HC Deb 05 April 1859 vol 153 cc1399-412

said, he rose to call attention to the subject of the intended mail service between Galway and America, and to move for a copy of all correspondence connected therewith. He had no hostility to the proposed communication between Galway and America, nor was he influenced by any Liverpool feeling, because he knew that influential memorials in favour of the Galway line had been forwarded from the town which he had the honour to represent, and also from Manchester. But, as a general rule, he objected to all subsidies, and thought the postal service of the country might be efficiently performed without them. The fact that the contract with the Galway line had been entered into privately had given great umbrage to many persons, and, for his own part, he believed that the country would have gained by an open competition. So far back as October last, a rumour prevailed that it was the intention of the Government to grant a subsidy to the Galway line of steamers for carrying the mail between Galway and America. A company in Liverpool immediately wrote to the Treasury to inquire whether such was the case, and he rested the whole of his complaint upon the answer which they received. They were informed, in reply to their communication, that when a new postal service was about to be established by the Government it was the practice of the Treasury to invite tenders by public advertisement, thereby affording to all parties an opportunity of competing. Now, he thought that the Liverpool, Philadelphia, and New York Company to whom this answer was addressed, had some reason to complain that after such an assu- rance a contract should be entered into privately with the Galway line; and he hoped, at all events, that the Government would be able to give some satisfactory explanation upon the point. He would repeat that he had not the slightest hostility against the Galway line; on the contrary, he rejoiced when he saw it established.


said, there could not, of course, be the slightest objection to produce the correspondence for which the hon. Member had moved. A great deal of it had already been published, and the Government were ready to lay upon the table the further correspondence which had taken place on the subject. The usual practice when any new line of postal communication was intended to be established was to advertise for tenders and an answer to that effect had been sent to the company to which the hon. Member had alluded; but the Government thought they were justified in treating the Galway line between Galway and America as an exceptional case, inasmuch as it was proposed not purely for postal purposes, but as a measure specially important to the interests of Ireland. It should be remembered that the circumstances which connected Ireland with America were peculiar. A large amount of emigration took place between the two countries, and it was most desirable that every facility should be given to it, especially in the way of affording direct means of communication. The class who emigrated from Ireland to America consisted principally of persons in humble circumstances, and if they were obliged to travel from the south or west of Ireland to England, and then to take their chance of finding a passage to America from an English port, they would obviously be exposed to considerable hardship, and he believed that in many cases intended Irish emigrants had become chargeable upon the Liverpool poor rates from their inability to proceed further. In addition to this, it was found that a large proportion of the postal communication between Great Britain and America—he believed about a third—belonged to Ireland. Under these circumstances a company was formed to establish a line of steamers between Galway and America. It entered into an arrangement with the Government of Newfoundland for the performance of a postal service, and it then asked for a subsidy from the Imperial Government, with the view of making that service more complete—converting it, in fact, into a service between Ireland and North America generally. Its application was backed by an overwhelming number of memorials from commercial bodies, not in Ireland merely, but throughout the United Kingdom, and the conclusion to which the Government came was that those who had originated the idea should be the persons authorized to carry it out. Precedents were not wanting for such a proceeding as the same course was adopted, if he was not mistaken, in the case of the Cunard line, and the public interest required that the authors of new and valuable schemes should be rewarded in order that others might be stimulated by their example. It was possible that further communications might be established hereafter between England and North America; in that event the usual course of inviting tenders would be followed; but he hoped he had satisfied the House that the Government were justified in treating the Galway line as an exceptional case.


said, it appeared to him that this Motion was made in the old monopolizing spirit, to crush the rising interests of Ireland, as in former times Acts of Parliament were passed to prohibit the making of cloth and establishing other restrictions in respect to Ireland, though he admitted that of late years that system had been changed, This company was formed to establish a direct communication between Ireland and America, and made to the Government an offer which the hon. Secretary to the Treasury had shown to be of public advantage, and he knew not with what object the present Motion was made by the hon. Member, unless it was brought forward in obedience to the desires of his constituents.


said, he conceived that the arrangement made by the Government was a hasty one, and he believed that it would be found a most improvident one; but he trusted that the company had been bound to provide such vessels as would insure the greatest celerity and public convenience in the transit. If the Government had simply announced that it was desired to establish a communication between some portion of Ireland and America, the self-interest of the mercantile community would have led them to make an arrangement infinitely cheaper and more beneficial to the country than that adopted by the Government.


observed, that the conduct of the Government in this matter was highly to be commended. There was a general demand in Ireland for this subsidy, which had been well earned by the ability and enterprise which had led to the establishment of the line in question. The communication with Newfoundland was now very different from formerly. The Cunard vessels went past Newfoundland to Halifax, and the letters had to be brought back to Newfoundland. By the Cunard steamers the communication with Canada was fortnightly, whereas this new line would supply a weekly communication with that place, and no act of the present Government had given more satisfaction to the mercantile interests, not only in Ireland, but in England, than the subsidy to the Galway line.


said, that as an English Member he felt called upon to enter his protest against the most reprehensible and improper course taken by the Government in this matter. He understood the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury to lay down the doctrine that the Government were quite right in making this large contract for £78,000 without public advertisement or competition among persons willing to tender, and without giving the House of Commons an opportunity of expressing an opinion with respect to it. If he recollected correctly the circumstances attending the establishment of the Cunard line of steamers, tenders were applied for in the first instance, and the offers were all considered to be too high. Subsequently Mr. Cunard made a lower offer, and it was not thought necessary to have another competition. The Peninsular and Oriental Company had obtained its contract by fair tender, and he thought that in this instance also an opportunity ought to have been allowed for all parties to tender for the service, and the public had a right to complain of the course taken by the Government, because there ought to have been some proper test of the value of the service to be performed, and such a test would have been best afforded by competition. He thought the Government were also reprehensible for persevering in their intention to sign the contract without giving the House of Commons an opportunity of ascertaining the facts of the case, and considering whether, on the whole, the arrangement proposed was the best that could be made, not only in the matter of economy, but with reference to the interests of Ireland. He thought the House ought to require some explanation why a very large expenditure was at all necessary for the conveyance of letters between Ireland and Newfoundland. The House had been in the habit of voting a sum of about £7,000 a year for the conveyance of letters by mail-packet between Halifax and Newfoundland, and if £78,000 was applied merely to the conveyance of letters to the United States through Newfoundland, he thought it would he difficult to justify such an expenditure, because £176,000 a year was already devoted to the maintenance of a weekly service between England and New York, and England and Boston and Halifax alternately. He did not mean to deny that it might be advisable to make arrangements for despatching a mail to North America from some Irish port alternately with Liverpool; but he thought it an extravagant proposition that, in addition to the weekly service from England, another and a totally distinct service should be established from Ireland. Letters could be collected from the greater part of Ireland and despatched to North America from Liverpool as conveniently as from Galway. It was impossible, however, to suppose that this expenditure was intended merely for the conveyance of letters. Its object was, no doubt, to benefit Ireland by promoting emigration. The Secretary to the Treasury had admitted that it was intended to facilitate emigration by establishing a frequent communication between Ireland and Newfoundland. It was right that any fair sum of money should be devoted to such a purpose; but if this were the object, why should the Government take credit upon their own responsibility for advancing the public money to promote this intercourse? The proper course would, in his opinion, have been for the Secretary to the Treasury to have submitted to the House a vote for the necessary sum, stating the purpose for which it was required; but why did the Government take credit for a measure which was said to be popular in Ireland, without allowing the House of Commons to express their opinion on the subject? He thought the Government had pursued a most improper, unusual, and unprecedented course in having secretly, upon their own authority, without laying any papers upon the table or proposing a vote, granted a sum of money to a particular company without permitting any competition. He thought this conduct was the more strange as Parliament was near its close. He hoped there was yet time for the Government to recon- sider the course they were about to take, and that they would think it more consistent with their duty not to sign any contract at present, but to leave the subject to be brought before the future Parliament in a regular manner by an Estimate, accompanied by an explanation of the purposes to which the amount was to be applied. He would be most happy, if the Government could make out a fair case, to concur in granting any sum that might be necessary; but he thought the House ought to know what was the exact character of the contract, how long it was to last, and the specific object with which it was entered into, and the Government would then be relieved from many suspicions and rumours that had been spread abroad on this subject, which he thought could only be fairly met by their establishing a clear case for the grant. He must, under the circumstances, enter his protest against the course which the Government proposed to pursue in relation to this matter.


said, he was astonished to hear the hon. Member for Mallow (Sir Denham Norreys) protest against this grant, which was regarded in Ireland—except, perhaps, by persons who were interested in particular ports—as a great boon, very gracefully conceded by the Government. He believed Irish Members were almost unanimously of opinion that the establishment of the proposed communication would be attended with immense advantage to Ireland. The Secretary to the Treasury had, he thought, properly treated this as an exceptional case, similar to that of the Atlantic Telegraph. If Cork, or Limerick, or any other Irish port, had entered the field in competition with Galway, he could have understood the objections which were made to the course adopted by the Government, but no such movement had taken place. The sum required after all was inconsiderable, and with regard to postal requirements some four years back it was stated by the hon. Member for South Lancashire (Mr. W. Brown), one of the leading merchants engaged in the American trade, that two-thirds of the letters which were received by his house in Liverpool from America were from emigrants who had gone out from Ireland, and who sent remittances to their friends in that country. He thought, therefore, it was fair to infer that increased facilities for postal communication between North America and Ireland were required.


observed, that the Go- vernment had entitled themselves to the gratitude of the Irish people by acknowledging that from its geographical position Ireland was the high road between this country and her colonies in the West; but he entertained some doubt whether the course pursued by the Government was the best calculated to attain the object they had in view. If they deemed it right that a subsidy should be given to establish postal communication between Ireland and America, he thought they should have studied the interests of the public by adopting the route which ensures the greatest convenience, safety, and economy. The subject of this communication had been under the consideration of Parliament since 1831; four Commissions had inquired into the matter, and an opinion had been expressed that Galway was not the most convenient port on the western coast of Ireland as a station for Transatlantic communication. He deplored that the Government had gone so far in this particular instance. They would have better consulted the public interest if they had reserved their decision until the whole matter had been made the subject of a public inquiry. Whatever might be the merits of the Galway line, he greatly doubted whether it had been proved that it had any claims upon that House and the country. Certainly the passage to Newfoundland had been successful. It was well known that owing to the fogs and the ice it was impossible for six months in the year to carry on a communication of this kind with Newfoundland. He entreated the Government, therefore, to stay any proceeding until the question had been fully brought before the House after the meeting of the new Parliament. The interests of the Shannon were entitled to equal consideration, and all he asked for was a fair and open investigation. The highest naval authorities had declared that Galway in its present state was totally unfitted for an efficient packet station.


said, it was natural that the hon. Member for Liverpool should dislike competition, but that Irish Members should do the same excited his astonishment and certainly was not very patriotic. For his own part he thought that Irish Members lay under a great debt of gratitude to the Government for the way in which they had treated Ireland, and he for one thanked them for what they had done in this instance. It was stated that Galway was a dangerous port to enter, but so was Liverpool itself; and, moreover, the former place could easily be made a first-rate port and Transatlantic station at an exceedingly moderate expense. Enormous sums had been laid out upon English harbours. At Holyhead, for example, the cost of the works was about a million sterling; whereas to render Galway a port which the Great Eastern might enter at low water, the entire expenditure required would be only £150,000. Even upon the right hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Cowper's) own showing, the present Government must have entered into a very good bargain with the Galway line, because they had agreed upon a less sum by £300 per voyage than was paid to the Cunard line. The opposition offered in this case reminded one of the ancient state of Ireland, when Limerick fought against Galway and Galway against Limerick. If the Limerick gentlemen had shown their patriotism by starting a line from their own port for the accommodation of the country, not one word could have been said against them; but, having done nothing of the kind, it certainly seemed rather like sour grapes for them now to unite with the Liverpool men against their own fellow countrymen in Galway. The interests of the north of Ireland, as well as of England and Scotland, ought to be considered in connection with this question, because the direct line of postal service between Ireland and America and our own colonies in the west would he by way of Belfast and the railroad now in course of formation to Galway. Dependent as it was upon Liverpool for its postal communication, the trade of Ireland was in a position in which no public-spirited Irish Member should wish to see it placed.


said, he hoped the House would excuse him if he addressed it for a few moments on this matter, in which he certainly had a personal interest. That interest had arisen in this way. Regarding Ireland as one limb of this great empire, he bad always desired to bring her, if possible, up to the standard of England. He saw an attempt made on the part of certain enterprising men in London to open a direct communication between Ireland and America, and by thus affording mercantile advantages to Ireland to benefit that country without doing injury to anybody; and though an Englishman, yet, wishing well to the sister Island, he had taken part in this adventure. Now, he was very much—he was about to say astonished, only he had ceased to be astonished at anything; but he admired this wondrous outburst of patriotism on the part of the front Opposition bench. The right hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Cowper) appeared very much shocked at the idea of this contract being entered into by his political opponents with the Galway Company without the papers being laid before the House of Commons. But had that never been done before? Had it never been done by the immaculate body whose hard fate it now was to occupy the Opposition benches? What was lately done with Mr. Cunard? And when the right hon. Gentleman told them that no appeal had been made on that occasion to that House he told them nothing to the purpose. The last contract with Mr. Cunard was made by the present Government upon stipulations which were entered into by the late Government which had been left them as a legacy by their predecessors. Of that the House of Commons knew absolutely nothing, though that House was bound by the contract made by the late Government and carried out through the medium of their successors. What, however, had the present Government done with regard to the Galway Company? It was found that letters could he transmitted from London to Now York through Galway, in twenty-four hours less time than viâ Liverpool; and tenders were accordingly sent in to the Government offering to conduct the mercantile communication between England, Ireland, and America by that shorter route. The Government, looking at the proposal from an Imperial point of view, considered it in the light of a question of what they could do for Ireland, and, indeed, for the whole mercantile community of the United Kingdom, by means of a new postal line by way of Galway. Following previous examples, the Government investigated the matter and judged for itself. It had taken proper precautions to secure good ships, and to have the service done in the specified time, and that time shorter than before. There was no harm or injury inflicted on any port in England by this. The hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Horsfall) told them he was not an enemy to Galway. The chief opposition to the enterprise appeared to come from Ireland. He often looked under the gallery and was always struck with faces from Limerick, and the world out of doors was always hearing something about something being done against the Galway Com- pany by persons connected with Limerick. If so, were they to treat it all as downright patriotism and were there not personal considerations, were there not local considerations? The House of Commons, however, which was superior to all local and personal considerations, would, he hoped, judge as he had done himself. He found that various persons perfectly conversant with mercantile and marine affairs had selected Galway from among the different ports on the Irish coast. There was no competition either from Limerick or Valentia; the company was established at Galway; and the opposition was very like the old Irish quarrels; the dissensions among the Irish themselves utterly destroyed their own interests. No sooner was a good thing proposed to be done for Ireland than the most fierce opposition to it came from Ireland itself. Several Englishmen had selected Galway as the fittest port for the enterprise; they came to the Government, offered to do certain things, and bound themselves to do them; and when the House was told that Mr. Cunard had astonished the Government by the lowness of his tender he could assure it that the tender of the Galway Company was lower than that of Mr. Cunard. They should look at this enterprise as an Imperial matter—not as a mere postal arrangement. He thought the Government ought not to be actuated by any mere paltry considerations, but looking at Ireland and the advance of that country, he considered the establishment of the Galway Company a great step in her mercantile improvement. That improvement depended on English capital flowing into it, and yet when Englishmen did what every good Irishman admitted ought to be done, by whom were they most opposed? By Irishmen. It told badly for them; they should merge their small, petty, and local feelings in the great consideration of the Imperial interests of Ireland; they should forget Limerick and Galway, and think of it only as an Imperial question.


said, that while admitting the importance of a postal communication with America from one of the ports on the western coast of Ireland, which must ultimately tend to the conveyance of the American mails generally through Ireland, he must yet condemn the Government for the manner in which the arrangement with the Galway Company had been entered into. They ought to have, arranged their own plan, determined upon the duty to be performed, and then advertised for tenders. If they had done this they would at least have had the opportunity of testing the comparative merits of the other Irish ports, and there would have been no cause of complaint. The capabilities of other ports would have been known, and if the localities which were equally or more favourably situated could not have provided the capital and the ships, the tender of the Galway Company would have been accepted as a matter of course. It was a mistake to suppose that the line of steamers for this service had been provided by Galway, the vessels having been sent round to that port by certain gentlemen in London, and had the competition been open, there was but little doubt that other gentlemen or other companies would have sent ships to some of the other ports. In fixing thus arbitrarily upon Galway an unnecessarily large expenditure would be incurred from the peculiar character of the coast, which would compel the carrying out of gigantic works, equivalent, as he believed, to those at Cherbourg—without which the service would fail. He hoped the Government would suspend all further operations upon the subject until the new Parliament assembled and expressed their opinions on it.


said, he thought the House had better suspend its judgment until the papers were before them, and then, if they were not found satisfactory, it would be a question for reference to a Select Committee. He was surprised at the imputation cast by the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) against the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cowper), who, he thought, had laid down a good and constitutional doctrine, and as a general principle he thought it was preferable to put up all these lines to competition and tender. The hon. and learned Member told the House that he was influenced by motives of the purest patriotism in entering into this company. He did not dispute the hon. and learned Gentleman's assertion, at the same time he must say that that was the last consideration he should have thought would have induced any person to enter into such a speculation. It might have been all very well when lines of very small importance and expense were involved to leave the Government to deal with them as they thought fit, but looking at the magnitude of these postal contracts in the present day, it behoved the House to con- sider how they permitted the power to be taken out of their own hands. It might be said that the House had the control, inasmuch as it must vote the money. But how stood the case? A contract was made by the Government without the knowledge of the House, and as generally happened, the contracting parties had to build a certain number of ships for the service. If the House refused to sanction the contract, and withheld the supplies, the contractors would have an equitable claim for compensation for that outlay. The Admiralty could not build a shed without the sanction of the House of Commons; whereas the Government might, in the post-office department, enter into contracts for hundreds of thousands of pounds extending over ten or twenty years, the assent of Parliament being a mere nominal and useless ceremony. It was a serious matter for their consideration, therefore whether the Government should not be compelled to lay on the table the particulars and conditions of every contract a certain time before it was entered into, or, at all events, that in some way the House should have an opportunity of expressing its opinion on such matters before they were concluded.


said, he regretted very much that the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) should have had a fling at the Irish Members; for had he taken the trouble to sift the chaff from the corn he would have found that out of the whole body of Irish Members five would perhaps support Limerick while the other 100 would vote to a man in favour of Galway. He (Mr. Sullivan) had the authority of an eminent Member of this House (Mr. Stephenson) for saying that, in that hon. Gentleman's opinion, there was no other port in Ireland which could at all equal in its capabilities for the Transatlantic service the port of Galway.


said, he must beg leave to question the statement just made as to the comparative unanimity of Irish Members on this question. On the other hand he thought that if the Irish Members were polled it would be found that a considerable number, who were interested in neither of the two ports mentioned, thought that the subject should be fairly and impartially sifted before any selection was made. He (Mr. Monsell) desired that the House of Commons should have this question fairly brought before it, and that a Committee should be appointed to take evidence, and then that a decision should be come to whether the course pursued by the Government was the best, and whether Galway or any other port would be the best adapted for the end in view. The hon. Member for Kilkenny had appealed to the opinion of the hon. Member for Whitby (Mr. Stephenson), but he had omitted to state whether the hon. Member for Whitby had ever been at Galway. He (Mr. Monsell) could appeal to the opinion of more than one Commission composed of experienced naval men, who all preferred another port to that of Galway. If the plan suggested by the hon. Member for Mallow (Sir Denham Norreys) had been adopted the advantage of open tenders for the terms on which transatlantic communication between Ireland and America could be carried on would have been gained, and the best port would have been chosen by the persons who undertook the contract. There was no difference of opinion in that House as to the advantage of Transatlantic communication between Ireland and America; but the question which was now under discussion was how best that object could be arrived at. He put it to the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether it would not be better to have established the system by the means he had suggested, and he wished to know why it was necessary to deviate from the usual rule in such cases. If that course had been pursued the decision would have been above all suspicion, and every one would have been satisfied. He would put it, therefore, to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer to allow this matter to come before a tribunal taken from the House of Commons, where no local interests could decide the question, and not to enter rashly on a contract which would give satisfaction to few and dissatisfaction to many.


said, he did not blame the Galway Company for what they had done, but he thought it would have been the more regular course, where so large a sum of money was involved, if the contract had been opened to fair tenders for the best means of communication between Ireland and America. He might have his predilections for the port with which he was connected, and thought it was the best for the purpose; but he desired to look on this question not locally but Imperially, and he only wished the matter to be settled openly and fairly. The gentlemen connected with Galway had done much to secure a communication between Ireland and America, and their claims were entitled to consideration, but still it was right that the contract should be put up to public tender. The question was still open for inquiry, and the whole matter ought to be submitted to the House of Commons.


said, he was of opinion that no subsidies at all were requisite, either for the postal or commercial service between England and America. If the communication between the two countries were left to private enterprise, ample accommodation would be afforded without the necessity for resorting to Imperial taxation. The Great Eastern, with which he was connected, would, when ready for sea, be prepared to carry on the postal communication across the Atlantic swifter than any other ship without asking the Government for a shilling. With regard to Galway, he did not ask himself whether that was the best or worst port for the purposes required; but he contended that if it were really the best it would soon have been selected as the point of intercommunication, and he thought the Government ought to have paused before supporting any individual enterprise.

Motion agreed to.

Copy ordered, "of all Correspondence on the subject of the intended Mail Service between Galway and America."