HC Deb 12 August 1904 vol 140 cc485-8

Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

[Mr. J. W. LOWTHER (Cumberland, Penrith) in the Chair.]

Clause 1:—

MR. CALDWELL (Lanarkshire, Mid.)

said they had been told that the £150,000 was fixed as the basis of the extra cost to the Cunard Company for Limning their vessels at a high speed across the Atlantic. He wished to know what there was in the Agreement to bind the Cunard Company to run their vessels at 24½ knots an hour, or any speed whatever. He had looked into the Agreement, and he could not find anything to bind them. He knew the difficulties which the Post Office had had previously in dealing with contracts with shipowners, and in this case they should have a clear understanding what the Agreement really meant, Article 14 of the Agreement said— Each of the Mail-ships shall on every Saturday as soon as possible after the advertised sailing hour and after the Mails are embarked (or at such other time as the Company with the consent of the Postmaster-General may fix) put to sea from Liverpool and proceed direct to Queenstown and shall remain at Queenstown until the Mails to be there embarked have been received on board and shall thence and without unnecessary delay proceed direct to New York, and the Company and their Officers and Servants shall use their best endeavours to complete the voyage of each such Mail-ship between the said places, respectively, within the shortest possible time consistent with prudent navigation. In every mail contract there was a condition that a voyage was to be accomplished in so many days or hours; but here it was left indefinite. The ships were to steam 24½ knots in moderate weather; but the contract did not say what speed they were to do on the average. He maintained that this Agreement was different from every other Post Office Agreement, and it opened the door to a great deal of latitude in its interpretation. Even after paying £150,000 a year, they might have to face the fact that the Germans would hold the blue ribbon of the Atlantic.


said that the hon. Member for Mid-Lanark was scarcely accurately informed as to the extent of the Post Office agreements for mail contracts. The Cunard Agreement proceeded on the same lines as other Post Office agreements relating to mail contracts. It did not specify the number of hours to be taken on the voyage, but that the ships were to proceed and complete their voyage in the shortest possible time consistent with prudent navigation. He held that that was a more effective provision than specifying a certain number of hours or days, because in such a specification a certain margin would have to be allowed for bad weather and accidents.


said that the contract set out that the ships were to proceed and complete their voyage in the shortest possible time consistent with prudent navigation, but there was a provision that these ships. in respect of which the country was to advance £2,600,000, were to be capable of maintaining an average ocean speed of between 24 and 25 knots "in moderate weather." As soon as the weather ceased to be moderate the speed might fall to ten, or even five knots. There was no provision against that danger. This was indeed a most unfortunate contract, which had been made in the moment of panic, binding the nation to an expenditure of £7,000,000 sterling at a time when the Admiralty were building smaller vessels of the same kind.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2:—

MR. LOUGH (Islington, W.)

said he could not see anything in the Agreement as to the exemption of that Agreement from stamp duty. Was there any precedent for such a provision? He thought the clause should be omitted.


said that the company were bound to execute the Agreement, and that obligation had been imposed upon them by the Government in order that the Government should have some security that the Agreement, which was made in their interest, should be duly carried out. It was only fair that something should be given to the company in return.


said that the asked Agreement was made last year, and it under was then that the stamp duty ought to to the nave been paid. This clause passed ex-post facto legislation. Then there was to be exemption from stamp duty— On the trust deed, or other security executed or given in accordance with that agreement for the repayment of the Canard loan, or on any instrument executed for the purpose of carrying out any provision for that agreement. There was nothing about that in the Agreement. Further, the fees payable to the Board of Trade in respect of the mortgage, or transfer of the mortgage of any ships, for the purposes of the Cunard Agreement, were to be remitted. Such a wide exemption clause had never been passed by the House of Commons in any Act, so far as he was aware. What would the total amount of these exemptions be? He understood the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say that it would be ½per cent. on £2,500,000. He thought that some further information should be given to the Committee by the right hon. Gentleman.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment; to be read the third time To-morrow.