HC Deb 25 February 1862 vol 165 cc701-10

said, he rose to move the following resolution:— That, in the opinion of this House, her Majesty's Government ought to adopt measures to carry into effect the recommendations of the select committee of this House appointed in 1860 to inquire into the transport service, or at least such portions of the report of 1861 as were unanimously adopted by the said Committee. As no part of the session was to be devoted to Parliamentary Reform, there was no subject to which the attention of the House could be with more advantage directed than to questions of administrative and executive improvement. The mode of providing for the transport service at present in operation had prevailed for the last thirty years, with the exception of two years, to which he would presently refer. It was conducted by several departments of the Government. In the first place, there was the victualling and transport department of the Admiralty, which conveyed all the Admiralty stores, engaged all the tonnage required by the Admiralty and the greater part of that required by the War Office and Ordnance. The Commissariat now and then hired vessels to convey their own stores; and the India Office had a transport service altogether independent of the Admiralty. The Colonial Office, through the Emigration Board, engaged vessels for the conveyance of emigrants to Australia, and coolies to the Mauritius and the West Indian colonies. The Stationery Office and other departments at times despatched abroad their own stores without communication with either of the transport offices. Hence much confusion arose, which ought to be avoided, especially when it was remembered that the service involved a large amount of money. For example, in 1854, '55, and '56, the sum expended in the hire of transports by the Admiralty alone amounted in round numbers to £16,000,000; but notwithstanding that immense outlay, nothing could be more unsatisfactory than the way in which the business was done. During the Crimean war enormous quantities of stores were sent out, but somehow they never seemed to reach their destination when they were wanted. The effect of organizing the Transport Board had tended materially to reduce the hire of sailing vessels from 27s. 6d. to 16s. &d. per ton, and that of steam vessels from 60s. to 30s.; in fact, it had caused a saving of nearly a million per annum. The evils of the existing system were clearly demonstrated by the evidence taken before the Committee that sat upon the subject in 1860, and made its report in 1861. That Committee, of which he had the honour to be chairman, was composed of hon. Gentlemen who took great interest in the subject, and the witnesses called before it included the most experienced individuals from all departments of the Government as well as merchants and shipowners of great experience. After a very full investigation the Committee unanimously agreed to three recommendations, namely— 1. That the victualling and the transport department should be separated; 2. That the transport of stores should be removed from the charge of the India Board; and, 3. That the Emigration Office should be abolished and its duties transferred to the Transport Board. Unfortunately, by the existing system, each department had its own forms of charter parties, its own scale of provisions, and its own system of ventilation; so that every plan differed from the rest. The Committee were unanimously agreed upon the resolutions and the necessity of comprehensive changes; and, upon referring them to the Government, it was found that the Admiralty and the War Office were disposed to adopt the recommendations of the Committee as a whole. But he was given to understand that the India Office did not approve of the proposition so far as that office was affected. The Secretary to the Marine Department for India was asked whether he was in favour of the amalgamation, and his reply was—"Yes, I am very much in favour of it, except in the case of India." That reminded him of the merchant who was in favour of Sir Robert Peel's scheme for taking the customs duty off every article except "red herring" in which he traded. He (Mr. Lindsay) maintained that the proposed change need not interfere with the independent working of the Indian Department. All that would be requisite to do was to send an order to the Transport Board whenever any stores or troops had to be shipped, and the Transport Board would be responsible for carrying that order into effect. They would have to provide for the safety and comfort of the troops, and for the proper delivery of the stores to the place whither they were shipped. As an illustration of the complication, if not the absurdities, into which the Government were led by the existing system, he would relate to the House what he had been that day told by a gentleman who had just been settling an account with the Government for transport services. A ship belonging to this gentleman arrived in the port of London from Calcutta, in January last. It brought from India 123 time-expired soldiers, 85 invalids, 12 convicts, 2 naval-brigade men, and 1 stowed-away soldier. As for the time-expired soldiers, in order to settle the accounts for them, he had been obliged to go to the "War Office and the India Office; for the invalids, to the War Office and the Medical Department of the army; as for the 12 convicts, nobody would own them; the shipowner went to the India Office, the War Office, to the Millbank Penitentiary, and to the Board of Trade; but neither would admit that the responsibility lay with them. He (Mr. Lindsay) supposed there would have been equal difficulty in finding the right office to apply to in respect of the stowed-away soldier. By the plan which the Committee proposed all these offices would be consolidated; and, for instance, about three gentlemen would be enabled to do work which was now discharged by fifteen. An objection, he believed, had also been raised to the scheme by the Colonial Office. It was thought that the Emigration Office should not be amalgamated with the new Transport Department. The Duke of Newcastle had expressed himself strongly in favour of consolidating in one office the transport business of all the departments including the India Office, but he doubted whether it would be advisable to embrace the Emigration Office in the proposed amalgamation. The Duke of Somerset entertained the same doubt. It was a mistake to suppose, however, that the Select Committee proposed to do away "with the functions of the Emigration Office. The business of that department had to a large extent already ceased to exist. Of late years the number of emigrants had been greatly reduced, and he believed it was now very small compared with what it was only a short time ago. A man of ordinary business habits, with the assistance of a few clerks, could easily perform all the proper duties of the Emigration Office, having to make arrangements for only 5,000 emigrants in the course of the year. But the office had other duties to discharge, connected with leases of land, minerals, and orders in Council connected with the transfer of land, which originally belonged to the Colonial Department, and which should be transferred back to it; the engaging of ships for the conveyance of emigrants, &c, being handed over to the new Transport Board. That Board should be, as it were, the carriers of the country; so that if the Admiralty had stores to send out, or the War or India Office troops to any colony, they should separately communicate with that Office, whose duty it would be to classify all these requirements, advertise for the necessary shipping, and be responsible for the conveyance of all troops and stores from the time of embarkation till they were landed at their destination. If anything went wrong, they would know exactly where to fix the blame. The Transport Board would also be responsible for the proper fitting up, provisioning, and ventilation of the ships. The colonies would, as they now do, communicate with the Colonial Office, which would continue to collect the emigrants, as at present. He merely proposed to transfer to the new department the conveyance of the emigrants. He did not see why the Emigration Board should not be thrown into the new department. There was another subject on which the Committee had touched—he referred to the question whether it would be better to engage private transports or for the Government to own transports of their own. There was a great deal of conflicting evidence, but the Committee unanimously agreed to the following recommendation:— That, as a general rule, Government transports are much more costly than hired troop-ships; and, considering the vast extent of the mercantile marine of this country, and the magnificent steamships and vessels of every description which can at all times be obtained, your Committee are of opinion that Government should in future rely still more on the mercantile marine for the transport of troops. That conclusion was arrived at after hearing the evidence of Admiral Sir A. Milne, who for thirteen years had filled the office at the Admiralty now held by Captain Eden. Admiral Milne entered minutely into the whole question, and in the appendix to the report gave the actual cost of Government and hired transports. According to his account, one of Her Majesty's ships engaged in the transport service cost, exclusive of insurance and depreciation, £27,800, whereas exactly the same work was performed by a hired steamship for £13,200—just about one-half. It was desirable that the Government should have sufficient transport of their own for the ordinary reliefs, but in great emergencies they might well depend upon the assistance of the merchant service. He trusted that the House would support the unanimous recommendations of its own Committee on the subject, and not allow aninvestigation which had extended over two years to remain barren of results. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the resolution.


Sir, the time was when Governments were accused of too great a desire to create new departments and new boards, and when the principal function of independent Members of this House was to restrain the appetite of a Government for wasteful expenditure of that description, by which its patronage in new appointments was increased. Now, however, we have lived to see quite a different state of things arise. The creation of new branches of Government is not unfrequently recommended in this House by independent Committees and independent Members; and it not unfrequently falls to the lot of a Minister to decline, at all events for a time, the creation of a new department of the State. Well, I find myself in that; position in the present case. I quite admit that the Report of the Committee of last Session was a well-considered report, that its recommendations are worthy of the attention of the House, and ultimately of adoption by the Government. But I am not at this moment enabled to say that the Government will at once act upon those recommendations. My hon. Friend said the result of his proposal would be that the work which was now done by fifteen persons would be done by three. It is very likely that it would be necessary to create a board consisting of perhaps three Members and a secretary upon whom this duty should be devolved; but I confess that my experience of changes of this sort does not lead me to anticipate with great confidence that the services of the fifteen other gentlemen who are said to be superseded will be dispensed with, and that a reduction to that extent in the different departments will take place. I think the House must expect, that if this new department should be established, there would be some additional number of persons employed in the public service, and some additional expense incurred; although I do not at all dispute the conclusion of my hon. Friend, that increased efficiency would be obtained, and no doubt, as the ultimate result of that, increased economy also. But that there would be some addition to the establishment is, I think, a fact which must be admitted as the foundation of this measure. My own experience of the late transmission of troops to Canada leads me to believe that our present system is capable of improvement, and that there exists some confusion and some conflict of authority, which, although it did not cause any serious inconveniences on the late occasion of the despatch of troops, has still a tendency to produce errors in the shipment of stores and in the performance of the transport service. Therefore, the first part of these recommendations—namely, that the transport service should be separated from the Victualling Department of the Admiralty, under which it is now exclusively placed, is, I think, as a matter of principle a good and sound suggestion, and so far quite concur with my hon. Friend who calls attention to this Report. The two departments—the Admiralty and the War Department, I may say, are agreed generally in the admission of that principle, and they will be prepared, when the due time has arrived, to take steps for carrying it into execution. But then, Sir, there are two other departments which are also concerned in the matter—namely, the India Office and the Colonial Office. With respect to the first of these departments, my right hon. Friend at its head thinks that for the present it would not be advisable to make this change. He does not dispute that ultimately it would be advantageous; but he says that the shipment of troops and stores to and from India has always been regarded as well conducted under the separate management of the India Department; that their arrangements are now, and for some time to come, fixed and settled; and he is therefore not willing to agree to the immediate adoption of this measure. I believe he has stated his reasons for that opinion in a communication addressed to the Board of Admiralty, and there will be no objection on the part of the India Board to the production of that communication. If those reasons should appear to the House to be sufficient, they would, of course, militate against the immediate adoption of the second of these recommendations; namely the removal from the India Office of the transport of all troops and stores to and from our East Indian possessions. The third recommendation is the abolition of the Emigration Office, and, consequently, the transfer to the Colonial Office of all business connected with the various laws passed by the Colonial Legislatures relating to land or emigration. Now, I believe it is the opinion of the noble Duke at the head of the Colonial Office, that this change could not be effected in such a manner as to give satisfaction to the different Colonial Legislatures— that those Legislatures deem a separate Emigration Board in connection with the Colonial Office to be necessary, that they would not understand a Transport Board which would be principally devoted to the transport of troops and stores under the conduct of the Admiralty and the War Office, and that he is not prepared, on that account, to give his assent to this change. I am not sure whether it would be possible to arrange any plan which would obviate these objections; but, at all events, the Government cannot at this moment carry this measure into effect without reference to the opinions of the heads of the Colonial and Indian Departments. I may say, however, that the Government regard it principally as a question of time and manner; that they admit the principles laid down in this Report; that they think it very desirable that the transport service— that is to say, the conveyance of troops and stores to and from this country, the colonies, India, and other places beyond seas— should be conducted under a separate Transport Department; but that they do not see their way to its adoption at the present moment. The abolition of the Emigration Board is a question on which more difficulty arises. The arrangements for voluntary emigration to the colonies are not necessarily connected with the transport of troops, and everybody, I think, must perceive that although it is possible that this recommendation may be a wise one, still, on further consideration, it may be open to serious objections. Certainly it does not present any very obvious congruity with the other parts of the measure. Under these circumstances I trust that my hon. Friend will be satisfied with the assurances which I have given him, that the Government is on the whole favourable to his views; and I should add, that although they are not ready at this moment to carry them out, they are yet taking steps for giving effect to them. They have appointed a committee of persons belonging to the Admiralty and the War Departments, with instructions for the framing of a plan in accordance with the recommendations of the Select Committee; and I believe my noble Friend near me (Lord Clarence Paget) has included in his Estimates a certain sum for laying the foundation of a Board of the description now proposed. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will not think it necessary to divide the House on his Motion. The House is aware that this is essentially an executive question, in which details of administration are involved; and if they are satisfied that the Government are prepared to act upon the principle, which they consider to be a sound one, they may, with perfect consistency, leave to the discretion of the Government the elaboration of details which are necessary to carry that principle into effect.


said, he was glad to hear that the right hon. Baronet admitted that efficiency and economy would be the result of establishing a Transport Board. As a member of the Committee, he could not but express his regret that the question had been left under consideration for two years. He thought sufficient time had been afforded for the various departments to make any arrangements that might be necessary. He had heard, that had not the American difficulty been settled so soon, a Transport Board would have been immediately established. The blue-book showed the great emergencies that occurred at the commencement of the Crimean war, and as no one could tell when a fresh difficulty might spring up, he thought that now was the time, when affairs were quiet, to make any changes that were necessary.


said, he hoped that after the satisfactory reply of the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for War the hon. Member for Sunderland would not press his Motion to a division. He thought the recommendations were being carried out with extraordinary rapidity, as the principle was admitted by the Government, and two of the most important departments were already acting in accordance with those recommendations.


said, that having been a member of the Committee he was quite content with the assurance of the right hon. Baronet, but he would press upon the Government the necessity of acting promptly. Within a short time the country had been in danger of a great war, and if that had occurred, they would have found our transport system as imperfect as it was on the breaking out of the Crimean war. A time of peace and calmness was a fitting opportunity for establishing a better system.


said, he also hoped the Motion would not be pressed. With respect to the third recommendation of the Committee, he wished to make one or two suggestions which might, perhaps, be considered by the Government before finally adopting any course as to the Emigration Department. The recommendation in the Report was, that that Department should be abolished altogether; but in describing the duties of the office some of its most important functions were omitted. The hon. Member for Sunderland had omitted to refer to the duty cast upon the Emigration Department to carry out the provisions of the Passenger Act. Every vessel leaving this country with passengers was inspected by that department, upon which also devolved the duty of prosecuting in cases of ill-treatment of passengers whether leaving or arriving in the United Kingdom. When the Committee recommended the abolition of the Emigration Department, they should have pointed out what other department ought to discharge those most important duties. The arrangements for sending Government emigrants to the colonies had been put upon the same footing as the transport of stores and soldiers; but that was a mistake. The greater part of the funds employed in the conveyance of emigrants was not the money of this country, but the money of the colonies. A very large proportion of the expenses of the Emigration Office itself was defrayed by the colonies. He would ask the House whether they were prepared to transfer to a department having nothing to do with the colonies the duty of looking after the safety and comfort of these emigrants, or would they wish to cast that duty entirely upon independent agencies appointed by the colonies themselves? The latter would inevitably happen if the Admiralty did the work of the present Emigration Office. The colonies were unwilling that an arrangement should be made by which these functions were taken away from a department with which they were in direct communication, and turned over to a department with which they had nothing to do.


said, that his noble Friend at the head of the Colonial Office also objected to the amalgamation on colonial grounds, for the reasons just stated by his hon. Friend.


, in reply, said, that as the right hon. Gentleman had admitted the principle for which he contended, he should rest satisfied with the pledge of the Government on the subject, and should not press his Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.