HC Deb 12 August 1896 vol 44 cc651-5

On the return of Mr. SPEAKER, after the usual interval,


formally moved the Second Reading of the Appropriation Bill.


said that on this Motion he desired to draw attention to a subject of the greatest practical importance to Ireland, and on which Irish public opinion was unanimous—he inferred to the question of the promised acceleration of the Irish mail service between London and Dublin. An agitation on the subject had been going on in Ireland for three or more years, and the greatest interest was taken in it by all classes in the country. Some years ago, in the time of the late Government, things were brought to a head, and, after a good deal of agitation, a promise was made that the mail service should be accelerated by an hour each way in regard to both the night and day services. Irish public opinion rested satisfied that this promise would be kept, especially when the question of renewing the contract with the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company was under consideration, and when the result of that controversy was that new boats were to be built, and that in consideration of the promised acceleration £100,000 a year additional grant was to be made. A few days ago, however, through questions put in the House of Lords by Lord de Vesci, the information was obtained from the Postmaster General that the promised acceleration would not be given, and that, were any change made, the advantage of it would not be given to Ireland. Similar information had been obtained from the right hon. Gentleman who represented the Postmaster General in that House. The fact had excited great astonishment and no little indignation in Ireland, and among those who were strongest in condemning what was regarded as a breach of faith about to be committed by the Post Office were some of the leading Conservatives in the city and county of Dublin. It was agreed by the late Government that there should be an hour's acceleration each way on both the night and day service; and further, that the whole benefit of the acceleration should be given to Ireland. But from the new time-table it appeared that no advantage at all was to be given to Ireland. It was, indeed, proposed that the day mail should start from Dublin at the same hour as now; that half an hour was to be saved on the journey at sea, and that the train would start for Holyhead half an hour earlier. But that would be of no value to Dublin; and it would be none to London either, because all the business houses would be closed when the mail arrived. The same remarks might be made of all the other changes. What Ireland wanted was that the steamer should leave Dublin half an hour later. In answer to that demand it was stated that it would be impossible to accommodate the connections at Chester and Crewe; but it was very curious that when the Post Office proposed that the mail should leave London half an hour earlier the connections were no obstacle to the change. It was, indeed, ridiculous to suppose that a few trains could not be changed to suit the Irish mail. The Secretary to the Treasury had recently been asked whether he could not postpone settling the new time-table till next Session, so that the question could be thoroughly investigated; but again the answer was that it was impossible. The motive underlying this eternal opposition to the smallest demands of Ireland on this question of the mails was connected with a deep-laid plot wholly to discredit the Irish mail service, so that the Queenstown mail route might be abolished in favour of the Southampton route.


said that he could assure the hon. Member that the Post Office had no such ulterior motives as the hon. Member suggested. The Post Office readily admitted the extreme importance of this question to Irish trade. But there were two classes of difficulties in the way of hastening the transit of the mails between Holyhead and London. The first were Post Office difficulties. Under the now arrangement the Irish night mail would arrive in London nearly half an hour earlier than at present, and the Post Office were anxious for this earlier arrival of the mail in London, firstly, because it was occasionally late already, and a large portion of the area over which the Irish mail ought to be delivered by the first post was not so delivered, and secondly, because they were anxious that a still larger area should be served with the Irish mail by the first delivery. Meanwhile, under the proposed new arrangement the night mail would leave Dublin half an hour later than at present. With regard to the night mail leaving Euston this difficulty arose, that the mails from all parts of the south, of which London was the collecting area, only reached the General Post Office by 6 o'clock, except certain mails which had a certain rate of postage, and the result was that the work in connection with the Irish letters, which, of course, had to be separated from the other letters and specially arranged, really could not be got through before half-past 8 o'clock. He might be told that the Irish mail leaves London at 8.20. That was the case, but only a certain portion of the letters could be got through by 8.20. Those were dispatched by the Irish mail. The Scotch mail, leaving at 8.30, carried the remainder of the letters, and the Irish mail waited for it at Crewe, so that they were no better off at the time the letters started from Crewe, than if the whole of the letters had started from London at 8.30. In any case, whatever the railway companies might do, it would be impossible for the Post Office to send the whole of their letters off by 8 o'clock. The other difficulties in the way of acceleration concerned railway companies. Whatever the hour might be at which it left London, whether 8 or 9 o'clock, the Irish mail would not be able, under the present arrangement, to leave Crewe before 12 o'clock, the hour at which it left now, and for this reason, that it had to pick up the mails from four different quarters. It had to pick up the mails from Birmingham, which reached Crewe at 11.33; from Bristol, winch reached Crewe at 11.35; from Stoke and Derbyshire, which arrived at 11.35; and from Manchester, which arrived at 11.50. It would be noticed, in the first place, that the Manchester mail arrived 15 minutes later than the others, and further, that 10 minutes was a sufficient margin of time between its arrival and the departure of the train from Crewe. Therefore, if they could get all the mails to reach Crewe at 11.35 the train ought to be able to leave at 11.45, which would be a saving of a quarter of an hour. Going a stage further they reached Chester, and the mail would not leave Chester till 12 38, because the Scotch mail, which came down from Scotland to Warrington by the limited mail, and reached there at 11.25, and then was carried on by special Post Office train from Warrington, did not reach Chester till 12.5, thus allowing a margin of 23 minutes. It struck him that there was rather too large a margin left for unpunctuality. They had some right to put some pressure on the railway companies, especially in regard to the mail trains, that they should run their trains a little more punctually. Then came the further question of getting the railway companies further to alter the times of their trains so as to arrive a little earlier in order to give them the extra quarter or half hour they might want. No doubt that necessitated the arrival of no less than five trains a quarter of an hour or 20 minutes earlier. At first sight that might seem a very easy thing, but they ought to recollect, in fairness to the railway companies, that that involved, not an alteration in the running of one train, but of every train which ran in connection with it, and so far threw all their arrangements out of gear. On the other hand, he was bound to say that he could not help thinking that, considering the great privileges which the railway companies possessed, and the large amount of public money paid to them, the Government had some right to expect that they should put themselves to some little inconvenience to meet the public demand in this case; and that being so, he thought he might promise, on the part of the Post Office, that no arrangement should be permanently settled until next Session. That would probably mean that the new arrangement could not come into operation on April 1st. He thought his statement would have shown that the Post Office was anxious to meet the wishes of Irish Members in this respect, and that before any definite arrangement was come to, there would be an opportunity of discussing the whole subject.

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