§ CAPTAIN BAGOT (Westmoreland, Kendal)
I beg to ask the Postmaster General whether, in view of the fact that the Report of the Select Committee on the Telegraphs Bill, on which the agreement between the Post Office and the National Telephone Company is to be founded, was arrived at without any evidence being taken either from any Municipal Corporation or from any representative of the telephone-using public, and that the Committee was appointed on the eve of the Dissolution, he will consider the advisability of the reappointment of the Committee to take further evidence in the interests of the public before concluding the agreement with the National Telephone Company?
§ MR. SAUNDERS (Newington, Walworth)
I beg to ask the Postmaster General if he will give the London County Council an opportunity of considering the proposed agreement with the National Telephone Company before it is completed?
§ SIR J. FERGUSSON (Manchester, N.E.)
I beg to ask the Postmaster General whether, in view of the desire to that effect expressed in several large Provincial centres, he proposes to lay upon the Table the agreement in regard to telephones made with the National Telephone Company before its final conclusion; whether that agreement is in accordance with the heads of agreement signed by his predecessor and with the Report of the Select Committee of 1892; whether it leaves him at his discretion to grant licences to other Companies and to Municipalities; and whether it extends at all the present licence of the National Telephone Company?
§ MR. J. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
I beg to ask the Postmaster General whether, in the proposed agreement between the Post Office and the National Telephone Company, there is any clause which directly or indirectly interferes with the power of the London County Council to establish and carry on at any time hereafter, if licensed, Telephone Exchanges in the Metropolis?
§ THE POSTMASTER GENERAL (Mr. A. MORLEY,) Nottingham, E.
There appears to be some doubt as to what was intended by the Report of the Committee on the Telegraph Bill of 1892. I am informed that some Members of the Committee understood by the words used that the agreement should be laid on the Table before final ratification, while the right hon. Gentleman the late Postmaster General and the right hon. Gentleman the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, both of whom served on the Committee, and the latter of whom was its Chairman, understood and intended the words which were used to mean that Parliament should be informed of the terms of the agreement after it was concluded. My right hon. Friend is aware that the proposed agreement is intended to carry out the policy for which he became responsible, and, indeed, will be the document embodying in legal form the heads of agreement which he 661 settled with the Company, and which were signed by him on behalf of the late Government before he left Office. Under these circumstances, and as I understand he suggests that the document should be laid on the Table of the House before its final conclusion, and considering the difference of opinion which appears to exist as to what was intended by the Report of the Committee, I have decided to take the course suggested, and to lay the proposed agreement on the Table before it is signed. The draft of the agreement is now under the consideration of the Company. I am advised that it is in strict accordance with the heads of agreement, which were, as I have said, signed by my predecessor, and with the Report of the Select Committee, as well as with the Treasury Minute which was laid before Parliament. It in no way limits or affects the discretion of the Postmaster General to grant licences for telephone exchange business. It does not extend the term of the licence of the National Company. It restricts the operations of the Company to specified areas, and withdraws from them the right to establish and work trunk wires between these areas. But it confers on the Company the right to exercise the powers which are conferred on the Postmaster General himself by the Telegraph Acts of 1863 and 1878, and by the provisions in the Telegraph Act, 1892, relating to Provisional Orders. But this right is subjected in every case to the veto of the Local Authorities specified in Section 5 of the Telegraph Act of last Session.
§ SIR J. FERGUSSON
I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether power is given to take up streets without the consent of the Local Authorities?
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the agreement, though it does not give power to take up streets against the 662 wishes of the Local Authority, does exclude any other Body from doing so?
§ MR. A. MORLEY
The agreement does not give any special powers that would not be given to any other licencees.
§ MR. PROVAND (Glasgow, Blackfriars)
If the Telephone Company get these powers will it shut out any competing Company, or the Municipality itself, should it desire to establish telephones?
§ MR. A. C. MORTON (Peterborough)
Will sufficient time be given to Local Authorities to consider the terms of the agreement?
§ MR. HOZIER (Lanarkshire, S.)
Will the right hon. Gentleman kindly arrange to have the agreement considered by the House during the Autumn Sitting, and not during the present Sitting?
§ MR. A. MORLEY
That will depend on when the agreement is made. In reply to the hon. Member for Peterborough, I have to say that there will be ample time for the Local Authorities to consider the agreement.