HL Deb 22 July 1859 vol 155 cc255-8

begged to inquire of Her Majesty's Government what decision had been announced or communication made to the various parties who had sent tenders to the Admiralty on the 1st of July, in accordance with the advertised invitation to that effect, for the mails to Australia viâ Panama in steam-ships; and, if none had been given, whether Her Majesty's Government had abandoned the intention of establishing the line of mail steamers contemplated in the advertisement. The noble Marquess also moved, That there be laid before this House, a Copy of any Contract legally perfected and in force at this Moment for the Conveyance of Mails in Steam Ships to Australia by any Route. The want of a rapid communication with the Australian colonies had been recognized both by this country and by the Colonies, and the Legislature of New South Wales had voted £50,000 for improving the communication. Upon urgent representations it had been determined to establish a direct route viâ the Isthmus of Panama. Tenders for the conveyance of the mails by the new route were directed to be sent in by the 1st of July; but from that day to this he believed no notice had been taken of those tenders. If such were the fact, he thought the parties concerned, and the public also, had a good right to complain. First of all, the colonists had a right to complain, because they had sent a deputation to this country on the subject, and had received an assurance that the communication they desired would be granted. But it was still more unfair to the people who had sent in their tenders, because they had already incurred considerable expense, and made all their arrangements.


said, that the mail contracts were originated by the Treasury and not by the Admiralty. When the Treasury decided to establish a packet postal service to any part of the world, they laid down certain rules and regulations, and then sent them to the Admiralty, to arrange for the service. The Board of Admiralty issued forms for the contracts and arranged as to speed, time, and other details. When the tenders came into the Admiralty they were sent to the Treasury for their final decision; so that the Admiralty exercised a very subordinate part in the arrangement. As regarded the first question of the noble Marquess, he had to state that tenders were advertised for in the month of May last; that they were subsequently received by the Board of Admiralty, and by them sent in to the Treasury; and were now under the consideration of that Department. He thought, however, he ought to mention that the Treasury had paused before they decided upon the points submitted to them, in consequence of the whole question of mail contracts having been submitted—very properly he (the Duke of Somerset) thought —to a Select Committee of the House of Commons. It was highly desirable that there should be rapid communication between this country and her Colonies, but he thought it very doubtful whether they ought, under the present circumstances, to establish another line of packets. As regarded the line by way of Suez, which came into operation in the month of February last, that would also be by contract; but although the communication had been commenced, and the packets regularly running for some time past, yet the contract had never been signed, in consequence of a difficulty which had arisen as to the places where the packets should call. This question had been discussed by the Treasury and Admiralty, but the only answer he could give at present was that no contract had been signed, and therefore none could be laid upon the table of the House. The whole subject being now under the consideration of a Select Committee of the other House, it was only reasonable that the Government should wait for a short time and see what the Committee would do with regard to the present system before they entered into any new contract.


said, it appeared from the answer of the noble Duke that there wag in reality no contract existing for any postal service with these important dependencies.


said, that verbally, there was no contract in existence, because none had been signed and sealed; but it might be considered that in fact there was one, for the terms had been agreed upon, and the only question was, whether the packets should call at the Mauritius or not. As soon as that was settled the contract would he signed, and when signed there would of course be no objection to lay it on the table of the House. In reference to the Panama route, he might observe that the parties had been informed at the earliest possible opportunity that nothing more would be done until the question of contracts had been fully considered by the Select Committee of the other House. Another obstacle had arisen to postpone the completion of this matter. It had been decided by the late Government that the Treasury should undertake to arrange the whole of these contracts, and in the month of November last circulars were issued to all the Australian Governments, calling upon them to express their opinions in reference to this subject, and as to which route should be adopted. The whole of the answers had not come in; indeed only one had been received—that from New South Wales. The Government of that colony had acted more rapidly than the others, and they had granted a magnificent subsidy of £50,000 a year towards the new line. It would be admitted how important it was that the interests of all these colonies should be consulted, and that they should not establish a new line of postal or mail communication for the benefit of one or a portion of these colonies which might eventually be objected to by others, and a third proposed line be the result, until the whole of them broke down, as was the case some years ago, the colonies being left without any communication at all.


said, that what he had to object to was that a great number of these matters had been decided almost entirely by the Treasury, without special communication with other Departments, who ought to have been consulted before a final decision was come to. Formerly the Colonial Office, the Admiralty, and the Post Office were all consulted as to the way in which the postal communication was to be carried out. He hoped that greater care would be taken with reference to all future contracts, and that although the decision as to pecuniary arrangements rested with the Treasury, he hoped that in the general settlement of the subject other Departments would be consulted.


entirely concurred in thinking the arrangement suggested by the noble Baron most judicious; not because the Treasury was incompetent to make contracts, but because they lost the value of it as a check when it initiated charges of that kind.


regretted extremely that the Post Office was no longer mainly responsible for arrangements connected with the packet service. It was unfair to throw the charge upon the Naval Department, as it had practically nothing to do with the navy, and, while it increased the Navy Estimates, it allowed the Post Office to show a surplus when in reality no surplus existed. If the cost of the packet service were charged to the Post Office, they would know what the real net revenue of that department was, and the Post Office department would be more interested in seeing that the service was properly performed. The Treasury should check the expenditure; the Admiralty should give advice on naval points; but the Post Office should he responsible for all the arrangements connected with the packet service.


said, that the question was one of maintaining still more closely the intimacy and connection that existed with our colonies, the promotion of loyal feeling in our dependencies, and the maintenance of rapid intercommunication for the benefit of our commerce, which was the foundation of the prosperity of both countries. He agreed that for all these purposes there ought to be a responsible Minister to deal with the jealousies that existed in the various Departments, and impose checks upon them.

House adjourned at a quarter before Seven o'clock, to Monday next, Eleven o'clock.