§ [THIRD READING].
§ Order for the Third Reading read.
§ MR. WINSTON CHURCHILL
said that this Bill which had been brought forward by his hon. friend was not one to which he wished to offer any serious opposition. His hon. friend was so well known for the interest he took in all Postal questions, and was so widely reputed as one of the greatest authorities on these questions, that any proposal he might make must be 686 received with the greatest respect and attention. His hon. friend was fortunately in his place, and all that he wished to do in respect to the interesting proposal which his hon. friend had made was to ask him a few questions, which no doubt he would be able to answer, and remove from his mind any lingering doubt he might have as to the expediency of this proposal. His hon. friend might perhaps be able to explain why it was necessary to have such a Bill at all. One would have thought that such a matter could have been dealt with by the Postmaster-General on his own responsibility; and 687 that it should have been necessary to take up the time of the House, whose business was already so much congested, with such a Bill, was a serious reflection on the efficiency of the public administration. He supposed there were some constitutional reasons which prevented the Postmaster-General issuing Postal Orders for a guinea. He had searched diligently for them, but had found none. He would like to ask his hon. friend how much his proposal was going to cost, because they were bound in these days to scrutinise with care every item of expenditure. He had often thought that the printing bill of the country was a matter for very serious consideration. Hundreds of thousands of pounds were spent on printing, and any new proposal to increase that expenditure must be looked upon with caution. In the next place he wanted to know where was the Postmaster-General? One would have imagined that, when any measure like this, which affected his Department, came before the House, the right hon. Gentleman would have been in his place, and would have been able to have told the House how much this proposal was going to cost. The Postmaster-General took a great interest in the working of his Department, and it was to be hoped that his absence on this occasion did not portend that his attention had been withdrawn from the work of his Department, and that he was not being entangled in the controversy regarding preferential tariff's which might compromise an otherwise brilliant career. He should like to know, apart from the question of cost, what was the reason for this particular postal order for a guinea? It seemed to him that the existing postal order for twenty shillings and another for a shilling would achieve every purpose of a guinea postal order. Those who dealt in guineas were not usually of the impoverished class. His hon. friend, he believed, said that the guinea postal order would be useful for charitable purposes. It occurred to him that if the proposal of his hon. friend were adopted it might encourage the demands on Members of Parliament for subscriptions to Football Clubs, Christmas Goose Clubs Choral Societies, Lyceums, and the like. 688 He himself held very strong views as to the shocking abuse which already existed in the expenditure of Members of Parliament in these directions, and he did not feel inclined to afford any further facilities for extending that abuse.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said he hoped the House was going to receive some explanation as to the necessity of such a Bill. There was really no practical difficulty at present in remitting a guinea. It was perfectly possible to obtain a postal order for a shilling, and another for twenty shillings and putting the two together there was the guinea. Moreover, he would point out that for many years past there had been no such coin as a guinea; and coins of a sovereign and a shilling were already provided for by legislation. They had been told by the Postmaster-General, whose interest in this Bill was well illustrated by his absence, that these Postal Orders had to be printed at the public cost, and that large numbers had to be kept in stock. Now, the effect of this Bill, if passed, would be that a large portion of the stock at present in hand would be rendered useless, and that might require the interposition of a public committee of inquiry. With a Bill of this sort before the House there ought to be some representative of the Government on the Treasury Bench. That the Treasury Bench should be deserted in this manner was discourteous to the House.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND (Clare, E.)
said he was very much in favour of the Bill of his hon. friend the Member for Canterbury; but it was hardly treating the House of Commons with respect that no member of the Government was present when such an important Bill was being considered. If the Postmaster-General himself could not be present, he ought to have sent a substitute. (At this point Mr. H. W. Forster entered the House, and took his seat on the Treasury Bench.) They had the satisfaction at last of seeing one of the Government satellites come in, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman would indicate what the Postmaster-General thought of this Bill. It was no extreme inconvenience to be obliged to take out two small orders in 689 order to make up a given sum. Really he thought the Third Reading of the Bill was only a question of time, and when a certain hour was reached, no doubt the Sill would be passed with the cordial assent of the Member for Oldham as well as of the noble Lord the Member for Greenwich.
§ *MR. ARTHUR LEE (Hampshire, Fareham)
suggested to the hon. Member for Canterbury that he should consider the advisability of withdrawing the Bill in order to enable the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill to be proceeded with. His hon. friends the Members for Oldham and Greenwich were strongly opposed to this Postal Order Bill, and therefore felt compelled to discuss it fully; but, on the other hand, they were extremely anxious to see the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill pass into law, and it would be a pity to disappoint them. He hoped, therefore, his hon. friend the Member for Canterbury would drop his Bill for the present.
§ MR. GALLOWAY
said the hon. Member who last spoke was a comparatively new Member of the House, or he would have known that the adoption of such a course would not bring him any nearer the object he had in view, as he would see by the congested state of the order-book. The hon. Member for Canterbury really had good cause for complaining that there was no representative of the Post Office present that afternoon. The hon. Member had worked at that subject for many years, and in spite of the opposition of the Post Office he had produced many reforms. It was therefore unfair that when a Bill of that kind came before the House the Postmaster-General should not be in his place to assist in carrying it, and to congratulate the hon. Member on the successful issue of his labours. It was very important that they should have some explanation from the Treasury as to the cost of issuing these orders. The Return showed an increasing issue of orders every year; the last Report gave a total of £13,000,000 odd, as compared with £9,000,000 in 1882, and that surely afforded ample justification for granting increased facilities for the issue of orders. Undoubtedly there had been some slight falling off in the number of 1s. orders issued in the same period, but no doubt 690 that could be easily explained. But if the issue of guinea orders was to be attended with a considerable increase of cost, would not that materially reduce the large profit now earned? He would like to know also if the cost of keeping up the stock of orders would not be very considerable. He hoped that some satisfactory assurances would be forthcoming on these points, as he did not want either to vote for the adjournment of the debate or for the rejection of the Bill.
§ *MR. HENNIKER HEATON (Canterbury)
said he was too sensible of the kindness extended to him by the House of Commons in past years to ignore the appeals addressed to him on this occasion by hon. Members on both sides of the House. This Guinea Postal Order question had been before the House of Commons for many years, and the introduction of the Bill had been rendered necessary by the fact that no power was given in the original Act for issue of orders of this denomination. The Bill had the warm support of the Postmaster-General; the goodwill of the Leaders of the Opposition, of the Leader of the Nationalist Party, and of the leading commercial men in the House. With regard to the question of cost he could assure hon. Members that the issue of postal orders was the most profitable branch of Post Office business. On lost orders alone the Government made a profit of £12,000 a year, and under the contract which had just been entered into, the saving would be more than sufficient to cover the cost of the new issue.
§ MR. WINSTON CHURCHILL
There is the cost of the printing, and the loss of the extra halfpenny now obtained.
§ *MR. HENNIKER HEATON
said the saving would also cover the cost of supplying counterfoils. The bankers of the United Kingdom had in a most generous manner withdrawn their objection to the issue of guinea orders and he would like to point out how convenient it would be to many persons to be able to send away their contributions to charitable and other societies in a single order. The guinea was popular because the shilling paid the expenses, and the charitable institutions, etc., had £1 clear. He hoped that after this explanation hon. Members would allow the Bill to pass.
§ MR. VICARY GIBBS
said he only wanted to point out that no account had been taken by the hon. Member of indirect loss on cheques for a guinea which would no longer be drawn.
§ MR. VICARY GIBBS
said he could not accept that view. He felt that there would be a loss on cheques which would cease to be drawn if the Bill were passed. He, like other hon. Members, resented the absence, of the representative of the Post Office, but possibly as the hon. Member for Canterbury long ago earned the sobriquet of "the Postmaster-General" the present state of the Front Bench was intended to be some sort of official recognition that postal matters were in future to be left in his hands.