Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [9th June], "That the Bill be now read a second time;" and which Amendment was—
To leave out from the words "That the" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "question of the expediency of purchasing the Telegraphs by the State be referred to a Select Committee,"—(Mr. Leeman,)
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, it would be unnecessary to pursue the debate upon this Bill, as he understood the hon. Member for York (Mr. Leeman) was desirous of withdrawing his Amendment, in order that 1806 another Motion, to the terms of which he had agreed, might be substituted for it. As he understood the matter, the House by reading the Bill a second time would not be taken to express any opinion upon the Bill, the subject of which it was proposed to inquire into. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER dissented.] The right hon. Gentleman shook his head; but it was a matter of indifference to him what his opinion upon the subject might be.
§ MR. HORSFALL
said, he hoped that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not agree to any arrangement with regard to this Bill until after its second reading. The subject was one of great importance to the commercial interest of the country, and any delay with regard to it would be regarded with great jealousy.
§ MR. CHILDERS
said, that being himself favourable to the Bill he had been in communication with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and hon. Members who took an opposite line, with a view to prevent delay in its discussion upstairs. He thought the best course would be to read the Bill a second time, on the understanding that it should be referred to a Select Committee, to be constituted in the way in which Hybrid Committees usually were; but special Instructions should be given that they should make inquiries with reference to the questions put with so much force the other night by the right hon. Member for South Lancashire—namely, the question of monopoly; that of the power of the Government to make less charges to the Press and other bodies than were to be paid by the public generally; provisions for secresy and for assuring the public as to the telegraph not being abused by Government for political purposes; the dealing with submarine cables and so forth. He had prepared Instructions which had received the concurrence of both parties, and which the Chancellor of the Exchequer would move.
§ MR. LEEMAN
said, he was somewhat disappointed with the course that, had been pursued by the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Childers), who, he understood, was to have proposed a Motion to be substituted in lieu of the one he had intended to withdraw. He trusted that the hon. Gentleman would propose the Resolution in his possession, and in the readiness of the House to adopt it he was perfectly ready to withdraw his Amendment.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that to the proposal of the hon. Gentleman that the whole subject 1807 of the Post Office and Telegraphs be referred to a Select Committee he should have objected, because it would have had the effect of postponing the question for another year. He had consented to the proposal for a reference of the Bill to a Hybrid Committee; and as there were some points which such a Committee could not ordinarily very well consider, he had expressed in private, and now expressed in public, his willingness that they should receive certain Instructions. He proposed that they should inquire whether it was desirable that the transmission of messages should become a Post Office monopoly, whether news or messages should be furnished at reduced rates, the secresy of messages, arrangements for working the submarine cables, and for hearing the telegraph companies by counsel. He understood that his hon. Friend was satisfied that the Bill should be referred to the Committee with those Instructions, and he was perfectly ready to move a Resolution to that effect. He would not be so discourteous as to retort upon the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets, and say that it was immaterial to him what construction the hon. Member chose to put on the arrangement. What he did believe, however, was that the House, by assenting to the second reading of the Bill, would simply acknowledge that they did not object on public grounds to the Post Office working telegraphs, leaving the question of private interests entirely to the decision of the Committee.
§ MR. BOUVERIE
said, he did not think it right that the House should be supposed by consenting to the second reading to be committed to such a principle as that suggested by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If the course now proposed were adopted, it should be on the understanding that the object was one of inquiry, and that the House had not assented to the principle now contended for.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he thought he had been misunderstood. He did not ask the House to say that there was no objection to the Post Office taking possession of the telegraphs belonging to existing companies, but to affirm the principle that there was no objection on public grounds to the Post Office working telegraphs.
§ MR. ALDERMAN LAWRENCE
said, he did not think the public interests ought to be handed over to a Department. A Parliamentary Inquiry ought to have pre- 1808 ceded this movement. He strongly condemned the Bill, and wished to know if it was intended by the Government to act in the same way to other industries in the country?
§ MR. NORWOOD
pointed out the position in which a portion of the provincial Press would be placed in case this Bill were postponed to another Session. Three-fourths or four-fifths of the newspapers in the provinces had supported the measure, and the result of this was that several of the proprietors had been threatened and intimidated by the Telegraph Company. In one case, for instance, a newspaper in Belfast had presumed to publish an article approving this measure, whereupon a letter was received from the secretary, in London, containing the following paragraph:—The time appears to have arrived when the directors should seriously consider whether the contract with your journal should be continued, and I have no doubt they will come to a decision which may afford you an opportunity of making your own news arrangements on less exorbitant terms.This was not the only case of the kind that had occurred, for a similar threat had been employed towards a paper in Yorkshire, though, in consequence of the lateness of the hour, he should not dwell upon them any further. He trusted, however, that the Government would, in any case, bring in a short Bill for the purpose of affording protection to the provincial Press against the consequences which appeared likely to ensue from their having supported the Government proposal.
§ MR. AYRTON
explained that in what he had said awhile ago he did not intend any discourtesy to the right hon. Gentleman. All that he meant was, that he and those who agreed with him reserved to themselves the fullest liberty to discuss the matter when the Committee had made their Report.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
thought it important to guard against the Government obtaining a dangerous monopoly in their control of telegraphic communications. Seeing the doubts that had been expressed on both sides, he did not think it possible that the Report of the Committee should be accepted by the House without discussion.
§ MR. MAGUIRE
said, he had understood that the Government would not bring on this Bill after 12 o'clock. He could not understand how the House could be asked to read the Bill a second time 1809 without assenting to its principle. The string of subjects to be inquired into as suggested by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, could not be settled for months. He begged, therefore, to move that the debate be now adjourned.
§ MR. BONHAM-CARTER
asked if the Bill was a Hybrid Bill, who was to represent the public? If the Bill was referred to a Hybrid Committee the House would not commit itself to the principle, because the Preamble would have to be proved before the Committee.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he had got the best assistance in the House in connection with this subject. He found that by moving the Instructions in the form he had stated everything necessary would he done, and he believed the public interests would be just as effectually protected as the interests of private persons.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned,"—(Mr. Maguire,)—put, and negatived.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed to a Select Committee.
§ And, on June 23, Committee nominated as follows:—Mr. CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER, Mr. GOSCHEN, Sir FREDERICK HEYGATE, Mr. LEEMAN, Mr. CHARLES TURNER, Mr. NORWOOD, and Five Members to be added by the Committee of Selection:—Power to send for persons, papers, and records; Five to be the quorum.
§ House adjourned at half after Two o'clock,