HL Deb 23 July 1839 vol 49 cc687-90
The Duke of Richmond

presented a petition signed by the mayor and upwards of 12,500 of the merchants of the city of London, and which he understood, had been signed in twelve hours. The petitioners prayed, that no assumed temporary deficiency in the revenue should delay the introduction of so important a measure as a uniform penny postage. Some years since, he had stated they ought to reduce the rates of postage; that the postages were too heavy, and acted as an unequal tax; and if the postage had been then reduced the revenue would not have suffered. The consequence was that a great number of petitions had been presented to that House on the subject, and he understood that a bill relating to this matter had been introduced into the other House of Parliament. He did not think there would be any difficulty in working the alteration as proposed; but the difficulty which many men felt on the question was, that it would cause a great loss of revenue, and that was the real difficulty in the question. He concluded that before the bill on this subject had been introduced into the other House of Parliament it had been well considered; and he wished to ask whether her Majesty's Government had any estimate of what they believed the number of letters would be. He thought that this measure must be passed into a law; he thought it would be impossible now that they should prevent it; but at the same time he thought that such precautions ought to be taken in the bill before parliament as that the revenue should suffer as little as possible. He thought they ought to have a clause in that bill to prevent the railroad companies charging more for letters than they charged for the luggage of a passenger. But if these companies were to continue to charge the same as they did now, with four or five times more letters, the charge would be much increased and very heavy. He understood that now the letters by the railroad from London to Birmigham cost more than they had done by the mail-coaches, When the bill should come into that House, being a money bill, there would be great difficulty in making any alterations in it; and he would now state that he was much surprised to find that the Lords of the Treasury had all the control under the new bill. Formerly the Postmaster-General had all the control, doing things with the approbation of the Lords of the Treasury, but the Postmaster-General was the responsible party. Broad shoulders the lords of the Treasury had, and if their measures were not good, they would only be able to abuse them en masse, instead of making the Postmaster-General responsible. He trusted also that a regulation would be made with regard to letters sent abroad by vessels. At present they might send letters by any ship without passing through the Post-office, and it was said that one ship left Liverpool with only eight or ten letters from the Post-office, and with many thousand letters from individuals, If they gave a great boon to the commercial and manufacturing interests whose business led them to write more than the agricultural interests, if the Government conceded one uniform rate of postage, not charged as heretofore for any supposed service by way of carriage, charging the same for 3,000 miles as for 100, they ought to force all parties to assist as far as possible the revenue, as well for home letters as to the colonies. With such regulations, and with a penny stamp, he felt that in a few years the revenue would recover itself to a considerable extent.

Viscount Duncannon

said, that the noble Duke had asked him to state, whether, previously to undertaking this measure, her Majesty's Government had used any exertions to ascertain what would be the loss to the revenue? He was afraid that he could not give the noble Duke a very satisfactory answer. The measure had been much taken into consideration, and there were many opinions on the one side and on the other. For himself, he was persuaded, that with great exertions on the part of those who should carry the act into execution, there would not ultimately be any loss. The present bill was continued only for one year, and it certainly gave great powers to the Lords of the Treasury, which appeared to him to be necessary, because in case of a deficiency to any great extent some things must be provided for by the Treasury on of other sources. Some of the hereditary revenues of the Crown, and certain pensions, were settled on the post-office revenue. Great powers were, therefore, necessary for the Lords of the Treasury to make regulations on those subjects. As to the calculation of the amount of letters at present, and the amount hereafter carried, the only calculations which he was aware of were made by the person under whose name the plan went, Mr. Rowland Hill, and the examinations before the Committee of the House of Commons. Mr. Hill's calculations were as fairly borne out as they could be by the examinations; from them it appeared, that the average amount received for letters at present was 6½d., and that the average amount to be received if Mr. Rowland Hill's plan were taken to its full extent, was 1¼d., the consequence was, that if they took the present number of letters at 80,000,000, the number of letters necessary to make up the deficiency would be 400,000,000. He believed, that it might be fairly anticipated, that ultimately such an amount of letters might be depended on, but there must be very great exertions on the part of those who were to carry the act into execution, and also, that such regulations should be made as should enable the post-office to detect the frauds which were at present committed on the revenue, particularly in the large packets sent abroad and to the colonies, and, he believed, to an almost equal extent by stage-coaches. The best exertions must be made to prevent fraud, in order to have the plan carried into effect with the greatest advantage to the public, and with the least loss of revenue. It was certainly unfortunate, that something had not been done when the railroad bills were before the House to make suitable arrangements for the conveyance of the mails, but he did not think, that there was the large additional amount of charge for the conveyance of the mails to which the noble Duke had referred. The former expense for the conveyance of the mails from London to Dublin was about 9,000l. a year, it now amounted to between 33,000l. and 34,000l., but it was hardly fair to charge this on the railroads, for if they took the additional expense, they must also take into consideration the great advantage the public derived from the railroads. At present there were two distinct ports between London and Dublin, and besides, almost all the London and Edinburgh letters went by the railroads, therefore, if the expenses were quadrupled the advantages were also quadrupled. In conceding this reduction, Ministers were but acceding to the general wish of the country, and having acceded to this wish, the Government had a right to call upon those to whom they had given the boon to assist them to prevent frauds on the revenue, and that every exertion should be made to benefit the public.

Lord Ashburton

thought, that it was very inconsistent to discuss a measure which was not before the House. Great advantage was certainly derived from the greater rapidity of the railroads, but the passengers by railroads did not pay more than by common roads, and went at the increased rate. Therefore no greater charge ought to be put upon letters carried by railroad than by the present mode of conveyance. He thought, that the sum to be received from the post-office under the new plan would not probably exceed 2,600,000l., and that was a large sum to be collected in pennies.

Petition to lie on the table.