HL Deb 05 August 1902 vol 112 cc651-8

My Lords, I beg to ask the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he has any information as to the reported offer of the Canadian Pacific Railway to subsidise a fast passenger service across the Atlantic; and whether His Majesty's Government will consider the advisability of establishing a terminal port for such a service on the West Coast of Ireland. In asking this Question, I should like, with the permission of the House and with that kind indulgence which your Lordships always extend to a new Member, to make a few remarks, as the subject-matter of the Question raises considerations of great importance and of great interest, not only to this country and to Ireland, but also to the whole Empire. And, indeed, I am very conscious that it would probably have better become some more experienced Member of your Lordships' House to introduce a topic of such magnitude; but the connection of the subject with Ireland, and my own connection with that country, must be my excuse for doing so. I thought it my duty not to let an occasion such as this pass by, when public attention is so concentrated on this important subject, without at any rate doing my best to draw attention to the question, and especially to one aspect of it which, in my opinion, should very deeply concern the country I come from.

My Question to the noble Earl the Under Secretary for the Colonies naturally divides itself into two parts. Firstly, I ask whether he has any information as to the reported offer of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company to subsidise a fast passenger service across the Atlantic, and I have no doubt that the House will be anxious to hear what the noble Earl has to say on that matter. It is reported in the newspapers that the Canadian Pacific Railway Company have agreed to give a large subsidy towards assisting the establishment and working of a fast passenger service between this country and our great dominion at the other side of the Atlantic. The terminal port on this side of the Atlantic has not, as far as I know, been decided upon; but, on the other side, I understand the port is to be Halifax in the winter months and Quebec in the summer months. In addition to the fast passenger service, I understand that the Canadian Pacific Railway Company have offered to subsidise a slower service for freight purposes. I draw attention to the two classes of service because, in the first place, I notice that certain important bodies, like the Board of Trade at Montreal and others in this country, have highly approved of the idea of subsidising a passenger service, but have not approved of subsidising a freight service; and, in the second place, because this distinction has a very, important bearing on the second half of my Question, for, while I fully recognise the practical difficulty of a freight service starting from the West of Ireland, I hope to show that a port in that part of Ireland would be the very best terminal port for a fast passenger service. In connection with this important offer, I am sure your Lordships recognise how absolutely essential it is, with a view to the consolidation of the Empire, that there should be the very best service between this country and Canada, that it should be the fastest possible service, that it should be frequent, that it should be in British hands and under Admiralty control, capable of being used in time of war, and that it should start from a British port on this side of the Atlantic and arrive at a British port on the other. It must have struck your Lordships as somewhat strange, and as showing that there was something out of gear in the communications of the Empire, that the Governor General of Canada, on returning the other day to the Dominion, had, for very practical reasons, to go to New York in order to get to Quebec, although Canada is much nearer to this country than the States. Further, if, as a certain triumphal arch in this city has never ceased to proclaim, amidst other kaleidoscopic changes, Canada is to be the granary of this country; if the cables that exist in the Northern Atlantic, and are our means of communication with Canada, and thence with Australia, New Zealand, and the East, are to be protected, if our traffic in the Northern Atlantic is to be preserved in time of war, and if the strategical positions of Ireland on this side of the Atlantic and of Newfoundland on the other are to be borne in mind, I believe it is obvious that the power and prestige of England in the Northern Atlantic must be maintained by every means possible. I, therefore, look forward with interest to any information which the noble Earl the Under Secretary can give the House with reference to this part of the Question, and I venture to hope, if he is able to state the attitude of the Government towards this important proposal, that it will be of a favourable nature.

I now turn to the second part of my Question—whether His Majesty's Government will consider the advisability of establishing a terminal port for such a service on the West Coast of Ireland. In making this suggestion I am not making a new suggestion. It was actually tried some forty years ago, and the experiment was extremely successful while it lasted, and it only failed on account of a certain guarantee of the Government of the day not being carried out. I am perfectly well aware that it is no good making this suggestion unless it commends itself to the purely business instincts of the commercial world, and I venture to think it does, and that it would be likely to be a commercial success. If there is to be a fast passenger service across the Northern Atlantic, and if it is to be the fastest possible service, it is obvious that it would have a great advantage as such if it started from the nearest port in this kingdom to Canada, and I say that a port on the West coast of Ireland would be clearly much nearer than any port that could be chosen in this country. Galway, for example, is in direct and straight relationship with Halifax and Quebec on the other side of the Atlantic. Not alone do I say it would be the fastest route because it would be the shortest in geographical distance; there are other reasons which would make it the fastest. A steamer leaving Liverpool or any port on the Western side of this country has to go down the Channel, and the delays caused thereby are well known. The Channel is liable to thick fogs, and is crowded with other Transatlantic liners, coasting steamers, fishing boats, and yachts, and it is well-known that Transatlantic liners cannot go at their proper speed till they have got completely clear of the Irish Channel and St. George's Channel. As it is, even going at a slow rate of speed, collisions take place; and regulations have actually been laid down to prevent Atlantic liners going their full speed. Compare with that a steamer starting from a port on the West coast of Ireland. Why, in a few minutes it would be right out in the open Atlantic, directly facing Canada, and 600 miles to the West of London. That is the second reason why I say that a Transatlantic liner starting from the West of Ireland would be fastest, because it would not suffer from the Channel navigation disadvantages, which cause delay in the case of a steamer starting from the West coast of England. There is a third reason why the speed of a liner leaving a port on the West coast of Ireland would be greater. If such a fast passenger service left Liverpool, must there not be a port of call in Ireland? It would be preposterous and monstrous for it to pass Ireland without landing and taking up her passengers and mails. If, too, you are going to subsidise this line, Ireland would contribute her share of the subsidy; and, therefore, for these reasons, it the line started in England there would have to be a port of call in Ireland, which would be the cause of considerable delay—a delay on occasions, owing to bad weather, of quite threequarters of a day. I contend, therefore, that this would be the fastest route—firstly—because the distance is the shortest; secondly, because the fogs and traffic of the Channel would be avoided; and thirdly, because there would be no necessity for a port of call in Ireland. I believe that such a line would be a great commercial success, and that it would easily win the record. A steamer starting from the West of Ireland would be in Halifax thirty hours before a steamer leaving Liverpool, and this service, would, therefore, attract the passenger traffic, not only of this country, but also of Europe, and the passenger and mail traffic both of Canada and of the United States. It is well-known that in the case of Transatlantic liners it is the record that teils, and that passengers are attracted to the service holding the record. At this moment I believe the record rests with the German ships; but I have no doubt that if this country availed itself of the geographical advantages of Ireland the record could be won back to the British flag, and it would be an invincible one.

There is one other point I should like to refer to in favour of this scheme. I believe that if the scheme were carried out it would not only be a commercial success, but would go a long way towards regenerating Ireland, and giving her new life and new interests, and that with results most beneficial, not only to Ireland, but to England, and to the whole Empire. I think that because it would bring Ireland into the Empire, of which she hears so much but sees so little. What Ireland largely suffers from, in my humble judgment, is being, so to speak, out of the Empire, out of the life, and movement, and progress of the world. In the march of events of modern civilisation Ireland suffers from being placed at a geographical disadvantage. She is a remote and poor island, and in her position, separated from the rest of the world, she is neither in the New World nor in the Old World. She has always seemed to me, in matters connected with the commerce and life of the world, to lie like a derelict in the Atlantic ocean, while all the trade and business of the world passes her shores and avoids her, and while even her own sons have to flee from her abandoned shores as though they were escaping from a sinking vessel. Isolated and insulated to a degree, there is, then, nothing left for us to do in Ireland but to brood over our local troubles, to exaggerate and magnify them into great national questions, and we all are, in consequence, the easy prey of any local excitement or cry of the moment. I believe that here is a great opportunity, worthy of the serious attention of the Government, of remedying that state of affairs.

And I contend that Ireland has a right to be considered in the matter. Ireland pays her full share—some of us. including myself, consider that she pays more than her full share—towards the expenses of the Empire, but she alone of all its members feels she gets no advantage from the Empire—she has no trade to protect—she alone sees no return for the money she contributes and for the blood of her sons so willingly shed in defence of that Empire. She feels that she gets her full share of the kicks, but nothing else. I, therefore, suggest that, in considering the question of the organisation and development of the Empire, Ireland should not be left entirely out in the cold and treated as non-existent, but should be made to share in the prosperity as well as in the adversity of the Empire. If such a project as I have referred to were carried out it would bring Ireland into the swim of the Empire; it would bring her into the thoroughfare of the world; it would give her a commercial status and position which she has not enjoyed for generations; it would raise her eyes to, and inspire her with hope for, the future, and prevent her from always dwelling on the sad memories of the past; it would create a new Ireland, with new ideas, now life, and new enterprise; it would lead to greater prosperity—and whatever tends to make Ireland prosperous I believe tends to make her a component and contented part, both in feeling and in material interest, of the Empire. Disloyalty to the Crown and Empire in Ireland is not a fixed principle; it is not a political dogma. Disloyalty to the Empire in Ireland is a dislike, or perhaps I should say an indifference, to a thing which, in so far as it is a burden, the Irish people feel they do their part in carrying, but which, in so far as it is an advantage and a glory, they have very little means of sharing in or witnessing. If you could associate the interests of Ireland somewhat with the interests of this country, you would find that the feelings of the two countries would not be so opposed. I therefore advocate this question, not only believing in its commercial value, but believing also in its Imperial importance; for, after all, what would help more to the solidarity of the Empire at this moment than to do something which would bring Ireland into harmony with the Empire and make her interested in its advantages and success? It is the bond of mutual interest that binds the colonies to the mother country. Would it not be worth while to seek for some mutual interest that might bind the two sister islands here? I believe this is a great opportunity of doing something in that direction, and that if such a scheme were carried out it would be an act of the very highest statesmanship, because it would go a long way towards not only consolidating an Empire, but also towards uniting a Kingdom.


I wish to say a few words in support of the appeal of my noble friend, and to express the hope that the question of the establishment of a terminal port on the West coast of Ireland may seriously engage the attention of His Majesty's Government. My noble friend lives on the coast of Galway, and is therefore fully aware of the effect of a Westerly gale from the Atlantic; and it is a very serious matter that for so long a distance along the West coast of Ireland there is no place to which a vessel can run for safety. I hope that this line of steamers may be established, because I believe in the advantages which would be deprived from it, not only by Ireland, but by the Empire. Whatever is done, however, I trust that the question of a harbour of refuge in the West of Ireland will receive the consideration of the Government.


The noble Lord who asked this Question was good enough to say that he awaited my reply with much interest, but I am afraid he is doomed to some disappointment. I hope that in days to come there will be others who will reply to Questions like these connected with our colonies. A few moments ago I saw the noble Lord the High Commissioner for Canada in the House, and I think that, if it had been in accordance with Parliamentary practice, this Question could more properly have been addressed to him, because, so far as His Majesty's Government are aware, there is no official communication as to any negotiations which are going on between the Canadian Pacific Railway Company and the Government of Canada. They have reason to believe that these negotiations are in progress, but what the nature of them is, or whether they are likely to lead to a satisfactory conclusion, the Government are in complete ignorance. I can only say that, as far as the general question is concerned, naturally His Majesty's Government look with favour on the establishment of a fast service between the United Kingdom and any part of the Dominion; but this particular question is one which affects the Government of the Dominion and the Canadian Pacific Company. I am afraid that I have no information to give to the noble Lord. The second part of the Question put to me was whether, in the event of such a service being established, the Government would take into consideration the claims of the West coast of Ireland, more particularly Galway. No doubt these claims will be taken into consideration. But I believe that there are other ports of the United Kingdom which claim equal consideration. If the noble Lord and others interested in other ports in Ireland—Bantry Bay in particular—and those interested in Liverpool, Southampton, and other places desirous of urging the respective claims of different ports as a port of departure from this country care to come together, the Government will be glad to form a ring round and see a fair fight out.