The Earl of Wicklow
wished to put a question to the noble Earl at the head of the Admiralty on a subject of considerable importance, and which had recently become more important in consequence of the facility which the Liverpool railway afforded for communication with Dublin. Before the management of the mail packets was transferred from the Post-office to the Admiralty, a great advantage was derived from the Government packets conveying parcels of a certain weight, at a moderate charge, across the Channel. If the convenience were great at that time, it was infinitely greater now, in consequence of the formation of the railway. Since the transfer, the Admiralty had thought it necessary to appoint an agent for the transmission of parcels. He did not complain of the appointment in itself, but he complained that it was given in such a manner as to confer on the agent a complete monopoly with respect to the transit of goods, and enabled him to impose such conditions as he pleased on that transit. The Government had a right to choose the person who was to fill this situation, and he did not complain of the individual whom they had selected. That person was Mr. Peter Purcell, who had been one of the prime agitators of Ireland—a determined Precursor, and an active supporter of a gentleman who had been a good deal spoken of that evening. In consequence, however, of his having called for a detailed account of the funds of the Precursor Society, he believed that Mr. Purcell was no longer patronised in that quarter. Under such circumstances, it was probable, that were the appointment now to be made, he would not be favoured with it, but he had received it in June last. Now, what he complained of was this, that the agent thus appointed had a right to ask what sum he pleased for the transit of goods; and further, that he might refuse to take them unless he was employed to 89 forward them to whatsoever part of the country they were destined for. This was felt as a matter of great grievance and vexation to the other carriers in Dublin. He contended, that the noble Earl had no right to make an appointment to which such powers were attached. He ought not, for the sake of patronage, to have bestowed such a monopoly on any one individual. He had no right to deprive all other persons of the advantage of the transit of goods by those packets unless they also commissioned the Government agent to send them to those places for which they were ultimately intended, and unless they agreed to pay whatsoever sum he pleased to charge. He had himself felt the inconvenience of the system of which he complained, for many packages were transmitted to him from this country, and he had found the charges so high that he was actually obliged to forego the benefit of the railroad. He wished to know, whether it was intended to remove this evil?
The Earl of Minto
felt obliged to the noble Lord for having intimated his intention to him to bring forward the subject, which had enabled him to make such inquiries as placed it in his power to give a satisfactory answer. Originally, the Post-office packets had not been allowed to carry parcels at all; but in the course of 1837, the Admiralty packets were allowed to take such packages as were usually conveyed by mail coach. The superintendents of the Admiralty packets had represented to the Post-office the great inconvenience of this, and wished the practice to be no longer continued. A communication to this effect had been made to the Treasury, but the Treasury had ordered an arrangement to be made for the transmission of such packages, and had directed Commander Chappel, of the Post-office packet station at Liverpool, to make the best arrangement for such transmission. About a month afterwards, an offer was made through Commander Chappel by Mr. Purcell, to undertake the conveyance of all parcels. He (Lord Minto) could assure the noble Lord, that the politics of Mr. Purcell were perfectly unknown at the Admiralty. Commander Chappel stated, that this Mr. Purcell was a considerable coach proprietor in Ireland and was therefore a likely person to succeed with the arrangement. An arrangement was made with him as to the con- 90 veyance of those packages; but nothing of the nature of a monopoly was granted to him. It was thought advisable, that some person should be responsible to Government for the safe delivery of all packages, and that was the reason of the appointment. With regard to the future arrangement of the packets at the Admiralty, the contracts for the packets were that they should deliver the mails; they took no cognizance of them as passage boats for passengers or for parcels. The Admiralty had nothing to do with what they charged for them. If it were true, that this gentleman had abused his privilege, it was quite obvious that parties might send their packages by other steamers.
The Earl of Wicklow
said, it was quite evident to him, that the noble Earl did not clearly understand the position he was explaining. He was aware, that the noble Earl had matters of greater importance to manage, and might not therefore have attended so closely to this; but he (the Earl of Wicklow) was always disposed to think, that persons filling inferior positions were never guilty of abuses if proper superintendence were exercised over them; and, therefore, the responsibility rested with those whose duty it was to exercise that superintendence. It was quite clear the noble Earl did not understand the subject, for he said it was no monopoly, as parties could send by other packets. The very reason of establishing this mode of conveyance was, that the Post-office packets from their greater velocity afforded greater facilities for transmitting parcels, and this advantage was now monopolized, and the public were deprived of it except at unreasonable charges, Mr. Purcell charging what he liked.
The Earl of Minto
said, no doubt there must be some slight fault, but if the noble Earl had mentioned it to the Admiralty that there was any irregularity, or any abuse, or overcharge, the Admiralty would have paid immediate attention to such representation. He really knew nothing of the manner in which Mr. Purcell proceeded. He understood Mr. Purcell undertook to deliver the parcels to the parties to whom they were addressed.
§ Subject dropped.