HC Deb 19 June 1873 vol 216 cc1195-215

who had given Notice that he would move "that the Contract for the conveyance of Mails between the Cape of Good Hope and Zanzibar with the Union Steam Ship Company be ap- proved," said, that he observed that the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie) had proposed that this matter should be referred to a Select Committee, and to the adoption of that course, as far as he was concerned, he had no objection. He was satisfied that the more this matter was investigated, the more carefully it was looked into and sifted, the more the prejudices which appeared to have collected round it would disappear. But, although he had no objection to the subject being referred to a Select Committee, he did not conceive that the adoption of that course would relieve him from the duty of saying something in support of the proposal he was now making to the House. He would endeavour to compress what he had to say into the narrowest compass; but, as it was in his power to remove some prejudice and misconstruction, he conceived that he was only doing justice to the cause he undertook to advocate in attempting to do that, even although they might not go to a division that night on the subject, but send it to a Select Committee. Those who might form that Committee, if it were appointed, would not, he thought, object to receive from him, who must and ought to know something about the matter, some little information which might be of use in guiding their deliberations and investigations. He would not go again over the ground he travelled the other night, but briefly state that the Government determined, for reasons which he stated the other evening, that it was desirable to establish steam communication between Aden and the Cape of Good Hope. Having so determined, they, after a certain time, received tenders for that service. They also received another offer of a new proposal for decreasing the period of time for the service which he would call the Western line, between the Cape of Good Hope and England; and in negotiating these matters with the Union Steamship Company they treated the two services as substantially one question, and mixed them up together, believing that they would get the best terms for this country, and also at the same time obtain very good terms for the Cape of Good Hope. The result was that a contract was entered into with the Union Steamship Company, the details of which he stated the other night, and would not repeat, but which he believed would be very beneficial to the Cape and exceedingly economical to this country as regarded the Zanzibar service. Having done that, the Government met with a very considerable disappointment. They found that that which they thought would be so beneficial to the Cape of Good Hope did not meet with the approval of the Cape colonists; and they decided very properly—as an old colonist himself he was the last man to say anything against it—that the true meaning of self-government for the colonies was not to govern the colonies for the colonists, but by the colonists, and that if they objected to the measure as being against them, although not approving their arguments, yet the wisest and most constitutional course was to yield to their wishes; and finding that the contract—which was not now in question—did not meet the views of those for whose benefit it was designed, the Government withdrew it. Still, the main object with the Government was that contract for the service between Zanzibar and the Cape, and the withdrawal of the other contract only threw that question into difficulty. The question arose how they were to deal with the Company which entered into the contract between Zanzibar and the Cape. It was easy, no doubt, to criticize any course the Government might adopt under such circumstances; but some course had to be adopted, and what was it to be? He did not believe the House would think they would have done rightly if they had used the legal power they had, owing to the fact of the two contracts, the Eastern one and the Western one, although both negotiated together, being drawn up separately, and had insisted on the Company performing the one when they had taken away the other. Because it was obvious that the terms they obtained were grounded on two considerations—namely, the one the annual payment of £15,000 to the Union Steamship Company, and the other the extension of their contract to the Western service; and if they took away from it one of those things it would have been inequitable and unjust to hold the Company to the other. Were they, then, to discard the contract altogether, to call for fresh competition and start anew? That, also, would seem to have been exceedingly harsh and unfair. The Union Company had been put to great expense through our failure to carry out the extension of the contract between England and the Cape. They had invested about £350,000 in providing new ships for carrying out the contract. They had been doing the Zanzibar service without any equivalent, but only paving the way or advertizing the future success of the line. And now, when some slight germs of improvement and commerce there were just beginning to show themselves, it would have been most deplorable, in the interest of the suppression of the slave trade, and also a most harsh and cruel thing, if that contract was to be taken away from them altogether. ["Oh, oh!"] Moreover, it would have been very bad policy, because when companies were entering into contracts with the Government, and the Government were not able to answer with certainty as to the decision of that House upon them, that decision, if it were adverse, would leave the companies saddled with a heavy loss; and the result would be that in the end the country would have to pay an increased rate for those contracts. So that a liberal policy was their wisest and truest policy. Once let the companies get the notion that Governments were unsafe parties to deal with, and there would be no limit to extortion. ["Oh!"] The Government would never be certain that Parliament would ratify what it did; and if the burden was thrown on the Company which contracted, the necessary consequence would be that large demands would be made in the shape of insurance to cover that risk. The only other course which seemed to be open to the Government was to go on with the contract, but to make some compensation to the Company for the failure and loss of the Western contract. So far, he could not help hoping that when hon. Gentlemen looked fairly at the matter in Committee there would not be any great difference of opinion. But then there came the question—a most difficult one, on which there arose much difference of opinion—namely, what guide were they to take under those circumstances? If they could not be guided by the old contract, part of the consideration having failed, and if the consideration which remained was obviously inadequate, of what principle were they to take hold as their clue in that matter? On the best consideration they could give, the Government thought the proper principle was to take an offer that had been made by the Company independently of any collateral consideration or any other contract, and make it the basis for obtaining the most moderate terms they could secure. But the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Holms) said, that was not the right course to pursue; that they had a tender from the British India Steam Company, not for £29,000 as was the tender of the Union Steamship Company, but for £16,300, which was made to them; and that fixed the value of the service. The British India Steam Company were willing to do it for that sum, and that sum, the hon. Member (Mr. Holms) said, was the utmost they would pay, and it would be inexcusable to pay more. Now, the answer to that argument appeared to him (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) to be absolutely conclusive. He had laid Papers on the Table which hon. Members had had an opportunity of reading. It appeared that in the Autumn of 1871 the Government were considering the propriety of entering into such a contract. They had not made up their minds whether to do it or not, but wanted information to guide them. They requested the Post Office to obtain that information. The Post Office "sounded," if he might so call it, two Steamship Companies, the Union and the British India, and the result was that the Union Company offered to do it for £29,000, and the sum which the other Company was reported to be willing to take was as low as £15,000. Then, asked the hon. Member, not unnaturally, Why fix the country with the larger and not with the smaller payment? That was just the matter which required explanation. Hon Members and he were quite at one on that subject. He was unable to give that explanation the other night, and why? Because he was not in possession of it. If he had been he would have given it. He did not think it proper to offer the House a guess or a conjecture. He had waited for absolute certainty, and having got it, it was his duty to state it to the House. The fact was this—The Government requested the Post Office to give them some idea at what rate that service could be done, and they applied to the Union Steamship Company, which stated £29,000. Then the Post Office applied to Mr. Monteith, the Director General of the Post Office of the India Government, for his opinion, and he wrote to Mr. Tilley, the Secretary of the Post Office, a letter—now before the House—in which he said that the British India Company would perform the service for 5s. per mile; not absolutely, however, as those who had read the Papers knew, but coupled with the condition that it should last for 10 years, and should be part of the general service of India. At the time that Company in India was desirous for the renewal of the service they had been carrying on for many years between Calcutta and Bombay, and they took exactly the same view of the subject as was subsequently taken by the Union Steamship Company. That was to say, they did not want apparently to have anything to do with it by itself, but wished to make it the means of getting something else which would enable them to do it for a small sum. The hon. Member for Hackney said that this was an absolute and independent contract. It was no such thing. It was coupled with the condition that they should obtain a renewal of their former contract with the Indian Government. That that was so, was fully evident from the letter of Mr. Tilley, in which he said— If you will be good enough to refer to Mr. Monteith's private letter, you will find that the rate is 5s. per mile for ten years' service, as a part of the General Indian Service, and that is the light in which I have always read it. Well, what happened? The Government were not in a position to accept or reject those offers or suggestions. They had not matured their plans, but they next found the two Companies tendering together, the one for the conveyance of mails from Aden to Zanzibar, the other from Zanzibar to Table Bay. What had happened in the meanwhile they had no means of knowing; but what he had stated was only another proof that the tender for £16,000 was not really an independent tender for the service, from the great facility with which the British India Company gave it up to the other Company, he supposed as not being a thing of very great value. That was the tender that the Government received in June, and it was ultimately accepted, together with a reduction of the tender for the Cape mail. Hon. Gentlemen seemed to be incredulous when he stated that to be the true construction of the matter, but he would furnish them with evidence that it was. He had that morning received a letter from the British India Steam Navigation Company, whose tender of £16,000 had been condemned by the hon. Member for Hackney. The letter was as follows:—

"13, Austinfriars, London,

"June 18, 1873.

"To the Right Hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

"Sir,—The attention of the Directors of the British India Steam Navigation Company (Limited) having been called to the question which has arisen in Parliament regarding the offer made by them in 1871 to perform a mail service between Zanzibar and the Cape of Good Hope, I am instructed to forward to you the enclosed memorandum, which explains the position of the Company in making the offer referred to.

"I have the honour to remain, Sir, your very obedient servant,

"P. MACNAUGHTAN, Secretary."

The following was the memorandum in question:—

"Memorandum from the British India Steam Navigation Company (Limited).

  1. "1. Mr. Tilley's note of the 11th of June, 1873, referring to the offer of the British India Steam Navigation Company (Limited) to undertake a service from Zanzibar to the Cape, correctly described the position of the Company in the matter.
  2. "2. The offer was to do the service in connection with and as an extension of the Company's Indian services. It was not a spontaneous offer, but rather one made at the request of the Director General of the Indian Post Office. As an independent service the British India Steam Company would not have tendered at all, or at all events not at the rate named, because they were well aware of the difficulties attending such a service on the East Coast of Africa.
  3. "3. If the Company were asked now to undertake this service, they would not be prepared to do so on the terms then named."
[Cries of "Date."] The date was the 18th of June. [A laugh.] Hon. Gentlemen seemed still to be incredulous. Was it that they did not think the Company understood what they themselves really meant, or that they had not stated all the facts in reference to the matter? However that might be, nothing could be more proper than that the entire subject should be inquired into. He did not, however, think it right to let it go to a Committee without stating the grounds on which Her Majesty's Government had acted, and which they conceived to be conclusive against the proposal of the hon. Member for Hackney—namely, that the tender in question was a conditional offer made in reference to independent and collateral advantages which were to be secured. The proposal naturally fell to the ground when those collateral advantages ceased, and that part of the question was virtually disposed of. The entire subject, however, was eminently a proper one for inquiry by a Committee, more particularly as it was the House, and not the Government, that should come to a final decision with respect to it. The real question was whether the Government had taken the right course in considering that the Company was entitled to something more in consideration of the circumstances he had stated; and, if so, whether they had fixed that something more at the right amount. He had no objection, therefore, to offer to the proposed reference to a Committee, the lightest part of whose labours would be the investigation of that which the other night made a considerable and unfavourable impression on the House—namely, the circumstances under which the tender of £15,000 came to be made. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Resolution of which he had given Notice.

Motion made and Question proposed, That the Contract for the conveyance of Mails between the Cape of Good Hope and Zanzibar with the Union Steam Ship Company be approved."—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.)


moved, as an Amendment, that the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman be negatived. He had thought that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was intended to remove prejudices; but when it was stated by him that the Union Steamship Company sent in a tender for the Eastern as well as the Western Coast of Africa, and that both were to be treated as one, he (Mr. Holms) felt obliged to say that that statement was entirely inaccurate, inasmuch as the Union Steamship Company sent in on the 25th June, 1872, a joint tender with the British Indian Company for the conveyance of the mails from Aden to the Cape.


No, No.


If the right hon. Gentleman referred to the Papers he would find that that was so.


Not jointly for the whole service, but one for the one part and the other for the other part.


said, the tender was absolute and was subject to no condition whatever. That joint tender was accepted by the Government, and arrangements were made to divide the gross amount between the two Companies. The arrangement did not in any way affect the condition of any other tender. Again, in August, 1872, as would be seen by the Papers, the Union Steamship Company asked the Government to reduce the contract for conveying the mails from Zanzibar to the Cape to eight years in consideration of their obtaining an extension of the Western contract. It followed that the right hon. Gentleman could not have himself investigated the question when he said that this was a tender from the Union Steamship Company for both the East and West of Africa. It was clear that the Government had completed their arrangement for accepting the joint tender of the 25th of June, and were beginning to parley about the Western contract. Only on the 3rd of this month the Union Steamship Company had sent to hon. Members of this House a statement, in which they declared that in October last they entered into a contract with the Government for a mail service three times a month between England and the Cape, and another contract for a monthly service between the Cape and Zanzibar. The statement that the two were made dependent one on the other simply vanished into nothing. The Cape colonists surely knew what was advantageous for themselves; but they had declared for months that this was not advantageous to them, although the Chancellor of the Exchequer maintained that it was. In 1863, when the contract for conveying the mails between this country and the Cape was entered into, the Cape colonists were asked for a subsidy, which they were willing to give if the Government would agree that the mails should be conveyed in 36 days instead of 38; but the Government did not agree, and the contract was completed without the subsidy, the postage being raised from 6d. to 1s. From that time to this the colonists had looked forward to getting a cheaper rate of postage, and yet the Government sought to saddle them with a contract which would not expire until the year 1881, and under which the high rate of postage would be kept up. The right hon. Gentleman asked if it would be fair to hold the Union Steamship Company to the tender of £15,000, if they took away their other contracts. He (Mr. Holms) would hold them to nothing unfair, but the quicker they put the contract up to public competition the better. The right hon. Gentleman asked them to have compassion upon the Union Steamship Company, because they had expended £350,000 on account of these contracts. The truth was that the Union Steamship Company had been forced by the competition with which they were assailed to give better boats and better accommodation, and had they not been able to make the voyage in 30 days they would have been extinguished by other and better boats. At a meeting of the shareholders held on the 17th of October, 1872, the chairman made a speech, the object of which was to show how necessary it had been for the Company to spend money in vessels. He said they commenced with steamers of 600 or 700 tons burden; that they then employed boats of 1,300 or 1,400 tons, and found them as inadequate to meet the growing trade as the former vessels had been, and they had got boats of 2,000 tons, and seven years hence he did not hesitate to say they would require bigger ships if they were to continue to hold their own. This was before the contracts, and did it not throw a flood of light on the position of the Company? The whole of this affair had been a godsend to them, whether they got the contract or they did not. They went into the market when vessels were comparatively cheap; they bought more than they required; and if they were to sell the vessels now they would realize a very considerable profit. The chairman, indeed, stated that the vessels which had cost £500,000 could not be replaced for £100,000 more. That proved that they had got a good sound investment in the vessels which they possessed. If this question was to come down to a point of compensation let them treat the Company handsomely. They had paid over £3,000, 000 in compensation to the United States; and if £11,000 was too little for this Company, let them give them more, provided there was just and proper cause for giving them anything at all. But a Company which had had contracts with the Government since 1857 surely knew perfectly well that no contract was binding until it had been passed by the House of Commons. He now came to the most extraordinary portion of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. He had told the House that the offer of the British India Company was bound up with another, and it was not an offer on which he could found anything; but it would have been much sounder if he had made that reply in June, 1872, instead of June, 1873. What was the position of the British India Company in relation to the Government now? They had contracts on hand, and they did not wish to quarrel with the Government of the day; and they would do what they could to bridge over the difficulty with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. An offer of this kind, not loosely made, in relation to every port between England and Zanzibar, must have received careful consideration at the Post Office, at the Treasury, and at the Colonial Office, where it formed the foundation for that despatch asking the Cape Colonies to give £4,500 in relation to the offer. Could it be said that the calculations of the Post Office and Colonial Office were based upon nothing? The proposition of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, therefore, that the figures in Lord Kimberley's despatch were such as nothing could be founded upon was one of the most unbusinesslike that he had ever heard made in the House of Commons. Mr. Tilley, in his letter to the right hon. Gentleman said, that so long ago as 1871 the offer was made, and it was not a formal tender for an independent service, but an estimate on which the Government might treat. The British India Company had accepted the northern route. They were of opinion that it was not necessary to have a subsidy for the service from Natal to the Cape, because there was a good trade already from Natal to the Cape. With regard to the question of the appointment of a Select Committee, everything would depend on the composition of that Committee. No Committee was needed to express a judgment upon the way in which this business had been transacted; the House could give its judgment on that. He thought we might have a Committee to inquire generally into the transactions of the Post Office in relation to mail contracts, and more especially in relation to the private arrangements that were entered into in connection with them afterwards; and he thought the House would perhaps be ready to grant such a Committee by-and-by. As to the Committee which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie) was going to propose, he should be glad to hear what the right hon. Gentleman had to say in its favour, and would then perhaps offer some remarks on the subject.


in rising to move as an Amendment— That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the circumstances under which Articles of Agreement were made on the 7th day of May 1873 between the Union Steamship Company, Limited, and the Right Honourable William Monsell, Her Majesty's Postmaster General, said, he was glad the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had given some explanation of the despatch which had been laid upon the Table since the last discussion and that he had not made a speech like that which he had delivered on the last occasion. With all deference to his position, he (Mr. Bouverie) must say that a speech less calculated to conciliate the judgment of the House, or to persuade it that this arrangement was for the public advantage, he had never heard. The right hon. Gentleman had then to defend what was alleged to be an improvident arrangement, and he told the House that it was the last body in the world that should pronounce an opinion on the contract; that it was subject to all sorts of influences, and that it should leave him (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) master of the situation; but the impression produced by the reading of the Papers was that the House would not have liked to have left the contracts in the position in which the right hon. Gentleman would have them placed at his absolute discretion. These were matters which required explanation, and therefore he ventured to put this Notice of Motion on the Paper. Another matter which required explanation was the omission of the Treasury Minute with reference to the last contract. Such a Minute was not a merely formal matter, but it was one of considerable importance. When the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Holms) spoke the other evening he had so much knowledge of the subject that he took it for granted the House had more knowledge than it really possessed, and that it was aware how many contracts there were before the House dealing with this matter. There were three contracts which had been placed on the Table dated the end of last year, one with the British India Navigation Company, and the two with the Union Company, all for different portions of the line. One of these contracts which the House had not been asked to confirm—the service between this country and the Cape—had been withdrawn by the Government. So had the first one for the service between Zanzibar and the Cape. Then came another proposition for the service between the Cape and Zanzibar, to pay for the same service which had been offered for £15,000 the larger sum of £26,000. That was a circumstance which required explanation before the Select Committee. Another fact which required explanation from the Chancellor of the Exchequer was the omission of the Treasury Minute. The House would recollect why it was called upon to sanction these contracts at all, or why the Standing Orders required that a Treasury Minute should be attached to these contracts. It was upon this very matter of mail contracts that one of the most powerful Committees ever appointed by that House sat in 1360. They recommended that the House should confirm mail contracts, and that this Treasury Minute should be attached with the view of preventing blunders and jobs. In the present instance there was, of course, no idea of any imputation of jobbery, and he was sure that his hon. Friend the Member for Hackney would be the first to repudiate any such imputation. But there was, at all events, the appearance of an overt blunder having been committed which should be inquired into. This Company had got the contract to carry the mails from the Cape to Zanzibar for eight years for £26,000 a-year, when seven or eight months before, they were willing to undertake the same duty for £15,000. The hon. Member for Hackney was quite right in saying that these two Companies made a joint tender for £25,000 a-year for two contracts—£10,000 for the bit between Aden and Zanzibar, and £15,000 for the bit between Zanzibar and the Cape. Then appeared this extraordinary circumstance—that the Post Office authorities, when they submitted this offer to the Treasury on October 29, 1872, stated the consideration for which the Union Company were willing to reduce the term of this service to Zanzibar from ten to eight years, so as to make it synchronous with the termination of the Peninsular and Oriental contract, the consideration was that their Lordships should extend to the same period a new mail contract from England to the Cape of Good Hope. They said they had got so favourable a contract at £15,000 that they were willing to reduce the term by two years if only the Government would agree to give them an extension, which they much desired, of the contract between the Cape and England. That extension was given to them; but the contract for it was subsequently abandoned by the Government on the remonstrance of the Cape colonists. The measure then of the sacrifice of the Union Company in this abandonment was not £11,000, to be paid for the service to Zanzibar for eight years by the taxpayers of the country, but it was two years' additional term, which might be added to the £15,000 for the Cape and Zanzibar contract. They were however, now told that this service for £15,000 per annum was such a loss to the Union Company that the Chancellor of the Exchequer thought it his duty to sacrifice £11,000 per annum more of the public money to console them for the loss of the extended contract between England and the Cape. It seemed to him that according to the Papers on the Table there was no ground whatever for taking £26,000 per annum as the real value of this contract to the Company when they agreed to give up the contract between England and the Cape. He wished to remind the House that this was not a new class of question. He did not think it desirable that the House should bait the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this question. He felt sure that he had decided according to his "lights," but it appeared from the papers that all the circumstances were not under his consideration at the time. And that was what the Committee on Mail Contracts in 1860 reported to have been the case in regard to the Galway and Dover Mail Contracts. The Committee reported that in making and modifying these contracts it was clear there was a want of concert and of well defined responsibility. The Committee also recommended that new mail contracts should be open to competition; but that as to extensions or modifications of former contracts it was impossible to lay down any rules, and a discretion must be left to the Executive, subject to the control of Parliament. The Committee about to be appointed should apply these rules and recommendations to the present case. It was odd that one of the most prominent Members of that Committee, which was presided over by the late Mr. Dunlop, was the present Secretary to the Treasury, who moved the adoption of the Chairman's Report. The House was therefore entitled to look to him in order to see that the recommendations of that Committee should be fully enforced. It appeared, moreover, that this line was originally started, not for the purpose of offering facilities to trade, but with a view to the suppression of the slave trade. He doubted whether the House of Commons were justified in pursuing these indirect objects by a system of mail subsidies. If the slave trade were to be suppressed it would be much better to do it in a direct manner. The present case was essentially one for a Select Committee; but its Members should not be the holders nor the expectants of offices. They ought not to sit upon the Treasury bench and perhaps should not be ambitious of sitting there. They should be gentlemen capable of forming an independent opinion. There should be one gentleman on each side representing the opposite views on this question, but these two Members should be themselves debarred from voting. A Committee of that kind had been appointed to inquire into the Leeds Bankruptcy case, and other instances of such Committees were mentioned in Sir Thomas May's Book. He thought such Committees had more of a judicial character than ordinary Committees appointed by the House. When the conduct of a Minister or official person was in question it was objectionable to have a Committee composed of his Colleagues, or of those who were supposed to take a more or less official view of the matter. Indeed, this appeared to him very much like taking a jury from St. Giles's to try a pickpocket. There was an influential element in that House of independent Members who neither held office nor desired to form an official connection with the Government, but who were men of substance and of brains, and capable of pronouncing an independent opinion on such a question as the present. Therefore, if the House should agree to the appointment of a Select Committee, he would to-morrow or on Monday propose to nominate a Committee of seven Gentlemen to try the question of these contracts, and to name also his hon. Friend the Member for Hackney and some Gentleman on the part of the Treasury as Members of the Committee without the power of voting, in order that they might elicit the facts for the judgment of the tribunal. This, in his opinion, would be a fairer and better solution of the question than the course proposed by the hon Member for Hackney; and he trusted it would commend itself to the fairness and good sense of the House. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Amendment of which he had given Notice.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the circumstances under which Articles of Agreement were made on the 7th day of May 1873 between the Union Steamship Company, Limited, and the Right honourable William Monsell, Her Majesty's Postmaster General,"—(Mr. Bouverie,)

—instead thereof.


said, his right hon. Friend who had just sat down proposed the reference of this subject to a Select Committee, and he understood that the Government made no opposition to that Motion. From the way in which the proposition had been received, he inferred there would be no opposition to such a course. Therefore, he was not disposed to enter into the merits of the question to-night; but there was one point he was rather anxious about, and which he did not think his right hon. Friend (Mr. Bouverie) had quite elucidated—namely, as to the way in which the Committee was to be chosen. There was a recent precedent on the subject. In 1868 it was his good fortune or misfortune to enter into the Cunard and Inman Contract, which in the following year was called in question in the House of Commons. It occupied the attention of the House for a considerable time, and it was ultimately determined that the contract should be referred to a Select Committee. He offered no opposition to that course, and a Select Committee was appointed, but it was nominated by the Committee of Selection. The order on that occasion was that five Members should be appointed by the Committee of Selection and two Members by the House. He had not heard whether his right hon. Friend proposed that the Select Committee should be appointed in that way. [Mr. BOUVERIE: I am quite willing.] He (Mr. Hunt) would propose that the matter should be treated in the same way as was done in the case of the Cunard and Inman Contract.


said, he did not intend to enter into the merits of the case, especially as the Government had signified its willingness to refer the matter to a Select Committee. But one or two matters had been referred to by the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Holms) with regard to which he thought his hon. Friend was in error. He understood the hon. Gentleman to say that the joint tender of the two Companies preceded the offer of the Union Company for the extension of its service.


begged pardon. What he meant to say was that the arrangement of the Government for the extension of the Western Contract was entered into after the joint tender of the 25th of June.


said, the proposal made by the Union Steamship Company for the extension of its services was made on the 12th January, 1872, and it was after that tender had been made, and while it was under the consideration of the Government, that, on the 25th of June following, the joint tender was made by the two Companies for the joint service. He denied that there was any attempt made by the Union Company to take money out of the pockets of the taxpayers; they proposed to remunerate themselves by the extra traffic they would derive.


agreed with the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Hunt) that the Committee ought to be appointed in the manner he had indicated. It should be one in which the House and the country would have the fullest confidence. He would suggest that both the contracts should be submitted to that Committee.


said, he could not allow the Zanzibar Contract to be referred to a Select Committee without declaring his opinion with regard to the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He thought the right hon. Gentleman ought this evening to have expressed regret for his utterances on the former occasion. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie) had, in really strong terms, but with the blandness which became him, protested against the character of that speech. He (Mr. White) confessed himself that he had never heard a speech which gave him so much pain as the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer when this matter was originally brought forward. For the first time, he felt what must have been the mental torture—the absolute agony of the Prime Minister and of the Secretary of the Treasury—on seeing all the principles which they had so earnestly, so honestly, and so efficaciously advocated, trampled underfoot and treated with contempt by the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman told the House he could not help feeling it was much more desirable that the responsibility of entering into Post Office mail contracts should rest with the Government, than that it should be transferred to the House of Commons, because such a transfer would tend to introduce personal solicitation, lobbying, and other practices which he should be sorry to see introduced into this country. He (Mr. White) could testify that the whole course of the policy of the House since he had occupied a seat in it, had been to assert the right to question, revise, and control, all such contracts which successive Governments had made. Owing to ignorance, or perhaps want of forecast, or of information on the part of such Governments, we had existing mail contracts to the amount of £1,260,000 per annum; whereas it was notorious that the service could in all respects be now as efficiently done at considerably less—he believed at less than one-half that cost. He felt sure that, if the right hon. Member for North Northamptonshire (Mr. Hunt), sitting on the right hand of the Speaker as Finance Minister, had given utterance to such sentiments as those of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the whole of the Liberal side of the House would have been in a blaze. There would have been one wide-spread feeling of indignation, and he confessed that he himself looked upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer's condemnation of the reiterated and emphatic declarations of the Prime Minister with regard to the constitutional control of Parliament with feelings of abhorrence.


said, that if the Union Company had wished to go on with a contract they might have done so, and, if not, the House would have been perfectly willing that compensation should have been given them for any expense they might have been put to—the matter to have been settled by arbitration. If that were done, the amount which the country would have to pay would not be one-fifth of that which the Chancellor of the Exchequer now proposed.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and negatived.

Question proposed, "That the words 'a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the circumstances under which Articles of Agreement were made on the 7th day of May 1873 between the Union Steamship Company, Limited, and the Right honourable William Monsell, Her Majesty's Postmaster General,' be there added.


moved to add, at the end of the Question the words "such Committee to consist of Seven Members, Five to be nominated by the Committee of Selection, and Two to be added by the House."


said, he thought the present was hardly the occasion to raise the question raised by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Hunt) which was entirely distinct from his proposal. Indeed, if the words of the right hon. Gentleman were added to the proposal, any hon. Gentleman would be entitled to claim that it be divided and the Question put separately. In the course of his remarks he had said nothing about the mode of appointing the Committee, and his sole desire was that there should be one of an independent character. In 1867 in the case of Meer Ali, involving the character of a Member of that House, and in 1854 Committees had been appointed in the way which he had suggested. He thought the best course would be that the right hon. Gentleman should wait until he saw the list of the Committee, when he might move the rejection of any names to which he might object.


said, he thought the proposal of his right hon. Friend near him (Mr. Hunt) was a fair one, and, besides, it was in accordance with the last precedent, when a contract such as that under discussion was referred to a Select Committee. He had heard the name of the probable Chairman and some of the Members of the proposed Committee mentioned since he had come down to the House, and he did not think it expedient that the matter should be arranged in that way.


said, no one could have listened to the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Hunt) or of his right hon. Friend behind him (Mr. Bouverie) without feeling that their object was that the composition of the Committee should be perfectly equitable. For his part, he thought that the Government should take as little part as possible in the matter, and that they should be guided by the general feelings of the House. The more agreeable, and perhaps more regular course, would be to take the Motion for the appointment of a Committee first, and next the question as to the mode of its appointment. He presumed that Notice would have to be given with respect to the two modes of appointing the Committee; and believing that his right hon. Friend and the right hon. Gentleman opposite might approximate in their views, he thought great advantage might arise from giving the subject 24 hours' consideration.


I must remind the House that on the previous occasion referred to—the contract with the Cunard Company—a similar discussion took place, and the same views were expressed, and the House arrived at the result which has been suggested by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Hunt). No doubt we ought to consider the feelings of the Committee of Selection as much as possible; but the objection of the Members of that Committee to appoint in inquiries of this character usually arises from the fact that such investigations are of a personal nature. Now really we cannot say that an inquiry into the conduct of a Department of the Government is to be looked upon as a personal investigation, or that the Committee of Selection would feel that delicate embarrassment which is natural to them when they have to appoint Gentlemen to inquire into the conduct of individuals. The difference is so distinct that I think the House will at once recognize it; but I agree with the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) that in all these cases it is expedient not to act with any precipitation. I do not think the question will at all suffer by being postponed for 24 hours, and I have no doubt we shall then arrive at a decision which will be thoroughly satisfactory.


said, he would withdraw his Amendment; but he desired to point out that it was similar in its terms and in the mode in which it was proposed to the precedent he had referred to.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question, "That those words be there added," put, and agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Select Committee appointed, "to inquire into the circumstances under which Articles of Agreement were made on the 7th day of May 1873 between the Union Steamship Company, Limited, and the Right honourable William Monsell, Her Majesty's Postmaster General." —(Mr. Bouverie.)

And, on June 26, Committee nominated as follows:—Mr. DODSON, Mr. BENYON, Mr. LEATHAM, Sir ROWLAND BLENNERHASSETT, Mr. WATERHOUSE, Sir EDWARD COLEBROOKE, Viscount SANDON, Mr. HOLMS, and Mr. GOSCHEN:—Power to send for persons, papers, and records; Five to be the quorum.