§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Contract, dated the 1st day of September, 1900, entered into with the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company for the conveyance of the West India mails for the period from the 1st day of July, 1900, to the 30th day of June, 1905, be approved."—(Mr. Austen Chamberlain.)
§ MR. CALDWELL (Lanarkshire, Mid)
said he hoped the Financial Secretary to the Treasury would give some information with regard to the contract.
§ THE FINANCIAL SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Mr. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN,) Worcestershire, E.
said that the contract for the conveyance of the West India mails had expired. Tenders were called for, and after consideration it was decided to accept a tender which was in exactly the same terms as the contract which had expired. A subsidy of £80,000 per annum was payable under the contract, part of which was repaid by the Colonial Governments who shared the advantages of the contract. The contract had to be laid before Parliament under Standing Orders a few days after the meeting of Parliament, and that was the reason why it was presented. He hoped the House would pass the resolution approving the contract, because the bargain could not be clinched until the sanction of Parliament was given. It was open to the company to withdraw from the contract in the meantime, and as it was the only tender it would be in the public interest that approval should be given to it at once, and the bargain affirmed.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON (Dundee)
said he applied at the Vote Office some hours ago for a copy of the contract, but was unable to obtain it.
§ MR.EDMUND ROBERTSON
Surely it is in the interest of the House that a copy of the contract should be in the hands of hon. Members.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
If I had been asked for a copy I should have given it at once. A copy was placed in the Library.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
I went to the Vote Office for a copy, but could not obtain it. The hon. Member says that the contract should be presented to the House a few days after its meeting, but we have boon in session nine or ten days now, and it seems strange that the members of the Government who are responsible for the conduct of the business of the House should not have had copies printed.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
I would suggest that the matter be left over until to-morrow, when the discussion can be taken after we have seen the contract.
§ MR. ALEXANDER CROSS (Glasgow, Camlachie)
said it was singularly unfortunate that there should have been only one tender for such an important contract. A subsidy of £80,000 was involved, and, bringing the experience of private life into public affairs, he was strongly of opinion that when a contract was entered into without competition, it was not to the public interest. He stood strongly for competition in matters of that kind. As the contract was not before the House, he begged to move the adjournment of the debate.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
The Government have no intention of pressing this matter if there is to be any discussion. We recognise that we met for one purpose and one purpose only, but we thought that this matter, which is broadly speaking a formal matter, being only a repetition of a former contract, might be carried through instead of being deferred until February. If it is to be discussed to-morrow we will defer it, but I hope the House will allow it to pass without discussion. I gladly assent to the motion of my hon. friend.
§ Debate adjourned till To-morrow.
§ Whereupon, in pursuance of the Order of the House of the 7th day of this instant December, Mr. Speaker adjourned the House without Question put.
§ Adjourned accordingly at twenty minutes before Twelve of the clock.