HC Deb 13 July 1860 vol 159 cc1865-78

in rising to put a Question as to the present state of the Negotiation which has lately been carried on for the transfer of the Galway Packet Contract to the Montreal and Ocean Steam Navigation Company, said he had no wish to bring on a general discussion on this subject, but merely wished to set right certain misrepresentations which had appeared in the public papers, and which were, perhaps, confirmed to some extent by the remarks of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the previous night. He would appeal to the Government not to act hastily in this matter, and not to excite any prejudice against the proposed transfer before the question was brought before the House. Hitherto the decision of the Government had been adverse to the transfer of the contract. Now, from the statements in the newspapers, as well as from those made by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the public might imagine that the transaction was one which had been suddenly entered into; that it was, in fact, a proposal made by the Galway Company, finding themselves in difficulties, to get rid of their contract to another Company; that the subject had been brought before the Government without previous notice, and that, not being afforded sufficient time to consider it, the Government felt obliged to refuse their sanction to the arrangement. That was by no means the real state of the case. In the first place, it was not a question between one company and another, but between the Galway Packet Company and the Provincial Government of Canada. In the next place, it did not originate with the Galway Company, but it arose out of a suggestion made by a rather high extra-official authority, Mr. Cobden, Chairman of the Packet Contract Committee, last Session. Then, again, it had not been brought forward at the last moment, but had been, more or less, under discussion ever since August or September last. Nor had it been pressed suddenly upon the notice of the Government for any purposes of the Company. It was a negotiation carried on between the Company and the representatives of the Canadian Government deliberately, and, as was understood, with the cognizance and sanction of the Home Government; the reason why an early decision was desired from the Home Government being that the representatives of the Canadian Government were anxious to go back by the mail of Wednesday last. The Company themselves were not in any hurry for an answer; they were prepared to wait until the 1st of August. The representatives of the Canadian Government were Mr. Gait, Finance Minister, and Mr. Smythe, Postmaster General; and it would be obvious that two such functionaries could not conveniently be absent from the colony for any length of time, especially at the period of the Prince of Wales's visit, and during the September elections. It was with a view to consult the convenience of these gentlemen and of the province that the Government were pressed for a speedy answer. The facts as regarded the Canadian Ministry were these:—After the Galway Contract had been sanctioned by the late Government, it was brought to the notice of the Packet Contract Committee that great injury had thereby been inflicted on Canada, because the Canadians, finding it necessary for their own purposes to maintain and subsidize a line of steamers between the two countries, now found a new competitor in the field, so that their steamers were running under great disadvantage. They were then subsidizing their steamers with £50,000 a year, recently increased to upwards of £100,000, and they were naturally annoyed therefore at the rivalry of a company subsidized by the mother country. At the close of last Session, this state of facts having been brought to the notice of the Packet Committee, Mr. Cobden suggested to the Representative of Canada, the Minister of Public Works, who was examined before the Committee, that some arrangement might possibly be made between the Galway Packet Company and the Canadian Government. Communications were accordingly entered into, in the course of September and October last, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Colonial Secretary, in order to ascertain whether, in the event of such an arrangement being concluded, it would receive the sanction of the Government. The reply was that the subject was before a Select Committee, and that it was impossible for the Government to take it up until the Report of that Committee had been made. The negotiation accordingly fell through. The Select Committee took a good deal of evidence on the subject and made their Report. They did not go the length of recommending a transfer of the contract, but they mentioned it in rather favourable terms. He understood that immediately after the Report was published, possibly before negotiations were resumed, Mr. Galt and Mr. Smythe came over with a view to purchase the contract from the company; and it was arranged at last that the Canadian Government should pay the company a subsidy of £35,000 a year, the company assigning to them the contracts for the conveyance of the mails between Galway and Boston and New York. Of course this was made subject to the approval of the Government, and the intention was that the mails should be carried to a Canadian instead of an American port. These terms being agreed upon, as the company and the Colonial Government understood, with the cognizance and the approval of the Treasury and the Post Office, the agreement was formally reduced into writing, and signed by the representatives of the company, and by Mr. Gait and Mr. Smythe on the part of the colony. All these facts were notified to the Treasury, and, though they might not have been brought personally under the notice of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, they were so far within the cognizance of the Treasury that an official letter was written to the Post Office mentioning this proposal, and the Post Office accordingly communicated to the company that, instead of the mails being sent on the next occasion by the Connaught, a Galway boat, they would be transferred to the North Briton, belonging to the company subsidized by the Canadian Government. That notice was also published by the Post Office in the form of an official advertisement, and was therefore recognized by them in the most complete way on the authority of the Treasury letter. The parties were thus led to believe, not without reason, that the proposed transfer was sanctioned by the Government so far as it could be sanctioned. They were aware that the Government could authorize nothing but the transfer of the subsidy, the subsidy itself being contingent on the vote of this House, and all they wished was to understand whether the Government had any objection to the transfer. Of course the arrangement would be very advantageous to the Canadian Government. They now paid a subsidy of £104,000 a year, and if they paid the Galway Company £35,000 a year, deducting from those sums £78,000, the amount given by the Home Government, their expenditure would be materially reduced. He would not go into the merits of the case as regarded the bargain with the Galway Company, but it was not so unreasonable as the public press seemed to consider. The Galway Company had incurred large expenses in the establishment of this line; and, having established it and taken steps to give Ireland a permanent packet port, they wished to diminish the losses they had sustained by handing over the mails to the Canadian Government, which would secure the interests of the colony, as well as the interests of Ireland. Considerable consternation had therefore been excited by the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Government at the last moment had altogether refused their sanction to this agreement. He did not ask on the present occasion for any pledge. He only hoped that the Government would not take any final step in the matter before the House had had an opportunity of considering it; and, following up the hint of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the previous night, he would ask whether his right hon. Friend was aware that Mr. Gait and Mr. Smythe had deferred their departure till the following Wednesday, whether there had been any communication with them, and whether the question was still considered an open one?


said, he wished to express an earnest hope that, whatever decision the Government might come to on the Galway contract, they would not sanction the assignment of the contract to the Montreal Ocean Steam Navigation Company. The House was aware that the late Government gave a subsidy of £78,000 a year for seven years to the Galway Company, and that the purchase money paid for this contract by the Montreal Company was to be £35,000 a year for seven years. That was an admission that the service might have been performed for a less sum by £35,000 than the subsidy agreed to be paid. Mr. Lever, as the House would see by the evidence, came before the Committee and told them that the service between Galway and the United States could not be performed either by the screw steamers of the Liverpool and Philadelphia Company, or by those belonging to the Montreal Ocean Steam Navigation Company. It was also stated that four vessels of large tonnage and increased power were being built by the Galway Company, and would be placed on the station in the course of the year, in order to perform the service in a more regular and rapid manner than it had hitherto been done. It now turned out that these ships were not to be placed on the station, and that the service was to be performed by those very screw steamers of the Montreal Company which Mr. Lever declared to be inefficient to carry it out. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was probably not aware that the Montreal Ocean Steam Ship Company had recently lost three of their best ships, and that they were building new vessels to supply that loss. It would be a most extraordinary course for the Government or that House to take, if they sanctioned the assignment of a contract from one company to another, without insisting on the main conditions of that contract being performed. Whatever course the Government might feel disposed to take with regard to the vote, he did trust they would not sanction an assignment which had excited a feeling of astonishment, if not of indignation, amongst all those concerned in the steam navigation of this country.


said, he did not intend to inter into the merits of this case, and he regretted that the hon. Baronet (Sir Stafford Northcote) had brought on a premature discussion instead of postponing it until the Vote was laid upon the table. But, although the hon. Baronet declared he would not say a word on the merits of the contract, he never heard a speech more dexterously put together to defend the course taken by the late Government. He (Sir Francis Baring) only hoped that the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not come to any decision until the House had had an opportunity of discussing the subject. The Select Committee had indirectly recommended that the Vote should be laid on the table for the decision of the House. He admitted that the question was not an easy one to decide, but the contract, ought to be discussed on its own merits. Above all, no new contract ought be made that would produce an additional complication. He wished also to state that Mr. Cobden's communications were made previous to the Committee coming to a decision, and before the main part of the evidence was taken. One of the recommendations of the Committee was that no contract should be disposed of until the House had had a certain time given for considering its terms. If hon. Members would read a letter in the newspapers of the previous day they would find that certain agreements had been come to between the old contracting party and the new that might entirely change the contract. By the original contract be- tween the Government and the Galway Company it was agreed that if the contemplated improvements in Galway Harbour were not made, or turned out ill, it was in the power of the parties either to insist on the improvements being carried out, or tore-move the packets to some other Irish port; but a private stipulation was now made between the two contracting parties that to Galway in any case the ships should go. He believed that a Bill was now before Parliament enabling certain local parties to make improvements in Galway Harbour. These parties, it might be assumed, would carry out the improvements if in the event of their failure to do so the packets might be removed, but as soon as this stipulation came into force these parties might say, "You are bound to run your ships to Galway under any circumstances, and we would rather that some one else should pay for any improvements in the harbour." He wished to press the Government so far to respect the recommendation of the Select Committee as to wait until they had given the House an opportunity of discussing the circumstances of this contract.


said, he was glad to have an opportunity of explaining the precise state of the negotiations with the representatives of the Canadian Government relative to the transfer in question, which he thought had not as yet been quite understood. It was quite true, as the hon. Baronet (Sir Stafford Northcote) had stated, that the general idea of the fusion of the Galway with the Canadian line was by no means new. It was quite true that it originated in a suggestion of Mr. Cobden, and was canvassed last Session in the Committee. Many hon. Members felt that a hardship had been done to Canada by the arrangement originally come to, and that it was very desirable the hardship should be remedied. The matter was repeatedly under discussion, and a division took place in the Committee on the subject. His own opinion as an individual Member was that there would be a propriety and advantage in such an arrangement if it could be settled on fair terms. It was, however, incorrect to suppose that the precise arrangement by which the fusion was intended to be carried out had been long under the consideration of the Government. In fact, the arrangement in question came upon the Government by surprise on the previous Wednesday. The original arrangement having fallen to the ground, there was no question of its revival for several months. Two Canadian ministers, Mr. Gait and Mr. Smythe, however, having arrived in this country, the negotiations were renewed. The matter had to go through several stages before it was ripe for the decision of the Government. It was first necessary for the parties to come to terms, and then a convention was necessary with Canada to regulate the terms of the service. Without a convention of that kind the purchase of the Galway contract by the Canadian Company was useless, because the British Government had to give its sanction to the substitution of the ports of Quebec and Portland for the ports of New York and Boston, originally named in the contract. The whole question of the arrangements to be entered into between the Canadian Company and the British Government having been in the first instance only casually broached in conversation, it was deemed necessary that the proposal which was made on behalf of the former should, in order to give effect to any assignment of the Galway contract, be reduced to writing. Under these circumstances he had had a conference with Mr. Gait and Mr. Smythe, the two gentlemen who represented Canada in this country, and had stated to them that, while individually favourable to the principle of the contemplated transfer, if it could be carried into effect, he had no sort of authority to bind the Government in the matter, and that he could not undertake to procure their decision until the terms of the transfer had in writing been duly submitted to their consideration. He had added that he would render all the assistance in his power in getting rid of mere matters of detail, and in the endeavour to frame a definite proposition on the subject. Such was the state of things on Tuesday, and on Wednesday the terms of the transfer were to have been reduced to writing; but, to his great surprise, he had on that day received a letter, stating that Mr. Gait and Mr. Smythe were obliged to take their departure for Canada that very night or the following morning; that they were not in a position to leave anybody behind them with power to represent them in the transaction in question; and that, under the circumstances, unless they had the distinct confirmation upon the part of the Government of the arrangement which they had proposed, the whole affair must fall to the ground. The letter conveying that intelligence had reached him on the afternoon of Wednesday, when the House was engaged in discussing the Census Bill. His right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was confined to his house by indisposition, and could not be seen, while the noble Lord at the head of the Government was detained in the House till six o'clock. A Cabinet meeting had then to be held, at which important matters were coming on for discussion. The noble Lord, however, made an appointment to meet the two Canadian representatives on the rising of the House, and it was under those circumstances, and with only a few minutes for consideration, that the Government were asked to sanction an arrangement not free from difficulty, and calculated to excite much discussion and opposition in Parliament. That being the state of things, the Government had taken the only course which, in his opinion, was open to them, and—the representatives of Canada having stated their inability to allow any further time for deliberation—intimated that they did not see their way to an approval of the arrangement. Since then, however, Mr. Gait and Mr. Smythe, thinking that a strong feeling of disappointment might be experienced in Canada if matters were left in their present unsettled state, had decided upon staying a week longer in this country. Official application had also, he believed, been made to have their proposal dealt with with the least possible delay, and under those circumstances it was, he thought, desirable that he should abstain from entering into the merits of the question. There were two propositions pending the decision of the Government and of the House; because he took it for granted that whatever might be done by the Government would only be done subject to the decision of the House upon it, which must be invited in the course of a few days, or a week or two at the furthest; when the question of the Galway contract was brought before them. A good deal had been advanced on both sides with regard to the price of the vessels, the time of their sailing, and other matters on which he should like to make an observation; but he thought it would be better, under the circumstances, to abstain from doing so. There was only one point to which he would refer—the interference of the Post Office with regard to the sailing of the Connaught. The circumstances were these. The assignment being made, the two parties had come to the Treasury, and stated that they had made an agreement for the sailing of the two vessels, the Connaught and the North Briton, and that it would be a great convenience to them to allow them to go. That permission was given in a letter distinctly stating that it was without prejudice to the entire arrangement; but on the present occasion he would not further enter into the merits of the question.

In answer to the question which had been put by his hon. Friend behind him (Mr. Black) with reference to the regulations by which men engaged in the Inland Revenue Department in Scotland were precluded from marrying while in the service, he could only repeat what he had stated on a former occasion, upon the authority of the Chairman of the Board of Inland Revenue, that although there was no positive rule on the subject, it was found from practical experience that unmarried were more efficient than married men in wild and exposed parts of the country. He might add that his hon. Friend appeared to him to labour under a mistaken impression in supposing that to the circumstance of unmarried men being preferred for such service was to be attributed the immorality which he said prevailed in Scotland, as evinced by the large number of illegitimate births, and for which he seemed to imagine the Lords of the Treasury were responsible. He had been informed that the reorganization of the preventive force in Scotland was under the notice of the Board of Inland Revenue, and that, while dealing with that question, it proposed to consider how far it was necessary to employ in it unmarried men exclusively.


who was very imperfectly heard, said, that as far as he understood the question of the hon. Baronet the Member for Stamford, its object was that no hasty decision should be come to by the Government on the subject, and that, if there was any inclination to refuse the application of the two Companies, they should keep that inclination in abeyance till they had given the question further consideration. In that request he cordially concurred. The subject was one of great interest to him, for he was the first to propose the carriage of the mails between England and America by steam. About the time when Dr. Lardner pronounced that the crossing of the Atlantic by steam was impossible, and long before the contract was made with Mr. Cunard, he went down to Bristol, and there he saw the managers of a company, who were about to send out the Great Western and other vessels of a like class; and he urged them to enter into a contract with the Government to carry the mails across the Atlantic. They entertained a different opinion from him, and the whole matter fell to the ground at that time. Mr. Cunard, however, promptly took up the subject, and had ever since carried out his contract beneficially to the country and honourably to himself. The hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Baxter), who had spoken that evening, had, he believed, once made a voyage in one of Mr. Cunard's steamers across the Atlantic, and, like most hon. Gentlemen who had made a similar flight, fancied he had mastered the whole subject. Now, he, who had, in all probability, been more frequently across the Atlantic than any—with the exception, perhaps, of the naval—Members of that House, could inform the hon. Gentleman that the mails could not with certainty and security to human life be conveyed along that route without a subsidy. The American Government had tried a subsidy nearly twice as large as that which Mr. Cunard received, and failed in their object. It was only that very day, indeed, that he learned from the newspapers that a Mr. Vanderbilt, or whatever his name might be, had given to the American Government notice that he would carry no more mails for them. He spoke under the correction of hon. Gentlemen who knew more of mercantile matters than he did; but there was not, so far as he was aware, a single line across the Atlantic at the present moment which was paying anything like a decent dividend to the shareholders. A great mistake had, in his opinion, been in the first instance made in permitting companies to convey the mails in goods-carrying ships. If vessels were constructed well, and only with the view of taking the mails and a limited number of passengers, the voyage across the Atlantic might, he thought, be performed in two or three days less than was now the case. In the arrangement which was made with the Cunard Company, the Government had in view the advantage of that sea-going fleet in the event of war. They were required to be built in a certain way, they were subject to inspection, and were to be given up to the Government in case of a sudden emergency. The benefit of these stipulations had been found some time since, when several of these noble steamers were taken off the line and handed over to the Government. Those who were acquainted with the fact knew that great disasters would have occurred if this had not been the case. These vessels were faster than any man-of-war. There was no man-of-war in the service that could compete with them for speed. Their accommodation, too, was very great, fit for the transport both of troops and horses. On one occasion one of these vessels was loading at Liverpool for her ordinary service; she was required for the transport service; she was taken off the station, handed over to the Government, the passengers who had taken their berths receiving compensation, and sent off at once to the Crimea. The discipline on board these ships was very conspicuous, as compared with that on the Collins' line. There were excellent officers, and an excellent code of regulations for their government. None of the officers were ever allowed to have anything to do with the passengers—not that they were unfit to associate with them, but that it was felt not consistent with the economy of the ship to allow the officers who were entrusted with the lives and properties of the passengers to come in contact with them. They had separate state and messrooms, with their own servants devoted to them. In the event of danger every man was told off and put in his place, and the marvellous success of that line was such that they could now calculate on the arrival of the American mail with as much certainty as on the mail from Edinburgh. He looked for his letters every Monday morning at ten o'clock, and there was less irregularity than there was in the arrival of the train from Windsor, which often kept him waiting half-an-hour. These were considerations which should not be thrown on one side in consequence of a mere assertion that the arrangement cost too much, and that the mails could be carried for the mere cost of postage. He thought there was a mistake certainly in the origin of the Galway arrangement if the Government thought they were doing much more than opening the resources of Ireland, and developing her agricultural and commercial advantages. It was out of the question to suppose that any man leaving London would go to Holyhead, cross the Irish Channel to Dublin, then make his way to the port of Galway, and, with every inconvenience of embarkation, take passage in an inferior steamer, when in four hours he could be on board a large steamer at Liverpool. It never could he supposed that Galway could compete with Liverpool, backed by the great manufac- turing towns. The arrangement was beneficial to Ireland, no doubt, and he hoped it might be continued; but it was a great mistake to suppose that Galway could compete with Liverpool. There was another mistake—the points of debarkation. Nobody but an Irishman would have thought of going to New York and taking away emigrants from our own Colonies. He thought Canada had been hardly used in this matter hitherto. It was true she had no river outlet but the St. Lawrence, which was frozen for several months in the year; but the railway communication, that was now opening up communications between Quebec and Halifax, would overcome that difficulty. He trusted, therefore, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would take a very large view of this subject. Considering the claims of Canada, it would be well worth while to postpone any adverse decision until the whole matter could be laid before Parliament.


said, he would venture to inform the Chancellor of the Exchequer that a very strong feeling existed on the subject in Ireland. There was but one impression, and that was in favour of the transfer. They had carefully considered the whole circumstances of the case, and he earnestly hoped the Government would adopt the wise and sound suggestion of Mr. Cobden, than whom no person was better qualified to give an opinion on this matter.


I wish to say one word about the Galway contract in confirmation of what has been stated by my hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury. The fact is, that on Wednesday, between five and six o'clock, I was told that certain gentlemen with whom I had made an appointment were at the Treasury ready to meet me. I went there, and they put into my hands a written statement of the conditions upon which they proposed that the contract should be transferred from the Galway Company to the Canadian Company. They said, at the same time, that they were going off either that evening or next morning, and that the decision of the Government must be given then and there upon the spot. I went to my Colleagues, then assembled in the Cabinet, and we took that decision which any reasonable man would take in similar circumstances. If a man is called upon on the sudden to give a decision, "Aye" or "No," upon a complicated question involving important considerations, he will, of course, if he is obliged to say "Aye" or "No," say "No," because "No" leaves time for consideration, while "Aye" implies an immediate engagement, the effects of which it may be impossible to foresee. Therefore the only answer we believed we could give was that, under the circumstances, we could not give the assent necessary for transferring the contract from one party to the other.