HC Deb 04 September 1893 vol 16 cc1868-71

I beg to ask the Postmaster General whether the Department make it a condition of any new licence that the telephone system be constructed entirely of twin wires or metallic circuits so that there may be an assurance of its efficiency; whether he is aware that in the large cities the present system of a single wire with au earth return is causing great dissatisfaction; whether his attention has been drawn to the serious loss the Telegraph Department is suffering owing to the extended use of the telephone in the cities and crowded areas from which the profitable part of the revenue for telegraphs is derived; and how he proposes to protect the public interest?


By the terms of the Treasury Minute of the 23rd May, 1892, in the event of a licence being given to a new company, one of the conditions would he that their system must be constructed of metallic circuits. With reference to the remainder of the question, I may say that I am engaged in carrying out the policy of the late Government, who had before them expressions of public dissatisfaction, as well as the question of the effect of the telephone system on the telegraph revenue. It was no doubt with the intention of protecting the public interest that they decided to acquire the Trunk Telephone Lines and to place certain additional facilities at the disposal of the public. Their proposals were considered and approved by the House of Commons.

MR. A. O'CONNOR(for Mr. HOOAN () Tipperary, Mid

I bog to ask the Postmaster General whether the policy of the Department, with reference to the granting of Telephone Exchange liconcos is that no new licence should be granted unless with the consent of Corporations and Municipal Authorities; and, if so, if any application has been made with such consent; what statutory powers, if any, the present private Telephone Company possess; and whether, in pursuance of the policy recommended by the Treasury in their Minute of 23rd May, 1892, which stated that the object was to meet, as far as possible, the views of Municipal Authorities, any application has been made by a Corporation; and, if so, from what Corporation?


In answer to the first paragraph, I would refer the hon. Member t i the Treasury Minute laid before the House of Commons on the 27th May, 1892— For a licence to establish an Exchange in a particular town no application will be entertained unless a formal resolution in its favour has been passed by the Corporation, or other Municipal Authority, and evidence given that there is sufficient capital subscribed to carry out the undertaking. In one case, a resolution of this kind, qualified by conditions, has been conveyed to me by the applicant for a licence. The Telephone Companies possess no statutory powers. Application for a licence has been made by the Corporation of Glasgow.


I beg to ask the Postmaster General whether he has any objection to state the period for which the agreement with the National Telephone Company will be made; and whether the maximum rate to subscribers will be inserted in the agreement?

MR. CAYZER (Barrow-in-Furness)

I beg at the same time, to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will undertake to submit the agreement negotiated between the Department and the National Telephone Company to Parliament for approval, in order that its terms may be properly considered in the public interest; and whether, in view of the fact that a twin wire metallic circuit is absolutely necessary, he is making the adoption of such system by the present Private Company operating the telephones a condition in the agreement he is negotiating with such company?


Perhaps I may be allowed to answer both questions at the same time. I would explain that it is not proposed to confer a new licence on the company; the date for the termination of their licence is the 31st December, 1911, and that date will remain undisturbed. So also will the freedom they at present exercise in fixing their charges for Telephone Exchange wires. The main object of the new agreement is the purchase of the Trunk Lines and the consequent withdrawal of the right of the company to erect and work such lines. As to the submission of the agreement to Parliament, I must refer to the answers which I gave in this House on the 31st July and the 18th and 31st ultimo. In answer to a question I have received from my hon. Friend the Member for the Blackfriars Division of Glasgow, I have to say that this not being a new licence to the Telephone Company, I have no power to insist on a double metallic system.


In view of this answer and of an answer previously given by the Postmaster General on this subject, to the effect that the agreement would be laid on the Table of the House when completed, in accordance with the recommendation of the Committee, I desire to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is not a fact that the recommendation of the Committee did not include the words "when completed." Did the Committee, in the view of the right hon. Gentleman, intend that the agreement should be laid on the Table only after it was completed?


I have referred to the recommendations of the Committee, and I take it that that is so.


Do I understand that the right hon. Gentleman considers the Committee recommended that the Report should only be laid on the Table when it would be useless to the House?

MR. A. C. MORTON (Peterborough)

Do I understand that these matters will not prevent Municipal Authorities from getting licences?


There is nothing to interfere with that at all.

MR. PROVAND (Glasgow, Blackfriars)

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the words "when completed" were in the Report, and, if so, whore?


I did not profess to give the exact words of the Report. I only gave the effect of the Committee's Report—that the details of the agreement would be carried out on the responsibility of the Government, and that the agreement would be laid on the Table.


Is this agreement not the same as other agreements, such as for mail contracts and telegraphic service over the sea, which are always signed when laid before the House, but do not take effect until this House has signified acceptance of it?


No, Sir. In those cases I believe it is done in accordance with Statute.


Is it not by Standing Order of the House?


May I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman received a deputation from Glasgow, and what answer has been given?


The Memorial dealt with two matters, and my answer was that the whole matter would receive the careful consideration of the Government as soon as the purchase of the Trunk Lines had been completed.