HC Deb 01 August 1867 vol 189 cc658-704

SUPPLY considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

£507,428, to complete the sum for Post Office Packet Service; no part of which sum is to be applicable or applied in or towards making any payment in respect of any period subsequent to the 20th day of June 1863, to Mr. Joseph George Churchward, or to any person claiming through or under him by virtue of a certain Contract bearing date the 26th day of April 1859, made between the Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty's Admiralty (for and on behalf of Her Majesty) of the first part, and the said Joseph George Churchward of the second part, or in or towards the satisfaction of any claim whatsoever of the said Joseph George Churchward, by virtue of that Contract, so far as relates to any period subsequent to the 20th day of June 1863.


I avail myself of the present opportunity for the purpose of inviting the House to consider that portion of the Report of the Select Committee of last year on "East India Communications" which has reference to the Postal Service between this country and India, China, Australia, and the East generally. It is not my intention in any way to deal with that part of the Report which refers to Telegraphic Communication with the East. In proposing to offer some criticisms on the manner in which Her Majesty's Government have proceeded and are now proceeding to carry out the recommendations of that Committee, I wish to assure my hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury that I do so in no fault-finding, captious, or party spirit, but solely with the hope that I may be permitted to co-operate, to a certain extent, in placing this important service, as it respects the commerce of the country, upon a satisfactory footing. It will be in the recollection of many Gentlemen now present that early in the last Session I drew the attention of the House to the condition of our communications with the East, with especial reference to the fact that great changes had taken place in India, and in particular that railways were in course of construction or completion there which would very much alter the arrangements of the Postal service with that country. I submitted all these matters to the House at the time. I called attention to the vast interests which were concerned in the trade between this country and India, and to the social and political relations of the two countries. I pointed out the imperfections of the system of communication, and I also stated, from my own point of view, what I conceived would be the proper method by which our communications should be put on a better and more satisfactory footing. The Motion I then made was agreed to, and a Committee was appointed to inquire into the subject. I should like to direct attention, for one moment, to the constitution of that Committee. It was, I think I may venture to say, in every sense of the word, a "Select" Committee. It was a Committee selected for the purpose of considering a particular question; and it was selected entirely on the grounds of the fitness of the Gentlemen placed on that Committee to undertake the duties assigned to it. In the first place, the interests of the Government of the country, or, I should say, of the Exchequer, were represented, and, I need hardly say, efficiently represented, by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers), then Secretary to the Treasury. The India Office was represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld), and both these Gentlemen were constant in their attendance on the Committee, and took as much interest in all that occurred as any Gentleman present. Commerce was represented by my hon. Friend the Member for South Lancashire, formerly Member for Liverpool (Mr. C. Turner); also by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton (Mr. Moffatt). My hon. Friend the Member for Frome (Sir Henry Rawlinson) represented generally the interests of the East, of which he is particularly cognizant. The science of telegraphy was represented by the hon. Member for Greenwich (Sir Charles Bright); steam navigation by the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Laird); and almost every interest may be said to have been represented by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton). In point of fact, there was no particular interest afffected by the inquiry which had not its re- presentative and advocate in the Committee. I may say also, in passing, that the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Packet Company, whose proceedings under their contract were to be called in question, were represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. Weguelin), who is intimately connected with that Company. The Committee sat for a great number of days. It examined a vast number of witnesses, and the whole question underwent a thorough investigation. The arrangements of the Peninsular and Oriental Company, the manner in which they had performed their service, and the cost to the country of that service, were all fully gone into; and the result was that the Committee, after considerable examination of the subject, came to certain conclusions, which they embodied in a Report, and that Report was accepted by them without any question whatever, passing the ordeal of the Committee without Amendments, except a few of a merely verbal character. I mention this in order to show that the question had been so thoroughly investigated, and was so well understood by those who considered it, that when the Report was settled, no question of doubt arose upon any point connected with the postal service.

In their Report the Committee, in the first instance, drew the attention of the House to the vastness of the trade between this country and the East. I need not occupy the time of the Committee by referring to the figures which are given in the Report. The magnitude of the trade is evidenced by the value of the goods which are imported by and exported from this country and the countries referred to in the body of the Report. The tonnage also was given, and other facts stated which justified the Committee in the conclusion they formed that upwards of 25 per cent of the whole of the external commerce of the United Kingdom was transacted with the several countries enumerated in the Report. The Committee then went on to describe the manner in which the postal communications were carried out, and pointed out its imperfections at length. They also discussed various methods which had been propounded for the purpose of improving those communications, and wound up their Report by making certain recommendations. I may say that there is in the Report a paragraph in which it is stated that in the opinion of the Committee, as regards the Peninsular and Oriental Company, who possess a fleet of fifty-seven steam vessels, of the aggregate tonnage of 84,176 tons, and of nearly 20,000 horse-power— The services of that company, under the several contracts to which reference has been made, have been well performed, and the Assistant Secretary of the Post Office stated— That no mail that was entrusted to this company for conveyance was ever lost. That, I believe, can hardly be said of any other postal service in this country. The recommendations which the Committee made to the House are recorded under seven heads. They point out the changes which had taken place in the internal communications of India, consequent upon the introduction of railways; and they say that the time had arrived when, in their opinion, tenders should be invited for the establishment of a weekly service with India, that that weekly service should be directed to Bombay alone, and that the other communications then existing with Madras and Calcutta should, as far as regards India, be entirely superseded and laid on one side; the fact being that Bombay is now on the point of being connected by means of railways with all parts of India; consequently, letters conveyed to Bombay will necessarily reach any place in the interior of India, to which they are addressed, quicker by way of Bombay than by any other route. They next suggest, with reference to the extreme importance of maintaining our communications with India upon a satisfactory basis— That such service should be on the footing of an express service, and that it should be— Entirely unconnected, to the eastward of Suez, with any other mail services whatever; the reason being that where different branch lines of steam communication have to be worked together, great delay must sometimes take place from the non-arrival or late arrival of vessels, independently of the delay that is necessarily attendant upon the trans-shipment of passengers and merchandize. Wherever postal communication has been extended, there commerce has invariably been attracted; in fact, the conveyance of the mails has proved a most efficient agency for increasing our trade in all parts of the world. The then Committee describe what, in their opinion, should be the speed at which these mails should be carried. They suggest that— The time-table should be based on a prescribed speed of not less than eleven nautical miles per hour on the voyage between Marseilles and Alexandria, and ten miles per hour between Suez and Bombay. There are various other recommendations in the Report, and among them is one which will probably form the principal subject of comment this evening, which is— That Her Majesty's Government should take into their early consideration the arrangements to be made, in consequence of the proposed separation of the Indian service, for maintaining a fortnightly or half-monthly service to China, and a monthly or four-weekly service to Australia, having regard to any facilities which may be afforded by the monthly service to China, now performed by the Messageries Impériales from Marseilles. The Report was presented at the end of the Session of Parliament. It had been concurred in entirely by my hon. Friends, who, in the Committee, represented the Departments of the Government which were concerned; and at the time it was drafted it was reasonable to suppose that they would have been the persons to be entrusted with the carrying out of the recommendations of the Committee, and we had every right and reason also to suppose that, as they had been parties to the recommendations, if the execution of them had been left in their hands, we should have seen them fulfilled to the letter. The conduct of this and of other matters, however, fell into different hands. When the present Government came into office they lost no time in taking the matter into consideration, and on the 4th of September a Treasury Minute was recorded in which the Report of the Select Committee was reviewed, and the opinion of the Government generally in reference to the whole question was set forth at full length. In this Minute, "My Lords" state, in the first instance, the nature of the existing service, and then they pass on to a question to which I desire to draw attention, because it is a subject of great importance. I refer to the question of cost. Now the question of the cost of maintaining this communication had been a vexed question between the public and the Treasury, and between the Post Office and the India Office; and the departmental controversy as carried on was of a very peculiar character. It was, in fact, a sort of triangular duel. The Post Office was on one side, the Treasury was on another, and the India Office on the third side, all engaged in trying how they could shift from one another the burden of what was considered to be the loss sustained by the public in the maintenance of these communications. Now, in offering a criticism on that part of the Minute of the Treasury which has reference to this subject, I wish to refer to the evidence which was given before the Committee by a gentleman who represented the Post Office. I have often heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire (Mr. Gladstone) speak in the highest terms of the public servants of the Government and the country, and I have heard the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer do the same. No doubt whatever has been said by them on this point was spoken with a full knowledge of its truth. At all events, my experience justifies me in saying so; and I should say that of all persons Mr. Frederick Hill, of the Post Office, is the last man of whom we should speak as being deficient in zeal, ability, or intelligence. Mr. Frederick Hill has practical opinions of his own on this subject, which he has always expressed, and which he enforced with great vigour before the Committee. His object was to show that there was what he termed a "loss" on this Contract Service; that is to say, that its whole cost exceeded the estimated receipts for postage by a certain amount, and he held that that was a "loss" to which the country should not be put, and that it ought to be recouped in some form to the department. The controversy between the departments of the Government, therefore, was as to whose shoulders this loss should fall upon. An attempt was made—at least it was proposed to charge an additional sum in the way of postage; but that was strenuously objected to by Sir Charles Wood, who was then at the India Office. It was also proposed that India should be called upon to bear the "loss;" but to that, too, Sir Charles Wood stoutly objected. The public, likewise, protested against being called upon to pay a larger amount of postage, and as a result, in reality it was the only practical issue, the public were likely to be the sufferers in the long run, as appeared to be the intention of the Treasury at the time, for they were to be called upon to pay an additional 50 per cent in postage. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer told us the other day that the Government were occupied in arranging the terms of a Postal Convention with the United States of America, and the expectation of a reduced rate of postage being established between the two countries was made matter of congratulation. But it appears that, at the very time that this great boon was to be conferred on persons engaged in trade, or having occasion to correspond, with the United States, it was actually the intention of the Government to subject those who are engaged in the Eastern trade to a considerable advance in postage. It is a question which well deserves the consideration of this Committee whether the residuum or difference between the cost of the service, and the amount received for postage, is a matter to be viewed in the light in which it was treated by Mr. Frederick Hill. I, for one, hold that there are considerations to be taken into account in this matter which are wholly apart from the question of the profit and loss arising upon the accounts of the Post Office. The difference, as I will explain to the Committee, is not considerable; but whatever it is, that difference represents the whole cost to this country of the means, by which not only the commercial, but the social and political connection, between this country and its Eastern possessions and dependencies and the Eastern world is kept up. Sir Charles Wood, at that time, took a view which, I think, will commend itself to the judgment of the Committee. In a letter which he addressed to the Secretary of the Post Office in October, 1865, he said— Sir Charles Wood, however, cannot regard the question as one merely affecting the charge on the Imperial revenues. It has been the perception of the bearing of increased postal communication on the wealth and progress of the country that has induced Statesmen of late years to consent to fiscal sacrifices for the purpose of obtaining it. There can be no doubt that increased postal communication with India implies increasing relations with that country, increased commerce, increased investment of English capital, increased settlement of energetic middle-class Englishmen; and, from all of these sources, the wealth and prosperity of England are probably more greatly increased than that of India; and at the present day there are classes in India, not private soldiers, to whom the increase of the rate of postage between the two countries would be not only a hardship, but a positive hindrance to their progress. I apprehend that there are few persons who do not concur with Sir Charles Wood in that view, and who do not think that it would be a great calamity, if all communication between the two countries were to be subjected to the burden of an increase of not less than 50 per cent in the expense of carrying on our postal communications. The question is what is the whole sum to which I have been referring? In the Treasury Minute the entire cost of carrying out the communication between this country and the East is set down in the gross at £349,625, to which certain additions are made that I need not enumerate in detail, and from which a deduction of about £236,000 for the estimated amount of postage is made. There then remains a sum, stated in the Minute to be £160,000, of which it may be roughly calculated that one half is borne by India and the different colonies concerned, and the other half by the mother country. It was the endeavour of the Committee to separate as much as possible the cost of carrying on our communications with India from the cost of maintaining our communications with China, Australia, and other parts of the East, and for that purpose they obtained from Mr. Hill a Return showing what was, in the estimation of the Post Office at that time, the exact cost of the India service, as distinguished from the China service; and the result was this. The account is in the blue bock, and bears the signature of the Receiver and Accountant General of the Post Office. The last paragraph of the Memorandum is in these words— Thus it appears that the present loss on the India service is about £48,000 per annum, and that the loss on the China service is about £34,000, making a total loss of rather more than £82,000. Now, in the Treasury Minute, the whole sum is set down at £160,000, so that the difference between the two must be borne by the Australian and other Colonies with which communication is kept up. Separating the India service from the others it appears then that, in the very worst view as regards the result, the deficiency does not amount to more than £48,000. A competent witness, however, contended before the Committee that that was not a fair Return, because it was made up of a mileage rate applicable to the combined services of India and China, whereas a portion of the India service is carried on at a considerably reduced rate, and that that reduced rate did not belong to the China service at all. Therefore, the average was not fairly stated, and the probability is that the whole loss on the India service does not exceed £30,000. That sum of £30,000 then is the amount for which the communications are to be scrimped, or the public are to pay in the shape of increased postal charge; and I think I have shown in the words of Sir Charles Wood that there are considerations of an important character that would hardly justify the Government in imposing on the public such an increased postal charge. What I complain of in this part of the Minute is that, with the knowledge that the loss upon the India service, which it was the object of the Committee to keep wholly clear and distinct from the other services, owing to the unfairness of mixing them together, was only £48,000, the whole has been lumped up in the sum of £160,000, in order to magnify the amount. We were told the other day by a noble Lord in the other House of Parliament that the child of Aspasia governed Greece; and I think I am not going far out of the way in suggesting that, in reference to matters postal, Mr. Frederick Hill governs the Treasury. I do not suppose that this Treasury Minute, which was passed within six weeks after the present Government assumed office, was the production of the mind of my hon. Friend, for he would hardly have had time to give his attention to the subject so completely as the Minute indicates. I am not without reason in supposing that it was prepared in St. Martin's-le-Grand; and, if so, it could have been prepared by no one else than Mr. Frederick Hill. I do not question, in the slightest degree, Mr. Hill's fidelity to his own particular views, or to what he conceives to be the interest of the public in this matter, but I think he has not stated in respect of cost the figures in the fair way towards the Committee that he ought to have done.

There are also some important particulars with regard to which the Government have failed to recognize the recommendations of the Select Committee. Among other things it was especially recommended by the Committee that the service of India, being the most important, should be kept wholly separate and distinct from every other service to the eastward of Suez: that the Eastern mails being conveyed from this country through Egypt by one service should be separated into two divisions at Suez, one of which, the India portion, should proceed to Bombay and the other should take its departure for Aden, Ceylon, Singapore, China, and elsewhere. That recommendation was based upon other and more important considerations than those which have reference to the special importance of rapid communication with India. The fact is, that if there is any particular fault to be found in the proposed method of communication, it is the utter unsuitability for the purposes of trans-shipment of the port of Aden. I can refer this Committee to competent evidence which was given before the Select Committee as to the difficulties connected with Aden. Being a tidal harbour, vessels can only go in and out of it at certain periods. Thus, time must necessarily be lost there, and, independently of other considerations, there is this great practical objection to Aden being used for the purpose. But, surely, when the Committee were recommending an express service to India unconnected with any other on the other side of Suez, it is not unreasonable to suppose that they had in view the great impolicy of making the voyage to and from Bombay dependent upon certain other vessels keeping up the communication with Aden. The Treasury in their Minute use these words— With regard to the conveyance of mails to China and Japan, My Lords are of opinion that the service to be constituted for the conveyance of the Indian Mails should be made use of as far as Aden. There is therefore a distinct difference of opinion between the Committee and the Government on this point. The views of the Committee were based on strong public considerations independently altogether of the unsuitability of Aden for the purposes of a port. The Government, entirely disregarding the evidence which was given before the Committee, recorded their own view, or that of Mr. Hill, that economy should be observed, and that the mails for China and Japan should be carried not from Suez to the eastward, but from Aden to the eastward, thus making use of the Bombay line, and entirely passing over the view of the Committee that the Indian mails should be conveyed separately and with as much rapidity as possible between Suez and Bombay. It is true that, at the end of the paragraph in the Minute, it is said that the parties tendering are to state for what additional subsidy they would be willing to continue the service from Aden to Suez; but the view of the Treasury is strongly stated that in effect the recommendation of the Committee was not a wise one as regards Aden, and that it was better that Aden should be selected as the point of junction. Another matter was the speed at which the mails were to be conveyed. The Committee recommended that it should be eleven knots an hour; but the recommendation was passed over on reference to the Postmaster General, and a time fixed which, if observed correctly, would restrict the speed to ten and a-quarter miles an hour. Perhaps that is not a matter of so much consequence, seeing that the post is becoming daily more and more supplemented by the telegraph; so that the necessity which was felt some time ago for a highly increased rate of speed does not exist in the same degree now. Another point has reference to the place of departure from Europe. The Committee had under their consideration the Report made by Colonel Tyler, of the Royal Engineers, with regard to the new line of communication proposed to be opened over Mont Cenis, and by the new line of railway to Bologna and Brindisi in the South of Italy. The Committee inquired into the matter, and came to the conclusion, on the evidence before them, that Brindisi was not a port that was fitted at present, or until improved, as the place from which the communication could be kept up. Moreover, the line of railway between Bologna and Brindisi is a single line, and is not, therefore, so well adapted for the conveyance of mails by express train as a double line of railway. Again, the passage of the Mont Cenis is not yet in a state to justify the Government in relying upon its being at all times open for the conveyance of mails. The Committee felt that, in making any contracts, regard should be had to the possibility of this line becoming available during the term of the contract, and that arrangements should be adopted for its being used it necessary. What they had in view was the time when the tunnel now being constructed under the Mont Cenis pass should be finished. But the Treasury in their Minute adopted absolutely the view contained in the Report of Colonel Tyler, that the mails should, in future, be sent from this country to Brindisi instead of Marseilles, and be taken from Brindisi instead of Marseilles on to Alexandria. No doubt a small saving, which would not however be more than twenty-four hours, might be made by the use of that line, if the mails could be carried over the pass of Mont Cenis, and the railway were practicable at all times and seasons for the conveyance of the mails by express train; but I think that, in the interest of commerce, it would hardly be a wise thing to rely entirely upon a means of communication which must be liable to be stopped at various seasons of the year by the inclemency of the weather on the summit of the Alps. There are very few persons in this House who have not been over that pass. I myself have been over it in the depth of winter, and I have known it for days together absolutely impracticable before the paths could be cleared sufficiently to enable ordinary travellers to pass. Surely it must be deemed an unwise thing as regards the interests of commerce that we are to be dependent upon a line of communication subject to these occasional interruptions. At all events I am satisfied of this, that if on any occasion interruption arises very great dissatisfaction would be expressed upon the subject.

The next point of importance, and it is, perhaps, the most material one in connection with these contracts, is the disposition which has been shown by the Government to follow up the principle of economy by affording to foreign companies the power of competing with our own steam companies, or other British subjects who might be inclined to tender. On the 3rd of June my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) asked the Secretary to the Treasury whether any overtures had been made to the French Post Office with a view to render the French mail service to India and China more available for the purposes of this country, under the new system of postal communication, recommended by the Committee of last Session; and to this question the Secretary to the Treasury replied, that tenders had been invited, and that he hoped they would be sent in by the French as well as the English companies. Now, what I desire to do on this occasion is to protest, in the name of what I consider to be the interest of the country and the interest of commerce, and in justice to our own companies, against the ships of the Messageries Impériales, or of any other foreign company, being employed in the conveyance of our Eastern mails. You may carry the principle of economy too far. Such a course of proceeding would be Free Trade gone mad. I am convinced that the subject has not been sufficiently considered. For what would be the position of this country in the event of a war or any interruption of existing relations taking place? Supposing the Messageries Impériales or any other foreign company, to whom, as I understand, the forms of these tenders have been sent, are allowed to tender for one part, what is there, if that policy is adopted, to prevent them from tendering for any other part or for the whole of the service; and if they tendered on lower terms, and the contract were awarded to them, what would be the position of our commerce, what the position of our political and social relations with India, in the event of our being unfortunately engaged in hostilities with the country with whose people the contract has been entered into; or even in the event of that country being at war with some other? Take the case of the Messageries Impériales, and suppose them to have made a tender which, as regards price, the Government would feel themselves justified in accepting. Well, some cause of interruption to our friendly relations arises; not only have we lost all the advantages which we at present derive from the existence of a large and formidable fleet of vessels capable of carrying a powerful armament in the East and in the Mediterranean; but the foreign Power with which the difficulty occurs — the French it may be—has those advantages in its hands. We not only should be subjected to the disadvantages resulting from our being deprived of this service, but our opponents would be in possession of its advantages. I need not occupy the time of the Committee by pointing out to what uses those advantages might be put by any foreign Power, and especially France, being placed in that position. Besides, the Messageries Impériales are under contract with their own Government to perform certain services in the East. I find in this blue book a copy of their contract with the French Government, and the contract is one which I should think they would not relinquish for the purpose of taking up one with us; but the terms of it are wholly incompatible with the terms of any contract they could make with us. First, there is a sort of internal police maintained on board the vessels of the Messageries Impériales. Next, their Consuls have power to detain the ships from day to day, whenever they consider it to be in the interest of their Government to require it. And it has happened in the experience of the Penin- sular and Oriental Company that the departure of the French vessels has been postponed in order that the commercial interests of the Messageries Impériales might be served by having the market to themselves before or after the Peninsular and Oriental vessel had taken its departure. Now, the peculiarity of the arrangement which I understand the Government contemplate entering into is this, that the competition is not a fair one. I am not speaking at all in the interest of the Peninsular and Oriental Company as a company. I have not anything to do with that Company; I never had, and am not likely to have, anything to do with it. That Company must hold itself—and it does hold itself—ready to meet any fair competition to which it may be subjected from other companies which are sailing under the British flag, or from any individuals who can fairly come in competition with it; but see what is the position of the Messageries Impériales Company as compared with that of the Peninsular and Oriental Company. The Peninsular and Oriental Company has received during the currency of its contracts various rates; but altogether its subsidy may be put down at 4s. 6d. per mile per annum, whilst the French Company receives from its Government a subsidy of 20s. per mile per annum. Some persons may say that we should act very foolishly if we do not avail ourselves of the great liberality, or perhaps extravagance, of the French Government in paying such an enormous subsidy to a mercantile company, and if they choose to be at the expense of carrying our mails, let them carry them. I confess that I cannot concur in that view of the matter. I am of opinion that there is a question of grave national policy involved in our maintaining these great lines of Packet service; and the French, seeing this, it has been a part of their policy for years past to construct a commercial marine of their own, propelled by steam, which shall enable them to compete with the large companies of this country. The French have seen what the Peninsular and Oriental Company's ships did in the Crimean war. They then carried upwards of 60,000 men from this country, 2,000 officers, and between 11,000 and 12,000 horses. We know, also, what the Peninsular and Oriental Company did at the time of the Indian mutiny. Where should we have been if its vessels had not been in existence then to take out our troops and military stores to India? We know, too, what was done by another company in the Trent affair. We know how 10,000 men were sent out to Canada by the Cunard line of steamers, and other vessels, almost at a day's notice. The French Government have seen all this, and are ready and willing to raise for themselves a power on the seas equal to that which we hold through the agency of these Packet companies. In point of fact, the Messageries Impériales must be considered as almost a department of the French Government. For not only do the Imperial Government pay the Company now, but they are under contract to continue to pay for years to come, not an uncertain subsidy (though a subsidy that will gradually diminish until the average is brought down to about 16s. a mile), but when the contract was entered into the French Government, moreover, advanced the Company £500,000 sterling out of the Imperial funds, to enable them to build their ships; and not only that, they also gave the Company £75,000 to represent the expense of putting the vessels on the station. So that the whole of the service is practically maintained out of the Imperial Exchequer of France. And this is the Company with which our steam shipping companies here, and our steam shipping companies in India, for there are persons there who will tender, are called upon to compete. Now, what I wish to do on the present occasion is simply to enter my protest against any act on the part of Her Majesty's Government which shall saddle this country with a contract either with, the Messageries Impériales or any other foreign company. I hold that such a course would be contrary to public policy; that it would be unfair and unjust to the Peninsular and Oriental Company, and that it would be an act of political insanity for us to put such a weapon into the hands of any foreign Government whatever; and more especially so, bearing in mind that the weapon thus put into their hands has been first taken out of our own. I shall, perhaps, be called upon to explain what it was the Select Committee meant when they made the recommendation in their Report that regard should be had to— Any facilities which may be afforded by the monthly service to China performed by the Messageries Impériales from Marseilles. I can do so precisely and exactly. There is at the present time a fortnightly com- munication between Suez and China maintained under contract with the Peninsular and Oriental Company. We have also a monthly service—the two things seem, perhaps, to have no connection, but they really have in principle—between Southampton and the coast of South America, and a monthly one to Mexico. The French Government, also, in pursuance of their plan to carry on postal communication under highly subsidized contracts, have a communication once a month between Bordeaux and the coast of South America, and between St. Nazaire, at the mouth of the Loire, and Mexico. But the departures of these vessels are so timed as to fit in and harmonize with the sailing of our vessels from Southampton, so that while we have our subsidized line of steamers communicating with those countries once a month, our merchants have the opportunity afforded them of corresponding once a fortnight, at exact intervals, by means of the ships of this French Company. What the Committee had in view, therefore, was that the French Government should be invited to make such alterations in the departure and arrival of their vessels between Marseilles and Alexandria as to give the opportunity of communicating with India at intervals of a week. And speaking for myself individually, I must say that I never had an idea, in making that proposition, that our service would in any way be subjected to competition with foreign vessels, or that foreign companies would in any way be substituted for our own.

I have now gone through most of the subjects that seemed to require notice at this moment, and I shall now proceed to bring my observations to a conclusion. I have no Amendment to move, because the Vote is for the service of the current year; but I may say this, and I wish to give the Government proper warning of it—and I am sure in that respect that I shall be fortified by the concurrence, not only of a great number of the Members of this House, but by the public out of doors—that if we find that a contract has been entered into with the Messageries Impériales, we shall then avail ourselves of the Resolution which the House recorded in July, 1860, under which no contract is to take effect until it has been either approved by a direct Resolution of the House, or has lain unchallenged a month upon the table of the House. One word before I close with regard to that point. The Peninsular and Oriental Company have received notice of the termination of their contract on the 1st February next year, and the tenders for the new contract are to be sent in or received by the 16th of September next. Now I cannot conceive how, with that Resolution of the House before them, and as the contract with the Peninsular and Oriental Company will expire on the 1st of February next, the Government can feel themselves at liberty to enter into arrangements with any new company, seeing that the contract for such arrangements could not then have received the approval, or lain a month upon the table of the House. This brings me to another point, rather a small one, but deserving our notice at this moment, which I find embodied in a letter addressed by the Postmaster General to the Lords of the Treasury on the 2nd of March last, and I really must say that I cannot imagine how a person, having any regard whatever for the public interest, could have had such an idea in his mind as is contained in this letter. The Postmaster General says— In order, therefore, to allow of effective competition, the forms of tender do not make it absolutely compulsory that the new services east of Suez should begin at the termination of the present contract—namely, on the 1st of February, 1868. Should a good offer be received from a company requiring more time, the difficulty must be surmounted, as far as possible, by the best temporary arrangement that can be made. That is to say, the enormous interests which in India and in this country are dependent upon an efficient Packet service shall rely solely upon a temporary arrangement. [Mr. HUNT: Read on.] The same plan was adopted when calling for the last tenders for the Australian service. I will come to that presently. The meaning of this, stated in a few words, is, that, be the exigency what it may, if a cheaper tender be presented by anyone else, every interest connected with India or the East is to be suspended and hung up until some other arrangement can be made. All our commerce and communications, social and political, are to be subjected to the best temporary arrangement that can be effected. I was desired by my hon. Friend opposite to read on. I will do so— The same plan was adopted when calling for the last tenders for the Australian service. [Mr. HUNT: Hear, hear!] Yes, and who came to the relief of the Government on that occasion? Why, the Peninsular and Oriental Company the very Company which, if the views of the Government with regard to the Messageries Impériales are carried into effect will certainly be ruined. It came to their relief. I think, then, it is rather too much to expect that the interests of this country, commercial, social and political, should be made to depend upon the good-will of any foreign Government whatever. As I said before, although I differ much myself from the views expressed in this correspondence, and from the manner in which the Government have generally treated this question of postal communication with the East, I am not in a position to offer any Amendment to the consideration of this Committee; but, in conclusion, I repeat what I said just now, that, as the whole of the arrangements which the Government may enter into with regard to these contracts must necessarily come under the review of Parliament next Session, so if they be not suitable in all respects for the exigencies of the service, and if proper respect has not been shown to the recommendations of the Select Committee to whom the matter was referred, I shall invite the House to express its opinion upon the manner in which the whole affair has been conducted.


I am sure that the Committee feel very much obliged to my hon. Friend for the observations which he has made on the subject he invites us to discuss, and I am equally sure that Her Majesty's Government will not complain of the manner in which he has dealt with it; but I think it must be obvious to every Member of the Committee who has heard the speech of my hon. Friend that the main objection which he has raised to the slight deviations from the recommendations of the Select Committee is owing to the endeavours of the Government to promote economy. Of course, as there is a time to weep and a time to laugh, so there is a time to spend and a time to save; but I think the Committee can hardly blame the Government for making the most economical arrangements consistent with the efficiency of the service, and I am prepared to show that the whole spirit of the recommendations of the Select Committee has been embodied in the proposal authorized by the Government, and that therefore the appeal which my hon. Friend has addressed to the House is hardly borne out by the facts. My hon. Friend went in order through the recommendations of the Committee; and the first recommendation is— That the time has arrived when tenders should be invited for a weekly service to Bombay alone, and the separate postal service between this country and Madras and Calcutta should be discontinued. Now, my hon. Friend admits that the Government, although only recently come into office, took an early opportunity to deal with that question, and to give notice to terminate the existing contract with a view to establishing such weekly service. The second recommendation is— That such service should be on the footing of an express service, entirely unconnected, to the eastward of Suez, with any other mail services; and the hon. Gentleman complains that that recommendation has been disregarded. It is true that another arrangement has been determined upon, as mentioned in the Treasury Minute; and the object of that arrangement is that to which my hon. Friend has alluded—namely, to promote economy as far as possible; for, of course if the service to Aden is made use of for the mails further east to China and Japan the expense of a double service between Aden and Suez will be avoided. My hon. Friend has called attention to the fact that in the Treasury Minute tenders are to be called for a fortnightly service between Aden and Japan, touching at Galle, Penang, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, and those Members of the Committee who have read the tenders will see that the persons offering are distinctly asked to say for what sum they will convey the mails from Aden to Yokohama, and for what further sum they would be willing to continue the service from Aden to Suez. Therefore, it will be seen that this question came under the consideration of the Government, who naturally wished to have alternative terms before them. When this information has been obtained they will be in a position to carry out the second recommendation if it should be thought desirable. My hon. Friend will admit that the question of economy is one that must enter into the consideration of the Government, and if there should be a great difference, which I do not apprehend, between the services eastward from Suez and from Aden, it is a matter which we are bound not to overlook. My hon. Friend has alluded to and complains of the losses on the Eastern Postal services being so mixed up together that the loss on the Indian service cannot be distinguished from that on the China and Australian service. That is perfectly true, and he is quite correct in his figures when he says that the £160,000 of total loss is made up in this way: India, £48,000; China, £34,000; and Australia £78,000. My hon. Friend complains that that the £48,000 set down as lost on the Indian service is an over-estimate, and his calculation makes it only a little over £30,000; but he forgets to tell us that, according to the Post Office Estimate, when the weekly service to Bombay has been established there will be a further loss of £40,000 net, so that putting the two sums together there is an estimated loss of £90,000, or very nearly that amount. Then arose the question with the Government, whether the postal rate was to continue the same? My hon. Friend says that we propose an additional charge on the public; but I think it is fair to assume that it is not an additional charge upon the public, but an additional charge upon those who avail themselves of the service to the relief of the public. At the time when we were expecting that there would be so large an additional loss, it necessarily became a question for our consideration, whether the general taxpayer or those who used the service for carrying on their correspondence with the East should pay the difference, and this no doubt is a matter which is open to discussion. Three propositions were placed before the Government; they were these: should the postage rate remain the same, or should it be increased to 1s., or should some middle point be taken; and after giving the question mature consideration, it was settled that the postal rate for the half-an-ounce letter should be 9d., which is the medium between the 6d. at present charged and the 1s. which was proposed. It was felt that that would not be a grievous charge to persons who have correspondence with India, and that otherwise a great loss would be sustained by the general public. My hon. Friend did not dwell much upon the question of speed. Still he said enough to show that he thinks we have not fulfilled the recommendation of the Committee on that part of the subject. If he looks at the terms of the tender he will find that that is not so, because the advertisement asks for tenders for a rate of speed which is about ten nautical miles to the east of Suez, and about eleven on this side of Alexandria, and the persons tendering are also asked to state what terms they would expect supposing the rate of speed is increased. They are also to name the rate of speed which they can undertake to accomplish. Therefore, when the tenders come in, we shall be able to prescribe the rate of speed, whether it shall be the minimum recommended by the Select Committee, or any higher rate. Of course, the question of speed is one of money; and therefore it was thought desirable by the Government to specify different rates of speed, and that these should be placed in juxta-position with the different charges for those rates of speed. When, therefore, we have all this information before us, we shall be able to come to a conclusion as to what speed shall be prescribed. The next question which was adverted to by my hon. Friend was whether we should continue to use the port of Marseilles or go to the pert of Brindisi as the port of departure from Europe, and I must say that we are not open to any imputation in having asked for tenders for each of these routes. Permit me to call the attention of this Committee to the fact that when the Government resolved upon asking tenders for Brindisi, they had received an important Report from Captain Tyler, which it was impossible to have laid before the Select Committee, seeing that Captain Tyler's Report is dated the 19th of July, whilst the Report of the Committee is dated the 20th. Consequently it is clear that Captain Tyler's Report could not have gone before the Committee. New matter, therefore, was in the possession of the Government which had not been submitted to the Committee; and certainly the Report of Captain Tyler, which is a very able one, put the Brindisi route in a much more favourable light than persons in this country had ever imagined. After perusing that Report carefully, we thought it was not open to us to discard the question of Brindisi altogether, and that we ought to ask for a tender for that route also. Captain Tyler's Report shows, I think, a saving at once of thirty-six hours between this country and Alexandria, supposing the Mont Cenis and Brindisi route were adopted. Under these circumstances, I think the Committee will be of opinion that Her Majesty's Government were not unjustified in inviting tenders for the port of Brindisi. At the same time we have not put by the question of the continuance of the service from Marseilles; but what we asked for was that, concurrently with tenders for a service from Brindisi, we should have tenders for the service from Marseilles to Alexandria. Probably, when the time arrives for deciding on the different tenders, we shall be in a position to judge whether the proposed route by Mont Cenis and the port of Brindisi can be relied upon. Next comes the question raised by my hon. Friend with regard to the French Company, the Messageries Impériales. My hon. Friend seems to think that it is altogether wrong to ask a tender from a French Company; but let me call attention first of all to the recommendation of the Select Committee on that point. It is the sixth of their recommendations, and it is in these terms— That Her Majesty's Government should take into their early consideration the arrangements be made, in consequence of the proposed separation of the Indian service, for maintaining a fortnightly or half-monthly service to China, and a monthly or four-weekly service to Australia, having regard to any facilities which may be afforded by the monthly service to China now performed by the Messageries Impériales from Marseilles. Any one upon reading that recommendation must see that the Committee had in view the making use, as far as they could, of the services of the French Company. My hon. Friend says that what the Committee meant was that they should use it as an intermediate service; but I have also heard another view expressed as to their meaning, which is that any arrangement to be made should be with the French Government, and not with the Company, for the conveyance of our mails once a month by means of the Messageries Impériales. And certainly the sixth recommendation of the Committee does not bear out clearly the interpretation put upon it by my hon. Friend. My hon. Friend has protested in energetic terms against any contract being made with a foreign company. Well, what did we do? We advertised for tenders from all the world. Were we to say, as is done in advertising for servants, that "no Irish need apply," that "no French need apply?" Ours was an open offer. We asked all the world to tender upon what terms they would contract to carry on the service. And we would not exclude French, or even Chinese or Japanese, if they choose to come forward. Not only did we issue tenders for the whole or any part of the service; but the Post Office also sent out copies of tenders to different companies, and among others to the French Company. I should say, therefore, that we are in a position to entertain any offer that comes from any company whatever for any part of the service, and certainly to consider any offer that comes from the Messageries Impériales. After all, I do not think that my hon. Friend need be so much alarmed as to the French Company being likely to take the contract, if the observations he himself makes be correct, because he says that the terms under which that Company are with the French Government would not allow of their entering into a contract with us. If that be so, there is no longer any ground for his fears. I should add that, in addition to these tenders having been sent out to different companies, we have been in semi-official communication with the French Government as to any arrangements that might be made for our mutual advantage. These semi-official negotiations, however, have not yet been brought to a conclusion. I am not therefore in a position to inform this Committee what they are at present; but, generally speaking, I should say that Her Majesty's Government are desirious of having before them the particulars of every possible arrangement that can be made for the efficient conduct of the mail service, and that when they have before them all the proposed arrangements, whether by the French Company or the French Government, they will be in a position to judge of the whole matter, and to place it on a sound basis. My hon. Friend has has referred to the Resolutions agreed to by this House in the year 1860. There were three of them. The first is— That in all contracts extending over a period of years, and creating a public charge, actual or prospective, entered into by the Government for the conveyance of mails by sea, or for the purpose of telegraphic communication beyond sea, there shall be inserted the condition that the contract shall not be binding until it has lain upon the table of the House of Commons for one month without disapproval, unless previous to the lapse of that period it has been approved of by a Resolution of the House. (2.) "That every such contract when executed should forthwith, if Parliament be then sitting, or if Parliament be not then sitting, within fourteen days after it assembles, be laid upon the table of the House, accompanied by a Minute of the Lords of the Treasury setting forth the grounds on which they have proceeded in authorizing it. (3.) "That in case where any such contract requires to be confirmed by Act of Parliament, the Bill for that purpose should not be introduced and dealt with as a Private Bill, and that power to the Government to enter into agreements by which obligations at the public charge should be undertaken, should not be given in any Private Act. My hon. Friend can hardly fail to observe that in the terms of the tender which we have sent and the conditions we have specified the second Resolution is included. Certainly there is a difficulty about a contract which has been made when the House is not sitting, but that is an inherent vice of the Resolution. And if this contract is made when the House is not sitting, it will be open to the House to refuse it when they meet again. My hon. Friend can hardly consider it to be the duty of the Government to call Parliament together in the month of October or November to express the opinion that the contract should not be made, but if that be his view, he will no doubt take means for giving expression to it. My hon. Friend has been very severe on the letter of the Postmaster General of the 2nd of March, to the effect that if an advantageous offer were made the period for the commencement of the contract might be postponed. He says, that is another of your mere economical notions, and that it would be preposterous for the sake of pounds, shillings, and pence considerations to postpone the commencement of a contract. But as this contract is proposed to be for six years, and supposing that we had a very reasonable offer and could make a temporary arrangement which would be perfectly efficient until the new service could be commenced — remembering, I repeat, that it is proposed the contract should last for six years—I think that considerations of pounds, shillings, and pence are important, and that we should consider whether the adoption of some temporary arrangement under the circumstances might not lead to a considerable cheapening of the service. I believe I have now gone through all the points which were referred to by my hon. Friend, and I hope after the observations I have made that the Committee will be of opinion that Her Majesty's Government are not really open to the strictures that have been passed upon them.


I am sorry that I cannot agree with my hon. Friend opposite in the opinion that all the arrangements of Her Majesty's Government are entirely satisfactory. So far from that, having sat upon the Select Committee with my hon. Friend the Member for London, and having had the honour with him of preparing the Report of the Committee, and the Committee having unanimously adopted that Report, I think it is much to be regretted that in several instances the Government have not complied with the recommendations of the Committee, and that in cases where they have complied with them in the letter, they have, in several respects, departed from them in their spirit. In fact, it is easy to show that they have not been quite so regardful of what my hon. Friend describes as pounds, shillings, and pence, as to satisfy the just economical requirements of the subject which is entrusted to them. Let me remind this Committee of what is the nature of the service with the East which it is proposed to deal with. There are at present, practically, two contracts for the Eastern Postal service. One is for the service of India and China, consisting of two sections. The first of these has a trunk line to Point de Galle, with extensions to Calcutta and China respectively. The second section is the branch service between Suez and Bombay, which, during a portion of the year, has been on the footing of a weekly, or fourth of a monthly service. The service between Point de Galle and Calcutta is not, by the recommendations of the Committee and the judgment of the Government, in future to be carried on. Under the facilities which will in a short time be afforded by means of the railways which cross India, from Bombay to Calcutta, to Madras and to other parts of the Peninsula, the whole of the Indian Postal service will be carried on from Suez to Bombay, and the service viâ Galle will then only be available for the China service, with, perhaps, a branch to the Mauritius. The other contract is for a service from Point de Galle to Australia; and its expense is entirely unconnected with that for India and China. There is this further difference between the two contracts—that for Bombay, Galle, Madras, Calcutta, and China is terminable at one year's notice; and that for the Australian route, from Galle to Australia, is terminable at two years' notice. And the question which came before the Select Committee was, in what way these contracts should be dealt with; and, in the first place, was it expedient that the Indian service should be entirely dissevered from that to China and Australia? The evidence which was laid before the Committee was to this effect—The railways from Bombay to Madras, and from Bombay to Calcutta and the North Western Provinces of India, are not yet opened; but they will be in the course of next year. The Committee were unanimously of opinion that the future service to India should be exclusively to Bombay and over these lines of railway. But some regard should be had to the time when the railways would be open. If tenders are called for, and a contract entered into at once for the service to Bombay only, you will find yourselves in this most awkward and inconvenient position, that the steamers which carry your mails will not be available for passengers wishing to go to Madras and Calcutta, and that there must be kept up a branch service for passengers from Galle to Madras end Calcutta, carrying no mails. Adopting then the plan of the Committee, the sound policy would have been to give notice to the existing contractors to determine the whole service at the expiration of the two years, and that fresh tenders should be called for, for which other companies would be at liberty to apply as well as the Peninsular and Oriental Company, for the Indian service only viâ Bombay, and for the China, Australian and other services via Galle. But what the Government have done is to call for tenders for the India and China services only, to come into operation next February, whereas the railway from Bombay to Madras, Calcutta and other parts of India, will not be opened until a later period in the year. In doing this my hon. Friend has exposed the Treasury to the payment of a great deal more than they would have had to pay had they made a temporary arrangement on the basis of the present route, and called for tenders for the permanent service, to commence after the railways were open. This was clearly the view of the Select Committee. The evidence of Mr. Frederick Hill, the able officer of the Post Office to whom my hon. Friend has referred, given before the Select Committee, clearly sets forth these points. It is at page 14 of the Evidence. It is perfectly clear, I think, from that, and indeed from all the evidence which was given before the Committee, that what ought to have been done was this—not to have rushed at once into calling for tenders to come into operation in February next, a year, or at least many months, before the railways to Calcutta and Madras are open, but to have made arrangements by which tenders would be called for, to come into operation at the same time for the whole of the services; and it would only have been necessary so to have arranged the notices that the present contracts would cease to operate at the expiration of the two years' notice required by the terms of the contract for the Australian line. At the end of that two years' notice, it is clear from the evidence before the Committee that the railways would be in full operation, and that a weekly line of steamers to Bombay would carry not only the mails, but the whole of the passengers for Madras, Calcutta, and the North Western Provinces of India, as well as Bombay. I think, then, that my hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury was ill-advised in taking this precipitate step, and calling for tenders all at once for the India and China services. But let me point out to this Committee that there has been committed a grievous mistake in respect of the Australian contract. As I have said, it was intended that notices should be given for the whole of the services, but up to this moment no notice whatever has been given for the Australian service. Instead of giving that notice, however, the Government entered into a correspondence with the Australian Governments as to what they wished to have done, and the effect of their doing so has been that the Australian Governments have said, "We should like a better and more complete service, and we estimate such a service to cost the Home Government and ourselves £300,000 instead of £160,000;" and, accordingly they have combined to press upon Her Majesty's Government to undertake a Postal service to Australia, costing this country more than double the present service. That has been the first effect of consulting them as to what arrangements should be made before giving the notice. But it will have another unfortunate result. I do not assume what company will have the contract for India, whether it be the Peninsular and Oriental Company, which has certainly done its work remarkably well, or any other company. But whether it be the Peninsular and Oriental or any other company, next year there will be a company in possession of the field, and carrying on the service for two-thirds of the route, that is, between India and China viâ Point de Galle; and, of course, if notice is only to be given now or some months hence for the branch service to Australia, the Company in the field will be able to make what terms it pleases with respect to that service; at least no other company would be able to compete with it on anything like an equal footing. I say, then, that I think Her Majesty's Government have not acted judiciously in postponing a part of the notice, and that in making arrangements prematurely in regard to the other part they are likely very much to prejudice the Australian contract. These are the two grievous mistakes which, in my judgment, they have committed in making their arrangements for the service. Let me now say a word or two about the Messageries Impériales. My hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury says there was some little difference of opinion with regard to the meaning of the paragraph in the report in which the Committee state that they think the Messageries Impériales service may be made more available than it is for the postal service with China. I explain at once that I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for London that it would be most inexpedient for this country to enter into a contract for that service with a foreign company which has already a contract with another Government for the same service. No man can serve two masters, and I undertake to say that no steamboat company can have a contract for the same service with two different Governments. It is impossible that the conditions of both contracts could be the same. Therefore, putting aside the question of nationality, I believe it is practically impossible to make arrangements under which the Messageries Impériales could contract with us and also with the French Government. Such an idea as that could never have entered into the heads of the Committee. The policy distinctly advocated by the Committee was this: we did not think it was expedient that tenders should be invited from the French Company; but what we thought my hon. Friend ought to have done, and that a year ago, immediately after the Committee reported, was to have asked the French Government this question: You have now a service once a calendar month to China and some intermediate ports. We are going to alter the times of our service from calendar to lunar months; that is to say, we are going to carry on our India and China services at weekly, fortnightly, and four-weekly intervals: will you, the French Government, so alter your service that it shall fit into our service, and thus avoid the clashing between the two services which must arise from time to time if our boats go the lunar and yours the calendar month? That is the kind of arrangement which we wanted to make with the French Government; an arrangement under which the two services would fit in with each other, and whilst they would have had the advantage of our service we should have had the advantage of theirs. I repeat I regret that my hon. Friend a few weeks ago, in answer to my question, said that he had not made at that time, though he has done so since, any communication to the French Government on the subject. Let me now point out what will be the effect of our having neglected this. I think this principle will be admitted by everybody, that if we contract with any company for our mails, and do so for a larger service than is required for the business and traffic in passengers and goods going by that service, the public will have to pay the difference. Supposing, for instance, that you contract for a third service a month when two only would pay, the amount you pay for the third service will be its entire cost, or the contractors would get into difficulties, and the whole thing break down. The Peninsular and Oriental Company, most efficiently as it has carried out the service entrusted to it for a long series of years has, so far as its own interests are concerned, gone a little too far, and the present state of things is such that it has not been able to declare any dividend for the last half year in consequence of insufficiency of traffic for its number of communications in face of the severe French competition. It is clear, from the evidence of Mr. Howell, the Secretary to the Peninsular and Oriental Company, given before the Select Committee, that there is not, during many months of the year on the China route, in consequence of the competition of the French service, more passenger traffic than enough for one ship a month. Would it, then, be wise that we should subsidize a company to carry on a service more than there is business to justify, and that this House should pay not the proper proportion due for the mails, but the entire expense of the ships employed in the service? Supposing, for instance, there is only trade enough between Galle and China for two mail ships a month, and you establish now, on some principle of nationality, three mail ships a month, though the Secretary to the Peninsular and Oriental Company tells you that one ship is often enough, the result must be that this country will have to pay out of the Exchequer the whole of the cost of the third ship. I think, then, that in any permanent arrangement you should well consider the probable passenger and goods traffic which will come by mail ships, and not induce contractors to undertake unremunerative services, when you would have the company with whom you contract either unable to pay dividends or coming to the Exchequer and asking for additional sums. Upon the various grounds I have stated, I think sincerely that my hon. Friend is somewhat mistaken in the course which he has taken. I am of opinion that it would have been better to have given notice so that all the services should have ended at the same time; that until those notices had been given he should not have opened up the whole question with the Australian Governments, and that communications should have been made with the French Government at once, and not put off until within, a few weeks of the tenders being opened, as I fear that the course he has taken will end in this, that we shall not be able to make a satisfactory arrangement with the French Government. We shall have thus expensive tenders for the service to India and China, and when we come to contract for the service to Australia, we shall find that we are practically handing over the service to the company then in the field.


The question which we have before us to-night appears to have passed out of the category of an ordinary Vote, and to have assumed the importance of a question of national policy. It seems to me that, owing to some great misunderstanding which has taken place with regard to the Report of the Select Committee, especially the light in which the recommendations contained in that Report are understood by the Government, a totally different course has been adopted from that which, after careful attention by the Committee, they intended to recommend. In answer to a memorial from the Peninsular and Oriental Company, a copy of which has been placed in my hands, addressed to the Lords of the Treasury, and praying that no contract for any part of the Postal services with India and China may be entered into with a foreign company, the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury, says— I am desired by their Lordships to state that, in consequence of the Report of the Committee of the House of Commons which sat last Session on East Indian Communications, and adverting to the Report of the Committee which sat in 1860 on Packet and Telegraphic Contracts, Her Majesty's Government have felt it their duty to open to public competition the services in connection with the proposed postal communication with India and China; and they have, accordingly, invited tenders by public advertisement, without reference to the nationality of persons or companies inclined to submit offers for the whole or any portions of the services. Now, it appeared to me, on reading the Report of the Select Committee, that there was nothing in it to justify this competition being asked for "without reference to nationality." Again, when I looked at the other Paper referred to, the Report of 1860 on Packet and Telegraphic Contracts, I could not find there any trace of an intention that a special application should be made to a foreign country to tender. The great question which the House ought to deliberate upon is, whether it be advisable that the Government should prosecute the idea which they have taken up of subjecting the Peninsular and Oriental Company to the competition of a company in the position of the Messageries Impériales. How does the matter stand with reference to the case of the two companies? First, let us take the position of the Peninsular and Oriental Company; and here I am free to say, before I go further on this subject, that, if the offer of the Peninsular and Oriental Company is not considered fair and reasonable, it is perfectly right that the Company should be subjected to competition, in order to obtaining fairer terms. I do not consider, however, that the simple figure of the tender ought to govern the decision of the Government. I know this is not a very popular proposition to make; but I am sure that if it be investigated very closely it will be found to to be a logical proposition, that the quality of a tender should receive more consideration than actual price, and in no case more so than where we have to place such implicit reliance in the contractors, as in the case before us. This Committee should remember what position the Peninsular and Oriental Company is in at the present moment, and the way in which it has treated the country during the many years in which it has been engaged in this service, and the advantages the country has received and continues to receive from the possession of this magnificent fleet that has been called into existence for this great mail service. In speaking thus of the company I desire to be understood as not seeking to obtain for it any advantage beyond that to which it is fairly entitled; but the Committee will bear in mind that this company was incorporated as far back as the year 1840, and that it has fifty-three vessels employed in the mail service of this country. These vessels have been brought into existence at a cost, including the establishments necessary to maintain them of upwards of £3,000,000. Now, to those who are at all acquainted with shipping, it is well known that an enormous depreciation takes place in the value of property of this description, and the effect on this company, if it were no longer found useful to conduct our packet service and only useful for a commercial service, would be to cause such a depreciation in the value of its stock as to be almost equal to 10 per cent per annum; and if that is taken over the last ten years of the Peninsular and Oriental Company's career, the amount of depreciation in its stock would be equal to £2,000,000 sterling. What I mean is that if by any act of legislation you deprive that Company of the opportunity of being longer useful to us as a mail-carrying company, and it is obliged to make use of its first-class vessels to do second and inferior class work, those vessels which cost £3,000,000 would not sell for more than £1,000,000; and thus £2,000,000 would be lost. If reference is made to what the Peninsular and Oriental Company has earned, it will be found that the total amount it has paid in dividend, during the last ten years has been less than £2,000,000. In fact, the whole sum of its earnings has been less than the depreciation in the value of its property would be if we were suddenly and violently to stop its operations as a mail company. The whole sum paid in dividend during the ten years was only £1,800,000. I would also call attention to this fact, that this service is most exceptional in the exigencies to which it is subjected. The amount of money which has to be earned is so large in proportion to the margin of profit that a very little disturbing cause upsets the entire arrangements of the Company. Owing to this circumstance, as the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers) has told us, the Peninsular and Oriental Company has fallen from being a company paying a fair dividend, amounting to something like 9 per cent, to be a company without any dividend-paying power at all. The sums of money it has paid in dividend have generally been under £200,000 a year. Well, now let us take the item of coal. The quantity of coal which the company consumes is enormous. Last year a rise took place in coal to the company of nearly 12s. a ton. The effect of such an advance amounts in the Company's whole consumption to about £120,000 a year. The Company has, moreover, on every occasion that it has made a fresh tender, gradually decreased the prices at which it has done its work; and, whereas, it commenced with a rate of 17s. 6d. a mile, at the present moment it is charging the country only 5s. a mile. The Peninsular and Oriental Company has hitherto derived a large revenue from the conveyance of troops; now, however, it must look to the reduction of that revenue, for the Government themselves are about to become their own carriers of troops. In addition to that the Company is subjected to a severe competition with this Messageries Impériales; that competition, I believe, exists in its most intense form in the shipment of goods, silk, and specie. I find that the Peninsular and Oriental Company has experienced a deficiency of specie and silk for the year ending the 31st of March, 1867, as compared with the year preceding, of not less than £226,000. Now, this brings me to the question as to the advisability or propriety of putting the Company in further competition with the Messageries Impériales, in the shape in which it is proposed to do it, by allowing the Messageries Impériales to tender for the carriage of our mails. On that point I have no doubt whatever myself. I consider it to be a most ruinous policy. The hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Hunt) says that we cannot complain of the Government because they intend to get the work done at the cheapest rate; but allow me to observe that if this course were pursued I think we should be working at the most disadvantageous rate at which the country could work. Why, how would it act? The Peninsular and Oriental Company would have to enter into competition with an establishment which is no company at all, but in fact is nothing more than a branch or an offshoot of the French Government itself. There remains only one other matter for me to notice: it is this—so long as we keep the Peninsular and Oriental or other English, companies engaged in the large operations they have hitherto performed for us, we possess an enormous advantage as a maritime power. The other night, when debating the question of Army Reserve, we saw the importance of having a large stock of men to draw upon when occasion re- quires; and here we have employed in the service of the Peninsular and Oriental Company a force of not less than 16,000 men, who are constantly engaged in navigating and working the ships of the Company. That force is at this moment in a thoroughly efficient state. It is composed of admirable sailors who are invaluable to us in every possible way. Surely it is not desirable that these men should be drawn off into other channels of service, so as not to be available for us? when required in a national emergency. There is also a point in connection with the cost of these mail services which has not been sufficiently noted. It is argued that it is an important object to obtain these services on the lowest possible terms on account of the great loss which is involved in the subsidy. But it appears to me that the subsidy involves no loss whatever. For how does the case stand? The subsidy paid is for a portion of the work done by the Post Office for the nation. But when the total receipts of the Post Office are ascertained and the total expenses (including all the Packet subsidies) deducted, at the end of the year the Post Office pays into the Treasury a balance of upwards of £1,000,000. The true policy of the Government is to look mainly to the efficiency of these great services. To obtain this result competition on fair terms should undoubtedly be made available, but when fair terms have been secured the contracting companies should not be kept continually under a harrow, and under the fear that they may be deprived on a short notice of the services they are performing, and which, it may be, has cost them millions to create and years to organize.


I am anxious to make a few remarks to the Committee on this occasion, because it seems to me, Her Majesty's Government do not fully appreciate the gravity of the issue involved. It is evident that the recommendation contained in the Report of the Select Committee was entirely different from the course which has been taken by the Government. The recommendation of the Committee went only to the extent of taking advantage of the bi-monthly communication established by the Messageries Impériales Company for the purpose of giving more frequent opportunities of corresponding on the China route. But the course taken by the Government, makes it quite clear that they contemplate some- thing very much wider than that; that they contemplate throwing the tenders open for important portions or, it may be, the whole of the service to that foreign Company. It is not a mere theoretical question. In inviting tenders you cannot expressly exclude any particular nationality. You cannot say, "No French" or "No Irish need apply." But this is a very important part of the question; for only consider with what object and view this French Company was established. It was established by the French Government especially with a view to acquiring political influence in the East. The motive assigned by the French Government themselves, and which induced the Legislature to consent to an extravagant grant of money for subsidizing the Company, that we should regard as an intolerable burden upon our finances, was distinctly that of showing the French flag at as many points as possible in the East with the object of acquiring political influence and prestige for France in that part of the world. That being the case, if the Postal service throughout the East, especially with Bombay, which will hereafter be the emporium for the trade of the East, be thrown open to this French Company, we shall find that the French Government and the French Chambers will be prepared to back up the Messageries Impériales with any amount of additional subsidy in order to enable that Company to compete with the Peninsular and Oriental Company. Looking at the question broadly, are there any points of political interest involved in this matter which make it inexpedient to assign any branch of the service to a foreign company? Upon that point, having had some experience in the East, and having spent six months of my life in travelling backward and forward between England and India, I must be permitted to express my conviction that it is impossible to imagine a course of policy more disastrous to the security of our Indian Empire than that which is involved in the course proposed to be taken by Her Majesty's Government. I will venture to say that, if it had been suggested to any of the great statesmen who have governed India of late years—if it had been suggested to Lord Dalhousie, Lord Canning, or Lord Elgin—that a measure of this sort had been in contemplation by the Government at home, they would have received such an announcement, first with entire incredulity, and then with something like dismay. Now, look at the political interests and prestige involved in the question. I am not one of those who attach an exaggerated importance to what is called "prestige;" but when you come to a question like this; when all the steamers that enter the ports of the East, and which are employed in conducting the correspondence and communication with all parts of the East, are seen to carry the French flag, then I say there is nothing so dangerous to the prestige of the English name as to have it supposed that French enterprise and French influence have the preponderance, and that the French flag has taken the place of the English. There is nothing, I am satisfied, that tends so surely to keep up the name and the influence of England in the East as the sight of those splendid steamers coming and going with the regularity of clock-work on the weekly, fortnightly, or monthly performance of their voyages. Then look at the political considerations which are involved in the question. What complications might we not find ourselves involved in with France or with some other Power if we establish a contract with a foreign Company like the Messageries Impériales. Look at the questions which may arise respecting the establishment of coal depôts and stations on the route. But, independently of these broad political considerations, let us look at the question as one of economy—because it is on that ground alone, if at all, that the proposal of the Government can be justified. Take the following practical illustration of a case which has already occurred in India. When during Lord Canning's administration it was determined to abolish the Indian navy — what was the ground on which they were enabled to take that very bold step? It was because they knew that they had in the large mail steamers of the Peninsular and Oriental Company a powerful reserve for the purposes of transport in cases of emergency, and for enforcing the police regulations along the coast, far more efficient and universal than any special naval force. The Indian navy was abolished; and the result was that the annual expenditure was reduced from £1,250,000 to £500,000, a saving of £750,000 a year to be set off against a supposed loss of £40,000 or £50,000 a year. But supposing you enter into this contract with this foreign Company, you cannot rely on them for the conveyance of your troops and sustaining your authority; you must keep in India 5,000 additional European troops at an additional cost of another £500,000 a year. Here then, by your present arrangements, you have a saving of £1,250,000 against a "loss" of £40,000 or £50,000 on your Postal arrangements. With regard to the question of postage, it will be a great mistake to look upon it as a "loss," because that which you get directly in postage is only a small part of the revenue compared with that which you get indirectly. Looking at the postage alone, what a mass of correspondence is occasioned by that enormous traffic of £30,000,000 or £40,000,000 a year which is fostered with India? If you had not this Postal service with India, what would your commercial and mercantile transactions with it come to? Very probably not half the present amount. That being the case, do not you think that you are getting more than the £40,000 or £50,000 a year which you are nominally losing on the postage? What we ought to consider is the growth of wealth which has been caused by this great increase of commerce with India, and I say that it is preposterous to look upon the question as simply one of profit and loss on the postage, or regard it in the narrow way in which some of the Post Office officials view it, whose sole object seems to be to make a profitable contract. That being so, what the Government have to do is to keep in view the maintenance of the Postal communication with India on the best and most efficient system. Consequently they must not entrust it to any foreign company, and the problem is how to get the work done at the cheapest rate for the public consistently with the utmost efficiency. I do not wish to go into the question of the claims of the Peninsular and Oriental Company. That company, like railway and other companies, must shift for itself, so far as dividends are concerned; but it is our duty to look the whole thing full in the face and consider the position in which we stand in reference to these contracts. And I say that to put up these contracts to tender when no real competition is possible, is simply a device for sheltering departments of the Government from responsibility, and is not conducive to the best and most economical result. You cannot afford to try experiments and run risks. Your first object must be to deal with a company which, you are sure, has capital, power, experience and organization, and who are able to do the work successfully. If you have another company in that position by all manner of means invite competition; but if not, look the matter straight in the face, and try if you cannot make a fair bargain between the State and the Company which has hitherto performed the service in the best possible way. What you want is the weekly communication to Bombay conducted directly from Suez without stoppage at Aden. I look upon that as a matter of prime necessity, and that the service should be properly conducted at the highest degree of speed consistent with regularity, and, secondly, at a moderate expense. I only hope, after the unmistakeable expression of opinion given by so many Members of the House to-night, that Her Majesty's Government will correct what I may be allowed to say was a venial mistake arising from the fact that they were new to office at the time they made it. It would not be fair to find much fault with them under the circumstances; but I think it is clear that they quite mistook the recommendations and views of the Committee, and the wishes and views of the majority of this House. I hope, then, they will reconsider the question in the recess, and that in the next Session we shall not be not be under the disagreeable necessity of exercising, for the first time, the prerogative of the House of Commons to rescind a contract which has been made by the Government.


said, as a Member of the Select Committee, that he was satisfied that no contract would be made on the basis of the tenders that had been issued. Any contract would be the subject of a great deal of negotiation, and would probably result in being arranged upon a very different basis from that which was now proposed. If that were the case, it was the more necessary to have a clear understanding with the Government regarding the view they took of that important Resolution to which the House arrived in July, 1860—because the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury took a very light view of that Resolution. He seemed to think that it might be treated as if it had been unadvisedly adopted by the House; but the Committee would recollect that that Resolution was the result of the labours of a Select Committee, and was come to by the House with the view of enabling the House to exercise a control over the conduct of the Government in entering into contracts of this nature. He should like to know how the House was to exercise the power it claimed for itself if the Government were to issue a tender which was to be accepted in September, and was to come into operation on the 1st of February? What possible opinion could the House express when it met next Session on a contract that was actually in operation on the 1st of February? But the Secretary to the Treasury said he proposed to put a provision in the contract to the effect that Parliament should be at liberty to rescind it. Such a provision could be of no value at all. If it meant anything it meant that if Parliament rescinded the contract it was to indemnify the party whose contract was rescinded by paying him all the expenses he had incurred in providing for the service. After a party had built or purchased the steamers required for the service, how could anybody propose to rescind the contract? But the matter did not rest there. The Government, as regarded a considerable portion of these contracts, proposed that the Governor General of India should make the contract with the parties, and in these tenders there was no such provision as the Secretary to the Treasury had intimated—that the contracts entered into by the Indian Government should be subject to the review of Parliament, or that Parliament should have liberty to cancel them. Therefore, as regarded the most expensive parts of these contracts, they had been withdrawn by the Government from the review of Parliament. A new scheme had, in fact, been devised. Instead of the Home Government making the contracts and submitting them to the review of Parliament, the Government of India was to make them, and then they would be free from the control of Parliament. That was certainly a most extraordinary mode of carrying out the Resolution; and if the Government persisted in taking that course, they would expose themselves, when the House met the next Session, to a Resolution of the House of a very serious character. Undoubtedly, if the Government persisted in the view which the Secretary to the Treasury had enunciated—if they held themselves at liberty to make contracts in such a manner as to render nugatory the power of revising them which this House had reserved to itself—it would be the duty of the House to take these matters into its consideration and arrive at such a vote as it was impossible to pro- pose at this stage of our proceedings. The question was one that could not be treated lightly, and it would only be doing injustice to it if it were raised at this late period of the Session; but he for one should feel it to be his duty if, when they met again, he found that the Government persisted in those views, to propose a Vote of Censure at the commencement of next Session.


said, the Government had been blamed for terminating the contract for the India and China service apart from that for the service with Australia. But it was clear from the speeches of hon. Gentlemen that the Report of the Select Committee was not interpreted in the same way by the different Members of it. The hon. Member for London (Mr. Crawford) understood it to mean that the Government should use the Messageries Impériales as an extra or intermediate mail, while the hon. Member for Pomfret would have an arrangement with the Company by which they were to fit their service into ours; but what difference was there in principle between a direct contract with a foreign company and an arrangement with a foreign Government which was equivalent to a contract with that company? All the objections, then, which have been raised by the hon. Member for London and the hon. Member for Wick (Mr. Laing) applied equally to that proposal His hon. Friend said that the meaning of the Committee was that the services to India, China, and Australia should all terminate at the same time. What did the Report of the Committee say? Their first recommendation ends in this way— The time has arrived when tenders should be invited for a weekly service to Bombay alone. That points clearly to immediately inviting tenders. And what are their words with regard to inviting tenders for the other services? Their sixth recommendation is— That Her Majesty's Government should take into their early consideration the arrangements to be made, in consequence of the proposed separation of the Indian service, for maintaining a fortnightly or half-monthly service to China, and a monthly or four-weekly service to Australia, having regard to any facilities which may be afforded by the monthly service to China now performed by the Messageries Impériales from Marseilles. On the face of this recommendation, then, the simultaneous termination of the two contracts was not contemplated. But who, after all, must be the best judge of the meaning to be put upon the Report but the person who proposed it? He found upon reference to the minutes of the proceedings of the Committee that this Report was proposed by the Chairman (Mr. Crawford). What took place before the Government took any step on the subject? He invited his hon. Friend to furnish the Government with his opinion as to what were the views of the Committee respecting it; and it was his recommendation that we should give notice to terminate the contract for India and China, and not wait for the termination of the contract for Australia; he thought it would be advisable to wait until the expiration of the two years. So much, then, for the alleged unanimous opinion of the Committee that the two contracts ought to terminate together. But supposing that they had received no such advice from the Chairman of the Committee, it was really a case of "Hobson's choice;" for before the Government gave notice to terminate the contract, the Peninsular and Oriental Company came to them and said, "Are you going to terminate the contract? because if you don't give us notice we shall give you notice." That being the case, he did not think the Government were much to be blamed under any circumstances in giving notice to terminate the contract. But his hon. Friend then said, "See what you have done in the Australian colonies." Well, what was the case? Why, that the Australian colonies were constantly complaining of the service;—in fact, one of them threatened to withdraw its contribution to the subsidy, owing to its dissatisfaction at the way in which the service had been conducted. The Government then said, "If you are dissatisfied with the service, make your own contract;" and he (Mr. Hunt) thought that was a very reasonable proposition. The Government then communicated with the Australian colonies, to ascertain if they would like to combine for the purpose of making their own contract, and, if so, the Government intimated their intention to continue the arrangements now made. It was true that they had proposed new and extensive arrangements—three services instead of one; but the Government were not bound by that. It was said that the company that had the contract for India and China must necessarily drive all others from the field; but that was not so; there was a competitor actually in the field — the Australasian Steam Navigation Company — expressing their readiness to tender for the service. With regard to the question which has been raised by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton), the Resolution of the House, to which he had referred, hardly seemed to affect the case of a contract which terminated at a time when Parliament was not sitting. At all events, it was no fault of the Government that that Resolution created a difficulty. He supposed his hon. Friend would hardly wish that the services should terminate, and the whole of the negotiations for the new services be suspended until Parliament met again. [Mr. AYRTON: Was that condition in the Indian contracts?] No, it was not.


said, this was a most important subject. He had always been an advocate for obtaining the performance of public services at the least possible cost by means of competition; but those who were to tender for these services must be put upon an equal footing. And would that be the case in this instance? He understood that an offer had been made to the Messageries Impériales to compete by tender for this service. No doubt the question of the amount of subvention to be given to that Company must be left in the hands of the Treasury; but the Messageries Impériales was supported by an amount of subvention from the French Government which neither the Government of this country nor this House would consent to pay to any company. Therefore, to invite our public bodies to compete with a body which was supported by the French Government in that way was an act of injustice and mockery to English competitors. They could not afford to do it upon the same terms. Supposing, then, they had an offer from the Messageries Impériales Company, which would, of course, be infinitely below anything that could be tendered in England, would they accept it? If they did, what then? They placed our Postal communications with our Eastern dependencies in the hands of a foreign Government; for the Messageries Impériales Company was nothing more or less than a Government institution. It would therefore be an act of very great impolicy indeed to do it, or to accept any tender from any foreign body whatever. They knew that merely as commercial speculations many steam shipping com- panies had failed, to the cost of a large number of shareholders. With regard to the Peninsular and Oriental Company, it had for a lengthened period been considered as in the light of an auxiliary to the navy. It had fifty-three large well-manned ships, and the whole service was in such a state of efficiency, that at any time it might co-operate with the navy. Under these circumstances, if a contract were entered into between the rising of this House at the end of the present Session and its meeting again next year, the contractors should agree that, in case the contract was not assented to by Parliament, they should have no power to recover anything in the shape of compensation.


said, it was true that his hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury spoke to him in February last with regard to these contracts; but that was six months after the Committee had made their Report, and he did not know what steps had been taken in the interval. He told his hon. Friend they were exceedingly anxious that the recommendations of the Committee should be carried into effect, seeing that six months had then expired. His idea was at the time that notice would have been given to the Peninsular and Oriental Company to this effect—"Take notice that a year hence we shall give you a year's notice."


thought it a matter of great importance that the Committee should know what were the views of Her Majesty's Government with reference to the power of the Indian Government to enter into these contracts. He should like to hear what are the views of the Secretary of State for India upon that point.


said he wished to know from the Secretary to the Treasury whether the contract for that part of the service for which the contract was to be made by the Governor General of India, and half of which was to be paid out of the British Treasury, was or was not to be submitted to the British Parliament?


said, he should like to ask the same question with regard to the Australian service. He should like to know whether that contract, one-half of which also is to fall upon this country, is to be subject to the approval of this House?


asked, whether the Governor General of India and the Lieutenant Governors of Bombay and Madras had been consulted with reference to this pro- posal to let the contracts to a foreign company?


said, that this matter was decided by means of communications between the Treasury and the India Office before he was connected with the India Office; and it was a matter to which his attention was not called until lately. The point raised by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets did not occur; to his mind until now. He was not prepared, therefore, at that moment to give an answer to his question, but it was certainly a matter that demanded attention.


said, it did not appear that the Government were in a position to give full information with respect to the exact state of things in connection with the contracts to be made by the Governor General of India and the Colonies. He hoped he was not wrong in construing the language of the Secretary of State for India, as meaning that, whoever the functionary by whom these packet contracts were to be made, involving a charge on the British Exchequer, effectual measures must be taken for preserving to Parliament the same control as if the contracts were made in Downing Street, so that the public interests may be protected.


said, he most entirely agreed with his right hon. Friend that it would be quite wrong if, by virtue of any separate contract made by the Government of India, the control exercised by this House should be withdrawn. In a letter written by the Under Secretary of State for India to the Secretary to the Treasury on the 11th February last, he found this passage— I am directed to state that Viscount Cranborne agrees in the opinion of the Duke of Montrose that the contract for the Bombay and Suez section of the Eastern Postal services, for which new tenders are about to be invited, should be entered into by the Government of India, and not by Her Majesty's Imperial Government. With regard to his Grace's offer to include the service for this portion in the forms of tender for the other sections of the Eastern services, I am to state that Lord Cranborne is of opinion that it will be more convenient that the tenders for the Bombay and Suez line should be made to Her Majesty's Postmaster General, but in this case ample time should be afforded to companies in India to make their tenders. He apprehended that those tenders would be brought before the Governor General, and his opinion be taken on the subject.


asked, whether in the case of the Australian Government undertaking the contract, seeing that we were liable for half the amount, a clause would be inserted in the contract making it subject to the approval of Parliament?


The Resolution of the House said, that in all contracts extending over a period of years and creating a public charge, actual or prospective, entered into by the Government for the conveyance of mails by sea or for the purpose of telegraphic communications beyond sea, there should be inserted the condition that the contract should not be binding until it had laid upon the table of the House of Commons for a certain time. That was a contract extending over a term of years, and the Government must come to the House of Commons for the Vote for it; and it appeared to him that the House had complete control over the matter, and could refuse to sanction the contract by refusing the Vote if it thought proper to do so.


said, it was clear, that the hon. Gentleman's acquaintance with the subject dated from a recent period. No doubt that was the state of things which existed before the Committee of 1859 was appointed. At that time these contracts were made by the Government, and the House of Commons never heard of them until asked for the Vote. Technically and nominally it was in the power of the House to refuse the Vote; but that was a state of things from which the Committee of 1859 released us, and back upon which the hon. Gentleman would send us. It was now absolutely necessary, whether it be convenient or not that the contracts should be made elsewhere, that provisions should be inserted in them for reserving the control of the House of Commons the same as if the arrangements were made with the Treasury in Downing Street.


stated the circumstances under which the Committee of 1859 had come to this Resolution; and said that the obvious meaning of the Committee was that the contract should come before the House in such a state that the House should be free to express an opinion upon it without incurring any pecuniary responsibility to the persons with whom the contract was made. He trusted that no violation of that Resolution would take place; but that when the Government submitted to the House their proposals next Session the House should be free to express its opinion upon them. If, however, they deprived the House of that freedom, they would incur a deep responsibility which the House would certainly take notice of.


said, that as the tenders sent out contained no such reservation as now advocated, some inconvenience might arise, especially if the Messageries Impériales should make the lowest tender. He would therefore suggest that the most desirable and most practicable course would be to make some arrangement with the Peninsular and Oriental Company to continue the service for a certain number of months longer, so as to bring it up to the probable re-assembling of Parliament, when the new tenders had come in. If there be any insuperable difficulty in doing that they ought to amend their advertisement and let all parties know that, in tendering, they do so subject to confirmation by Parliament when it meets in February, by which means they would have no claim for compensation.


advocated the claims of Falmouth in preference to those of Plymouth as the port for embarking and debarking the West India mails. The hon. Member contended that much time would be economized by the selection of the former port; which was admirably adapted for such a service as this. The railway was constructed to within a very short distance of the water's edge, while the communication between Falmouth and other parts of the kingdom was free, good, and liable to no interruption. The only increase of expense might perhaps be a special train now and then between Plymouth and Falmouth; but if two such special trains were run every month the expense would only amount to £160 throughout the year. The advantages which Falmouth presented were so numerous that he trusted the Treasury would re-consider their determination to select Plymouth for this service.


said, that the advantages of Plymouth were so patent, and had so been frequently pointed out by official authority, that the claims of Falmouth could be regarded as superior by no one but the Member for the borough.


said, he hoped the Government would re-consider the claims of Falmouth, the claims of which were advocated by the Chamber of Commerce at Liverpool.


stated his opinion that Southampton had peculiar advantages.


thought that the experiment of sorting on the system about to be tried ought to have been made when Southampton was the port of departure.


advocated the claims of Plymouth.


gave his opinion in favour of Falmouth, and hoped there would be a further inquiry.


concurred with the right hon. and learned Member (Mr. Russell Gurney) that the new system of sorting ought to have been tried when Southampton was the port for those packets. He believed that on the whole Southampton had claims superior to the other ports.


said, there seemed to be a pretty triangular duel between Falmouth, Plymouth, and Southampton, with which, he would not interfere, except to say that if the Plymouth experiment did not answer, Southampton, he supposed, would have a trial.

Vote agreed to.

In reply to Mr. CHILDERS,


said, he proposed to take Class 4 of the Votes to-morrow, with the exception of the Irish Education Vote, which would be taken on Monday.

House resumed.

Resolution to be reported To-morrow, at Twelve of the clock.

Committee to sit again To-morrow.

House adjourned at a quarter before Three o'clock.