HC Deb 17 March 1879 vol 244 cc1028-9

asked the Postmaster General, Whether, notwithstanding the admitted obligation upon all heavily subsidised Steamship Companies to maintain a fleet of steamers, some of which, at least, can be always available as transports when required, and notwithstanding frequent public declarations on the part of the directors of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company that their vessels are "available to the Government at an hour's notice," it is true that of the great number of steamers employed in the transport of troops to and from England, Malta, and India in 1878, only one vessel belonged to that Company; that several others were tendered and rejected; and that of the fifteen transports obtained upon an emergency for South Africa that Company did not supply even one; and, if before the signature of the new contract for a subsidy of £370,000 per annum any negotiation or Correspondence took place between the Government and the Company regarding the inability of the latter to furnish transports?


My right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty has forwarded me the information necessary to enable me to answer the Question of the right hon. Gentleman. Only one of the ships of the Peninsular and Oriental Company was engaged at Bombay to bring up a part of the Indian contingent to Malta, and she was discharged as soon as possible in consequence of the high rate at which she had been chartered. Nothing is known at the Admiralty as to whether other ships of the same Company were tendered on that occasion. In the recent instance of sending troops to the Cape this Company, among others, was invited to tender, but did not do so. No negotiation or correspondence passed between the Post Office and the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company before the signature of the new contract regarding the liability of the Company to furnish transports. The usual clause empowering the Admiralty to purchase or charter any vessels employed in the Mail Service will be found, in the new as well as in the old contract.