§ LORD ASHBOURNE,
in rising to ask Her Majesty's Government when it was intended to introduce the practice of indicating the hour of posting on the post-mark as in America and other countries; whether any commencement had yet been, made; and when it was expected that the plan would be in full operation—said, that the question which he had placed upon the Paper was one which attracted a good deal of attention among all classes of the community, and his object was to ascertain what the present Government were doing in regard to it. He believed that up to the year 1818 or 1820 the practice of marking the hour on the post-mark prevailed in our Post Office. Why that practice was given up he did not know, and he did not suppose that there were any Members present in the House who were old enough to recollect. The practice of marking the hour of posting enabled the public to check and control and trace their letters; it enabled merchants and traders to ascertain whether business correspondence had been posted at the hour at which it should have been posted; and it enabled private individuals to ascertain whether their servants had posted letters entrusted to them at the proper hour and at the most convenient pillar, a matter as to which everyone had, at times, occasion for some little internal doubt. Some 200 Members of the House of Commons had signed a requisition in favour of this system, which had for many years been in operation with enormous advantage in the United States, and had also been adopted by Canada and Australia. As an illustration, of its advantage he might mention that the day before he put this question on the Paper he received a letter from Virginia which brought the matter very vividly to his mind. From the marks upon the letter it appeared that it was posted at a certain small town in that State at 7 a.m. on March 20, that it reached the head office in that State at 11 a.m. the same day, and that it was received at New York at 12 o'clock at night. It was not till it arrived at our own metropolis that the letter failed to show any indication that could be made out by an ordinary individual as to the hour when it was received. His Friend Mr. Henniker Heaton, who had been 1120 one of the most vigorous and able critics on postal matters, and to whose influence and suggestions many of the recent reforms were distinctly owing, had drawn attention to this subject in the other House, and he was informed that during the last two or three weeks some advance had been made in reference to the reintroduction of the old English system. But, as to the progress of this reform, he would like information. He was informed that in two post offices in London the practice of hour-marking had lately been introduced to some extent. He believed that in the House of Commons—he did not know how it was in their Lordships' House—letters posted between 7 and 10 o'clock had the hour marked upon them, and he believed that some letters were marked in the same way at the General Post Office. He was also given to understand that in some large towns in England a commencement in the same direction had already been made. He desired to ask when it was expected that the practice would be in full operation over the whole of the United Kingdom. He was aware that there used to be a system in our Post Office of indicating, by means of some mysterious letters in the post-mark, the hour of posting, and that the index to those letters was stated to be in the "Postal Guide," but that the particular page in the "Postal Guide" had for some reason been removed. A gentleman who had taken a great interest in postal affairs, and who was not a sanguine man, had stated that he was afraid that, unless the Post Office authorities were more active than sometimes, the completion of this reform would take some years, and that it might not happen in the lifetime of himself and others of their Lordships. Perhaps, however, the noble Lord opposite would, in answering the question on the Paper, be able to allay some of the anxieties in regard to the matter.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (Lord TWEEDMOUTH)
said, that, in the absence of his noble Friend Lord Playfair, through indisposition, the Postmaster General had asked him to say that he had already introduced the system which the noble Lord opposite had so urgently pressed upon the House. The plan adopted was to mark in clock figures the hour at which the letter passed under the stamp. This would be 1121 found set out at page 41 of the new Postal Regulations. He could not tell the noble Lord whether the reform would take as long as he inferred before it should become general, but this he might say, that it was the intention of the Post Office Department to cause the system to become general as soon as possible. It was not, however, thought desirable to incur the very great expense of making this alteration on all the stamps in the United Kingdom at one and the same time. He hoped that the noble Lord would be satisfied with the assurance that the system which he had pressed for would be introduced as speedily as possible throughout the Kingdom.