HC Deb 27 June 1873 vol 216 cc1500-2

(In the Committee.)

(1.) £1,105,348, for the Post Office Packet Service; no part of which sum is to be applicable or applied in or towards making any payment in respect of any period subsequent to the 20th day of June 1863 to Mr. Joseph George Churchward, or to any person claiming through or under him by virtue of a certain Contract, bearing date the 26th day of April 1859, made between the Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty's Admiralty (for and on behalf of Her Majesty) of the first part, and the said Joseph George Church-ward of the second part, or in or towards the satisfaction of any claim whatsoever of the said Joseph George Churchward, by virtue of that Contract, so far as relates to any period subsequent to the 20th day of June 1863.


asked, Whether it was not high time that the Notice which appeared on the Estimates, providing that no part of the Vote should be applicable to any claims which Mr. Church-ward might have in regard to the con-tract entered into with him for the conveyance of mails, and bearing date the 26th of April, 1859, should no longer be printed?


said, it was necessary to keep the Notice on the Estimates so long as the action which had been commenced by Mr. Church-ward was pending in the Exchequer Chamber. It was a precaution which was needed for the protection of the Executive Government and the public interest.


thought the House was indebted to Mr. Churchward for not withdrawing his action, as the continuance of the Proviso was a formal declaration of the undoubted right of the House to exercise its constitutional control over the Post Office Mail Contracts—a control which the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had recently thought fit to treat with contempt. It was notorious that those contracts had been the occasion of much jobbery, much corruption, and needless expenditure. A part of the Vote—namely, £105,000, they were now asked to grant—that relating to the Cunard and Inman contracts, both of which were improvident contracts, made by the last Conservative Government—had been condemned by a Committee of the House, but retained for eight years in consequence of a technical difficulty due to a lack of vigilance and effective control by the House. He wished to know, whether the Postmaster General had given clue Notice to the contractors of the termination of several of these contracts, with the view of rendering our ocean mail communication self-supporting; instead of, as now, carried on at a cost in excess of receipts of quite £500,000 per annum


said, it would be possible to a large extent, to get rid of the subsidies for ocean postage upon the termination of existing contracts; and to that end the Post Office had been steadily working, so that within the last two years a gross reduction had been effected to the amount of £45,000 and a net reduction to the amount of £34,000. With regard to pending contracts, notice had been given for the termination of the service between Point de Gallo and Sydney, costing £13,000. Notice also had been given with regard to the Brazil and River Plate service amounting to £33,500 a-year; the West India service, amounting to £172,914 a-year; St. Thomas and Puerto Rico, amounting to£1,000 a-year. It was also intended to give notice to terminate the following contracts:—The United States service (Cunard line), which cost £70,000 a-year; the Inman line, £35,000, though neither of those could terminate before December 31, 1876; St. Kitts, Nevis, and Montserrat, £490; and other smaller services. In point of fact, what was aimed at was to get rid of all postal subsidies except for the service to the East, with which it was impossible to dispense altogether. He thought, therefore, he had shown not only that he entirely agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Brighton (Mr. White) as to the principles he had laid down, but that the Department had succeeded in effecting a considerable reduction, and would hereafter be able to make a much larger reduction.


said, he objected altogether to the restriction contained in the words with which the House of Commons accompanied that Vote. It amounted to a declaration that, whatever might be the decision of a Court of Law upon a certain action brought against the Government, the House of Commons would prevent the Government from paying any compensation which might be awarded to the plaintiff. Such a Resolution was most objectionable. If the Government had a good defence, why not make it?


said, that as the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General had announced that the Post Office expected to make a considerable saving on contracts for the conveyance of foreign mails, he hoped that seine of those savings would be devoted to the improvement of the inland postage service in remote districts, some of which in Ireland were now very ill-served.


reminded the hon. Member for Galway county (Mr. Mitchell Henry) that the question before the House was the Vote for the Post Office Packet services.


in reply to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Spencer Walpole), said, the House of Commons:, which voted the money, was perfectly justified in passing that annual Resolution, directing that the money should not be applied to that particular purpose. He knew nothing of the merits of the Churchward contract, but could not advise the Government to dispense with the condition.

Vote agreed to.