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Penny Postage—Stamped Covers

Volume 51: debated on Saturday 18 January 1840

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said, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, appeared to have anticipated his suggestion of a partial experiment of stamped covers, in providing them for the use of Members of Parliament. Now, he thought, there ought to be some understanding as to whether these stamps were for the exclusive use of Members alone. There was no other regulation at present, than that the letters written should be posted at the House of Commons. Now, what he wanted to know was, whether any Member was to be at liberty to purchase several hundreds or thousands of those covers, and distribute them, if he chose, among his friends.

said, that in point of fact, the cover which the right hon. Gentleman had in his hand had no power of franking a letter by the post, but for the convenience of Members an arrangement had been made, not under warrant, but after communicating with the Post-office authorities, by which the librarian of the House was to take under his charge the sale of the stamped covers, and an account would be opened against him at the Post-office. Undoubtedly, it was open to any Member to purchase 'a number of the covers, and distribute them among his friends, but he did not apprehend that any bad consequence would ensue, as the sale would only be made to Members, and by parties acquainted with the Members. He had also proposed, that each Member should sign his name on the cover. That regulation had been omitted by some accidental error.

said, the regulation as to the endorsement of the name appeared to him most important, as now there seemed to be no restriction in the use of the covers, but that of posting them at the House. He feared, that if they were not confined to the personal use of Members, forgery of the stamps might become common.

wished to know what was to prevent any printer in London from striking off the covers by thousands, and sending them down to the House to be posted? Even the name on the back might be forged. Would the Chancellor of the Exchequer have any objection to a return of the amount of postage received during the first eighteen days of January, 1839-1840, as also during the first eighteen days of the fourpenny postage?

was most anxious to meet the wishes of hon. Gentlemen in supplying information on this subject. He had directed returns to be made out with this view, and when these were laid on the Table, Members would see whether further information was necessary. With regard to the issue of stamped covers to the Members, he thought there was little fear of any usurpation of the privileges of Parliament in that respect. The covers would be issued by one party, who would have directions to deliver them only to parties known to him; and there was the further check, that if any covers were improperly printed, the issue being only from one place, and the number of covers issued being likewise known, any letters improperly sent in would be very soon detected. If hon. Members would be good enough to endorse the covers, he believed, that would be the best protection they could have.

advised the right hon. Gentleman, as he did not know what advantage might be taken of the arrangement, to issue a Treasury memorandum for the use of Members, explaining the conditions under which the privilege was to be exercised. As to there being only one place of issue, there was but one for issuing Bank of England notes. There was no law to prevent a bookseller from printing the covers, and selling them at 20 for 1s.; so that unless it were distinctly understood, that only Members should use the covers, improper practices would be introduced.

considered, that there would be a sufficient check upon fraud in having but one place of issue and one of reception.

had intended, as soon as the House was up, to purchase 240. Now suppose twenty Members were to do the same, in order to have a stock on hand, there would be a large quantity out, and before the Members could use them all, there might be a forgery to the extent of 2,000 covers or more.

suggested, that the Speaker should request each Member to write his name on the corner.

said, it would perhaps be better that he should give directions to the librarian to sell the covers to none but Members, and receive none but such as had the Member's name in the corner.

doubted whether that would be sufficient to prevent endless frauds, for another person's name might correspond with a Member's.

Subject dropped, and House adjourned.