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The questions before the Conference under this heading fell into three main divisions : (1) Shipping Communications, (2) Air Communications, and (3) Cables and Wireless. As regards Shipping Communications the Conference decided at an early stage of their proceedings that the most convenient procedure would be to invite Sir Halford Mackinder, the Chairman of the Imperial Shipping Committee, to make a statement which would cover the various matters arising out of the Reports of that Committee, as well as any other questions of importance connected with shipping. Similarly, it was decided to invite the Secretary of State for Air to make a statement to the Conference on Air Communications, and to invite the Postmaster-General to address the Conference on the subject of Post Office Communications (mail services, cables and wireless).
(1.) SHIPPING COMMUNICATIONS. As regards Shipping Communications, the Conference had before them the various Reports of the Imperial Shipping Committee, viz., the Interim and Final Reports on the Deferred Rebate System (Cmd. 1486 of 1921, and Cmd. 1802 of 1923); the Report on Rates of Freight in the New Zealand Trade (Cmd. 1564 of 1921); the Report on the Limitation of Shipowners' Liability by Clauses in Bills of Lading and on certain other matters relating to Bills of Lading (Cmd. 1205 of 1921); the Report on the Functions and Constitution of a Permanent Imperial Body on Shipping Questions (Cmd. 1483 of 1921); the Report on the work of the Imperial Shipping Committee, 1920–1922 (Cmd. 1872 of 1923); the Report on the Economic Size and Speed of Vessels trading between the United Kingdom and Australia (Cmd. 1917, 1923); and also the Report on Methods of Assessment of Shipping to Income Tax within the Empire (Cmd. 1979, 1923), which became available during the Sessions of the Conference. They also had before them a memorandum by the General Post Office on Inter-Imperial Mail Services, Paper I.E.C. (23)--9, printed on page 333.
The proceedings were opened at the Ninth Meeting of the Conference on the 16th October, 1923, when the following references were made to the question of Mail Services :
Sir Laming Worthington-Evans : Mr. Chairman, I do not know how much you want me to say on this occasion, but I propose, if the Conference desires it, to give a brief résumé of the position of the mail services, the telegraphic services, and wireless. It is, of course, impossible for me to go over the whole field in detail, but I suppose all the Dominion Governments are pressed, just as we are at home, from many quarters to provide quicker and more frequent services to the oversea parts of the Empire without much regard to the cost which would be entailed by doing so.
Mail Service Facilities dependent on Cargo and Passenger Traffic.
It may be useful, therefore, to emphasise, at the outset, the elementary and obvious fact that ultimately the frequency and, to some extent, the speed of the mail services must depend upon the cargo and passenger traffic upon each route. The payments under a mail contract can, at most, represent a very small proportion of the cost of running a service, and it is therefore impossible, within reasonable limits of expense, to provide services in excess of what the passenger and cargo traffic demand. The development of improvement of the mail services, therefore, proceeds pari passu with the improvements in the commercial services, which increased commercial intercourse between the different parts of the Empire brings in its train, and it has been the policy of successive British Governments, for very many years, to confine the mail subsidies to the payments for services rendered, by which I mean, not only the actual conveyance of the mails, but the acceptance by the shipping companies of a definite standard of regularity and speed on the route to which the contract relates.
Recent Improvements effected in Mail Services.
In our view, the justification for a contract lies in the fact that without it the sailings on a particular Imperial route would be irregular and slow. On certain routes, served by several different lines, we find that the best service is obtained not by a contract with a particular company, but by utilising the ships on each and every line as may prove most convenient. For example, the West Indies, which before the war were served by contract ships giving as a rule a fortnightly despatch of mails, are now served by four or five different lines, giving a despatch to most of the islands at least once a week and, in some cases, oftener. As regards the main services which are still performed under contract, either with the Home Government or with one of the Dominion Governments, considerable improvement has been effected in the last two years. We have now on some of the important routes regained the pre-war standard. For example, the South African mail carried by the Union Castle Company under contract with the Union Government is now, as it was before the war, a weekly service, occupying seventeen days in transit. To Canada, the fastest service is performed by the Atlantic lines viâ New York, and it is also practically as good as pre-war, except that in the winter months some of the largest and fastest ships of the Cunard and White Star Line are laid up and slower boats have to be substituted. The Indian mail is a weekly service, as it was before the war, but the transit time is twenty-four hours longer. The Australian service is not so satisfactory. Before the war a weekly service was provided by the P. & 0. Company in contract with the British Government, and by the Orient Line in contract with the Commonwealth Government, in alternate weeks. These companies are now only able to provide a fortnightly service between them, but by using the ships of the Commonwealth Line it is usually possible to secure a despatch of mails three weeks in each month. Both the P. & 0. and the Orient
Companies have just arranged for an acceleration of their services, which will shorten the voyage to Australia by two days and practically restore the pre-war time of transit.
Reasons against reverting to embarkation of Indian and Australian
Mails at Italian Port. I have been recently urged from several quarters, not least by the Italian Government, that mails for India and Australia should be embarked at an Italian port, either Brindisi or Taranto, as they were before the war, and it is represented that a considerable acceleration could thereby be secured. I have examined this possibility very carefully, but I have come to the conclusion that the advantage, if any-and it is very doubtful if there would be any acceleration at all-would certainly not be sufficient to compensate for the very heavy additional cost. It is true that the transit time of the Indian mail is now about twenty-four hours longer than it was before the war when the mail was embarked at Brindisi. Of this twenty-four hours not more than half can be attributed to the shortening of the sea passage by carrying the mails through Italy. The remaining twelve hours were due to the small boats which carried the mail from Brindisi to Port Said (where it was transferred to the P. & 0. mailship) being considerably faster than the mailships themselves. These shuttleboats have now been sold out of the service and the cost of replacing them and restoring the Brindisi-Port Said service would be extremely heavy and would ultimately entail an addition to the P. & 0. contract payments. Apart from this it is very questionable whether the Italian Railways could maintain the pre-war timing. The cost of the overland transit through Italy would be between £60,000 and £70,000 per annum. The rather problematical saving of about twelve 'hours would land the mail at Bombay in the evening or at night and would have little or no effect in accelerating its delivery. I am satisfied therefore that the extra cost which, as I have said, both for the land transit and the additional sea service, would be extremely heavy, would not be warranted.
Prospect of more Frequent Service to Australia.
With regard to the restoration of the full weekly service to Australia, the P. &0. have built, or are building, four new ships, and when these are completed there would be some prospect of a more frequent service. But there remains the question whether the passenger and cargo traffic would be sufficient to repay more frequent sailings, and this is an aspect of the question which would require some consideration when the time arrives.
Imperial Penny Post must be preceded by Internal Penny Post.
The question of the Imperial penny post naturally, as far as we are concerned, depends upon our being able to get an internal penny post. An internal penny post will cost us approximately £5,000,000 a year; and until we can get a penny post in this country it is
obvious that we cannot have an Imperial penny post. The actual Imperial part of it is roughly half a million; that is to say, if we once got an internal penny post, to make it apply to the Empire would mean an extra half million, but that is relatively small. I have not any doubt that if once we got an internal penny post we would stretch it and make it an Imperial penny post. I know New Zealand is very proud of itself; it has already got it.
Mr. Massey: It has very good reason, when I hear what you have got to say about Britain.
The Chairman: I think it is useful to have that undertaking from the Postmaster-General, that when we get an internal one it will be an Imperial one.
Sir Laming Worthington-Evans : I think that can be done.
The Chairman : For the purpose of this afternoon, we confine ourselves to the subjects raised by the Postmaster-General, and do not, I take it, digress into the wider shipping questions which will come up to-morrow.
Mail Services between Canada and Europe now on pre-war basis.
Mr. Graham : The question raised by the Postmaster-General as to the mail service throughout the Empire is, of course, very interesting. Heretofore, Canada has given a subsidy to certain lines to carry our mails. Now we are willing to pay for the carrying of mails, and we do, to any ship that takes them, so that the mails do not have to wait for a boat of any particular line. As the Postmaster-General says in his statement, as to the rapidity of the mails between Canada and Great Britain, that is in pretty good condition, and I do not think we can very well improve on it at the present time. I think we can practically say that the mail carrying between Canada and Europe is on a pre-war basis.
Canadian Post Office Department an expensive one.
In Canada, of course, our mail service has got to be quite expensive, and the fact that we have undertaken rural mail delivery in a country of wide expanse and sparse population—it is not extended, of course, to all parts of the Dominion-lays a heavy burden on the exchequer of the Post Office Department. But it gives us great satisfaction. The life of the rural citizen who is far removed in some cases from the centres, is brought into daily, or almost daily, touch with the centres, and he is able to take his daily paper, which he could not do before.
Then we have a parcel post, which is another great expenditure, from the fact that the transportation of our mails costs so much more money now on account of the bulky nature of the parcels carried by parcel post. So that, on the whole this is a fairly expensive department.
There is another call on the Post Office department in Canada, owing to recent legislation, which will reduce, not the income of the Government, but the income of the Post Office department. We have, since the beginning of the war, and later, established certain stamp taxes. Up to the recent session, postal stamps were allowed to be used on receipts or cheques or notes. The Minister of Inland Revenue took the view that the Revenue Department should have credit from the receipts for the purchase of the stamps, and Parliament passed an Act requiring all those using cheques, notes, receipts, &c., to use other stamps; so that the postal department will only have receipts from its own absolute postal revenue as from the 1st October, 1923.
Canadian Postal Rates to Great Britain.
The question has been raised with us by our own people, not by any person in Great Britain, that our postal rates discriminate against correspondence with Great Britain; not that our rates are higher than those of Great Britain, but that our rates are higher to Great Britain than to some other countries. Our rate is 3 cents to the United States, for we are compelled to charge as low a rate as we can, for the simple reason that for the last half-century there has been a Convention between the United States and Canada on postal rates. Our rate is 3 cents to them and theirs is 2 cents to us. We · charge more to Great Britain, i.e., 4 cents, for we follow the rate charged in Great Britain.
Question of Reduction of Rates.
As to the fixing of rates, of course, Canada is an adherent of the Berne Convention and has been for very many years. That Convention discusses postal rates, and meets again, I think, in Sweden next year, and it is possible by that time that the Dominion of Canada, and Great Britain as well, may be in a position to consider a reduction of rates; but I think it would be well for that to be left for discussion at that Conference, where all the nations of the world are represented, because postage is a matter between nations in which you cannot very well give a preference. You make a general consideration and survey of the whole situation. I just wished to say that it is not intended to make a discrimination.
Importance of Cheap Rates.
Now as to the question of the reduction in rates. As I said before, our rate is 3 cents-practically the same as the British internal, I mean. If postal rates on ordinary correspondence could be reduced I think it would be one of the greatest incentives to better acquaintance between the different parts of the Empire that could be imagined. Years ago, in pre-war times, we reduced the rate from 3 cents to 2 cents. The result of that was an increase in revenue. But it is not a fair basis to make that bald statement without explanation. Before that time the Canadian people had used postcards to a great extent which only cost 1 cent, but when the rate was reduced to 2 cents the postal card correspondence