustrate it in this way. An enormous number of news- papers are now sold at a halfpenny each, and in some cases the proprietors make very large profits. They not only pay for and print the paper, but they are put to other and heavy costs in producing them, and in addressing and delivering them, notwithstanding which they make large profits. How, then, with the enormous sale of post cards that is taking place throughout the country, can the Postmaster General say they do not pay? The halfpenny postage pays in every other country in the world. In many countries the postage on circulars is considerably less than a halfpenny, and yet there is no complaint that it does not pay. The Postmaster General should not, therefore, say,—as he stated in the House quite recently,—that the half-penny postage does not pay, without being prepared with evidence to prove his case. I asked him, a few weeks ago, what evidence he had to support his contention, and he failed to mention any. There is another complaint about these halfpenny post-cards. Some shopkeepers used to send a large number of cards to the Inland Revenue Office, and get the halfpenny stamps put upon them for 1s. 6d. per 1,000, and they used to charge the public 6½d. a dozen. The Inland Revenue, to stop the sale of postcards, which had risen from 3,000,000 to 50000,000, raised the charge for stamping from 1s. 6d. per 1,000 to 2s. 6d. per 1,000, though they had made a profit out of the 1s. 6d. This was an act of greediness on the part of the Inland Revenue authorities. Then, in addition to this matter in regard to the postcards, I have another instance of the hampering regulations of the Post Office. In every other country in the world you are entitled to put a halfpenny stamp on a plain card, and send it through the post, provided it is of the proper size. The Postmaster General, at one time, led me to believe that he would meet the wishes of the public in this matter, but I sent him a card with a halfpenny stamp on it the other day, and asked him why the regulations would not permit such a card to go through the post, and the reply I received from him, though containing a large number of official words, I was altogether unsatisfactory,—to the effect that he could not hold out any expectation that it would be possible to adopt the suggestion. He does not give any reason why the public should not be able to put a halfpenny stamp on a card of the regulation pattern. The Postmaster General does not hesitate to allow enormous circulars to go through the post, without wrappers, for a halfpenny, but he will not allow these plain cards to be dealt with in the same way, though clearly it would be easier for the letter-carriers to deliver small postcards than huge circulars. Again, it is the practice on the Continent, and in America, to send small bookpackets and circulars in unsealed envelopes at the halfpenny rate. This is a much more convenient system than that of cumbersome wrappers, the envelopes are handy and they expedite the work of the letter-carriers; moreover, these unsealed envelopes can be sent to this country and delivered here free of charge, and I know a case where one of our largest booksellers finds it cheaper to send his circulars to America and have them posted there in these envelopes, and delivered in England free of charge, than to make use of the wrappers supplied in this country. There is no argument against this proposal. The envelopes are more easily searched than are the packages covered with ordinary wrappers. I have appealed to the Postmaster General over and over again to allow this slight reform, and though he confesses himself in sympathy with me, he says that nothing can be done. In effect he declares "The permanent officials rule the Post Office, and I am helpless." Then as to re-addressed letters. Letters arriving in England from the Continent may be re-addressed and will be re-delivered free of charge, although the English Post Office receives nothing for the delivery of those letters. If, however, the letter is originally posted in England a charge is made for re-delivering, although the sender has paid something towards the expense of the Department. Another cause of grievance is associated with the illustrated papers. When these papers publish their large coloured plates each copy has to be stamped with the date of issue and the words "Supplement to," &c, to qualify it for the newspaper post. As these plates are in preparation for a long period, it is often very difficult to issue them on the date which has been stamped on them, as some unforeseen calamity may take place, such as the death of a German Emperor or one of the Queen's children, and render the publication inopportune. The effect may be that the Graphic, the Illustrated London News, the Pictorial World, and other illustrated periodicals are unable to publish the number with the coloured sketches, some of which may be of a comic character, the Postmaster General insisting that the supplement shall be issued on the day it is dated or not sent at all. The Postmaster General has told me that he knows nothing against an alteration of that regulation, but that when he consulted the officials he found himself helpless in the matter. These are small reforms which it seems to me a Postmaster General with any strength or force of character would not hesitate to carry out. And now I wish to draw attention to a matter which I trust will not be misconceived, as I do not wish to alarm the public or cause dissatisfaction in the public mind. However, I am bound to call attention to it in order that measures may be taken in time. The right hon. Gentleman, in answer to a question put by me some time ago, said that no less than 335 letter-carriers were dismissed last year for irregularities, and that on an average three carriers a week are convicted of stealing letters. He tried to palliate that admission by stating that many thousands of persons are engaged in the Post Office, and that the percentage of dishonest carriers is small. But when we see that three carriers are imprisoned every week, some of them for long terms of imprisonment, and that 335 officials are dismissed in a year for irregularities, it is plain that there is something wrong which should be remedied by the Postmaster General. I have the greatest pleasure in testifying to the civility, sobriety, and courtesy of the majority of the officials of the Post Office, and I imagine that this large number of defaulters should be decreased. The Postmaster General ought to adopt more stringent regulations as to the admission of men to the Post Office. It may be said that the salaries are too small, and, considering the very arduous and responsible work of these men, I think they are too small. I think that not a moment should be lost by the Postmaster General in taking notice of this damaging admission that so large a number of Post Office officials are convicted of stealing letters, and so large a number are dismissed for irregularities. As to the Foreign and Colonial relations of the Post Office, the circumstances are so discreditable that I am sure the House will bear with me for a few moments while I deal with them. I have so often called attention to this matter that the House is familiar with the circumstances, and I will therefore merely read some correspondence which I have had on the subject. I may, in the first place, repeat what for years I have pointed out, namely, that the postage of letters from England to India is 5d., and the postage from France, Germany, Austria, and Russia to India is 2½d. The postage on newspapers from France to India is also considerably less than what it is from England. I think the House will agree with me that it is wise to encourage trade and social relations with our colonies and dependencies, and that, in order to do so, we must certainly not charge more for postage than other countries charge. In April last I addressed the following letter to Lord Cross, who was in full sympathy with me on this matter:— 36, Eaton Square, S.W. April 1. My LORD,—In the interests of all Her Majesty's subjects of whatever colour who live in India, and of all at home who have business or private relations with them, I have the honour to draw attention to the scandalous state of our postal arrangements with the Indian Empire. The letter rate to British India from France, Germany, and Russia, is 2½d., from the United Kingdom, 5d. Considering the magnitude of our interests in India, it would hardly have been surprising if the difference had been the other way, and our rate had been half the Continental rates. Again, English newspapers for India and China are now regularly posted in France. One firm in Cornhill saves £1,300 a year by the operation —which is a dead loss to the revenue. In the case of Ceylon, the same British mail steamer which brings newspapers to Colombo for 1½d. each, is carrying newspapers to Sydney 5,000 miles further, for one-third less, or 1d. This state of affairs, which is on the face of it most discreditable to the organizing power of the English Post Office, has been complained of by every Chamber of Commerce in England, and especially by India and other merchants. I am myself prepared to prove that a letter may be carried from any point of the globe to any other for 1d. at a profit; and that universal penny postage is fast coming within range of practical politics. But without entering into the wider question on this occasion, I have the honour to inquire whether your lordship, in the interests of the entire Anglo-Indian community, does not see some way of insisting that facilities at least equal to those enjoyed by Continental nations shall be granted to Her Majesty's subjects? On one occasion the Postmaster General argued that it was better that our newspapers for India should be posted in Prance, because, if they were posted at home, increased expenditure would be involved 'for sea conveyance from Brindisi to Bombay.' But under contract the Indian Mails are carried by the P. and O. Company for a fixed sum, irrespective of their bulk. Not only so, but in many cases the newspapers never leave French hands, are carried in French vessels, so that the English revenue receives nothing on the transaction. In the case of Ceylon, it was argued that Ceylon is in the Postal Union. But France also is in the Postal Union, and none the less charges 50 per cent. less for postage to this English Colony than we do. Lastly, the French, who charge 50 percent. less on Eastern correspondence than we do, spend 50 per cent. more on subsidies to their packet services than we do. The amount voted by the French Government last year for mail steamship subsidies was 25,600,000f., or more than £1,020,000, as against £641,000 voted for mail packet services by Great Britain. Such facts speak for themselves. I have the honour to be, my Lord, your obedient servant, J. HENNIKER HEATON. To the Right Hon. Viscount Cross, G.C.B., Secretary of State for India. Lord Cross replied, assuring me that he was very sensible of the anomalous state of things to which I drew attention, and that he would view with much satisfaction any reduction in the postal rates between England and India which could be effected without imposing any undue additional burdens upon the taxpayers of the latter country, whose interests he was especially bound to consider. He considered, however, that the matter was one in which the initiative should not be taken by him or by the Government of India. I then wrote to him as follows:— MY LORD,—I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of April 16th, 1889, on the subject of the existing high postal rates to India. I am much pleased to receive your assurance that you are sensible of the anomalous state of things to which I drew your attention, and that you would view with much satisfaction any reduction in the present rates. This expression of opinion will materially strengthen my hands. You, however, appear to consider that the initiative in remedying the evils of which I complain should not be taken by you, or by the Government of India, and therefore I infer you are of opinion that the first step should be taken by the British Government. Before addressing the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Postmaster General on the subject, I venture to take the liberty of placing before you one or two facts immediately affecting the Indian Government and its finances, which I humbly submit may fairly be placed before Mr. Goschen and Mr. Raikes in supporting the case. Up to 1858 the subsidy for the Indian packet service was properly charged to the Admiralty, the mail steamers being regarded as an auxiliary naval power. For some reason, however, this was entirely altered, and on the Post Office was placed the whole burden, although the following protest was made:— 'The claim that the Post Office should be charged with the whole expense of this packet or ocean service must be considered as barred by the simple fact that few of the mail packets were established either by the Post Office or for merely postal purposes, their expense being far beyond what such requirements would justify. To assume that these packets were really established for Post Office purposes is to charge the Government with the most absurd extravagance. The West India packets, for instance, were established at a cost of £250,000 per annum, though the utmost return that was expected from letters was £40,000, leaving the £200,000 a clear deficit.' (Post Office Report, 1863.) Subsequently a Select Committee of the House of Commons recommended that 'a fair proportion of the expense should be charged to the Admiralty, and that the Post Office should only be charged for the actual transmission of mails.' This recommendation has been ignored. When last year a fresh contract with the P. and O. Company was made, a saving of £107,000 a year was effected, making a total of over one million sterling in the ten years' contract. I would ask whether the Indian Government profited by, or was credited with, any proportion of this saving by the Chancellor of the Exchequer? I may say at once that I have failed to discover in any Parliamentary document any record of such credit to the Indian Government, which is still called upon as in former years to pay into the British purse, as its contribution to the mail service, the same amount as was paid before the saving was made, viz., about £63,000 per annum. I maintain that this saving of £ 107,000 a year would enable the Post Office to reduce the rates for letters to India to the level of the French tariff. I have the honour to be, my Lord, your obedient servant, J. HENNIKER HEATON. To the Right Hon. Viscount Cross, G.C.B., Secretary of State for India. I was then driven to address the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who told me he had sent on my letter to the Postmaster General. The letter was as follows:— 36, Eaton Square, W. 28th May, 1889. To the Right Hon. G. J. Goschen, M.P., Chancellor of the Exchequer. SIR,—I have the honor to forward herewith a copy of the correspondence on the subject of the charges for postage to India and the British Possessions in the East, which has recently passed between the Right Hon. the Secretary of State for India and myself. You will gather from the tone of Lord Cross' letter of 16 April, that whilst he is fully sensible of the importance of the subject, he thinks that as it is one which primarily affects the British taxpayer, the initiation of any reform should not be taken by the Indian Government. I therefore venture to address you, as keeper of the Public Purse, and to emphasise the facts which I have so often quoted, showing how unfairly the English Community is treated as compared with Foreign Nations in respect to the charge for postage to India and the East. It will scarcely be denied that the freer and cheaper the means of communication between Countries the better it is for trade and commerce, and à fortiori every restriction upon intercourse must operate in a contrary direction. It is surely opposed to all the tenets of Free Trade, that a Manchester or Liverpool merchant should be handicapped to the extent of 50 per cent. in the matter of postage to India in favour of a merchant of Marseilles. Why should we in England have to pay 5d. for a ²Dounce letter to India or China, whilst from France or Germany the postage is 2½d.? It cannot be said that it is done for the sake of Revenue, because the whole amount of the receipts for postage to India amounts to no more than £63,000 per annum. But what is the effect of the present state of things? Letters and newspapers are now sent by thousands weekly to France, to be there posted at the lower rate, thus enabling the senders to pocket a considerable sum to the detriment of the English Post Office Revenue, for if the rates for England were reduced to the level of those for France, all these letters and papers would go direct through our post office, and the postage thereon would represent so much clear profit, as the mail steamers being subsidised, it matters not whether they carry ten tons of mails or ten pounds. Therefore, I contend, that from the point of view of revenue alone, the correct policy would be to lower the rates. I maintain, and I am fortified by the experience of the past, that so far from the effect of the postal rates being to decrease the revenue, the result will be a very large augmentation of the receipts owing to the increase of correspondence which will naturally follow. I contend also, that every saving effected in the Ocean Postal Service (and the economies of late owing to increased competition have been very great) should be in some measure at least devoted to the cheapening of rates.— Now on the last contract with the P. and O. Company to India and the East, there is a saving of £107,000 per annum, as compared with the previous one, or a total of over a million sterling in the ten years during which the contract has to ran; yet I cannot find that India has profited to the extent of a single rupee by this arrangement, though the saving would allow of rates being lowered 50 per cent. and still leave a handsome surplus. The Post Office is most unfairly saddled with the whole cost of subsidies to Steam. Companies, whereas the Admiralty should pay the greater part of this large charge, the subsidised steamers being in reality an auxiliary naval power for use in an emergency, and they have been actually so used. It is only within the last 30 years that this absurdity has been perpetrated, and though a select Committee of the House of Commons in 1888 reported strongly against it, the system still continues, and the Admiralty does not pay anything like its fair proportion. Were the proportions payable by the Post Office and the Admiralty equitably adjusted, as they should be, the profits of the Post Office would show a very large increase, and yon would, I feel sure, be justified in consenting to a reduction of rates all round, which would satisfy the growing public demand for cheaper postage. I would call your special attention to the fact that the French Government pay in subsidies £400,000 a year more than we do for mail picket services, although their colonial possessions and their foreign trade is insignificant as compared with those of this country. For the maintenance of British Commercial Supremacy, it pays us to subsidise our splendid mail steamers. The surplus revenue derived from the Post Office now amounts to over £3,000,000 per annum, and whilst I do not propose that any of this should be touched, I think that the public should participate in any profit beyond this by the lessening of the postal rates which are admittedly excessive as compared with those of other countries. I have the honor to be, Sir, Your obedient servant, J. HENNIKER HEATON. Now, Sir, I think this correspondence will show that the Post Office is not alive to the importance of keeping up communication with various parts of the Empire, and that it needs to be impressed with the necessity of reducing the rates. So strongly am I impressed with the importance of dealing with the question, that I venture to challenge the Government to a Division upon it; and I am quite confident the House will not tolerate the continuance of this anomaly. The facts are so unanswerable that the Postmaster General himself admitted that the anomaly was one which he very much regretted, and in utter despair he said he must put all the blame on the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That has been the common practice of late years. On a former occasion, I ventured to say that the right hon. Gentleman was merely the managing clerk of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That remark was considered by him to be offensive; but I wish to know why, if he has any power, he maintains this attitude of humble Subserviency to everything the Chancellor of the Exchequer maintains. In Shanghai there are four Post Offices, one English, one French, one German, and one Russian. It will hardly be believed that the postage to England from the German, French, and Russian Post Offices is 2½d., whilst from the English office it is 5d. Letters reach me from Zanzibar which have been carried in our own steamers, but which bear French stamps, the French postage being 2½d. and the English 5d. The Postmaster General has taken no steps to remedy this extraordinary state of things. I know of one English firm which sends an enormous packet of letters to be posted in France every Friday morning for India, and English officers at Quettah and other places in India write to me to say that they receive their English newspapers stamped with French stamps. I do not think this sort of thing raises England in the estimation of our Indian subjects. There are 14 Colonies in the British Dominions, the postage to which is nearly 50 per cent. higher from England than from France, Germany, and Austria. For instance, I can send a letter to Australia from Hamburg for 2½d., and the lowest rate from London is 4d. The New Zealand postage is also deserving of mention. The Postmaster General advertises the postage by all-sea route to New Zealand at 4½d. Unless the sender, however, is very alert, he will have to pay 6d.; and if the letter weighs the sixteenth of a grain over half-an- ounce, the unfortunate receiver has to pay 1s. in addition to the 6d. paid in England. I am quite convinced that an ocean penny postage will shortly come into operation. The Conservatives opposed Rowland Hill, and I am afraid they are likely to make the same mistake in regard to this matter. I have asked the Government to grant me an inquiry as to whether an ocean penny postage is feasible, and as to the cost of establishing it. This modest request of mine has, however, been repeatedly refused by the Government. Sensible men would think that there could be no objection to such an inquiry. I am in a position to prove that ocean penny postage would only cost £60,000 a year more than we pay at present. I understand that the Postmaster General sympathises with the object I have in view, but I am told, on the other hand, that he is powerless to help me in the matter. Since 140 Members followed me into the Lobby in favour of an ocean penny postage, I have made inquiries in various parts of the country, and I hare received letters and sympathy and encouragement from all directions. However much I may respect the Postmaster General in his private capacity, and however satisfied I may be with the way in which he has conducted his relations with me, I maintain that the course he has followed in the administration of the Post Office is unworthy of him.

* MR. WOODALL (Hanley)

Before the right hon. Gentleman replies, I should like to point out that considerable dissatisfaction has been occasioned by the regulation which requires that the whole communication sent by circular post, while perfectly open to inspection, should contain "nothing in the nature of a letter." It is quite easy to understand how important it is from the point of view of those who are interested in the revenue to guard against such a latitude, which would, in effect, bring about a half-penny postage general. Many irritating conditions are, however, now imposed by the authorities at St. Martin's-le-Grand which might be done away with. One of these is that the employment of a very small explanatory communication is held to entail an additional charge. There is one other matter to which I wish to draw attention. Those who are accustomed to travel to the East or to America have discovered that there are Post Office regulations which involve very serious inconvenience indeed. Letters addressed to persons on board a steamer at Queenstown or Brindisi are altogether lost to the travellers unless they are specially registered for delivery on board the steamer. This is, I aril satisfied, a bonâ fide, a very irritating and often a very serious grievance, and I think the right hon. Gentleman will find it difficult to show that there is any justification for the regulation.

SIR R. LETH BRIDGE (Kensington, N.)

I am unwilling to prolong this conversation unnecessarily, but I feel bound to say one or two words in order to endorse the statement made by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Henniker Heaton) with regard to the feeling which is, I may say, universal throughout India as to the postal arrangements between that country and this. Undoubtedly there are very serious difficulties involved in the question— difficulties for which my right hon. Friend the Postmaster General is in no way responsible. There are difficulties in connection with the arrangements made between this country and other countries, and which I have heard explained to the House. But I do trust I may appeal to my right hon. Friend to use his influence to the utmost to bring about some reform in this matter, and that I may appeal to Her Majesty's Government to back up the Postmaster General in that endeavour. British officers and English residents throughout India look upon it as an utter absurdity that papers should be received from London at such distant stations as Quettah actually bearing French stamps, and having been sent from this country to France to be posted. I believe the distinguished firm which is conducted by the hon. Member for Hull sends away every week a very large number of newspapers to France in order that they may be posted to India at a cheaper rate than is possible in England. I venture to think we might take some lessons from the stronger postal administration that prevails in France and Other countries where the Post Office is not so entirely dominated by the Treasury as it is in this country. Of course it is necessary that the Treasury should look in the first place to the revenues of the country, but I do venture to think that in the matter of Indian correspondence that is carried to rather too great an extent, and that some kind of regard should be had to the convenience bf trade between this country and India, and for strengthening those relations Of friendship that ought to subsist between the centre of a great Empire like ours and its outlying Dependencies.

MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)

I have to mention a matter with relation 'to Post Office administration at Aberdeen. In June last a vacancy occurred in the supervising class of the telegraphic staff at Aberdeen and it has not yet been filled up.


The Telegraph is separate from the Postal Service.


I have given notice of a Motion to move a reduction in order to raise a question in relation to postal orders, but now only offer a word of explanation why I do not press it. The hon. Member for Limehouse and others who claim to have been authors of the system desire to take part in the discussion, but are not here, not anticipating that the Vote would be reached so soon. I will therefore raise the question next Session.


Under their new contract the Highland Railway Company get £12,000 a year more than they did under the old contract, but some of the anomalies of which under the old system we had to complain have been corrected. Softie 18 months ago the Highland Company offered to give all the facilities required for another £7,000, but this offer the Post Office refused, preferring to go to arbitration, and the result of that is that we are getting the old irregular service arid are paying £ 12,000 more for it. Had the offer of the Company been accepted we should have had two mails to the North instead Of one, for practically we W have only one. A mail leaves at 10 in the morning and another leaves at 8.30 at night, but the mail leaving at 10 only arrives at 5 the next evening, while the train leaving at 8.30 arrives Only ah hour afterwards. The same thing happens in the mails coming South: one departs at 12 at night and the other at 8 in the morning, but they arrive within an hour or so of each other. We might have had double mails and an accelerated service if the Postal authorities had only acceded to the reasonable offer of the Highland Company. It would seem to have been a reasonable offer, because Lord Derby, acting as arbitrator, awarded the Company £5,000 more. It takes about three days for a letter to come from the west of Ross-shire, Inverness, or Argyle-shire, and the North. Between the arrival of the steamer at Strome Ferry and the departure of the mail train there is an unnecessary interval of two hours, then two hours and a half are taken to get to Dingwall, a distance of 53 miles; then the train arrives three quarters of an hour late for the mail to the North, and letters have to remain at Dingwall 24 hours. What we ask is, instead of waiting two or three hours at Strome Ferry, and instead of sending the mail on by a slow train at a pace that a Post Office gig would rival, let the service be accelerated so that it shall not take three days to communicate between the West or Ross and Caithness. In regard to my own county I have brought under the notice of the Postmaster General the fact that from Castleton, the seat of the great quarry industry, it takes two days and a half for a letter to be delivered from 12 to 16 miles to the West; it takes less time to deliver a letter addressed from Caithness to London, a distance of 800 miles. The Highland postal arrangements seem to be regulated on the principle of spending the greatest amount and getting the least amount of usefulness. A payment of half-a-crown a week would suffice to carry the mail-bag from Castleton to Thurso by coach, and then the mail would go forward without having to remain at Thurso for a night. What we complain of is that having brought the letters so far you allow them to be detained for 24 hours. I hope that the Postmaster General will be able to bring about a better arrangement of trains, and that the difference of half an hour in the arrival and departure of trains will not be allowed to remain the cause of 24 hours' detention of letters. I do not want to move any reduction of the Vote, but I hope we may have some satisfactory reply. There is another point that requires attention. Until recently a sorting-carriage used to run on to Helmsdale, but now that is discontinued at Tain, though the train runs on to Ross and Sutherlandshire. Why not carry on this sorting-carriage to the North, to Wick, and Thurso? It will not cost much, and the additional public facilities will be considerable. I hope, under the increased expense of the new contract, we shall have these delays and anomalies in the Postal Service removed.

MR. A. SUTHERLAND (Sutherland)

The hon. Member for Caithness has mentioned a matter to which I intended to draw attention when the general discussion of the Vote was exhausted, and that is the withdrawal of postal facilities by which I think only my own constituents are affected to any extent. I mean the withdrawal of the sorting-carriage, which no longer runs on to Helmsdale, but stops at Tain. I think we have reason to complain of this at a time when a large increase is made in the subsidy to the Highland Railway Company. I am not complaining of that increase, but I do complain that concurrently with that increase there is a decrease in postal facilities. When we compare the subsidy, to the Highland Railway Company with that paid to other Companies, when we find that the North British Company, for instance, receive £23 per mile, and the Highland Company £132 16s. per mile, I think we are justified, at any rate, in expecting that the postal facilities should not be less than before the increase of the subsidy by £12,000. I need not press the matter at length. It does not appear unreasonable to send on the carriage another 40 miles and bring it back next day. I am not aware that it makes any difference to the wages of the travelling sorters, but, considering the liberal manner in which the Post Office have treated the Highland Railway Company, I think the latter have treated the public rather shabbily, and I hope we shall have an assurance that some pressure will be put upon the Company by the Post Office. I do not blame the Post Office, I never did; but it is shabby conduct on the part of the Company, and it is absurd that any Company should be allowed to stand between the Department and public facilities The Company have been liberally treated, and all I ask is that, in the face of the increased subsidy, my constituents shall have the advantages they have hitherto enjoyed.

MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)

I am sorry to have to lengthen the discussion of the Vote on a Saturday sitting, but I am under the necessity of stating the facts in relation to a matter I brought under the notice of the Postmaster General the other day, namely, the opening in transit of a letter addressed to me by the Acting Secretary of State for the United States. If the right hon. Gentleman has any of the curiosity as to the contents that seems to have actuated some of his subordinates, I may say that the letter was sent to me, as head of the Dublin Corporation, acknowledging a resolution of sympathy and a subscription in aid of the sufferers by the Johnstown floods. I have submitted the envelope to the right hon. Gentleman, and he, more of an expert than myself, not only admitted that it had been opened, but pointed out that the operation was conducted in such a bungling way that traces of a different gum to that originally used were found on the outside. Apart from the annoyance to myself, I do think that the seal of the Department of State of a friendly Power should have received some respect from the Government official. The Home Secretary said the other day that there had been no official authority given for the opening of letters, but that is an answer that may mean little or much; it is a statement that may apply to-day, but not to yesterday or to-morrow. I wish to ask the nature of the authority under which letters are opened in the Post Office, and the conditions under which they are opened, both here and in Ireland. I am far from regarding the Postmaster General as the chief sinner in the case, and I am, indeed, doubtful if he is a sinner at all. He does not issue the warrants; the warrants are addressed to him by another Minister overbearing his authority in relation to that secresy to which every man is entitled for his correspondence. But the right hon. Gentleman can answer me the questions, Who issues the warrants; whether the warrants are general or in definite terms; whether they are issued casually from time to time or for a definite period? Letters have also been opened addressed to my hon. Friend the leader of the Irish Party. My hon. Friend has assured me that his private letters, including a letter from his mother, who is living in America, are constantly opened in the post. Now I can imagine, perhaps, there was some reason for that a few years ago, but after what has transpired before the Special Commission I think our correspondence might be left alone, and that our private affairs might have that protection to which the humblest man is entitled. It is time that this mean and dastardly method of insult should cease. Before the Special Commission my hon. Friend's correspondence for a series of years has been subjected to a searching examination, and I think there are few politicians in the world who could say that after such an examination they would occupy such a high position as my hon. Friend. Not one letter sent, or reply received, was worthy of notice or comment by the tribunal. Similarly in regard to my own letters no question arose. Is this system of insult ever to end? Is it to go on for ever? I should, perhaps, not insist so much but for one circumstance. Although none of these letters were made the subject of comment, still there was a letter not needed for the elucidation of anything relevant to the inquiry before the Court, a letter to my hon. Friend, which was not only opened in the post, but copied, and this copy was afterwards produced as evidence on the part of the Times. The other day I asked for an assurance that if this system was to continue we should be afforded some security against the opening up of false charges upon copies of letters pigeon-holed for years until the writer lost all memory of the circumstances and the original was destroyed. Will any one say it is just or fair or tolerable under constitutional laws, that after years such a copy should be given in evidence when the persons who wrote and received the letter are no longer in a condition to protect themselves by ascertaining if the copy is correct or not? I think I am not asking too much when I say that at least the person whose letter is subjected to this treatment should have the opportunity of verifying the accuracy of the copy and have notice that he may preserve the original. But surely, after the exhaustive examination to which our friendly relations have been subjected, the time has come when we may demand an assurance that this system of "Grahamising" shall be brought to an end. Passing from this, I am sorry to say that Post Office administration has created great dissatisfaction in Ireland. There is one point that may seem small, but it is important to the poor men whose interests are concerned. Town postmen after five years' service are entitled to a good-conduct stripe, which carries with it the payment of an additional shilling a week. But owing to the small number of these badges distributed there are men who have been ten and even twenty years in the service, and have not received the advantage to which, at the end of five years, they are eligible. And then I come to a graver question, and illustrate it by reference to a vacancy that occurred in the Belfast Post Office. These vacancies are filled up to a great extent by nominations by the Postmaster, and even when examinations are held,— and I believe they are often not held,— they are held not by responsible agents of the right hon. Gentleman, but by irresponsible persons attached to the Post Office itself. The examinations are not conducted under the conditions prescribed by the Civil Service Commissioners for the security of fair-play between the candidates. As Representative of Belfast I ask that appointments to the important Post Office there shall be filled up by the healthy system of free competitive examination held not by local persons, but by the Department or the Civil Service Commissioners, under conditions that will ensure fairness in the selection. I have also to complain that, notwithstanding repeated applications, vacancies are sometimes left for a long period unfilled, and I am sorry to add that, during the administration of the right hon. Gentleman, appointments to important and lucrative posts have been limited to one creed and to the supporters of one political Party. It is bad enough that Englishmen should be brought over to fill important posts in Ireland, while Irishmen do not receive promotion in England. The system has been carried so far now that persons who may be suspected of having any sympathy with the popular movement in Ireland are excluded from offices under the Government. I will mention one instance. A postmaster in Ireland, named Slack, died recently. He was not a Catholic, but a Methodist, and he was suspected of being a Home Ruler. He left a widow and two children. The inhabitants of the town sent to the Postmaster General a practically unanimous memorial soliciting the appointment of the widow as postmistress; she had previously been assisting her husband in the post-office. There were only two important persons who did not think it would be an advantage to give the place to the widow, and they were the landlord and the rector. I am informed that the right hon. Gentleman was at first of opinion that the widow was an eligible person, and that the office should be bestowed on her, but, in deference to the landlord and the rector, he turned the widow and her two children out of the place, for no reason apparently, except that though the lady's late husband had not laboured under the disadvantage of being a Catholic, he was supposed to be in sympathy with the National movement. I consider this is scandalous, and if it is now too late to remedy what has been done, I hope the right hon. Gentleman may be able to consider the claims of this lady with regard to some future appointment.

MR. J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury, East)

I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether there is any possibility of a reduction next year in the charge for extra-duty Clerks and Inspectors in the Post Office Savings Bank Department? This year the charge is about £8,500 for Clerks, and, including the Inspectors, it amounts to £10,200. I gather from the answers he has given to questions put by me this year that there is no justification for this expenditure on extra duty. The charge has been steadily increasing, and I wish to know whether he cannot employ an adequate staff and so put a stop to such expenditure. I think the Government Departments should, as far as possible, set the example of having as little overtime as possible. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will say extra work is voluntary, but I should like to know how the officials in a Government Department would be treated if, when extra work was required of them, they put their backs up and went home without doing what they were asked.

MR. O'DOHERTY (Donegal, N.)

I wish to draw attention to the treatment of sub-postmasters. These men in Ireland work the same hours and perform the same duties as those in England and Scotland, and yet they only receive salaries of £10 as against £17 paid in England and Scotland. No doubt when the post-offices were established in Ireland men could be obtained at very low salaries, but the cost of living has very greatly increased since that time. They are now being starved, and the right hon. Gentleman is proving himself to be the head sweater of the three kingdoms, inasmuch as he is getting more work out of his servants and giving less money than any shopkeeper in the three kingdoms. I speak not only for Ireland, but for England and Scotland also. Every one knows the attention, the courtesy, and the wonderful efficiency displayed by these persons, and I say that they ought not to be limited to the miserable salaries they now receive. To turn to another matter, I find that a very strict interpretation has been put by the right hon. Gentleman and his advisers upon the rules respecting circulars in Ireland. Circulars are treated as letters if they have the smallest amount of written matter in them. At the same time the orders sent to the Co-operative Stores in London are treated by the Post Office authorities as circulars, although they are nearly all written matter. This is a clear case of a distant part of the country not getting the same attention as London. I cannot think that the Co-operative Stores, which are by no means popular, deserve to be so favourably treated, and I do not think they would be so treated if some of the Post Office officials were not connected with them.


Although the discussion has covered a good deal of ground, I do not think the Department has any reason to complain of the general criticism that has been bestowed on it. The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Henniker Heaton) brought against us several charges which, I think, in almost every instance, had been previously made in this House. I hope he will not think I am treating him hardly when I say I think he is a little ungrateful for what has been done with regard to the question of post-cards. I know that whenever you anticipate that anything you are going to do will be popular, you should be very guarded in formulating that anticipation. I must say, however, I did expect there would be a recognition of the great advantage which has been conferred on the public by the reduction which we have been able to make in the price of post-cards. The price was 8d. a dozen. We have now reduced it to 6d. for 10, which is a very considerable diminution in cost. I had rather hoped that some encomiums might have been passed on the more convenient multiple that has thus been adopted. It appears to me that the division of the cards into packets of 10, which are sold at 6d. per packet, is a very great simplification of the system. No doubt we still make a charge for material. We are not in a position to present the public with the material of the cards, particularly as we believe that the halfpenny post is carried on at a loss to the revenue. The whole saving, and rather more than the whole saving, effected by the new contract has gone out of the Exchequer into the pocket of the public. The hon. Member for Canterbury still questions the allegation that the halfpenny post is carried on at a loss. That statement was, however, made by the Secretary of the Post Office, who is, I suppose, better qualified than anybody else to express an opinion on the question. I admit it is only an opinion, but I think I am entitled to balance it against that of the hon. Member for Canterbury.


Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Secretary of the Post Office for his evidence on the subject?


The statement was made in evidence. My hon. Friend was present, and I do not think he cross-examined on the point. I do not suppose my hon. Friend would wish me to follow him into all the details of his speech, and it will perhaps be sufficient if I deal with the larger questions he has raised. I have already replied to his complaint that the public are not allowed to obtain postcards without stamps. I have pointed out that it is necessary that the card should exactly conform to the regulations of the Department with regard to size and weight. Some hon. Member suggested that that objection might be got rid of if the Post Office would itself manufacture the cards, and supply them at a cheap rate. I do not myself see that any great advantage would be derived from that, because you might just as well go and bay stamped cards as buy unstamped cards and stamp them yourself. The hon. Member says we allow circular wrappers to have half-penny stamps affixed to them, quite irrespective of the shape or size of the wrapper. That is quite true, but in the case of circulars it is not a question of shape or size, but merely of weight. The hon. Member has also renewed the suggestion he has made more than once before, with regard to circulars in unsealed envelopes. I imagine that it is possible to carry out such a system in foreign countries in consequence of the lesser volume of their business. The servants of the Post Office in a French or German town are not so hard-pressed in the work of sorting as they are in our great industrial centres, and it is, perhaps, possible for them to give such envelopes the surveillance which they could not do in this country without a large increase of staff, and a consequent large increase of expense. That brought the hon. Gentleman back to the question as to the charges for re-direction which are imposed in this country, with regard to letters posted here, and not imposed with regard to letters coming from abroad. I think there should always be a charge for redirection. If the State is entitled to charge anything for sending a letter one journey it is entitled to charge for a second journey. We are unable to charge for re-direction in the case of foreign letters because we are not in a position to tax the foreigner. If we could, I should be extremely glad to put him in the same position in this matter as the British subject. We are, however, bound by the Convention not to impose on the foreigner any charge for a service which, under ordinary circumstances, I think we should be quite justified in charging for. Then the hon. Member raised the question of the coloured plates in the illustrated papers. I am always afraid of expressing any sympathy with the hon. Member's proposals because he makes so much of it when I do. I will say, however, that I shall be glad to look into the question of the coloured plates again. My hon. Friend laid more stress than I should have expected on the point respecting the 335 letter-sorters who have been dismissed during the year. I can assure him that, of all the duties which fall on me, perhaps the most painful is that of investigating charges against these humble servants of the public, and there is no part of my duty to which I devote more anxious care and attention than that of balancing the charges and the defences in cases of this description. I am always most anxious and ready to take the most lenient view I possibly can in matters of the kind, having regard to the interests of the Service. If the hon. Member were familiar with the archives of the Post Office, he would know that I have not erred on the side of severity. As the Postal Service consists at present of from 110,000 to 120,000 persons, the percentage of dismissals is not a large one. I am glad to say that our Service is distinguished by the best features which mark any Service. With regard to the heavy sentences which have been passed upon dishonest servants of the Post Office, I have lost no opportunity, where I could fittingly do so, of deprecating the passing of such sentences. I was rather surprised the other day to see that one of the Judges of the land had expressed the opinion in a case of this kind that he was not going to be dictated to by any Government Department as to the sentences he ought to pass. I entirely concur in that view, and so far from attempting to dictate to anybody on the subject, I have merely expressed an opinion in favour of a reduction of sentences. We come now to the question of the postal relations between England and India, and England and the Colonies. I do not propose to go into that question much today. It is a question for the taxpayer; it is for this House to decide whether the country is prepared to make a sacrifice of revenue and to incur the additional cost of carrying on unremunerative services. It is rather hard that the Post Office should be thought to be determined upon high rates, thereby fettering the action between Great Britain and her Dependencies, as if we had a mischievous pleasure in action of that description. On the contrary, we have endeavoured to do our duty by carrying out the policy expressed by Parliament, that the State cannot afford to make any sacrifices in this direction; and when the House of Commons, representing the taxpayers, comes to that conclusion, of course the Department must give effect to its decision. When the time comes, I think it will be possible to show that a very great number of considerations enter into this question, apart from the convenience of persons who write letters. I can only repeat what I have stated before, that whereas the conveyance of a newspaper to India is an absolute loss to the State, yet the Revenue actually gains, because the newspaper posted in France is carried at a small profit. For the newspaper that goes from England to India we have to pay a tourist rate between France and Brindisi, but we receive postage from France for the completion of the journey; and I think the Revenue does not lose, but rather gains by that fact. Then the hon. Member for Stoke called attention to the question of circulars. The hon. Member for North Donegal also addressed the Committee on the subject of circulars. I frankly admit that the present regulations are full of anomalies and inconsistencies in regard to circulars. There is one main principle which I think should always be kept in mind, that a circular should be general in its nature, and a letter particular. A letter is something which only concerns a particular person, which contains some information or something personal to the individual to whom it is addressed; but the circular is a matter which is common to more than one person, and practically general in its character. I think that is the basis upon which we are bound to proceed, I quite admit that it is extremely difficult to reconcile this doctrine to our treatment of Co-operative Store advices as circulars; but I will make this matter, which is a very considerable one, the subject of careful consideration during the Recess. It is one which greatly interests the Friendly and Church Societies in this country, who have with very great patience and kindness refrained from driving the Post Office into a corner, though they have made constant representations on the subject. Sir, I shall be glad if we can arrive, in concert with the Treasury, at any decision which will enable us to proceed on a plainer and fairer system than the present system, which has been modified from time to time to meet particular demands. The other point referred to by the hon. Member for Stoke has relation to the letters addressed to persons who are about to leave this country by steamer going to South America, or from Brindisi to India. The mails may overtake their steamers. I believe the explanation of the particular case to which the hon. Member has called attention is that the letter was not registered. I think it will be seen that there is a justification for the registration. It is quite true that letters posted in the ordinary course arrive by the same train at Queenstown as the registered letters do, but if the steamer starts within half or three-quarters of an hour of the train's arrival, it would be absolutely impossible to sort out particular letters and send them on board. The Post Office has, therefore, reasonably required that letters intended to overtake passengers on board steamers should be registered. These registered letters are placed in a separate and special van, and are sent on board the steamers, at a moment's notice. Well, then, the hon.' Member for Sutherland has pressed me again on the subject of the Highland Railway. I have considered that question, and I am quite sure the hon. Member will see that the liberality to which he referred has been entirely involuntary on the part of Her Majesty's Government. I regret as much as anybody can do the very large additional sum which the Umpire awarded to the Highland Railway Company. We believe that instead of the original contract sum having been increased it ought to have been reduced. Still, I believe that the sum which the Umpire awarded was £30,000 a year less than the Company demanded. The hon. Member for Sutherland may rest assured that we will do our very best to bring all the pressure we can to bear in order to bring about a restoration of those facilities on which he laid so much stress. As regards the Strome Ferry post, I have had it before me more than once. I agree with what has been said, that great inconvenience exists in respect of the land correspondence. But the suggestions which the hon. Member has made are of so expensive a nature that we should not be justified in undertaking them, considering the smallness of the post.


Do you mean Strome Ferry?


I mean the connexion between Strome Ferry and the places to the east of it. I can only say that I do see the anomalies and the inconveniences caused by the present arrangements, and I will consider them. Then I come to the question which has been brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Belfast, namely, as to the opening of letters in the Irish Post Office. I reply, categorically, that no person has been authorised to open any letter in any Irish Post Office since I have been in office. If any letter has been opened, it has not only been without the assent of the Government, but in flagrant breach of the rules of the Department. The Home Secretary has pointed out that no letter can be opened in this country except under his warrant, and no letter can be opened without the warrant of the Lord Lieutenant in Ireland. "The mean and rascally system,"—to use the right hon. Gentleman's words, which I do not think at all too strong if the practice existed,—I can assure him does not exist. If letters are opened in Ireland,—as they are sometimes opened in England and other countries,—they are certainly not opened by the Government or by anybody authorised by the Government; and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that, however susceptible he may have been to the impression that the Government have taken steps to interfere with his correspondence, there has been nothing done while the present Government have been in power which bears any relation whatever to, or any similarity whatever to, the process described by him as rascally. As to the letter which he handed to me, it undoubtedly appears to have been opened, and I will endeavour to discover where it may have been opened. But I will only remind the right hon. Gentleman that between his own countrymen and the Americans a good deal of interest would attach, as he rather admitted, to a letter passing between the President of the United States and the Lord Mayor of Dublin, and it is quite possible that some —one in America opened the letter— quite as likely as that someone in Ireland opened it. However that may be, I am not in a position to dogmatise at all upon the subject. As to the other letters to which he has referred, they also appear to have come from America, and it is just possible they may have been opened in America. I have nothing to add to the declaration I have now made, and I hope hon. Members will accept it as seriously and positively as I make it. The letters which have been brought to me certainly look as if they had been opened, and I will endeavour to make the best and fullest inquiries. If those inquiries are unsuccessful it will not be my fault nor the fault of those charged with the duty, and nobody will be better pleased than I should it be discovered that letters are being opened in the Post Office if the person opening them is brought to justice.


Will the right hon. Gentleman state whether the warrants are general or particular which are issued from time to time?


They are certainly particular. That I know. The warrant issued relates to the correspondence of some particular person, and, I think, some particular office too. I have never had anything to do with the issuing of warrants, and I therefore speak with very partial knowledge on the subject; but I will ascertain what is the kind of warrant issued. Reference has been made to the distribution of stripes. I can only say that we award all the stripes at our disposal, and I only wish we had more to give. There is no delay in awarding stripes where they are merited, and the Post Office at least is not to blame if any disappointments are occasioned. As to the appointments in Belfast, the selection of candidates rests with the Postmaster. The examination papers are sent to him by the Civil Service Commissioners and are returned to them, and promotions are made by the Postmaster General on the recommendation of the Secretary. The Postmaster at Belfast does not make the appointments himself. I will look into this matter in reference to the desirability of the examination being conducted by somebody more directly under the control of the Civil Service Commissioners, and if I conclude that the examination should be conducted in that way, I shall be glad to give effect to that conclusion. The right hon. Gentleman brought some charges, which I hope I shall be able to live down, as to appointments being limited to a particular Party in Ireland. Persons obtain promotion in the Post Office free of all Party considerations. I do not think, so far as I can remember, that I have been aware of any person who has been appointed to any important position for any such considerations. The right hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that the Postmaster to whom he referred was offered another Post office of equal value, which, however, he did not accept. I have no knowledge of creed or Party politics in these matters, and I do not think Party politics run high in the upper branches of the Civil Service. The hon. Member for North Donegal approves of the system of these appointments resting with the Postmaster General instead of with the local Postmasters, but I think it would throw an With regard to the observations of the hon. Member for East Finsbury, I agree with enormous additional burden upon him, what he has suggested. Our position has been a very peculiar one. We have been awaiting the decision of the Treasury upon the Report of the Civil Service Commissioners, and the result has been that we have not been able to increase our staff. We thought it undesirable to create a greater number of appointments under the old conditions, and before the Government are in a position to bring forward a large and comprehensive scheme affecting the duties of their employés Though it is a late period of the Session, I hope that hon. Members will now allow the Vote to pass; and I shall be happy to answer other questions at a later stage.

* THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH, Strand, Westminster)

I hope hon. Members will meet the appeal of the right hon. Gentleman by allowing the Vote to pass. Questions to which hon. Members desire to draw attention may be raised on Report.

* MR. CHAINING (Northampton, E.)

I have a Motion on the Paper to which a certain amount of interest attaches, and I should prefer to have it taken at a time when it can be fairly discussed. The Report stage is usually taken at a late hour, when time for discussion is limited. I should like an opportunity to raise, in the briefest possible form on my Motion, a discussion on the subject of Sunday postal labour.

MR. H.CAMPBELL (Fermanagh, S.)

I wish to say a few words on the reply of the right hon. Gentleman to the Lord Mayor of Dublin, in reference to the opening of letters addressed to my hon. Friend the Member for Cork. From my own personal knowledge, I can inform the right hon. Gentleman that letters belonging to the hon. Member for Cork have been opened repeatedly during the last two or three years, and opened in the most flagrant manner that it was possible to have opened them. The fact of the matter is, it was not thought necessary to seal them up again. That I can state as a matter within my own knowledge, and I do so now, deliberately, in reply to the right hon. Gentleman. But, Mr. Courtney, the opening of letters has not stopped here, because it would not have suited the Government and the right hon. Gentleman that it should have done so. They have gone further. They have gone so far as to open letters addressed to humble individuals like myself. My own letters, since the commencement of the proceedings before the Commission, have been opened constantly and deliberately, and have been detained in the Post Office for two and three days at a time.


Do I understand that the right hon. Gentleman will grant time for my Motion?


I appeal to the House to pass the Vote. There would be no advantage in taking the Motion of the hon. Gentleman, who can bring it forward at another stage.


Then we are to understand—accepting, as of course I am bound to do, the declaration of the right hon. Gentleman—that the opening of the letter addressed to me was not an act of duty, but an act of breach of duty. Therefore, in the case of a letter from so distinguished a person as the President of the United States, the act, in my opinion, was an insult to him, and I press for the discovery and punishment of the offender.


I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give an opportunity for considering the question raised by my hon. Friend (Mr. Channing), and which engaged the attention of a Select Committee for over two years, the recommendations of which Committee the Postal Authorities have not seen fit to carry out.


I will take the matter into consideration.

Vote agreed to.

16. £484,405, to complete the sum for Post Office Packet Service.

Resolutions to be reported upon Monday next; Committee to sit again upon Monday next.

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