HC Deb 17 February 1852 vol 119 cc701-3

moved for copies of the contract which were entered into with Mr. Walton for the carriage of the mails to Australia, and to the West Indies and the Brazils. He found, on inquiry, that the contract with Mr. Walton had not been completed, and that only a provisional contract had been entered into, and that no security had yet been taken by the Board of Admiralty. He believed the route by the Cape was the only one by which emigrants from Europe could reach Australia; and this was the moment chosen by the Admiralty to limit their mails to every alternate month. The Admiralty had the means of carrying out the communication through established companies, whose capital was paid up, and whose vessels were ready to perform the voyage. They had received offers from one company at least to carry the mails to Australia by the Cape, and he believed they would carry them at a small rate monthly; but notwithstanding this offer, they had entered into an arrangement to carry the mails at a lower rate and at an impossible speed, with a gentleman whose company was not yet formed; and if the statements in circulation were correct, that the performance of the contract would entail a loss of 6,000l. per voyage, he thought it would be impossible for such company to be established. He wished to know if the Admiralty had ascertained whether the gentleman in question would be able to procure sufficient resources to enable him to get beyond the Cape. It was incumbent on the House to see that such contracts were likely to be carried out. In some cases of contracts large penalties had been incurred, but no steps had been taken to enforce them; and he believed that before the expiration of such contracts fresh ones had been entered into at most favourable rates; and if the returns for which he moved should be granted, he should be able to show that 200,000l. a year had unnecessarily been given to that company for twenty years, causing an expenditure to the country of 4,000,000l. He understood that a copy of the contract entered into with the West India Company for the conveyance of mails to the West Indies and the Brazils had already been laid before the House, and also that a tender had been made by the Screw Company for the carriage of mails to the Brazils for 80,000l. a year, whilst; the old contract was not less than 270,000l. a year. If such an offer was in existence, he did not suppose there would be any objection to its production; and if not, he trusted a direct negative would be given to the statement, that a fresh contract had been entered into at the rate of 270,000l. a year.


was glad the hon. Gentleman had moved for papers on the subjects to which he had adverted; for it was only in the absence of any correct information that the hon. Gentleman could have made his statement. He spoke of a certain conditional or provisional contract which be supposed to have been made with Mr. Walton. The fact was, that the tender having been some time ago received, it was necessary to prepare a formal document, called "articles of agreement," which were of considerable length, and which had not yet been signed. It was useless for the hon. Member to move for the contract, because, not being signed, it was not legally in existence. As soon as it was signed, the Admiralty would be happy to produce it. He was surprised the hon. Member should bring so many accusations against the company. He said that they had no vessels. [Mr. F. FRENCH: That they are no company.] On the contrary, he (Mr. Cowper) was told that they were a company; that they had applied to the President of the Board of Trade for a charter of incorporation; that the Board of Trade had no objection, and had signified their intention to grant the charter. He could not say whether all the legal preliminaries had been gone through; but he expected before long that every formality would be complied with. He was also informed that the company had got two screw vessels of great speed capable of performing the services with efficiency. He believed there was not the slightest foundation for the accusations brought against the company by the hon. Gentleman. With respect to the statement that an offer had been made to perform for 80,000l. that service in the West Indies which was now performed for 270.000l., he knew not where the hon. Gentleman had heard of such a proposition. Any document referring to it which the hon. Gentleman could point out, would be new to him. The statements of the hon. Gentlemen were founded on mistake and misapprehension. With respect to the contract for mails to Australia, the Admiralty had taken the simple course of calling for tenders, accepting the lowest, and giving the persons who had accepted every facility they required for the execution of their contract. Under these circumstances the Admiralty could not have acted otherwise than they had. Copies ordered, 'of the Provisional Contract entered into with Mr. Walton for the carriage of the Mails to Australia; and the tender made by the said Company for the conveyance of the Mails to the West Indies and the Brazils,'