HL Deb 14 July 1857 vol 146 cc1427-31

My Lords, I rise pursuant to notice, to call your Lordships' attention to the subject of hiring tonnage for the transport service of Government. The matter is one of considerable importance, and one, in my opinion, well worthy of the consideration of my noble Friends opposite. During the late war, the money expended in carrying troops amounted to no less than £5,000,000 in one year, and in the year previous to £3,000,000. I took occasion at that time to notice the immense expenditure in the conveyance of munitions of war; and I ventured to criticise the mode in which the tonnage was taken up. I will not now go into the question of tonnage; for I admit that the authorities who govern the country, and manage these matters, have no guide whatever as to the hiring of tonnage, so as to know what they really hire for the use of the State. They are almost completely in the hands of the owners of shipping who use terms of tonnage that do not give you the slightest notion of the carrying power. This question grows larger and larger the more you employ steam vessels; because, when these vessels have their machinery and coals on board, so much of their tonnage is occupied that, though they look very imposing, and seem to have great carrying powers, they have in many instances failed to efficiently carry out their contracts. The number of transports hired during the late war was 118. They were hired indiscriminately as to tonnage in this respect—that sometimes they were hired on their registered tonnage, and sometimes on their gross tonnage. The consequence of this confusion was, that the public paid enormously for the transport service to the country. It can readily be shown that, when the Government came to hire by gross tonnage, they paid at least one-third more than when they hired by registered tonnage, and gained no advantage whatever. Two returns laid upon the table of the House of Commons on the 8th July and the 8th August, 1856, respectively, are most important as going to elucidate the case now before your Lordships. Of the 118 transports hired for the conveyance of troops, twenty-four were hired by gross tonnage. The names of these twenty-four were—Magdalena, Golden Fleece, Arabia, Jura, Alma, Nubia, Tamar, Medway, Thames, Trent, Europa, Niagara, Queen of the South, Emeu, Andes, Cambria, Tynemouth, Emperor, Robert Lowe, Tanning, Cormorant, Albatros, Sovereign, and Hope. The gross tonnage of these twenty-four vessels was 39,806 tons. I shall now take twenty-four of the vessels hired by registered tonnage, the gross tonnage of which amounted to 41,517 tons. The names of the twenty-four ves- sels which I select from those hired by registered tonnage are—Great Britain, Orinoco, Jason, Simla, Candia, Ripon, Severn, Victoria, Hydaspes, Adelaide, Argo, Imperador, Canadian, Imperatrice, Cleopatra, Melbourne, Alps, Australian, Sydney, Charity, City of London, Lion, Telegraph, and Kangaroo. The hire per month for the first class of vessels—namely, those hired by the gross tonnage—was £92,588; while the hire per month of the twenty-four hired by registered tonnage was £63,765. The rate of hire per gross ton per month of the twenty-four hired by registered tonnage was £110s.d. Now, take 39,806 tons, the gross tonnage of the twenty-four hired by gross tonnage, and at £1 10s.d. per gross ton, the entire amount for hire would only stand at £61,118, instead of what it does really amount to on the gross tonnage hiring—namely, £92,588. This shows a loss per month on the hiring of the first twenty-four ships whose names I have read to your Lordships of £31,470. I think I have said enough to show that there must have been very great ignorance as to the mode of taking up tonnage; for, unquestionably, if there had been a thorough understanding as to the manner in which transports should be hired, Government would never have made this monstrous blunder. That is the whole of my case, and it is important that these matters should be considered carefully, when we are entering on another—I will not call it war—but difficulty, and when a great amount of tonnage must be taken up. I am not desirous of eliciting any answer from my noble Friend, but the matter is one which should not at the present juncture be passed over.


hoped the noble Earl would excuse him for not being able to give him any information upon the subjects to which he had referred, as they did not belong to the department with which he was connected. The Admiralty had the sole control of the transport service, and without making inquiries at the Admiralty, it was impossible for him to give any information to the noble Earl on the various points on which the noble Earl had touched.


said, he had expressed his opinion on a former occasion that it was possible, particularly at this season of the year, to make a better passage to India in a sailing vessel than in a steamer—at least, his experience was to that effect; but he hoped that those who had the engaging of the sailing transports would pay particular attention to their sailing qualities, because, unless good sailers were selected, fast passages could not be expected. He had seen with regret the names of a number of vessels mentioned as being engaged for the transport of troops to India which were notorious as bad sailers when he was in India, fifteen years ago. He had heard yesterday the name of one vessel which was celebrated for only being able to go four knots an hour. It might be that the vessels themselves had been repaired and were now good sailers; but he hoped the attention of the Government would be earnestly directed to the imperative necessity of choosing none but good vessels for this service.


said, he had had an interview with the Chairman of the East India Company, who had assured him that the vessels engaged for the conveyance of troops were vessels generally known by the name of clippers, and were fast sailers. He was not prepared to speak as to the comparative value of sailing vessels and steamers; but in deference to the feelings of families in India, the Government had determined to give a trial to steamers, and five screws had been taken up for the conveyance of troops to that country.


said, he was a little alarmed at the appearance of a divided authority and the consultation of new departments which was Suggested by his noble Friend's mention of a conversation with the Chairman of the Board of Directors, He hoped that the entire direction of the transport service during the present emurgency would be left with the Minister of War. That this ought always to be the case in time of war was an opinion which had been expressed from the commencement of the Russian war, and which he had stated before the Sebastopol Committee. Although, during the time that he had held the office of Secretary of War, the transport department had been under the direction of one of the ablest administrators in the country, Sir James Graham, assisted by Captain Milne, a distinguished naval officer and most indefatigable in the discharge of his duty, the conviction had been forced upon him that the transport service, during the time of war at least, ought always to be under the sole control of the Minister of War.


said, he thought he could explain to the noble Duke how it was that the Chairman of the East India Company was mixed up with this matter. The East India Company paid the expense of the transport of troops to India, the Crown paying the expense of the transport of troops going to China. Notice was given of the number of troops required, and then the East India Company, under the control of the Board of Control, took up the requisite tonnage. The contracts were all laid before the Board of Control.


That has been the practice time out of mind.

Subject dropped.