§ MR. J. G. WEIR (ROSS and) Cromarty
I beg to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) whether he is aware that the system of withdrawal by telegraph has been so appreciated by depositors in the Post Office Savings Bank that the number of withdrawals by this means has risen from 44,163 in 1894 to 102,553 in 1896; (2) whether in order to meet the needs of those depositors who are not prepared to pay the cost of telegrams when requiring their money speedily, he will consider the advisability of enabling such depositors to withdraw sums up to £2 on demand, under some such system of Savings Bank Postal Orders as that which has recently been submitted to the Government by a retired officer of the Department, who has proposed that the Post Office Savings Bank should be empowered to issue to its depositors Savings Bank Postal Orders in books of eight at a charge of 1s. commission, or 1½d. each order; (3) whether he is aware that this system would not affect bankers' interests, inasmuch as the proposed orders would be of a fixed value, viz., of 10s., 15s., £1, or £2, and would not admit of the transfer of money, being payable to the depositor only on production of the deposit book at any Savings Bank Post Office; and (4) whether he is aware that the estimated profits accruing from the adoption of this system, would materially augment the Post Office Savings Bank revenue, and render a reduction in the rate of interest unnecessary?
§ MR. HANBURY
The withdrawals by telegraph in 1894 were 49,006, or about 5,000 more than stated in the first Question. So far as the Post Office can judge, three-quarters of these are by the 601 working classes. The answer to the second Question is, No. It is difficult to say what would or would not affect bankers' interests. They sometimes contend that the Post Office is trenching on their functions already. It is not at all clear whether these Orders would admit of a transfer of money to a third person, just as the ordinary withdrawal warrant does now. If they did not, they might often cause much inconvenience, and, indeed, prove useless. The "estimated profits" are those estimated by the hon. Member. The Post Office estimates a loss. The decrease in the Telegraph and Postal revenue would he considerable, and the commission of 1½d. on each Order would not meet the additional working expenses. The Post Office Savings Bank was established in order to encourage thrift, and the Government has no intention of converting it into a banking institution.
§ MR. WEIR
I beg to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer (1) whether he is aware that for the year ending the 31st December 1896, the Post Office Savings Bank contributed the sum of £66,040 to the Post Office Revenue, that sum being charged for postage in the expenses of management; (2) whether he is aware that under the new rule for withdrawal by telegraph, depositors contribute in a rapidly increasing ratio to the telegraph revenue, the amounts so contributed being £2,900 for 1894, £4,700 for 1895, and £6,200 for 1896; (3) whether he will take these facts into consideration when determining the question of a possible reduction in the rate of interest; (4) whether he is aware that on the 31st December 1895 there were 108,033 accounts in the Post Office Savings Bank with balances over £150, and that the amount standing to the credit of these accounts was as much as £21,620,115; and (5) whether, in view of the fact that a reduction in the rate of interest from 2½ to 2 per cent. on this amount will produce upwards of £108,000, mid affect only 108,033 accounts, he will, in the event of a reduction in the rate of interest becoming imperative, consider the advisability of confining such reduction to accounts showing balances in excess of £150?
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
The figures given in the 1st, 2nd, and 4th paragraphs of the hon. Member's Question are correct, and were 602 furnished to him by the Postmaster General. But it must be remembered that the sums paid out of Savings Bank funds into the postal and telegraph revenue represent practically the cost of work done, and not profit to the Exchequer. I do not, therefore, see that the question of the rate of interest is so much affected by them as the hon. Member suggests. I have already stated that the reduction of the interest on deposits above a certain amount was under my consideration, but I doubt whether £150 would be a practical limit for that purpose.
§ MR. WEIR
I beg to ask the Secretary to the Treasury, as representing the Postmaster General, whether, having regard to the fact that as much as £66,040 was charged for postage in the expenses of management of the Post Office Savings Bank for the year ended 31st December 1896, he will state why he objects to say on what basis the charge for postage is estimated; whether it is the fact that a depositor's book passing through the post is charged a penny, and whether the ordinary acknowledgment sent to the depositor in the case of money paid in is also charged a penny; whether it is practicable to treat such acknowledgments as receipted invoices at the halfpenny rate; and whether he will state what would be the saving in postage if such acknowledgments were so treated?
§ MR. HANBURY
I do not know to what objection the hon. Member refers. The charge on depositors' books going to or from the head office is calculated according to weight—at a special rate— and works out at almost exactly 1d. It is not the fact that the charge for either acknowledgments of depositors or warrants and advices for withdrawal is calculated at 1d. They are charged at ½d., and the proposed calculation is therefore unnecessary.