HC Deb 23 June 1868 vol 192 cc1978-80

THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER moved to nominate the Select; Committee on the Electric Telegraphs Bill.


said, he regretted the absence of his hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Leeman). There appeared to be no Member connected with the telegraph companies on the Committee, nor any one to watch over the public interest in regard to a free system of telegraphy. He should move some additional names to-morrow.

Motion agreed to.


said, he rose to move the Instructions of which he had given Notice.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That it be an Instruction to the Select Committee on the Electric Telegraphs Bill to inquire,—

  1. "1. Whether it is desirable that the transmission of messages for the public should become a legal monopoly in the Post Office:
  2. "2. Whether it should be left to the discretion of the Postmaster General to make special agreements for the transmission of messages or news at reduced rates:
  3. "3. What securities should be taken for insuring the secrecy of messages transmitted through the Post Office:
  4. "4. What arrangements should be made for the working of submarine cables to foreign countries; and,
  5. "5. To hoar such Telegraph and Railway Companies and Proprietors as shall by petition, on or before the 26th instant, have prayed to be heard by themselves, their counsel or agent against such of the matters referred to the Committee as affect their particular interests?"—(Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.)


said, it was desirable that the functions of the Committee should not be so much narrowed; but that they should investigate whether the interests of the public would be subserved by the transfer of these telegraphs entirely to the public. That was a great question, and it was not one between the telegraph companies on the one hand, who did not wish to sell, and the Government on the other, who desired to acquire the telegraphs. A much larger question than that recognized by the Instructions had to be considered—whether it was expedient that this monopoly should be given to the Executive Go- vernment. It admitted of much being said on both sides; and although, it was assumed by the Government that but one answer could be given, there were different opinions, both in that House and out of it, and a wish for further information. The presumption in this country was in favour of private enterprize, and was not in favour of any undertakings in the nature of a Government monopoly. The onus probandi, as in other analogous cases, was upon those who maintained that the Government ought to have possession of this great system; and he doubted whether the Instructions were such as to enable the truth to be brought out in the fullest manner before the Committee. There was a great difficulty in getting out the truth before a Committee, unless there were hostile interests at work in the Committee, whose business it was to exert themselves to bring out the truth by conflict. If, on the other hand, the Committee were to be left to fish out the truth for themselves, they would be unable to get it. [" Divide."] He did not propose to divide the House, but the matter was most important, and one in which the public interests were deeply concerned. He should move, instead of limiting the powers of the Committee, as was done by the last clause, to leave out the words "such of the matters referred to the Committee as affect their particular interests," and insert the words "the Preamble and Clauses of the Bill." The effect would be that the parties interested in opposing the transfer would have liberty to state their objections at large to the transfer, and to bring up all the objections that might be entertained on the part of the public, as well as of those particular interests.

Amendment proposed, in last paragraph, To leave out the words "such of the matters referred to the Committee as affect their particular interests," in order to insert the words "the Preamble and Clauses of the Bill,"—(Mr. Bouverie,) —instead thereof.


said, he hoped the House would not assent to this Amendment. The first four paragraphs provided for information on the part of the public into those matters which it was thought should be inquired into. He consented on the second reading to move the 5th Instruction, which was less restrictive than it originally stood. The words of this Instruction were in the hands of the opponents of the Bill the whole evening; and the hon. Member for York (Mr. Leeman), who moved the rejection of the Bill, was in consultation with and represented all the parties concerned. The Government were informed by the representatives of these parties that he was acting for them; and the Instruction received the fullest assent of the opponents of the Bill. He believed that the interests of the companies were fully protected, because they would be heard on all matters affecting them, and an inquiry into the general question of policy would be sufficiently provided by the first four paragraphs of the Instructions.


said, that the words of the 5th Instruction now proposed to be omitted were the subject of consultation, and were those in framing which the greatest care was taken. If the House were to appoint a Committee to inquire into a public question and were then to pay counsel to appear before the Committee, the whole of their legislation would soon become a matter for counsel to be heard on one side and on the other. The Members of the Select Committee were perfectly capable of dealing with the public interests without employing counsel to appear before them to get out the truth, although the latter should be heard on behalf of private interests.


said, that the Committee would have power to consider the Preamble of the Bill, and that the Amendment of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Bouverie) would not be of advantage to the parties.


said, as he understood the matter, the parties would be allowed to be heard against the Preamble of the Bill, using arguments with regard to their particular interests.


said, he concurred in what had fallen from the hon. and learned Member for Tower Hamlets.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.

Main Question put, and agreed to.