HC Deb 20 May 1870 vol 201 cc1056-7

, after observing that in his previous Question he had said nothing about mercantile ships, asked the First Lord of the Admiralty, If he will state why and on what terms Messrs. Hogg and Robinson, the woolbag agents of Messrs. Baxter Brothers, have been favoured with the monopoly of engaging freight for the Admiralty.


said: I think, considering that this subject is to be discussed with Vote 17 of the Navy Estimates, on the Motion of which my hon. Friend the Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood) gave Notice some time ago, it is to be regretted the debate should be anticipated by this Question. The hon. Member himself is also apparently of that opinion, as he suggested to me yesterday that he should postpone it. But as the Question involves an insinuation against my hon. Colleague the Secretary of the Admiralty it should be answered at once, and I will now answer it. Soon after we came into Office we had occasion to consider the question of the arrangements under which ships are taken up and freight obtained by the Admiralty, and we were of opinion—and to some extent the efficient head of the Transport Department agreed with us—that it might be greatly reformed. The Department had not the advantage of any commercial assistance in the matter; many of the forms were unsuitable; tenders were called for, and even advertisements issued for small shipments; unnecessary surveys were made; and in many other respects the arrangements could be made more businesslike. With the assistance of my hon. Friend and my noble Friend the Member for Ripon, we revised the system, and among other changes we arranged that the Department should be able to consult an eminent house in the City, not themselves interested as shipowners, who would secure directly freight of smaller shipments, and advise us as to larger matters, including the chartering of ships. This change has been made, and I am able to say works perfectly well. I now come to the personal Question, and I have to say that, in the first place, Messrs. Baxter, Brothers, & Co. are extensive spinners and manufacturers at Dundee, have no foreign business—or what the Question calls—"woolbag agents," and that my hon. Friend is not a member of that firm. Messrs. Hogg and Robinson have acted as agents for many houses of high character both at Dundee and elsewhere, including that with which my hon. Friend is connected, and while we were considering the best freight arrangements we received much valuable information from them. When we decided to employ shipping agents we asked if they would act for us; but they declined, on the ground that it would involve much, trouble, and the commission would not be worth their while; and they recommended another and a less known house. But I considered it essential for the public service that our agents should be well known and highly recommended, and I pressed them almost as a favour to act for us. For this I personally, and not my hon. Friend, am responsible, and I take that responsibility without the least hesitation. The rate of commission is 1s. 3d. per ton shipped through their agency.