§ House in Committee; MR. MASSEY in the Chair.
Question again proposed,
That a sum not exceeding £100,440, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the expense of maintaining and keeping in repair the Royal Parks, Pleasure Grounds, and other Charges connected therewith, to the 31st day of March, 1861.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum not exceeding £60,000, be granted to Her Majesty, for carrying into effect the Contract for the Conveyance of Mails between Galway and Ports in America, to the 31st day of March, 1861.
§ MR. LAING
said, that in proposing a Vote for what was known as the Galway Subsidy, as the subject was one of considerable interest, and as notice had been given of an intention to oppose the Vote, he 997 might be allowed to state shortly the precise position of the Government with respect to it. On the 21st of April last year the late Government entered into a contract with a company called the Atlantic Royal Mail Company for the conveyance of mails across the Atlantic. That contract was duly signed and executed between the representatives of the Company on the one hand, and the representatives of the Government on the other. It was in the usual form, with one exception—it contained the words "out of moneys to be voted by Parliament." In all other respects it was a perfectly valid and binding legal document, as much so as any contract ever entered into by any Government. It excited a good deal of public interest at the time, and immediately on the assembling of the new Parliament after the dissolution it became the subject of considerable discussion in that House; but no Resolution was brought forward either affirming or negativing the particular contract in question. On the motion of the Government, however, a Select Committee was appointed for the purpose of investigating the whole subject of contracts, and reporting to the House recommendations as to the manner in which such contracts should be carried into effect in future. That Committee entered into a very lengthened investigation, and in the case of one contract—the Dovor contract—it made a specific recommendation to the House that the money should not be voted. In the case of the Galway contract the Committee made two reports, but in neither did it offer any specific recommendation with respect to the withholding of the Vote. The Company, the contract being executed, and no proceedings being taken in the last Session of Parliament to stay its progress, in the usual course entered into contract for the building of four large steamers, at a cost of about £480,000. Those contracts proceeded. One of the vessels was completed and was now performing the service between Galway and America; another had been launched, and would be ready to start in the beginning of next month; the third would also be ready in the course of next month; and the fourth was in a state of great forwardness. Just before the contract commenced an arrangement was proposed for transferring it to the Canadian Government; but that arrangement was not sanctioned by the Government. They felt strongly the importance, if possible, of attending to the interests of Canada, 998 which had been overlooked in the original contract; but on going into the details of the proposed transfer it was found to involve so much new matter-—the substitution of screw steamers for paddles, the alteration of some of the ports of arrival and departure, and the alteration of the times of sailing, penalties, and so on,—as to make it substantially a new contract. The Government felt so pledged to the House and the country not to enter into any new contract of this description without putting it up to public competition, that they could not with propriety sanction a transfer which might otherwise have been desirable. That proposal, therefore, fell to the ground, and the House must deal with the case as if that episode had never occurred. Under these circumstances the position of the Government was very simple. They had a contract which, beyond all question, was legally binding upon them. A Select Committee, which, after a lengthened investigation, had made a specific recommendation in the case of another contract, had concluded its labours without any recommendation to the House affecting the validity of the Galway contract. The Company had entered into engagements involving nearly half-a-million of money, and was in a position substantially to fulfil its part of the contract. The contract was not literally carried out as regarded the vessels, but the vessels were so nearly ready that the Government felt they could not propose to carnal the contract merely because a Company which had entered into an engagement for seven years was a few weeks behind, especially since it was ready to provide other vessels of sufficient size and power for performing the service in the meantime. If the contract was to be broken, it must be upon some broader ground. With a binding contract before them, with no Report adverse to it from the Select Committee, and with a substantial compliance with its terms on the part of the Company, the Government obviously had no course open to them, except to fulfil the legal obligations of the contract. They therefore proposed this Vote to the House, and intended to give it by their votes an honest and bonâ fide support. As far as the Government were concerned he might stop here; but as he served on the Select Committee, and concurred cordially with the majority of its members in refraining from recommending the cancelling of the contract, he might be permitted to say a few words to 999 justify the conclusion at which the majority of the Committee arrived. It would he admitted by every Gentleman in the House that when a contract had been entered into which was legal and valid, and in connection with which an outlay of nearly half a million of money had taken place, a Committee could not recommend the House to cancel such contract without some specific grounds for its proceeding. On what grounds, then, had it been suggested that such a recommendation might justly have been made? The first ground offered for breaking the contract was that of the general policy, or rather impolicy, of the engagement. In the present case the conclusion of the Committee undoubtedly was that the Galway contract was an impolitic and improvident arrangement. He did not say so in any party spirit, or for the purpose of imputing undue blame to the Government by whom the contract was made, because the evidence given before the Select Committee showed that neither party in that House had much to boast of with respect to mail contracts. It showed also how matters had got into an unsatisfactory condition. During the long and able administration of Mr. Wilson as Financial Secretary to the Treasury this description of business had fallen so completely into his hands that, on his removal owing to the frequent changes which subsequently took place, the record of such transactions in the Department had not been kept as it ought to have been. "When he called the contract impolitic and improvident he should also say that it was a good contract in its general purport and object; for he thought, if there were to be any subsidies for the conveyance of mails across the Atlantic at all, that Ireland, which contributed one-third of the whole postage, and which, from its geographical position, afforded the nearest, and therefore the speediest, point of departure, might justly demand to have its claims considered. Admitting that as the nearest point to America Ireland was entitled to a packet service, the mode in which that service had been created might still be unsatisfactory. Persons might say that the contract had been made in violation of distinct pledges which had been given to Canada, that her interests should not be overlooked; that it had been made in violation of pledges given to an independent body of steamboat proprietors at Liverpool that nothing should be done without giving them full liberty of making tenders; 1000 and also in violation of the interests of British taxpayers, who were entitled to have services of such a nature put up to public competition. But admitting, to the fullest extent, all those objections, he was bound to express the strong feeling which he entertained that arrangements of this sort could not be set aside on mere grounds of general policy or impolicy. If a man for a long series of years trusted the conduct of a particular class of business to an agent, who ultimately made a mistake, it was not for the principal to turn round and repudiate what had been done at the expense of innocent parties. The practice of the House, whether rightly or wrongly, for a long period had been to leave the executive Government the arrangement of contracts of this description; and although many of these, no doubt, might have been impugned on grounds of general policy, there was no instance, he believed, in which the House had ever refused to vote the estimate for a contract entered into by the executive Government, on the ground merely that they had made a bad, or an impolitic arrangement. A conclusive reason why the House of Commons, even if upon the evidence they thought themselves justified in cancelling this contract, could not now do so with any justice or propriety, was that last year would have been the time for doing so, and not the present. The general circumstances were equally well known then, and at that time the Company had not entered on the execution of their engagements by which they had incurred heavy pecuniary liabilities. It might have been possible to negative the contract then without injuring the parties concerned; but to do so now would be to entail upon them ruinous loss. There would, however, be no justice in cancelling the Galway contract on the ground of general impolicy, unless the House was prepared to take the same course with regard to the Cunard contract, which stood on precisely the same ground and was open to precisely the same objection. It seemed to him entirely beside the question to discuss whether the contract was more or less impolitic, unless some specific ground could be shown for setting it aside. A question had been raised whether that specific ground might not be found in the words—"out of moneys to be voted by Parliament;" and, undoubtedly, if the construction put upon them last year by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire had been 1001 the correct one—if those words could have been held to mean a complete suspension of the whole proceedings until the judgment of Parliament had been obtained upon them—if they were, in fact, equivalent to the recommendation since made by the and Select Committee on Packet Contracts, adopted by the House, that there should be an express proviso that every contract should be subject to the judgment of Parliament—that, indeed, would have been a perfectly valid ground on which the House might have proceeded to exercise an unbiassed judgment on the policy of the Government. If that construction could have been maintained, it would have saved the Select Committee a vast deal of trouble; and, instead of sitting for three months, it might have arrived at a conclusion and terminated its labours in three days. But when the meaning of those words and the object with which they had been introduced came to be accurately sifted before the Committee, it was found that they really had no such purport at all. The hon. Baronet, the Member for Stamford (Sir Stafford Northcote), who was then "Financial Secretary of the Treasury, stated that he had introduced them to save the Members of the Government personally from actions, which might otherwise be brought against them in the event of Parliament, for any reason, declining to sanction the contract. The internal evidence of the contract showed clearly that such was the case; because, according to the terms of the contract, it was to take effect from. June in the present year; while the estimate for the contract could hardly have been voted before June or July: and, therefore, if the construction sought to be attached to it were valid, this absurd conclusion would have been arrived at—that the Company would have been obliged to incur an expenditure of £500,000 to build vessels, and to pay forfeiture, if they were not ready to perform their engagements by June, 1860; whereas, till July or August, as it proved, it would have been entirely uncertain whether or not Parliament would proceed to ratify the contract. To show that these words could not be carried further than to negative the possibility of an action against the members of the Government individually, he might appeal first to the judgment of the Committee, by whom the evidence had been investigated with great pains and minuteness, and, in the next place, to the plain and obvious construction of the document itself. The 1002 House might, of course, negative the contract if they thought fit; but they must do so for sufficient reason and not upon moral grounds merely. In the Dovor contract these same words, "out of moneys to be provided by Parliament," were inserted; and it was held by the Dovor Committee that those words did not of themselves justify the House in repudiating the agreement; unless it could be shown that there was a specific intention of corrupt or collusive action on the part of the contractor. The decision which the House came to in that case, rested distinctly on the ground that, if they believed the evidence given before the Committee, there had been a specific charge of attempted corruption against the contractor. Another ground put forward as a possible justification for refusing to sanction the contract was, that the Company, from its first formation, had been in pecuniary difficulties; and that the certificate given to the late Government on which the contract was founded, had been probably an insufficient document. There, again, he thought the objection entirely beside the present question; for the Government had acted as the agent of Parliament; and if it had made a mistake in not fully investigating the solvency of the Company, previous to granting the contract, that mistake could not now be visited on innocent parties who had invested money in the undertaking. It was possible that if the circumstances of the Company had been investigated more rigidly in the first instance, grounds might have been found for not proceeding further with it; but as that had not been done, as the contract was executed, and as the Company, whatever its difficulties or embarrassments, had struggled through them, and managed to get their vessels built and in readiness to start, he did not see that Parliament had a right to go back to the previous condition of the Company, and to make their previous embarrassments a ground for refusing to fulfil the contract. The sole remaining ground was the only one which, in his opinion, could be fairly urged to excuse such a violent and extreme step; he referred now to the matter contained in the second Report from the Select Committee. It there appeared that an agreement had been entered into by the hon. Member for Gal way (Mr. Lever), one of the promoters of the Company, with certain parties, according to which Mr. Lever was to pay a considerable sum of money to a gentleman named O'Malley Irwin, in 1003 consideration of his influence and good offices in assisting to obtain the contract. Subsequently a dispute arose respecting the payment, and an action was brought against Mr. Lever, who pleaded that he had been induced to enter into this agreement, by representations of the great influence possessed by Mr. O'Malley Irwin and Mr. Holmes, with whom he was associated. He had no wish to bear at all hardly on the hon. Member for Galway; and he thought it right to recall the fact that Mr. Lever was not at that time a Member of that House. That Gentleman stated before the Committee that he was somewhat inexperienced in these transactions. He certainly had no difficulty in admitting the plea; for that any man, and still more a Manchester man, should have believed that the influence of Mr. O'Malley Irwin was worth £5,000 in hard cash, argued an amount of Arcadian simplicity for which he had been by no means prepared. The House, however, could not hesitate to come to the conclusion that agreements of such a nature deserved serious reprobation; and, however ridiculous contracts of that sort might appear, it was incumbent on the House to set its face resolutely against practices, which, if carried out on a large scale, would be productive of dangerous consequences. For these reasons he adopted heartily the recommendation which the Committee had unanimously made, that if the contract had been entered into with Mr. Lever personally it would have been proper to apply the same rule in his case as in that of Mr. Churchward upon the Dovor contract, and to refuse to sanction the Vote of money for its execution; but that the party contracted with being an independent Company, and the rights and interests of innocent individuals being involved, the question assumed a totally different aspect. The agreement was dated June 2, 1858, but the contract was not entered into until the 21st of April, 1859, almost a year subsequently. That was important, because if Mr. Lever had got the contract under that agreement, and had subsequently made it over to the Company, then it might have been held that they took it with all its consequences. If it was bad in Mr. Lever's hand, it could not have been good in theirs; but the fact was that the contract was made not the least in the world with Mr. Lever individually, but with the Company, comprising a number of independent directors and shareholders, represented by a chairman 1004 —the hon. Member for Sheffield ho knew the Spartan virtue of that hon. and learned Gentleman would say that he was the last man in the world to have anything to do with a transaction of that sort. Whether the contract was rightly or wrongly given it was apparent that it was given not with a view of conciliating Mr. Irwin, but to conciliate very important interests in Ireland. This part of the case was thoroughly sifted before the Committee, and nothing could be more ridiculous than the attempt to show that the parties to the agreement had ever given value for the money stipulated to be paid. The confidential interview with Lord Derby turned out to be a waylaying of his Lordship at the bottom of the Duke of York's steps on his way to the Treasury, and hanging on to him with considerable pertinacity until he found refuge in the friendly portals of his office. All the rest of the case broke down in a similar manner. Whatever, therefore, might have been the intention of the parties no one could say that the contract was obtained by the corrupt influence of Mr. Irwin or anybody else. It might have been made hastily and improvidently, and without due consideration to English or Canadian interests; but there was no pretence for saying that it was made corruptly. The ease then came to this—was it fair to hold the independent shareholders of this Company responsible for the acts done by one of the directors more than ten months before the contract was obtained, and before the Company was formed? There was nothing in the contract itself to give the shareholders any warning that it was tainted with corruption. It was not as though any extravagant sum was to be given for the services performed. The bargain itself might be a bad one for the public; but, assuming that any subsidy was to be given, looking to the manner in which the service was to be performed, and the rate of mileage which was paid to the Cunard line, it was impossible to say that the sum which the Company was to receive was extravagantly high, or, in fact, more than it was necessary should be paid. It was argued that the rate of payment was altogether extravagant because the Canadian Government were ready to give a bonus of £30,000 a year to have the contract handed over to them; but the reason why they were in a position to do that was, that they were already paying a subsidy of £85,000 1005 for a line of their own, and it was clear that by consolidating the two contracts and performing the two services with one line they would make a very good bargain. There was nothing, therefore, in the circumstances of the contract or the amount of the subsidy to lead the Company to suspect that the contract was a corrupt one. They saw a contract entered into in the usual way—they saw that no action was taken against it in the last Session of Parliament, a strong appeal was made to the national feelings of Irishmen to take shares in the undertaking, and a very large number of gentlemen, about 1,750, did come forward and subscribe money towards the undertaking, believing it to be for the interest of their country. It would be very hard, therefore, to sacrifice their interests, because a man over whom they had no control had made an imprudent and an improper agreement many months before. It might be argued that it would be possible to cancel the contract and give compensation to the shareholders; but such a course would be utterly out of the question, looking to the magnitude of the compensation which would be required. It would be impossible to draw a distinction between different classes of shareholders, and the compensation required would be to meet a capital of £450,000 to £500,000, which would be depreciated by at least one-half. The loss to be incurred by any attempt to compensate the shareholders would be far larger than any loss under the contract. The question, then, came to this—whether the House of Commons would submit to the loss which would be incurred by the difference between the amount of the subsidy and the postage which would be received—a loss in round numbers of some £48,000 a year—or whether they would incur the odium of repudiating a binding engagement. He hoped the question would be considered fairly on its merits by English Members without any reference to its being to some extent an Irish question. The time was come when no distinction ought to be drawn between England and Ireland in such matters. Ireland was entitled to be treated on the same footing as England. He hoped, therefore, that hon. Gentlemen would not be prejudiced in judging the question by any attempt to represent this as an Irish job. He put it on this footing—that a bargain is a bargain. He could imagine nothing worse for the character of the country than that under any possible pre- 1006 tence the House of Commons should sanction a breach of faith, and thus set a precedent for future transactions of a similar character, which might end in the adoption of the American practice, which we had so often stigmatized, of repudiating inconvenient obligations.
§ MR. E. P. BOUVERIE
felt as strongly as the hon. Secretary to the Treasury the importance of the House not earning for itself that character which attached to some of the Legislatures on the other side of the Atlantic; but the House owed it to its own dignity not to sanction transactions which would not bear investigation. He hoped that the hon. Gentlemen from the sister country would believe that in moving a direct negative to the Vote he was actuated by no feeling of hostility towards that portion of the kingdom. He trusted that his past votes and conduct in that House showed that he never was one of those disposed to treat Irishmen differently from the rest of Her Majesty's subjects. The present proposal was to vote £60,000 as a first instalment towards what was commonly called the Galway contract. The contract was for an annual payment of £78,000 for seven years; so that they were now asked for the first time to give their sanction to an arrangement which would involve an expenditure of public money to the amount of £546,000. If this Vote were passed no further opposition could be taken; and they must therefore be careful how they took the first step in the matter. If it were true that the House was bound by the contract, there would be no occasion to argue the matter, though they might grumble about being saddled with the payment of this large sum of money; but he was at issue with the Secretary to the Treasury on this point. This Galway contract was the first in which were inserted the words that the money was to be paid to the contractors "out of moneys to be provided by Parliament;" and there was the authority of the hon. Member who inserted those words, the Member for Stamford (Sir Stafford Northcote), to the effect that they were introduced with the distinct object of giving to Parliament an opportunity of pronouncing an opinion on the subject. Nay, more; the hon. Member told the Committee last year that the contractors in the Galway case objected to these words being introduced, but nevertheless took the contract subject to that condition. The Secretary to the Treasury stated that it was too late to dispute the matter now— 1007 that it ought to have been disputed last year. He (Mr. Bouverie) did dispute it last year; and then the proposal was made that the facts should first be ascertained by the appointment of a Committee, and that when the Committee reported that would be the time to discuss the matter. How, then, could the Secretary of the Treasury have the face to say that it was too late—that the matter should have been disputed last year? The right hon. Member for Bucks told the House, on that very occasion, "that it might be satisfactory to him (Mr. Bouverie) to learn that it would be in the power of the House, when a Vote of money was proposed, to reject it entirely." He hoped, therefore, they would hear nothing more of that argument. Let them deal with the question on its merits, and decide whether it was right to saddle the country with this expenditure for the next seven years. He wished to submit that this expenditure was, in the opinion of the best authorities, needless. It could not be considered by itself, for the taxpayers of this country were already saddled with the payment of £191,000 per annum for the very same service. Sir Samuel Cunard, who for twenty years had carried on the service with a skill and regularity which could not be too highly praised, had a contract which would expire in 1862; but in 1857 he applied to the Government, of which the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston) was then the head, for a renewal of his contract, and, after careful consideration, the Treasury in March, 1858, passed a Minute, which though lauding Sir Samuel Cunard's services, expressed on the part of the authorities their determination that the time had not come when they could fairly consider the question of the renewal of the contract. A change of Government took place, and in the same month Sir Samuel Cunard renewed his application, and that application was favourably entertained by the then Government—that of the party opposite; and in May, 1858, Sir Samuel Cunard obtained the renewal of his contract for five years from the expiration of the existing one. So that the country was already engaged, apart from the contract now under consideration, to pay for postal service to New York and Boston no less a sum than £191,000 per annum for seven years to come. Thus it was proposed that the two sums of £191,000 and £78,000 a year should be paid for a service which the Post Office authorities stated only produced £112,000 a year, 1008 and something like £150,000 a year would be paid by the public in pure loss for this postal service. Therefore, on general grounds the present Vote was objectionable, as being a needless expenditure not required for the postal service. Nothing could more clearly show how scandalous the whole thing was than the statement of Sir Rowland Hill, the Secretary of the Post Office, who said that he considered that both these contracts were unnecessary in a postal point of view for the public service; and even the Committee said that they could not but record their conviction that it was quite practicable to dispense with subsidies in such cases, and that no such subsidy as that with North America was required in order to secure a regular and efficient postal service. But that was not the ground on which he objected to the Vote. He objected altogether to the way in which the contract was entered into. It appeared from the statement of Mr. Stephenson, who was the head of the department connected with these matters, that it was the universa practice for the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to deal with these questions; so much so that this great question respecting the Cunard contract was stated by Mr. Hamilton to have been decided by himself alone, as Secretary to the Treasury, in spite of the previous contrary decision. With respect to the Galway contract, did it go through the regular course? Did the Secretary to the Treasury consider it? Nothing of the sort. Sir Stafford Northcote had nothing to do with it, and Mr. Hamilton likewise declined any responsibility connected with it; but it appeared that Lord Derby had sent to Mr. Stephenson to communicate with him on the subject, and had requested a memorandum from that gentleman on the matter. That memorandum was prepared, the tone of it rather implying that the thing ought not to be done; and then, contrary to all official practice, in breach of the invariable custom followed at the Treasury, Lord Derby wrote a Minute, directing that the contract with the Galway Company should be entered into. This was also in opposition to the deliberate advice of the Postmaster General, Lord Colchester, to whom the application for the contract had in the regular course been referred, and who, in a carefully reasoned paper, showed conclusively the inexpediency of entering into it upon general and special grounds. Lord Derby's Minute was, moreover, in direct contravention of engagements made be- 1009 tween the English and the Canadian Governments. Only two months before the Treasury gave a distinct pledge that this postal service between Galway and America, if carried out at all, should be put up to public competition. Canada complained, and he (Mr. Bouverie) thought with justice, of these subsidies. The Canadians had spent altogether, the shareholders and the province, some £20,000,000 of money, with a view of making a great line of communication by railway and ship canals between Western America and Europe. The line terminated at Portland, in Maine, in the United States, and the object of the Canadians was to attract the vast trade between Western America and Europe to that line; but they complained that the English Government were positively giving a bounty to lines of communication to the United States. In' 1856 they urged these facts, the Governor of Canada bringing them under the notice of the home authorities, and the Treasury and the Colonial Office then practically pledged themselves by a Treasury Minute and by a letter of Mr. Labouchere's to the Canadian Government, that the Cunard contract should not be renewed without giving the Canadians an opportunity of representing their case. Not only, however, was the Cunard contract I renewed without any such opportunity being given, but a fresh Company was subsidized and a fresh line of communication opened other than that wished by the colony. Lord Derby stated before the Committee that he knew nothing what ever of these things; but then what business had he to deal with the question? There was evidence that the papers were before him. Mr. Stephenson said, so; Mr. Hamilton said he received the papers back from Lord Derby; and, though it was true the Treasury Minute and Mr. Labouchere's letter were not among them, it was equally true that the same day that the application was made for the Galway line, there was presented the long letter addressed to the Treasury on the subject of the Galway contract from the Montreal Shipping Company, whose line was subsidized by the colony, entreating to be allowed compete. That letter ought to have been among those papers if the Treasury had done their duty, and ought to have called Lord Derby's attention to the subject. Lord Derby further disregarded the pledge given by the Treasury itself. There was a large ocean line of steamers which for many years had carried on an independent 1010 service between New York and Liverpool The manager of this line, seeing in the papers that communications were passing between the Treasury and the Galway Company, wrote to ask for permission to tender. This was not a very unreasonable request, and on the 9th of November, 1858, Sir Charles Trevelyan replied that it was the practice of the Treasury to invite tenders in such cases, thereby giving an opportunity of competing for the service to individuals who complied with the prescribed conditions. On the 18th of January following, the Galway Company sent in their application. On the 22nd of February, without the slightest reference to the promise given in Sir Charles Trevelyan's letter, Lord Derby's Minute authorized the contract between the Galway Company and the Government. Now, he was not going to impute to Lord Derby a wilful disregard of this pledge. No Gentleman could have so failed in his duty if he had been aware of such an undertaking; but he did complain that Lord Derby, taking the matter out of its ordinary course, and dealing with it in a manner never before known, should have been so regardless of his duty as to have neglected the fullest consideration of every document which could have been placed before him. What was the next stage in this transaction? He had stated that Mr. Hamilton and Sir Stafford Northcote repudiated having anything to do with it, and it was due to them to say that they seemed rather ashamed of the whole business. The Treasury Minute directed that the contract should be entered into provided proper security was given that the Company were able to perform their engagements. It was necessary, therefore, before the contract was formally concluded, that security should be given; and here came another strange part of the transaction. It was stated by Mr. Stephenson that the invariable practice of the Treasury had been to require from the parties contracting reasonable evidence of their ability to perform their undertaking. In this case the capital of the Company was £500,000. The Treasury wrote to say that the ordinary practice was to require proof that the nominal capital had been subscribed for, and 20 per cent paid up; but that in this particular case they would be satisfied with £200,000 being subscribed for and £100,000 paid up. The Company did not like this, and wrote to suggest another arrangement, which was that a certificate 1011 should be given that 6,149 shares had been subscribed for and £3 paid upon them, which would amount to £18,400, representing a capital of £61,000; and, to make up the £100,000, that there should be a certificate showing that the full amount of £10 per share had been paid up on 11,100 shares, the same having been paid as cash for the purchase of ships, the nominal value of these shares being £111,000. Upon that certificate the Treasury Minute issued was,Write to the Admiralty, and state that my Lords have satisfied themselves of the financial position of the Company; the contract may be entered into.My Lords were uncommonly easily satisfied. Of this money £18,000 only was paid up, and £111,000 was represented by the ships of the company. What was the value of such a security, and what reliance was to be placed on a certificate which was in fact merely a letter written by one of the directors? He did not impute to the hon. Member for Galway that he knew it was worthless, but he had tested its value by calling for a return of the copy of the register of ships at the Custom House. The Return was laid on the table yesterday, and if hon. Gentlemen would take the trouble to look at it they would see these startling facts—that, with regard to two of the ships stated to belong to the Company the names of which wore given to the Committee by the hon. Member for Galway, the Company had nothing to do with them; and that with regard to the others they were, it was true, in the hands of the Company at the time the certificate was given, not indeed wholly unincumbered, while on the very day after the contract was signed they were all mortgaged to persons who were clerks to great capitalists in the city, as security for a current account. Was not that a proof that up to that time it was a bubble Company and perfectly incapable of performing the obligations which it had undertaken? It also appeared by the Returns that the new ship which was now on its passage from America to Galway, the Connaught, was mortgaged to the builders to the full value. What explanation could be given of these transactions? He was not going to blink the matter. He could not understand why Lord Derby had taken this matter out of the ordinary course, except upon one explanation which he would state to the House. What was the date of this contract being entered into between 1012 the Company and the Treasury? It was the 21st of April. What took place on the 19th of April? Parliament was dissolved, and he did not scruple to say that this was an election job, on a gigantic scale. Every hon. Member who, with an impartial mind, carefully attended to the evidence, would see that it all pointed that way. If this Company had been a bonâ fide concern, the House would have been bound to fulfil their engagement. They might condemn their agent, but they would have no right to avoid the contract. But then came the further part of the transaction to which the hon. Secretary to the Treasury had referred—namely, the disclosure of the conduct of one of the parties to the contract, the hon. Member for Galway. It was all very well to try to distinguish between the Galway Company and the hon. Member for Galway; but he could not make that distinction. Until within the last week or two the hon. Member was one of the directors of the Company, taking the most active part in its management, and negotiating on its account, and at present, according to his own statement, he held one-fourth of the shares. They were asked to implement a transaction with respect to which, in open Court, the Chief Baron of the Exchequer, trying an action of "Irwin v. Lever," held this language. He asked the jury what they found. They said, "£1,000." [An hon. MEMBER: What was the action for? for work and labour on the part of Mr. Irwin for Mr. Lever in obtaining the contract from the Government. [An hon. MEMBER: How?] They would judge how from the words of the Lord Chief Baron. He said, "My direction would be the other way. In point of law, I very much doubt whether such an action can be brought at all." The jury said, "We leave that in your Lord-ship's hands." The Chief Baron: "In point of law it is an attempt at corrupt practices. This kind of bargains must lead to the greatest possible mischief in public and political life." This was the gentleman who, they were told, was the life and soul of the Company—who, they were told by the Parliamentary agent, was until very lately the presiding genius of the Company—who entered into negotiations last year with the Montreal Company for a transfer of the contract. He said that, with this Report before them, they would stultify themselves were they to confirm the contract. He lamented the position of the innocent shareholders; but it would be 1013 more to the public advantage to pay them whatever was fair, and to free themselves from this seven years' engagement. It appeared that the Irish shareholders, though a numerous body, did not hold any great number of shares, and therefore the compensation to them would not involve a very large amount. But it should be borne in mind that the whole capital of the Company was only £500,000, not nearly all paid up, and that the payment under the contract would amount to £546,000, so that if they paid up every share in full they still would pay less than they would have to pay under this engagement. He had endeavoured to compress the facts into as narrow a compass as possible. This transaction, in his judgment, appeared to be shapen in iniquity, and conceived in fraud and corruption. He hoped, therefore, that the House would not, by giving its sanction to the contract, make itself a party to so culpable and disgraceful a transaction.
§ MR. WHITESIDE
said, the right hon. Gentleman made the same charge last year in another instance, and signally failed; but to-night his failure was more conspicuous, because, having made the allegation with which he closed his speech, he had forgotten, in his zeal, to offer any proof by which it could be supported. The clear statement of the Secretary of the Treasury dispensed with the necessity of any lengthened address. He had looked over the list of subscribers, and he found they were as responsible and as independent gentlemen as any in the kingdom; and they had not subscribed the sum which had been stated, but four or five times that sum which had been paid up since the subsidy was granted. The first point which the right hon. Gentleman took was, that the contract was improvidently made, and he asked what business Lord Derby had to make it. His answer was, because Lord Derby was then First Lord of the Treasury. The argument of the right hon. Gentleman was that the Secretary ought to have made it—that the First Lord of the Treasury had no authority—that when the Secretary did it. It was all right, and when the First Lord did it it was all wrong. They had heard a very curious fact—that the late Secretary of the Treasury, who appeared to have managed all these matters as he thought fit, had, now that he had gone to hold high office in India, left no record of certain transactions.
§ MR. WHITESIDE
thought it was a very extraordinary statement to be followed by the right hon. Gentleman's strong allegation that the Secretary managed as he thought fit; that he was not controlled in these matters by the First Lord, and that he left no records behind him. But here was a specimen of the management of the right hon. Gentleman who was now in India when he was Secretary to the Treasury:—The case, likewise, of the contract with the European and Australian Company, formed in 1857, strongly illustrates the defects of the existing system. That contract involved a yearly subsidy of £185,000, of which one-half was to he paid by the Australian Colonies, who had no opportunity of being consulted in the framing of the contract; so that special circumspection was required. The offerers preferred were a new company without previous experience, and who had no ships fit for the work. One of these, the Oneida, which was reported against by the professional officer of the Admiralty, and had not the horse-power or the tonnage required by the contract, broke down on her first voyage. Time was not kept, and, although the Colonies complained, no steps had been taken to insure the fulfilment of the contract with suitable vessels. The company in one year lost their capital (£400,000); the service proved a complete failure, and great risk of an interruption of the postal communication was incurred. This contract had been entirely arranged by the Financial Secretary, whose acts in such matters, according to the usage of the Department, require no confirmation by any other authority.He wondered how that transaction had escaped the vigilant eye of the right hon. Gentleman. What were the facts of the present contract. That from the very day it was made the service had been faithfully, diligently, and well performed, and that time had been better kept than on the Cunard line. He believed that time was expected to be fully kept by the last ship which had been constructed. [Laughter.] It was not a subject for laughter. The speed of the vessel had been tried, and he believed the result was all that could be desired. The new vessels from Holyhead had been built to travel twenty miles per hour, and if vessels could do that across the Atlantic they would make better passages than the Cunard ships. The Great Britain, the Africa, and another vessel had met with accidents, but between Galway and America there had been no instance of failure although the attempt was now made to condemn the Company and their ships. 1015 The Post Office authorities had the power to enforce the performance of the contract, and they had done so in one instance by exacting a penalty for the substitution of a screw vessel for a paddle steamer. They were quite right in exacting the rigid observance of the engagements, and the Company could not complain of their doing so. When there was a contract capable of being enforced by penalties, when the ships to perform the contract were in running order, and when since the subsidy a sum of £175,000 had been subscribed by solvent men, it was ridiculous to talk about the Company beginning without the means of performing the contract when, in fact, the contract had been performed. Then as to the contract having been granted by Lord Derby, did the right hon. Gentleman suppose that the idea of a packet communication between Gal way and America was taken up suddenly upon the eve of an election? [Mr. E. BOUVERIE: Decidedly so.] The right hon. Gentleman was labouring under a complete delusion. The subject had been actively debated in Ireland for nine or ten years. About seven or eight years ago there was a committee formed in Dublin, of which he (Mr. Whiteside) was a member, to consider the best mode of establishing a communication between Galway and America. During the existence of that committee an American Gentleman called upon him and said, "You will never get what you want, for England will never allow you to do anything that will be prejudicial to her own interests. Give me the contract to work in New York, and I will get it done; but you will never have it from England." He (Mr. Whiteside) did not like that statement, and moreover did not believe it, for he was sure that if a thing were really for the benefit of Ireland it would not be opposed in England. He would just mention what an eminent manufacturer of the North of Ireland said in answer to the question of how a packet communication with America from Galway would affect him. He said, "We have little trade with France or the Continent, and under the treaty we may have less; but we have a large trade with America, and there is no chance whatever of the regular Atlantic traders calling at any of the ports of Ireland, unless a direct communication were established between Ireland and America. Every ship from thence passes our shores; our bills, our moneys, our letters, all go past our shores, and if we had 1016 a local Parliament we should not be refused a communication with America." If the right hon. Gentleman had made his speech in an Irish Parliament there would soon be a vote of "no confidence" in him. Surely the answer of the merchant he had quoted was a sensible one. It was stated that there were 4,000,000 persons of Irish descent in the United States, one-half of them having been born in Ireland. The postal communication between the two countries was enormous, and why was that not to be considered? There was a belief in Ireland that the opposition to the contract arose, not from a desire to benefit the country, but to withhold the advantage if possible. The Committee reported that they did not question the advantage to Ireland of a direct steam traffic to America, nor the advantage to the country generally, as long as there was no telegraphic communication, of a speedy transmission of messages. The Committee reported also that the price was moderate, and the same thing was said by Mr. Stephenson, to whom the right hon. Gentleman had referred. It was common sense to say that it was of great advantage to Ire. land to have speedy communication with a country with which she had greater intercourse than with all the rest of the world. Then they were told of corruption. If there were corruption the Committee ought to vote against the contract; but where was the corruption? It was always easy to catch at small points, and so it was said the contract was signed on the 19th of April and the dissolution occurred shortly afterwards. But the exertions to get this contract had been going on for months and years, and the arrangement was actually concluded on the 22nd of February. The right hon. Gentleman said the dissolution occurred shortly after the signature of the contract, and thereupon charitably concluded that the two circumstances were connected. Lord Derby made the contract and did not disguise it; but it was sent to Mr. Stephenson, who made a report, he being the officer to whom such matters were usually referred. He said, "The question, after all, is an Irish one." The right hon. Gentleman would perhaps understand the importance of the matter better if he were to bear in mind that the railway from the West to the North of Ireland would be speedily completed, and the distance from Belfast to Galway would be accomplished in three hours. Thus all the linen trade of Belfast might pass to 1017 America by the "West. Scotland, too, would be a gainer by having a speedy communication with the western world. The ships which had performed this contract had carried four times the number of passengers that had been carried by the Cunard ships—in some of them 600 at a time—and that more cheaply and more conveniently. To be sure that was not a matter of political economy, and mere human life and comfort did not interest some gentlemen. The undertaking was viewed with such interest that the gentry of Galway were only prevented by a rule of the House of Lords from levying a tax upon themselves to improve the harbour and provide accommodation for the steamers. Surely, as they were now voting large sums for fortifications, it might be thought very desirable to have the means of speedy communication along our coasts. Where was the fraud that was imputed? There were a dozen pamphlets, written by most respectable men, of good position, all in favour of the contract. The Post Office authorities were watchful—nay, hypercritical, and had actually enforced a penalty stipulated in the contract. Then there was a talk about there having been no competition. He remembered a Gentleman complaining that a contract for stamps had been accepted without any competition being allowed, and the Treasury said then, "We are not bound always to admit competition." He had read over the case to which the right hon. Gentleman had referred—of Irwin v. Lever, and a more absurd one lie never heard of. No corruption, however, was proved on that trial, and the verdict was not worth a farthing. [Mr. E. P. BOUVERIE: £1,000.] It was not worth 6d., he could assure the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock. It was, taken altogether, a ridiculous case; but to repudiate on such grounds a contract as against shareholders, who knew no more of these transactions than of the man in the moon, would be most unjust. That was not a case either of legal, moral, or personal fraud. Mr. Lever was a man of great activity, zeal, and energy, and Ireland had a right to such a contract. Years ago the great scheme of Lord George Bentinck for making railways in Ireland was unfortunately rejected by the House. The railway to Galway was afterwards made, and the present contract was a natural sequence to the railway. If the Committee now confirmed the contract, and that it was judiciously acted upon, it would be 1018 admitted in after years that a more wise, beneficial, and valuable improvement was never made than the speedy communication now proposed between Galway and the opposite coast of the Atlantic.
§ MR. CRAWFORD
said, that as a Member of the Committee upstairs he was anxious to draw the attention of the Committee to a point which had had considerable weight with him. This contract was dated the 21st of April last year, and one of the conditions was that the Company bound themselves in the sum of £20,000'by way of liquidated or ascertained damages if their ships wore not ready by the month of June, 1860. Power was reserved to Parliament to withhold payment of the amount if it should see fit to do so. But Parliament had not been called upon until this time to exercise the option of voting the money or not. He maintained that the two things were inconsistent. If Parliament were to exercise its option, it should have done so before the Company were called upon to find the money for the building of the ships. He should not go into the general question, but he entirely concurred in the argument that the people of Ireland were entitled to a direct communication between Galway and America. He should give his vote for the Motion, on the ground he had mentioned, that if Parliament were to exercise the option referred to, that option should have been exercised anterior to the time that the Company were bound under heavy penalties to raise money for the building of the ships.
§ SIR FRANCIS BARING
regretted that the Chairman of the Select Committee was not present; but, in his absence, he felt bound to set the right hon. and learned Gentleman right in regard to the opinion of the Committee. He had led the House to believe that the Committee had expressed an opinion in favour of the contract. That was not so. The Committee had carefully reported the facts, and had as carefully abstained from expressing an opinion on the affair, either one way or the other. He wished it to be distinctly understood that he, and those who thought with him, had no objection to a direct communication between Ireland and America. On the contrary, they thought it very desirable if it could be properly effected; but they objected to this contract on the substantial ground of its demerits. If the Committee should repudiate this contract, he should expect that the Government 1019 would put it up to competition, and give either to Galway or any other Irish port the opportunity of competing for it. All he asked was that if, instead of spending £78,000 in this contract, the work could he done for £35,000 the saving should be made. The parties who wished to compete for this contract had been promised it should be put up to competition, but it had not been done. When it was known that the capabilities of Galway harbour were being considered, Limerick put in a claim, and was promised that its advantages should also be considered. That promise likewise was not kept. In the same way, Canada was not allowed to be heard. Then again, Lord Derby promised that there should be a searching inquiry as to the solvency of the Company; but so far was that from being done, that even ordinary precautions were omitted. A distinct declaration was also made that the subject should be fully discussed in the House, and yet they were now told they had no discretion in the matter. The law proceedings which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Whiteside) had described as so ridiculous and so unworthy of credit, made so deep an impression on the Committee that they unanimously decided that if the matter rested with Mr. Lever alone, they would recommend the House to throw up the contract. The declaration which Mr. Lever himself put in, charging Mr. Irwin with having fraudulently represented himself as having great political influence when he had none, satisfied the Committee that an attempt had at least been made to procure the contract by improper means. He owned that the transfer of Mr. Lever's interest in the concern to other parties, complicated matters. He thought the ease of the parties to whom the contract had been made over a very hard one, and deserving of consideration, but he warned the House that it would be highly dangerous to lay down the rule that, although a contract had been in the first instance obtained by intrigue, they were precluded from discussing it, when transferred to another party. He feared very much the House had not yet learned all the circumstances pertaining to the Galway contract.
§ MR. DISRAELI
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Portsmouth (Sir Francis Baring) cannot accuse me of having defrauded him of the opportunity I promised him of discussing the question. The interpretation I place upon those expres- 1020 sions which were introduced into the contract was offered to the House last year. They appear to me perspicuous and precise, and I do not in any way shrink from attaching to them their full force. I cannot for a moment doubt anything that was said by my hon. Friend and late Colleague, the Member for Stamford (Sir Stafford Nbrthcote), who, unfortunately, is not now in his place. I have no doubt he made use of the expressions which he is reported to have employed before the Committee as to the motive which induced him to recommend the introduction of the terms in question. I assented to it, because I had for some time been of opinion that from the change, which had been made in paying the gross revenue into the Exchequer, which before afforded the means by which a Government could fulfil a contract without applying to the House, it had become absolutely necessary that some expressions of this kind should be introduced into these documents. But I have no wish that this question should be decided on any technical points whatever. I wish it to be considered on its merits. I had the opportunity of making myself acquainted at the time with the merits of the question, and it was from a sincere conviction that the course taken by the Government with regard to steam communication between Galway and America was a judicious and politic one, highly beneficial to both countries and especially to Ireland, that I recommended its adoption. It is said it was a hasty and improvident arrangement. If these expressions were used by the Secretary to the Treasury in an apologetic vein as to the conduct of the late Government, I, for one, cannot assent to them. The arrangement was not a hurried one. To my mind it was not an improvident one. The matter was long and well considered; and it was after a mature decision on our part that it was greatly for the advantage of Ireland in particular, and of the kingdom generally, that the contract should be entered into, that we assented to it. Neither can I admit that it was an improvident contract; because every one whom I consulted at the time, or with whom I have since conversed, has agreed that its terms were by no means of an excessive, but of a moderate character. Nor have I heard to-night, or during the prolonged accusations of last year, that any one asserts that the terms of this contract were in any degree of an unusual character. But it was said that it was made in 1021 an unusual manner. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie) says that the way in which these contracts are usually managed is that they are left entirely to the Financial Secretary of the Treasury. I say that as describing the general manner in which the business of the Treasury is conducted, the statement of the right hon. Gentleman is entirely inaccurate, and is refuted by the very gentleman by whose testimony he endeavoured to support it. What was the evidence of Mr. Stephenson upon this point? His answer to Question 438 is,—The application would be addressed, in point of form, to the Secretary of the Treasury. The Financial Secretary would be the principal organ of the Government acting upon it, under, of course, the order and direction of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the First Lord of the Treasury.Ultimately the decision rests with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the First Lord of the Treasury?—Undoubtedly.That evidence does not justify the statement of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. E. P. BOUVERIE
Question No. 1846, Mr. Stephenson was asked:—Then, there was nothing new in the practice of Mr. Wilson when he was Financial Secretary?And his answer was:—There was nothing new so far as the business of the Treasury was concerned. That class of business has always been exclusively in the hands of the Financial Secretary.
§ MR. DISRAELI
That evidence is of a partial and limited character, and refers only to an individual mode of conducting business; but that which I have quoted refers to the general method of transacting business, the responsibility resting with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the First Lord of the Treasury. It is not accurate to say that business of this kind is left entirely to the Financial Secretary of the Treasury. I fully admit that for some time previous to our accession to office this business had been exclusively left to the Financial Secretary of the Treasury; and great dissatisfaction—I am not now discussing what were the results of that system—great dissatisfaction was produced by its being so left to him. And what happens under those circumstances? Why, the First Lord of the Treasury says, "When a case of this kind occurs I will look into the matter myself." And this is brought 1022 forward as a charge against Lord Derby that he absolutely would not trust the examination of this business to a subordinate officer, but would himself look into it. There are many men opposite to me who have been colleagues of Lord Derby, and know that he is, above all men, a man of detail and inferior to none in his power of working. Lord Derby sent for these papers, and. I have no doubt that he read them all, thoroughly examined, and well considered them. Unfortunately, there were papers wanting to complete the case when the documents were sent to the Earl of Derby; but I never bad any information that those papers referring to the understanding with the Canadian Government were to be found, nor am I now informed that they are to be found in the Treasury. I can only explain their absence by that expression, afterwards explained, which was made by the Secretary of the Treasury with respect to the imperfect record which, unfortunately, upon this kind of business, has been left in the Treasury. No information ever came to my knowledge, nor have I heard that any has been found at the Treasury with respect to that understanding with the Canadian Government.
§ MR. DISRAELI
But it did not come from the Treasury. We ought to have found that record in the Treasury. There was an imperfect record in the Treasury; and though one regrets that the understanding with the Canadian Government should not have been literally fulfilled, I cannot regret the consequences as regards the undertaking now before the House, because I maintain that it was impossible that this country could have made an arrangement more advantageous, considering the great objects that were involved than this Galway contract. Well, then, it is said that the Treasury had published a letter addressed to an American company, promising that in case any new operations of this kind were determined upon they should be open to competition. Nothing of the kind occurred. An application was made at the Treasury, and a formal letter was written in answer, stating that the practice of the Treasury was that when these contracts were entered into they were open to competition, but it said no more. It did not engage that these contracts should be open to competition. Every Government has reserved and ought 1023 to reserve to itself the right of entering into any contract which they think for the public benefit without throwing them open to public competition. There may be special reasons which render it of the utmost importance that contracts should be so entered into, and very frequently the Government have acted upon that principle. They act upon their responsibility, and if you can afterwards show that the terms of the contract are extravagant, and beyond what would have had to be paid if it had been granted by competition you have some ground of complaint; but in this case that ground does not exist, because all are agreed that the terms of this contract are reasonable and moderate. So much for the reflections which have been cast upon the manner in which this contract was negotiated. But there is one other point which I ought to notice under this head. It is the corrupt motive by which we are said to have been influenced in signing this contract. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock, who has a great desire to use strong language, but has not improved upon his declamation of last year, has, in what is erroneously called strong language—because it is a mistake to suppose that because expressions are violent they therefore possess strength—but what I should call very weak language—asserted that this contract was signed on the 20th of April, and that the dissolution of Parliament immediately took place; and upon that assertion he founds a charge of corruption. But the Treasury Minute authorizing the contract, which every one knows is virtually the contract, was signed on the 22nd of February, and every one also knows that at that period nobody dreamed of a dissolution of Parliament. Under such circumstances the right hon. Gentleman is not justified in making such a charge. It was not a hasty charge. It was one which was made last year. He has been brooding over it since then, and now repeats it. "What will he do next year? Will he, when the next Vote is asked for, repeat the charge? Will he, in the teeth of the fact that the Treasury Minute was signed on the 22nd of February, assert that the only motive for that signature was the dissolution of Parliament, which did not take place till months afterwards? I have now touched upon all the points, so far as I can recall them, which are imputed against the Government in regard to this transaction. 1024 But what really was the conduct of the Government? In looking at small points of detail we are forgetting the great object which was at stake. I have here a memorial from merchants and bankers of almost every city in the empire which was presented to me in Downing Street, and of which I will read only three lines—And your memorialists submit that the port of Galway, from natural and other advantages which it possesses, offers unrivalled opportunities for extending such means of communication.Who signs that memorial? I find that the first name is that of Messrs. N. Rothschild and Sons, a firm represented, I believe, in this House, by two Gentlemen who, probably, will not vote against this contract. I am surprised that I do not see,—but it may be here—the name of the house with which, at least, the ancestor of the right hon. Baronet (Sir Francis Baring) was connected; but there is hardly a great merchant or a great banker in the City of London whose name is not to be found appended to this memorial. There are also signatures from Birmingham, Bolton, Dukenfield, Hull, Hyde, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield of course, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Shields, Stockport, Staleybridge, and Wolverhampton; and then, coming to Ireland, from Armagh, Athlone, and, in fact, from every town in that country—there must be thousands of signatures, representing the whole commercial and banking capital of the United Kingdom; and then we are told that this is some job to gain a vote at an election—some invention of adventurers, who have taken in a ministry who themselves acted from a corrupt motive. If there ever was any plan more sanctioned than another by that enlightened public opinion, which, on such a subject, should influence a Minister, this surely was that plan. Sir, I can say most sincerely that in entering into this contract we were actuated, after mature deliberation, by the conviction that we were taking a step which would be eminently advantageous to Ireland. I was perfectly aware at the time, and also shortly afterwards—and we have very obvious evidence of the fact—that there were bodies in this country who would be dissatisfied with the course we adopted. There is, no doubt, very great jealousy in some communities and among some bodies in this country against what I may call Irish enterprise. There is very great jealousy in more than one great town in England if you at all sanction anything 1025 like commercial enterprise in Ireland. I think such a feeling most unreasonable; for if you come to consider the matter you will find that Great Britain has the lion's share of contracts of this nature. Surely Southampton, with its £600,000 a year in subsidies; surely Liverpool, with its hundred thousands a year in subsidies—need not grudge distant Galway—so happily situated for the object, as is universally admitted by the great body of merchants of the United Kingdom—this assistance from the State, which is calculated to develope the wealth and commercial spirit of a country where it is of the utmost importance to encourage those qualities. I should say this opposition has arisen too much from local jealousy. And I think the Ministry have taken a wise course, although I cannot entirely agree with all the little criticisms offered upon our con-duet, in supporting this contract, and in not sanctioning imputations originally brought forward, perhaps, to damage a Government at the risk of seriously prejudicing a great national interest.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
I promise not to occupy the time of the Committee more than five minutes; but, after the way in which my name has been mentioned, it will not be thought wonderful that I should now rise. The right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie) has accused somebody—it is not certain whom—of corruption. It has been stated before that the contract which we are now discussing was mainly negotiated by myself; so that, if there be corruption, I must have something to do with it. Then the person on the other side, representing the Government, is Lord Derby. Thus the two persons entering into this corrupt bargain are, first of all, Lord Derby and myself. Now, Sir, what motive had I? I recollect stating some time last year that my motive was a general motive—that I thought a great object was to be attained, and a great benefit conferred upon Ireland. And I remember the right hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir Francis Baring) looked on me with perfect astonishment, which he expressed pretty much in words—to think that anybody could act upon such a motive. He gave the House to understand that he fancied I must have some personal object. [Sir FRANCIS BARING: No.] "Well, if there be no personal object in myself, who negotiated this contract—if there be no personal object in Lord Derby, who, as it is stated, also negotiated it—where is the 1026 corruption? "Oh," but it is said, "Mr. Lever has had a corrupt motive." Now, Sir, there is nothing in a case of this sort like getting hold of some one who can be made a scapegoat. Mr. Lever is that scapegoat, and he is to carry all the sins of the people into the wilderness. How does he show his corrupt motive? Why, having expended a large sum of money in ships, he sells those ships to the Company. Does ho get money for them? Not a bit of it. He gets the shares of the Company, and if the Company failed his money is lost. I want to know how a man can better evidence his perfect belief in the feasibility of the adventure into which he is entering than by advancing his own money and that of his friends entirely in the concern, and not receiving back the money from the Company, but taking its shares that can only be of value if the Company succeed? What harm has been done by this contract? I will tell you where the harm is done. There may be persons competing for this business in Liverpool—there may be competing Companies, and the advantage to be derived by Ireland from the route between Galway and America may involve the diversion of the trade which now goes by Liverpool to Galway. Therein lies the secret of this opposition. I entered into this affair not at all foreseeing what I was about to meet; but I found out pretty quickly that I had, as it were, thrust my hand into a hornet's nest. I was stung on every side. Imputations were cast upon me of the foulest description, and it was supposed when this subsidy was obtained that I had made a great fortune. Sir, it was stated—and I can hardly now repeat the imputation without laughing—that I acquired thereby £5,000 a year. This was seriously believed, and people distinctly asked me whether I had not made a great sum of money by this subsidy being given to the Galway Company. Now, I want to know, if we look at the whole proceeding as men of common sense, whether there is anything in the transaction but what is done every day in this trade, and without which the trade can never be carried on. You have gained communication with America much more rapidly than you could have it without this subsidy. That is what I assert; and I should like to have a distinct denial of it. To obtain that rapid communication you must go to great expense; the ordinary returns of the trade would not pay for it. 1027 The whole community deriving a great benefit from this improvement, you come upon them for a portion of the expense. That is the whole sum and substance of the matter. It thus becomes a commercial transaction, and there is no corruption in it. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) talks of the strong language employed on this occasion. Strong in one sense it is, for it is very abusive. That is the right word to use. And I say that anybody who can come forward and thus shower down the epithets of "corruption," "baseness," and "disgraceful" upon a transaction of this kind must himself be utterly incapable of judging of what is truly disgraceful. There is, I think, a disgrace attaching to unfounded imputations. There is also a cowardice in them. And it is very easy behind the shield of great virtue to shoot the poisoned arrow at a man with the hope of doing him an injury when he cannot do an injury in return. Now, I call that cowardly. Sir, after a life spent as mine has been, I can afford to bear imputations of this sort. "When this contract was entered into, I being one of the parties chiefly concerned in negotiating it with the Government, I say I had never heard of Mr. O'Malley Irwin—I say I never saw him—till I went into the court of justice, and that he had no more to do with this contract than I now have with the moon. He is now known to be a convicted forger. 'To think that that man should be brought into competition and should be placed here as a sort of means of wounding me, I say is disgraceful to those who have used such poisoned arrows. I am in a position to laugh them to scorn, as I now do laugh to scorn both those who have shot the arrows and the arrows themselves.
§ SIR FRANCIS BARING
explained that he had not the slightest intention of throwing any imputation upon the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield. And the inconvenience and annoyance which that hon. Member had suffered, probably arose, as he himself said, from his having put his hand into a hornet's nest.
§ MR. J. C. EWART,
who spoke amid much interruption, assured the House that he had no wish to deprive Galway, Londonderry, Dublin, or Limerick of any beneficial contract; because he was perfectly assured that what was good for Ireland, was good also for England generally, and for Liverpool in particular.
§ MR. HUBBARD
said, that having been 1028 a Member of the Committee, and having had no opportunity of expressing his opinion to the House upon this subject, he trusted that they would now hear him. He must first take exception to the opening speech from the Secretary to the Treasury, which he heartily trusted did not express the opinions of the Government. He must say one word in reference to the Dovor contract. He could not approve of the grounds on which that contract was cancelled, for although ample and valid reasons might have been alleged, the only one put forward in the Report of the Committee was an imputation of political corruption in the intention of the contractor—a most insufficient reason, as he thought; but in the case of the Galway packets, the contract was, in his judgment, void from its very origin, for it was obtained through gross misrepresentation. The contract was executed in virtue of a memorandum issued by the Prime Minister in the teeth of an adverse opinion from the Postmaster General, and without any communication with the Admiralty. The Earl of Derby had stated in his evidence before the Committee that the contract was granted because the interests of Ireland and of England required it, and it must be admitted that Lord Derby was fully justified in forming an opinion to that effect, if the mass of evidence referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bucks was to be depended upon. But that evidence—that series of memorials and deputations, was it reliable? How was it procured? In March, Mr. Lever meets casually a Mr. Irwin—a man (as he represents himself) of extensive influence, a bosom friend, of Mr. Walpole, and an intimate of Lord Palmerston's, and he enlists him as his agent. In June, he executes an agreement to give Mr. Irwin and his ally, Mr. Holmes, £10,000, on the condition of their procuring for his Galway Packet Company a subsidy of £170,000 from the Government. Was it astonishing that, stimulated by such a bait, Mr. Irwin should move heaven and earth to obtain the subsidy, and that he should by activity and perseverance procure the numerously-signed memorials which had influenced the opinion of the Prime Minister? The history of the City memorial may serve to illustrate the character of all the rest, Mr. Irwin, who was certainly not embarrassed by excessive modesty, plies so pertinaciously the secretary of a great capitalist, that to get rid of his importunity 1029 the capitalist is induced to sign the memorial prepared by Mr. Irwin. This talisman secured, the rest is easily managed; plenty of men are found to follow so eminent a leader, and at Lloyd's Coffee House the under-writers unhesitatingly attached their names. The example of London is irresistible in the provinces, and Mr. Irwin earns his commission by presenting a mass of memorials in favour of the Gal-way Packet scheme, most formidable in bulk, but utterly valueless, as a ground for opinion in such a weighty matter. The original memorandum of the Treasury conceded the contract, conditionally on the financial power of the Lever Company being satisfactorily proved; but the statement by the Company for that purpose was most illusory; it treated expected subscriptions of capital as actual subscriptions, and ranked among their means six vessels, five of which were unserviceable for the purposes of the contract, and some of which, being largely mortgaged, were not realty the property of the Company. Lord Derby has specially disavowed having wished to relax the stringency of the stipulation as to the means of the Company; hut it is only by degrees that the whole extent of the deception involved in their financial statement has transpired. He did not find in the course of the investigation to which he had been a party any evidence whatever which could warrant an imputation to the late Government of having acted from corrupt or dishonourable motives; they had been deceived, but as they had reserved an appeal to the House by specifically stipulating that the subsidy should be "payable out of monies voted by Parliament," there was yet time to remedy the evil result of their incaution. The Irish Members seemed very generally anxious to confirm the contract, but he submitted to them that they should vote upon this contract, not as an Irish but as an Imperial question; for they might be assured that if the contract took effect the bulk of the subsidy taken from the national Treasury would be wasted as effectually as if it were literally thrown into the Atlantic, while the miserable fragments which Ireland alone could gather would ill compensate for the reproach of profiting by a bargain, injurious to the State, and obtained through most discreditable means.
§ Question put,
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 145; Noes 39: Majority 106.
§ Notice taken, that Forty Members were not present; House counted; and Forty Members not being present,
§ House adjourned at half after Two o'clock.