HC Deb 16 June 1892 vol 5 cc1263-5

I beg to ask the Postmaster General if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the English Government pay three shillings per pound for the sea conveyance of letters to America and threepence per pound for newspapers, whereas the American Government have their letters conveyed to this country, often in the same steamship as ours are conveyed in, for one shilling and eightpence per pound, and newspapers and other articles for less than threepence per pound; whether any distinction is made by the Steamship Companies in the mode of safeguarding, packing, and transmitting letters, as distinguished from newspapers, or whether they are all thrown together in the hold of the ship; whether any attempt has been made by the British Post Office to do away with the difference in the amounts paid to the steamship owners for the carriage of letters and newspapers respectively; what explanation do the French and Italian Governments furnish for charging 10 francs 50 centimes per kilogramme for conveying letters, from or to India and Australia, in closed bags between Calais and Brindisi, and only fifty centimes per kilogramme for newspapers and other articles, also in closed bags, and in the same compartment and the same train, between Calais and Brindisi; whether any attempt has been made by the British Post Office to alter this system of distinction in the trans-Continental charges, or whether he intends to make such an attempt; whether he will offer a fixed subsidy, irrespective of weight of mails, to the Steamship Companies sailing to America, based on the average amounts now paid to them for conveying our mails; and whether the present mail contracts with the Peninsular and Oriental and Orient Companies to India and Australia are for fixed subsidies, irrespective of the weight of letters and other matter carried?


A statement in the sense of paragraph one of the question has been made more than once; but it is incomplete, misleading, and not quite accurate. The prices mentioned are paid to the contractors for the packet service to New York in consideration of their stopping their steamers at Queens-town after leaving the Mersey, and then conveying the mails to New York. When the United States Post Office employs the return British steamer from New York it does not require the owners to stop at any other port to receive mails; and the price paid for the mere conveyance is one shilling and ninepence halfpenny a pound for letters and postcards, and twopence a pound for newspapers, &c. For conveyance by steamers sailing under the United States Registry, the American Post Office pays six shillings and eightpence a pound for letters and postcards, and fourpence a pound for newspapers, &c. The British contractors are not required to make any distinction between bags of letters and bags of newspapers, but are bound to provide a suitable and secure place for the whole mail. The system of paying different rates for the conveyance of letters and newspapers, &c., is not peculiar to the British Post Office, but is common to the transit system of the whole postal world, and co-exists naturally with the difference in postage rates. The British Post Office has not attempted to upset the transit payment system of the whole world, but has pursued the policy of making the best bargains it can from time to time; and there is no present intention of departing from that practice. The plan adopted for obtaining subsidised packet services at the lowest market price is to invite tenders, not to make offers; and no such offer as is suggested in paragraph six has been made or is in contemplation. The answer to paragraph seven is, "Yes."


Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether any vessels have taken mails under the American register from New York to England, and how long has the practice been followed?


I am not able to answer that question without notice.