Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [26th May]—
That this House doth agree with the Committee in the Resolution 'That a further sum, not exceeding £4,208,100, be granted to Her Majesty, on account, for or towards defraying the Charge for the following Civil Services and Revenue Departments for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1892."'
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ (12.27.) MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
I trust the Postmaster General will find it convenient to make a statement as to the improvement of the cross-Channel Service to Ireland. An unreasonable time has elapsed in carrying out this improvement. A deputation from the companies waited upon the right hon. 1288 Gentleman, and it took him three months to make up his mind in the matter. The right hon. Gentleman communicated with the Treasury, and a further delay occurred whilst they were considering it; other delays followed, and in this way 12 months have elapsed without anything being done by the right hon. Gentleman to carry out his promise to effect an improvement. A year has been consumed in considering a matter which might well have been disposed of in a month or two. It is not fair that the City of Belfast and other important communities in Ireland should be left so long without a satisfactory postal service—such a service as would be given as a matter of course to any town in England. Such is the mail service from Belfast to England that the mails are delayed several hours, and the morning mail is not delivered until after the outward mail has been despatched. That is an absurd condition of things in connection with a town like Belfast—one of the most important cities in the United Kingdom. I hope it will not be necessary to return to this subject. I shall do so, however, if the right hon. Gentleman does not deal with it, and I shall be supported by the bulk of the Irish Representatives. I should be glad if the right hon. Gentleman would give us some particulars as to the negotiations that have taken place—for instance, what the companies have asked and what the Treasury has offered. In order to put the Motion in proper form before the House I will move to reduce the Vote by £5,000.
§ Amendment proposed to the said Resolution, in line 2, to leave out "£4,208,100," and insert "£4,203,100."—(Mr. Sexton.)
§ (12.29.) MR. MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.)
This question is one of importance, not only to Belfast but to the whole of Ireland. If the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General is going to make a statement to-night I should like to make a few observations on the subject. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will understand that opinion is not so entirely unanimous in favour of the Larne and Stranraer route as the hon. Member for West Belfast seems to think; and, though I am quite prepared to approve of any proposal the Treasury may make as to 1289 an addition to the existing mail service to Belfast through Dublin, I say that if an additional grant is made it ought not to be at the expense of the Dublin and Holyhead route, and, moreover, if a grant is to be made to the Larne and Stranraer route while refusing any improvement in the Dublin and Holyhead route I shall strongly oppose it. The Larne and Stranraer route would give postal facilities only to one or two towns in Antrim; but it would not give a sorted service, and for a considerable distance it has only one line of rails. The Great Northern line is superior in all these respects, and is the natural route to the North of Ireland. The hon. Member for West Belfast was not quite correct in one of his statements. On no single occasion on which delay has occurred has the Larne and Stranraer train arrived in Belfast before the train which arrived by the Dublin route. With regard to Belfast, it appears to me that the Belfast requirements would be amply met by the offer of the improved service over the Great Northern route, and that, with regard to the whole of the rest of the North of Ireland, there is no doubt whatever that the advantages which would be secured to the other large manufacturing towns of the North of Ireland are incomparably superior by the present route than by any proposal that could be offered over the Larne and Stranraer route.
§ (12.36.) MR. KNOX (Cavan, W.)
The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has told us that opinion is divided in the North of Ireland on the question of the proposed alternative route. Of course that cannot be denied, but we know that as far as the public opinion of Belfast has yet been expressed—and I take it from the ordinary channels of public opinion, such as the Belfast News Letter, the Northern Whig, the Morning News, and the Telegraph—public opinion is strongly in favour of the establishment of the proposed Larne and Stranraer route. We should like to see alternative routes; if possible we should be glad to see both supported by sufficient subsidies. I think I ought to question a statement made by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Macartney) as to a matter of fact. I do not think it a fact that the whole of the way to Derry the Great Northern Railway is a double line.
§ MR. KNOX
If I am mistaken I am sorry I misunderstood the hon. Gentleman. On the other point, how ever, I may say that the general opinion in Belfast is that when we take into consideration the dangers of accident or delay in the best conducted sea route it is desirable that there should be an alternative service to prevent the loss which otherwise might occur to the commercial community when their letters are delayed. But beyond this, I may say that there are many who regard a third alternative which has been suggested, namely, the Greenore route, with much favour. It is undoubtedly the most direct route, and should be carefully considered.
§ (12.41.) SIR E. HARLAND (Belfast, N.)
I am sorry I cannot agree with my hon. Friend (Mr. Macartney). I believe that the unanimous opinion in Belfast and the other important towns in the North of Ireland is that an alternative route would be most valuable, not only as a second route for letters, but as a new link added to the improved communication between Great Britain and Ireland. The distance between Larne and Stranraer across the Channel is only one-half the distance between Holyhead and Dublin.
§ SIR E. HARLAND
Of course, if the mail route between Dublin and Holyhead were not highly subsidised, it would be impossible for the Steamboat Company to provide such splendid accommodation for passengers. The right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General has a good deal of power in regard to this matter, but even with the subsidy they get from the Government the company could not afford to cary mail bags alone. They must also have passengers, and the passengers must have certain inducements to take a particular route. If the Postmaster General thinks it would be of general advantage to assist in the establishment of the Stranraer and Larne route as an alternative one, I think there would be no movement on the part of the Government that would be more popular in the North of Ireland.
§ COLONEL WARING (Down, N.)
I wish to say a word or two in favour of an alternative route that has as yet hardly 1291 been mentioned. It is obvious that the shortest way between two places is a straight line; and those who have travelled to Ireland by the North Western Railway, and who have looked at the maps exhibited in the carriages, will have seen that the route to Belfast viâ Greenore, is as nearly as possible a straight line. In fact, a shorter one could not be devised. The distance may be accomplished in quite as short a time by that route as by any other, and the accommodation would not only be of benefit to Belfast but to the whole of the North of Ireland.
§ (12.50.) THE POSTMASTER GENERAL (Mr. RAIKES,) Cambridge University
I think that what has been said to-night has shown that this question is not so easy a one as might at first appear on the surface. A great deal has been said in favour of the proposed route viâ Stranraer and Larne, and there is much to be said also for the counter-proposals which have been submitted to the Government by the Great Northern Railway of Ireland, and the geographically shortest route, that from Holyhead to Greenore. A considerable amount of public money is in question, and therefore it is incumbent on the Government to exercise the greatest care in order to arrive at the best possible solution. The proposal in regard to the Larne and Stranraer route was not placed before me until the end of last autumn, and it was necessary for the Post Office to consider it, and any counter-proposals that might be made. The latest hour within the last six months at which the mails arrived in Balfast was 12.35 on December 23; that was two and a half hours late. During the last six months (November to May) there have been nine occasions on which the day mail has missed the ordinary despatch from Dublin. This is not satisfactory, and the Government are considering three or four competing schemes for improving the service to Belfast. On the 20th December the mail came in at 10.35; on the 22nd at 10.37; on the 23rd at 12.35; on the 24th at 12.24; on the 7th January at 10.45; on the 8th at 10.35; on the 15th at 10.40; and on the 31st January at 11.40; so that even on the worst occasions there was an interval of four hours between the arrival of the mail 1292 and the despatch of the next mail to England. In seeking the remedy, however, it is necessary to take care that the improvement is not effected at the cost of the service to other important towns in the North of Ireland. The Government wish to submit a complete scheme to Parliament, and this cannot be done until the answer from the Railway Companies to which I have referred is received. I quite sympathise with the position taken by the hon. Member for West Belfast, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the delay is in no way due to apathy on the part of the Government.
§ (1.6.) MR. SINCLAIR (Falkirk, &c.)
I hope the Postmaster General will also take seriously into consideration the fact that it is very important that letters going out from Belfast to England and Scotland should be delivered early. My experience shows that for these letters the Larne and Stranraer route is the best, and the feeling is strong that this route ought to be developed.
§ MR. SEXTON
I wish to thank the right hon. Gentleman for the statement he has made. I fully accept his assurance. No doubt the question is a very complicated one. The right hon. Gentleman has shown reasons why the Amendment should not be pressed, and I therefore wish to withdraw it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.