§ Mr. Hume
rose to move for a copy of any contract or agreement entered into by the Board of Admiralty, or any other department of her Majesty's Government, respecting the conveyance of the mails to the West Indies and America, stating, whether the same has been agreed to by private contract or public tender; and stating, also, the terms or offers made by merchants of Bristol, or other parties, for the said contract.
§ Mr. C. Wood
said, the only reason why he should object to the motion was, that it would be impossible for him to comply with it. He was ready, however, to make an explanation; and as that would probably answer the purpose of the hon. Gentleman, he would do so at once. The first contract in point of time was the one for the conveyance of mails to Halifax. The Government certainly had called for a public tender for the performance of that service. The lowest tender for the performance of that service once a month (and that was a very unsatisfactory tender with regard to the mode of carrying it out) was 45,000l, a-year, but the Government had entered into an engagement with an individual for the performance of the service once a fortnight at 50,000l.: so that, at an increase of 5,000l., they would get twice the service done, including a communication with the St. Lawrence, and a conveyance from Halifax to Boston. In consequence of some further engagement, an additional expense was rendered necessary by the employment of another vessel. They had contracted for the conveyance of mails to Halifax once a fortnight; for the conveyance of mails from New Brunswick to Quebec once a fortnight as long as the river was open; and the conveyance of mails from Halifax to both, for the sum of 6,000l. a-year; so that, at an increase of 15,000l., they had more than twice the service done for which the lowest tender was put in in this country, which was 45,000l. With regard to the conveyance of mails to the West Indies, no contract had been entered into. It was done by private tender. His conviction was, that neither in North America nor the West Indies would it be worth while for any one to undertake the service who had not, from their interest in the colonies, a much further interest in the performance 474 of the service than the mere sum paid by the Government. A number of gentlemen deeply interested in the welfare of the West India colonies had come forward, and offered to perform certain services for 240,000l., and this had been agreed to. He would now detail the services performed. At present there was a communication by sailing-vessels twice a month to the West Indies, and once a month to Mexico. The communication with the West Indies was, therefore, imperfect, and the intercolonial communication was exceedingly bad. With all the foreign islands there was no communication at all. There was no communication between Havannah and the English islands, and the consequence was, that if the Governor of Honduras wished to write to the Governor of Jamaica, the letter must come round by England. If specie was wanted to be sent from Mexico to the West Indies, there was no mode of doing it, except by sending a ship of war for the purpose, nor was there any communication to be depended upon between the West Indies and the United States of America. These deficiencies would now be supplied in the following manner:—Two steamers of 400-horse power each would cross the Atlantic every fortnight to the West Indies; from these, branch steamers of a similar power would go to the different islands; steamers would likewise proceed to the different colonies of Guiana, Demerara, and Berbice, to the Caraccas, to "Panama, to Honduras, to the Havannah, to Vera Cruz, and the south-western parts of the United States. In addition to this, steamers would proceed from the Havannah to New York and Halifax. The number of steamers to be employed would amount to fourteen, and by this means a fortnightly communication would be opened between this country and the whole of the West Indies, the northern part of South America, the southern parts of the United States, Mexico, and the western coast of the South American Continent. This would be carried into effect early in the summer of 1841, which was as soon as the necessary arrangements could be effected. With respect to the terms, the more he looked at them the more he wag satisfied with the arrangements that had been entered into, more particularly when he considered the enormous expense of providing these boats, and of sending out coals from this country. He could assure the House, that no other propositions had been made to the Government by any party. It 475 was true, the terms of this arrangement had been made for ten years, as persons expending such a capital could not enter into any contract for a less term; but it had been an article in the contract, that, if during the ten years any great improvements should be made in steam navigation, the Government should have the benefit of them.
§ Mr. Hume
wished to ask, if any prospectuses had been issued, setting forth the duties to be performed, and calling for tenders; and also whether the hon. Gentleman was able to state if the parties were now in a condition to carry their agreement into effect, or if it would be necessary even now to form a company for that purpose?
§ Mr. C. Wood
was understood to say that no prospectuses had been issued. He had no hope of a better tender. Considering, too, that the parties would have to build at least fourteen steam-vessels of four hundred horse-power, it could not be expected that they would be able to commence for some months.
said, the subject was of the deepest interest to his constituents; and there were one or two points to which he wished to call the attention of his hon. Friend. He could not claim on behalf of those whom he had the honour to represent, that the consideration of their interests should weigh with the Government or with the House, to induce them to forego the advantages of steam, if steam were (as he believed it was) more expeditious for the transmission of correspondence than sailing vessels. But even on this point he begged it to be recollected, that the packet service, being a branch of our naval establishment, presented a laudable object of ambition to those desirous of entering the navy, and who might otherwise be unemployed; thus was it a nursery for British seamen, and answered ends which would not be effected by a contract system. Supposing, however, that the Government had taken an unalterable resolve, he yet would especially entreat them—they might believe it was with no ill-will he did so—to make the change with the least possible injury to a port which had been for a hundred and fifty years the port of communication across the Atlantic;—with the least possible injury to the—he would not say vested rights—but the valuable interests of those who had laid out large capital in extensive establishments at Falmouth. And what he suggested was, that it should be wade a part of the contract—as to a certain 476 extent he trusted he might say it had been —that the establishment must to some degree be fixed at Falmouth. He said this, because he believed it was admitted, that there was no port in the United Kingdom from which vessels could start so advantageously for the stations across the Atlantic as Falmouth, there being no wind with which vessels could not sail thence. Another consideration, in which the public were interested, was this:—The letters that went from Falmouth came partly from London; but that was not the greatest proportion— the greatest proportion came from the north, from Glasgow and Ireland; and unless the letters were taken in at some of the western ports they would be delayed. Unless, therefore, these packets were bound by their contract to take in letters at the extreme ports there would be great delay. What he was now stating was not chimerical, for during the last three or four weeks no less than three packets had been delayed sixty-seven hours, in consequence of not being stationed at Falmouth. He trusted, in conclusion, that the sense of the House would be manifested in favour of his view of the case, in order that his hon. Friend might see the propriety of adopting it, which, it was his belief, would be agreeable to his hon. Friend.
Mr. F. Baring
hoped the House would express no opinion with respect to the propriety of placing the packet station at Falmouth, or elsewhere. If he was in the situation of his hon. Friend, standing up in that House as the advocate of his constituents, he should advocate the station being at Portsmouth. The Treasury were determined to fix upon the place for a packet station which was most beneficial to the public service, and not to consider the interests of any parties in particular. He had great gratification in reflecting that, while his noble Friend was at the head of the Treasury, the Government, in conjunction with the Admiralty, had been able to confer the greatest advantages upon the commerce of the country with the world, by the increased facilities it had afforded to trade. During the last few years a weekly communication by steam had been established with Gibraltar—a fortnightly communication with the Baltic—a fortnightly communication with Corfu and the Grecian Islands—a steam communication between England and India—a fortnightly communication between England and North America; and now they had secured, by the last arrangement, a fortnightly steam 477 communication between the West Indies, Mexico, and this country, which was of the greatest importance in the present state of their colonial possessions. He could not but believe that these arrangements would be productive of great ultimate benefit to the commerce of the country, and that, whatever expense might be incurred in obtaining them, the benefit would far surpass that expense.
§ Mr. Freshfield
was glad the hon. Member for Kilkenny had brought the subject before the House, and he was most anxious to see the contract or quasi contract laid before Parliament. He doubted much whether the strong feeling that was stated to exist on the subject of increased facilities to communication by steam, had ever found its way to a Government office, except through the medium of some great names appearing in a prospectus, and suggesting the wide field of enterprise, and enormous advantages that would accrue to the public from the adoption of their plans. Was it part of the contract that the company was to have a charter—were they to have that which was generally thought in old times to be a clog upon trade? Did that form part of the contract? It must; for the contract could not be carried into effect without it. He was most anxious to see the quasi contract, in order to know whether proper arrangements had been made with respect to the ports of departure. It was not a question of Falmouth, except so far as the interests of that port were connected with the interests of the public: but every presumption was in favour of Falmouth. It was in possession of the trade, and had been for a century; and he challenged a public inquiry into the capabilities of Falmouth as compared with any other port. If there was to be an alteration in the point of departure, it ought to be after a full investigation of the subject, and hearing evidence pro and con. Every information ought to be given on the subject, and it ought not to be made to depend on the activity of any hon. Member in getting official information. He did not know what information the hon. Member for Kilkenny might have on the subject; but in the Falmouth Packet there was a report of a meeting of merchants at Bristol, at which it was resolved that an offer should be made to the Government to convey the mails to and from the West Indies for 100,000l. less than had been offered by the London company, which was understood to be 240,000l. It appeared to have created 478 great astonishment that so precipitate a step should have been taken by the Government, and the country at large should not have been informed of their intention. He was surprised that a contract should have taken place without the public being placed in a situation to bid against each other. Formerly, the packet service was in private hands, and the Government transferred it to the Admiralty, and he saw no reason why it should not be retained by the Government, who ought certainly to be able to perform the duties as cheaply as any company. If any alteration was to be made in the ports of departure, an opportunity ought to be given for examining into the reason for such changes.
§ Lord Eliot
was ready to concede, that the public interests ought to be the object which the Government should have in view, but the value of Falmouth had been underrated, and if the establishment there should be destroyed, we might, in the event of war, find ourselves in a situation of great difficulty. He thought the substitution of steam for sailing vessels was a great advantage, and the question was, whether the Government had secured this in the most efficient and economical manner? It appeared that a company of merchants at Bristol were ready to undertake the arrangement on more economical terms; and he also understood that a sum had been offered for the bargain which had been struck with the Government. It was proposed that the packets should take their departure twice a month. That was at the same period as the sailing-packets, and therefore the transmission of letters would not be oftener than at present. But this company was to have a monopoly for ten years at 240,000l. a-year; so that, whatever improvement might be made, the expense to the country would be exactly the same. There was, also, another consideration. Great inconvenience would accrue to merchants desirous of shipping specie, because it was well known that merchants preferred shipping specie on board a man -of- war, to entrusting to private individuals; therefore the merchants would be entirely in the hands of this company, or would be obliged to wait for the accidental arrival of a man-of-war. The services of a very great number of officers and seamen would be dispensed with, and that was a matter worthy of serious consideration, more especially as to the expense, because all these officers would have to be placed upon half-pay, or be provided for by 479 some other method. It was also a matter of the utmost consequence that they should consider whether they would not by this plan be destroying the nursery for the navy. He agreed with the hon. Member for Falmouth in opinion that the Government had by no means established a case.
was anxious to know, whether the Secretary to the Admiralty intended to grant this return or not?
understood as much, and therefore the groundwork of the argumeut of the hon. Member for Kilkenny was cut away. It was said to be impossible to grant these returns. He should like to know in what the impossibility consisted. If any contract was in existence it could be produced, and if no such contract existed, it was easy to state so. If no offers had been made, where was the difficulty of stating so? It had been stated by the hon. Member for Penryn, that an offer had been made to carry the mails for 100,000l. a-year less than the sum agreed to be given by the Government. Now, this would be a saving of 1,000,000l. in the ten years, which was worthy of consideration. There had been no public notification either by advertisement or otherwise to the mercantile interest, until the matter accidentally transpired. It did not appear, then, that there had been any efficient public notice, which there ought to have been before the country was committed to a ten years bargain, and to a sum of money much less than which, he believed, even for a shorter period, would have been sufficient.
§ Lord Eliot
said, the Falmouth deputation who had waited on the Treasury, not only were previously ignorant of any such contract being in contemplation, but they also left the Treasury equally in the dark.
§ Mr. C. Wood
thought his hon. Friend the Member for Cockermouth could not have listened to what he had stated, which was distinctly, first, that the contract was just as he had represented it to the House, next, that it was not a private, but a public tender, and thirdly, that no other offer had been made. With respect to the question of the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Freshfield), all he had to say was, that the Government had reserved to themselves the right of naming the port from which the vessels were to start. With respect to the complaint, that the arrangement had been effected by private contract, he would observe, that in every instance where public tenders had been invited by the Govern- 480 ment, they had generally failed, and Government had always succeeded in making much better terms by private contract. As an instance of that, when it was proposed to carry the mail to Rotterdam, public tenders were asked for, and only one was received, and that of such a character that the Government felt bound to decline it. So with respect to Cadiz, Liverpool, Dublin, and Halifax, in all of which cases the Government had made much better terms by private contract. He believed, that the present bargain was an extremely good one for the Government and the public. It remained for the House to say whether, under all the circumstances, the bargain was a fair one or not.
§ Captain Pechell
, said the hon. Gentleman had objected to giving a copy of the contract for the conveyance of the West India mails, on the ground of its being incomplete; but no such objection could apply to the contract with Halifax, because in a Nova Scotia paper he had seen a vole of thanks to the agent, Mr. Cuqard, on the ground of his having made so good a bargain with the English Government. He thought, that great caution should be used with respect to the doing away with the establishment at Falmouth, as it had always been a most excellent nursery for our seamen. He begged to ask, too, how the mail was to be carried from Halifax to Boston. [Mr. C. Wood—By steam.] That was so far satisfactory; but it was very important to know what the means of communication were to be between England and our frontier colony of Bermuda. He trusted these questions would be answered to the satisfaction of the House and the country.
§ Mr. G. Palmer
thought, the Government could not be too open in their dealings with respect to all matters of contract, and deprecated the encouragement of steam-vessels, which he considered destroyed nurseries for seamen.
§ Admiral Adam
said, that the steamers would carry almost as many seamen as the packets used to do. But he would ask was it nothing for this country to have an immense force of large steam-vessels, so that, if a war were to break out tomorrow, we could at once arm and man them for the purpose of protecting our commerce, not only in the channel but all over the world? He knew there were at present a great many objections to steam-vessels, but time and experience would overcome them.
§ Mr. Hume
wished, before the question was disposed of, to make one or two observations. He admitted, that he had been ignorant of the facts stated by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Wood), but he did not think the Admiralty or the Government had the power of binding this country to contracts for ten years. Hitherto there had always been an annual vote for the expenses of the packets. He would venture to say, that never had there been 2,400,000l. disposed of by one branch of the Government without the knowledge of Parliament. The contract appeared to him to be a most monstrous proposition. He trusted the Government would pause before they placed themselves in a situation from which they could not retire, for he was quite sure Parliament would not sanction a thing of this sort being done privately. If they had power to dispose of this sum, why should they not have the power to dispose of 20,000,000l.? If they were able to make a contract of this nature for ten years, why not for fifty? In fact, they might bind down the whole expenditure of the country. If there was any objection to the form of the motion, he would alter it in any way which might be pointed out.
Mr. F. Baring
said, the returns would not answer the purpose of the hon. Member; he had better move for the whole of the correspondence. The Government had been repeatedly urged by parties in that House to perform this service by contract, and the moment they did so their powers were doubted. This struck him as most extraordinary; it was of great importance that this question should be settled, both out of fairness to the Government and to the parties interested. The hon. Gentleman had better give notice of a motion for suspending the contracts at once.
§ Mr. Hume
said, that would be hardly fair towards him. He had always been friendly to a plan for executing these duties by contract, and as to the question of power, the Attorney-general was the proper person to apply to. He had no wish to move for the correspondence, but he would advise the Government to pause.
§ Mr. C. Wood
said, it would be impossible to give the hon. Gentleman more information on the subject than he had already given him. If next Session he chose to move for every scrap of paper connected with the subject, he should have no objection to furnish him with them.
§ Motion agreed to.