HC Deb 08 April 1859 vol 153 cc1568-75

said, he rose to ask the Secretary to the Treasury, whether, Sir Samuel Cunard having offered, through a deputation who waited on the Admiralty and Treasury departments on Monday last, to convey the mails weekly between an Irish port and America for the sum of £500 the voyage out and home, it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to persevere in completing a contract for £300 for this service (fortnightly) between Galway and America? As an Irish Member, he felt grateful to the Government for sending the American mail through Ireland; but, in his opinion, it was not right that so extensive a contract, amounting to £78,000 a year, should have been given without any competition, or without any other persons but the Galway Steam Packet Company being informed that such a service was required to be performed. He might also state, that since he had given notice of his intention to ask this question, Sir S. Cunard had authorized him to say that this service could be executed for £250 a voyage, or one-twelfth of the sum which the Government had undertaken to pay to the Irish company.


said, he would, in the first place, answer the question put by the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Hopwood), with respect to the dismissal of a gentleman from the Emigration Office. He would explain, at the outset, that the Commissioners of Emigration acted under the Colonial Office, and that no gentleman could properly be admitted into that department unless he received the certificate of the Civil Service Commissioners. The gentleman to whom the question related was an employé in Mr. Gurney's office, and was taken thence during a great pressure which occurred in the Government Offices some few years since. Several other gentlemen were taken at the same time into the Government employment. It was intended that their engagements should cease at the end of the Parliamentary Session, and such intention was carried out in all cases except that of this particular gentleman. As the engagement was temporary at its commencement, these gentlemen did not receive the certificate of the Civil Service Commissioners. When that gentleman remained in the office, his case was not brought before the Commissioners for some time. At the end of two years and a half, however, it was remarked that he had not obtained a certificate. He was then examined, and the result was, that he was found perfectly competent for his post, so far as literary attainments were concerned. He could not, however, produce the necessary certificate of health, and hence the Commissioners had no option, according to their rules, but to report that he was not qualified for the post he held. He could assure the House that this subject of the health of the Government clerks was a most important one. In one case of an office where but twenty-one clerks were employed, the absences through ill-health were equivalent to the loss of one clerk. With reference to the question of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Beamish), he must say, that when he read that question he was much surprised, and his surprise had not been lessened by the few words which the hon. Member had addressed to the House. The hon. Gentleman seemed to insinuate that a certain duty would be performed for £500, or, as he now said, £250, for which the Galway line of packets would receive £3,000. Now, he had not had the advantage of meeting the deputation which had waited upon the Government on this subject, but he had seen Sir S. Cunard and also the hon. Gentleman upon it, and the proposition of Sir Samuel was, in fact, this:—That for the sum of £500—in addition to what he already received—that gentleman would allow his vessels to call at Cork. Now, Sir S. Cunard already received £3,400 in respect of his postal contract, and hence, by his proposal, the country would pay, not £500 merely, but £3,900. for that which the Galway line would undertake to do for £3,000. And even this did not represent the whole of the question, for if the Government were to accept the offer of Sir S. Cunard, very little additional accommodation would be afforded to either England or Ireland; the Cunard steamers, in the course of the service which they already performed, would merely call at Cork; but the Galway contractors proposed that, in addition to the service performed by Sir S. Cunard, there should be another service in every alternate week from England through Galway to America. That would give three services in one week and two in another, for at present there were two services every week from England to America; but the Postmaster General having pointed out that it would be more convenient to have three services in each week, a communication had been made to the American Government with the view of inducing it to establish an additional fortnightly service. If that application should be unsuccessful, it would be the duty of our Government to consider whether they ought not to give another service themselves, and if they decided that question in the affirmative, it would be open to Sir S. Cunard to compote for the service. He had no hesitation in saying that it was the intention of the Government to persevere in completing the contract with the Galway company.


said, he concluded, of course, that the contract would be submitted for the approval of Parliament. Indeed, he should be glad to know when the House would have an opportunity of discussing fully the conditions of the packet service, and the expediency of extending the engagements to which the country was already pledged.


said, he thought that the present Motion and others of a similar nature in opposition to the Galway line sprang from a desire to support moneyed and local interests against struggling energy. What was wanted was not that every line of steamers should start from Liverpool, but that the public should have the benefit of the advantage afforded by the geographical position of the nearest port to America. It had been generally admitted that it would be to the public advantage that a line to America should run through Ireland, and, when the whole of Ireland was open for the purpose, private energy and enterprise had fixed on Galway as the most convenient port. By the new contract with the North Western Railway Company, Galway was brought within I fifteen hours of London, and he doubted whether Cork could be brought within such easy reach of this metropolis. Even sup- posing Sir S. Cunard had a right to all the American traffic he (Lord Dunkellin) could not understand on what possible grounds that gentleman claimed anything at all for! going into the port of Cork, as it was as near for him to go by the south as by the north of Ireland. There had been at least sixty memorials to the Treasury from Chambers of Commerce, and from large and influential towns in favour of the Galway line, and he thought they were entitled to be treated with some slight respect. Gal-way was undoubtedly more conveniently situated for communication with all the different commercial towns of Ireland than Cork, but he felt that, if any principle of competition were to be laid down, it should not be a principle of competition between one town and another, but generally a competition for the conveyance of goods and mails from Ireland to America.


observed, that he had never said, and did not then intend to say one word against the Galway project; on the contrary, he wished Galway every success; but because he loved Galway much, it did not follow that he did not love the south of Ireland a little more. Sir S. Cunard asserted, on his own responsibility, as the head of a great firm, that the harbour of Cork was the best harbour in Ireland, that it was the one to which alone he would send his vessels, and that geographically speaking, with a mere difference of twenty-five miles, Cork was as near to New York as Galway was. He also stated that he knew that such were the capabilities of the harbour, that he could run his vessels in at any state of the tide—that he could place his vessels at the Admiralty stairs in any state of the tide—that there would be no outlay necessary to suit the harbour to his object, and that the communication between Cork Harbour and London could be accomplished within 16½ hours, or two hours within the time of the transit between London and Galway. By accepting Sir Samuel Cunard's proposition, the advantages offered by the other company every fortnight could be obtained every week. However valuable Galway harbour might be, a considerable time must elapse, and the expenditure of a large sum of public money must be incurred, before it could be rendered equal in advantages and importance to the harbour of Cork. There were sometimes as many as 500 ships of all sizes in Cork harbour; and it contained docks large enough for the refitting of the largest merchant steamers, and for the reception of ships of the size of the Duke of Wellington. There was in that city a large and important mercantile community, and it had the advantage of direct communication with London. He thought then, that as the Government were ready to give so large a subsidy to Galway they ought to grant the small subsidy to Cork, which would secure the great advantages which Sir S. Cunard was ready to offer to the public.


said, it was of great importance that the House should know whether this contract was to be made on the sole authority of the Admiralty or the Treasury, and whether the public were to know nothing about it until it was concluded, and they found themselves saddled with £78,000 a year for seven years. This course was proposed in the face of the declared opinion of a Commission over which Viscount Canning presided, and which recommended that in every instance the contracts for the postal service should be made by public competition. In November last the Treasury distinctly stated, in reply to an application from the Philadelphia Company, that that was the principle which governed them; but in this case they had entirely departed from that principle, and were concluding a contract without public competition, and without allowing the House to pronounce an opinion on the subject. As Parliament was on the eve of a dissolution, it would be impossible to appoint a Committee to investigate the matter during the present Session, and probably before the new Parliament assembled the contract would be completed, and the House would have no opportunity of expressing its approval or disapproval of the arrangement. He would not enter into any discussion of the merits of the rival ports, but it had certainly been declared, over and over again, by commissions, including many eminent naval men, that Galway was not the best port in Ireland for a packet station. He trusted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would tell the House that this question would not be determined without its being fairly submitted to Parliament. He was perfectly aware that the right hon. Gentleman had spoken, but a nod from him would suffice. He was sorry to see that the right hon. Gentleman's head remained perfectly stationary, and he presumed, therefore, that he could not give an assurance which would be so satisfactory. Everyone was agreed that such a communication as was proposed between Ireland and America should be adopted, but the question was whether it should be carried out in a fair manner by open competition, or by such a contract as the Government contemplated. He did not impute any motives; but he thought it un-fortunate that the Government should have the power — if they did posses it — of making these private arrangements, which might be turned to political advantage. An opening wag thus afforded to something nearly akin to jobbing, and he thought the proper course was that the question should be loft for the consideration of a Committee, or, at least, fairly submitted to the House before the country was pledged to the expenditure of a large sum of money.


said, he thought the Government had come to a proper determination in proposing to give the new line of communication a fair trial, and he hoped the House would not be led away from a fair consideration of this question by the hon. Member's (Mr. Monsell's) observations. He (Mr. Repton) was connected neither with Cork, Galway, nor Limerick, and his only wish was that the best course should be pursued in originating a system of communication between Ireland and America, a communication which was agreed on all hands ought to be opened. He thought that if the question was referred to a Committee of the new Parliament much valuable time would be lost without any counterbalancing advantage. The subject had been reported upon again and again, and there was now in the hands of the Government every possible information they could require. Her Majesty's Government had, he believed, conferred a great boon on the sister country by concluding the contract with the Galway Company.


said, he felt it necessary to make a few observations with reference to that control which the House ought at all times to have over the expenditure of public money. His attention had been called incidentally to the subject under discussion when he formed one of a Commission appointed to inquire into the management of the Post Office. One of the recommendations made by that Commission was that the direction of the steam services should be transferred from the Post Office to the Admiralty, in order that the Admiralty might include the expenditure in respect of those services in their estimates, and that so the expenditure might be brought under the consideration of the House of Commons. He was totally unable to express an opinion upon the question whether Galway was or was not the best terminus for a new communication with America. There could be no doubt that the House would desire to afford the best communication that could be obtained between Ireland and America; but what he wanted particularly to press upon the House was that they ought to be extremely jealous is cases of this sort. He hoped that at the first possible moment an opportunity would be afforded to the House of hearing explanations and pronouncing an opinion on the subject. Meanwhile he would ask whether it was the intention of the Government in the Estimates of the present year to submit to Parliament the expenditure which would be caused by the contract, consequently placing it in the power of Parliament to say aye or no to the advisability of incurring this expenditure.


said, he thought that if the House was to enter into a revision of contracts, such a revision should not be confined to the Lever Line, but should embrace the Cunard line. He believed the contract with Sir S. Cunard had lately been extended without any competition whatever. In his opinion the Government deserved credit for their prompt and proper interference to assist this attempt to establish a Transatlantic communication between Ireland and America. On such an occasion he had hoped that no local jealousies would have been allowed to interfere, and he was surprised that other ports, where no effort had been made to establish a line of communication, should, like the dog in the manger, try to prevent Galway from enjoying the benefits to which it was fairly entitled.


said, the contract ought to have been opened to public competition. From the course which had been pursued the steam proprietors of Liverpool, who had some of the finest boats at their command had not had an opportunity of competing for the postal communication with America.


observed that he presumed that the silence of the Treasury bench proceeded from its inability in point of form to answer the question put by his right hon. Friend (Mr. Labouchere), but he trusted that when the report of Supply came up some Member of the Cabinet—in the absence of the First Lord of the Admiralty, with whom properly speaking the responsibility rested—would offer an explanation. For his part he should be unwilling to interfere in the rivalry between Galway and Cork, but the taxpayers of this country had a deep interest in this question. He doubted greatly whether additional packet communication was required between this country and America. Considering the lines of packets now running between the two countries, he questioned whether a new fortnightly communication was worth the heavy sum which it was proposed to pay for it. But even if that were admitted, still graver questions would arise—namely, whether the Government, not by open contract, but by private arrangement, could make an engagement binding on the country to the extent of £78,000 a year without the sanction of this House. He hoped the Government would be in a condition to inform the House that they were not now absolutely bound by any such engagement, that an opportunity would be given even to the present, but at all events to the next Parliament, of pronouncing upon the expediency of this extra communication, accompanied by such heavy extra expenditure, and that care would be taken to make any arrangement wholly a conditional one until the sense of Parliament was taken upon it.


said, that a Liverpool firm which had been running steamers between this country and America lately applied to the Government with regard to the conveyance of mails, and the answer they received was, that it was the practice of the Government in such cases to invite tenders by public advertisements, thereby affording to all parties an opportunity of competing. That reply, he contended, contained the enunciation of a sound principle. Why should that principle be departed from? If principles were thus to be disregarded, where would such conduct end? He thought the matter should be fully discussed, and he hoped the Government had not pledged themselves to the payment of the £78,000 a year. Many commercial considerations existed besides those relied upon as justifying the contract, all of which, however, ought to be fairly and fully discussed.

Motion agreed to.

House at rising to adjourn till Monday next.