HC Deb 13 June 1861 vol 163 cc997-9

said, he wished to ask the Secretary to the Admiralty, The number and date of the different breaches of contract committed by the Cunard, Peninsular and Oriental, and West India Companies, during the two first years of their service, and the number of penalties imposed; and to ask the Secretary to the Treasury in how many instances such penalties were remitted by the Treasury?


said, he wished to ask how it had happened that the Papers for which he had moved in reference to that question, and which had been ordered by the House, had not yet been produced?


said, that the papers for which the hon. and gallant Member (Colonel French) had moved were being prepared by the Admiralty; and he (Mr. F. Peel) could not state when they would be ready. In reply to the question of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Galway county (Mr. Gregory), he had to state that, although he had had some difficulty in procuring the information which the hon. Gentleman required, in consequence of the distance of the time to which it referred, he had, he believed, succeeded in ascertaining all the facts which were necessary to furnish an answer to that question. He would first take the Cunard Company. That company had beeen in existence since the year 1840, and during the whole of that time, and not merely during the first two years of their existence, they had never committed any breach of contract; they had incurred no penalties, and they had never, that he was aware of, at any moment asked for any indulgence or allowance from the Government; they had, in fact, carried the mails with undeviating regularity during the twenty-one years of their contract. The Peninsular and Oriental Company had been almost equally successful in the regularity with which they had performed the obligations of their contract; and he could only find one instance of the imposition of a penalty upon them, and that was with regard to their branch service between Malta and the Ionian Islands. In the year 1841 or 1842 they failed to provide a vessel for the conveyance of the mails between Malta and those islands, and they were fined £1,000 for that breach of contract, and they were required to pay that sum. With regard to the West India Company he found that that company should have commenced their voyages on the 1st of December, 1841, according to their contract, but in consequence of a delay in the completion of their vessels they were allowed to postpone the opening of the service for a single month, that was to say until the 1st of January, 1842. He could find only one instance of a breach of contract on their part in the departure of their vessels from this country, which was in the month of December, 1842, when one of their vessels was five days behind time in leaving the port of Falmouth. In consequence of that delay they were fined £3,500; and, although they remonstrated very strongly against the imposition of that penalty, the Government insisted on its payment. He would refer to the evidence of Colonel Chappell, who stated with respect to that company before the Committee, in 1849, that— There have been 181 maila despatched from this country since they commenced, which have all gone at the appointed moments with one exception, for which the company were, in my opinion, most unjustly fined £3,500, which they were obliged to pay. With regard to the Intercolonial Mail Service, it appeared that it fell into great confusion and irregularity during the first year of their contract. They alleged that the reason of that irregularity was that the scheme of routes was so intricate and so extensive as to be almost impracticable. The Admiralty, however, maintained that the real cause was that the company did not maintain a sufficient number of vessels in the West Indies, and they fined the company £8,000 on account of the defi- ciency in the number of their vessels. The objection, however, made by the company to the scheme of routes was afterwards admitted, and that scheme was altered, and the penalty was remitted by the Government. The only other fine they had incurred in the nature of a penalty, as far as he could discover, was one in the year 1842, also in connection with a disarrangement of the intercolonial service of the company. Upon that occasion they were compelled to pay £2,715 for the assistance the Government had rendered them in carrying the mails between the West India Colonies. Their own vessels not being ready upon the appointed day the Government sent a ship of war, or one of the Consuls hired a vessel, and in consequence of that service a sum of £2,715 was abated from the amount to which they were entitled. That was, he believed, a complete statement of the breaches of contract on the part of any of those companies, and of the penalties to which they had been subjected.