§ *MR. LODER (Brighton)
moved the following Resolution:—That, in view of the recent declaration of the Postmaster General to the effect that there are no serious financial or administrative objections to such a step, the time has come when the charge for the transmission of letters from the United Kingdom to all parts of the British Empire should be reduced to one penny per half-ounce letter.The hon. Member said: Mr. Speaker, in rising to move the Resolution which stands in my name, I am encouraged by the thought that the subject with which it deals is one which cannot, in any sense, be said to partake of a political or Party character. It is a subject with which, I think, all interests, whether commercial, or industrial, or social, that are represented in this House, must have a certain amount of sympathy. It is now upwards of seven years since this question was last brought before the notice of the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Henniker Heaton). He has, as we all know, done more than anyone else for the cause of Postal Reform in this country, and none of us will hesitate to give the credit 1517 due to him for the energy and perseverance with which he has pursued the object he has had in view. I can assure the House no one is more sensible than myself of the disadvantage in which this question is placed by my being where he ought to be to-night. I wish cordially to acknowledge the generous way in which he has put much information at my disposal for the placing of this subject before the House. On the occasion to which I refer, seven years ago, when my hon. Friend brought this question forward, the Resolution which he proposed covered a very much larger field than that which I am going to submit to the House to-night. His Resolution proposed that the Government should enter into negotiations with the Governments of other nations, with a view of establishing an International Penny Postage system. My desire to-night, Sir, is to press a much more limited and a much less pretentious object on the Government—namely, to extend to the Empire in general the incalculable benefits of the Penny Post which we have enjoyed in this country during the last half century. We do not go so far even as to urge that the rates obtaining in the United Kingdom should in all respects be extended to the Empire at once, though we should be glad if this could be done; but we confine our demand to this one simple, advantageous reform of the penny letter rate. I do not propose to enter into the history of the movement for Imperial Penny Postage; but I may be permitted to remind the House that the principle which underlies the object we have in view is identically the same as that which actuated the promoters of the original Penny Postage scheme in this country. The principle on which they acted was this: that the practice of regulating the amount of postage by the distance each letter was conveyed, however plausible in appearance, has no foundation in practice, and consequently the rates of postage should be irrespective of distance. Well, Sir, what we desire is that that principle should be extended from the United Kingdom to the whole Empire. It was the recognition of that principle which made the Penny Post such a great success. From 82,000,000 letters, in round figures, in 1839—the year before Sir Rowland 1518 Hill's reform was introduced—the number rose in the very first year of the Penny Post to over 169,000,000, or from the rate of three letters per inhabitant it was increased to over six. To-day, when the population has increased by very little more than one-third, there are no fewer than 1,800,000,000 letters conveyed by the post annually throughout the country, which is at the rate of over 46 letters per inhabitant in these Islands. Well, Sir, I do not doubt that there are many people in this country, and especially hon. Members of this House, who would not be sorry if there were not so many facilities for postal communication; but what we have to consider is not our own personal convenience, but the convenience of the community in general— the advantages to trade, the advantages to commerce, and the advantages to those thousands who go out from amongst us every year. If we carry this reform we ought to feel we are mitigating at least one of the drawbacks to emigration, and are doing something, at any rate, to bridge over the distance which divides those who have gone from this country from their friends, their relations, and their homes. It may be said that postage is cheap enough already. That may be true with regard to a very large number of people—the present rate cannot in any sense be regarded as prohibitive to those who are well-to-do—but, Sir, with the great mass of commercial correspondence in this country, I venture to say that cheapness is a greater object than rapidity or even the security of transit itself. The right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General may ask that we should put before him some real evidence that there is a desire for this reform. Well, in the first place, I could bring before him quotations from the entire Press of the country, Metropolitan and Provincial, and the Colonial Press as well. I have had in the last few days a large number of cuttings sent to me, and I cannot find a single one that is opposed to this reform. I will not venture to weary the House by reading more than one extract, and that shall be from a newspaper which, I am sure, hon. Members opposite will agree with in sentiment; it is The Star. On this question it says— 1519The arguments for resistance to the establishment of the Penny Postage are weakening and diminishing; they were now only heard advanced in a half-hearted fashion, and it was known that the flood of public feeling on this subject could not be held back.This statement of opinion from a newspaper is by no means the strongest that I have received. But it is from a newspaper which, I believe, appeals to the masses of the people, and may fairly be taken to represent their views on this question. The Chambers of Commerce have passed resolutions in favour of this reform, but the reading of these I will leave to the hon. Member for South Islington (Sir A. Rollit), who represents the Chambers of Commerce interest in this House. In the Colonies the Chambers of Commerce have also passed resolutions in favour of Imperial Penny Postage. I will read one to this House which I have received from the Office of the Board of Trade at Montreal. It is—That the Council of this Board be hereby instructed to urge on the Government and Parliament, by Petition or otherwise, the cheapening of the Imperial Postage.Many other such resolutions have reached me. Last year, at the Congress of the Chambers of Commerce of the Empire, a strongly-worded resolution was unanimously carried in favour of Imperial Penny Postage. This, Sir, is no new proposal. It dates hack to the days of the original introduction of the Penny Postage into this country, when there were some people who advocated the extension of it, even in those days, to the Empire in general. It was discussed at the Colonial Conference held here in 1887, and I am aware not very favourably; but then, I am sorry to say, the Representatives who came over were some of them Chancellors of the Exchequer, and Chancellors of the Exchequer, even in the Colonies, though they have large responsibilities, have not large hearts. Again, this question came up for discussion in 1890, at the time of the Jubilee, and there were many people in this country who thought that the Government of that day had lost a grand opportunity of celebrating the Postal Jubilee by not extending the advantage of the Penny Postage to the Empire in general. Lastly, Sir, early in this year a deputation waited upon the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General from the 1520 Imperial Federation League, and elicited from him those remarks which are the basis of the Resolution which I submit to the House to-night. I venture to refer to one or two extracts from the speech which he made on that occasion from the report in The Times, in which paper the right hon. Gentleman was reported fully. I do this because I have been told that in the original form in which I put down the Resolution I had misrepresented what the right hon. Gentleman said. I do not think that I did overstate the case; but at any rate, in the form in which the Resolution stands, the right hon. Gentleman cannot, I think, take exception to it. After some preliminary remarks, the right hon. Gentleman said—I am not in any sense hostile to the proposal of a change of this kind.I do not deny that the right hon. Gentleman warned the deputation that there were difficulties in the way; but what we say is that he expressly stated that those difficulties were not financial difficulties nor administrative, but of another character, which he proceeded to explain, and which I shall presently have to remark upon, He said—There are difficulties of finance and administration and other difficulties. I do not intend to say a word on the question of the financial difficulties. I admit that they are not serious. The administrative difficulties are considerable, but these are in no sense insuperable. I do not believe for one moment that these difficulties would be insuperable.Well, then, Sir, he passed on to other difficulties which he did think serious, and which I shall refer to later on; but first I should like to say a word with regard to the financial and administrative difficulties which the Postmaster General admitted were not serious or insuperable in themselves, but in the minds of some hon. Members they constituted a bar to this reform. We do not deny that, in all probability, the introduction of this reform would result in a loss at first. It is difficult to say precisely what the loss would be. The right hon. Gentleman refused to accept the figures of his Predecessor (the late Mr. Raikes) in this matter. Mr. Raikes was questioned, only two years ago, on this subject,. and he explicitly stated that he estimated the loss by reducing the postage to the Empire in general to one penny at £75,000 a year. Even if the right hon. 1521 Gentleman does not accept these figures, if we put it at £80,000 or £100,000, we say that the advantage of the reform would far outweigh the cost. But hon. Members may ask why we should tax ourselves even to this small amount in order to benefit the Colonies? Our answer is, first of all, that it is not entirely for the benefit of the Colonies we should do this, but partly for our own advantage; and, secondly, we do not admit that it is necessary to find this extra money by taxation. I believe that there are other ways in which this money could be found without adding to the taxation of the country. The Post Office already saves us £3,000,000 a year of taxation. [Sir W. HARCOURT dissented.] The Chancellor of the Exchequer shakes his head, but the not revenue made out of the Post Office last year was £3,047,000. I am not one of those who contend the Post Office should not be a source of revenue to the country, but what I do contend is that the Post Office exists primarily as a source of convenience for the community in general, and that until the demands of the convenience of the community in general have been satisfied the Post Office has no right to hand over an extravagant surplus like this to the country. I am aware that this surplus has been diminishing of late years, but that is owing to increase of expenditure, and the increased expenditure is owing to charges being debited as expenditure that would not be so debited in any other Department in this country or in any other undertaking in the world. Upon this subject I should like to read a quotation from an authority which I am sure the House will receive with the respect and attention it deserves. It is some remarks which fell from Sir Arthur Blackwood, the head of the Post Office, at the Jubilee dinner in 1890. He said—I confess I should like to see the Post Office which is the greatest commercial department in the country, administered on something like commercial principles, and a portion, at least, of its large annual profit (which in reality is larger than it seems, owing to the system which charges capital expenditure against income) utilised for developing and extending its work for the general benefit of the public.It is natural that the expenditure of the Post Office should increase if the cost of buildings—as, for instance, the new Post Office at Liverpool, which cost something like £600,000—is charged on 1522 the annual expenditure of the Post Office, and still more do we object to the whole amount of the subsidies which are paid for the conveyance of mails to the Steamship Companies being charged to the Post Office. Everybody knows that these subsidies are not paid entirely for the conveyance of mails, but are paid for the maintenance of the large steamers, and the possibility of wanting them in time of war as auxiliary troopships, while in some cases the subsidies are paid for carrying immigrants at exceptionally low rates, and our contention is that these subsidies are too high already, and especially the sum which is paid annually to France and Italy for the transit of mails across these countries. Well, Sir, with regard to the administrative difficulties I shall say very little. It is difficult to see what administrative difficulties there may be in the way of carrying out this reform. It may be that in Australia they may find some difficulties there; but that is a question with which we have nothing to do. According to the terms of the Postal Union, the Australians are obliged to deliver letters free that arrive on their shores: therefore, so far as the administrative difficulties in this country go, they must be very small indeed. I pass now from difficulties which the Postmaster General did not think were serious to those which he did think were serious; and amongst the latter was, oddly enough, the ardent desire of the Post Office, which seems to me to amount almost to a craze, for uniformity. He said—and to a certain extent I am ready to agree with him— that in carrying out a change of this sort we should try to carry the Colonies along with us. I admit it would be a very great thing if we could do that, but is there anything very shocking in 40,000,000 of people sending their own letters in their own ships to their own Colonies at their own price? and are they to be prevented from doing this simply because the Colonies do not seem to be able themselves to send their letters back to us as the same price? To borrow an illustration from a letter which my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury-wrote to the papers the other day, what is to stop me from visiting my friends and travelling third class if I am not well enough off to travel first class, though they may be rich enough 1523 to come and visit me first class? Then the Post Office say this reform would lead to greater anomalies than exist at present, and a letter, for instance, to Calais, which is only 20 miles from our shores, would cost 2½d., while a letter to Hong Kong, which is thousands of miles away, would cost only 1d. That may be so, but the Resolution I submit to the House to-night is that because Hong Kong and other distant parts are portions of our Empire, therefore they ought to be part and parcel of the same postal system, and that they should have the advantage in belonging to this great Empire. We should not be departing from uniformity, because at present there are anomalies in plenty to keep this one, if it would be an anomaly, company. For instance, at the present moment the Australians charge double for sending a one ounce newspaper to this country to what we charge for sending to them. I can quote anomalies equally great to show that the uniformity which exists in the Post Office at the present is not so great that we should hesitate to break it. Why should the Colonies object to our charging our services with this slight extra expense? On the contrary, I believe that the colonies would not only welcome our liberality, but would reciprocate, and that in a very short time. I come now to the last, and what I believe the right hon. Gentleman called the most serious of these difficulties—namely, the terms of the Postal Union. To make perfectly clear to the House what the right hon. Gentleman puts forward, I must state that he says the terms of the Postal Union place two objections in the way of this reform—firstly, that the rate was fixed at 2½d., therefore our hands are tied with regard to reducing it; secondly, that the Australian Colonies, who obstinately stood out in years past from joining the Postal Union, only joined on the understanding that the rate was not to be below 2½d. Those, I take it, are the two main objections which the right hon. Gentleman says stand in the way so far as the Postal Union is concerned. It is quite true that the Postal Union fixed the rate of postage throughout the Union at 2½d.; but it expressly reserved the right to any two countries in the Union to make what terms they liked for their own convenience for postage from one to the other. Now, I shall be obliged to read to the House 1524 the Article in the Postal Convention to which I have referred. Article 3 says that—The postal administration of neighbouring countries able to correspond directly with each other without availing themselves of the services of a third administration determine by common consent the conditions of the conveyance of the mails which they exchange acoss the frontier from one frontier to another.But even more explicit than that is paragraph 2 of Article 21, which says that—The Convention does not restrict the right of the contracting parties to maintain and conclude Treaties, as well as to maintain and establish more restrictive Unions with a view to the improvement of postal relations.Well, Sir, that is as plain as anything can be, and that was the intention of the Government. At the time the Convention was sitting on the 23rd June, 1891, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Thanet (Mr. James Lowther) asked the Postmaster General whether the Government would insist upon the reservation to this country of perfect freedom to make such arrangements as might from time to time be found expedient with regard to charges for postal communication within the limits of the British Empire, and the Postmaster General promised that care would be taken that the matter should not be lost sight of. And on July 17, 1891, the Government said they would insist on the reservation of perfect freedom within the limits of the Empire with regard to important particulars. Why should he not make an arrangement that would be satisfactory? Germany and Austria, Spain and Portugal, and the United States and Canada have made separate International Agreements with regard to postage. Under the arrangement between the United States and Canada the postal charges for a letter sent from Canada to the United States is 2½d., whereas the postal rate for letters sent from the United States to Canada is only 1d. Therefore, under the Postal Convention, a separate Treaty has been made between Canada and the United States, under which the former is allowed to charge double the rate which the United States charge. That seemes to me to establish the fact that there is nothing to prevent that country from entering into any arrangement she chooses with her own Colonies on the subject. With regard to the stipulation made to the Australian 1525 Colonies, and upon which the right hon. Gentleman laid great stress, that does not apply to the extension of Imperial penny postage. What the Australian Colonies stipulated for was that they should not be obliged to reduce their rate below 2½d. They did not object, why should they? to the reduction of our rate to them. The Australian Colonies not only stipulated that the rate should not be reduced below 2½d., but they actually stipulated that they should be allowed to reduce the rate as between themselves. After all England and Australia are just as much a part of the British Empire as Canada, but the stipulation made by Australia does not touch the rest of the Colonies. Australia and Canada do not constitute the whole Empire. There is nothing that stops us if it is expedient from having a penny post to other parts. We may send our letters to the West Indies, to South Africa, and to the East Indian Colonies at the penny rate without interfering with the terms of the Postal Union. This was a question on which the late Government consulted the Law Officers of the Crown, and their reply was exactly in the terms I have laid before the House. I hope that I have shown that the difficulties in the way of carrying out my proposal are small, if not, indeed, infinitesimal, as compared with the advantages that it will confer upon the Empire, and also that the change I suggest shall be made in the postal rate can be effected without the addition of a single penny to the taxation of the country. Under these circumstances I feel that we may urgently press the Government to allow the House to express its opinion on this question, and that even if they cannot see their way to carry out this reform at once they will, at any rate, show by their action tonight that they are willing to strengthen the hands of our representatives at the next Postal Convention in order that they may advocate this change before the representatives of the Colonies, and the other countries in the Convention. I feel there is much to be said by those who will follow me and who will speak with much greater authority and greater experience of this subject than I can, but I feel I may not look in vain for support to the different parts of the House. I know that on this side of the House the majority of the Members are in favour 1526 of this change, and I am sure I can look with confidence for support to hon. Members from Scotland, whose fellow-countrymen we know form some of the best Colonists in all parts of the Empire. I think I can appeal with even greater confidence to hon. Members from Ireland below the Gangway, who so often remind us that of the 15,000,000 of their fellow-countrymen a large number are scattered over parts of the British Empire, and I would earnestly ask them whether they will not support this Resolution, which will certainly benefit them to a very large degree. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary on a much less cosmopolitan and on a much more controversial subject than this intimated to his supporters that they might vote according to their convictions, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will allow his supporters to-night to vote according to their convictions. I do not think in the mind of any hon. Member there can be any honest doubt as to the desirability and the real merits of the matter. We feel that whatever the difficulties, whatever the risks, whatever the cost, we may look forward in the near future with confidence to the time when all British subjects will enjoy those advantages of communicating with one another as cheaply and as easily as we have been permitted to do in this Island during the last half-century. I beg to move the Resolution which stands in my name.
§ *MR. H. LAWSON (Gloucester, Cirencester)
said, he was almost ashamed, in seconding the Motion, to repeat the crambe repetita of argument which had been so often hashed up, not only in the House, but in the innumerable controversies outside. He thought that the arguments were unanswered and unanswerable, and the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. J. Henniker Heaton), who had taken such a prominent part in this controversy, would one day have his reward by seeing his name associated with Ocean Penny Postage, as Rowland Hill's was in connection with Inland Penny Postage. He did not know whether the statement that had appeared in a leading London newspaper, that Her Majesty's Government had decided to make this much-desired Postal Reform a part of the work of the Session, was well founded; but he might remind the House that the present Government was nothing unless it was a 1527 Government of reform. He and others hoped it was also one that made for Imperial consolidation. Her Majesty's Government had got a chance of effecting a reform that would meet with universal acceptance, both in this country and in our Colonies, and they would show themselves in an unfortunate light if they allowed this happy opportunity to slip away. He was aware that the Post Office was rather unbelieving in spirit and obstinate in tradition, averse from adopting innovations unless adequate pressure was brought to bear upon the Department. Rowland Hill's proposal had been denounced as "utterly preposterous, unsupported by facts, and resting entirely on assumptions. "The mind of the Post Office moved strangely and quickly. For years the fivepenny rate to the East Indies and the sixpenny to Australia were spoken of as too sacred to touch. In a moment they disappeared, never to return, and no complaint was made. He was also aware that the Treasury closely watched any proposal that was likely to diminish the increasing Revenue that was derived from the Post Office.
§ MR. LAWSON
said quite so; the right hon. Gentleman agreed with him in that view. But he might remind the right hon. Gentleman that he already derived more than £3,000,000 of Surplus Revenue from that source, and that that was the result of the turnover of a large and increasing trade. He believed that the Postmaster General himself would be only too glad if the Resolution were carried, so that he might go to the Exchequer and urge upon them that he was bound hand and foot to carry out the decision of the House, if not immediately, at some not far distant future. In the same way the War Office in the last Parliament had to carry out the Resolution about the equipment of the Volunteers. If the proposed Postal Reform were carried into effect, the House would never hear the Department grumble about the expense it entailed. He entirely agreed with Sir Arthur Blackwood, Secretary of the Post Office, when he said that—Nothing could be worse for the Department, and consequently for the public, than for the former to consider on the be-all and end-all of the Post Office Service the extraction of a large Revenue from the country.1528 The truth was that the Post Office was looked upon as the "benevolent uncle" of the State play, and expected to find money for profligate expenditure of the spending Departments— particularly for the Admiralty. A great deal of the expenditure of the Admiralty appeared in the Post Office Accounts, and was classed as Post Office expenditure. The Chancellor of the Exchequer stated that the expenditure exceeded the estimate 1892–3 by £611,000, but out of that sum £483,000 was spent on an increase in the salaries of the staff of officials. In every Department of the State there was a large rise in expenditure; but that was due to the spirit of the age, because labour was every year getting a larger share. Thus, postmen were getting better pay, but the surplus of the Post Office still continued, and it was no reason against Postal Reform. Every prediction which the spokesman of the Post Office made in 1886, and upon which he based his opposition, had been falsified. He said—"Look at the immense loss upon the ocean postage and the loss by the Packet Service." The loss was estimated then at £425,000; now, in spite of the 2½d. rate, it was £407,000. There had been a great saving on the Packet Service of late years. In 1887 there was a saving of £20,000, in 1889 of £6,000, and in 1891 of £7,000. There had been a saving on the Indian and Chinese Service, and a small one on the West Indian. The only large loss incurred was on the Australian. He would call the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to this consideration— that, though the Post Office was a great national business, it was conducted, so far as its accounts were concerned, as no other business was conducted. The cost of all the permanent buildings was set down as part of the annual expenditure, and that made it appear to be larger. That was a safe way to carry on business, and he did not object to it. He wished to call attention to the fact that the most onerous covenants were inserted in every contract for the Packet Service, and those covenants had nothing to do with postal business—they were dictated by political rather than commercial considerations. The mails, for instance, to the West Indies, with which they had a comparatively trivial correspondence, were paid for not merely for postal, but for general purposes. All 1529 this might be justified by political considerations, but it could not be justified on a commercial basis. The subsidies given served a great purpose; they helped to keep up the Mercantile Marine, which served as a nursery and reserve for the Royal Navy. But money spent for that purpose ought not to be set down as part of the postal expenditure. The Treasury, in approving of a proposal of this kind on July 18, 1889, said in their Minute that they were approving of a contract with the Canadian Pacific Railway for the conveyance of "Her Majesty's mails, troops, and stores" between Halifax or Quebec and Hong Kong, and "for the hire and purchase of vessels as cruisers or transports"—that the scheme was "not justifiable upon postal reasons alone" what would justify it being its great political and strategical value. In the Post Office Mail Contract with the Peninsular and Oriental Company there was, he found, a claim empowering the Admiralty, if it should consider it necessary for the public interest, at any time during the continuance of the Contract, to purchase or charter any or all of the vessels employed under it, the Company still remaining bound to perform the Postal Service by means of such other vessels as it might have or could get. Another clause enabled the Postmaster General, on account of "political circumstances," to alter the route and places of call to meet the exigencies of war or disturbances. The Company was also under the obligation, to the detriment of its own passenger accommodation, to carry naval and military officers, with their wives, and children, and baggage, upon the requisition of the Postmaster General in accordance with the terms of the Contract. In other instances the owners had undertaken to construct or alter their vessels in accordance with plans laid down for them by the Admiralty, especially to adapt them for use on armed cruisers in time of war. A Select Committee appointed in 1863 said—The claim that the Post (Mice should be charged with the whole expenditure of the packet or ocean service may be considered as barred by the important fact that few of the mail packets were established either by the Post Office or for merely postal purposes,And it was recommended that a fail-proportion of the expense should be charged to the Admiralty, and that the Post Office should be charged with the 1530 actual transmission of mails. These things ought to be taken into account in counting up the cost of such a proposal as was made now. He would leave it to the hon. Member for Canterbury to demonstrate to the House what saving would be effected if payment on a weight basis were adopted in lieu of fixed payments and if the Admiralty were accountable for the services rendered to it. The Times newspaper, weighing 4 oz. went to Australia for 1d.; and in every mail bag 90 per cent. of the contents were other than letters, and if the argument for special arrangements applied to letters, would it not apply equally to newspapers and packages? There were already special arrangements for some classes. Every schoolmistress, every sailor, and every official could post a letter from one part, of the Empire to another for 1d. Why should that privilege be confined to those classes? He did not see why a schoolmistress should be specially privileged to the exclusion of other classes of our Colonists. If the suggestion of his hon. Friend were not adopted, some difference might, at least, be made between the overland and long sea routes. Every day steamers were increasing in speed, and it might be possible to have special rates overland to Brindisi and have a 1d. rate for the long ocean route. A favourite argument of a former Postmaster General, the late Mr. Raikes, was that, while the internal 1d. post had an area of productiveness, the ocean post had no such productive area. It was remarkable that since the Debate of 1886 the increase in the internal post bad been only 3 per cent., while that of the ocean post had been 10 per cent., showing that the ocean post had an area of productiveness. He found from the Post Office Report that last year, 1891–2, there was an increase in Colonial parcels of 10 per cent., and of money from 1,400,000 to 1,450,000, and with regard to the Cape, which showed the largest augmentation, there was no less than 10 per cent. increase. Our Consul at Calais stated in his Report for 1892 that 1,604 Indian mail bags had been landed at Calais in one day, making a total of 61,802 bags for the year, the largest on record.Many still remember," he wrote, "when the overland mail for India consisted of some 28 small boxes which, when landed from 1531 the packet, could be pushed by one man in a small cart.The hon. Member for Brighton had dealt with the argument that by this reform we should be interfering with the arrangements of the last Postal Union; but he was bound to say that if the Postmaster General should state that we had tied our hands by any arrangements until the next Postal Congress, very great discredit would rest on the officials of the Post Office. For years together pressure was brought to bear on the Australian Colonies to enter the Postal Union. They at last did so, and he hoped they had not been forced to make the declaration that they would not accept any change of the general rate until the next Postal Congress had assembled. The Postmaster General had tried to make out that the Colonies wore against the Imperial Penny Postage. If they were, they were officially and not really against the movement. But Australia was not the whole of the Empire. There were other Colonies to which the conditions of the Postal Union did not apply; and if a start was to be made, the experiment could be tried in those other Colonies if circumstances prevented it being tried in Australia. The Colonies would certainly not object to the reform. He believed they were in favour of it. The Postmaster General told a deputation that Australia objected to the experiment. Certain of the official classes might object, but the Colonists generally did not. Australia objected to the postal reduction to 2½d., but gladly accepted it when it was given. The objections came only from crusted officials in the Colonies, who did not express the opinion of the people. The Colonial Press was unanimously in favour of the change, and to the same effect he might quote the opinion of those Members of the House who had the largest experience and knowledge of the Colonies, such as the hon. Member for Longford, who had been Prime Minister of Canada, and other Irish Members who had lived for years in Australia. The Government had failed to make out their case that the Colonies were against the change. Let them make the change, and they would find that it would be cordially accepted by the Colonies. As to the opinion of Ministers themselves on the subject, the first Commissioner of Works had spoken 1532 enthusiastically in favour of the change in 1886. Surely they had not changed their minds since then? His right hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir Charles Dilke) had stated in The Problems of Greater Britain—a book which certainly was not of a Jingo character, and did not support far-fetched and extravagant claims—that England in her postal communication with the Colonies was far behind every other country in Europe; and that the Colonies with one accord, whether they approved of Federation or not, wanted to see a change for the better in this respect. Indeed, he could not imagine any hon. Member not seeing the immense public benefit which would arise from the adoption of this reform. It was really a reform for the benefit of the working classes of the Empire, for it would bring them, so to speak, within hearing distance of each other. The change might not be so important now to the commercial classes with the existing rate; but cheap and easy means of communication were of inestimable benefit and advantage to the labouring classes. Everyone who had been in the Colonies knew what the arrival of a mail from home meant, and what pleasure it gave, and the easier, the cheaper, and the more frequent communication was made between friends and relatives at home and abroad the more happiness was woven into their lives. He had heard a gentleman who was a Member of this House tell an interesting and significant story. The hon. Member was in a country village, and, seeing an old woman leaving the post office with an unstamped letter in her hand, ascertained it was from her son in Australia and that she was not able to afford the 6d. postage. The hon. Member paid the postage, and the next time he was in the village the postmaster informed him that the reply brought £5 for the old woman, which contributed considerably to the comforts of her home. That story illustrated one side of the advantages of a cheap postal rate throughout the Empire. There were many who desired to see the Empire treated as a Postal Unit, into which the other great English-speaking Empire of the world, the United States of America, would sooner or later enter; and he hoped that official or departmental sluggishness would not be allowed to prevent our 1533 taking advantage of a real opportunity thus afforded for consolidating our Imperial system. The least vulnerable armour was made up of the smallest links. Imperial Penny Postage would be a small link, but it would be a strong one. He hoped the House would emphatically record its opinion in favour of the reform, so that as soon as possible the Postmaster General might be able to do something to piece together what was a most important and valuable part of our Imperial organisation, for he held that the means of communication were not one bit less important to the Empire than the means of defence. He had great pleasure in seconding the Motion.
To leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in view of the recent declaration of the Postmaster General to the effect that there are no serious financial or administrative objections to such a step, the time has come when the charge for the transmission of letters from the United Kingdom to all parts of the British Empire should be reduced to one penny per half-ounce letter,"—(Mr. Loder.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ THE POSTMASTER GENERAL (Mr. A. MORLEY,) Nottingham, E.
I rise early in the Debate for two reasons —in the first place, because of an alleged declaration said to have been made by me to a deputation of the Imperial Federation League, which forms the basis of the Motion my hon. Friend opposite has moved: and, secondly, because it is well the House should be put in possession of the real facts of the ease before recording their votes upon the question, which everyone will admit is an interesting and important one. I am dealing now with the personal aspect of the Motion as it affects myself. It states that I said to the deputation of the Imperial Federation League that there were no serious or financial objections to the adoption of Imperial Penny Postage. I adhere to every word I said upon that occasion, but perhaps some explanation is necessary in order to convey to the House exactly what I meant. The argument had been used by a member of the deputation that the reduction of the Colonial and Indian postage from 2½d. 1534 to 1d. would result in a loss to the Revenue of £75,000. Dealing only with that statement, I said I could not admit the accuracy of the figure, but that, as far as that amount was concerned, I did not consider that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if on other grounds he was satisfied the reform was justifiable, would consider it a serious difficulty in meeting a general demand, both on the part of this country and the Colonies, if such demand existed and he had a surplus at his disposal. With regard to the question of administrative difficulty, I need not go further than what I said to the deputation. My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester (Mr. Lawson) has suggested as an alternative to the Motion before the House, which is for establishing an Imperial Penny Postage, what is known as an Ocean Penny Postage. I have only to say that, as far as Imperial Penny Postage is concerned, there is no administrative difficulty in the way, for all it would mean is the reduction of the 2½d. rate to a 1d. rate; but Ocean Penny Postage, the alternative idea thrown out by my hon. Friend, would mean serious administrative difficulty.
§ *MR. H. LAWSON
I only put it forward as a future ideal, but I spoke in favour of Imperial Penny Postage.
§ MR. A. MORLEY
Well, I am only dealing with it as an alternative suggestion—not as one suggested by my hon. Friend in preference to Imperial Penny Postage. But the Ocean Penny Postage would mean serious administrative difficulties. I do not say it would mean difficulties insuperable to the officials of the Post Office. They could, no doubt, overcome them. But it would mean new contracts, which form the heaviest item in the Postal Service; and, at the same time, it would be a system which would be wholly inadequate to meet the legitimate desire of the public in this country. What the public desire is, first, regularity; and, secondly, rapidity; and a system of Ocean Penny Postage by which letters would go from the United Kingdom to the Colonies by sea, and therefore in many cases by much longer routes, would not meet the demands of the public. I have come to the conclusion that whenever the time conies—and I do not say it will not come before long—for instituting a Penny Postage to the Colonies and India it would not be by an Ocean Penny 1535 Postage, but by the routes which now exist, which are the shortest and most rapid routes connecting the United Kingdom with the various branches of the Empire. The Ocean Penny Postage is not one to meet the demands of the public. In 1888, the Government of that day introduced an alternative route to the Australian Colonies by sea, for which the charge was 4d. instead of 6d. The mails, of course, took a much longer time in delivery, and, therefore, the alternative route was made very little use of, and certainly did not justify the experiment.
§ *MR. HENNIKER HEATON (Canterbury)
Has the right hon. Gentleman statistics bearing out that statement?
§ MR. A. MORLEY
I am unable to give the figures, but I believe it is beyond dispute that the public made use of it only to a very small extent, and certainly not to the extent which had been hoped for. I mentioned that we should have new Packet Contracts if an Ocean Penny Postage were established. I should like to quote some figures as to the loss on these Packet Contracts. On the new Packet Contracts, in 1889–90 there was an estimated loss of £281,200; in 1890–1, the year before the 2½d. rate was established, the loss increased to £299,200; and in 1891–2, the year after the reduction to 2½d., it was £414,460. I have come to the conclusion, then, that an ocean system of Penny Postage is not one which would meet with general approval. Under the old rates of 4d. and 6d. the Colonial and Indian mails resulted in a substantial loss to the Post Office. The Colonial and Indian mails form a large proportion of the charge for the Packet Service, and I do not think it unfair to say that a very large proportion of the figures which I mentioned represent the loss upon the Colonial and Indian Service under the old rates. In 1891, the postage on Indian letters was reduced to 2½d. On April 17, 1890, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his Budget speech, stated that this reduction would entail a loss in a complete year of £105,000 in addition to the loss already incurred under the old rates. Mr. Raikes, the Postmaster General in the same year, on the 8th May stated that still a further loss, in addition to the loss of £105,000 due to the reduction to 2½d., which was an addition to the loss incurred under the old rate, would be £75,000, if the rate were still further 1536 reduced to 1d. An estimate which I have made lately shows that the loss, if the postage were reduced to 1d. would be somewhere between £90,000 and £100,000 a year; in addition to the £105,000 which was the result of the reduction to 2½d., which was itself—as I have shown—an additional loss on the substantial loss incurred under the old rate. It is said that the loss would be compensated for by the increase that would take place in the correspondence. That is not the experience of past reductions, and there is no reason why it should be the result in this case. I ask the House to remember that, so far as Colonial letters are concerned, the Post Office has to deal with four services—the Inland Service, the Channel Service, the Foreign Land Transit Service, and the Sea Transit Service—before the mails reach their destination. It must also be remembered that the return letter from the Colonies to be delivered in the United Kingdom has to be dealt with by the Post Office—that is to say, there is also the inland service upon the return letter for which the Post Office receives no re-numeration. A very carefully considered estimate of the cost of the inland service on an out-going letter shows that it is something over ½d. It is difficult to arrive at an actual fractional estimate of the cost, but it is certainly over ½d. But then there is a similar charge of ½d. upon the incoming letter, and for the service performed on the incoming letter nothing is received by the Post Office. Therefore, on the outgoing letter and the return letter, the Post Office incurs a charge of over 1d. for inland service alone. Under these circumstances, I think it will be difficult for my hon. Friend opposite to prove that an increase in the correspondence would recoup the Post Office for the reduction to a penny rate.
§ *MR. LODER
I did not say that I expected the increase in the correspondence would pay. On the contrary, I said there would be a loss.
§ MR. A. MORLEY
I am sorry I put an argument into my hon. Friend's mouth which he did not use. But it is an argument I have often seen, and I think the hon. Member for Canterbury has used it over and over again. The statement I have made shows that the greater the correspondence, the greater would be the loss to the Post Office. 1537 Now I come to the real difficulty of dealing with this question at the present time. It arises out of the Postal Congress at Vienna in 1891. There was a time when the Postmaster General had control over Colonial internal postal arrangements. That lasted up to the time when Legislative Assemblies were granted to the Colonies, and when they were allowed to make their own arrangements for their internal postal accommodation. An Act was passed in 1849 by which all the rights and privileges of the Postmaster General in this connection, except as to the internal arrangements in the Colonies, were referred to the Home Government; but from that time the Postmaster General practically ceased altogether to have any interference with the arrangements for sending the mails from the Colonies to the United Kingdom. In 1874 a new phase was entered upon, when the universal Postal Union was established. The Postal Union was recognised by Act of Parliament in 1875, and in 1876 British India and in 1878 Canada became members. Both these portions of the Empire were recognised as independent members of the Union, and were given all the rights and privileges of independent members. In 1890 the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown was taken as to the power of the Home Government to alter the rates of postage to the Colonies, whether members of the Postal Union or not; and they, instead of the opinion which my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton has stated, gave the most definite and distinct opinion that the Home Government had no right whatever to alter the rates of postage to Colonies during the continuance of the Convention and until the next Postal Congress was held.
§ MR. A. MORLEY
That is quite true. All the important Colonies are within the Postal Union. India is a member of the Postal Union, and Australasia and Canada, and we hope to get very shortly the others. But the opinion of the Law Officers at that time was clear and distinct with regard to those Colonies that were members of the Postal Union, and it was that the Government had no right to lower the rate of postage either with or without their 1538 consent. The position of affairs wholly changed after the meeting of the Congress in 1891. At that time the Australasian Colonies had resisted the pressure that had been brought to bear upon them to join the Postal Union. As the Members of the late Government know perfectly well, and as the late Postmaster General knows, they resisted the desire that had been expressed that they should join the Postal Union; but in 1891 they agreed, after considerable difficulty and hesitation, to join the Union upon certain express and definite conditions. Those conditions were agreed to by the Congress, as I have explained to the House. I am now quoting from the officical record of the Postal Congress of 1891, which appointed a Sub-Committee to consider the question as to the terms upon which the Australasian Colonies should be allowed to enter the Postal Union. The Report of the Sub-Committee was to the effect that the representatives of the Australasian Colonies, acting on their instructions, did not think they ought longer to resist the general wish, and consequently they were about to apply to their Governments for authority; but they asked, however, to be guaranteed in the first place against an immediate modification, not only of the sea transit rates, but of the postal rate of 25 centimes, which was the rate settled by the Postal Union. The whole Congress embodied in its official record of the proceedings a paragraph which explained the conditions of the Australasian Colonies—namely, that the postal rates for letters should not be modified, but that the Australasian Colonies should have the right to maintain or establish between themselves postal tariff's lower than those of the Union. Now, I understand my, hon. Friend to say that means they were not to have imposed upon them lower rates than 2½d.; but there was nothing whatever in that declaration that bears that out; the declaration was clear and distinct, that they would join the Postal Union if they were guaranteed against a reduction, not only upon the rates of letters to England, but of letters from England to the Colonies, and a general guarantee that the rate of 2½d. should not be reduced until the next Postal Convention.
§ MR. A. MORLEY
Certainly, I will read them—It is understood, moroever, the passage rates for letters of 25 centimes for 15 grammes shall not be modified during the same period, the period being until after the next quinquennial Congress.And I would point out that what the Colonies wished to be guaranteed against was not a reduction of the rates between the Colonies and England or England and the Colonies, but to be guaranteed against a reduction in other parts of the world, as the 2½d. rate was brought about by the desire of other parts of the world to reduce their rate, and so the rate might be forced on them if other parts of the world wished further to reduce the rates. I have taken the opinion of the officials of the Foreign Office on this question. As the House knows, these Conventions are ratified; they were sent to the Foreign Office at Vienna where this Congress took place; they are diplomatic documents that have a diplomatic flavour about them. The opinion of the Foreign Office is—That we could not reduce the rates till the next Postal Conference, unless we get the unanimous consent of the parties to the Postal Union.And it goes on—Although it may not be a matter of strict Treaty obligation, it is a question of good faith in giving effect to an express and recorded engagement.
§ MR. A. MORLEY
Yes; but I think in face of that declaration—and I venture to submit that it is perfectly well-founded—my hon. Friend would be wise not to ask the House to pledge the Government to do a thing which, on these terms, is a breach of good faith. I think this is an obligation, however much we may differ about it, which absolutely binds our hands. I would only make just one other remark on this point. Even if we had not joined this undertaking not to lower the rates of the Postal Union, we are absolutely bound in honour, in the case of the Australian Colonies, of Canada, and of India, not to lower the postal rates below 2½d. without their consent, as they were independent parties to the Convention. We have admitted them to equal rights and privileges which we enjoy, and under the terms of the Convention, which fixed 2½d. not only as the maximum but as the minimum rate, 1540 we were precluded from lowering that except under circumstances of general agreement to that reduction. Only one word with regard to the opinion of the Colonial Governments, and here I would venture to urge as an argument to those whose object it is to draw a closer bond between the United Kingdom and other members of the Empire whether it is not important that we should be certain, before bringing about a change of this kind, that the Colonies are anxious for it? There have been certain references made to newspapers—to The Star, for instance —as representing public feeling. I do not know that it represents the whole feeling, nor do I think the Chambers of Commerce in this country or in the Colonies represent the real, thoughtful public opinion on questions of this kind. The Postmaster General of Capo Colony, who was over here in September of last year, was interviewed, and he expressed his disapproval of the proposal connected with the name of my hon. Friend. In Canada the other day at Ottawa, in last March, it was proposed to reduce the inland postage from 3 cents to 2 cents, and the Postmaster General stated the reduction in Canada was impossible. I may mention the argument in favour of the reduction was in order to assimilate the organisation of the inland postage with the United Kingdom, and the Postmaster General stated the reduction was impossible, as you could not compare 75,000,000 letter writers in the United States with a few million in the United Kingdom. The question was decided by a Division, and was defeated on the argument of the Postmaster General. At Melbourne, in Victoria, Mr. Patterson repudiated the idea that consent had been given on behalf of Victoria as indicated by Mr. Henniker Heaton, according to a cable message in The Argus, to the effect that it had been agreed to.
§ *MR. HENNIKER HEATON
The cable message stated that I had declared that the Colonies would agree to a general imposition of penny postage to and from the Colonies. I merely said to the Colonies.
§ MR. A. MORLEY
Well, at that time the opinion of Mr. Patterson was that the reduction was impossible from their point of view. Then in Hobart Town there was a proposal to reduce the postcard rate from l½d. to 1d., and to have a general reduction of the 1541 inland rate from 2d. to 1d., so as to secure an inter-colonial 1d. rate. That was rejected without a Division, owing to the loss of the 2½d. postage and to financial depression. Then, Sir, in New South Wales a very important statement was made by the Postmaster General. He said—It is estimated that in New South Wales alone the reduction from 6d. to 2½d. resulted in a loss of £11,000 a year, and it is probable that a reduction to Id. will result in a further loss of at least an equal amount.He also states—It is well known that even the present change of 2d. per half-ounce does not now pay.And the House will bear in mind that some of our Colonies have increased their postal rate for letters from 1d. to 2d., and then he goes on to say—That in addition to the loss of £11,000 a year, the consequent reduction of the inland rate, which would necessarily have to follow the reduction of the rate to the United Kingdom, would lead to a still further loss of £70,000 a year for inland mails, and possibly another £30,000 for inter-colonial.And he states, also, that in his view the reduction to 1d. is an impossibility. I have stated the facts, financial and administrative, and the results of the Conference at Vienna, fully to the House, and I have stated that the reduction to 1d. would mean a still further loss to the Postal Revenue of £100,000, and I have also stated there is no evidence of a willingness on the part of the Colonies, no considerable evidence of sympathy on the part of the Colonies with this proposed reduction. Further, our action is limited by the fact, first of all, that the principal Colonies are portions of the Empire, India, Australia, and Canada, are members of the Postal Conference, we have no right to reduce the rate of 2½d. to Id. without the consent of those portions of the Empire which are members of the Postal Conference; in the second place, we are absolutely precluded from taking that step in consequence of the guarantee given at Vienna in 1891. I am not going to criticise that guarantee. The object of those who represented the Post Office was to persuade Australia to become a member of the Postal Union; that object everyone will agree with, and I am not inclined to criticise their action in assenting to the conditions. I do not say the time may not come—I 1542 think very likely it may come—when that obligation having come to an end, when we have evidence that we may have of a willingness on the part of the Colonies to agree to a reduction, when possibly the wave of depression, which has not only affected this country but the Colonies, may happily come to an end, and when we may have a Chancellor of the Exchequer with a substantial surplus at his back, I do not say the time may not come when this country will be willing to sacrifice a certain part of its Revenue in order to bring about the change advocated. But I do most earnestly say that in my opinion it is impossible for the Government, or for any Government, to agree to this proposal; and I therefore hope that the House of Commons, however much they may sympathise with the general object that underlies the Motion, will decline to give it support.
§ *MR. HENNIKER HEATON
said, he must first make it clear that the object they had in view was that the domestic rate of postage should be extended to all parts of the Empire—that was to say, that the domestic rate of postage between England, Ireland, and Scotland should be extended to the Colonies, because they contended that the cost of carrying a letter from here to Australia was no greater than carrying it from here to Ireland or to Jersey. His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales had most happily and truly said "that the inhabitants of New Zealand or Tasmania were no less dear to them than the inhabitants of Kent or Surrey." He asked the House to give practical effect to the Prince's words by making uniform our Imperial penny postage, so that it would be no dearer to our people to correspond with one another whether in the Antipodes or in Ireland. Before going into the main question, probably he had better reply at once to the arguments of the Postmaster General. The first thing the right hon. Gentleman placed before them was that when all the sea postage was reduced from 6d. to 4d. to Australia there was no great increase in the correspondence. The right hon. Gentleman must have been misled or he could not have made a statement of that kind, because considering the unpopular rate there was a very large increase in the correspondence, for in one year over 600,000 letters came by sea from 1543 Australia. In answer to questions the late Mr. Raikes, when Postmaster General, gave replies which showed the increasing popularity of the 4d. rate over the 6d. rate. The 2½d. rate was not a popular rate, and he was not surprised that the increase of correspondence had not been so great as could be wished. The popular rate was 1d. rate. He did not wish to enter into an argument with the Postmaster General as to the technical difficulties before him, but he desired to bring before the House this fact: that last year there was an exchange of 3,800,000 letters at 2½d. each between England and Australia, and there were carried in the same bags 9,000,000 newspapers at 1d. each; and it was insulting to common sense to say that if the newspapers could be carried at 1d. the letters could not be carried at 1d. too. The Post Office Returns showed that by the same mail from England there were despatched on a certain day 3,410 lbs. of letters for Australia and India and 41,000 lbs. of newspapers and other matter. The revenue from each was almost exactly equal. Taking the Returns of our Post Office, the French and Italian Government made its charges for the transit of these mails across the Continent without ever touching them at all. But they charged 5d. for 2¼lbs. of newspapers and 8s. 4d. for 2¼1bs. of letters. Was this fair? He could get a special train from Calais to Brindisi for £500, and the Postmaster General had to pay £1,200. Scandals like these ought to command the attention of the House of Commons, because they showed that there was a margin amply sufficient to allow of the reduction of the charges for postage. The Postmaster General quoted a Report of the Postmaster General of the Cape of Good Hope, but the Postmaster at the Cape was exactly in the same position as Sir Arthur Black wood—he was a responsible Government official. The Cape papers were enthusiastically in favour of the scheme, and the Cape Government had devoted enormous sums to establish penny postage throughout a vast portion of South Africa, and if letters could be carried throughout that colony for 1d., it was absurd to say that we could not carry them across the ocean for 1d. He was amazed at what had fallen from the Postmaster General about Australia, for he had shown letters to the Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1544 influential colonists stating they were rejoiced at the proposal to establish a penny postage, and if it was started by England as a domestic postal arrangement they would gladly distribute our letters. He maintained that the officials in this country had never seriously and honestly considered the question, or fairly consulted the Colonies on the subject. He relied on the present Postmaster General's statement to the deputation that "even greater difficulties than the present had been met and overcome by the capable postal officials of this country." Last year we practically made £250,000 by our arrangement with the Postal Union, because England sent out 5,550,000 letters and received the postage of them, while other countries received the postage for 4,000,000 letters which they sent us. England sent five letters outwards to every four she received. He had now to approach a very serious matter. The Postmaster General had distinctly stated that the Postmaster General of Canada was against penny postage. The right hon. Gentleman, however, did not quote the most important statement made by the Postmaster General of Canada. In that statement, in reference to his (Mr. Heaton's) proposal for a penny postage to all parts of the Empire, the Postmaster General of Canada said—It is a grand project, and personally I should like to see it accepted by the Dominion. Whatever the Imperial Authorities may do in the matter of reducing the postage of correspondence sent from England to the Colonies is for them to decide. If they adopt Mr. Heaton's scheme I shall be glad to hear of it.Could a responsible Minister have spoken more plainly or strongly? Surely a statement of that kind ought to have been brought under the attention of the Postmaster General.
§ MR. A. MORLEY
said, he quoted from a statement which showed that the Postmaster General of Canada was opposed to any proposal for reduction in the rate of postage.
§ *MR. HENNIKER HEATON
said, the Postmaster General of Canada opposed any reduction of postage throughout Canada, but he did not oppose any reduction of postage in England. At the present time the United States sent letters to all parts of Canada, weighing under one ounce, for 1d. We had universal halfpenny postage for newspapers and all printed matter two ounces 1545 in weight throughout the British Empire. To-day we had penny postage for letters under half an ounce to all parts of the Empire for soldiers and sailors. It was remarkable that the postal officials should have made such an outcry about Imperial Penny Postage, considering that it was already in full operation for a limited class—namely, the Forces of the Crown serving abroad. The following paragraph was taken from The Post Office Guide:—Non-commissioned officers, schoolmasters, schoolmistresses, private soldiers, seamen, writers in Her Majesty's Navy, whether serving on sea or land, in a British Possession or Foreign Country, the Cape Mounted Rifles, and enrolled pensioners, in Canada, can send and receive prepaid letters not exceeding the weight of half an ounce for a postage of 1d.Seventy thousand soldiers in India and sailors in Australia and Canada enjoyed this privilege. With such facts as these before them, he contended there was no valid argument against the scheme for the penny postage of letters. Every year there were something like from 250,000 to 300,000 emigrants leaving our shores, many of them never to return. They went forth tracking their way through the bush and over prairies, bridging mighty rivers, levelling mountains, fertilising deserts, building new cities, and adding more wealth to our Empire. He contended it was the highest policy to encourage these people to communicate with their friends at home. But this 2½d. rate had a bad effect upon correspondence, and in a few years they dropped writing altogether, and forgot the old country. It would interest the House of Commons to know what these emigrants did for the people in the old country. Last year there were sent in money orders from the Cape of Good Hope £184,756; from other parts of Africa, £92,878; from Australia, £344,196; from India, £142,322; from New Zealand, £72,630; from the West Indies, £200,151; and from other Colonies, £70,114; from Canada, £215,723; making a total of £1,323,670. He considered they should do all they could to encourage correspondence, even from that point of view. This money came in small money orders from 10s. to £5, and was most acceptable to the old people at home to pay their rent, buy food, and other comforts. He said it lay with us to grant the people at home and abroad this great 1546 boon of cheap correspondence. The letters that would result from it might be regarded as so much good seed which would yield a harvest by promoting trade, and creating a feeling of sympathy throughout the Empire such as had not been created by any Act of Parliament. In reply to another objection by the postal officials, he would give the answer he gave for the information of Mr. Raikes—The other objection raised is that Penny Postage is impossible, because each country ought to have one penny per letter, and so the postage ought to be two pence. The answer is very simple. Will any one say that it costs more to send a letter from here to France than from here to Ireland? A great confusion, too, arises on the question of delivery. If I get 10 million letters in Liverpool from London for delivery on board a ship then bound for New York, and receive in exchange there 10 million letters from New York for delivery in London, both in sealed bags, I shall have to deliver to the parties to whom the letters are addressed only 10 million letters, and not 20 million letters. I shall have received the penny postage, in other words, on 10 million letters which I have collected and delivered. It is really one transaction, plus the cost of sea conveyance. I trust I have made the matter clear: that sending 10 million letters to be delivered in another country, and in exchange delivering 10 million letters from another country, only amounts to one transaction. Another advantage we get— or at least the Chancellor of the Exchequer gets—is in exchange. Under the Postal Union every country keeps its own postage, and the country to which the letters are sent undertakes the delivery without charge. But we in England send away to foreign parts five letters on which the Chancellor of the Exchequer of England receives full postage, and we receive from abroad only four letters which the foreign Chancellors of the Exchequer receive postage on. England made last year a quarter of a million sterling by this little transaction. Let us, then, listen no more to this stupid argument that we should have two pence on every letter. To put the matter another way. There are two main sources of expenditure—for collection and distribution; the cost of carriage being comparatively unimportant. Now, on our outgoing letters we are saved the cost of distribution, and on incoming letters the cost of collection. Practically, therefore, it is but one transaction, as above contended. Let us always remember that to-day we can send a newspaper under four ounces in weight to every part of the civilised world for a penny. Surely we can send a letter, the eighth of this weight, for the same money.The Postmaster General said he was against Ocean Penny Postage, but he would ask him at least to give it a trial, and he could assure him it would entail no loss. He would like to call attention to the obstinacy of the postal officials. On a recent occasion, he and three other 1547 gentlemen offered to the late Chancellor of the Exchequer to sign a guarantee against all loss if the right hon. Gentleman would establish a penny postage to all parts of the Empire. That offer was declined, and he thought it very unfair that the Post Office officials of this country should be so strong as to induce the Postmaster General and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to reject such a necessary reform. He heartily supported the Motion. And he begged hon. Members to show by their vote that evening that the love of Britannia for her children was not less deep, not less wide, than the ocean which was at once the highway and the bulwark of her Empire.
§ *SIR J. FERGUSSON (Manchester, N. E.)
I feel bound to say a few words on this occasion, because I have so recently been in charge of the Department now presided over by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and necessarily have had under my consideration this proposal, which, undoubtedly, has received a large measure of popular support. The Member for Brighton, who introduced the subject, referred to the popular favour with which it had been received; and my hon. Friend who has just sat down—who has associated his name with this matter, and also with very many measures of reform—refers to a wider circle of adherents for the project. It is always very depressing to have to meet large and popular proposals with commonplace objections; but, nevertheless, I think we must be largely swayed in this House by material considerations. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his interesting speech the other night, referred to the somewhat thoughtless manner in which even Members of this House give their adhesion to flattering and promising schemes without regard to their financial effects, and we are at this moment smarting under the effects of undue and, perhaps, sometimes thoughtless liberality. I am sure none of us, for a moment, regret that hard-working men should be better paid, and perhaps no money is given with greater satisfaction by this House than that which is voted for the better payment of the Public Service. I am sure we are all glad that the numerous persons in the service of the State, and especially in the Post Office, are now receiving, for the most part, higher wages than they were a few years ago. 1548 The right hon. Gentleman has reminded us that we are paying nearly £500,000 more this year" for these higher wages than we were a year ago, and that forms no inconsiderable fraction of the additional 1d. in the Income Tax which has been imposed to meet the deficit. The right hon. Gentleman has stated that foreign mails were carried at a loss a few years ago. There was a loss of, I think, £100,000 when the former rate of 5d. and 6d. was reduced to 2½d., and there will be a loss of another £100,000 if the proposal of my right hon. Friend be carried into effect. That is a very serious consideration. The Postal Revenue is not declining. It grows in spite of the heavy weight it has to bear. It makes up for the falling off in the Telegraph Revenue, and from other causes. But though long-suffering, it is not omnipotent, and it would be very easy indeed for this House, by yielding to the demand for more liberality on one side or the other, to do away with the greater part of this surplus which still accrues from the Post Office. It has been shown that £500,000 may be got rid of by only a very moderate increase to the salaries of employés of the Post Office—an increase with which, I regret to say, they are not all perfectly satisfied. It is, therefore, possible to see bow easy it would be to get rid of any surplus. There are many who think that the Post Office ought not to be a Revenue-earning Department, and no doubt its primary object is to be of service to the State. But, at the same time, the House will remember how few are our resources. Our items of Revenue have been reduced year by year until we have got very few, and in time of emergency we have hardly any to which we can turn for relief except the Income Tax, which is a mode of obtaining relief that ought to be reserved for times of great emergency. If we are to give up this handsome surplus from the Post Office, notwithstanding the large boons we have given to the public of late years, I would say there are some other branches of expenditure the public would derive more benefit from than what is now proposed. Why should we carry mails to all parts of the world at an increasing loss? The penny postage bears a loss. The hon. Member for Canterbury spoke just now of being able to carry newspapers at 1d. all over the world, and of printed matter 1549 being carried in such quantities for ½d. Owing to the great concessions made in late years in the extension of the ½d. post, enormous numbers of circulars are to-day carried over the Kingdom at the ½d. rate. They are not, however, carried at a profit, and the long-suffering penny post bears a loss. Why are those who pay this 1d. postage still to hear the weight, not only of this loss, but also of an increased loss resulting from a reduction in the rate of postage on letters to the Colonies? My hon. Friend says that because the letters of certain classes are carried for 1d. the letters of the general public should also be carried at that rate. I do not think that contention will bear examination. We send our soldiers and sailors all over the world without consulting their convenience for a moment. They are often separated from their families. They do not receive an increase of pay by reason of their place of service, and this cheap postage is a privilege given them by reason of their service to the public. It does not follow, because the Government carry the letters of these people at a cheaper rate, that the burden of the loss caused by that cheaper rate.should fall on the taxpayers, and that if we lose money in the Post Office it is to be met by taxation elsewhere. I say we ought not to tax one class for the benefit of another. There are, briefly, three reasons why I support the Postmaster General. In the first place, it is not right that the taxpayer should be obliged to bear the burden of a revenue loss for the benefit of a limited class. Secondly, it is not right that the further postal reforms which are much required in many directions are to be hampered and postponed by reason of undue liberality in one direction; and thirdly, I say, we are precluded as a matter of honour by an international agreement — entered into in the public interest, and greatly for the public benefit—from reducing the postage lower than the present Union rate. This uniform Union rate is a great boon indeed. It has been sought for years, and now we have established this uniform moderate rate throughout the world; and I venture to say, seeing that it amounts to a reduction in all cases of half, and in some eases more, it has proved a very great boon indeed to the public. We have, of late years, carried reforms in the Post Office of unexampled liberality 1550 which are felt in all parts of the country. We must, I think, now rest on our oars a little until the revenue is somewhat recouped, as I hope it will be recouped a great deal by the increased facilities given. But it is a matter of experiment, and we must wait a few years and see whether that result will be obtained. As the hon. Member for Cirencester says, the fact that the Revenue is not increasing is no reason why reform should cease; but still we cannot go on with reforms at the same rate until the revenue has recovered from the fall caused by reason of the reductions which have been made for the public benefit. I venture to think we should wait a short time at least before further reductions are made; but we shall join with every Party in the House, I am sure, in the desire to make any further reductions and improvements that the Public Revenue will admit. Meanwhile, I hope the House will see that the charge now proposed would not be judicious. In fact, we are not, in honour, at liberty to carry it out at the present time.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. E. GLADSTONE,) Edinburgh, Midlothian
It is not necessary for any speaker to detain the House for a very long time on this question, not even for one who, like my right hon. Friend who has just spoken, has had practical experience in the particular Department. This is a subject in which the House may be in danger of placing itself in a false position if it should allow itself to be drawn by the attractions of a very agreeable kind on to the general grounds of a very desirable proposition. It would be very unfortunate if we were to take a step which would prove imprudent in view of finances, a step which, under the circumstances, not only of the relations between the countries of the world, but also different parts of the same Empire, requires careful consideration. Although, strictly speaking, we cannot have a Treaty between us and one of our Colonies, it is perfectly plain that we may have a covenant between us and any of the Colonies just as binding as if it wore a Treaty. But let us look how this matter stands in the matter of finance. It cannot be said, certainly, that the question is a very large one. The Motion recites that the Postmaster General has stated that "there are no serious financial 1551 or administrative objections" to the proposal. Undoubtedly there are no administrative objections—that is to say, the machinery of the Post Office, which carries all this traffic upon the rate of 2½d., is quite adequate, and would require, I suppose, no change to carry it on at any other rate, whether higher or lower. With regard to no financial difficulty, I think the House must consider that, although there is no financial difficulty when one considers the great resources of the country and the fact that the House of Commons is always ready to impose taxation for worthy purposes, we cannot say that it is barred by absolute financial necessity. But can you say that you have the money in hand? Is there a surplus on which you can count with a reasonable confidence? Now, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has reduced his surplus to the very smallest sum that he could venture to leave it at. As everybody knows, and nobody better than myself, if any Chancellor of the Exchequer were to make his calculations upon the supposition of any considerable surplus — £500,000 or £1,000,000—it would be soon run in upon, and it would soon disappear. But my right hon. Friend has been content, or he has forced himself to be content, with the modest sum of £170,000 for the year. It may be said that if you take £90,000 from that sum it leaves £80,000. I do not wish to press the matter too far, but the House will remember that this modest surplus has been proposed, not upon a rising, but a falling Revenue. If it be, as it is, a falling Revenue—and even if we be not disposed to indulge in pessimistic calculations—it is obvious that the margin which has been supplied by the surplus cannot be considered a very large one to place at our disposal. As to whether we shall get the whole of it or not, probably, judging from recent occurrences, we may assume that we shall not get it rather than that we shall. So much for finance: but there is one point to consider with reference to this subject. All over the country, especially in its remoter parts, there are multitudes of people longing for improved postal arrangements, which we do not deny them, but which we are compelled to postpone. It is, therefore, not a denial that we wish to offer to this proposition; 1552 on the contrary, it must be understood that we should be glad to be in a condition, not only to speak in favour of the terms of the proposition, but likewise to give it immediate effect were it in our power. I do not understand—indeed, Sir, it is undeniable—that many of our Colonies are not only not concurring with us, but are indifferent to this proposal. It would be a strange thing, therefore, if the House of a Commons, with a doubtful surplus, should not employ it in the legitimate wants of our fellow-subjects in England, Scotland, and Ireland, but should cry out for this new arrangement with the Colonies when we say that we cannot afford to give it, and should insist on making arrangements with the Colonies which are actually averse to the beneficial proposal. I stand, not on the word "Treaty," but on the word "Covenant." We have covenants which it may be impossible for the Government without a breach of honour to break at the present time. Our duty is to consult those who are conversant with the subject-matter of the proposal, and are accustomed to deal with it on the obligations of their official duty and subject to the responsibility of having to give an account to this Assembly. There are two authorities to which we naturally look: the persons holding official charges in the Foreign Department and the Law Officers of the Crown. It will be admitted that their declarations, when clear and unequivocal, form the weightiest evidence. The opinion of the Foreign Office is this. They think it clear that we could not reduce the rates until the next Postal Conference some few years hence, unless we get the unanimous consent of the parties to the Postal Union—that is to say, the consent, not only of the Colonies, which alone are embraced in the terms of the Motion, but the consent of all the independent parties to the Postal Union as well with whom the covenant is made.It was a question of good faith in giving effect to an expressed and recorded engagement.Then the Law Officers of the Crown, in 1890, said that—Her Majesty's Government was not entitled to establish such lower rates of postage either with foreign countries or with the Colonies who were parties to the Convention, but they could establish rates with Colonies not parties to the Convention without regard to the regulations of the Postal Union.1553 I submit that in all cases like these we are bound to act on the best evidence accessible to us. It may be said that we should go to the Colonies and invite them to give their consent. But the period likely to elapse between the present time and the revision of the Postal Convention would be consumed in correspondence, and I do not think we are in a condition to go to the Colonies and make that proposal to them. There was so great an aversion to enter into the Convention now subsisting on the part of Australia that those Colonies only entered it upon the express condition that no such change as that now proposed should be made during the existence of the present agreement. We firmly believe that this is a question between keeping and breaking engagements. We are an Executive Government, and I ask the House of Commons to place themselves in our position. Suppose the parts reversed, and instead of its being our part to give effect to this Motion it was our part to pass the Motion and impose it on the House of Commons, and then when the House came to consider the mode of giving it effect they were to find that it involves a breach of agreement, I ask— Would the House of Commons proceed with that engagement? Certainly it would not. Well, Sir, that is the position in which the House would stand if the responsibility appertaining to us were reversed. That is the position in which we stand with respect to the actual case before us. I implore hon. Members to consider whether they can doubt what would be our duty with respect to any question, from whatever source arising, which imposed upon the Government the necessity of what is commonly termed, in homely phrase, a breach of faith. I have every confidence that before the three years elapse the financial objections would in all probability have entirely disappeared, and in respect of the engagements of the Government your hands will be free, and you can then go forward without any reproach of conscience or honour to the fulfilment of objects which are altogether laudable and in which we all sympathise.
§ MR. GOSCHEN (St. George's, Hanover Square)
I do not like to give a silent vote on this occasion. For several years the hon. Member for Canterbury 1554 pressed this Motion upon the late Government, and we found it to be our duty to be deaf to his entreaties, although they were extremely persistent, and couched in the most pressing and eloquent language. Under these circumstances, I ask myself whether, because I have crossed from one side of the House to another, I have found salvation and changed my opinions. After the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown, which has been read by the right hon. Gentleman, it would be perfectly impossible for me, and for those who have acted in close connection with me, to act in breach of the covenant into which we ourselves entered. It would be very desirable, indeed, for us now to undertake the change; but in face of the fact that there is no margin on which we can calculate financially, and still more on the ground urged by the Prime Minister, that it would involve a breach of faith, I do not see how the House can assent to the proposal of my hon. Friend. I do not see how, considering the engagement entered into with Australia, we can now pass a Resolution which would practically be a breach of that engagement.
§ SIR J. BLUNDELL MAPLE (Camberwell, Dulwich)
said, the matter was one of great importance, and he believed the change would be very beneficial and would increase the Revenue of the Post Office. He should not vote for the Motion on the present occasion if the Postmaster General gave an undertaking that he would not enter into covenants which would for the future preclude the House from adopting any such Resolution. It was stated that the loss involved by the change would be £90,000; but, as be had said, the subject was an important one, affecting the population in all parts of the world, and he thought that sum might well be spared out of the surplus appertaining to the Post Office.
MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
I think the House may be said to be unanimously in favour of the proposal being adopted when the favourable financial moment arrives. I would suggest, therefore, to the hon. Gentleman behind me (Mr. Loder) that the words should be eliminated from the Resolution which would bind the House to immediate action, and that at the end of the Resolution the words be added—"So 1555 soon as circumstances may admit of the adoption of that course."
§ *MR. LAWSON
said, he had no objection to the Mover of the Resolution agreeing to the course suggested by the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir W. HARCOURT,) Derby
I entirely concur that it is desirable to avoid a Division on this subject. The Government desire at the proper time, when the finances of the country permit, and when the assent of the Colonies has been obtained, to carry out the object advocated in the Resolution. I hope the hon. Member the Mover of the Resolution and the right hon. Member (Mr. James Lowther) will be satisfied with that declaration, and will not attempt to write words into the Amendment.
§ *MR. LODER
said, after what had been said by the Chancellor of the Exchequer he would accept the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowther).
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Supply—Committee upon Monday next.