§ SUPPLY—considered, in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ (1.) £73,150, Medicines and Medical Stores, Naval Service.
§ MR. RUSSELL GURNEY
said, in the absence of the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Jacob Bright), he rose to propose the Motion of which the hon. Member had given Notice, which was to reduce the Vote by £3,700, in respect of the expense of carrying out the Contagious Diseases Act. He took no objection to the Vote generally, and he agreed that, whatever opinion there might be about these Acts, as long as they were in force it was necessary that money should be voted for carrying them out. But it had been arranged this Session that there should be an inquiry into the effects of these Acts, and he thought the Government ought to have held their hands, and not to have extended the operation of the Acts until the result of the inquiry was known. This had not been the policy pursued, for with respect to Southampton he was able to say that while up to the time that the arrangement named was come to no single step had been taken to carry out the Acts, since the arrangement was come to, they had been put into operation, notices had been issued, and ground had been purchased for the building of a hospital. He, therefore, moved the reduction of the Vote.
§ MR. CHILDERS
said, the Act of 1869 imposed upon the Government the obligation of extending the Acts to Southampton, and all the arrangements for so extending them were made before the arrangement for an inquiry was come to. Of course, with an inquiry pending it would be unreasonable to proceed with the erection of a permanent hospital. The 1205 purchase of the land had been virtually settled previously to the recent debate, but no further steps had been taken, and arrangements had been made for sending away any who required hospital treatment to Portsmouth.
said, he understood that no steps would be taken to extend the operation of these Acts to places where they were not now in force. With or without the wish of the Government all discussion upon the subject had been stifled in that House. A Commission of Inquiry had been promised. It was of the greatest importance that the public should believe in the honesty of the inquiry, and that the Government should not do anything which would indicate a foregone conclusion, as it would do if they extended the operation of the Acts to now places. He, therefore, hoped the Government would give an assurance that the operation of the Acts would not be extended until the Report was made.
§ MR. CHILDERS
said, the Government had steered clear equally of the two foregone conclusions that were possible; they had done no more than they had made arrangements to do, under the Act of 1869, before the conclusion arrived at as to a Commission; and at some inconvenience they had made arrangements to suspend for the present the building of a hospital for Southampton.
§ MR. RUSSELL GURNEY
said, that, of course, he was satisfied with the assurance of his right hon. Friend that the hospital would not be built; but that he still thought that as notices had been issued in Southampton when the inquiry was conceded, the Act should not have been put in force until the result of that inquiry was known. No notices had been sent out in Southampton before the inquiry was conceded.
§ MR. CHILDERS
said, they were on the point of being issued, and it would have indicated a foregone conclusion to have withdrawn them, all other steps having been completed.
§ MR. M'LAREN
said, he wished to know when the Returns of the expenditure incurred under the Act, which he had moved for a few months ago, would be laid on the Table?
§ MR. CHILDERS
said, the Returns were extraordinarily minute; but they would be laid on the Table as soon as possible.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Vote agreed to.1206
§ (2.) £237,340, Army Department (Conveyance of Troops).
§ MR. NORWOOD
said, he wished to call attention to the change made in the mode of engaging transports. During the last few months the old system of putting up the transport of stores to tender had been abandoned, and the engagement placed in the hands of agents in the City. He held that the transport service of the country was too important to be placed entirely in the hands of any single firm, however eminent or respectable they might be. Such a procedure did great injustice to shipowners, who were thus unable to compete for the discharge of the duty, and who not unnaturally complained of their exclusion. An influential memorial had been presented to the Admiralty on the subject, signed by nearly 100 firms of the highest importance in the City of London, which stated that the old system of engaging transport was essentially the best, and prayed the Admiralty to revert to it as soon as possible. The only answer given to that requisition was that their Lordships did not see any reason for departing from the new system which they had established. He cast no imputation either on the firm selected or on the Board of Admiralty; but the question was a very grave one, for the system was operating prejudicially to the public service. It undoubtedly did away with some of the abuses of the old system, but it substituted others in its stead, and could not fail in the end of being productive of much mischief. One bad result which it had was the creation of a number of intermediate brokers, who preyed upon the shipowners, and screwed large percentages out of them. Shipowners in towns like Hull naturally complained very loudly, because they were precluded from embarking in a trade which they held ought to be open to public competition. There ought to be no secret about the freight required by the Government, and notice should be given that the Government would receive tenders from all shipowners willing to take the stores which the Government desired to ship. Besides the objections he had urged, there was a grave constitutional question involved in the proceeding, and that was, whether it was right that the Admiralty or any Government Department 1207 should have the power of creating new offices which were not included in the Estimates. Three gentlemen had already been appointed to new berths under the Admiralty—namely, for engagement of transport, the purchase of coals, and the purchase and sale of timber—and were receiving large commissions for duties which were not specified in the Estimates. That was a system which was very much to be deprecated. Should the system prevail of the contracts being given to a single firm according to favour, there would be nothing to prevent a Conservative Secretary, when he came into Office, taking the contract from a Whig firm and giving it to a Tory one. The present Admiralty policy of private purchases was, in his opinion, entirety wrong. Doubtless it might work well under careful supervision; but they might not always have sharp, business men at the Admiralty, and then jobbery and corruption would inevitably creep in. Such a system altogether depended upon the aptitude of the officials who had to administer it, and it could only be successful where they were zealous and able. His belief was, that ultimately the now system would prove much more injurious to the public interests than the old system, objectionable as that old system had been in many respects. With regard to the outfit of ships, freight, and all such matters, there should, be an Executive officer to ascertain what was necessary for the Government, and then the supply should be thrown open to public tender. He maintained that an open system of tender was the best for all parties, and that there ought to be nothing to conceal in a transaction between the Government and the merchants it employed. He hoped the Secretary of the Admiralty (Mr. Baxter) would meet the question in a straightforward way, and would not evade the issue by raising the cry of want of confidence. At all events, he felt bound to record his opinion that the system of private purchase was a bad one, and that although it might effect a temporary saving, it would in the long run be productive of a system of jobbery more pernicious than anything that had yet existed.
§ MR. GRAVES
said, the question raised by his hon. Friend (Mr. Norwood) was one of great importance. He thought the open system of tender, which placed 1208 everybody upon a fair and equitable footing, was the best for all concerned. He did not regard the question so much from a shipping as from a public point of view. The great objection in his mind to the present system was the favouritism which might spring out of it, and though possibly some small saving might occasionally be secured, yet, upon the whole, it was more satisfactory that things should be done openly. In that light he must condemn the system of private purchase. What he wished, however, particularly to impress on the Committee was that what should be aimed at should be, whilst exercising economy, to preserve the Public Departments in such a state of normal efficiency during peace as would allow of their ready extension and expansion whenever necessity should arise. Such, however, would by no means be the result of the policy now being pursued at the Admiralty. They were throwing overboard the entire Transport Department, which had proved so serviceable to the State, and were employing instead outside firms, who had no connection with that Department at all. Emergencies might suddenly arise when it would be impossible for any one private firm to undertake the duties that might be demanded of them, and he therefore thought it was unwise, for the sake of a mere temporary saving, to throw out of gear what used to be considered a most valuable and efficient State Department. He thought the sooner the old system of transport was reverted to the better. With respect to the private purchase system, it was very unsatisfactory, and could not, in his opinion, go on long. Though it was not now a source of jobbing, it was liable to be so. His belief was that the best course to take would be for the Admiralty to adopt a kind of medium system, which would get rid of the defects of the old and embody any advantages of the new. That could be achieved by a limited system of tender—allowing free tenders and appointing a Committee to examine them, and report which ought to be accepted. The question of steam machinery had been referred to; and with respect to that, he regretted that the lowest tenders were not always accepted, even although the firms who offered lowest were quite as capable of executing the orders as those who received perhaps £10,000 more. He 1209 would strongly urge upon the Government the necessity of reviewing at once their position in this matter, for he thought that the sooner they adopted a limited system of tender, confined to respectable parties, the better.
§ MR. CHILDERS
said, he agreed with much that had been said by his hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Graves); but he hoped that much misapprehension would be avoided if he informed the Committee what were the arrangements made by the Admiralty, why they had been made, and on what footing they stood. He would say at once that the Admiralty would be prepared, if these arrangements should be found not to work satisfactorily, to make such improvements in them as experience might suggest. He could assure hon. Gentlemen that the Admiralty had adopted the new system merely because they thought it would be beneficial to the public service. On coming into Office at the end of 1868, it was his anxious desire, as he had served on the Committee relating to Admiralty Contracts and Purchases, to examine those questions thoroughly, to ascertain in what respects they might get rid of anomalous, inconvenient, and unbusiness-like arrangements, and how far they could follow out the principle advocated by Mr. Cobden, that the Government should carry on their business upon the same footing as merchants and other business men. His hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool (Mr. Graves) advised them not to part altogether with the tender system, but to introduce a system of limited tender, and to be very chary of direct purchase. Now, what were the facts? He held in his hand the official figures. Two-thirds of all purchases were made by open tender, one-sixth was made by limited tender, and the remaining one-sixth represented the whole amount that was purchased directly, whether through the intervention of brokers, or in any other manner. If anybody would say that that indicated a mode of proceeding different from what would be experienced by men of business, he should be very much surprised.
SIR JOHN HAY
said, he wished to ask whether coals were included in the proportions just given by the right hon. Gentleman?
§ MR. CHILDERS
said, that coals were also purchased very largely by tender. They set the system of purchase, in fact, 1210 against the system of tender, and they found this to answer very well. The very fact of its being known that the Admiralty acted upon such a principle had a satisfactory influence for the public service. The hon. Member for Liverpool had alluded to the purchase of engines in a particular case, where the lowest tender had not been adopted. As a general principle he (Mr. Childers) maintained that the lowest tender ought to be accepted; but it was impossible to apply that principle without any limit. There were certain classes of engines, made usually by two or three firms, in which, if application were made only to them and the lowest tenders were invariably adopted, those firms would have an absolute monopoly. The proper course, therefore, was to apply to these firms, but at the same time to include others in the list, and not to bind themselves under all circumstances to take the lowest tender. That was what every man of business would do, and it was the course the Government had adopted; though he fully admitted the propriety of the general principle. The question of transport had been the subject of some remark, and when the present Admiralty came into Office they naturally looked into the whole matter, though it was not one of the largest questions they had to deal with, and they had leisurely introduced what he believed to be very great improvements. At the same time there was not the smallest intention of abolishing the Transport Department; their operations had merely been shortened and rendered more businesslike than they were before. The Department formerly had no business advice whatever in the arrangements which they were called upon to make. They had simply to rely upon the knowledge of the very gallant Admiral at the head of the Department and the staff of Civil Service clerks appointed to carry out his orders. The question now in debate was one with regard to the shipment of small quantities of stores, amounting in value to about £40,000 a year. With regard to that matter there had been in existence a set of regulations, perfectly honest and straightforward no doubt, but not the sort of regulations that men of business would have adopted in transactions of the kind. These regulations, for instance, required that in all shipments, down to those of very 1211 small parcels, there should be public advertisements, tenders, and surveys of the ships in which the stores were to be conveyed; and the form of tender included conditions which were very inconvenient and onerous, and such as merchants and men of business had never heard of. He would give an instance of the working of this system, mentioning the facts, but not the names of the parties concerned. It became necessary, rather hurriedly, to take up a ship to convey a regiment to Malta, and to proceed thence to North America. It was an urgent matter, near the end of the season, and admitting of no delay. The Transport Department were suddenly called on to find a ship and to make the best arrangement they could. Had a similar crisis occurred in a merchant's office he would have taken advice in the City—he would have known where to look for ships. The matter would have been transacted promptly, and in a day or a second day the whole thing would have been over. But the Directors of the Transport Service had no persons with whom they could consult, and the gentleman upon whom the responsibility of acting devolved was obliged to make the best arrangement in his power. He had heard some time before of a person whom he believed to be a competent adviser, and to him he went, told his story, and said—"The whole thing has been thrown upon me; make the best arrangement you can." The result was that the Government had to pay for the performance of this special service £26,000 in all, which was quite £12,000 over the amount that it ought to have cost. As another illustration of the working of the system, he might mention a case in which a small quantity of naval stores, about 50 tons, was reported not to have arrived at the place where it was expected for three months after it was due. Eventually the stores were sent out, and he had carefully investigated the whole transaction so as to get to the bottom of it. He found that, owing to the routine arrangements of the Department, an advertisement for tenders was inserted for the first time on the 8th of March, again on the 15th, and again on the 22nd. On the 25th the cheapest tender was accepted; but the ship was not ready to be surveyed until the 14th of April, on the 15th of April she was surveyed, and 1212 on the 23rd she began to load, but did not sail until the 25th of May. So that, in connection with one shipment of 50 tons, more than two months elapsed from the time when orders were given for forwarding the stores. He need not name the station to which the stores were sent; but vessels were constantly going there, and, in a private firm, and under ordinary circumstances, such a delay, he believed, would be altogether impossible. He had been charged with being precipitate in making alterations; but, in this matter, he had taken more than a year to arrange the proceedings which were ultimately adopted. In the first place, a Committee was appointed to go into the details connected with the Transport Department, and that Committee made its Report last autumn; since which time the various departments of the service had been consulted with regard to the arrangement that was contemplated. The arrangement was that the Government should have at its disposal the advice of a very competent firm in the City, who were not themselves interested in shipping, but who did a good deal of business in connection with shipments, and were able to give very sound advice. They came once a week or oftener to the office of the Director of Transports, and went carefully through all the small shipments, taking instructions as to the times at which these should be forwarded, and, if necessary, as to the insertion of advertisements. Therefore, these gentlemen advised the Admiralty with regard to their shipping business generally, and arranged on their account such small business as might require attention. He appealed with confidence to the House whether this was not a business-like arrangement. Before adopting the plan objected to he consulted with persons of great eminence in the City, and in particular with one gentleman, an eminent authority and Member of that House, but sitting on the opposite side, all of whom agreed as to the advantages possessed by the scheme. He thought the plan was one which any ordinary man of business, with a large number of small parcels to despatch, would adopt in preference to the tedious process of advertisements, tenders, and consequent delay. His hon. Friend the Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood) said this Amendment was not satisfactory—that several 1213 firms in the City had presented a memorial to the Board of Admiralty against it. This was the fact, and he could not deny that the memorial was signed by many persons eminent in the City; but he was bound to say that of the whole number only 27 ever had transactions with the Government, and two had themselves urged upon the Government the adoption of improved arrangements similar to those adopted. One of the number had actually offered some time ago to give assistance in carrying out the new system. That firm had not got the appointment, however; and possibly he ought not to have been surprised that they had taken an active part in getting up the protest. But, however eminent the memorialists might be, it was not clear that their interests and the public's were identical. The proof of the pudding being in the eating, he might inform the Committee how the plan had worked up to the present time, merely remarking that he did not give the results as final. During the first quarter of a year in which the plan was in operation the sum paid had reached £4,960 against £6,380, which would have had to be paid under the old system. Therefore, he thought the tendency of what had been done was satisfactory. The hon. Member for Hull on a former occasion had given several instances in support of his case, one of which was somewhat unfortunate. The hon. Member said that in one case the Government paid 26s. freight to Bermuda, while the public rate of freight was 17s.; but the fact was, that the current public rates for the class of goods forming the greater part of the shipment at the time in question were 21s. and 22s., and the Government only paid 19s. [Mr. NORWOOD: Was that the case of the Elizabeth?] It was. In conclusion, he would say again that the Government had no preference for one system over another. The present system, with all its improvements, required more trouble and responsibility than the former one of lowest tender; and if the Government considered their own comfort they would revert to it; but they wished to adopt the scheme which would prove best for the economical conduct of the public service. He hoped that confidence would be reposed in the Government until time had been given fairly to test the working of what he had distinctly 1214 stated was an experiment for a year only, and he would promise the House that whichever system proved the best after trial should be adopted.
SIR JOHN HAY
said, he need not enter upon a discussion of the abstract merits of the two systems after the satisfactory statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty that the present proceeding was only an experiment, to be abandoned if it did not work advantageously. It might be conceded that the present system was more economical than the former one; but a mere saving of money was not a sufficient advantage to cover the suspicion that might arise in the public mind in reference to a system of private arrangement as compared with the more open one of advertisement and tender. The right hon. Gentleman was mistaken in his supposition that those who had the management of the transport service in former times did not seek advice outside the Office, for when he was at the Admiralty he sought and obtained valuable advice outside. From certain circumstances and figures mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, he thought himself right in supposing that of the two cases referred to one was a case which occurred when he (Sir John Hay) was at the Admiralty, and far from admitting that the case showed loss to the public or want of information and business-like arrangement, on that occasion, as he should show, the public obtained good service at a cheap rate. On the 21st of September, 1866, news reached this country of the Fenian raid on Canada, and he (Sir John Hay) was requested by his Colleagues to see Lord Carnarvon, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, who informed him that it was necessary to send troops there at once—first, because of the urgency of the case; and, second, because the time was close at hand when the St. Lawrence River would be closed by the ice. There was at that time a very gallant regiment stationed at Belfast, whose turn it was to proceed on this service; but His Royal Highness the Commander-in-Chief, with that humanity which distinguishes him, did not think it advisable to send it to repel Irish Fenians, as it had in its ranks many Irishmen, and, however loyal and honourable they might be, and no one doubted it, yet it was not wise to send them fresh from Ireland to come possibly into collision with Irishmen, more especially 1215 as another arrangement could at once be made. There was a regiment in Malta—the 100th—which had been raised in Canada, and formed the most desirable force for the purpose. This being so, and the time being short, he had either to engage two sets of transports, one to convey the regiment from Belfast to Malta, and another to convey the 100th from Malta to Quebec without waiting for its relief, an expensive and unsatisfactory process; or to undertake to carry out the two services in one transport and before the ice closed the navigation of the St. Lawrence. To fit a transport for the service would have taken too long a time; but having good information—which he must say Admiral Mends and the Transport Office in his time were always able to afford him—he secured a ship, called the Pennsylvania, ready fitted, which took the Belfast regiment to Malta and conveyed the 100th Regiment to Canada, performing the whole service in time to reach her destination before the closing of the river. This was done at a cost for transport of £2 17s. 1d. per mile, while sums of £6 18s. 2d. and £5 16s. 4d. per mile were paid for transport at the time of what was called "the Trent affair." The advice under which he acted on this occasion was obtained outside the Office, but was good, as it obtained for the country efficient and, at the same time, cheap service. With regard to tenders for engines, the system pursued at the Admiralty when he was in Office was to ascertain what firms had the machinery, plant, and capital requisite for turning out first-class engines, second-class engines, and third-class engines, and to these different groups of engine-makers tenders were sent. There were occasions when the builder or designer of a ship of a special class was allowed to apply to a particular firm which he thought would be able to carry out his views; but the general rule was to send out tenders to those different groups of firms and to accept the lowest offer. That was a safe plan, and he did not think there was any necessity for changing it. It would be quite wrong to allow persons who had not the necessary plant to compete with those who had.
§ MR. CANDLISH
said, he thought the Committee would be of opinion that, as a rule, the correct and business-like way of purchasing was by competition; but 1216 there were many cases in which an exceptional process might advantageously be adopted. Where the number of those who could enter into the competition was few, better arrangements might be made by private negotiation than by public competition, and there was nothing in which private negotiation could be more fitly introduced than in the conveyance of small parcels of goods to particular ports, advertising, as a rule, leading to exorbitant demands, far above the market price of freights. By the plan at present in use the Admiralty might always rely on normal charges for all the freight they required. He hoped, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman would be guided by experience—would not permit himself to be driven from his course by external pressure, but would work the two systems in competition with one another.
§ SIR JAMES ELPHINSTONE
said, he must complain of the tendency of the present Administration to create offices which were not provided for in the Estimates. The system of paying percentages to persons for buying commodities was entirely unconstitutional, and no Administration should be allowed to put it in practice. The percentage on the purchase of coal this year must have been considerably above £2,000, and in case of war it would be a fortune to the gentleman who received it. With regard to the sale of stores by the Admiralty there had been very great abuse. The stores had been thrown away, and our dockyards had been left in such a state of destitution that if war broke out we could hardly fit out five ships of the line. The cloud of which he had spoken early in the year was in the East, and we must be prepared upon our Eastern and our Southern coasts. He looked upon the opening of the Suez Canal as one of the most important events that had occurred in the history of the world; it entirely altered our relations with our Eastern Dominions, and it was through that route we ought to convey our troops to India and bring them back again. The country was greatly indebted to his right hon. Friend (Mr. Childers) for having sent out very early two most able officers to report upon that great work. Their Report was in the hands of Members, and it was not only most useful to the public, but most creditable to the officers who 1217 had drawn it up. It was important to consider what effect the opening of the Suez Canal would have on our East Indian trade, and what measures it was necessary to take under the circumstances. The distance from England to Bombay by that route was about 7,000 miles, and to Calcutta about 8,500; whereas the distance round by the Cape to Bombay was about 14,000 miles, and to Calcutta about 16,000, and there were many ships which, if their logs were examined, would be found to have run from 17,000 to 18,000 miles in going from this country to Calcutta. By means of the Suez Canal ships would be enabled to make three trips from England to India in the course of the year; whereas few ships going round by the Cape could perform more than one voyage and a half at the very outside in a year. The effect of the Suez Canal would be to throw the whole, or by far the greater part, of our Indian trade into that channel of communication, and also to make it entirely a steam trade, because sailing vessels could not make the passage up and down the Red Sea with any degree of economy, and, in fact, it would be almost impracticable for them. Moreover, the trade by that canal would doubtless be carried on by a class of ships specially adapted for it, and owners were already in every direction laying down a class of commodious and roomy ships constructed for that purpose, which would be navigated by officers who would soon acquire sufficient knowledge of the canal to be able to take their vessels through it without the aid of a pilot. It was a serious and mournful thing to think that the magnificent and beautiful ships which he had seen in the harbours of India would thus, as it were, have the bread taken out of their mouths. But that canal was situate at the extreme end of a sea which at any moment might become a foreign lake, and he was therefore anxious through the Committee to direct public attention to the grave political considerations involved in that matter. Supposing a war to occur when our present ships had been broken up or had been diverted to some other trade, what would happen if by any means we were cut off from communications with our Indian possessions by the Suez route? In that case a convulsion would be created in this country hardly inferior to 1218 that which would be produced by a civil war. His right hon. Friend (Mr. Childers) must be in a condition to vindicate the neutrality of that strait. He wished, therefore, to impress on the House and the Government the expediency of addressing Her Majesty, praying Her to take steps for setting on foot negotiations with a view to bring about such European arrangements for maintaining the neutrality of the Suez Canal as would prevent our ever being deprived of an advantage which had been gained for commerce and civilization by the genius and indomitable perseverance of one of the greatest of living engineers.
§ MR. LIDDELL
said, he dissented from the opinion stated by the hon. Member who had last spoken as to the practice of employing agents and paying them a per centage for the purchase of stores. He hoped that the new system in that respect would receive a fair trial. But he must warn the Admiralty against seeking to drive contractors too hard by what was called "decimating" their contracts—a process which would ruin the best contractors in England.
§ MR. ARTHUR GUEST
said, he rose to call attention to the circumstances connected with the return of the 23rd Regiment from India in Her Majesty's ship "Crocodile" in November 1869. They embarked at Alexandria, and their destination being Devonport they applied by telegram to the Government on arrival at Malta for permission to be landed at Plymouth as the Crocodile was before her time, but they were sent on to Portsmouth. Disembarking on the 16th, the regiment was detained at Portsmouth fully seven days, at great inconvenience and expense to officers and to married men, who had with them their wives and children, and who were unable to get at their baggage, which was stored in a shed. The Crocodile, meanwhile, lying idle in Portsmouth Harbour—why was not the regiment permitted to be landed at Plymouth? Why was not this regiment sent on at once by sea to Devonport; and if that were impracticable, why was it not sent on by train? it was calculated to bring discredit upon our system of moving troops, that a regiment should be left at one place for seven or eight days in a disorganized state and without any means of keeping the regiment together. If it were deemed impossible 1219 to forward troops at once to their destination, would it not be well to have barracks reserved at Portsmouth, Winchester, or Aldershot, for their reception? He wished further to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty what use he intended to make of the Suez Canal, which, he understood, would shortly have a uniform depth throughout of from 25 to 26 feet? It was of great importance that our troopships should be sent through it.
§ MR. ALDERMAN LUSK
said, Government need have no fear of injuring contractors. They were a class who were generally capable of taking care of themselves. He hoped the Government would not discontinue the system of public tenders where anything in large quantities was wanted. As to freights, there were plenty of vessels to be had either to Bombay, Calcutta or China, and shipowners were ready to take cheap freights from the Government for the credit of carrying for the Government.
§ MR. NORWOOD
said, the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty appeared to speak slightingly of the memorial signed by a vast majority of shipowners and brokers, and containing, perhaps, every name of importance. He should feel it his duty to move for copies of all memorials on the subject, in order that hon. Members might form their own impressions of the importance of the document.
§ MR. CHILDERS
said, he had been misunderstood, for he spoke of the memorial as being most respectably signed, although he added that the interests of the memorialists and of the public were not always to be reconciled. If after this it was thought worth while to move for the document he would produce it. He entirely concurred with the remarks of the hon. Baronet (Sir James Elphinstone) with reference to the Suez Canal; and what he had said would be well pondered. The Government were fully alive to all questions connected with the canal, and had been since it was apparent that it would be a success; they had made most particular inquiries as to the extent to which it was likely to be used by Government and by merchant shipping, and the House might trust to the Government dealing with the subject in the way that the interests of the Empire required. With respect to the case of the Crocodile the facts were that the Admiralty undertook to take out and bring home to and from India troops, 1220 at the expense and under the arrangements of the Indian Government, according to a programme settled at the beginning of the season, and which left the smallest possible margin for the repairs of the vessels at either end of the season; or for their coaling or casual requirements during the season. To deviate from that programme would disorganize the service, which was based upon precise calculations as to the time occupied by each voyage; and the late Admiralty, after careful inquiry, had settled the point that the programme could not be departed from. In this case the Crocodile, happening to make a very good passage, arrived two days before her time, and the Orontes, which was ordered to take the regiment from Portsmouth to Plymouth, having experienced bad weather in the North Sea, was two days too late, and the unfortunate result was the detention of the regiment; but it was no fault of the Admiralty, and it was one of those occurrences for which no one could be held entirely responsible. If the regiment had been sent on to Devonport by rail, it would have cost £500; whereas sending them by sea cost nothing, as the Orontes had to go to Plymouth.
§ MR. ARTHUR GUEST
said, he was bound to say that the explanation was satisfactory, and that he anticipated some such answer. But he would again urge that the Secretary of State for War ought to make arrangements to prevent the detention of a regiment under such circumstances.
SIR JOHN HAY
Sir, I desire to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. A. Guest) on the interesting discussion he has raised. I wish, however, to corroborate what has fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty, which is accurate except in so far as his statement that the expenses of the five Indian transports are borne entirely by India. [Mr. CHILDERS: Yes, for Indian service.] I think he will find in the Estimate he is now proposing that two-fifths of the expenditure on the transports on this side of the Isthmus of Suez are borne by Imperial funds. The arrangements for the Indian transport were, as he states, completed when I was in Office. His Royal Highness the Commander in Chief was very anxious to arrange that regiments arriving from India should be landed at the port nearest to their destination, and the Admiralty were anxious 1221 to carry this arrangement out if it had been found practicable, having regard to other considerations. But with five transports, only and no Suez Canal, this was quite impossible, as the Committee will see. For sanitary reasons, all the medical authorities concur in deciding that the Indian reliefs shall be completed in the five winter months. 18,000 men have to be moved. Three transports conduct this service on the Indian side and two on the Mediterranean side of the Isthmus of Suez. The steamers must perform their work with the regularity of clock-work, or troops might be detained in Egypt or on board ship at great expense, besides totally disarranging the whole system of reliefs. It has been found best, as only one English port can be used, to make all arrangements for the speedy landing of the troops and for refitting and replenishing the transports at Portsmouth. A day lost in going to Plymouth or Cork would throw everything out both in India and in Egypt, unless, indeed, duplicate arrangements for refitting the transports were kept at Plymouth. But such duplication would entail a greater expense than the occasional conveyance of troops by rail. Under these circumstances, until the Suez Canal is so open as to enable us to make the whole transit in one ship, and so save the time of transfer in Egypt, I think the Committee will see that it is better to adhere to present arrangements. I quite concur in believing that very shortly the Suez Canal will considerably increase our facilities and relieve our troops from the inconvenience of which my hon. Friend the Member for Poole has not without reason complained.
§ Vote agreed to.
§ (3.) £120,000, Half and Retired Pay, Officers of Navy and Royal Marines. Monthly instead of Quarterly Payments.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, he must ask why the necessity for this Supplemental Vote had not been foreseen when the Estimates were prepared?
§ MR. CHILDERS
said, that the course of the Government in this matter had been tentative, and the change as to half-pay had not been determined upon when the Estimates were prepared. The alterations could not be made without bringing 14 months' pay into the first 12 months, and the new system would be very advantageous to half-pay officers.