HC Deb 20 March 1882 vol 267 cc1298-9

I beg to ask the Secretary to the Admiralty a Question of which I have given him private Notice, and in doing so it must not be supposed that I believe one word of the statement which I am about to read. My Question is, Whether there is any truth in the charge against the Government contained in the following leading article which appeared in The Perthshire Constitutional on the 15th of March—namely:— From the extracts which are published in another part of to-day's paper, it would appear as if Sir Donald Currie is not supporting Mr. Gladstone for nothing. The Government is accused of showing a distinct partiality for the line of steamers managed by the Member for Perthshire. All the troops, it is said, now being sent home from South Africa are being convoyed by the Castle Line—none whatever being sent by the Union Line, although it carries the mails on alternative weeks. The name of Mr. Gladstone is associated with many scandalous pieces of jobbery; but if the information we publish to-day be correct, there could be nothing more disgraceful.


Sir, this statement has been copied into so many papers, and leading articles are being written in many papers which ought to know better, that it is due to the hon. Member for Perthshire and the Admiralty that I should state how the case really stands. When it was decided to bring away part of the force at Natal, tenders were advertised for on the 2nd of September, 1881, with all the usual amount of publicity. On the appointed day tenders were received from the two Mail Companies at rates per head for the men conveyed, and from 12 other ships on time charter. These tenders were reported on to their Lordships in the following terms:— The tenders of transports are all at rates that would work out for troops home much higher than the tender of Messrs. Currie and Co., which is the lowest rate at which troops have ever been conveyed by steamer either to or from the Cape. Upon this Report their Lordships confirmed the engagement. In December, 1881, tenders were again advertised for with the same publicity. This time seven ships were offered on time charter, while Messrs. Currie and Co. alone tendered at rates per head, which rates resulted in a much lower charge than if trans- ports had been engaged. It was thus amply shown that a transport, having to make an empty voyage out, could not compete with the low rates per head offered by a regular packet service for the homeward voyage. On two subsequent occasions, therefore, in January and March of this year, the Department obtained their Lordships' sanction for applying to the two mail lines only, the result being that Messrs. Currie and Co. made the lowest offer in the first case, and the Union Company did so in the last. In both cases, of course, the lowest offer carried it. The result has been extremely satisfactory, both as regards the terms secured and the manner in which the service has been performed. The idea that the Prime Minister was cognizant of these transactions, to those who know how business of this nature is conducted in an English Public Department, needs neither comment nor refutation.


In consequence of the answer given by the Secretary to the Admiralty, I beg to give Notice that I will ask the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies, Whether his attention has been called to a scurrilous leading article in The Manchester Courier of the 13th of March, and whether he will lay upon the Table of the House any Papers connected with the relief of Ekowe, which bear upon the services of the hon. Member for Perthshire?