HC Deb 24 June 1862 vol 167 cc1020-4

said, that he rose to call the attention of the House to the position in which the Atlantic Royal Mail Company was placed, and to inquire what were the intentions of the Government with regard to the restitution of postal communication between Galway and North America. It would he in the recollection of the House, that some years ago a contract was entered into between the Government of the day and the Atlantic Royal Mail Company, for the purpose of conveying the mails between Galway and North America. After many mishaps an end was put to that contract; but it was the opinion of many hon. Members at the time that that contract had been terminated in a very summary manner, and therefore a Committee had been appointed to consider the subject, which, however, expressed no opinion as to the advisability of re-establishing communication between the west coast of Ireland and America; but it was of opinion, that if such communication were desirable, the claims of the Atlantic Royal Mail Company were deserving of favourable consideration. Upon the very last day of last Session the noble Lord at the head of the Government said, in answer to questions that were put to him, that "he thought it was clear that a rapid communication between the United Kingdom and North America, and more especially a communication with St. John's, which would give facilities for telegraphic notices, would be of great advantage to the commerce of the United Kingdom. He did not think that the advantage to the United Kingdom would be less because the communication would be attended with benefit to Ireland." The noble Lord further said that he thought that the restoration of postal communication between Ireland and America would be of advantage to the empire at large, and that he should be disposed to give a favourable consideration to the claims of the Atlantic Company when they could show that the capital and shipping at their command afforded a reasonable prospect of their being able to fulfil the engagements into which they might enter with the Government. The question therefore resolved itself into this:—Had the Company, when they applied to the Government for the restoration of the subsidy, a reasonable prospect of being able to fulfil the engagements into which they might enter? He hoped to show that they had. Their application was made by a letter to the Lords of the Treasury on the 24th of April, and they had then ready to carry out the service three ships, on which since last August they had expended £180,000, and a fourth was being prepared. In the beginning of May he waited upon the noble Lord at the head of the Government, accompanied by a deputation of men of all parties and all religions, to support their request. Neither to the memorial of that deputation nor to the application of the Company had any answer yet been given. On the previous Saturday a letter was received from the Secretary of the Treasury asking for a detailed statement of the means possessed by the Company for carrying out any engagement into which they might enter, but as yet nothing definite had been done. At this moment the Company had three ships ready to perform any postal service that might be required. That was, they would he ready to do so as soon as the contract could be arranged—say in a month or six weeks. If Parliament should be prorogued without the renewal of the contract, the expense of keeping four ships idle for nine months—that was, until a contract could be made next year—would be £100,000. All he now desired was, to get a definite answer from the noble Lord at the head of the Government whether that scheme was to be allowed to fall to the ground and the capital invested in it to be sacrificed. There was a strong feeling among the people of Ireland, that as their country contributed its fair quota to the Imperial Exchequer, it was entitled to its fair share of the expenditure incurred in promoting the postal communication of the empire. To that Ireland had the greater right, as it would not only tend to develop her own natural resources, but would also facilitate the commercial intercourse of the three kingdoms. He could, if necessary, easily give the House a long list of the names of those who had invested their all in the undertaking, which, while it would benefit themselves, would still more benefit the whole country. But at that late hour he forebore to do so. He had endeavoured to divest his remarks of any party or political character, and he now simply offered the noble Viscount an opportunity of stating distinctly whether the hopes that had been raised on this matter were to prove fallacious or to be realized, and whether an end was to be put to the uncertainty which paralysed the energies of that Company.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That there be laid before this House, a Copy of any Correspondence which has taken place between the Galway Company and the Treasury since the presentation of the Memorial of the Company on the 24th day of April last,


My noble Friend has stated the case with great clearness and great fidelity in his recital of what took place on this subject on former occasions, and I have nothing to remark upon either the form or the substance of his statement. It is quite true, as he says, that some time ago—I think in the month of May—a deputation did me the honour of coming to me on the subject of this contract. That which they stated, as I understood it, was not with regard to their present ability to carry into effect any contract which might be entered into with them, but referred to their expectation that at a future time, not far distant, they would be in a condition to execute any engagement into which they might enter. Her Majesty's Government has not had from them, after that, a statement that they were in that condition. A letter was addressed to them last week, to which I understand an answer was received at the Treasury this morning expressing their view as to their ability to fulfil any contract which they might undertake. I can assure my noble Friend that it will be the duty of the Government to give the earliest attention to that answer; and we feel, for the reasons stated by my noble Friend bearing on the period of the Session, that it is due to the company and due also to the Government that a definite answer should, founded on the statement which has been sent in, be given at the earliest possible moment. And I do not doubt that in the early part of next week we shall be able to communicate to them our decision. It would not, I think, be useful or convenient for me to anticipate, one way or the other, the conclusion at which we may arrive. I can only assure my noble Friend, and those interested in this subject, that nothing which tends to promote the interests of Ireland can be a matter of indifference to Her Majesty's Government. On the other hand, the House must perceive that we have duties to perform as the guardians of the public purse, and that there are therefore these mixed considerations to be taken into account with the view of giving a final answer to the application which we have received.


said, that he understood that the Government were prepared to give the most favourable consideration to the claims of the company, provided it could prove itself to be in a position to carry out the engagements into which it might enter. Therefore, knowing that his noble Friend at the head of the Government was quite incapable of violating any promise which he gave, he was perfectly willing to wait till the beginning of next week for the answer of the Government.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.