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Telegraphic Communication (England And Ireland)

Volume 203: debated on Tuesday 12 July 1870

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Resolution

, in rising to call attention to the unsatisfactory state of the Telegraphic communication between England and Ireland, and especially between London and Dublin; and to move a Resolution, said, that great dissatisfaction on this subject prevailed in Ireland, and referred to meetings which had been held in Dublin to give expression to that feeling. Dublin was the only place in the United Kingdom, except London, which had an independent Stock Exchange, at which the public funds were registered and transferred; and it was of very great importance that there should be perfect telegraphic communication between the two places, so that the price of the funds in both might be identical. Formerly, the telegraphic communication between London and Dublin was almost instantaneous, and brokers in Dublin were in the habit of getting business transacted in London for their clients, which they could do by means of the telegraph, on the same day. But since the telegraphs had come into the hands of the Government there had been such delays that business of that kind could not be transacted with certainty, and the brokers lost their profits. The members of the Dublin Stock Exchange were much dissatisfied with this, and they had forwarded to him (Mr. Pim) a copy of a resolution adopted at a meeting of their body, in which they said they could no longer refrain from expressing their strong disapprobation of the utterly inefficient manner in which the telegraphic communication between England and Leland had been carried on since the transfer of the telegraphs to the Government. Several cases of very unusual delay had been reported to him, as, for instance, a message sent from Dublin to Liverpool at 12 o'clock on the 20th of June, but which was not delivered till the morning of the 21st. It had long been the practice for the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company to send messages from Dublin to Holyhead, stating the number of passengers who were crossing in the steam boats, in order that the requisite number of carriages might be prepared for them in the train at Holyhead. But since the telegraphic service had been in the hands of the Government, the superintendent of the Holyhead station said the messages were of no use, for they seldom arrived in less than six hours, whereas the boats accomplished the voyage in four. He had never known in Dublin so strong a feeling of disappointment, and annoyance as on this matter, and he had, therefore, thought it his duty to call the attention of the House to the subject. It was said in Dublin that all this was done on purpose to disgust the Irish people with the idea of Government management not only in the matter of the telegraphs, but still more with reference to the railways, the purchase of which had been so strongly pressed on the Government by many people in Ireland. There were only two telegraphic cables between Great Britain and Ireland, containing altogether 11 wires. Both these had lately been out of order, though not both at the same time. He understood that it was proposed to lay down another cable, containing seven wires, between Liverpool and Howth, so that there would then be 18; but he asked if that was enough, considering that the telegraph to America went from Ireland. This was a grievance that ought to be immediately redressed—it was a question deeply interesting, not only to the Irish people, but to the people of Great Britain, and the Government ought at once to take it in hand. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving his Resolution.

, in seconding the Motion, said, he had received many representations from his constituents as to the present imperfect state of telegraphic communication, especially with Ireland, and assured the Postmaster General that there was a feeling on the part of the community that this communication was not what they had a right to expect. With every wish to make allowance for the difficulties of the Department, he hoped some improvement would soon be made in the service. The real reason for the bad service was probably that the Post Office was trying to carry on an extended service at too low rates, and that the rates should have been lowered more gradually. In his own experience he sent a message to Liverpool at 11 in the forenoon, and he did not get an answer till half-past 3 in the afternoon, and on the same day he received at 3 a message from Bombay which had left at 4 on that afternoon. Of course, the difference in latitude made the difference in time; but it was monstrous that so long a time should be consumed between London and Liverpool. There were minor reasons why the delivery in London was not so satisfactory now as it formerly was. The boys in the service of the companies used to be sent out with messages one by one as they arrived, and each boy received 1d. for each message he delivered. In this way, the boys were interested in the prompt delivery of the messages, and they earned their pennies as quickly as possible and returned to the offices in the hope of earning others. But now not only was the system altered and the stimulating penny withheld, but the boys were kept at the offices until they could be sent out with several messages at a time. Again, each company had its own offices, and there were four in Mincing Lane; now the offices were consolidated, and sometimes there were so many people at one office waiting to give in messages that the crush was like that at the door of a theatre on a benefit night. These were two sources of dissatisfaction which might be remedied by a little more liberality of expenditure.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That it is of great importance to maintain uninterrupted Telegraphic Communication between Great Britain and Ireland; and, therefore, inasmuch as Submarine Telegraphic Wires are very liable to accident, and cannot be repaired as readily as those on land, it is necessary, in order to guard against interruption and delay, to lay down additional Submarine Cables sufficient to maintain the communication unimpaired under all circumstances which can reasonably be anticipated."—(Mr. Pim.)

admitted the importance of the subject, and said it was quite unnecessary for the hon. Member for Dublin (Mr. Pim) to tell him that it had created great excitement in that city. With respect to the meeting of the Chamber of Commerce of Dublin, the proceedings thereat were characteristic of the country, for care was taken to pass the general resolution which had been read before the meeting had heard the explanations of the gentlemen deputed to represent the Department, and some of the speakers exhibited a very considerable turn for that which had been called on the other side of the House one of the principal ornaments of debate—namely, a considerable knowledge of invective. One of them spoke of the impudent Postmaster General humbugging them, and said they did not want his law, but justice; and the only foundation for these remarks was this—that when he was asked a question as to legal liability, he expressed an opinion which was not exactly in accordance with that of the hon. Member who put it, advising the hon. Member not to take his word for it but to consult a lawyer. He was willing to admit that since the transfer of the telegraphs to the Government there had been constant, though not daily delays, which were much to be regretted; and one of the causes of them was the enormous and unexpected increase in the number of messages. Of course, it was always expected that there would be a great increase; but it was not anticipated that it would be so sudden as it had been. To show the increase, he might state that in the six working days previous to the transfer 4,791 messages were sent from Ireland to England. In six working days of April, two months after the transfer, when it was known that one of the two cables was broken, the number of messages was 12,375, being an advance in the daily average from 798 to 2,062. It was obvious that such an enormous increase of work would have overtaxed the Department under any circumstances; but the communication between England and Ireland had been interfered with twice since the transfer by the breaking of the Wexford Cable, which threw all the work on the remaining cable. But this occurred five times under the companies, who, on one occasion, took six weeks to repair the cable, while the Government had always effected the repair in five or ton days. When these breakages occurred the Department exhibited conspicuously in the offices notices printed in large type, warning persons not to send any but the most urgent messages; but these notices had not the slightest effect, the senders stating that the difficulty was not their business, and that the Department must send the messages as it best could. Under these circumstances, it was not to be wondered at that stoppages had occasionally occurred; but it was not true that these delays had been owing to the neglect of remonstrances made by Members of Parliament. On the contrary, the Department had done all in its power to remedy what was complained of. It had greatly improved the transmitting powers of the wires between London and Ireland by attaching improved instruments to them; it had also sent a large number of improved instruments to Ireland; and in all this there was no more delay than was inseparable from the manufacture of the instruments, the supply of which would be continued as long as it appeared to be necessary. With respect to the insufficiency of the cables, he had great pleasure in stating that tenders had been advertised for and received, and in a few days he should be in a position to ask the Treasury to sanction a contract for a new cable. It would have been of no use to have done this earlier, because the Department had had to provide for an enormous increase of work not only between England and Ireland, but throughout the whole United Kingdom, and it was not in possession of sufficient materials, stores, and skilled labour to do all that was wanted. It would have been of no use to lay down a cable of seven wires until additional land wires were laid down between the large towns, and the latter provision having now been made, a new cable could be turned to good account. An enormous amount of business had been thrown on the Department, and it would be admitted that it was impossible for it to undertake not only the ordinary business, but also extensions of the serious character which were suggested at the very first moment of the commencement of its duties. With regard to the memorial referred to by the hon. Member for the City of London, he frankly admitted that very great delay had constantly occurred in the transmission of messages between England and Ireland, but many of the representations on the subject were greatly exaggerated. In some instances, he believed, there had been a delay of three or four hours; but, on the whole, it had been found that in respect of messages sent before 12 o'clock the average delay was 45 minutes, and in respect of messages sent after that hour the average delay was 19 minutes. It should be remembered that many of these messages were sent to most distant towns in Ireland, and had to be retransmitted more than once. So that those delays, though serious, could not be considered to justify the very strong language which had been used with regard to them. His hon. Friend appeared to think that the delay was owing to undue economy, with the view of making the telegraphic service pay. Though, of course, it was a great object of the Department to present a good balance-sheet, still that desire had not hitherto presented obstacles to the rapid transmission of messages. So far from discharging competent clerks, as was generally supposed to be the case, the Department had omitted no effort not only to keep every efficient man and woman in its employment, but also to attract to the service efficient clerks, who had previously left it, and in London and at various provincial stations, and at Dublin, where schools were established for instruction in telegraphy, was using the best means to increase the staff at its disposal. The staff which the Department found in the employment of the telegraphic companies consisted of 2,418 clerks, and upwards of 1,400 messengers; but at the present moment the Department employed 2,935 clerks and 2,280 messengers, and those numbers did not include a large number of postmasters in the country, who were competent to undertake the duty of transmitting telegraphic messages. It was, however, admitted that the staff was not sufficient, and every effort was being made to secure a number of employés equal to the wants of the service. In reference to the complaint respecting the diminution in the number of offices, he would observe that in one or two instances the Department had consolidated offices because it was found that under the old system, when one company opened an office in any street, another company felt it necessary to open a competing office in the same street; but by the offices being now more widely separated, a greater accommodation was afforded to the public. For some cause the transfer of the telegraphs to the Government had not been satisfactory to the mercantile community, though merchants and the Stock Exchange had very little to complain of, yet he believed the public at large had gained what the mercantile community had lost. The immense increase in the number of messages showed that the service, if not all that could be desired, was a great accommodation and convenience to the public. But the Post Office would not be satisfied with quantity so long as there was a deficiency in quality; and no means would be left untried to obtain efficiency to the same degree as existed previously, or to a still greater degree. If the public would only extend patience to the Department, a very short time would elapse before they would no longer have any reason to complain.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.