§ (3.) £793,155, to complete the sum for Customs.
§ (4.) £1,557,822, to complete the sum for Inland Revenue.
§ (5.) £3,043,300, to complete the sum for Post Office.
§ (6.) £490,514, to complete the sum for Post Office Packet Service.
§ MR. GRAY
said, he desired to call the attention of the Committee to the Post Office contract for the transmission of the Irish mails between Holyhead and Dublin. This was a matter of very considerable importance, and one which excited a great deal of interest in Ireland. The period of the present contract had now expired, or was about to expire, and the Department had advertised for new tenders. He did not understand that notice had been given for the termination of the existing contract; but advertisements had been published and tenders had been received from new contractors. The various Chambers of Commerce throughout the country had taken an interest in the matter, and they had forwarded Memorials to the Postmaster General in reference to it. A good many questions would arise in connection with the policy which would actuate the Department in giving away this contract. In the first place, it was important the Committee should know whether the Department intended to deal with the entire mail service between England and Ireland in connection with the new contract for across Chan- 1537 nel, or whether they only intended to deal with the carrying of the mails between Holyhead and Dublin. He hoped the Department would take into consideration the question of a general acceleration of the mail service. Enormous practical convenience could be secured by an acceleration of the service, and it could be effected without any additional cost. Another question of great practical importance, and on which he hoped the Postmaster General would be able to give the Committee some information, was as to whether he intended that the new service should be a service from Holyhead to Kingstown, as at present, or from Holyhead direct to the port of Dublin. Such were the questions on which lie was anxious to get some information. He believed it was the practice of the Department not to state the terms of the tenders they had received in connection with these contracts until they had actually accepted them. Of course, he was aware they were then laid on the Table of the House; but that was a purely formal roceeding, and unless some powerful reason could be alleged, no contract was over refused ratification by the House. He could not understand why the tenders should not be disclosed to the public before the Department took them into consideration. The tenders sent to other Departments of the State became public property immediately upon their reception. Why this exception in the case of the postal contracts he failed to comprehend. There was a very strong feeling in Ireland that it was quite possible that an Irish Company—the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company—which for the last 30 years had executed this contract, with satisfaction both to the Department and to the public, might be shunted on this occasion in favour of the London and North-Western Railway Company, who carried the mails, except across Channel, and who had recently become steam-ship proprietors, having a line of steamers running to the port of Dublin. He believed the London and Northwestern Company had sent in a tender for the new contract in competition with the City of Dublin Company. The London and North-Western Company was, of course, a Company of enormous wealth. It was stated, with what truth he did not know, that it could more or less directly influence some 50 votes in 1538 this House. One of the members of the Board of Directors was a Member of the Government, another member of the Board was a Member of the late Irish Government, and, therefore, the Company had a very great amount of influence and power. He would be 10th to even suggest in the remotest way that any of its power or influence would be exercised in anything but the most legitimate manner; but the fact of the Company being so directly represented in this House should induce the Government to disclose to the Irish public, who were so deeply interested in them, the terms of the tenders before they committed themselves to one or the other. It was easy to be conceived that a Company with enormous capital and revenue, like the London and North-Western, might find it to its interest to tender at an unremunerative rate—at a rate at which an independent Company merely carrying on the mail business could not compete with—with the full knowledge that if its tender were accepted the small rival Company would be destroyed, and at the termination of the period of the first contract, the larger Company would be the masters of the situation and able to dictate its own terms. He was sure the Postmaster General would not be inclined to lend himself to anything of the kind; but there was an apprehension, which he thought was well founded, that what might be deemed to be somewhat unfair competition of that character might militate against the chance of the Irish Company; that, in fact, an old and most respectable Irish Company might be destroyed by competition with an enormous Corporation like the London and North-Western. Moreover, there was a very strong feeling, in which he shared, and in which anyone who had any knowledge of Dublin must share, that it would be most detrimental to the public service if the mails were carried direct to the port of Dublin instead of to Kingstown, as at present. He was quite aware that new steamers had been put on for the purpose of carrying passengers to the port of Dublin, and that it was alleged they could carry mails just as well. From his own personal experience, he could say, without fear of contradiction, that it was a physical impossibility to carry mails to the port of Dublin with anything like the regularity which must be first essential of the postal service, 1539 The fogs were sometimes so dense that vessels were delayed from entering the port of Dublin for seven, eight, nine, and ten hours. No expenditure of money could obviate that serious difficulty, which, however, did not exist with regard to Kingstown. Kingstown lay more in the open sea than did the port of Dublin. There was a sand-bank some miles outside Kingstown, on which was the Kisch Lightship and bell, and this could always be made by steamers coming from Holyhead, no matter how dense the fog might be. When this lightship was once reached, the harbour of Kingstown could be made by compass alone. It was impossible so to make the port of Dublin. Vessels were not infrequently delayed for hours outside the port, so it was absolutely impossible to secure a perfectly regular mail service to the port of Dublin. He imagined, however, the Post Office would have sent an Inspector to the spot to inquire into the whole subject. He saw no public purpose to be gained in Ireland by destroying healthy competition, and leaving a monopoly of the carrying service in the hands of a gigantic Corporation like the London and North-Western Railway Company. If it could be shown that a few thousand pounds could be saved by such a procedure, the saving would be dearly purchased, and would certainly be obnoxious to the Irish people. He hoped that nothing of the kind was contemplated. It would be altogether detrimental to the public interests, and be displaying ingratitude towards a poor Company, who had hitherto done the work satisfactorily, and who would ever be regarded as an historical Company. Indeed, the Irish Company was the Company which founded the Peninsular and Oriental Company. The right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General might not be aware of that fact, but it nevertheless was a fact. The Irish Company was the first Company that sent a steamer across the Atlantic; and the vessels they now had upon the Line would stand a comparison with any vessels afloat, both as regarded speed, regularity of service, and seaworthiness. And now he had a word or two to say upon the larger question of the acceleration of the mail service between England and Ireland. A large saving was to be effected in the renewal of the contract. 1540 He had no idea what the figures were; but he put it down that £20,000 would be saved by the competition between the Companies. The contract was £85,000 or £80,000, subject to some reduction owing to the excess of passenger traffic. Probably there might be a reduction of some £20,000; and what he desired was that the right hon. Gentleman should not put that 20,000 to the credit of the Post Office Department, and then to say, if the Irish people asked for a few thousands to be spent in the acceleration of the Irish mail service generally, "Where are the funds to come from?" If a saving were effected at all, it ought, in his opinion, to be devoted to the general acceleration of the service between London and Dublin, and between Dublin and the Irish Provincial towns. At the present moment the service, especially so far as the Provincial towns were concerned, was most unsatisfactory. Suppose a man posted a letter on Monday to Cork, Waterford, Kilkenny, or Limerick, he could not receive a reply to it until the Wednesday evening in London. Hon. Members would know that for all practical purposes that was the same as if no reply was received until Thursday morning—making three working days from the despatch of the letter until the receipt of the reply. He believed that it would be very easy indeed, at a comparatively small outlay, so to increase the speed of the service between Euston and Holyhead, and, secondly, between Holyhead and Kingstown, and, thirdly, between Kingstown and the Irish Provincial towns, as to secure that any man in the Irish Provincial towns he had mentioned should be able to receive a reply to his letters at the same time as a man living in Dublin, and that a reply to communications posted to Cork, Waterford, Kilkenny, Limerick, and other places, should be received in London on Wednesday morning, instead of Wednesday evening, which would secure a saving of a working day, a matter of enormous importance to all business men. Some of his friends had said to him, when they found that he was interesting himself in this question, that the result would be to promote English manufactures at the expense of Ireland, that he was only facilitating the introduction of English goods into Ireland, and hindering the Irish manufacturers to the same extent by depriving them of 1541 a portion of the trade they would otherwise have. He declined to take any responsibility, on that account, upon his own shoulders. He believed that the acceleration of the mail service would benefit both parties, and if it benefited English traders, it would benefit in a corresponding degree the customers in Ireland. The advantage would not merely be as between England and Ireland, but there would also be a considerable advantage secured between Dublin and the Irish Provincial towns, because, at the present moment, all the outgoing mails from Dublin depended upon the English mails. They did not leave Dublin until a comparatively late hour. Instead of leaving at 5 o'clock in the morning, as they ought to do, they did not, upon the average, leave until nearly 9 o'clock. If they could succeed in inducing Her Majesty's Government to accelerate the mail service to England from Dublin, all the outgoing mails from Dublin to the Provinces could easily be accelerated in the same proportion; and inasmuch as the passenger traffic from Dublin to the Provinces was dependent on the mail traffic for its time of leaving, there would be this convenience, that a man leaving Dublin in the morning for Cork or Limerick, could transact his business in those towns and return to Dublin in time for dinner, in the same way that a man could leave London now, go down to Liverpool or Manchester, get through all his business transactions there, and return to London in the course of the same day. If the Government consented to accelerate the Irish mail service—and there was no difficulty whatever in doing it—a man would be able to run down to Cork or to any Provincial town, and, having gone through, his business, could return to Dublin on the same day. This was a question that was of enormous importance to the people of Ireland, because it meant, as between Dublin and the Irish Provincial towns, the gain of an entire day. He was most anxious that the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General should consider the subject as a whole, and not merely in reference to the question of sending the mails from Holyhead to Dublin. It was a very large question, and now was the time for taking it up if it was to be taken up at all within the next 10 years. In consequence of there not being direct 1542 communication between Kingstown and all the other railways having a terminus in Dublin, he thought it was worthy of the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman whether, seeing that the notice had not yet been given of the termination of the contract, he would not suspend the notice for the present, in order to see whether pressure could not be brought to bear upon the Railway Companies in Dublin to provide that practical steps should be taken for securing a connection between the Kingstown Railway and the other railways having terminii in Dublin, so that in future the mails should be conveyed direct by the lines of railway going South, West, and North. The inconvenience of the existing arrangements was very much felt all over Ireland; indeed, so serious was the difficulty that he was strongly of opinion that the Department should hold its hand for a little while, and say—"We will do nothing for 12 months, in order that we may ascertain whether the Railway Companies will do anything for the benefit of the public." If that course were taken, he believed that something would be done; whereas if the Government completed the contract at once, nothing would be done, and all the inconveniences now experienced would continue to prevail for the next 10 years. He felt quite satisfied that the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General would turn his attention to the subject, and that he would endeavour to arrive at the wisest possible conclusion. He hoped, when the right hon. Gentleman rose to reply, that he would be able to give to the country some information of a reassuring character.
§ MR. BLAKE
said, he cordially endorsed everything that had been so ably stated by his hon. Friend the Member for Carlow (Mr. Gray) on the important subject of the proposed postal contract. There was a very strong opinion in Ireland that there would be an effort, and it was feared that it might, perhaps, be a successful effort, on the part of the London and North-Western Railway Company to obtain the contract now enjoyed by the Irish Company for the conveyance of Her Majesty's mails between Holyhead and Kingstown. He certainly believed that it was not only the sentiment of the Irish Members generally, but of the Irish people as well, that the removal of the mail contract from the 1543 present Company would be viewed with considerable dissatisfaction unless it could be shown that there were the strongest reasons for it. The present Company had had the conveyance of the mails for upwards of 30 years, and that mail service was not only a credit to Ireland, but he believed it was admitted that for the distance travelled it was one of the first mail services in the world. At very considerable expense, and with very great support, the Company had carried out the service, both as regarded the mails and the passengers, in a highly superior manner, and very often at a very considerably increased outlay. His hon. Friend the Member for Carlow (Mr. Gray) had quite accurately pourtrayed what the feeling of Ireland was when he said so emphatically that any change to the detriment of the existing Company would be viewed with considerable dissatisfaction. Amongst the many advantages which the Company had conferred upon Ireland was not only the keeping up of the vessels for conducting the postal service between Dublin and Holyhead, but also the keeping up of another very important mercantile Company at Dublin. The enterprises of the Dublin Navigation Company were regarded in Ireland as a great National undertaking; and, in common with other Irish Members who would probably follow him, he appealed to the Postmaster General to pause very seriously before he proposed to alter the existing arrangements for the conveyance of the mails.
§ MR. WARTON
said, he had failed to observe that the Postmaster General was in his place when the Post Office Vote was taken, or he should have asked a question upon the matter. He wished, however, to ask a question upon the present Vote in reference to the price of registered letters. They were now 2¼d., which was very often practically 2½d.; and he asked the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether it would not be much better to fix the price at 2d. for a registered letter, without making any charge for the envelope itself?
§ MR. SEXTON
said, he did not propose to add anything to the very able statement made by his hon. Friend the Member for Carlow (Mr. Gray) as to acceleration and improvement of the Irish mail service. He thought that his hon. Friend might be accepted, not only 1544 as the able, but as the trustworthy exponent of Irish feeling on that subject. He (Mr. Sexton) had lately asked a question of the Postmaster General about the post office at Ballyvourn, in the county of Roscommon, to which he should like to call attention.
said, that the hon. Member might ask a question as a matter of convenience; but it was impossible to discuss the Post Office Vote now, as it had already been disposed of. The Committee were now considering the Vote for the Post Office Packet Service.
§ MR. LEAMY
said, he did not think it necessary to occupy the time of the Committee at any length after the exhaustive speech which had been made by his hon. Friend the Member for Carlow (Mr. Gray). He had risen merely for the purpose of asking the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General whether he would consider a matter he (Mr. Leamy) had put to him to-day respecting the carriage of the mails on the Waterford and Lismore Railway? He was very sorry that he had not been able to give the right hon. Gentleman longer Notice of the Question, because, as he had only given Notice of it on Wednesday, it had been impossible for the right hon. Gentleman to make full inquiry into the case. He understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that, even if the railway in question were utilized for the carriage of the night mails between the towns he had mentioned, it would still be necessary to continue the present arrangements. He thought the right hon. Gentleman was labouring entirely under a mistake.
desired to say one or two words before the Vote was disposed of. For the last 20 or 30 years the mail service had been conducted between Dublin and Holyhead in the most satisfactory manner, and he believed that there was a general feeling in Ireland in favour of continuing the existing arrangements. The Dublin Navigation Company deserved the highest credit, not only for the manner in which they had conducted the service between Holyhead and Kingstown, but also the service at North Wall. He believed that the London and North-Western Railway Company were now applying for the contract, and, being well acquainted with the 1545 manner in which the service was at present conducted, he certainly did not believe that any improvement could be made upon the vessels which were now run between Holyhead and Kingstown.
§ MR. FAWCETT
I think I may undertake to say that the contract for the conveyance of the mails between Holyhead and Kingstown will not be decided directly after this Vote has been taken, because I am bound to say that I think the able and practical speech of the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Gray) deserves very careful consideration. I can assure him that, as far as I am concerned, his remarks shall be carefully considered, as well as the remarks made by other hon. Members in the course of this short debate. He and they are aware that the decision on this important question ultimately rests not with the Post Office, but with the Treasury. In regard to these contracts, they are supreme in the matter. But, at the same time, I believe I am perfectly justified in saying that the remarks which have been made this evening, and the other representations we have received, will be as carefully considered by the Treasury before any decision is ultimately arrived at as they have been by the Post Office. In receiving a very large and influential deputation of the Irish Members some time since, I conceded, I thought, to the full extent the importance of the subject demanded—the very great desirability, if it could be found practicable, of accelerating the mails between England and Ireland. There was one part of the speech of the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Gray) with which I most entirely concur, and it was this—that, regarding the subject as a question of postal acceleration, the acceleration of the mails in all the Provincial towns of Ireland is even of much more importance than their acceleration to Dublin, because if the mails arrive in Dublin at a sufficiently early hour to enable the letters to be delivered at breakfast-time—say, half-past 8 o'clock—Dublin would be sufficiently well served; but it is perfectly obvious that, as far as the mails are concerned that have to be sent on from Dublin to distant Provincial towns, every hour the mails can be accelerated, on their arrival in Dublin, at any rate, means the possibility of their arriving at some Provincial town an hour earlier in the day; and, 1546 of course, it may be of the utmost importance that the mail should arrive, say, in Cork, at 11 instead of 12 o'clock, because not only would men of business get their letters an hour earlier, but they would also have the advantage, on the other hand, of one or two hours longer for enabling them to reply to their correspondents. Therefore, I can assure the Irish Members that the question of accelerating the mails, not only to Dublin, but also as far as is practicable to the Provincial towns and the rural districts generally throughout Ireland, is fully recognized. I have already taken steps to have the subject thoroughly investigated by one of the ablest officials connected with the Post Office—the Inspector General of Mails. He has already visited Ireland, and has gone through all the minutiæ of the subject with the greatest possible care, and I can only say that he is anxious to provide all the acceleration that the state of the circumstances will allow. He has investigated the subject most exhaustively, and I believe there is not a single town in Ireland that has escaped his careful consideration, and there is not a town in Ireland which he has not considered with a view of the acceleration of the mails. With regard to the question of the contract, I believe I should be divulging no secret which it is important I should withhold when I say that we advertised for tenders, and have received two replies—one from the London and North-Western Railway Company, and the other from the existing Company—the Navigation Company. No decision has yet been arrived at in reference to the acceptance of either of these tenders. I can quite recognize the truth of what has been said by the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Gray), that we have to consider, in arriving at a decision, the questions of economy and efficiency. And I will go with him so far as to say that it is not a question of immediate economy only, but also a question of future economy; because you may purchase a small saving very dearly if there is reason to suppose that that small saving will be likely in the future to lead to a large expenditure. With regard to efficiency, that has also, of course, to be carefully considered. We must not look upon the matter simply from what we have done in the past, but we must consider what is likely to be done by the two competi- 1547 tors for the service in the future I should be very sorry to be supposed to do any injustice to the Dublin Navigation Company. They have served—as has been well said by the right hon. and gallant Member for the County of Dublin (Colonel Taylor)—they have served the Post Office in the past remarkably well. They have done their work efficiently and with punctuality. I believe there has been scarcely a single casualty; but, in regard to the future, the necessity of obtaining the best possible service is a matter of such immense importance to the inhabitants of Ireland generally, that, of course, we must consider very carefully which of these two Companies is likely, at the most reasonable rate, to supply us with the best service in the end. With regard to the depot at North Wall, when the deputation waited upon me, which included various Irish Members and gentlemen representing important Irish bodies, some of the deputation advocated the North Wall route; whereas others were of opinion that if we adopted the North Wall route we should lose all chance of having the mails conveyed with regularity. I have thought it desirable, considering the conflicting nature of the statements, to have the subject most exhaustively investigated; and after the deputation left, I immediately asked the gentleman connected with the Post Office to whom I have already referred—Mr. Baines—to visit Dublin and obtain all possible evidence upon the question. This he has done, and he has presented to the Post Office a full and elaborate Report. That Report will be carefully considered by the Post Office and the Treasury before any decision is arrived at. I hope I have now said sufficient to satisfy the Irish Members and others interested in the subject that we duly recognize the importance of the question. The only object we have in view is to adopt that arrangement and to conclude that contract which we believe to be the best possible for the service of Ireland.
§ MR. GIBSON
said, he must apologize for not having been present in his place when the discussion upon this Vote was brought on; but it had happened at the moment that he was attending a Committee upstairs. Anyone who knew the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General would at once recognize that there never could have been any official connected 1548 with any Government who was more earnestly and zealously inclined to do what was just and fair. He was sure that anyone who had heard the statement of the right hon. Gentleman would place absolute faith and credence in it; but, at the same time, he did not think it reasonable or fair, considering his connection with Dublin—a city with which he had been associated all his life—if he allowed the discussion to close without saying something in reference to the matter. For a very considerable number of years he had been constantly travelling backwards and forwards between England and Ireland by the Dublin steam packet-boats, and he was able to bear testimony to the fact that a Company more civil and obliging, or one which more satisfactorily performed its duties, it was impossible to find. He trusted that every consideration would be given to the proposals of the Company for a renewal of their contract, and that some substantial balance, both in regard to efficiency and economy, should be necessary in order to turn the scale against a Company which had always in the past conducted the service efficiently and well.
§ BARON DE FERRIERES
desired to say a word, before the Vote was agreed to in reference to the conveyance of the mails to the Cape Colony, upon a matter which he had already brought under the the notice of the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General, who had promised to give it his consideration. There was, however, a point which materially concerned some of Her Majesty's officers who were stationed at St. Helena. The postage to St. Helena was Is. for half-an-ounce, and he believed that this was an exceptional case in regard to the whole of Her Majesty's Colonies. In other cases the postage was 6d. an ounce, but at St. Helena it was 1s., and it fell very hard on the officers quartered there, and who were, in a great measure, shut out from the rest of the world. They had, as a matter of fact, sometimes to pay 3s. for a communication from England, because nearly all the packets of news sent out were bulky, and the postage often amounted to 2s. or 3s. He had mentioned this circumstance to the right hon. Gentleman, who had promised that it should be inquired into, and he thought the right hon. Gentleman would be astonished when he discovered what 1549 the real facts of the case were. It seemd that the actual postage was only 6d. per half-ounce, and that the other 6d. went to assist the ordinary revenue of St. Helena. He (Baron De Ferrieres) thought it was monstrous that for so paltry an addition to the revenue of the Island, Her Majesty's officers quartered there should be made to pay this overcharge. It was very doubtful whether there were 1,000 letters delivered in St. Helena in the course of the year, so that the addition to the revenue of the Island derived from them would not be more than £25 per annum; and, in his opinion, it was a great hardship that the officers quartered in the Island should be called upon to pay this charge in the shape of extra postage upon their letters. He thought the Post Office Department ought to meet the requirements of the case, and bring down the charge to 6d. per half-ounce, as it was in the rest of Her Majesty's Colonies.
§ MR. MAGNIAC
said, he certainly thought Her Majesty's troops serving abroad ought to receive their letters at the lowest possible rate. They were performing an arduous duty for the sake of maintaining the prestige and honour of the country, and if they received their letters without charge at all, the loss to the Public Revenue would not be very considerable. He hoped that some arrangement would be made in this direction, and he trusted that the right hon. Gentleman, after giving the matter due consideration, would not be inclined to grudge even a slight loss to the Post Office.
§ MR. FAWCETT
In regard to the postage to St. Helena, I am inclined to think that there is some reduction made to soldiers serving there. It is, however, scarcely a question that concerns the Post Office so much as the Treasury and the War Office. With regard to St. Helena, I have already told my hon. Friend that there is a possibility of reducing the postage to St. Helena. It is not a question which affects officers serving in Her Majesty's Army only, but the highest rate of postage affects all persons residing there. The greatest reduction would be in adopting the rate charged in the case of other Colonies—the ordinary charge of 6d. per half-ounce upon each letter.
§ MR. GRAY
begged to acknowledge the frank and friendly spirit in which 1550 the right hon. Gentleman had responded to his appeal, and would not prolong the discussion. He admitted that the necessity of providing the best means of communication between England and Ireland was a matter of such importance that it must be paramount to any interests connected with any private Company. At the same time, he wished to point out what he conceived to be the disadvantage in which the Irish Company would be placed in endeavouring to compete with so formidable an antagonist as the London and North-Western Railway Company. Whether it was a wise policy for Parliament to allow the Railway Company to become steam packet owners might be a matter upon which there would probably be a difference of opinion. A case of this kind might possibly arise. The London and North-Western Company might say this—"We will convey the mails between London and Dublin in so many hours, performing the service in a shorter time than that occupied at present;" and the right hon. Gentleman might consider it necessary, in the interests of the public generally, to accept a proposition of that kind, taking it as a whole. But when the right hon. Gentleman came carefully to investigate where the saving of time was effected, he would have two points to consider—namely, whether it ought to be effected in the service across the Channel, or in the railway service. If it was to be effected in the Channel service, then he (Mr. Gray) was prepared to contend and to allege, without fear of contradiction, that the Dublin Navigation Company could compete in the carriage of the mails across the sea with any mail steamers in existence, or that could be built in the present condition of naval science. But if the London and North-Western Railway Company were going to try and secure the cross-Channel service by some quasi-bribe to the Post Office Department, that they were prepared to accelerate the railway service, and an admission that the land service was not at the present moment done as efficiently as it ought to be, then he did not think that was a point which the right hon. Gentleman ought to take into consideration at all. On the contrary, he (Mr. Gray) contended that the London and North-Western Company ought to be induced or compelled to accelerate their service between London and Holy- 1551 head, irrespective of all conditions in regard to the conveyance of the mails between Holyhead and Dublin. Unfortunately for himself, scarcely a week passed that he was not compelled to travel over the London and North-Western Railway between Holyhead and Dublin, and he knew that a great many delays occurred which were altogether unnecessary. There was, for instance, a delay of 10 minutes or a quarter of an hour at Holyhead itself, which was quite unnecessary; and although it took place nominally for the collection of the tickets, it was in reality for the transaction of the business of the Railway Company. That delay of a quarter of an hour could easily be got rid of. He trusted that if any offer was made by the London and North-Western Company which would secure the saving of time, the right hon. Gentleman would carefully inquire where it was that the time would be saved—whether it was in the land journey between London and Holyhead, or in the carriage of the mails across the sea between Holyhead and Kingstown. He alleged, without fear of contradiction, that the Irish Company would be able to compete in their own particular business of carrying the mails by means of steam vessels as rapidly and as efficiently as any Company in existence which could be substituted for them, although he admitted that there were other vessels which might be as good in a calm sea, and even larger and more powerful vessels, yet he believed there were none which were nearly so effective in a heavy sea; and that was constantly the condition of things in crossing the Channel. He sincerely trusted that in the careful consideration which the right hon. Gentleman had promised to give to the matter, he would not lose sight of that aspect of the case. After what the right hon. Gentleman had said—and he acknowledged that the right hon. Gentleman and the Post Office Department had devoted a great deal of attention to the matter—he was content to leave the question in his hands.
§ SIR HENRY HOLLAND
said, he should be glad to learn from the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General, or from the Secretary to the Treasury, whether any decision had been arrived at as to the amount of the contribution to be paid by India towards the Eastern Packet Service? It appeared from the 1552 Vote that a very small amount indeed had been already received, and that there was a loss last year upon the service of some £7,000. He knew that the question had been in dispute for several years, and he wished to know whether there was any immediate prospect of an arrangement being come to between the Home Government and the Indian Government?
§ MR. COURTNEY
was sorry to inform his hon. Friend that the matter was not yet settled. It was in reference to certain particular expenses that the difficulty had arisen between the Home Government and the Indian Government, and the delay which had occurred had been unavoidable. He entertained a hope that it would be settled shortly.
§ Vote agreed to.
§ (7.) £835,298, to complete the sum for Post Office Telegraphs.
§ MR. MAGNIAC
said, he was about to make an appeal to his right hon. Friend the Postmaster General, which, he believed, would have the effect of somewhat strengthening his hands. Last year, when the Post Office Votes came on, the House had not received the Report of the Post Office. The right hon. Gentleman explained on that occasion that he had had the Report in his hands for some days, but that it had not been completed. Precisely the same thing had occurred this year. The Report of the Post Office was only received yesterday. The same thing had happened in regard to several other Departments. Last year the whole of the Vote for Science and Art was carried without a word of information on the subject of the Vote being in the hands of hon. Members. He thought, if Reports were to be presented at all, that they should be printed and published before the Votes came on for discussion. He was quite aware of the difficulties which existed; but he thought his right hon. Friend at the head of the Department ought to insist on its being submitted to the House at least a month before the Vote was brought on for discussion. It was utterly impossible to discuss the Votes in the absence of this information, and he thought his right hon. Friend would see that it was scarcely reasonable to expect them to do so. There was another point he was desirous of mentioning. He wanted to know if it was 1553 possible to alter the period at which the accounts were made up?
§ MR. FAWCETT
was understood to say that the accounts followed the ordinary rule, and were brought down to the month of April.
§ MR. MAGNIAC
said, that if they could be made up earlier more time might be afforded for their consideration and discussion. He thought it would be more convenient to bring down the whole of the accounts to the month of March only. Such an arrangement would give the House a more complete information in regard to the working of the telegraph service, and he confessed that at present he was unable to understand the accounts presented in regard to that service. The expenditure was put down at £1,444,000, while the receipts appeared to have been £1,634,000, showing apparently a surplus of nearly £200,000; but when they came to take into account the payment of the interest on the sum which the purchase of the telegraphs had cost, there appeared to have been a deficiency amounting to something like £300,000. That was a very large deficiency; and, having regard to the desire so frequently expressed, that the cost of telegraphing might be reduced, he hoped that some endeavour would be made, by practising economy within the Department, to bring the expenditure within such a compass that the Post Office would be able to deal with it and comply with the wish of the public. His right hon. Friend smiled. He (Mr. Magniac) had no doubt that endeavours were already made to secure economy in the working of the telegraphs, and he thought his right hon. Friend had already given proof that he was anxious to reduce the expenditure connected with his Department. All he wished was to impress on his right hon. Friend the propriety of neglecting no opportunity which might arise for reducing the cost of telegrams. He had no doubt that his hon. Friend (Mr. Courtney) was also anxious for economy; but the general public, in addition to economy, wished to see the telegraphs not only efficiently worked, but worked in such a manner as to secure the convenience of the public. He believed it would give an extraordinary impetus to the trade of the country if telegrams could be sent at a lower price than they were at present. With a deficiency of 1554 £270,000 it would be unreasonable, to ask the right hon. Gentleman to make any change this year; but he did hope that attention would be given to the subject. It was very satisfactory to observe the success which had attended the substitution of postage stamps for telegraph stamps. The latter had been found to be a very great convenience indeed, and in all probability a considerable increase in the Revenue would result from the increased facilities which had been afforded. Many persons would send telegrams who did not now use them, if they had an office at their doors and the means of writing a telegram. He therefore hoped the attention of his right hon. Friend would be turned in that direction. The expense of telegraphing in this country was much greater than it was in other countries, and he did not believe that a reduction of price would result in any permanent loss to the Revenue. The work done by the Department in reference to the telegraphs was not quite so obvious as it was in the Post Office; but, at the same time, he had very little doubt that it was quite as onerous. There was one other point upon which he wished to make an observation, and that was the Engineering Department. The charges for that Department amounted to a very heavy item. They all knew that the Government services in engineering matters were conducted on the best principles, and that the best principles were the most expensive. The tendency of all Government Departments which had the spending of money that was not their own was to spend more than they would otherwise do. It was certainly not desirable that the efficiency of the Department should in any way be reduced; but certain facts had come out which were known to the public, and he believed it was generally admitted that it was necessary to keep a strict eye upon the Department. He was of opinion that if that were done it would be found a considerable source of economy, and he therefore trusted that strict supervision would be brought to bear over all the telegraph arrangements in future.
§ MR. HEALY
wished to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General to a matter which might appear to be a very small matter, but which was one of considerable importance to some of the Irish people. 1555 It was this. At all the Irish telegraph offices in the Provincial towns of Ireland, if they were only five miles from each other, the English time was employed to mark the hour at which a telegram was despatched, and the consequence was that the Irish people were put out by half-an-hour in their reckoning, and it was often a serious matter to compel them to go by English time instead of their own. His appeal to the right hon. Gentleman was that he should direct the present arrangement to be changed, and that in future the national time should be employed. He did not think the demand was an extravagant one, and he trusted that as far as the English telegrams were concerned, the Post Office would stamp upon them the Irish as well as the English time. All messages sent to Ireland from England were marked with the English time as well as the Irish, and where a telegram was forwarded in Ireland itself from one town to another, to stamp it with Greenwich time was, in his opinion, highly absurd. Many people, not knowing the real facts of the case, were constantly complaining of delay. If a telegram were sent to Paris the difference in time was only 10 minutes; but there was a difference of half-an-hour between the English and the Irish time. He trusted that in future the right hon. Gentleman would only stamp Irish time upon the Irish telegrams.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, he was glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman had decided upon employing a great many more female clerks in the Department, and he wished to know what was the reason of the distinction which was drawn, on page 691 of the Estimates, between the remuneration of the first class male telegraphists and the first class female telegraphists? There was also a distinction drawn between the salaries of the second class male and female telegraphists. He was of opinion that if a woman did precisely the same work as a man, she should be paid on the same scale. He did not mean to say that the salary was too high in one case and too low in another. He had nothing whatever to say upon that question; but he thought it was only reasonable that if the Government employed people to do exactly the same work they should all of them have the same salaries. He had another question to put 1556 in relation to another subject—namely, the telephones. He understood that the right hon. Gentleman had decided upon granting a licence to any Telephone Company, to put up telephone communications. That licence gave to the Telephone Company a right to attach its wires to any house with the consent of the owner of such house; but it went much further, and gave the Telephone Companies the right of carrying their wires over the public streets. Now, he was entirely in favour of these licences being given without favour or prejudice to all Companies; but it certainly appeared to him desirable to make a little charge upon the Telephone Companies for the privilege of using the streets. He failed to see why these Companies should be allowed to use the streets more than any one else. The streets belonged to the public; and, although the Telephone Companies might do no harm in passing their wires over the streets, they ought to pay for the permission accorded them of using the property of other people. There was another point to which he also wished to call attention. They had recently had a Bill introduced by Her Majesty's Government in regard to electric lighting. In that Bill, if his recollection was accurate, it was provided that after 15 years any Electric Lighting Company should be obliged to sell their plant and privileges, without receiving anything for goodwill, to the local authorities. The right hon. Gentleman would remember that when the Government came to the conclusion that it was desirable, in the interests of the public, that the country should take possession of the telegraphs, they were only able to do so at an exceedingly heavy cost to the country. He was afraid that unless some understanding were come to with the Telephone Companies now at the commencement of their establishment, if ever the day arrived when it might become necessary for the State to purchase them, in the general interests of the public, they might be obliged to pay a very large sum for the privilege, not only for goodwill, but in the shape of pensions and superannuation allowances—in point of fact, that the Government would have to pay over again in the case of the telephones all the heavy expenses they had incurred in acquiring the telegraphs. He therefore hoped I that in all the licences which the Post 1557 Office gave, the right hon. Gentleman would reserve to the Government the right of the Government to buy the telephones after the lapse of a certain time on the same principle as that which they had adopted in regard to the Electric Lighting Companies and the local authorities. In that case they had laid down a very fair principle that the Electric Lighting Companies should not be disturbed in the enjoyment of their undertakings for a certain length of time, but that, after that period had expired, the local authorities should be at liberty to purchase them by paying the actual value of the plant, without being subjected to exorbitant charges for goodwill and compensation allowances. The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Magniac) had expressed a hope that the right hon. Gentleman would be able to cheapen the price of telegrams. He believed the right hon. Gentleman was himself a convert to that view if it could possibly be carried out. It was so desirable that they should have 6d. instead of 1s. telegrams, that he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would persevere in his efforts to convince his Colleagues that he was in the right, and that they were in the wrong. He need not, however, go further into that matter at present, especially bearing in mind that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Department was already converted. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would be able to persuade the Secretary to the Treasury, sitting beside him, that the view he had taken himself was the right one. In this country a 1s. was charged for every telegram up to 20 words; but in other countries telegraphic communication was at a much cheaper rate. He certainly could not understand why, in this country, we should pay so much more than other people.
MR. ALDERMAN W. LAWRENCE
said, he wished to bring under the notice of the right hon. Gentleman the present Postmaster General a question with respect to the telegraphic arrangements which he had brought under the consideration of several Postmaster Generals, and had received different reasons from them for objecting to it. He quite agreed with his hon. Friend behind him (Mr. Magniac) that they could not expect at the present moment, with the present heavy charges the Telegraph Department had to bear, and in the face 1558 of an absolute deficiency, to obtain from the Government the concession of cheap telegrams throughout the country. But he could not forget that when the Government took over the telegraph works, and everything connected with them, there were absolutely in existence in the Metropolis 6d. telegrams, and it was at that time confidently predicted that when the arrangements under the Government got into full operation there would be 6d. telegrams throughout the whole of the country. He hoped the Government would take the matter seriously into their consideration with the view of reducing the rate for short telegrams whenever the financial position of the Department would justify them in doing so. He would not advocate anything being done at the present moment that would reduce the Revenue; but Her Majesty's Government would be aware that a large number of telegrams were now sent which only required the answer "Yes" or "No." He would therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether in such a case a prepaid telegram, at 1s. 6d.—namely, 1s. for the telegram and 6d. for a reply of two or three words, having effect, say, for 48 hours, might not be allowed? At the present moment, if they prepaid a telegram, they had to pay 1s. for 20 words in the original telegram, and 1s. for a reply of 10 or 20 words, the reply holding good for three months, and if not used then the 1s. paid could be claimed back from the Post Office. If 1s. 6d. were charged for a prepaid telegram and reply, at the rate of 1s. for 20 words in the original telegram, and 6d. for a reply not exceeding 10 words, the reply standing good for 48 hours, and if not used no money to be returned, he thought the Government would be absolute gainers in the end. He believed that such a concession would so largely increase the number of reply telegrams that it was impossible there could be a loss to the Department. When he first brought the subject before the Postmaster General, some years since, he was informed by the Chief of the Telegraph Department that the Department was so full of work that they had no means or appliances at their disposal for doing more than they were at present doing; and that if they had a large amount of extra work imposed upon them their power would be insufficient to enable 1559 them to dispose of it, and that it would consequently entail a reduction rather than an increase of Revenue. But the Chief of the Department also added—"Only wait until we have the full appliances to do the work, and we shall be able to do it." He would now ask the Postmaster General if he seriously believed that the adoption of the system of 6d. prepaid reply telegrams not exceeding 10 words would be injurious to the Revenue? If not, it would most assuredly be a matter of great convenience to the country, and it ought to be carried out. It must be remembered that the use of telegrams was now becoming almost universal, and that advantage was now taken of them by many classes of the community, who, when the telegraphs were originally established, were never thought likely to use them.
§ MR. FAWCETT
In the course of the discussion various suggestions have been made by the hon. Members who have taken part in it. First of all, there was a suggestion by the hon. Member for Wexford (Mr. Healy) in regard to the use of the Irish time upon exclusively Irish telegrams. I must admit that I was not aware of the fact that the English time was used in marking the telegrams in Ireland; but I will make a note of what the hon. Member has said, and I will make inquiries and see if some alteration cannot be effected. With regard to the remarks which have been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Magniac), I quite admit the truth of what he has said about the present thoroughly unsatisfactory condition of the telegraph arrangements. Indeed, the Telegraph Department seems to me to be the only financial Department of the Post Office which is not in a satisfactory state at the present moment. But, in saying that the revenues of the Telegraph Department are unsatisfactory at present, I think, in justice to the financial administration of that Department, that this fact should always be borne in mind—that we have to pay a dead weight of debt of at least £3,500,000. Owing to the carelessness of the Government of the day at the time the arrangements were made for the purchase of the telegraphs, and the inattention of hon. Members of this House, the country paid a sum of £3,500,000 more for the rights and property of the Telegraph 1560 Companies than they were worth. I may mention circumstances which happened in regard to the value of telegraph stock before the undertakings of the different Companies were purchased, and afterwards. The moment it was known that the Government contemplated the acquisition of the telegraphs, the price of stock went up enormously—in some instances the price was increased by no less than 300 per cent. Of course, in the end, the public had to pay for all that, and the Department is feeling the effect of the extravagant price given, even at the present moment. If the telegraphs had been bought at a proper price the sum paid for them would have been £7,000,000, instead of £10,500,000, and, in that case, even at the present time, we should not have been showing an unsatisfactory result, but we should have been making, after paying the interest on the capital expended, a small margin of profit, which we might have devoted to the improvement of the telegraph service itself. I hope that what has occurred in regard to the purchase of the telegraphs will be looked upon as a warning by the House of Commons in the future that if they are careless, or allow the Government to be careless, in their financial transactions with private Companies, the inevitable result will be that the public interests will suffer in the end. I can assure my hon. Friend that I fully appreciate the Value of his business experience, and that I shall be delighted to receive from him any suggestions in regard to the observance of greater economy in connection with the management of the telegraphic business of the Post Office. My hon. Friend has referred to the Engineering Department, and I can assure him that if he will give us the advantage of his advice and assistance, any suggestions he may have to make will receive all the careful attention they deserve. With regard to giving greater facilities to the public, my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Magniac) has referred to the extent to which the telegraph business might be increased if the telegraphs were made more easily accessible to the public. Now, a change has lately been introduced, in reference to which the Committee will, perhaps, allow me to say a word, because I believe it is not sufficiently well known, but which, I believe, will greatly facili- 1561 tate the action of the telegraphs. In November last we abolished the telegraph stamp, and telegraphic messages are now allowed to be paid by ordinary postage stamps. It is possible to send a telegram by post by putting 12 ordinary stamps upon an ordinary sheet of paper, and if anyone wishes to send a telegram late at night there is now a most easy way of getting that telegram sent off early in the morning by putting it in the nearest Post Office or pillar-box. For instance, suppose a man arrives at his house late at night, and wants to send a telegram to some Provincial town, he can write it on half a sheet of ordinary note paper without being required to use the regular telegraphic message form. That telegram is sent off at once to the general post office of the district. For instance, suppose it is intended to send the telegram from Oxford, the very moment the telegraph office opens in the city of Oxford, at 7 o'clock in the morning, that telegram is certain to be despatched, and in all probability it will be sent at least an hour sooner than if the person sending it were put to the trouble of getting up early in the morning to despatch it. It is only a small change, but it is one which I believe will be very much for the convenience of the general public. The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) has made some remarks relative to a distinction in the relative remuneration of the men and women employed by the Post Office. I am sure he will believe me that I am as anxious as he can be to secure the employment of women, and that it should be extended as far as posible, and that all persons employed should receive a fair and just remuneration for their services. But it must be borne in mind that the Government is bound, in deciding what remuneration should be given to those they employ, to be guided by the same considerations which actuate private individuals, and the reason why we pay a man and a woman different rates for doing, perhaps, precisely analogous kind of work, is the same reason to draw a distinction in engaging a tutor for the education of his son and a young lady for the education of his daughter. Although the young lady may have distinguished herself quite as much in her examinations as the young man, such is the relative demand for the services of each that a 1562 higher rate of remuneration is obliged to be paid for the services of the male tutor than for those of the young lady. I may point out that there is also another reason besides the general condition of the labour market why women do not receive the same remuneration as male clerks—namely, that the whole of the night work, which is the most trying part of the duty performed, falls upon the male staff. There is only one other suggestion which has been made, which it is necessary I should refer to, and that is the suggestion of the hon. Member for the City of London (Mr. Alderman Lawrence) that a short reply telegram should be sent at a lower rate than the original telegraphic message to which it is an answer. I should not like to express any opinion upon that matter now; but I can give an assurance to my hon. Friend that I will consider whether his suggestion can be carried out without involving any serious loss to the Revenue.
§ Vote agreed to.