HC Deb 16 June 1873 vol 216 cc1000-2

said, he wished to put a Question with reference to the course of Business that evening. The second Order of the Day was the Adjourned Debate upon the proposed confirmation of the Mail Contract between the Cape of Good Hope and Zanzibar. He, therefore, wished to ask Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Whether he intends to proceed this evening with the Motion for the confirmation of the Contract for the conveyance of the Mails between the Cape of Good Hope and Zanzibar with the Union Steamship Company; and, whether his attention had been called to to an omission on the part of the Treasury which he (Mr. Bouverie) imagined rendered it impossible to go on with that Motion until the omission had been supplied? The Standing Order of the House of 24th July, 1860, required that all Contracts extending over a period of years, creating a public charge, actual or prospective, for the conveyance of Mails by sea, should be laid upon the Table of the House immediately, if Parliament be sitting, or within fourteen days after its assembling, accompanied by a Treasury Minute setting forth the grounds on which they had proceeded in authorizing it. The Contract in question was entered into on the 8th of May of the present year, and was duly laid on the Table of the House in compliance with the Standing Order; but he found, on inquiry at the Library, that there was an entire omission to lay on the Table any Minute of the Lords of the Treasury. There was a letter of a Clerk of the Treasury appended to the Contract; but that was not a Minute of the Lords of the Treasury; and the best evidence that no such interpretation could be put upon this letter was, that to each of the other Contracts upon this subject, of which there were three, which had been entered into in the course of the last six months, there had been appended, in accordance with the Standing Order, a Minute of the Lords of the Treasury setting forth their reasons for approving of the Contract. Under those circumstances, he apprehended that it would not be competent to the House to proceed with the consideration of the Contract until such time as the Minute had been laid on the Table.


said, it had been the intention of the Government to proceed that evening with the Zanzibar Contract; but since the meeting of the House it had been intimated to him that a difficulty of the nature referred to by his right hon. Friend existed. The difficulty, as he understood, was a purely formal one. The common practice was to lay the Contract upon the Table together with the Correspondence, which Correspondence contained the view of the Government with respect to the Contract; but, in compliance with an Order of the House, there was likewise a formal Minute referring the House to the Contract and Correspondence; and he believed that, in that instance, the mistake had been committed of omitting to supply the formal Minute. The question became one entirely of the Orders and Rules of the House, and he thought it would be convenient if Mr. Speaker would give his judgment in the question, whether the Orders of the House had not been so far complied with that they might proceed with the Motion. If the judgment of the right hon. Gentleman should be that the Orders of the House had not been complied with, then the proper course, he apprehended, would be to move that the Order for the resumption of the Adjourned Debate should be discharged, and to give fresh Notice on the subject.


Before the meeting of the House the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock drew my attention to the matter, and I have been able to inform myself on the subject. The Standing Order of which the right hon. Gentleman has spoken is very clear and explicit. It lays down the Rule, that every Packet and Telegraphic Contract shall be laid on the Table of the House, accompanied by a Minute of the Lords of the Treasury setting forth the grounds on which they have proceeded to authorize it. Now, the Contract in question has, no doubt, been laid on the Table of the House, and it has been accompanied by a letter from an officer of the Treasury to the Postmaster General; but such a letter in no sense fulfils the requirements of the Standing Orders, and therefore, in my judgment, that Contract is not in a condition to be considered in its present shape by the House. I submit, therefore, that the proper course to be taken in the matter will be, when the Order is read for resuming the Adjourned Debate, to move that the Order be discharged, and then the House will take what course it thinks proper.


asked the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, Whether any reason could be given for the unusual course which had been adopted with regard to the Contract; whether any Minute has been passed by the Treasury; and, if not, whether any Minute will be passed, and when it will be laid on the Table?


said, that the omission had not been a deliberate act; neither he nor Ids right hon. Friend had any cognizance of it. He would suggest that the Order should be read at once, with a view to its being discharged, and then his right hon. Friend would be able to renew his Notice of Motion for the disposal of the matter—probably, on Thursday. It would then be proper to move for a Committee to inquire into the whole question.


said, he should like to know when the Government proposed to take the opinion of the House upon the Contract?


replied, that the Government would take it as soon as they could conveniently do so. If the Order was now discharged, the discussion might take place on Thursday.


moved that the Order be read, for the purpose of being discharged.

Motion agreed to.

Order for resuming Adjourned Debate thereupon [9th June] read, and discharged.