§ (9.1.) SIR EDWARD BIRKBECK (Norfolk, E.)
In calling the attention of the House—I hope for a brief period—to the Resolution which stands in my name, I think hon. Members, and especially those representing county constituencies, will 113 agree with me that there is a longstanding grievance against the Post Office Department with reference to the postal arrangements in some of our rural parishes, and they will realise the importance of this matter. It is disagreeable to myself to be obliged in any way to criticise one of our most efficient public services. The country may generally speaking be proud of the way in which our postal arrangements are carried out, and I am quite sure that hon. Members on both sides will agree with me that if there are any defects in our postal arrangements it is right that the attention of the House should be called to these defects, that we by discussion may find the remedy. But first I desire to place on record my opinion, and I think I may say the opinion of hon. Members on both sides of the House, that my right hon. Friend the Postmaster General during the time he has held his present office has done his utmost to meet as far as it has been in his power to do so the complaints made to him in this direction. But my right hon. Friend, as we all know, has had the difficulty other Postmasters General have had to contend with: he is bound by Treasury red tape—he, no more than his predecessors, has had a free hand in carrying out his desires. In the first place let me set the minds of hon. Members at rest on one point. In bringing this matter before the House, I in no way wish to suggest that any increased work should be imposed upon rural postal messengers, who have at the present time very hard and difficult tasks to perform; but on the contrary I would suggest changes by which their labour, very heavy on certain occasions, should be lightened to a considerable extent. As hon. Members know, at election times the work is so heavy that it is impossible for these messengers to give satisfaction in all directions. Our attention has been constantly called to cases in which voters have never received their voting cards, simply on account of the way in which deliveries of letters are conducted in rural parishes. I have had a vast number of letters from all parts of England complaining of 114 the rural postal arrangements, and in many cases requesting that I will make individual grievances known. Of course, it is not my intention to do this, but with the permission of the House, I will quote a few extracts from the correspondence to illustrate the necessity for reform in these postal arrangements. It will be convenient if I divide the subject into heads, and first, I shall call attention to the necessity for extending the system of free delivery in rural parishes; secondly, to the want of extension of the telegraph system throughout the country, and if possible that the obnoxious system of hon. Members being compelled to ask their constituents to find guarantees for the establishment of new telegraph offices may be abolished; thirdly, I shall refer to the want of an extension of offices for the transaction of Savings Hank business; fourthly, to the need of more money order and postal order offices; fifthly, I shall call attention to the want in many villages of an increased number of pillar boxes or wall collecting boxes; and lastly, I shall ask the House to consider the question to which I attach great importance, and to which the late Mr. Raikes gave special attention, the granting of increased facilities for the sending by post of agricultural produce, whether by small holders, allotment holders, or farmers generally, of fruit, eggs, butter, flowers and other produce. As regards the first subject, there can be no doubt of the inconvenience felt and the want of an absolutely free delivery of letters within a certain radius of the village post office. In the ordinary rural parish the squire or leading inhabitant has his post bag, and I make no appeal on his behalf; he is rich enough to pay for accommodation, and can get his letters early in the morning, and can pay for facilities for delivery. At other houses within a certain radius and within the village proper letters are delivered free and with regularity, and I hear no complaints in that direction. But at farms and labourers' cottages outside the radius from the post office of a mile and a half or two miles the delivery of letters is conducted on what I may describe as a happy-go-lucky, hap 115 hazard system. I hope my right hon. Friend will not be shocked at my using such terms, but I can prove to him as absolute fact that in a great number of rural parishes those who want to have their letters delivered regularly cannot ensure that regularity unless they pay something over and above the postage paid by the sender. In some places there is a daily delivery at uncertain times, in other cases there is a delivery three times or twice a week, and in other places there is absolutely no free delivery at all. I dare say this statement will rather astonish some Members, and when I have mentioned these things in conversation what I can prove to be the fact has scarcely been credited—that in many cases outside a radius of from one and a half to two miles from the post office the payment of the postage does not ensure the delivery of letters. This is felt to be a great grievance by labourers, artizans, and others, whose friends naturally expect that their letters will be delivered as addressed. That is not the case—the penny stamp does not cover the expense, and before the receiver obtains his letter, as I will show from extracts from letters I have received, he has to pay a fee of sometimes one halfpenny, sometimes one penny, and even in some cases two-pence on each letter. This comes hard upon the poor hard-working labourer in rural districts. As I said just now, in some cases there is no delivery at all, the letters being left at some village shop, or they are dropped at some corner house at cross roads, or some house the mail cart passes, where they remain until called for. The House will be astonished to hear—and I regret that the hon. Baronet (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) is not present to hear the statement—it is a frequent occurrence that by arrangement with the Post Office letters are left at public-houses or beer-houses, where the inhabitants must call and receive them. Usually children are sent by their parents to get the letters, and I say it is nothing short of a scandal according to our views in these days that attendance at a public-house should be so associated with the delivery of letters through the 116 Post Office. It is the case, though I do not know whether my right hon. Friend is aware of the fact. The working classes look upon the penny stamp as a binding contract between themselves and the Post Office for the delivery of the letter to the person to whom it is addressed, but that contract in many cases is not earned out. But the working classes are sharp enough to know that there is an annual surplus revenue from the Post Office of three millions, and they feel that grievance to which attention has so often been called in this House, that this enormous sum should be "grabbed" by the Treasury. It is a reasonable contention that the Post Office service being so profitable, the surplus increasing at the rate of something like £200,000 a year, should be handed over to the Department for increasing the advantages of the service to the general public, from whom this revenue is raised. It will be of interest if I quote certain statements from letters I have received—statements which I believe to be absolutely correct—in reference to the very late delivery of letters in rural parishes, leaving no margin of time for business men to send replies by the outgoing mail. To meet this grievance there should be an increase in the Post Office staff in rural parishes, that the delivery may be accelerated. I do not say there should be a universal house-to-house delivery, because I know in thinly populated and mountainous districts that would not be possible, but the delivery ought to be largely extended. I would also suggest that facilities should be given to rural post-messengers in the way of pony-carts, which I think would involve but a very small increase in the expense. A case came under my notice from a place a few miles south of Cork, where the fishing industry is of considerable importance. A man offered to contract with the Post-Office to convey the letters by car at the same price that the post runner now charges, but the Post Office declined to make any alteration. I should like a direct declaration from the right hon. Gentleman that he is anxious and willing to put an end to this hap-hazard delivery, and that all letters should be delivered free to those 117 to whom they are addressed. Further, I wish he would put an absolute end to the depositing of letters at public-houses and places of call. From my own county I have received many complaints of this kind of thing which I think hon. Members will scarcely credit. A man writes to me that his letters and those of a number of cottagers and farmers are left at a blacksmith's shop merely because it is a place of call, and on one occasion an important letter was nearly destroyed by a spark. Another grievance is that in many cases second post letters are not delivered, and I have a letter here from a man who lives in a village of 1,800 inhabitants—not a straggling, but a compact village—and he complains that the letters arrive by the second post at two o'clock, but no delivery is allowed, and unless the people call for them they do not get their letters till next day. Then, with regard to the question of acceleration, take the case of Surrey. There is a village I know well five or six miles from Godalming and 39½ miles from Waterloo. One of the morning newspapers despatched from London by, say, Friday morning's post does not arrive at this village till nine o'clock on Saturday morning. In County Tyrone there is a small village which is 490 miles from London, and here a newspaper posted in London on Friday morning would be delivered one hour sooner than the newspaper in the village thirty nine and a half miles from Waterloo. These, I think, are cases in which an alteration ought to be made I have had a large number of letters from my own part of the country, and not a few of them were received before I placed on the Order Paper this Notice of Motion. Here is a letter from a clergyman who says that the majority of his poor parishioners have to pay a halfpenny for every letter or circular they receive. A farmer writes from the same place that, so far as he and other cottagers are concerned, there is no delivery from the beginning to the end of the year. Another farmer mentions a case where twenty cottages besides his own have no delivery, although they are only a little over a mile from the post office, 118 and he also tells me of a case in which a letter was carried about for three days before the cottager received it, and it was to say that his mother-in-law was dangerously ill. In one of the parishes of Kent all the letters for a particular distinct are deposited at an inn called the Wool-pack Inn, which is a mile from that portion of the parish. Everyone who lives even a few yards outside the radius of delivery has to pay one penny for the delivery of every letter he receives. Then in the North Riding of Yorkshire, not a great distance from Darlington, the letters are sent six miles by rail by arrangement; but, instead of a penny stamp covering the expense, every letter has to bear an additional two-pence. Another case is that of two villages about a mile apart with a direct road connecting them. Midway between them is a large row of cottages where there has never been a free delivery, and all the cottagers have to pay a fee of one penny per letter. Then there is the secretary of a very large Friendly Society, to whom a number of letters are addressed every day. He lives in a village which is a quarter of a mile out of the radius of free delivery, and he only receives letters three times a week, or has to pay a heavy fee for the delivery. I have a letter here signed by thirteen labourers, who state that they have never had a letter delivered free, and they always have to pay an additional fee. Here is a case in which a letter lay in a rural post office for two months, although the person to whom it was addressed lived only about a mile from the office. In the same parish a labourer had a letter sent to him informing him of the death of a relative, and that letter did not get into his hands for several days after the funeral, because he lived a few hundred yards outside the radius. The right hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Heneage) knows very well what happens in Lincolnshire, because he has taken special pains to secure better facilities for the delivery of letters in that county. From that county I have a letter from a man who farms a thousand acres, and he says that there has never been a free delivery at his farm and twelve 119 cottages near to it. There is another case of twenty-two cottages, where letters are never delivered, but are left at a place one mile from the post office, and have to be called for. I will also mention the case of a poor woman who earns her living by sewing. She went to live in a village where there were nineteen houses, and where one penny was charged for the delivery of every letter. The first year she was there she took account of what she had to pay in fees for the delivery of letters, and it was no less a sum than 13s. One other case only will I mention, and that is a parish of two hundred inhabitants, which has never had a free delivery, and farmers can only post their letters once a week on the day when they drive to the market town. These are fair specimens of what takes place in any county all over England. I now come to the question of telegraph offices, and I contend very strongly that there should be increased facilities. In some cases people have to go five, six, seven, and eight miles before they can send a telegram, and I am sure my right hon. Friend (Sir James Fergusson), from the numerous questions which are addressed to him, and from the Memorials and Resolutions he receives, must fully realise that some extension of the telegraphic system ought to be carried out. I think something should be done to reduce these obnoxious guarantees which are required; but I do not go so far as my hon. Friend who has put down an Amendment on that subject. To say that all telegrams in rural parishes should be delivered free is imposing something beyond what we ought to ask for. Then I think the Postmaster General ought, further, to consider the question of savings banks. It is not fair to expect a man who works from six in the morning to six at night to walk five, six, and even seven miles, as it is in many cases, before he can put the money that he is able to save into a savings bank. I think in these days of thrift the Postmaster General should certainly increase the number of savings banks in the rural parishes. A similar grievance exists with regard to money orders, 120 and I should like also to mention the rural post boxes, which are an immense convenience to the inhabitants of the rural parishes. This subject has been before the House, and I hope the Postmaster General will see his way to extend the facilities thus offered. Then I think special facilities should be given to the small farmers for sending small parcels containing flowers, fruit, &c., to market, and I believe the Post Office would derive a large revenue if this could be carried out. Take my own county with respect to the facilities afforded by the Post Office. In Norfolk, according to Kelly's Post Office Directory of 1888, out of 680 parishes, 303 had no post office, 551 had no telegraph office, and 521 no money order office. I expect that is a fair sample of other counties throughout England, though there may be a ten per cent. improvement on these figures since 1888, and I say that is not a fair proportion, and that some better arrangement ought to be made. I want to throw out the suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman that when Memorials are sent to the Post Office, either from hon. Members or the leading people in rural parishes, instead of sending the district surveyor to make inquiries, he should be directed to hold a public inquiry at which evidence could be taken. The aggrieved parties could then state their grievances, and a great amount of satisfaction would result from the change of procedure. I have taken no steps to bring this matter before the public beyond consulting a certain number of hon. Members on both sides of the House; but the Central Chamber of Commerce passed a unanimous resolution in favour of the Motion; and if the President of the Board of Agriculture (Mr. Chaplin) were here, he would acknowledge that at a meeting he attended in February last at Ely, something like three hundred labourers passed a unanimous resolution in favour of asking for these concessions. If other hon. Members were to present to the right hon. Gentleman a similar list of grievances to the one I have, I expect he would almost go into a lunatic asylum. But I am not going simply to ask my right hon. Friend to inquire 121 into this matter. I want to hear from him that some decided and practical action will be taken. I know nobody has given more attention to every grievance brought to his notice, and he has granted a great many facilities for which we are grateful. I do not want the delay of a Select Committee, or anything of that kind, but I want the House to give a decided opinion that these grievances should no longer exist; that practical reforms should be carried out. If my right hon. Friend will arrange for a free delivery as far as possible—I know it cannot be done everywhere—the agricultural labourers and others will be deeply indebted to him. We have the concession of free education, and I think it is a gross hardship and next door to a scandal that these poor working men should have to pay fees of a penny, twopence, or even threepence, for the posting or receipt of their letters. I have not made this Motion as a sort of sham to console my constituents — I mean business, and shall stand firm to my guns, and I trust the House will support me in asking for this simple matter of justice. I move the Resolution which stands in my name.
§ (9.46.) MR. FELLOWES (Huntingdonshire, Ramsey)
I have much pleasure in seconding the Resolution. I am sure all those hon. Members who represent agricultural districts are deeply grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing forward this matter, for there is a very wide and strong feeling in our rural districts that further facilities should be given for the delivery and collection of letters. I frankly acknowledge the very great courtesy and kindness which we have always received from the Postmaster General, and I must include some of the officials of the Post Office, whom we are often compelled to interview. We do not so much complain of the Post Office and its officials as of the fact that the Treasury are at the bottom of the whole business. The Post Office officials are willing, but the Treasury officials hamper them a great deal in furthering this good cause, and I regret that no representative of the Treasury was present to hear my hon. Friend's remarks. I know a great deal of the difficulty is 122 put down to the score of expense, but an enormous revenue comes to this country from the Post Office, and I do not think the country would mind expending a little more in increasing the facilities in rural districts. I say this, because I believe it has been found that, where increased facilities have been provided in rural districts, there has been an extension of business, and no loss has been caused to the Department. In dealing with the question, I want to confine myself to a part of the country which I contend is worse off than any other—I allude to the Fen country. I believe I shall be borne out by Members on both sides who represent these districts in Huntingdonshire, Cambridgeshire, the Isle of Ely, and part of Lincolnshire, when I say that the postal arrangements of these countries are certainly not what they should be. It is said that the districts are sometimes almost impassable, and that the houses are very far apart. That may have been so twenty-five years ago, but now we have gravel roads going very nearly all over the Fens, and the houses are massed together much more than they were. I would also remind the House that the people have to go along these roads for their provisions, and the children have to pass along them to get to school. There is a footpath along the roads, and it would not be a great hardship to compel a walking postman to go along them for the purpose of collecting and delivering letters. During the last few years these districts have become a great fruit and potato-growing country, and employ a large number of labourers for eight or nine months in the year. The fruit merchants are much hampered by the non-delivery and non-collection of letters, and it is a great hardship on these labourers that while they are in the district they cannot receive letters regularly from their relatives and friends in different parts of the country. At present they have to send three or four miles for their letters, and often, if they do not send, the letters are left on the taproom table of a public-house. Sometimes children are sent for them; the children play about, and the letters get lost on the road, and are never heard of again. I can give many in- 123 stances, but will only trouble the House with three. The first is a place, in Huntingdonshire, of 350 inhabitants, where there is no delivery from one years' end to another, and the nearest post office is five miles away. Often, if letters are not brought in by some kind neigh hour, they remain for a month, and then they are useless, as the time for transacting the business has gone by. Once a poor woman received intelligence of her mother's death a week after the funeral took place. Another instance is in the Huntingdonshire fens, a place of between two hundred and three hundred inhabitants, where there is no collection or delivery of letters from year's end to year's end. The letters are left at four different inns in the district till called for. I am given to understand—and I thoroughly believe it—that these letters are often left there for a month or six weeks at a time. The other instance is at a place near Short Ferry, where there is no delivery. It is only three miles from the village, and two highway surveyors and the overseer of the poor live there, and unless they expect letters and go in for them they lie in the village post office for days. These are pretty fair instances of what we complain of. It will doubtless be pointed out that the expense would be great; but still, in these days, deliveries and collections ought to be as extended as possible, and if we cannot have a collection and delivery every day in these districts, I think the right hon. Gentleman might see his way to a delivery three days a week, especially as industry has so largely developed in the Fen country. With respect to telegraphs, we were led two years ago to understand that further facilities were to be given in rural districts, and we gathered from what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, not that the guarantees were going to be abolished, but that they would not be so high as they were. When, however, we make application for increased telegraphic communication, we are met with the remark that the Post Office are precluded by the Treasury from carrying out the extensions without guarantees. There is a parish of 1,200 inhabitants in Huntingdonshire, where 124 the people were very anxious to have telegraphic communication. The Post Office asked for a guarantee of £27 for seven years. The people thought this very hard, as the place was within a quarter of a mile of the great North Road. There was great difficulty in securing the guarantee, and but for some outsiders it could not have been done, and the consequence would have been that a place of 1,200 inhabitants, not far from Peterborough, would have been without telegraphic communication. I would like my right hon. Friend to say, not that the guarantees should be taken away altogether, as I think that is hardly possible, but that he should give greater facilities by reducing the guarantees, so that people in country districts will be able to secure telegraphic communication without paying the enormous guarantees which are called for now. I should also like to ask whether the guarantors are liable for the posts and wires for the new office; and whether the telegrams which come into an office may be taken into account in the same way as those that go out? If he would meet us in that way I believe it would be of the greatest benefit. I do hope and trust that the whole question of rural postal communication, and also telegraphic communication, will be taken up by the right hon. Gentleman before this Parliament ends. If he does take it up, I can assure him that he will receive the greatest kudos from the country.
To leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words, "in the opinion of this House, an extended daily delivery of letters and papers ought to be granted to those portions of rural parishes where such delivery is not at present in force, and also that an increased number of savings banks, money order offices, and telegraph offices ought to be established,"—(Sir Edward Birkbeck,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ (10.1.) MR. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)
I do not wish to detain the House for many minutes, but perhaps I may be allowed to give some hints to 125 hon. Members as to how they may overcome the difficulties in connection with the postal arrangements. The great difficulty with which the Post Office and those who desire to improve the postal arrangements in rural districts have to deal is the want of local knowledge of the Post Office officials, even the district inspectors, in dealing with this question. Having for fifteen years tried to improve the postal administration in Lincolnshire, which was perhaps quite as badas anything which has been described by my hon. Friends opposite, I learned what the difficulties were. The real fact is that these postal arrangements which are now in force were made in old times, when the traffic facilities were very different from what they are now, in the days of the stage coaches, in the days when the main roads ran from north to south, whereas the railways now run in an opposite direction, or from east to west. I wish to point out first that after having for about twelve years tried to deal with this question piecemeal, and in isolated cases, I tried about three years ago to see whether a whole district could not be dealt with. I may tell my hon. Friends that last year I dealt with a district, with the aid and material help of the Post Office—and I wish to give every credit to the Post Office for the valuable assistance which the officials gave me, and also the late Postmaster General—I dealt with a district in which 36,000 letters a week are delivered; and the House will be astonished to hear that more than one-fourth of these letters were either not collected or delivered. I believe that at the present moment there is not one single letter out of these 36,000 which is not either collected or delivered. The real difficulty which arose at the outset, in addition to the want of local knowledge of the inspectors, was the double sorting. Under the old arrangement which existed in the district, the letters were not only sorted in the principal post office, but they were then sent on to the sub-district post office, where they were sorted again, and then sent out by rural messengers. The first thing we tried to do was to get rid of the sub-offices. There we found at once the 126 difficulties we had to face. However, they were got rid of; and we abolished many of the district sortings in north and mid Lincolnshire. All the letters are now sorted, either in the mail trains coming down to Lincoln by the Midland Railway from Derby, which is the head office, or at Lincoln. The letters are then sent out in sealed bags direct to each of the sub-offices, either by mail cart, or by rail, which is made use of very extensively. The consequence is that there is no second sorting in the district offices; but, in addition to that, there is this great advantage—whereas, under the old system, every rural messenger started from the district office and walked some four or five miles without delivering half-a-dozen letters, he now starts from the nearest sub-office at once to his work, and that gives him an opportunity of saving much more time in the delivery of the letters; and it also gives him a longer time before returning to collect them in the evening. I will only instance two cases. There was one parish of 350 inhabitants which only had a delivery by a boy, where the letters were left at a house up to last year from time immemorial, and which never had a collection in any way whatever. Under the new system in that parish the delivery of the letters is commenced at half-past eight in the morning and is finished before half-past nine; and the letters are collected and start before half-past three in the afternoon. In another parish which is not many miles distant from the first parish, and which is three miles distant from my house, the messenger sent out from the post office only left the letters on the way and called for them next day. Now that parish has a delivery of letters every day, and sends out its letters regularly like any other civilised region. If hon. Members take up the question, I would strongly advise them to get others who are thoroughly acquainted with the district to join them, and then to cut out a large scheme, as I did. I was afterwards assisted by two other gentlemen, but in the first instance I took it up myself and presented the scheme to the General Post Office. They then at once without any hesitation put me in communication with the surveyor of 127 the district, and I must say that a most efficient and painstaking man I found him to be. There is only one way in which a scheme of this sort, as I have told the House, can be carried out—that is by abolishing these sub-district offices, by making the rural messengers start from the nearest office to their work, and by utilising the railways, which have very much altered the whole complexion of affairs as regards postal arrangements. I am told that the whole of the administration in Lincolnshire only costs something like £1,100. I think that outlay is well expended, considering the great convenience it affords to such a large number of people. My hon. Friend who seconded the Amendment has referred to the telegraphs. I should like to remind him that the telegraphs stand in a somewhat different position from the postal arrangements. We had a Select Committee appointed on the Telegraph and Postal Arrangements two years ago, and that Committee reported that the Postal Authorities should give facilities for a penny post to every village throughout England, whether it pays in that particular village or not. On the other hand the telegraphs were a commercial undertaking, and we are bound to expect a certain amount of profit from them; and, therefore, I, for one, should not like to mix up the two; and I would advise the hon. Members to keep them entirely distinct. But I do hope my right hon. Friend the Postmaster General will give a sympathetic answer to the Motion which has been made, and endeavour to carry it into effect, and thus extend the very great benefits which I believe Lincolnshire has, as a general rule, been enjoying during the last two years.
§ (10.11.) SIR RICHARD PAGET (Somerset, Wells)
I first wish to put myself right with the Postmaster General. I desire to pay the highest tribute not only to him but to his Office, and I say this: Having carefully watched for many long years the annual Reports of the Postmaster General, I can come to no other conclusion than this—that it is a splendid service, and, on the whole, magnificently worked; but, excellent as it is 128 I venture to think that there is room for improvement. If there is any one complaint which we have a right to urge it is this—the inequality of the service. I think that in the Metropolis we have a great deal too many deliveries. I believe it would be a great blessing to us if there were not half the number of deliveries in the day. At the same time we feel that there are many rural districts where there is an undoubted grievance. I do not think, as a matter of principle or policy, it is right that the taxpayers of the country should not derive equal advantage from the Post Office service. I have always contended that the Post Office Department exists primarily for the work of the sending and the delivery of letters, and that, according as the Post Office is constituted, it is not the primary object of the institution that it should be a tax-gathering, machine. It is to me no sufficient reason to say in the case of such and such a village—"We cannot give you the facilities you ask because the number of letters would not justify us in incurring the expense." I defy you on any occasion to find the smallest ground for complaint with regard to the deliveries in any urban district. It is purely an agricultural and rural grievance. I may be asked, and the Postmaster General may fairly say—"Whatdo you want, and what is the expense of the reform you desire to carry out in the Post Office Department?" lam one of those who are not prepared to give a definite answer to that question. It is a Departmental question, and I am not prepared to say what would be the amount of the expense of giving full effect to this Resolution. As I read the Amendment of my hon. Friend, he only asks that there should be an extended daily delivery of letters and papers. That, I apprehend, means that there should be a reasonable extension—not that in every single isolated district every individual house should necessarily be visited daily by the postman. The right hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House called attention to the fact that the introduction of the railway system had made a material change in the condition of things, and 129 had assisted in many cases in the rearrangement of postal conveniences. But there is another thing which has happened which is a great reason for that reform, and that is the education which we have given to the people. One of the first immediate results of that education has been to increase the amount of the reading and writing, of letters and newspapers; and there is a greater demand for these facilities. I contend that if we want to raise the condition of the people in the rural districts we must give them largely-increased facilities for the reception and sending of letters and newspapers. My hon. Friend who introduced this Amendment alluded to the practice prevailing in rural districts of sending the smaller articles of agricultural produce by means of the Parcel Post. We are now engaged in increasing the number of small holdings and allotments. We want to see the cultivation of all kinds of fruit, flowers, and vegetables. We want to see the growth and production of many articles of produce which are best used in their freshest condition—fruit, and flowers, and eggs, and vegetables; and all these things require to be readily sent. We cannot do full justice to the small holders and the holders of allotments, whom we are creating by legislation, unless we give them ordinary facilities for easily getting rid of the produce of their land. I hope we shall hear from the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General that he will take this matter into his consideration, and that he will deal with it thoroughly. The views which have been placed before him to-day will very clearly show him the feeling which exists in respect to this matter. There is one thing more to which I might draw attention, and it is this: the necessity for increasing the number of Post Office Savings Banks. We have been preaching thrift to the people, and telling them how to save. Surely if we are doing that, we ought to give them facilities for saving. I should like to see the Post Office Savings Banks largely increased in number, so that they might exist not only in the larger and more important villages, but in the small villages, no matter what might be their size. I do 130 not wish to detain the House, but I do think that a case has been made out. I think a case has been made out not in the interests of the urban districts, for they have as complete delivery and as accurate arrangements as human ingenuity can devise, but in the interests of our rural parishes. It is for them we speak, and I hope we shall not have spoken in vain to-night.
§ (10.21.) COLONEL MALCOLM (Argyllshire)
Belonging to one of the uncivilised regions where, instead of having a post twice a day, we are extremely thankful to get a post three times a week, perhaps I may be allowed to say one or two words. I do not in any way blame my right hon. Friend the Postmaster General, who has done a very great deal for us in the West of Scotland, and I know that he was willing to do a great deal more; but there was, some way or another, a hitch; for when the postal authorities had arranged and made agreements with the Railway Companies in their endeavour to improve the postal facilities in the West of Scotland, for some reason or another the matter was abruptly terminated. We have during the summer an accelerated postal service, but that only lasts for three months in the year. I know that my right hon. Friend was very anxious to make that service last all the year round, because it came to my notice that large extensions of postal arrangements had been devised, and were to be carried throughout the whole of the Highlands; but they all depended upon this one main route. We thought and hoped that the postal authorities, having been satisfied with the arrangements of the Railway Companies, we should have the advantage of the proposed acceleration; but, unfortunately, all of a sudden, after things were going very comfortably, we came to a deadlock, and we were told that for some financial reasons the thing could not be carried out. I am not blaming the Post Office. I cannot expect that any addition of this sort can be carried out so long as the Treasury or the Chancellor of the Exchequer looks upon the Post Office as one of the large 131 branches of his revenue. I think, considering that the Post Office is a monopoly, the first duty of that service is to have a fair service throughout the country, and then to pay a fair dividend on the money that is laid out by the Treasury. After that is once paid, then the spare money should be used in increasing and enlarging the postal facilities throughout the whole of Great Britain. I am strongly of opinion—and have been for many years—that the Post Office should not be looked upon as a sort of milch-cow for the Treasury; but that the first thing should be that an adequate service should be given to the whole country, and that those places that are more remote should be practically assisted and paid for by those places where there is a larger amount of money earned by the Post Office, and in that way that the richer districts ought to help the poorer ones. I am sure I might almost apologise to my right hon. Friend for the great amount of trouble I have personally given him in urging the claims of one place and another upon his notice; but I do not wish to enter into details of that sort. All I hope is that this matter will be treated by the Treasury in a more generous spirit than they have yet done.
§ (10.25.) THE POSTMASTER GENERAL (Sir J. FERGUSSON,) Manchester, N.E.
I hope hon. Members who take a deep and very well-known interest in this subject will pardon me if I rise at this comparatively early period, in order to deal with the important matters which have been put forward by my hon. Friend (Sir Edward Birkbeck) and by those who support him, because perhaps I may be able to say something that will relieve other hon. Members from fulfilling the duty that presents itself to them, of making further representations on this matter. I both understand and greatly sympathise with those who are dissatisfied with the inadequate service afforded to the districts which the hon. Members who have spoken represent. I have a vivid recollection of country districts where the postman turns upon his heel 132 at a certain point, and where the scattered hamlets or farms beyond are never visited by one of Her Majesty's servants. And it is certainly a pleasure to me if I have been able in any of these particulars to relieve a felt want and to meet fairly the representations that are constantly made to me, with great kindness and fairness, by hon. Members who represent these rural districts. So far from it being a trouble and annoyance, it is one of the pleasures of the office I have the honour to hold that it brings me into such constant connection with hon. Members in all parts of the House, who enable me to understand the wants of their districts; and if hon. Members will make known the precise wants that are present to their minds, either to me or to the officers of the Department, who, I know, are constantly ready to hear such representations, a great deal may often be done to remove felt grievances before they reach an acute point. One thing I may most usefully say is that neither in the matter of postal facilities, nor in telegraphic extension have we been resting on our oars. These extensions have not for the most part been done by large measures, but by constant attention to the various post offices, however small. The position is reviewed when vacancies occur in accordance with the advance of business, and day by day many cases, sometimes scores of cases, are dealt with in which increased facilities are given. In this way a very considerable extension has taken place, the figures of which will probably surprise the House. Taking the last ten years, there has been an actual extension in the number of savings banks and money order offices of 3,550 throughout the Kingdom. Since 1881 there have never been less than 245 in one year, and the number has reached 486 in a year; while in the present year, since the 1st January last, the rate of increase has been even larger. Within the last five months no fewer than 193 have been added, so that if the rate obtains throughout the year there will be 450 offices added throughout the country. Certainly it cannot be said that in this particular we are doing nothing. I may say that savings bank and money 133 order offices are always opened together, because they are conveniently worked together, and the activity of the postmaster is stimulated thereby, because they are paid commission on the business done by them. I happened yesterday, quite by chance, to see a paragraph in a newspaper which summarises the increase of the expenditure upon the postal and telegraph services in the last ten years. It was certainly a newspaper favourable to the present Government, and therefore gives prominence to recent figures; but I may say the growth has been continuous, both in the six years during which right hon. Gentlemen opposite were in office and in the years of office of the present Government. In 1881 £5,386,000 was expended on the Post Office, whereas in the year 1892 the estimates amount to £9,316,000—that is to say, an increase of fifty per cent. in these ten years in the money spent on the postal and telegraphic services. The items which form that total show that neither the Post Office Department nor the Treasury—if it is desirable to contrast them—have been backward to extend the facilities; but as several hon. Members have perhaps ascribed the delay in granting increased facilities to the action of the Treasury, it is right for me to say that since I have held my present office in no one instance I can remember has the Treasury objected to increased telegraphic and postal facilities in any locality. That is not where the Treasury comes in. Of course, in questions of subsidies to Railway Companies and of scales of wages, the financial department must be consulted; but the matter of increased delivery, and so forth, is entirely within the discretion of the Post Office. I will not deny that the question of the service being remunerative operates with the Department in considering whether or not an extension shall be given. That rule, however, is administered in a liberal spirit. Formerly the calculation was made that each letter cost in the local service one halfpenny to the Revenue; but now it is estimated at three farthings, the other farthing being left to bear all the cost of the letter before it reaches the actual 134 district of delivery. Therefore, there is no idea in these country parishes of making money for the Post Office; but it is desired that the receipts should somewhat approximate to the expenditure. I can assure the House there has been no expectation that the receipts will be adequately remunerative, only the expenditure must not be such as to involve real and considerable loss to the Revenue. I should now like to mention what the extension of the telegraph has been, for that also will, I think, surprise the House. The number of new telegraph offices opened in the United Kingdom during the last ten years is 2,722. The yearly additions have varied from 220 to 349, and this year the number of additional offices will be more than 400. The question of the guarantee has been touched upon, and the hon. Member for Canterbury has a well-known opinion that no guarantee should be insisted upon. The result of that would be that it would be very difficult indeed to draw the line as to how far these telegraphic extensions should go. If there be no measure as to how far these offices should be self-supporting, it is hard to say how far down we should not be obliged to go to carry out extensions. The terms for extension have been made much more liberal. Whereas a Sinking Fund was expected to defray the capital expenditure, nothing more is now required than that the yield should be probably sufficient for the maintenance. In such a case no security is asked; but the guarantee, when asked for, is not of a large amount, and the fact that six hundred offices are now open upon that footing shows that considerable advantage has been taken of that expedient. Of course, a great advantage has been given by the provision in the Post Office Act of last year, whereby Local Authorities are empowered to guarantee the cost of a telegraph office. I have a Bill now before the House to extend that system to Scotland and the Channel Islands, which unfortunately were not provided for in the former Act, and I hope hon. Members will give facilities for the passing of that Bill, which is very much desired. An hon. Member says that 135 telegrams ought to be delivered free. Telegrams must be always more or less of a luxury; and if they were to be delivered free, no matter how far from a telegraph office they have to travel, it would be an undue cost to the country; and at this moment when, unfortunately, the Revenue is not growing, I venture to think, with the concessions that have been made, by which the cost of the telegram is only sixpence, and the porterage at the rate of sixpence a mile, the public must rest contented for a while. I wish to show the House that I thoroughly appreciate both the friendly spirit in which the matter has been brought forward and the great importance of the subject. Since I have held my present office one of the matters that has been occupying my attention is the great desirability of giving increased postal facilities to rural districts. I have in my mind a scheme which I think is capable of being worked out to remedy to a considerable extent the undue hardships that are felt by poor people who live a long distance from the nearest post office, and do not know whether or not their letters arrive unless some kind neighbour mentions the fact to them, and who may be deprived of information as valuable to them in their humble sphere as it would be to us in ours. In France there is a system by which, in sparsely-peopled districts, the Post Office messenger travels through one part of the district on one day of the week and through a second part on another day of the week, so that, though the number of letters on any day may not amount to more than a score, and would not justify a daily delivery, and though in a district so scattered as the Moorlands it would be impossible for a man to travel three or four miles to deliver a single letter, such a scheme might be worked so as to relieve a number of districts where considerable hardship is felt; and at all events, if that rule were adopted, there would hardly be a house which would not be reached in the course of a week. A good deal has been said about the unsuitability of public-houses as places where letters are left. One hon. Member said a blacksmith's shop was not a suitable 136 place, but in my experience I have found it very often a most popular place, When letters are left at the public-house, or at the smith's shop, it is generally by the desire of those to whom they are addressed; and the payment of a penny or twopence for special delivery is also a matter of private arrangement. I admit that there is an apparent hardship in such cases, but of course the Post Office cannot deal with them unless they are brought specifically to its notice. In estimating, the amount of a guarantee for a telegraph office, it is not practicable to reckon the messages received, because that would be counting them twice over, as they are counted from the places from which they are sent out. The early delivery of letters at places hundreds of miles from London is rendered possible by the rapidity of the night mail trains from London, and the hour of delivery at places near London is dependent upon the hour of departure from the district offices. These are matters of detail, but it is by attention to details that the whole service is improved. A spirit of zeal, and even of ambition, animates the officers of the Department, and there is a determination that our Postal Service shall be the best in the world. Of course it can be improved; and "if we are spared," as they say in Scotland, we hope to be able to do still more to improve it. I would, therefore, ask my hon. Friend, who has expressed such confidence in the Department, to leave such matters in our hands, and not to trouble the House to divide upon the question.
§ (10.43.) MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman who introduced this question with so much ability will have any reason to complain of the general tenor of the statement made by the Postmaster General. I believe that the Telegraph Service, as a rule, has been conducted on commercial principles, and that efforts have been made to balance the revenue and the expenditure. The Telegraph Service only just pays its way—at present, I believe, there is a small deficit—and, therefore, I cannot join the hon. Mem- 137 ber for Canterbury in calling upon the Postmaster General to extend the Telegraph Service to all parts of the country without a guarantee, or to give a free delivery. But with the Post Office the case is different. For many years there has been a great and growing surplus Revenue paid over from that Department to the Treasury. From a Return which was laid before the House at my instance, it appears that the net Postal Revenue has risen from £1,400,000 in 1869–70 to £2,000,000 in £1876–7, and to £3,000,000 in 1884–5; and that surplus Revenue has risen considerably during the last five or six years. I have frequently urged the Chancellor of the Exchequer to devote a larger portion of the net Postal Revenue to improvements in the Postal Service, and, indeed, during the last few years a considerably larger sum has been granted. In his Budget, the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated that the reduction in the net Revenue amounted to something like £600,000. But having carefully gone into the Estimates of the Post Office and the various Services connected with it, I am unable to accept that statement of the right hon. Gentleman as altogether accurate. The net Postal Revenue of the present year is about £200,000 or £300,000 less than it was a few years ago, but it is about £350,000 more than it was at the time when the Chancellor of the Exchequer came into office. During the last six years the Chancellor of the Exchequer has derived £2,400,000 in excess of the net surplus Revenue received during the six years of the previous Government. There is, therefore, a large margin for future improvements in the service. All improvements must cost money, and cause a reduction pro tanto in the net Postal Revenue; but although they may for two or three years throw a burden on the Treasury, at no distant date they will bring in an increased Revenue, and the money devoted to them may be considered as a profitable outlay. That at all events, I think, has been the experience of almost everyone who has been at the Post Office. I would, therefore, strongly urge the Chancellor of the Exchequer to forego 138 a still larger amount of surplus Revenue in order to effect those improvements in the Service in rural districts which are so much desired by hon. Gentlemen opposite. I would point out that when the late Mr. Fawcett came into office in 1880 he entered into some arrangement with the Prime Minister that he should be allowed to spend a certain proportion of the net Revenue yearly in the improvement of the Service. In consequence of that arrangement, the net Postal Revenue remained almost stationary during his term of office. For my part, I think this is the best arrangement that could be made. It would enable the Postmaster General to meet the demands of the public better than at present, and to take in hand the improvements which are most required in their order of importance. It would also insure to the Treasury the same surplus Revenue year by year that it has been accustomed to receive. Should this plan be adopted, I believe that not only will the requirements of the rural population be met in the matters referred to by the hon. Gentleman, but that it will by increasing the Revenue, pay for itself in the long run. My hon. Friend has done good service by bringing the question before the House, but I think after the statement of the Postmaster General it will not be necessary to divide the House upon it.
§ (10.52.) SIR W. B. BARTTELOT (Sussex, North-West)
The importance of this question is so great, especially to all rural districts, that I do not think I should be doing my duty if I did not make a few remarks with regard to it. My right hon. Friend the Postmaster General knows very well that the towns and large villages have no cause whatever to complain. It is the scattered rural populations which suffer so much with regard to the delivery of letters, and who are anxious to know what is being done in the House to-night. I give my right hon. Friend every credit in regard to his most courteous and considerate statement. He has told us that in the last ten years there has been an increase of savings banks to the number of 3,550, 139 and of telegraph offices to the number of 2,752; but what has been done in that way is vital, but not so vital as giving increased facilities to the rural districts to receive their letters. I believe, especially this year, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is anxious to conserve as much money as he is able; but the House has a right to demand for all the poor people throughout the country that for every letter stamped with a penny they shall have the full benefit of that penny by the certainty of receiving that letter. My right hon. Friend said he was anxious to go farther than he has done in increasing the rounds in various districts; but he also stated that there should be only one man to go to particular districts once a week.
§ *SIR W. B. BARTTELOT
I am afraid that there are a large number of extreme cases. At this moment I could name many people who live at least a mile or a mile and a half away from the places where the postmen have to go, and who have to do without their letters or make arrangements forgetting them as best they can. If, therefore, this Motion is not carried, the people in the rural districts will come to the conclusion that it is intended to do nothing for them. This is a question which is agitating the country, and I venture to urge upon my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Treasury that he could with great propriety accept this Motion, and, if I might say so, I think it is his duty to do so. Unless that is done, the people in the rural districts will conclude that it is not intended to do anything.
§ SIR W. FOSTER (Derby, Ilkeston)
I have been pleased with the generous spirit manifested by the Postmaster General in his reply, but I wish that he had gone a little further, and extended his generosity to the more neglected rural districts. The remarks of the right hon. Gentleman with regard to telegraph extension were characteristic of the old régime, when he said that action was 140 taken in cases where there was a prospect of return for outlay. But in the case of a great public debt with a large surplus, it ought not to be a question of that nature. The return is bound to follow the facilities, and, as I have said before, any private business conducted with the extreme caution of the Post Office Department would soon be ousted by competitors. In the smaller towns in the country I think that the hours of telegraphic business on Sundays should be extended, as at present it is often impossible to get a reply on the same day. As to postal facilities in rural districts, I can confirm many of the remarks which have been made with regard to the isolation of these districts. In some cases there is not a delivery of letters for several days—a condition of affairs not creditable to the period. Such a state of things is more characteristic of the backwoods of America. We ought not in the county of Sussex, for instance, to have villages which have only two deliveries per week. Again, post offices ought to be more generous to the poorer people in certain districts in supplying facilities for them to post their letters. I know a district inhabited by two hundred and fifty persons who have no opportunity of posting letters except by walking a mile or more, or alternately keeping the letters twenty-four hours until the postman arrives. To the request that a pillar-box should be erected, the Department replied that the amount of profit was not sufficient to justify this extension of benefit to the public. I think, too, that in the case of towns with ten or twenty thousand inhabitants the telegraph stations ought to be divorced from business establishments. The present system is very disadvantageous, and often leads to transactions which are not creditable to persons in official positions, and which often injuriously affect the trade of the district. There is one town in my mind where certain of the inhabitants are in the habit of sending their telegrams to an office several miles away in order that their business transactions may possess a privacy not possible in their own district where the postmaster is a competitor in the trade. This is, 141 I think, an evil which could be remedied by a comparatively small outlay, and the change would greatly benefit the general community.
§ *THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GOSCHEN,) St. George's, Hanover Square
Hon. Members who have addressed the House on this subject seem to be under the impression that the Post Office has got considerable funds which it can dispense with generosity, and that the disposal of that fund can have no adverse effect upon the taxation or revenue of the country. But I wish to remind the Committee of one duty which seems to have been forgotten, and it is that when the Estimates and Revenue for the year have been settled there should be no alteration made so as to produce a deficit at the end of the year. I know that many of my hon. Friends who are pressing this Motion would regret with the Government that the effect of repeated Motions of this kind should end in there being a deficit. That is never considered creditable to any Administration. I wish to remind the Committee that we have already accepted a Resolution of considerable importance. We have accepted a Resolution—and we intend to give effect to it—that lighthouses and coastguard stations should be placed in telephonic and telegraphic communication. Hon. Members will be aware that this will involve a strain on the telegraph revenue, and the Government will be obliged to bring in a Supplementary Estimate to enable them to give effect to the decision of the House. The House will see from what I have observed that there is already a considerable strain upon the Post Office Revenue; and a right hon. Gentleman opposite has further called attention to the position of the Post Office Revenue generally, and has shown that during the last two years there has been a diminution of the surplus revenue by some £300,000. That will be a constantly-decreasing surplus, and I think we should soon reach that point of equal expenditure and revenue which the right hon. Gentleman desires to see. It is my duty to look at this Motion from the point of view, not 142 simply of general policy, but also of the Revenue of this particular year, and we must, I say, be extremely careful in seeing that the Revenue should be adequate to meet the expenditure. Let us by all means go forward in what is called a generous policy with regard to the Post Office, if we can; but let us make some provision for that policy in the Estimates of the year. I think I should frankly tell the Committee that as Chancellor of the Exchequer I cannot give my assent to any such increased expenditure as would imperil the small margin of the present Estimates. It has been suggested that the Government should accept the Motion with the exception of the latter part of it referring to savings banks, money order offices, and telegraph offices. If hon. Members can accept the general declaration of the Postmaster General and of the Government that much has been done in this direction, and that it is unnecessary for the House to make any further affirmation in regard to the policy already declared, the Government would accept the Motion in this amended form—That, in the opinion of this House, an extended delivery of letters and papers ought to be granted to those portions of the rural parishes where such delivery is not at present in force.We should then carry out the general policy which has been indicated, and I say that while during the present year we proceed cautiously in that direction, I hope it will not be necessary to introduce any considerable Supplementary Estimate which the Revenue would not bear. I think the House will, under the circumstances, consider the offer I have made fair, and I trust, therefore, that my hon. Friend will not go to a Division. A proposition has been laid down that telegrams ought to be delivered free of cost. But there are many young men who send telegrams rather than write letters, and if a young gentleman desires to send a telegram to a country house some five miles from the telegraph station, I do not think—and the House will surely agree—that the cost for the carriage of the telegram should be met at the country's expense. That is a kind of annexe to the views of my hon. Friend, which we can scarcely be 143 expected to accept. We accept the general view of an extension in the delivery of letters in rural parishes, under the reservations which I have thought it my duty to place before the House.
§ MR. THOMAS ELLIS (Merionethshire)
While concentrated communities like Liverpool, Birmingham or Manchester can bring pressure to bear in order to obtain privileges in lieu of the taxation which is extracted from them by the various ingenious forms of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Goschen), it is different in the rural districts, where the population is scattered. The people have little organisation; and, therefore, it is the duty of the Postmaster General not merely to give facilities to the large and concentrated towns, but also in the case of applications from the scattered rural districts. And, further, he should give directions to his Inspectors and Superintendents that they should themselves discover and report deficiencies in postal accommodation. There are many hamlets with neither post office, savings bank, or money order office, and I know of one two miles from the railway where the morning mail arrives at seven o'clock of the evening, leaves at half past eight, and the only postal accommodation here is the delivery and collection of letters at half-past ten in the morning. I think that wherever there is an elementary school there should also be a post office, for if the Education Department think fit to sanction a public elementary school, I think the Post Office might reasonably deem it their duty to afford postal, savings bank, and money order facilities. As to the question of the delivery of telegrams, I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer was perfectly right in his contention that the country should not bear the cost of porterage for five, six, or seven miles. I think it is monstrous that there should be large villages without a telegraph office, and where the population has to prepay four, five, and six shillings before they can send a telegram. I venture to impress upon the right hon. Gentleman the Post- 144 master General that wherever there is a village or community of 1,000 or 1,700 people there should be a telegraph office in their midst.
§ MR. T. ELLIS
Certainly I do. I could name a large number, and there are two or three in my own constituency. In the case of one village, with a population of 2,000 people, there is only a telegraph office at the railway station, and the station master can only send off telegraph messages at his convenience. I know of another large village where I cannot send a telegram unless I prepay six shillings. That is a very unsatisfactory state of things. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to act on these lines—first, that in every place where there is a public elementary school there should be a post office, savings bank, and money order office; and, second, that villages containing a population of 1,000 and over should be provided with a telegraph office in their midst. Another thing I should like to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to is the need of more pillar boxes, in rural districts especially. I sincerely hope that the Motion will not be mutilated as the Chancellor of the Exchequer suggests, but that it will be accepted as it now stands. In my opinion, it is one of the primary duties of the State, especially when it makes a profit of two or three millions a year out of the Post Office, to afford every possible postal and telegraphic convenience to the populations of the scattered villages throughout the country. I hope, therefore, that the House will support the Motion in its entirety.
§ (11.25.) THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
I do not rise to deal in detail with the Amendment, but merely to make an appeal and give an explanation to the House. The appeal I have to make is in reference to the general business of the House. It 145 will, I understand, be just possible to keep within the law by passing the Vote on Account on Monday night. If the Vote is not passed before the House adjourns I do not propose to put it down as the first Order on Monday, because I feel that hon. Members from Ireland who desire to discuss the Irish Education Bill have a right to the earlier hours of that evening, and that it will not be fair that a Debate in which they are interested should be postponed until a late hour in consequence of any individual Member or group of Members. I propose, then that the Irish Education Bill shall be the first Order on Monday, and the Vote on Account the second, if it is not passed to-night. On Monday, if it should be necessary to postpone the Vote on Account till then, I shall move the suspension of the Twelve O'clock Rule. I think, however, that it would be far more convenient to pass the Vote to-night. ("No, no!" and "Hear, hear!") I merely desire a declaration, but the Vote on Account must be passed to-night or on Monday. With regard to the Motion before the House, it appears to me that we might now come to a decision upon it. The Postmaster General has explained the enormous strides that have been made by the Post Office during the last few years—strides increasing in magnitude each successive year. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford had almost led the House to believe that the strides made by the Post Office previous to 1885 were greater than they had been since, but that was not the fact. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has expressed his general agreement with the first part of the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend (Sir E. Birkbeck), and the Government were perfectly ready to accept it, leaving out all the words after "force," and inserting the qualifying phrase "as far as possible" after the word "ought." It would then read as follows:—That, in the opinion of this House an extended daily delivery of letters and papers ought, as far as possible, to be granted to those portions of rural parishes where such delivery is not at present in force.146 I suggest that the Resolution in this form will meet the views of the House generally, and that we should now proceed to vote upon it.
§ SIR EDWARD BIRKBECK
Although I attach great importance to the Resolution as it stands, I am ready to accept the alteration suggested by my right hon. Friend.
§ MR. ILLINGWORTH (Bradford, W.)
The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has to-night, as he always does when a matter affecting the interest of all classes arises, raised a plea of economy. The misfortune is that the right hon. Gentleman lavishes all his extravagance upon the Army and Navy. The Post Office system is a huge monopoly in the hands of the State, and we are therefore entitled to demand that every possible facility shall be given to the public. Both the telegraph and postal system are now a matter of daily necessity, and that being the case I think the Postmaster General should have a freer hand in his endeavours to meet the postal requirements of the country. There have been few opportunities during the present Parliament for bringing before the House such Motions as that of the hon. Gentleman (Sir E. Birkbeck), and I am glad the Government have to some extent accepted it. I hope it is only the beginning of greater things in connection with the postal and telegraphic service in rural and out-of-the-way districts. In my opinion, this discussion will be eminently serviceable, but I protest against the tone of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Goschen) in pleading parsimony and the interests of the Exchequer in connection with a matter of this sort which affects the convenience of hundreds of thousands of people, when millions are voted away for other purposes against the real wish of the country.
§ *MR. MORTON
I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House a question with regard to his statement.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! I do not think a question of that sort should be interjected into the present Debate.
§ *MR. MORTON
Well, I want to say a word about the Resolution before the House, although I have refrained so far in the hope that we should have got to the Vote on Account before this. There is no doubt we should have done so if the Government had cared to influence their own supporters, because there can be no doubt that this evening has been mainly taken up by what may be called an electioneering Debate. I take as much interest in this question as any other Member, and during the discussion on the Budget Resolutions I expressed my strong opinion that the profit derived from the Post Office should be expended in improving that service all over the United Kingdom. Now I understand that the right hon. Gentleman has consented to accept the Resolution in a modified form, to the effect that we are to have an extended delivery of letters in the rural districts as far as possible. All mention of the savings bank and money order offices and telegraph offices is to be dropped. I am not much concerned about the savings banks or the money order offices, because agricultural labourers have not much money for either of those things, but I think telegraph offices should be included in the Resolution, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to do so.
§ MR. EDWARD HOLDEN (Walsall)
It appears to me perfectly certain that not much good will be done if the words proposed to be inserted in the Resolution are agreed to. I merely rise to tell the right hon. Gentleman that we are very dissatisfied with the way in which he has treated this question.
§ MR. SAMUEL EVANS (Glamorgan, Mid)
I hope the House will not accept the Amendment in the form suggested by the Treasury Bench, because the insertion of the words "as far as possible," and confining it to the simple delivery of letters and papers will have the effect of making it absolutely useless. I think it has been shown that rural parishes are badly dealt with by the Post Office, and I have often had to make application to the Postmaster General with reference to in- 148 creased postal facilities in mining centres. When representations are made to the Post Office as to wants in rural parishes, or in mining districts, there comes the official reply that the right hon. Gentleman will cause inquiries to be made, and will, if possible, extend the desired facilities. But we find that stereotyped answer is the only result, unless we raise a discussion in this House. I had occasion a few weeks ago to write to the right hon. Gentleman in reference to the Ogmore Valley, where the postal facilities are very meagre indeed, and I had the stereotyped reply; but I have heard nothing since. It may be that the House will permit the right hon. Gentleman to give me an answer now, for I cannot attach much importance to that official reply. In these mining districts very considerable inconvenience often arises from want of telegraphic communication—mining accidents sometimes occur. The Ogmore Valley is in the very centre of Glamorganshire, divided into two districts, Nantymoel and Tondu; and should a mining accident occur near Tondu there is no way of sending a telegraphic communication for assistance, except by going to the small agricultural town of Bridgend. I do not want to detain the House from a Division, but I should like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman has made inquiries in regard to this particular district?
§ SIR JAMES FERGUSSON
Inquiries are now being made. Such inquiries must necessarily take some time. We have to work one district with another, and possibly the surveyor may be engaged in one district with inquiries before he can go to another. But I know that inquiries are going on in the valley to which the hon. Member refers.
§ MR. EVANS
I am glad to hear it; but the demand was made several weeks ago, and inquiry need not take more than two or three days. I am acquainted with the circumstances, and I can say so. It would be more satisfactory if the right hon. Gentleman could say when the in- 149 quiry will be completed—whether it will be before Parliament ceases its labours for the Whitsuntide Recess or possibly altogether? However that may be, I am glad to hear that inquiries are going on, for I am certain the case is one the House would agree demands immediate attention. It is one of many similar cases, and I would impress upon the House the desirability of doing something to impress upon the Post Office the necessity for making these extensions without waiting for representations to be made through Members for different localities. The Post Office should always be engaged in extending its facilities. It is a great monopoly; it exists for the benefit of the people of the country; it should not be made a source of revenue, and even though in some districts the Service should have to be carried on at a loss, still the people in rural and mining districts should enjoy all the facilities the Service is able to offer.
(11.45.) MR. PRITCHARD MORGAN (Merthyr Tydvil)
Without doubt many improvements are required in our Telegraph Service. It is impossible, for instance, under present arrangements to send a legal document by telegraph; but this is done in other parts of Her Majesty's dominions. A person who desires to send a legal process of any sort can go to a telegraph office, with a Magistrate in attendance, and the document is telegraphed through to its destination, where another Magistrate attends. The two Magistrates certify to the arrangement, and the document reaches its destination in a few minutes. This mode of transmitting legal documents is a most convenient proceeding for all concerned. Its introduction in Queensland was due to the initiative of a gentleman whose name has been frequently mentioned in a recent discussion, Sir Samuel Griffith, and it has been adopted throughout the Australasian Colonies, and with no difficulty whatever. There is also a want of a system of "urgent" telegrams, as they are called. For instance, suppose there is a political meeting going on in some place and 150 the whole staff of the local post office—one operator perhaps—is engaged in sending long press messages that may take one hour in transmission; an accident of some kind happens, and assistance, medical or otherwise, is required, but the long telegram must go on. In other parts of Her Majesty's possessions there is an "urgent telegram" system under which telegrams paying high rates take precedence of others. Now, with regard to the proposed amended form of the Resolution, I think it will prove altogether ineffective, for it binds the Post Office to do nothing whatever. What are the facts? Those of us who live in country districts are desirous of having fair means of communication with other parts of the country. But in districts where there are from 300 to 500 people there is sometimes no postal communication whatever. We have to pay our own postboy to carry our letters, and if we get a telegram we have to pay four shillings for its delivery. On one occasion I had driven into the country town and met in the street a messenger who had a telegram for me. It was but a few yards from the office, but he would not give it to me unless I paid him a fee of two shillings. There is often a long delay in sending the messages. You may see the messengers plodding along the road, lame perhaps, and there is no thought of consideration for public convenience. I submit the time has arrived when the Post Office should not be the means of collecting Revenue in an indirect way—there should be more elasticity in its administration, and the Revenue from the more populous districts should assist the expenditure in the poorer districts. The Resolution as amended would be of no avail, and, for my part, I should advise taking a Division upon it.
§ SIR EDWARD BIRKBECK
I am quite willing to withdraw my Motion in order that the amended Resolution may be substituted.
MR. PRITCHARD MORGAN
Is it possible to so alter the Motion, seeing that already there is an Amendment to it in the name of the hon. 151 Member for Canterbury (Mr. Henniker Heaton)?
§ *MR. SPEAKER
That is an Amendment which can only be moved in the event of the Motion becoming the substantive Question. Is it your pleasure the Amendment be withdrawn? (Cries of "No!")
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I now beg to move, as an Amendment, the addition of the words "so far as it is possible."
MR. PRITCHARD MORGAN
On a point of Order may I ask, can another Amendment be moved when there is a previous Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Canterbury?
§ Amendment proposed to the said proposed Amendment, after the word "ought," to insert the words "so far as is possible."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)
§ Question put, "That those words be inserted in the proposed Amendment."
§ (11.55.) The House divided:—Ayes 139; Noes 32.—(Div. List, No. 151.)
That the words 'in the opinion of this House, an extended daily delivery of letters and papers ought so far as is possible to be granted to those portions of rural parishes where such delivery is not at present in force, and also that an increased number of savings banks, money order offices, and telegraph offices ought to be established,' be there added.
§ It being after midnight, the House stood adjourned.
§ SUPPLY,—Committee upon Monday next.