Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Contract with the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, for the conveyance of the Mails to and from the West Indies, he approved."—(Mr. Hibbert.)
§ MR. STEWART MACLIVER
said, he did not object to the Contract, but he wished to correct a statement in the Treasury Minute which accompanied it. There it was said that if Plymouth were the port of departure for the Mails, it would be necessary to post letters from the North "several hours earlier" than if they were despatched from Southampton. That was a mistake, as anyone would see who looked at the facts of the case and understood them. If the packets continued to sail from Southampton and called at Plymouth for the Mails, they would occupy from 12 to 14 hours on the voyage; and that time would be available to the merchants of the North to post their letters later, not earlier, than under the present system. There would be no sense in the application for Plymouth, if it were to be a disadvantage, as the Treasury Minute stated; and the various Chambers of Commerce which had applied for it would never have done so if they had not been convinced of the benefit which must follow the change which he recommended. He was glad the Treasury had taken power, in this new Contract, to adopt Plymouth for embarking the Mails; and he desired that the Postmaster General should avail himself, as soon as possible, of an opportunity to carry out the views which had been repeatedly pressed upon his Predecessor by the commercial classes in the Northern and Midland counties, and would be found equally advantageous to the Colonists, who were interested in a closer union with England 1259 as their great centre of trade and authority.
§ MR. SAMUEL SMITH
said, that, from the remarks which has just fallen from the hon. Gentleman, he supposed on the part of the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce, he trusted that they would insist on carrying out the Plymouth Clause.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
That is undoubtedly the fact. The Contract is not favourable, the amount received for the postage of letters falling far short of the amount paid for the Contract; but, of course, we have to consider the convenience of the public.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
I say about £49,000 a-year, the amount of the total Contract is £90,000 a-year. My hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Stewart Macliver) appears to have quoted from the Minute of the Treasury and not from the Contract. The Contract simply states that the Government shall have the power of calling at Plymouth at a cost of £1,250 a-year; but in the Treasury Minute the Treasury points out that letters coming from the North of England to these packets will have to be posted somewhat earlier if the steamers start from Plymouth than if they start from Southampton. My hon. Friend challenged that statement; but that challenge does not affect the Contract. He does not object to the Contract, but to the statement in the Treasury Minute. The subject will be examined, and I will take care to enter fully into the matter, and to see whether that statement of the Treasury can be relied upon or not. I must say that my belief is that it can. That is an issue that I have no doubt my hon. Friend will allow to be raised at some future time.
§ MR. EDWARD CLARKE
said, he was glad to gather from the right hon. 1260 Gentleman the Postmaster General that if the Lords of the Treasury could be shown to be mistaken in the Minute, hon. Members might have what they asked for—namely, have the clause as to Plymouth put into effect. He (Mr. E. Clarke) had only risen to express his belief that they would be able to show that by whomsoever those persons were informed as to delay they were mistaken. Taking into consideration the important reason that time would be saved by this plan, he thought the Government should have no difficulty in adopting it.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
I did not say that I would make any alteration if the statement turns out to be incorrect. It will, no doubt, form an element of consideration; but there may be other matters to consider in deciding the question as to the earlier or later posting of letters.
§ MR. WHITLEY
said, that Liverpool and Manchester considered that by the plan proposed they would have eight hours longer to post their letters. He must say that there was a strong feeling in Lancashire in favour of Plymouth.
§ MR. SEXTON
protested against the manner in which Post Office business was transacted in that House. Here they had a Motion on the Paper for the first time——
§ MR. SEXTON
said, that the explanation given, or rather extracted, from the Postmaster General only increased the evil of which he complained. An hon. Friend (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) had elicited the extraordinary fact from the right hon. Gentleman that the enormous amount of £90,000 was paid for this Contract, of which £49,000, or nearly half, was a dead loss to the public Exchequer. He would submit to the House that a Contract of that kind involving such a heavy loss to the Treasury was not a thing which should be sprung upon the House. At any rate, the House should not be asked to form an opinion upon it at 2 o'clock in the morning. They had that night heard of a Treasury Minute of which they had never heard before; but the tone of the hon. Member (Mr. Stewart Macliver) in his speech was so low, and his words were so inaudible, that when he had finished the House was no wiser as to 1261 whom it came from, or to whom it was addressed, nor as to what it contained; so that the information which had been gathered from the hon. Member was not very important. He (Mr. Sexton) maintained that at the time when the Postmaster General gave his annual negative to the appeal made to him by Irish Members for a mere bagatelle of £3,000 a-year to facilitate the conveyance of Mails over to Ireland to suit the convenience of 1,250,000 people, they should not be asked to submit to this annual loss of £40,000 on a West Indian Mail Service without a word. From an Irish point of view, that was a very questionable proceeding. Believing that the House should have time to consider the matter, he begged to move the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Sexton.)
§ MR. HIBBERT
said, he must protest against the statement that this Contract was sprung against the House, because the Treasury Minute had been before hon. Members for 12 days, and everyone had had an opportunity of considering it. The present Motion had been upon the Paper for three days, and he was therefore fully justified in saying it had not been sprung upon the House. If it had not been so late he should have felt bound to make an explanation in moving the Resolution. He might add now, however, that the whole of this Contract had been most carefully considered by the Treasury. It had been before them for some considerable time, and it was only after very close consideration that they had decided upon this Contract. He should like to draw attention to this fact that, for this Contract—that was to say, No. 2 in the Treasury Minute — the Colonies contributed £23,000; and though, no doubt, there was a considerable loss in carrying the Mails, it must be remembered that those Mails went to all their West Indian Colonies, which Colonies contributed a very considerable proportion towards the expense. Taking that into consideration, the Treasury themselves felt justified in contributing something. The service, as proposed in the new Contract, would be an improvement upon the old service. The effect of the 1262 change would be to make 12 knots between this country and Barbadoes and the West Indies, the cost being £9,000 a-year more than the old Contract. They would thus get a good service; and a large number of people connected with the Colonies, in these countries and the Colonies themselves, were in favour of the proposal. Those were the grounds upon which the proposal was made. So far as Plymouth and Southampton were concerned, if wrong information had been given, he was sure the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General and the Post Office Authorities would be glad to make inquiries into the subject, and to make the fullest investigation as to what would really be the best service.
§ MR. GRAY
said, he was sure his hon. Friend (Mr. Sexton) had no desire to prejudice the inhabitants of the West Indian Islands by refusing to them Mail facilities; but the finances of the Post Office were in such an impoverished condition that it was impossible, according to the suggestion of the Postmaster General, to provide proper postal facilities for people at home, and that was the point to which his hon. Friend wished more particularly to draw attention. The people of Ireland were deprived of the Mail facilities they required on account of the financial condition of the Department, which rendered it impossible to spend £3,000 or £4,000 a-year in accelerating a Mail Service which would serve for 1,000,000 persons in that country. Irish Members were driven into the unhappy position of being compelled to consider whether it would be not advisable to leave the people of the West Indies in the position in which they had been before with regard to the Mail Service, if by so doing they could get a part of this increase which it had been proposed to pay on behalf of the West Indies devoted to the acceleration of the Irish Mail Service. The Irish Members were of opinion that, whether the West Indies got an addition or had a knot taken away from them, a part of this increase should be given to Ireland. He would rather give this money to the people of Ireland than to the people of Barbadoes, much as he respected them. If there was only one knot to give he would support the adjournment of the 1263 debate, in order that, if possible, Ireland might obtain a little of it. He would indulge in the hope that the Treasury, with their increased Death Duties, their increased Beer and Spirit Duties, and their other financial arrangements for increasing income, would be able to find the small sum of £3,000 to facilitate the Irish Mail Service. At any rate, in order to give the Government an opportunity, a few days to consider the matter, it would be as well to adjourn the debate.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
said, he hoped the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Gray) would not insist on mixing up the question of the Irish Mail Service with this matter of the acceleration of the Mails to the West Indies. He thought that whenever the Irish question came up for consideration it would be found that, so far as the acceleration of Mails was concerned, Ireland had not been treated illiberally. No doubt, as the Secretary to the Treasury had pointed out, the new Contract would cost £9,000 a-year more than the old one; but the convenience to the Colonists and the people of this country would be greatly increased.
§ MR. ONSLOW
said, the question before the House was the adjournment of the debate, and the right hon. Gentleman seemed to be going into some old arguments with regard to another matter altogether.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The Question before the House is the adjournment of the debate, and not the original Motion.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
said, he was only answering arguments which had been used on the Question of the adjournment of the debate. He would, however, confine himself to only urging the House not to agree to the Motion for the adjournment. There was no real opposition to the Motion.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
said, he had listened attentively to the discussion which had taken place on the Motion of the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury with regard to the Contract for the conveyance of Mails to and from the West Indies; and he desired to say a very few words on the Motion of his hon. Friend for the adjournment of the debate. They had to consider whether it was right or not to decide on the question of this Contract at that 1264 hour (2.15), or whether the discussion should be put off to another day. That was the Question really before the House, and to that Question he asked the Members of the Government then on the Treasury Bench to apply their minds. He would ask if the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister knew of this Contract! [Mr. HIBBERT: Yes; he approves of it.] Did the right hon. Gentleman, however, know that it was to come on that night; and did he know that the question was to be discussed and decided at half-past 2 o'clock in the morning? Of course, anything which the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury said was entitled from his own high character to immediate credence; but had it not been for the authority of the hon. Gentleman he should certainly have been bewildered to think that the Prime Minister was a party to the settlement of a Contract involving no less than £45,000 at that hour of the morning. It was a most audacious proposition to say that a Contract of that kind was to be swallowed under such circumstances. He did not think that the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Broadhurst) would approve of the course the Government were taking in this matter; and he would appeal to those hon. Gentlemen who were constantly in attendance in the House, and who watched zealously to see that the various Services of the country were conducted upon an economical scale, as to whether that was a proper time at which to rush through the House a measure dealing with no less a sum than £45,000 of the public money? For his own part, had he not taken advantage of the Order Paper of an hon. Friend beside him he would not have known at all what was going on at the moment in the House; and, with the exception of the hon. Member for Plymouth and the two Members for Liverpool, he ventured to say that the whole House would be perfectly ignorant of the character of the proposal under discussion. That proposal which was being put to the House in funereal silence would have the result of placing an annual charge of £45,000 on the finances of the country. He said it was trifling with the finances of the country, and with the House of Commons, to endeavour to force this measure 1265 upon them under such circumstances. He again appealed to hon. Members below the Gangway opposite, in the hope that it would not be left to Irish Members alone to defend the finances of the country from this inroad. It was impossible that the discussion at that time should be as complete and satisfactory as the importance of the subject demanded; and he, therefore, added his appeal to that of his hon. Friend for the adjournment of the debate.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
said, he would appeal to hon. Gentlemen that, having made their protest, they should consider whether it was desirable to persist in their opposition to the Motion of his hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury any longer. His right hon. Friend the Postmaster General had arrived at a decision in this matter; and as no serious objection to the Contract had been put forward he trusted the Motion would be agreed to.
§ MR. HEALY
reminded the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade that when he sat below the Gangway he was not—on that memorable morning in July—satisfied with making academic protests. He remembered that it was 5 o'clock in the morning on that day when the right hon. Gentleman was moving adjournments of the debate and adjournments of the House. It was not by academic protests that the right hon. Gentleman had obtained his present seat on the Treasury Bench; but he must of course leave it to the right hon. Gentleman to say whether the course he was now suggesting to hon. Members on those Benches was consistent with his former mode of procedure.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolved, That the Contract with the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, for the conveyance of the Mails to and from the West Indies, be approved.