HL Deb 25 April 1856 vol 141 cc1473-5

said, that he ought not, he thought, to allow a department of the Government to rest one moment longer than necessary under the blame of having failed to make proper arrangements for their Lordships on Wednesday last. Since yesterday, he had made inquiries into the causes of the mistakes of that day, and he had now to state to their Lordships what were the instructions given by the Admiralty for the safe conveyance of the two Houses of Parliament to and from the naval review. Some time ago, arrangements were made with the South-Western Railway to carry their Lordships and the other House of Parliament down to Southampton, and at the beginning of this week Captain Milne had an interview with the traffic manager, to ascertain from him whether it was perfectly certain that the company could undertake, under the pressure to which it was likely they would be subjected, to convey so large a number without any chance of a failure. The answer he received was, that the company had made such arrangements that it was absolutely certain that both the Peers and the Members of the other House would arrive at Southampton at a quarter past nine o'clock. The Admiralty sent a communication to the municipal authorities of Southampton, requesting them to take every precaution to keep a clear passage from the railway station to the place of embarkation, and they also wrote to the packet agent—a person of great experience—desiring him to do everything in his power to facilitate the embarkation of the two Houses. Orders were also given to appropriate the Harbinger and the Pasha of Egypt's yacht as tenders to convey the two Houses on board their respective vessels, and the packet agent was directed to hire two additional tenders. He wrote back to say that it was perfectly impossible for him to hire any vessels, and two other steamers were then sent round for the service. With regard to the selection of the Transit, she was thought—and indeed every one could see she was—a very fine vessel, and, having a large maindeck, she afforded accommodation for a large number of persons to breakfast together, with the additional advantage of being under cover in case of rough weather coming on. Inquiries had been made beforehand as to the state of her engines, and the answer was that they were in good order, with the exception of a slight defect in the air- pumps, the only defect of which would be to reduce her speed from eleven to ten knots an hour. The officer selected to command was a gentleman of considerable experience, and their Lordships had all been witnesses of his great courtesy. His instructions were to be ready to receive the company at nine o'clock, and having taken them on board he was to steam down the two lines, to wait for Her Majesty, and on her arrival to take up his station as near the royal yacht as possible. In case of any unforeseen delay he was to keep outside the line, for fear of coming into collision with any of the gunboats. What better instructions, even judging after the event, could have been given them there, he could not see. The Admiralty had since made inquiries as to the state of the Transit's engines, and it was found that the only cause of their failure was that the steam had got low in consequence of the fires having been let down. They had ordered a strict and searching inquiry to be made as to who was to blame for this omission, and whoever he was he would be punished. This was the information he had received from the Admiralty, and he did not see how greater care could have been taken by that department. The whole thing arose from the unfortunate breakdown on the South-Western Railway—an event not so very extraordinary after all, considering that the company had undertaken to carry so large a number of persons beyond their usual traffic. The accumulation of trains on the line was so great, that between 700 and 800 persons arrived at the point of embarkation at Southampton at the very moment when the two Houses were expected. At first the packet agent declined to ship them, because he wished to keep the tenders for the use of the Houses, but he was perfectly unable to resist the entreaties and remonstrances of 700 to 800 gentlemen and ladies, all crowding and squeezing together in the dust and heat. He thought it better to use the tenders to get them out of the way, and that was the reason why they were not forthcoming when their Lordships arrived. He thought this was a satisfactory explanation so far as regarded his right hon. Friend (Sir Charles Wood), who had been most anxious to accommodate everybody—too much, some thought—because they might have done better if so much care had not been taken of them, and they had been allowed to manage for themselves. With regard to the personal charge made against him, he was afraid he should not be able to make so satisfactory an answer. He had reflected deeply on the subject since, and he could not think of any excuse for the pusillanimity which he had displayed. He could not accept the compliment which the noble Earl opposite had paid him for acuteness and sagacity, for he had so completely lost his presence of mind that while he saved only one Liberal Peer he carried off with him no less than four of Her Majesty's Opposition.


said that the explanation of his noble Friend was satisfactory, in so far as it showed that all the blame rested with the railway company; and what he wanted to know was, who was to answer for what had been done and left undone by the railway company. Had Parliament the power to punish such a delinquent? He believed they had not; and he wanted to know what steps the Government proposed to take this Session to give Parliament power over these railway companies. The question of some power being established over these railway companies ought not to be left long unsettled, for nothing could be more unsatisfactory than the position in which the matter was at present.


said, after the explanation of the noble Earl, he was willing to accept the apology, as far as it went, for the bad arrangements which had been made. But the noble Earl had offered no apology which accounted for the main grievance, namely, the fact of their Lordships being seven hours coming from the pivot ship to Southampton; he had given no excuse for that, except that the fire went out.


said, he did not offer an apology on that point, because, though he was not a scientific person, he thought that the fact of the fires going out was sufficient to account for the ship not getting on.


complained of the utter want of arrangement by the railway company, after their Lordships had been promised every accommodation.

The subject then dropped.