§ (2.) £773,009, Customs Department.
§ (3.) £1,284,157, Inland Revenue Department.
§ (4.) £2,121,478, Post Office Department.
§ COLONEL SYKES
complained that many districts in the country were at present insufficiently accommodated by the Post Office. It appeared to him that the public requirements ought to be met before any revenue derived from the Post Office was considered disposable by the Exchequer.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
quite agreed with his hon. and gallant Friend that the wants of the public should be considered and that only the surplus should be treated as revenue; but those wants must mean the reasonable wants of the public. This was not so easy and simple a matter as might appear at first sight. It was necessary to do justice as between town and country. It was all very well for gentlemen who lived out of the way to say nothing was done for thinly peopled districts. But that must be taken with some limits. They levied taxation on the towns and spent it, not for the benefit of the thickly but of the thinly peopled districts. There was something in the sound, and, he might say, the flavour of his hon. and gallant Friend's observations that required a word of caution.
hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would take into consideration what he had urged at an early period of the Session—the expediency of stating clearly in the little annual Abstract the exact amount of revenue and expenditure of the Post Office one year with another. There was a general idea that the revenue was much larger than that actually derived, and hence arose the increased applications which were made to Government on that account.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
understood the hon. Gentleman to refer to the quarterly Abstract laid on the table setting forth the Revenue and Expenditure of the country, and what was asked was that the revenue, instead of being stated in lump for all the Departments, should be separately exhibited at its actual amount for each. He thought the suggestion a useful one, and might tend to prevent misapprehension in the public mind.
§ Vote agreed to.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £841,867, be granted to Her Majesty; to defray the Charge of the Post Office Packet Service which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1866; no part of which sum is to be applicable or applied in or towards making any payment in respect of any period subsequent to the 20th day of June 1863, to Mr. Joseph George Churchward, or to any person claiming through or under him by virtue of a certain Contract, bearing date the 26th day of April 1859, made between the Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty's Admiralty (for and on behalf of Her Majesty) of the first part, and the said Joseph George Churchward of the second part, or in or towards the satisfaction of any claim whatsoever of the said Joseph George Churchward, by virtue of that Contract, so far as relates to any period subsequent to the 20th day of June 1803.
§ MR. CRAWFORD
said, he wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of the Treasury for some information with reference to an application made to the Postmaster General by merchants and other persons connected with Eastern commerce upon the subject of the despatches conveyed from this country to the Eastern part of the world. That representation of the inconvenience attending the present system was made in the month of January last. The mails were now despatched, as regarded Marseilles, on the 3rd, 10th, 18th, and 26th of each month; but as those days fell, of course, on different days of the week, on some of which communi- 1361 cations could not be advantageously forwarded, the commercial world was not only exposed to great inconvenience, but to a considerable loss of time. It was of importance that the letters despatched from this country should convey intelligence up to the latest period; but the present arrangement altogether ignored the fact that certain days of the week might be regarded as dies non. On Saturday and Monday, for instance, but little business was transacted. The memorial to which he had referred had received the assent of almost every mercantile and banking establishment engaged in banking or exchange operations with the Eastern part of the world. The object of the representation was to obtain the sanction of the Government to the despatch of the mails on the Friday in every week instead of the present inconvenient arrangement, he had every reason to believe that this inconvenience was acknowledged by the Postmaster General; but to effect the change which was so unanimously desired, it was proposed to increase the postage of letters to India viâ Marseilles from the present rate of 10d. to 16d. So large an increase, however, appeared to be calculated to defeat the object which the memorialists had in view. He might add that the memorial presented to the Postmaster General had been warmly supported by the various Chambers of Commerce in India. He thought, however, that it was hardly fair that the whole of the charge consequent upon a new system of communication should be borne by those engaged in trade with India. In a couple of years' time, when the railway between Bombay and Calcutta will he completed, a portion of the subsidy paid to the Peninsular and Oriental Company might be dispensed with, and it was but fair that the Government, in endeavouring to give effect to the wishes of the memorialists, should bear this fact in mind. Australia, too, was much interested in this matter, and when the Government remembered the extent of our communication with that country, and the relations which existed in many instances between the lower classes, separated by so great a distance, it was all the more incumbent upon them to endeavour to remedy the defects in the present system. He should be glad to hear from the Secretary of the Treasury that the Government were prepared to deal with this question in a liberal spirit.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, he had been so struck 1362 with the defects of the present system and the necessity for a reorganization that he had given notice for the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the subject; but owing to the delay which attended the furnishing of the requisite papers and other circumstances, he had been unable to bring the subject under the consideration of the House. Even now, when the matter was mentioned in the House, he was sorry to find that the Secretary of State for India was in such a condition that he was unable to attend, and that they were, therefore, deprived of the opportunity of giving the subject that attention which it deserved. Though the remarks of the hon. Member for the City of London (Mr. Crawford) were perfectly just, he hardly thought that they went deep enough, for the whole system of communication was, in his opinion, eminently deficient from beginning to end. The communication was so slow as to be exceedingly discreditable to the Post Office and the Government. The communication between England and Bombay ought to be accelerated until the mails were conveyed in sixteen days. Every additional day only exhibited an incapacity on the part of the Government to grapple with the case. The right which some Continental States exercised of intercepting and levying tolls upon communications between neighbouring countries could not be viewed in any other light than as a remnant of the Middle Ages, when the barons regarded the pillage of merchants from their castles on the Rhine as their especial privilege. In this case no service was asked nor was any rendered. The utmost cost of conveying letters from Ostend to the remotest port of Europe must be less than a halfpenny per ounce, and that was the utmost sum which the Post Office ought to pay for the transport of letters from England to the shores of the Mediterranean, If the Post Office conducted its affairs in a spirit of intelligence, such as had marked some recent transactions in other public Departments, as in the case of the Commercial Treaty with France, negotiated by Mr. Cobden, the other States would not be allowed to levy a toll upon the boxes of letters passing through their limits. The present state of things was an illustration of the unsatisfactory condition of the Post Office Department, and how unfit it was to deal with great subjects. It was true that at present we were in a transition state as regarded our Indian communications, because of the changes which were occurring in the open- 1363 ing up of new Mediterranean ports; but he did not find that the Government had attempted to deal with the subject in a serious spirit. He might proceed to point out other defects, but he felt that the Government by delaying the production of papers had practically prevented the House from instituting that searching inquiry which was absolutely necessary, and he feared that they were endeavouring to stave off the difficulty for a time by arrangements which would ultimately be found to interfere with a permanent and satisfactory settlement of the question. When the Committee were told that the extravagant and almost prohibitory rates of postage to India which had been mentioned were necessary, he was convinced that the Government was not dealing with the subject in a satisfactory manner; as he was convinced that if it were considered in a comprehensive spirit a reduction and not an increase in the rates of postage would be practicable. As long as the present system of making arrangements of a limited character was adhered to so long the service would be costly and inefficient. Although they were daily hearing of vessels constructed to run sixteen or seventeen knots an hour, the vessels employed in the Bombay and Suez line, where speed was urgently needed, did not average above nine knots. That showed the necessity for inquiry; and although he had been foiled in the present Session, yet if he had the pleasure of sitting in that House in the next Parliament he would propose the Motion for a searching inquiry into the whole of this important subject. In con- 1364 nection with that subject, he might mention one matter which had an important bearing. While the Post Office was subsidizing a line of steamers to India, the Secretary of State for India was about to set up a rival line, and, of course, all the military and other servants of the Government, who would be passengers by those steamers, would be lost to the Peninsular and Oriental Company, who consequently would require a large amount of subsidy for the conveyance of the mails. Although prevented from pursuing this subject further in the present Session, he hoped that in the next Parliament a searching inquiry would be instituted, and he had no doubt the result would be to prove that the wishes of the hon. Member for London might be gratified without any loss to the country.
§ COLONEL SYKES
said, the Government had to provide transport to India for 7,000 troops annually for reliefs, and for a similar number returning home, besides invalids and time-expired men. The hon. and gallant Member was proceeding to comment upon the Secretary of State's plan for sending out troops to India by Government transports viâ Egypt when—
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present,—Committee counted, and 40 Members not being present:
§ Mr. Speaker resumed the Chair:—House counted, and 40 Members not being present:
§ House adjourned at Nine o'clock, till Monday next