§ VISCOUNT JOCELYN
begged to move for a Select Committee, to inquire into the question of the existing steam communications between England and India. He believed that he had no reason to expect opposition to his Motion from the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Ex- 637 chequer. However, from information which he had received, he was given to understand that the proposed Committee would he objectionable to some, on the ground that they did not think the present was the moment for inquiry; whilst others doubted whether a Parliamentary Committee was the proper tribunal to consider the question; and others thought the consequence of such a Committee would be to postpone the communication which it was desired to establish between Australia and this country to an indefinite period. There was one objection which might have been raised, and which, if it had, would have prevented him from pressing the House to grant a Committee. If he had been informed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (the Chancellor of the Exchequer that it was the intention of Government to enter into an inquiry upon this question, he should have been content to leave it in his hands; for he felt that there was nothing more objectionable than for Parliament to interfere with these questions, which more properly belonged to the Executive Government; and he should be the last to desire to take the responsibility from the department to which it properly belonged. But he trusted he should be able to show that there were peculiar grounds why this Committee should be granted, and that some public advantage might be gained by agreeing to his proposition. He felt sure any Gentleman whose attention had been turned to the evidence given before the Contract Packet Service Committee, would have arrived at the same conclusion to which he had come, namely, that nothing was more unsatisfactory than the mode in which these arrangements were carried out. Here was a service where the expenditure of upwards of a million of money was involved, and the responsibility could not be placed upon any single party. In any questions where the colonial interest was affected, there were no less than four departments by which inquiry could be instituted. First, there was the Colonial Department, then there was the Treasury, then the Post Office, and lastly, the Admiralty. In any question where the India interests were affected, there were two other departments in lieu of the Colonial Office. Some reform ought to take place in that respect. There was another reason why he should move for this Committee, namely, that on the first of January, 1853, the contract now existing between the Peninsular and 638 Oriental Company would expire, and the arrangement by which the second route of communication was carried on between the Indian and British Government would cease in the following year. Before any alteration in those arrangements could be made, it was important that sufficient time should be given for those parties who might be disposed to come forward with tenders. Another reason for asking for a Committee was, that, seeing the long period during which the subject of steam communication with Australia had been discussed, he saw little hope of any definite arrangement being come to. But the main ground upon which he asked for the Committee was a discussion which had taken place at the close of the last Session between his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the hon. Member for Honiton, relative to a tender which had been forwarded by the Peninsular and Oriental Company, proposing to undertake the communication between Sydney and Singapore. That contract was supported on the ground of the commercial advantages which were expected to be derived from it; but owing to difficulties which had been thrown in its way by the Indian Government, it had not been found practicable to carry it into effect. There was an impression upon the public mind, that in consequence of the objections which were made by the Government of India, the public were deprived of the advantages which were likely to arise from that contract. His hon. Friend the Member for Honiton repudiated that charge, and in doing so moved for certain documents which had been laid upon the table of the House. A Report had also been laid before the House on the proceedings of the Select Committee on the Contract Packet Service, over which the hon. Member for Oxfordshire presided. In that Report there was this passage:—Your Committee recommend great caution either in renewing the existing, or in forming new I arrangements. They suggest that if it be decided to renew the existing contracts, the most strict and searching inquiry should be instituted, by some responsible department of the Government, into the cost of the execution, into the manner in which the service has been performed, and into the profits resulting from the several transactions to the companies by which they have been respectively carried on; and if it should be decided to put up the several contracts to public tender, the most ample notice, and most full particulars, of the terms and conditions of the service required should be given to the public, as being the means most likely to secure a real and true competition by responsible parties.639 That, Committee, it was true, pointed to some responsible department of the Government; but he had yet to learn that it was the intention of the Government to carry out that suggestion of the Committee. He thought it was the duty of the House to see that the inquiry proposed by the Committee should take place. If they allowed the present state of things to go on much longer, it might be found more difficult to effect those arrangements which should be thought desirable, and might perpetuate a monopoly of the Indian steam communication. In bringing that question before the House, he was acting on public grounds; he had no acquaintance with any of those companies which were interested in it, and he had no hostility whatever to that great company by which the line was at present carried on, namely, the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Packet Company. On the contrary, he thought the public were deeply indebted to that company for the energy and ability it had displayed in carrying on the communication at a time when the profits were smaller than at present, and he rejoiced that the undertaking now yielded a large remuneration. He would state to the House those arrangements which were now in operation, some of the difficulties which had arisen at various times, some of the complaints that had been made against the mode in which the service was at present conducted, and the points into which he thought it would be the duty of the proposed Committee to inquire. The notice which he had placed on the table had two distinct objects: the first was to inquire into the question of the existing steam communications between England and India, and to report whether any improvements might be made in the conduct of those communications previous to the grant of a further contract to any company proposing to carry on that line. The second object was to consider the subject of steam communication, having for its object a line or lines connecting England, India, and Australia, and to report to the House the most fitting mode in which such communication may be effected, with due care to economy, and with advantage to the public interests. The importance of the first point to which he alluded, it was not necessary to dilate upon. The fact of a more rapid communication having been established between England and India was one of both commercial and political importance, and had added materially to the comfort and convenience of those who 640 in the pursuit of their respective employments were obliged to go to India themselves, or who had relatives settled in that country. It was one of the most striking features in that march of knowledge by which the last quarter of a century marked the history of the world. In the year 1835 the necessity as well as the importance of a more rapid communication between England and India was generally admitted by the public. The Indian Government, in communication with Her Majesty's Government at home, undertook to carry on the steam communication between England and India. The better to understand the mode in which this communication was effected, he would bisect the route, taking the Isthmus of Suez as the point of division. In the year 1835 Her Majesty's Government, to conjuuction with the Government of India, opened a line of communication between this country and Bombay. That part of the voyage westward of Alexandria was performed by the vessels appointed by Her Majesty's Government, and the portion that lay between Suez and Bombay was performed by the Indian Navy. The Government of that day, viewing the question as an imperial one, and seeing the large expense that was incurred, agreed to contribute 50,000l. to that undertaking. This arrangement lasted up to the year 1841, when for the first time that great company, known by the name of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Packet Company, appeared to the eastward of the Isthmus; of Suez, and established a line of communication between Calcutta and Suez, with a branch from Alexandria to Southampton for carrying passengers as well as for trade. The Indian Government felt how important this new line was to the commerce of India, and they contributed 20,000l. per annum to the undertaking—the postal communication still remaining in the hands of the English Government, and the Indian Government jointly. This arrangement lasted up to the year 1845, when the whole question came under the consideration of Her Majesty's Government. It was in 1845, under the Earl of Ripon, that the whole question was gone into, and was most laboriously discussed. The conclusion arrived at was that a bi-monthly line of communication should be established between England and India, one line being carried on conjointly by Her Majesty's Government and the East India Company, the other to be carried on wholly by the Pen- 641 insular and Oriental Company. The arrangements relative to the first line of communication, namely, the joint one, were as follows, and are those now in force:—The mails leave England on the 7th of each month, and proceed viâ Marseilles to Alexandria; they reach Suez on the 20th of the same month; they are then forwarded to Bombay, and from Bombay to their different destinations. The second line of communication was that which was carried on by the Peninsular and Oriental Company. The arrangements with them were as follows:—They agreed to open a monthly line of communication between England, India, and China, their vessels to sail from Southampton on the 20th of each month, touching at Gibraltar and Malta. The mails arrive at Suez oil the 7th of the following month, and from thence the vessels of the company are despatched to Ceylon, Madras, and Calcutta, and thence to Singapore and China. The contract for opening this line of communication was a sum of 160,000l. per annum, and the Government taking the same view of the subject as the former Government, agreed to contribute as its share towards the undertaking, the sum of 90,000l. per annum,; requiring the Indian Government to contribute the other portion, namely, 70,000l. These arrangements were to last for seven years, and they will expire on the 1st of January, 1853. The whole cost to the public of these lines of communication amounted to a sum of 265,000l., of which 125,000l. was paid by the Indian revenue, and 140,000l. by the Treasury at home. He should add, that when these arrangements were made, Her Majesty's Government agreed to retain the postage in their own hands. The contract with the Peninsular and Oriental Company would shortly cease; and the question which now arose was, what course ought to be pursued in reference to future communication, He thought it most important to view this question as a whole question, and as one that affected in an equal degree the interests of India and Australia, as well as of England. In 1849 tenders were called for by the Admiralty with the view of opening a line of communication between this country and Australia. The Peninsular and Oriental Company sent in their tender agreeing to open a communication between Sydney and Singapore for 105,000l., on the condition that the line between Bombay and Suez, now worked by the Indian navy, should be abandoned 642 to them. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer approved of this scheme, and considered that it was an economical arrangement; but the Indian Government opposed it, on the ground that it would create a monopoly of eastern communication in the hands of the Peninsular and Oriental Company; that its adoption would cripple all future arrangements of the communication; that it would be, in point of fact, not an economical but an additional and costly arrangement; and that it would injuriously affect the efficiency of the Indian navy. Now, the House would, he thought, concur with the Indian Government in the opinion that to create any monopoly in our great eastern communication, would be very highly mischievous and inexpedient, and, at all events, if no competition presented itself, which might be impossible in an undertaking of such magnitude, the rules and regulations laid down for the direction and control of the company intrusted with the communication ought to be of the most stringent character. Ever since these arrangements had been before the public, the Peninsular and Oriental Company had always put forward their pretensions to the line between Suez and Bombay being placed in their hands when the subject should come again under consideration; and, at the time the arrangement itself was made, a letter was sent by the secretary of the company to the shareholders, which exhibited the principle upon which the company had acted in forming the arrangement. The letter was in these terms:—In proposing to undertake such an extensive range of mail communication at so diminished a rate of remuneration, the directors desire me to observe that they do not expect that the new service, even with all its advantages of combination for commercial purposes, will be, of itself, adequately remunerative; but they are led to hope that, with the benefits the company's already established lines may receive from it, they may be enabled to derive such a profit on the whole of the company's operations as may yield a moderate dividend to the proprietors of the company's capital.He did not at all wonder that the Indian Government should manifest a jealousy of the Peninsular and Oriental Company in this matter. The increased cost anticipated, and the decreased efficiency of the Indian navy, were of course questions of Indian finance and Indian policy; but there could be no question that, as a general fact, the services performed by the Indian navy were very great. The services per- 643 formed by that navy on the coasts of India, Arabia, Persia, and China, were very considerable. With the extensive seaboard of India, along the entire length of which the Governor General had communications to carry on, it was most important that he should have a squadron at his disposal, and that the men who composed it should have confidence in the Government, and should be accustomed to the naval service of India. So long as the custom obtained of giving the Governor General no power or control over Her Majesty's squadron in the Indian seas, so long this navy must be maintained. Whether this particular service might not be performed at least as well in smaller vessels than those now employed, was a question into which he would not then enter. He could not do better, in explanation of the views which had induced the Earl of Ripon to continue the service for the time in the hands of the Indian Government, than quote the words of the Earl of Ripon himself on the occasion:—The objections of the court seem mainly to apply to the proposal for transferring to private contractors the service of the mail in the line between Suez and Bombay. I therefore hasten to state that one portion of the conclusion to which Her Majesty's Government have come is to leave that service at present in the hands of the East India Company. In coming to this determination they have been influenced, not only by a regard to the efficiency of the Indian Navy, but by the consideration that in case of any accidental failure on the part of the Peninsular and Oriental Company, the East India Company's Navy will still be available in the same manner as Her Majesty's ships occasionally employed in Europe, as a contingent remedy for any casualties occurring to the mail contractors.As to the mode in which the communication was now conducted, he had received within the last few days a number of complaints from merchants connected with the Indian trade, representing the inconveniences to which passengers were subjected, the obstacles in the way of regular and speedy transmission, and the want of sufficient means for transport of goods. He would read to the House a letter he had that morning received from the Chamber of Commerce of Bengal, representing the irregularity of the mails—Showing the difference of a fortnight between the date on which the mail arrived, compared with the receipt in another; and it is unnecessary for us to dwell upon the great inconvenience and loss which this uncertainty of the mail's arrival must occasion to those concerned in mercantile operations, for, although the Bombay express does in the majority of cases outrun your steam- 644 ers, the former brings little besides the public news, in addition to one or two private letters to each mercantile firm.It might be urged, no doubt, by his right hon. Friend opposite, that the Government had nothing whatever to do with the commercial wants of India in reference to this question, and that all they had to consider was what would be the most ready mode for the conveyance of Her Majesty's mails. He thought, however, it must be undeniable that the plan which should be found best for the commerce of India should, if possible, be adapted to the one best fitted for postal communication. The next point to which the attention of the Committee should, in his opinion, be directed, was the subject of steam communication, having for its object a line or lines connecting England, India, and Australia; and to report to the House the most fitting mode in which such communication might be effected, with due care to economy, and with advantage to the public interests. Now, he regretted to find that he differed from some hon. Gentlemen as to the best mode of obtaining the object which they all had in view. Looking at the delay, however, that had already taken place, and the many difficulties in the way, he could not but think that the Report of a Committee of the nature he proposed would point out the most ready means, and would, in fact, be the best method of effecting the object he had in view. He would not yield to any hon. Gentleman in his regard for the interests of the Australian colonies. When it was considered that there were in that country nearly half a million of British subjects, that they were purchasers to a large extent of our manufactured goods, and that many of them were bound to us by ties of kindred and blood, their importance could not for a moment be denied. But there was one great want which Australia, in common with all other colonies, experienced, and that was the want of capital. The capitalist would not invest his money, however advantageous might be the prospect, if for four months he was to be kept in total ignorance of what had become of it; and the only way in which advantage was to be gained by the colony would be by the establishment of steam communication. During the last eight years the question of steam communication with Australia had been at various times before the public, and various routes had been proposed. The first was one opening up a line of commu- 645 nication between the western coast of the Isthmus of Panama and Australia by way of the Galapagos, Tahiti, and New Zealand, by which the journey would be performed in about sixty-four days. Many advantages had been alleged in favour of that route; but there were at the same time many disadvantages. One of the greatest, which he thought almost insurmountable, was, that no arrangement had been made as to the mode in which the Isthmus of Panama was to be crossed. A second route was viâ Singapore to Sydney. The importance of this route could not be overrated, because it gave a direct communication between the Australian colonies and India and China. With reference to this route, in connexion with the question of capital, perhaps the House was not aware that there went annually from India a body of men anxious to seek a more genial clime, men who had laid by a certain fortune obtained in the military and civil service of their country; and many of whom, he believed, if there were a greater communication between India and Australia, would be found ready to embark and become settlers in that country. This view was borne out by the following brief extract from a Sydney paper of this year:—Many of our influential settlers are gentlemen who have paid our colony a visit, and, liking the climate and country, have sold out and become permanent residents.He thought that was a consideration which rendered this route deserving of the utmost attention. The third line which had been proposed was that viâ the Cape of Good Hope to Sydney. Many objections had been raised to that route, such as the distance that a steamer would have to traverse without touching land; but he was given to understand that the experiment of the screw steamer Bosphorus had succeeded, and that therefore that objection was removed. These were the three lines of communication before the public, and which he thought worthy of the consideration of the Committee. He regretted that in his views upon this subject he differed from some hon. Gentlemen who were interested in it; and he regretted if, owing to the appointment of the Committee, the Australian colonies should be debarred for even four months longer from enjoying the advantage of steam communication; but he should regret much more if through entering into a hasty and ill-devised contract, injury should be done to the whole of our eastern communications. He could not 646 consent to look at this question as affecting the particular interests of either India, Australia, or England, individually. It must be viewed as a question affecting all three countries together. He felt strongly that there could be nothing more important for our colonial interests than that wise and judicious arrangement should be entered into for rapid and general intercommunication with every part of the empire; and he thought that upon such a subject the appointment of a few practical men empowered to take evidence would afford great information to the public, while the Government would thereby be much aided in the conclusions at which it should arrive. He trusted he had said nothing that showed any disposition to prejudge the matter; and, in conclusion, he would state that his only motive for bringing the question forward was, because he thought that it was one of importance and interest to the public, and that the appointment of a Committee might be productive of useful effects.
Motion made, and Question proposed—
That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the state of the existing steam communications between England and India; and into the practicability of effecting any improvement in them; and also to inquire into the best mode of establishing steam communications between England, India and England, and Australia, as well as the various points upon the several routes between them.
§ LORD NAAS
said, he rose to propose an Amendment, the effect of which would he to oblige the Committee first to take into consideration the Australian part of the question, and afterwards the Indian portion of the subject. His noble Friend had, with his usual ability, made out a most excellent case for the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the first branch of his subject; but he thought that, as far as the Australian branch was concerned, his noble Friend had not been so successful. The questions of steam communication with India and Australia had little to do with each other—one had been for some time established, the other was yet in embryo, and, as he thought, had been most cruelly delayed by the remissness of Her Majesty's Government. His noble Friend should therefore beware, lest, by proposing this Committee, he should be depriving for some further period of time our Australian colonies of the long-desired benefits of steam communication. That 647 question had long attracted the attention of the country and of the Government, and owing to the delay that had taken place, he (Lord Naas) had felt it to be his duty, last year, to move the adoption of an address to Her Majesty on the subject. The House was led to believe, by the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that no time would be lost in perfecting that great scheme; but what, up to this time, had been the result? They were now half through another Session—seven or eight months had elapsed—and the Australian colonies were still as far off the completion of the undertaking as they were when they first took up the matter in 1844. He would shortly state to the House the steps that bad been taken on the subject. In the year 1844, shortly after representative institutions had been given to New South Wales, the Legislative Council of Sydney passed strong resolutions on the subject of steam communication. In 1846 they appointed a Committee of the Council to consider it, and the Committee drew up a report recommending that 6,000l. should be voted by the Legislative Council for a communication between Sydney and Singapore, and also proposed the adoption of memorials to Her Majesty, praying for the establishment of that line. In 1847 the question was much agitated in this country; public meetings were held, and deputations waited upon different officers of the Government respecting it. In 1848 the contract entered into for three years with the owners of the sailing packets which had been employed in carrying the mails to Australia, expired. Up to that time there had been a tolerably regular monthly mode of communication between this country and the Australian colonies; and even that system was esteemed a great advantage by the colonies. But on the 4th of February in that year that contract expired; and the Government declined to renew it, being in hopes that a contract with some steam company would speedily be effected, establishing a superior mode of communication. From that day—the 4th of February, 1848—there had been no regular communication whatever with the Australian colonies; and the usual inconveniences arising from interrupted communications with this country had been acutely felt by the colonists. They had been obliged to pay a much higher price for the transmission of newspapers, periodicals, reviews, and Parliamentary papers, than any other co- 648 lony enjoying proper communications. The Government having advertised for tenders, among the tenders sent in was an offer from a company not now in existence—the Indian and Australian Steam Packet Company—to perform the service for 26,000l.; and that offer was accepted. When this company had completed the contract, it was proved that it had not one shilling of capital subscribed; and yet such a company was allowed to keep the question entirely in its hands for nearly sis months, and to keep every bonâ fide competitor out of the market. The state of the company was this, that so far from being able to put down a single steamer, or even the keel of a single steamer, it came under the operation of the Winding-up Act, and was entombed with many other companies of the same sort. It was clear that Government had not exercised sufficient supervision in giving so important a contract in that manner into the hands of a bubble company. In 1848, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, in a despatch to Sir Charles FitzRoy, the Governor of Australia, held out hopes to the colonists that the communication would be immedictely established; and they also had the assistant secretary to the Treasury writing that the Lords' Commissioners of that department were of opinion that so important a communication should not be allowed to depend solely on a question of expense, and that it should be established at all hazards. In 1849, the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Packet Company offered to perform the service between Singapore and Sydney for nothing, provided they got the sum paid partly by the East India Company and partly by the Government for the service between Bombay and Suez. The course taken by the hon. Gentleman opposite, the Member for Orkney, on this point, he thought was a very fair one. 115,000l. being the previous cost of the service, the offer of the Peninsular and Oriental Company was for 105,000l., and it was proposed that 75,000l. of that sum should be furnished by the Government, and the remaining 30,000l. by the East India Company; but the East India Company declined to enter into the arrangement. So ended the year 1849; he did not wish to make any reflections on, the East India Company for their conduct in this matter, he regretted the decision that the hon. Company had come to. It was quite certain that in point of law they had a perfect right to act as they did, and 649 no one could object to their so doing, as they acted for what they considered the interests of the great country committed to their care; but in the autumn of 1850, shortly after he had submitted his Motion of last year to the House, notifications were issued by the Admiralty for the third time, calling for tenders for this service; and the result was, that a tender was now before the Government, which the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not think satisfactory. He (Lord Naas) had been informed that that tender from the Peninsular and Oriental Company wa an offer to perform the service between Singapore and Sydney, provided the usual rate of postage of one shilling on each letter going from this country to Sydney was allowed to them; and he understood that the right hon. Gentleman thought the tender now before the Government for performing the service for the amount of postage of letters alone, and free of expense to the Treasury, was unsatisfactory. Now all that he (Lord Naas) wished to do by the Amendment he had to propose, was merely that the Australian part of the noble Viscount's Motion should be gone into first, and should be reported upon as a totally and an entirely separate question. Within the last two months, he understood a contract had been entered into with a company to carry the mails to the Cape for 30,000l., and a similar contract had been entered into with regard to Brazil. He therefore thought that the Australian colonies should at least be placed on an equality with countries of inferior importance, and that the Government should not allow of such inexcusable delay. The colonists of Australia now almost despaired of ever obtaining the necessary communication from their own Government; and the interminable delays had, he understood, induced certain parties among the colonists to appeal to the Government of the United States of America to put on steamers between Panama and Sydney. He thought there were very grave objections to such a course—a course to which he had been no party, but he merely mentioned the circumstance to show the feeling prevailing in the colonies; and he feared that if the House now refused to agree to his Amendment, and would not urge on the Committee the necessity of reporting speedily with regard to the communication with Australia, the colonists would be led to think, after the number of years that the subject had been neglected, 650 that their friends in this country had forgotten them, and that there must be some agency in this country—something going on behind the scenes—calculated to deprive them of the benefits of this communication. The line between this country and Australia was yet open, and had not been given to any one; on the other hand, the contract between the Government and the East India Company had yet two years to run before it expired. He hoped, therefore, that the House would accede to his very moderate request, merely to transpose the wording of the noble Viscount's Motion, so that the Committee should consider the Australian branch of the question first, and should report first on that branch which might be acted upon at once, before they entered upon the consideration of that portion of their inquiry which (however soon they might report upon it) could not be acted upon for more than two years.
To leave out from the words 'appointed to,' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words, 'To consider first, the subject of steam communications, having for its object a line, or lines, connecting India, England, and Australia, and to report to the House the most fitting mode in which such communication may be effected, with due care to economy, and with advantage to the public interests; and afterwards to inquire into the question of the existing steam communications between England and India, and to report whether any improvements may be made in the conduct of those communications previous to the grant of a further contract to any company proposing to carry on that line,' instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ VISCOUNT JOCELYN
said, that he had already altered the original shape of his Motion, and he considered that he had framed it so as to embrace the object of the noble Lord the Member for Kildare.
§ MR. GLADSTONE
hoped the noble Lord would not press his Amendment, as it was not very desirable as a general principle to tie the hands of a Committee, but rather to leave it to exercise its own discretion as to the order of its proceedings. No doubt there was great force in the noble Lord's observations as to the urgency, in point of time, of the Australian part of the question; but it would be better to allow the Committee, at its first meeting, to ascertain what witnesses are ready to be first examined, and what pre- 651 parations were to be made as to the various parts of their inquiry; because if they tied their hands to enter into one part of the subject before another, very possibly the result would be no advantage to that particular part; and a positive disadvantage to the other portion.
§ MR. F. SCOTT
said, the noble Viscount had expressed himself anxious to bring before the Committee the various lines between England and Australia, and likewise India and Australia, so as not to exclude any line which might be proposed by the Goverment, or be suggested by any company to connect England with Australia, either by way of Panama, the Cape, or otherwise. Now, from experience of a former Committee, he was afraid that the terms of the Motion might restrain the Chairman of the Committee from entering into the question of any future contract which might be made, and that the Committee would feel themselves bound by the terms of the Motion carried by the House from considering any other contract which might be entertained. If the previous Committee had not felt itself hampered in that manner, perhaps there would have been no necessity for the Committee now asked for by the noble Viscount.
§ MR. MACGREGOR
regretted exceedingly that the Committee should be moved for at all, because, if agreed to, the whole question of the communication with Australia would remain entombed there until the end of the Session. He thought that the Amendment of the noble Lord the Member for Kildare ought to have been agreed to at once, and that the Australian colonies should not be reduced to the necessity of appealing to the United States to afford them a direct steam communication. He had no doubt, when he saw the fleet of ships that the Americans had within the last few months sent into the Pacific, that they would be perfectly competent to undertake the office; but he felt certain that the delay upon the part of the British Government, which must necessarily arise before the Report of the Committee could be made and acted upon, would be such as to create the greatest discontent in the colonies. He hoped the Government and the House would at once adopt measures for establishing direct steam communication with the colonies.
§ MR. HUME
trusted the House would adopt the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford not to tie the Committee up to 652 a particular course, but to leave the Committee to pursue their own line of proceeding. The Committee would be desirous of giving the advantage of communication to all the colonies as speedily and as efficiently as possible; and the noble Lord the Member for Kildare, he had no doubt, would have the full opportunity of impressing his own views upon the Committee,
§ MR. ANDERSON
felt much difficulty in addressing the House on a subject in which his personal interests were, or might be supposed to be, concerned. As a director of the Peninsular and Oriental Company, however, he felt it his duty to allude to some statements of the noble Viscount who had moved for the Committee. The noble Viscount was kind enough to say that he had no feelings of hostility towards the company; but he had made an ex parte statement which would tend very materially to injure the property of the shareholders. The noble Viscount had read a letter from the Chamber of Commerce of Bengal, in which they gave a very dreadful account of irregularities alleged to have occurred; but he begged to say that that letter had been entirely contradicted. He could show them letters from two persons who had made a voyage in the same ship, and who had been treated in precisely the same manner, one of whom condemned the arrangements of the vessel, while the other was extremely laudatory of them.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, it seemed to him, considering that on the whole they were all agreed on this question, that they had occupied more time than was necessary to obtain an object with which nobody in the world differed, because nobody denied the extreme importance of steam communication with the Australian colonies, and the importance that it should be established as speedily as possible. He had told the noble Viscount that he thought inquiries before a Committee might be beneficial in putting the House and the Government in possession of information, and in enabling the Government to do that which it had yet been unable to do. The importance of the subject he had never denied, and it had always been his endeavour, as far as possible, and as rapidly as possible, to carry out a steam navigation to our Australian colonies. But he could not allow the statement to pass unnoticed that it was his duty to provide the requisite communication, totally regardless of the expense. What he felt 653 bound to do was to obtain the best communication he could as cheap as he could. The noble Viscount had said the object might have been effected with a positive saving; but he could not have acceded to the offer that had been made while the Government was bound by an existing contract. The Government had advertised for tenders for the performance of part of the service; and it was quite true that he had not thought any tender that had been sent in was such as the Government could accept. With regard to the terms of the Motion, he did not think the slightest advantage would arise from the Amendment of the noble Lord the Member for Kildare, because, of course, it would be in the option of the Committee to take any part of the subject which it thought most important before any other. Besides, his conviction was, that everybody who knew anything of the subject, was aware that it was perfectly impossible to establish a separate communication for Australia, without taking into consideration the communication between this country and other parts. If the colonies should be able to set up a communication between Sydney and Singapore and other places, that would be all very well; but what we must consider was a communication between this country and Australia. First, then, the Amendment of the noble Lord was unnecessary; and next, if the Committee were to be fixed by it, it would paralyse all their efforts, and render their inquiries of no possible advantage. He did not think the noble Viscount's own Motion would fully carry out the object they all had at heart. Its terms omitted a point of very great importance to the Australian colonies—namely, a communication between them and China. He thought he could suggest words, if the noble Viscount would allow him, that would embrace all that was wanted. As the hon. Member for Montrose said he did not wish to restrict the inquiry at all, yet he hoped they would not wander from their main object, and bury it under the Committee, but that they would obtain the information to enable the Government to effect what was beneficial for India, for the colonies, and for all the interests concerned. What he proposed to substitute was, to inquire into the existing steam communication between India and China, the possibility of effecting improvements therein, and the best mode of establishing steam communication with the Australian Colonies.
§ VISCOUNT JOCELYN
was much obliged to his right hon. Friend for suggesting that alteration in the terms of his Motion. That suggestion would carry out his object better than his own proposition. He could assure the noble Lord the Member for Kildare that no one felt more strongly than he did the importance of speedily establishing steam communication with the Australian Colonies; but he must say he thought it would be very improper to fetter the discretion of the Committee by prescribing a specific course to regulate the order of its inquiries.
§ MR. CARDWELL
took it that the real object was that the Committee should be free to go into the whole case in the widest possible manner. They did not propose ending merely in a blue book, but in satisfying all the colonies and the commercial communities interested, and in having that object effected as quickly as possible. It was desirable, as the Committee was to be appointed, that it should; be universally understood on the part of the public that the order of reference should include the question as to the route by Panama, and the route to unite the Australian colonies with China. The terms of the Motion should be enlarged, so as to embrace the colony of the Mauritius, and all the other places which it was desirable to connect in the communication which was to go by Australia.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he bad so drawn the terms of the Motion—"the best mode of establishing steam communication with the Australian Colonies"—that it would include the route by Panama, and all the other points involved in the question.
§ SIR T. D. ACLAND
said, that at present the letters leaving Liverpool in the evening were divided at Birmingham into London and west country letters, which arrived precisely at the same hour at Southampton and Plymouth. Supposing a vessel sailing that afternoon from Southampton to touch at Plymouth or Falmouth, there would be a gain of a whole day from the north western parts of the island. Again, letters leaving London, at eight or nine at night, arrived at Plymouth at six in the morning, within an hour or two of the time that the steamer leaving South- 655 ampton at three in the afternoon passed within twenty or thirty miles of Plymouth. The correspondence of the west of England was subject to another disadvantage: letters posted at Plymouth at six in the evening, and travelling to London to go by the Peninsular and Oriental mail, arrived the next afternoon at Southampton, and would again pass the meridian of Plymouth within thirty miles of the place, thirty-six hours after leaving it. This was a question of no small importance, and he hoped it would form part of the consideration of the Committee. Since the question was last decided by the Admiralty, nearly 100 additional miles of railway had been formed in that direction, making a difference of six or seven hours in the transit between Plymouth and London.
SIR F. T. BARING
was afraid that it would be impossible for the Committee to undertake inquiries of that kind in addition to their more immediate duties. They would overload the Committee, and lead to infinite delay.
§ MR. ADDERLEY
said, the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer had stated that there was no use in discussing this Motion and the Amendment, because they were all agreed upon the necessity for some inquiry. He (MR. Adderley) said, however, that they were not all agreed as to what needed inquiry, or how the inquiry should be conducted. Far from it. They might all be agreed that it was important and useful to this country and the colonies that a Committee should be appointed on the large question of steam communication with all the world; but what they were not all agreed upon was as to the need of inquiry about Australia. He would ask the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer why Australia should be included in this inquiry at all; and if he could not tell why Australia should be included, it would be still more difficult for him to tell why Australia should be put at the fag-end of a perfect encyclopædia of the whole eastern world. Nobody asked for this Committee with regard to Australia—nobody wanted it but the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself, to get himself out of a scrape. Australia did not want it—it repudiated it, because the question of Australian communication was understood and settled already. Who had asked for Australian inquiry? Not the noble Viscount the Member for King's Lynn; it was tacked on to his inquiry without any desire on his part, but merely because of the 656 Chancellor of the Exchequer's irresolution, who had made up his mind years ago, and had entered fully into the question, and knew everything about it, and did not require any more information. The right hon. Gentleman had stated long ago that he had made up his mind on the question, and yet he called for fresh inquiry; and what was his object? It was because he had been impeded by the East India Company, and he feared to carry out in face of that Company his own views, and, therefore, ha wished to bolster them up by the help of this Committee. He would ask whether Australia was to be put in the appendix of a long investigation into Indian affairs? The colony would know who had done it—the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and knowing that he had made up his mind what was the best communication between Australia and this country, and that he could not point to a single advantage to be gained by this Committee with regard to these colonies, they would ask him at least to state some reason why he did not act at once? Earl Grey, the Secretary for the Colonies, bad got all the information, and made up his mind also three years ago, for he then asked the Legislative Council of Sydney to make an offer towards the undertaking; and was it possible that the Secretary of State could have called upon the Legislative Council of Sydney to vote 6.000l. three years ago for an object which he bad not yet made up his mind to carry out? What would be thought of such premature and illusory instructions out there, or what hope was there, with these delays without any assignable reason, of ever arriving at a practical decision? The right hon. Gentleman had drawn up in the midst of the debate afresh form for the Motion of the noble Viscount the Member for King's Lynn. It might be much betters—it had made it more capacious—it had extended the question to China, and a thousand other places; but still Australia was put in the appendix. That was the point to which he could not agree; and that was the grievance remedied in the noble Lord the Member for Kildare's Amendment. Why had the noble Lord been asked to withdraw his Amendment? Why it would be worse now for Australia than it was at first, because now they were to have an interminable inquiry, and Australia was to be put at the end of it. He would advise, and he hoped the noble Lord would not withdraw his Amendment till be dis- 657 tinctly understood from the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn that he would allow the Committee to place Australia first in their inquiry on communications; and not only that, but that he would consent to report on that branch first; because all they were asked to do with relation to communication with Astralia was only to sit in incubation on the information already collected by the right hon. Gentleman, and bring it to light. It could not require many hours for that; three days would suffice to go through a preliminary inquiry merely as an act of compliance with the right hon. Gentleman's wishes, that they should bring to light the decision he had had in his breast for some time past. He was speaking utterly disinterestedly on this question; he had not the slightest interest in any of the companies concerned—he had not even an interest in Australia itself. But as everybody allowed the enormous importance of that communication, and as the colonies were getting irritated because they wanted postal facilities, the great instrument of modern civilisation, and were still behind all the rest of the world with regard to it, these incessant delays were almost enough to justify any amount of indignation, and acts of resentment on the part of the colonists; and unless the Australian colonies were to go first in the inquiry, and to be the subject of a preliminary report, and to be clear from a question that was unnecessarily obstructed, he would advise the noble Lord not to withdraw his Amendment. He (MR. Adderley) would thank the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer to answer the question he had put to him—what on earth a Committee could do in the way of inquiry to put him in possession of further facts, or of any information that could alter his decision as to steam communication with Australia, or which was the best of the tenders already made to him?
§ MR. DIVETT
said, that though he was as anxious as any one to extend the benefits of steam communication, he entirely disagreed with the hon. Gentleman who had last spoken. It was utterly impossible to do justice to the Australian colonies themselves without a full inquiry, owing to the difficulties of carrying out the communication in an efficient way. He knew that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer was most anxious last year to carry it out as a distinct question; but the conduct of the East India Company having thrown obstacles in the way of that 658 arrangement, it became necessary to consider the question as a whole. Three routes had been suggested—Panama, Singapore, and the Cape; but there was a fourth, which appeared to have been altogether forgotten, from Singapore down to Swan River. That route was not advocated by the Sydney people; but there was no doubt that, in a short time, they would be satisfied that route was the best for themselves and the whole of the colony. The hon. Member for North Staffordshire had not done the light hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer justice; and he had also overlooked the fact, that it was utterly impossible that this question of steam communication could be arranged on a perfect and permanent basis without the fullest possible inquiry.
§ VISCOUNT JOCELYN
said, he could make no promise that the case of Australia should be first taken into special consideration, and reported upon separately by the Committee. He thought the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been very unfairly attacked; and when the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Staffordshire said, that his Motion had been framed by the right hon. Gentleman, he must say he had had no communication whatever on the subject with the right hon. Gentleman till within the last three or four days.
§ Amendment and Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
thought the words of the resolution exceedingly wide; and he feared that justice would not be done to Australia by an inquiry that bid fair to be very protracted. Would the Government feel justified in suspending its measures merely because the Committee was sitting?
§ MR. AGLIONBY
thought they were fighting with a shadow instead of a substance. He trusted there was no intention to refuse to consider the want of communication with Australia at as early a period as possible. He approved of making the proposed inquiry an enlarged one, as the best mode of carrying out what had so long been anxiously desired. He hoped that New Zealand would not be for- 659 gotten in the investigations of the Committee.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he wished that the hon. Member for North Staffordshire had made his attack before he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had spoken. With the appointment of this Committee he had had nothing to do; the Motion was that of the noble Viscount the Member for King's Lynn. What he had distinctly stated was, that it was perfectly impossible to consider the question of Australian communication except in connexion with some other. He had never concealed his own opinion as to what was the best mode of effecting that communication; but it did not rest with him to carry it out. He hoped the information elicited by the Committee would be such as to induce other parties to concur in his views. The hon. Gentleman opposite, the Member for Harwich, being a Member of the East India Company, was in a position to do more for promoting that communication than he could.
§ MR. F. SCOTT
said, it was perfectly competent for the Government to establish this communication if they chose. They had already expended 100,000l. in carrying out steam communication with places of much less importance than Australia. Would the Government take into consideration the propriety of establishing a temporary line of steam communication, either by Her Majesty's vessels or in some other way, pending the inquiry of the Committee, or at all events until the termination of the Peninsular and Oriental Company's charter in 1853. The Dutch Government had a communication between Batavia, Java, and Singapore, by means of Government vessels.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, the question was about being referred to a Committee, which would consider most of these points; and, if they confined their attention to the main questions, they would be occupied but a very short time.
Motion made, and Question proposed—
That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the existing Steam Communications with India and China, and into the practicability of effecting any improvement therein; and also into the best mode of establishing Steam Communications between England, India, China, Australia, or any of them, as well as any points upon the several routes between them.
§ MR. AGLIONBY
said, he would move 660 as an Amendment, the addition of the words "and New Zealand." He did not wish the thing to be left at all loose.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
thought the general words were for the best. If they began to specify this or that place, other hon. Gentleman would want others added—the Feejee Islands, perhaps.
§ Amendment proposed, after the word "Australia" to insert the words "New Zealand."
§ Question, "That these words he there inserted," put and agreed to.
§ Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.
§ Select Committee appointed.