§ Lord Brougham, in 1202 presenting a petition from the Lord mayor, Aldermen, and Commons of the city of London, in common council assembled, on the subject of the Post-office, said that no portion of her Majesty's subjects had a deeper interest in the good regulation of that great establishment than the citizens of the great city whom the petitioners represented. The petitioners stated that a swift communication by post tended greatly to the improvement of the commerce, manufactures, and agriculture of this country, and was also highly important for the collection and diffusion of information, by which the education of the people would be greatly accelerated, as well as friendly intercourse forwarded. The mercantile part of the city of London had turned their attention to this subject; they had very fully gone into the details; they had themselves very extensive experience on the question; they had the capacity beyond most men of examining the particulars and principles of any plan which might be adopted for its improvement; therefore their opinion was entitled to operate by way of testimony in reference to any plan, and they gave it in favour of Mr. Rowland Hill's. It did not appear that they approved that plan in all its details; but it was clearly the principle of that plan to which they referred, because they alluded to the ninth report of the Commissioners of Post-office inquiry, and prayed that the Government would make the experiment suggested in the first instance in the two penny-post department. He need hardly remind their Lordships that there was no authority on such a subject so high as that of the mercantile and trading classes of the community; and there was perhaps no person of higher authority among mercantile and trading men than his noble Friend (Lord Ashburton). That noble Lord had come to the opinion that the conveyance of letters was not of itself—a due regard being had to the convenience of the public—a proper subject of taxation for the purpose of revenue. No doubt the difficulty would be great of retracing their steps; but if the question were raised for the first time whether a great mercantile country ought to make the postage or conveyance of letters a subject of revenue or a matter of taxation, he thought the answer of his noble Friend would be in the negative, as well as the answer which he himself would give. He 1203 would now take it that even after so large a revenue as a million and a half had been collected and received, even if the alteration tended generally to lower that revenue, it would in the end not only compensate itself, and raise the revenue to its former pitch, but would greatly increase that revenue. Such was the proposition which, as soon as the question came before their Lordships in a more fit shape to decide, he (Lord Brougham) for one was prepared to maintain. He would go at once to the reduction of one penny per half ounce, which was the proposition of Mr. Hill. He (Lord Brougham) did not mean to assert that such a diminution of the postage would so largely increase the number of letters so as to bring up the gross revenue to its present amount. He would go further. He looked forward to the great been which it would confer upon the whole mercantile world in this country — the vast increase which it would give to the great trading interests of the country, by which the revenue in every branch must be greatly and wonderfully increased. He rejoiced at the presence of his noble Friend the Postmaster-General, because he wished much to tell him that he (Lord Lichfield) had failed to satisfy his (Lord Brougham's) mind that the plan suggested by Mr. Hill was so totally impracticable as he had stated it to be. He conceived that the whole of his noble Friend's calculation was founded upon a statement that the total number of letters now was between forty-two and forty-three millions. His noble Friend confined himself exclusively to the general post, but there the author of the plan, Mr. Hill, and the authorities at the Post-office, were at direct issue. That was the very point in dispute between the parties. Mr. Hill calculated the letters going through the Post-office at 79½ millions—in round numbers, 80 millions. He believed it was a fact beyond dispute that 22½ millions passed through the Post-offices in London in a year. Ten millions of those 22½ millions went through the general post, while 12½ went through the two penny or three penny post. In the calculations, therefore, they were to deduct the 10 millions from the 22½ millions. His noble Friend had taken those 10 millions, and made his calculation for the whole country. He found these yielded 460,000l., and then he found the whole of the general post letters for the United Kingdom yielded about four times 1204 that sum: This proceeded on the assumption that the average value of the country letters to the revenue was precisely the same as the average value of the letters in the London district; the average of each letter in the London district was calculated at 12½d. Every one knew that the amount of postage in London was larger than in the country, because the London letters included large packages of foreign letters, which went to swell the amount of the postage received, and to increase the average value of the letters, and might raise it to 12½d. in the London district. But in the country districts there were no such circumstances, because very few foreign packages were sent into the country. It was not correct to state that Mr. Hill's plan made no provision for any increased expense in the Post-office department, in consequence of the increased number of letters and the amount of business to be attended to; he allowed 225,000l. for the additional expense of working his plan. The impracticability was another grand objection to this plan; there was nothing new in that objection. Indeed, the word had often been used in that House and elsewhere as establishing an insuperable objection to all plans for the improvement of the Post-office. He could refresh the memory of their Lordships by referring to the places and occasions when this word had been used as reasonably and quite as positively as it was now used. Their Lordships would recollect that in the year 1784 a gentleman named Palmer recommended the adoption of a system of mail-coach carriages, when at that time the mails were carried at the rate of three miles and a half an hour. Mr. Palmer was of opinion, that they could be carried at the rate of seven miles an hour, if not more. Did not their Lordships recollect the alarm which the announcement of this proposition spread through every department of the Post-office? Did they recollect the indignation, the absolute contempt—the scornful contempt with which it was received by all the officials of the Post-office? A contempt equalled only by the loud chorus of applause which they rung in the ears of Parliament in praise of every one man, every one rule, every one regulation in any way connected with any one department of that most perfect establishment, the Post-office of 1784, with its safe, 1205 sure, and steady mails of three miles and a half an hour. The Committee of the House of Commons, in its Report upon this subject in 1797, declared, that "the more we consider the plans of Mr. Palmer, the more arc we convinced of the insuperable difficulty in attempting to bring them into operation. The officers of the Post-office, whom we regard as the best judges of the question, have been examined before us, and are unanimously of opinion, that the thing is totally impracticable." Another Committee, reporting on the same subject, said, "We have examined the oldest and ablest officers of the Post-office," (it was always the oldest and ablest, for the Committees considered the term synonymous), "and the oldest and ablest officers had no confidence whatever in the plan." Indeed, in looking over these Reports, he found that it was always the oldest and ablest who had the greatest contempt for improvement, and that the older an officer was, the greater contempt he had for the officer who was less old than himself. They were all, however, both young and old, positively of opinion, that the plan of Mr. Palmer was not only impracticable, but dangerous to commerce and finance. It was frightful for their Lordships to think of the dangers which the commerce and finance of the country had escaped since that period. They had been exposed, not only to the dangers of the French war and the orders in council, but they had likewise escaped the dangers incurred by the melancholy and awful change of the speed of the mails from three and a half miles to seven miles an hour. But that was not all; the finances of the country had an escape possibly greater. When Mr. Palmer, in 1784, laid his reckless hand on the pace of the Post-office horses, the revenue in that department was 150,000l. a-year, and it had since that time fallen to 1,500,000l. Notwithstanding all that had been done to accelerate its fall by increasing the speed of mails, and although the Bath mail, instead of taking eighteen hours on its journey, arrived now in thirteen or fourteen. It was the tortoise they emulated at the Post-office. It might be supposed to be a very simple proposition, that the passengers and property which went by the mail, would be more safe from there being a guard to each coach. The old and able officers of the Post-office, however, thought differently. They contended that 1206 it was a most erroneous notion to suppose that, having a guard, would increase the security. One of the objections they urged was, that in a case of robbery, where there was a guard, there would be resistance, and the result of that would be bloodshed. They maintained that the only way of preventing robbery was to cut the Bank notes and send them by the mail. People must send one half, and wait till informed of its safe arrival before they sent the other. Speaking, no doubt, from actual experience, they said that the strongest carts that could be made, lined and bound with iron, were not proof against the robbers of mails. He begged their Lordships' pardon for giving them these specimens of the wisdom of their ancestors. Those personages, however, had interrupted the progress of Mr. Palmer's plan in every possible way; they had cast cold water on it for months and years; and yet no sooner was it established than all approved of it, and all felt the benefit of it, except the Postmasters, who, for eighteen months afterwards, said it was dangerous and detrimental to the revenue. They all agreed that it was chimerical, visionary, speculative; but all the chimera and speculativeness that existed in relation to the plan, was not in the plan itself, but in the objections raised by those who had nothing better than needless alarms to guide their easily pervertible minds. Had he presented this petition, as he proposed, a few nights ago, he should have asked his noble Friend if it was intended to try the plan in the way recommended, but that question had now been answered, and, he was sorry to say, answered in a very unsatisfactory manner. He knew his noble Friend too well to suppose him capable of holding out any expectations for which he had not good grounds. Very sanguine expectations had been entertained, but contrary to those expectations the hopes of himself, of many others, and amongst these he believed his noble Friend himself had been greatly disappointed. Instead of carrying into execution the plan according to the ninth report, another plan was to be carried into execution totally different in its nature, and which might fail over and over again, without the possibility of even a post-office speculator pretending that it was a failure of Mr. Rowland Hill's plan, because it was to be confined now to the twopenny-postage. Mr. Hill's plan was 1207 not that the postage should be reduced to twopence—it was that the postage should be reduced to a penny—the two penny and three penny postage to a penny for all letters, and to try the plan in the two penny and three penny post alone. Instead of this, the plan proposed to be tried was not the reduction of the postage to a penny, but the reduction to two pence, which, if it failed, either in reference to revenue or in any other respect, would be no kind of test whatever of the merits or goodness of Mr. Hill's plan, but would be an experiment, under the pretence of trying Mr. Hill's plan, utterly inconsistent with it.
§ Viscount Duncannon
said, that after meture consideration, it was found to be inixpedient to try the experiment of Mr. Hill's plan to the full extent that had been proposed. In the ninth report of the Commissioners, in which Mr. Hill's suggestions were embodied, it was recommended that stamp covers should be issued by the Post-office at one penny, to carry every thing under an ounce weight, not only for the short distance of three miles, but for twelve miles round the environs of London. The other part of the plan was, that there should be a stamp cover for two-pence, to carry any weight not exceeding six ounces; and that suggestion was founded on the representations of the London publishers, who wished to have this means of transmitting pamphlets and other light publications to the country. His right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, however, did not intend to carry those suggestions into effect in the way proposed, but he determined on the issue of penny stamp covers for the short distances, and to reduce the fourpenny post to two pence. He admitted that this could not be considered as a trial of Mr. Hill's plan, but he thought it the safer course in the first instance.
The Earl of Lichfield
said, there were one or two points in the noble and learned Lord's calculations which were in some degree incorrect, and which he could have set right if he had brought down the returns which had been prepared on the subject. What he had stated was, that forty-two millions of chargeable letters passed through the general post-office; and the way of ascertaining that was not according to the mode stated by his noble and learned Friend, which was, in reality Mr. Rowland Hill's plan. The way in 1208 which Mr. Hill calculated was, that about ten millions of letters passed through the general post, which being multiplied by four, the calculated increase would amount to forty millions. He then took ten millions of two penny post letters, which he had multiplied by four, and that made the eighty millions of letters; but their Lordships must be aware that there was no two penny post throughout the country, and Mr. Hill had no right to multiply the two penny post circulated four times. To bring this plan to a fair test, he had no right to join the two-penny and general post office together. They were distinct departments, and the revenue derived from the post-office being so much, and the post letters being so many, the ex-pence of transmission amounted to about one penny on the conveyance of each letter. Mr. Hill stated that the expense of conveyance was only a penny l–16th, and he calculated upon one undred and thirty-six millions of newspapers and letters passing through the general post-office. Mr. Hill had not made any sufficient provision for the increase in the establishment that this increased bulk would require. The charge on the post-office for transmission by the railways would be by weight, and there was no hope that the charge for transmission by that conveyance would be at all reduced. Mr. R. Hill had entirely omitted to provide for the greater bulk of additional letters in his plan. At present the cost of mail coaches, &c, was 100,000l. per annum, for the conveyance of forty millions of chargeable letters, the chargeable correspondence paying for the transmission of the free correspondence, and if the postage charge were generally reduced to one penny for each letter, it would require twelve times the present circulation of letters to produce the revenue now derived from the post office charges. There was no prospect of any possibility of reducing the clerk establishment of the post-office. As it was it required the utmost exertions on the part of the sorting clerks to sort the letters, though the daily average was not more than 30,000. Indeed it was consisidered a very heavy evening when 30,000 letters went out of town. The number of newspapers was frequently 50,000 or 60,000. Supposing that, with the reduced charge of one penny on each letter, it were found that ten times the present number of letters were transmitted through 1209 the Post-office, this would obviously require a proportionate increase in the number of sorting clerks; for, instead of only 30,000 letters to sort between five and half-past seven o'clock, there would be 300,000; and, besides this, it would become absolutely necessary to enlarge the Post-office itself. He was ready to admit that a very considerable reduction in the Post-office charges might be made without any serious injury to the revenue; but it must be remarked, that to depart at all from Mr. Hill's penny charge, would be to depart altogether from his principle, which was based on one uniform penny rate of postage. He quite agreed that the experiment now about to be made could not be regarded as a trial of Mr. Hill's plan. It was not a reduction of the postage dues, but simply the giving parties the option of substituting a stamped envelope for the present mode of payment. If this mode of transmission were found to meet with public approbation, then it might become a question how to apply the system to the general post. As to Mr. Hill's plan, he was quite sure that its adoption would cause a considerable loss to the revenue.
The Earl of Radnor
agreed with what had fallen from the noble Lord who had just sat down; but what Mr. Rowland Hill had a right to complain of was, that so much of his plan only had been taken as would ensure its failure, and induce the] belief that it was his.; The experiment was, whether the public would adopt a plan of envelopes, which they were to pay for beforehand. He knew that it was difficult to get the public out of an old track, and he was afraid such would be the Case with the present experiment. Another objection was, that there would be a manifest loss in manufacturing the envelopes, some of which he had seen, and he must confess they were very beautiful, but they were to be manufactured by most intricate machinery, which would require a very great outlay for its construction. He thought it must be evident to every one that if Mr. Hill's plan were partially adopted there would be a very great increase of letters. He had presented a petition from the booksellers of London on Friday night last, in which it was stated that if the taxation was reduced their correspondence would increase to the extent of twenty thousand, and in some cases fifty thousand letters a year. There would 1210 certainly be a neceesity for a considerable extension of the Post Office, and the employment of a greater number of sorting clerks; but Mr. Rowland Hill had pointed out a mode by which a great saving might be effected in another department—that of the accountants. He protested against the slighting and disingenuous manner in which Mr. Hill's plan was treated.
§ The Duke of Wellington
said, that the impression on his mind certainly was, that the Government had taken the right course on this subject. Nothing could be so fatal as a great and sudden diminution of the rate of postage, and consequently revenue, particularly if it should be afterwards found disadvantageous. He had a great notion that it would be utterly impossible to reduce the rate of postage to a 1d. on all letters that were sent through the Twopenny Post. If the profit were at present 60,000l., and 60,000l. only, and if the number of letters as was stated, varied exceedingly; the Government would find that 60,000l. would not afford them the means of reducing the charge for the carriage of letters to 1d. Under these circumstances he thought that the Government had acted with great prudence in beginning their experiments on this system cautiously and by degrees. His opinion was, that they were quite right not to be in too great a hurry to reduce the payment of postage on letters. No person, not even the noble and learned Lord (Brougham) pretended that there should be such a reduction that the profits would be insufficient, not only to carry on the Post Office department, but to administer all the duties and pay all the expenses; that was the lowest point to which the reduction ought to be carried, but he was confident that the present proposal would carry it further.
wished to disabuse the House on this subject. It was a mistake to suppose the plan of the Government was to be an experiment of Mr. Hill's plan. It had just enough of resemblance to Mr. Hill's plan to make the public suppose that the plan had a trial, and in the event of a failure to enable the opponents of the plan to say that it had failed. It was not even an experiment of degrees. In no one way could it be said that it was a step towards carrying out the details of Mr. Hill's plan. It bore, to be sure, a resemblance to it, but he denied it carried with it its important features, He denied that 1211 Mr. R. Hill's plan included General and Two penny Post letters, and he was satisfied that inquiry would prove his calculation of eighty millions was right. The noble Lord had asserted that Mr. Hill had made no allowance for the increased expense, but their Lordships would find that he had allowed nearly 230,000l. for that purpose, the remaining sum required to be obtained by an improved management.
§ Petition laid on the table.