§ SUPPLY—Order for Committee read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ MR. J. W. BENN (Tower Hamlets, St. George's)
proposed—to leave out from the word 'That,' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'a Select Committee be appointed to consider the proposed draft agreement between the Postmaster General and the National Telephone Company, and report with reference to the monopoly which may thereby he created; the granting of telephone licences to municipalities and generally on the future policy of the Post office with reference to the extension of the telephone service.'Having expressed regret that the Post master General could leave to the accident of the ballot and the energy of a private Member the provision of an opportunity for discussing this important matter, the hon. Member said the agreement in question grew out of a policy which was declared in March, 1892, by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer The desire was to make the telephone service more useful in the country, and the late Chancellor of the Exchequer said—The trunk lines will he taken over by the Government, leaving to the localities the working of the local exchanges. If thin is done, I believe the public will be better served than if the Government take over the whole business because there will be a competition in the localities to serve the public as well as it can be served.The right hon. Gentleman further said the local authorities might, be willing to undertake the telephone business them selves, and he saw nothing contrary to the Government policy in such a proposal. In a Treasury Minute of 23rd May it was said—the intention is to meet, as far as possible, the views of municipal authorities.The next step was the Telegraphs Bill, 208 which was introduced in May and rushed through the House by June. The London County Council protested against the haste in passing that Bill, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for London University asked that the reference to the Committee should contain the important words "and send for persons, papers, and records." Unfortunately those words were omitted, but the Select Committee, which consisted of two representatives of the Post Office and three representatives of the telephone companies, were evidently conscious of the omission, because in their report they said—All the arrangements must rest with the Government, but the Committee think that the agreement should be laid before Parliament.The heads of the arrangements were initialled on 11th August, 1892, and he was very anxious the House should regard them as merely a provisional document and as in no sense a binding document. Although inquiries were made for it, hon. Members had not the privilege of seeing the document until 1894, arid when it was produced with the agreement in the midst of the holidays, when it was impossible for municipal authorities in the House to express an opinion. The agreement was only deferred after considerable pressure had been brought upon the Government. It was a very serious document, because it brought them face to face with a new and unrestricted monopoly which, in regard to the telephone service, meant increased charges, the killing of competition, the death of municipalised telephones, a vexatious interference with public rights, and, what was more important than all, the prospect of paying through the nose in 17 years' time for a gigantic property. The Postmaster General told a deputation of the London County Council that he regarded the agreement as a sealed and settled document; he said it was solemnly signed and could not be departed from. In reply to a deputation from the Association of municipal corporations, the right hon. Gentleman said that new conditions could not now be imposed on the Telephone Company. He submitted that the draft agreement could not be regarded in any such light. In the first instance it was an agreement between three 209 parties—the Post Office, the National Telephone Company, and the New Telephone Company—and what happened between the signing of the heads of arrangement and the presentation of the draft agreement to the House? The National Telephone Company absorbed the New Telephone Company, and thus the monopoly was created. He was certain that if the Committee which considered the question had been face to face with one company no such heads of arrangement would have been sanctioned, and he asserted that a company which endeavoured to get behind a Committee of the House of Commons by secretly buying up an opposition company was not entitled to any consideration at the hands of the House. It was perfectly ridiculous to regard the document as a solemn document when one of the parties to the agreement acted in such an extraordinary and improper manner. If the document was of the settled and sacred nature which the Postmaster General seemed to think it was, why was it not placed on the Table of the House in 1892, so that the municipalities might have an early opportunity of considering it. It was perfectly competent for the House to regard the document merely as a provisional arrangement, and he submitted that the subsequent action of the National Telephone Company deprived the heads of the arrangement of anything in the nature of a sealed and settled contract. The Postmaster General seemed to strongly deprecate competition. It was a very inconvenient thing to have two or three exchanges in any town or city, but it must be evident to the House that competition was the only protection the public had against high charges, and that if competition disappeared they must have clauses as to maximum charges, as to the limitation of dividends, as to the obligation of supply. In this case they had nothing of the kind. What was a very unfortunate feature of the case was, that the Post Office and the National Telephone Company had gone into partnership in a monopoly of a most objectionable kind. He thought it was a very important point in this question that they should know how much the public had to pay for the luxury of allowing the Post Office to be associated with the National 210 Telephone Company. The hon. Member then quoted the figures, showing the increased charges under the new arrangement with regard to long and short distances, and pointed out that the great bulk of the business—75 per cent.—had to do with the shorter and not longer distances. In Sweden the charges were much lower than here, and surely they could do in a country like England what was done in Sweden. What was proposed to be charged £10 to£20 in London was done in Manchester for £6 and in Stockholm for £4. The question which immediately concerned him was the charge in London. Other Members could speak for other parts of the country, but for London this was a matter of great importance. One-seventh of the business of the Company emanated from the Metropolis. The County Council looked on this as so grave a matter that they came to the conclusion that, as far as the local service was concerned, they could secure a much better service than that rendered by the National Telephone Company at half the price. If they looked on that entirely with regard to subscriptions it meant a saving of£50,000 a year. No wonder the County Council regarded the matter as one of great importance. They considered that the service was a disgrace to the country, and that it was due to this fact that comparatively few persons bothered with the Telephone Company. It was not, however, so much a matter of pounds, shillings, and pence as a matter of going back upon great principles. Some of them believed that municipalities worthy of the name should own and control enterprises having anything to do with the breaking up or the using of the streets. It was incredible that a new monopoly should be entertained for a moment. The telephone system might become not only a luxury, but as great a boon as the penny post itself. He should submit once more the proposition with which he started. He had said that this proposed agreement was distinctly contrary to the policy of the Government. Municipalities had not had an opportunity of considering it. He submitted that the agreement could not be regarded as validly and that it was wholly prejudicial to the best interests of the people at large. He knew it was difficult for those on the Front Benches 211 to conceive such a position, but this was just one of those occasions on which private Members might come to the rescue of the Front Benches. It was the duty of private Members who had an interest in municipalities to go into the Lobby in support of his Motion in order that this matter might be thoroughly considered, and one of the greatest monopolies ever proposed inquired into. The hon. Member concluded by moving his Resolution.
§ CAPTAIN J. F. BAGOT (Westmorland, Kendal)
in seconding the Motion, said, that in this matter they were behind every other country in the world. The development of the telephone in comparison with commerce was almost at a standstill, and the agreement which was being that night considered was looked upon with almost universal dissatisfaction by, he thought he might say, all their large towns and municipalities. Competition was entirely debarred and a gigantic monopoly was established. The Postmaster General stated that it was very desirable that there should be no Competition, and that it would be rather disadvantageous to the best interests of the telephone service. Surely the objections raised might very easily be obviated? He thought there was good cause for not looking upon the present agreement as similar to that made by the late Government three years ago. In the first place the position of affairs since that time had entirely changed. In the second place, the terms of the present draft agreement seemed to go beyond the Treasury minute, and they also seemed to go beyond the information which was given to Parliament by the responsible Ministers at that time. With regard to the first point, when the Postmaster General and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the late Government settled this question with the Telephone companies, there were two groups of companies in existence, and they held several licences. Since that time, the National Telephone Company had bought up and acquired all the others, and consequently had an entire monopoly. This made the present position entirely different from that of three years ago. With regard to the second point, that was that the present policy which was to be carried out by the Postmaster General differed in a very material respect from 212 the policy of the Ministers who made the arrangement three years ago. He would like to quote what was said on this subject of competition by the late Postmaster General. Speaking on March 22, 1892, he said:—Wherever the Local Authorities are satisfied that a Telephone Exchange is desirable in their area, and the Government is satisfied that the licensees are in a position to carry out the undertaking, and that it is in the public interest desirable that they should have a licence, then it will be granted for that area.That was the policy of the late Postmaster General, and to that the policy of the present Postmaster General was diametrically opposed. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackpool, speaking a few days afterwards, on March 29, said:—It is because these Companies have amalgamated, and make no competition worthy of the name, that the establishment of a different system has become necessary, and the Government have intervened to secure the development of the system of exchanges and the connections with the trunk lines. There is no reason why new companies should not be formed to create new exchanges. I have not the least doubt that in a very short time we shall hear of the establishment of new companies and new exchanges. I know of two or three which are only waiting for the settlement of this policy to start.The hon. member for the Tower Hamlets had quoted a statement, which entirely carried out the quotations he had given, by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the late Government, who most distinctly said that there was nothing contrary to the Government policy in the suggestion made in the course of the discussion, that the Local Authorities might be willing to undertake the telephone business themselves. He thought those quotations distinctly showed, in the first place, that it was intended by the late Government, when they formulated this agreement, that free competition was desirable in the public interest, and that it should be carried out. They also showed that private Companies and Local Authorities should be granted licences, subject to the terms of the Treasury minute, and that the Postmaster General was determined to re-create competition where it did not exist. That, he contended, was a policy entirely different from what they understood to be the policy of the present 213 Postmaster General. There was no doubt that, under the present agreement, if carried into law, a gigantic monopoly would be established. They had been told that this was a rich man's question. The Postmaster General had said so in answer to a deputation from the County Council, and he appeared to think that the only people who used the telephone were those who could afford to pay for licences. That did not appear to be a very good argument. He thought that a question which was, undoubtedly, of the very greatest commercial interest, could not, in any sense, be looked upon as merely a rich man's question. Every working man and every poor man was surely just as much interested in every thing that affected the commercial supremacy of the country as a rich man. So far as the country was concerned, this question was of supreme importance. Anybody who had lived in America or Canada would know that almost every house was connected by telephone with the nearest country town, and he was perfectly certain that, in these days, when there was a great deal of depression in trade and agriculture, and when trade was said to be going out of the country towns, largely owing to the parcel post, which made it easy to send to London for an article, such communication was very necessary, and would he the cause of much more business being done in the country towns. At this time of day, when it was the universal opinion of the country that large private monopolies should not be allowed, it did seem to him that for the Government deliberately to create a new and important private monopoly, was a policy which he could not describe as anything but disastrous.
§ THE POSTMASTER GENERAL (Mr. ARNOLD MORLEY,) Nottingham, E.
said, the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had dealt with matters he would have to refer to in the course of his remarks; but he could not help thinking that his speech would have been much more appropriate to the Telegraph Bill of 1892. The Amendment before the House dealt with three subjects. It proposed, first of all, to refer to a committee the agreement between the Post Office and the Telephone Company; secondly, it dealt with the question of municipal licences; and, thirdly, with 214 the future policy of the department. The first of these three points referred to what he might call the past history of the telephone question, and he proposed to deal with that first, because upon that subject he was sorry to say he could not agree with the proposal of the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman introduced the matter in a temperate and moderate speech, and he hoped to be able to persuade him and the House of Commons that in this question of the agreement he had not had a free hand, and, whatever his views might have been with regard to the agreement, he was necessarily bound to accept and adopt it. That was a proposition he should do his best to support, and he was sure the House would listen to him while he gave his arguments. In the first place, before the question of this argument first came up, there were two companies which held licenses for the whole country unrestricted in the operations which they were able to carry out. The public had no doubt begun to feel that the telephone service of the country was inefficient and inadequate, and had recognised the inability of the companies adequately to provide both for the local systems and also for the trunk wire systems of the country, which would necessitate the expenditure of very large sums of money. The Government were alive to this fact, that the telegraph revenue of the country was being very largely interfered with, and they were also anxious to give facilities for the extension of the telephone service, which they recognised as necessary for the commercial interests of the country. The Government were pressed very strongly to take the whole system of telephones into their own hands. Hon. Members who sat in the last Parliament would remember that the hon. baronet, the Member for the College Division of Glasgow, in the month of March, 1892, brought forward a motion urging the Government to purchase the telephone systems, but the Government at that time did not see their way to a purchase. They had the experience of 1870 before them, when the Government of the day were forced to purchase the telegraphs; and when in undertaking a compulsory purchase of the telegraph systems they had to pay certainly twice, if not three times, their estimated value, 215 and in these circumstances the late Government very naturally and very rightly hesitated to adopt a policy which might have led them into an extravagant purchase of the telephones. They, therefore, developed the alternative policy, the policy which had been described that night—namely, to take over the trunk wire telephone system of the country, and to give certain facilities to the companies to develop the local areas, and by so doing to restrict the operations of the companies to the local areas, and enable them to supply a more effective service for the use of telephone subscribers. That policy was fully described in a Treasury Minute, and then the Telegraph Bill of 1892 was introduced. That Bill and the Treasury Minute were referred to a Committee of the House of Commons, and that Committee took evidence. He had no reason to think that any applications to be heard before the Committee were received from corporations, or that any application of the kind was refused. The suggestion that corporations were excluded from giving evidence was, as far as he knew, without foundation.
§ Mr. J. W. BENN
said, the House would remember that the right hon. Member for the University of London pleaded that there should be added to the reference to the Committee that they should have power to send for persons, papers, and records, and that the request was not assented to.
§ MR. ARNOLD MORLEY
said, that that did not affect his statement that, as far as he knew, no application to be heard was received from any corporation. He, therefore did not think it was fair to say that corporations were excluded from giving information. The Committee reported that "they had considered the Bill and made Amendments thereto," that in their opinion the responsibility for the details of the agreement with the Companies must rest with the Government, and that the Agreement should be laid before Parliament. He had asked the opinion of leading Members of the Committee, and he had been told by them that they intended no more than that Parliament should be informed of the result of the negotiations. [Cries of "Oh."] The report did not say that the Agreement should be laid upon the table of the House for the assent of the 216 House, and in the Act of Parliament no mention of such a condition was made. There was an analogous case to which he might draw attention. In the Telegraph Act, 31 and 32 Victoria, cap. 110, power was given to the Postmaster General to make certain contracts, and section 22 of the Act said:—Copies of all contracts, agreements, and arrangements, from time to time made under the authority of this Act, shall be laid before both Houses of Parliament within 14 days of the commencement of the Session next succeeding the making of such contract, agreement, or arrangement.These words were very like the recommendation of the Committee, and they had never been taken to mean that Parliamentary sanction had to be obtained to an agreement. They merely meant that Parliament should be informed of each contract or agreement made under the Act. The same view was taken by the Committee in their Special Report, and there was no foundation for the idea that they meant that Parliamentary sanction must be obtained for the agreement beforehand.
§ MR. H. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
asked whether his right hon. Friend had not said, on more than one occasion, that the agreement would be laid on the table of the House and that the House would have an opportunity to discuss it?
§ MR. ARNOLD MORLEY
replied, that his hon. Friend's recollection was not quite accurate. He had explained frequently that the Agreement was merely the embodiment in a formal legal document of the arrangement entered into by his predecessor. He had always declared that the agreement was one which he was bound to carry out. The Bill then passed through Parliament, and the preliminary documents for carrying out the policy of the late Government were duly signed. The first section of the Act of 1892 declared that it was expedient to raise money with a view to carry into effect the scheme of the Postmaster General for the development of the telephonic system, and, in particular, with a view to provide main lines of communication. That clause, he held, was a Parliamentary sanction of the scheme of the Postmaster General, and it was impossible to say, after reading that section, that the policy of the late 217 Government and the Agreement signed by the late Government had not been recognised formally by Parliament. The heads of the arrangement had now been embodied in a legal document and the local areas had been settled between the Post Office and the companies. If it had not been for the time taken in settling the areas within which, for the future, the companies were to be restricted in their operations, the legal agreements would have been signed on August 11th before the present Government came into office. The settlement of the areas was a matter of great difficulty and complexity, and in regard to it the telephone companies had acted in a very straightforward manner. The view taken by the Government was that there was a contract entered into between the late Government and the telephone companies from which they could not honourably withdraw; that they were bound to carry that contract into effect; and that in the circumstances they could not consent to the agreement being made part of the reference to the Committee which had been asked for. He was not responsible for the terms of the agreement, and he was content to rest his case upon the fact that when he accepted office he found that agreement in exist ence. He could not honourably relieve himself from the obligations to carry it out. There had been misapprehensions as to the effect of the agreement. He had seen it described in the daily papers as a "monstrous" agreement, and it had been stated that the Post Office was about to establish a huge private monopoly. But there was not an atom of foundation for that statement, as the agreement created no monopoly. In fact, he thought he should be able to show that it precluded the possibility of any monopoly being acquired by the companies. Section 18 of the agreement of the National Telephone Company declared that nothing should prejudice the right of the Postmaster General to establish, extend, maintain, and work any system or systems of telephonic communication in such a manner as he should think fit, or to grant licences for telephones to any persons on such terms as he might think fit. That was a complete reservation to the Postmaster General not only of the right to establish telephones himself if occasion 218 should arise, but also of the right to grant to other companies or private persons licences to work telephonic systems in competition with the existing licensees. If the new agreement were not to come into operation the position of the National Telephone Company would remain practically the same as now, except that they would have control over the trunk wires as well as over the wires in the local areas. The effect of the agreement was that the Government took over the trunk wires and became responsible for them. The other matters dealt with concerned the interests of the telephone user much more than the interests of the Telephone Company. Fear had been expressed that this agreement might possibly interfere with the rights of local authorities and corporations in respect of their highways and streets. He thought Corporations were bound to keep in their own hands full control over their own streets, and they would be very unwise, in his opinion, if they allowed any private company or individual to acquire rights of interference over their streets. He was surprised the hon. Member should have made the statement that there was any danger in this matter.
§ MR. J. W. BENN
interposing, explained that his point was that certain rights which, under ordinary circumstances, must be secured from Parliament by the National Telephone Company—an opportunity would be given to municipalities to be heard in such case— were under the agreement passed on by the Post Office without that trouble.
§ MR. ARNOLD MORLEY
No, Sir; the hon. Member really has not looked into the question with his usual acuteness. The Post Office can confer no power upon the National Telephone Company, or any company, which is not subject to the absolute veto of the local authority.
§ MR. J. W. BENN
I am quite aware, the power is subject. My contention is that power is secured from the Post Office without the necessity of coming to Parliament.
§ MR. ARNOLD MORLEY
They have not got any power the exercise of which is not subject to the assent of the local authority.
§ MR. J. W. BENN
I am aware of that.
§ MR. ARNOLD MORLEY
Then what harm is done? The position was this. The local authority could either veto the action of the Company; they could, under Section 5 of the Act of 1892, impose conditions on the exercise by the Company of the powers conferred by the Postmaster-General; or they could do what, in his opinion, would be much wiser—namely, refuse to let the Company come into their streets. They could say, Such work as is necessary we will do; you shall pay for it at cost price, plus any percentage which may be necessary to cover an expense of administration. He made that suggestion to the Association of Municipal Corporations, and he was interested to find that the great Corporation of Manchester had previously, without his knowledge, come to terms with the Company, exactly on the lines of his own suggestion. He confessed, therefore, he did not see any hardship on the local authorities, because they had the matter absolutely under their own control. A reference had been made to the charges for trunk wires. No doubt the Treasury laid down certain charges, but they were only suggested charges and would be open to revision by the light of experience as to whether they were reasonable or unreasonable. On this point his experience was that the political and Parliamentary pressure brought to bear on the Post Office was much more effective than it ever would be over a private company with whom they could not get into contact.
§ MR. T. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
asked whether the Postmaster-General would grant a licence to the municipality if the municipality were not satisfied with the terms of arrangement with the Telephone Company?
§ MR. ARNOLD MORLEY
was coming to the question of Municipal Licences. Now, he strongly held that in all matters proper to them municipalities did their work much more effectively than the central Gavernment could, but there was a great distinction between telephones and such subjects as gas and water. Gas and water were necessaries for every inhabitant of the country; telephones were not and never would be. It was no use trying to persuade themselves that the use of telephones could be enjoyed by the large masses of the people in 220 their daily life. [An hon. MEMBER: "America."] He did not think his hon. Friend was aware of the fact that in the large towns of America subscribers had to pay £40 to £50 for the service which a subscriber in London obtained for from £10 to £20. He went further and said that in a town like London, or Glasgow, or Belfast, an effective telephone service would be practically impossible if the large majority of the houses were furnished with telephones, so great would be the confusion caused by the increased number of exchanges. He was not stating his own opinion, but that of experts. What was wanted was prompt communication, and if there were a large number of people connected with the various exchanges, and a greatly increased number of exchanges, you could not get that prompt communication on which alone the value of the telephone system depended. Another argument against a municipal telephone system was that it was in no sense a local requirement. Year by year the telephone system was becoming more and more a national means of communication from town to town, and it was no more local in its attributes at the present time than either the post or the telegraph. He did not think anyone would say that the municipalities should have local control of the telegraph and post office services. The telephone service was becoming not only national but international. They had already spoken from London with Marseilles, and before long there would very probably be telephonic communication with other large towns on the Continent. The view which he had stated that the telephone service was not local, but national and Imperial, had been confirmed in a striking way by that very Association of Municipal Corporations which had been quoted that night as opposed to the policy of the Department. They passed a resolution containing these words—That the subject should be treated as an Imperial and not a local one.He ventured to think that the granting of municipal licences would be in effect treating it as a local and not as an Imperial one. Of course, he and the Government recognised that the House of Commons look a great interest in this 221 question, as did also the different localities. The Government were not disinclined that this question should be fairly and openly considered, and therefore he was glad to be able to announce that they were prepared to assent to a Committee with the object of considering the question of municipal licences, and also the question of the advisability of competition that had been raised and upon which he had said very little that evening. He was as strongly opposed as any Member of the House to the granting of a monopoly to the National Telephone Company or to any other company. He had resisted any attempt which might have been made to secure that end. He believed the monopoly ought to be in the hands of the Crown. He believed that the State who owned the monopoly was bound to provide, first of all, a reasonably efficient service, and, secondly, a reasonably cheap service to the public, either through itself or through its licensees. Therefore, if a case was made out in any locality that the service was either not reasonably efficient or not reasonably cheap, his opinion was that the Government would be bound to take steps to secure that such an efficient and reasonable service was provided. He did not want to prejudge this question. He had stated his own view upon it. The Government were willing that the matter should be considered by a Committee, and they proposed, instead of the words of the Amendment, to insert the following words:—That a Committee shall lie appointed to consider and report whether the provision now made for the telephone service in local areas is adequate, and whether it is expedient to supplement or improve this provision either by the granting of licences to local authorities or otherwise.That would enable the Committee to consider the, arguments, pro and con, on the question of competition, and he thought the House would recognise that in agreeing to the appointment of that Committee they had gone a long way— in fact, the whole way—to meet the wishes of the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment with the exception of the agreement, which they could not and ought not to consider other than a binding obligation on the Government.
§ MR. A. CAMERON CORBETT (Glasgow, Tradeston)
said, so much dissatisfaction had been felt upon this subject that no harm could be done whilst nothing but good would result from the matter being fully and fairly investigated by an impartial Committee. He felt assured that no Committee of the House desired that any agreement made by the Government should be departed from, or that the House or the Government should ever fail to fulfil any obligation upon which it had entered. He wished to say a word or two on the objections which had been urged by the right hon. Gentleman to municipalities working their own telephone system. He had told them that telephones were not a necessity to the mass of the people. Well, all their municipalities were practically controlled by the working classes. If they did not wish to have the municipality controlling the telephone, then the municipality would not control them; but by allowing the municipality to get licences, they allowed the masses of the people in their cities to decide whether the telephones should be worked by the municipality or not. It had been stated that this was a nationol and not a local question. But as far as the licences granted in particular cities were concerned, this was a local question. The municipality of Glasgow was very anxious to have a licence to work its own telephone, but it was no less anxious that the Government should ultimately take up the telephones and work them on its own account. While, however, a licence was granted especially to work the Glasgow telephones, it was desired that the municipality should be the authority entrusted with the license. It had been suggested that where underground telephones were necessary, and where it was impossible for the municipality to entrust the control of the streets to any private corporation working for profit, that the municipality should lay these underground wires and take all the care of them. If the municipality was to lay the wires and take all the care of maintenance, there was no possible reason why the municipality should not take over all the undertaking and derive all the profit to be got from it. It seemed to him that corporations which had carried on their waterworks, gas, electric lighting, and, in some instances, their 223 tramways with marked success, should be able to administer this business in an effective way so as to give a cheaper and better supply to their citizens, and, at the same time, make it a source of profit to the rates. He felt perfectly assured that the municipality of Glasgow if it were entrusted with this work would do it better and more cheaply than a company, and would earn a profit rather than incur losses by doing so.
§ SIR J. E. GORST (Cambridge University)
desired to say a few words on policy of the Telephone Act 1892. It was quite true, as the right hon. Gentleman had said, that that policy became, not the policy only of the late Government, but of Parliament, because it was embodied in the Telegraph Bill which was considered by a Select Committee of the House of Commons, and by passing the Telegraph Act Parliament adopted and placed its own imprimatur on the policy which the Government had proposed. But what was the policy of the late Government? So far from being an attempt, as an hon. Member had declared, to create a gigantic monopoly, it was really a successful attempt on the part of the Government to prevent a monopoly growing up. At that time the Government had indeed a monopoly in the telephones by law, but, in fact, it had not a single trunk line in its possession, but only a few insignificant telephone exchanges. The whole telephonic system of the country was gradually becoming absorbed by the companies, and there was a fear that by getting hold of all the trunk lines, the companies would acquire not a legal monopoly but a practical monopoly, which would have prevented the Postmaster General from using his own rights under the law without a claim for compensation which would have been very difficult to resist. Besides, the development of this business was making a very serious inroad upon the telegraphic revenue, and the taxpayer's interests were being very seriously affected by the laissez faire of the Government. Thus it was the duty of the Government to make such proposals to Parliament as would prevent the monopoly, which was the property of the nation, from being practically destroyed; and their policy was explained 224 in a Treasury minute dated May, 1892, and one of the clauses was as follows:—Unless the trunk wires are in the hands of the State, a monopoly injurious to the public interest would inevitably ensue, to the advantage of the company which first laid down such trunk wires.Then it was stated most distinctly that it was the object of the policy to secure—That expansion of the telephonic system which is called for by public opinion and the necessities of the case.It was necessary for the Postmaster General to take possession of the trunk wires, and, unless the Postmaster General was then immediately ready to establish telephonic exchanges and to buy out the existing interests of the companies, he had no other course than to make a fair and reasonable arrangement with the existing companies, and so prevent the enormous outlay of public money which would have been necessary for taking the telephones over. The existing companies had only 19 years unexpired of their licence—a period now diminished to 16 years—and although the companies strongly pressed the Government, in consideration of their giving up the trunk lines and entering into the agreement now being discussed, to extend the period, the Government refused. The temporary nature of the licence was in itself some protection to the public; but the Government, in laying this policy before the House, were not satisfied with that alone. They reminded the telephone companies and Parliament that the right of the Post Office to establish telephone exchanges had been reserved by Mr. Fawcett, and would be maintained.The Department holds itself ready, as in the past, to comply with the reasonable demands of any town or district for telephonic facilities.Further, they pointed out that no other licence for the whole country would be granted, and that no application would be entertained for a licence to establish a telephonic exchange unless it were backed by a resolution passed by the corporation or other municipal authoritiy of the district, and they proceeded then to say that in this way competition would not be excluded, but a check would be imposed on the formation 225 of companies whose object was to force the existing licensees to buy them out. It was also to be distinctly understood that should licences be granted on other principles no other company, now or hereafter to be licensed, should have any ground of action for breach of contract or want of good faith on the part of the Postmaster General. What more could possibly have been done in the enunciation of the telephone policy to thoroughly protect the public and maintain the Postmaster Generals monopoly, while securing all reasonable facilities and advantages to localities? That policy was examined by a Select Committee and embodied in the Telephone Act of 1892. The agreement now under consideration was entered into under that policy; and he was glad that the Post master General had stated that the agreement could not now be upset even by Parliament. Parliament, of course, had power to do anything; but this was an agreement entered into by the Government of the State and a public company; and if Parliament were to upset such an agreement there would be an end to all public contracts and confidence. As to the future policy of the Government, that was another question, and he could only regret that, instead of that policy being determined by the Government themselves, it was given into the doubtful hands of a Select Committee. He should have thought that the system of administering the affairs of State by Select Committee had already gone too far. Sooner or later the Government would have to stop that course, and would have to assume its proper function of administering the affairs of the country.
§ SIR JAMES M. CARMICHAEL (Glasgow, St. Rollox)
was glad the Postmaster-General had consented to have this question investigated by a Select Committee. He held the opinion that no Government Department ought to enter into any agreement with any commercial body—whether it was an agreement between the Secretary for Foreign Affairs and a company in Uganda, or an agreement between the Postmaster General, and a telephone company—without having first subjected it to the review, the revision, the sanction, and possibly the rejection of the House. He said that without any distrust of the capacity or probity of the 226 Government—no matter of what political colour the Government might be. In fact it was the innocence of the Government that was their danger; because, when any body of men, trained in commercial life were brought into contact with a body of men trained in official life, it always followed that the commercial gentlemen got the best of the bargain. It was therefore advisable that all transactions of this sort should be first submitted to the House, which was supposed to contain highly-trained intellect in every walk of life. What he had said was well illustrated by the agreements with the telephone companies. The Postmaster General had said he felt himself in honour bound by any agreement entered into by his predecessor, and that he was bound to carry out the policy of his predecessor. But which policy was it? Because the policy embodied in the Treasury minute of 1892 was entirely different from the policy set forth in the agreement initialled by the late Postmaster General, and signed in full by the chairman of the Telephone Company. He gave his right hon. Friend credit for trying to reconcile those two policies, because he had introduced into the new agreement matter from the Treasury minute of 1892. He quite agreed with the sentiment expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University, when he said that the Treasury minute was a most admirable example of what a telephone policy should be. That minute contemplated agreements between the Government and telephone companies in the plural; it provided that the Government should take over the trunk line, so that there should be no monopoly, and recognised that there might be a system of competition within the same area. It enjoined that no licence should be issued until a resolution in favour of it was passed by the Corporation, or other Municipal authority, and evidence given that there was sufficient capital to carry out the undertaking. Was it to limit competition that these conditions were imposed? No, for it said—In this way competition will not be excluded, but a check will be imposed on the formation of companies whose sole object is to force the existing licensees to buy them up.There the whole spirit of the Treasury 227 minute was a spirit encouraging competition. But when he came to the agreement, he found they did not contain one word of the articles set forth in the minute. There was no mention in the agreement of the right of the Government to grant competing licences. There was no hint that the companies could be subjected to any competition whatever. The principle of encouraging competition was entirely given away. It was understood that only two companies—the National Telephone Company and the New Telephone Company—were to be amalgamated, and that they were not to be subjected to competition. It was true that paragraph 18 of the new agreement, which was much broader in its scope than the old agreement, did retain to the Postmaster General the power to grant licences, and to make arrangements with other companies or persons, which would include corporations. But when the Postmaster General was approached by a Corporation to carry out that right which he retained, and on which he laid such stress, he declined to do so. An application was made to him by Glasgow. One would have thought that if any city could have fulfilled the two conditions laid down in the Treasury minute, the city of Glasgow could. If there was any area at all in which competition could be allowed, it was in an area of the size of Glasgow, which came next to London in proportion to population. The Postmaster General claimed that his policy was endorsed by the Telegraph Act of 1892, but when that Act was passed the agreement which he considered binding had not been before the House. The Act of 1892 endorsed the policy of the Treasury Minute of May 1892. If the Postmaster General would carry out the policy of the Treasury Minute, allowing free and healthy competition, see that the companies to whom he gave competing licences were solid and fit to compete, and allow corporations and municipalities to enter into competition, he would be satisfied.
§ SIR C. CAMERON (Glasgow, College)
, expressed himself in favour of the nationalisation of the telephones. There was nothing antagonistic to the ultimate realisation of that in granting licences to municipalities. Until the nation was prepared to take the matter up, the 228 municipalities might be intrusted with the telephones. The ultimate assumption of the control of the system by the nation would be facilitated rather than impeded by municipal co-operation. What was wanted was free competition. Had the proposal of the Postmaster General been put in competition with a motion that in the opinion of the House, telephonic licences should be granted to municipal and other authorities, he should have voted for the latter. The House had, however, now either to accept the proposal of the Postmaster General, or vote for a Committee to inquire into the agreement. If the Committee were authorised to inquire into the expediency of granting licences to municipal and other authorities, the whole question of competition would be opened up, and by the decision of the Committee the policy of the Postmaster General would have to be guided. If it were proposed that licences should be granted to municipalities, and that there should be competition and not monopoly, he would vote for that and against a Committee, but when the Postmaster General offered a Committee, and the proposition of the hon. Member did no more, it seemed to him that the suggestion of the Postmaster General was in every respect worthy of support. From a Post Office point of view, it appeared to him that it was most important that they should have competition. The monopoly, it was argued, was about to be confirmed, but it would break down the moment that the policy of granting licences to municipalities and competing companies was adopted. He was utterly opposed to the views of the Postmaster General on the subject of the municipal working of the telephone. He entirely favoured, however, the appointment of the Committee to inquire into the subject of competition and the feasibility of granting these licences, and he strongly urged the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets to accept the Government proposal.
§ MR. G. J. GOSCHEN (St. Georges, Hanover Square)
, said, in the absence of the late Postmaster General, who, with himself, had been specially responsible for the policy adopted in 1892, he trusted the House would be willing to give him a few minutes of its attention. There were two matters which he thought might be entirely separated— 229 one was the agreement, the other was the policy to lie followed side by side with it. They might accept this agreement, and they might nevertheless carry out every single detail of the Treasury minute of May, 1892. That was the point which he wished to bring home to Parliament and to the country. The hon. Member for the St. Rollox Division of Glasgow had tried to show that the heads of the agreement made with the Telephone Company were not in accordance with the Treasury minute of 1892. He bowed to the independent judgment of the hon. Member, who thought that officials were incompetent to deal with the astute gentlemen of commercial companies, but he could assure him that every clause of this agreement was gone through with the greatest possible care, not only by the permanent officials of the Department, but also by himself and other responsible Ministers: and he must claim that he had also some commercial knowledge, and was not incompetent to form an opinion on a document of this kind. He had been present also at many of the negotiations, and they saw that in no single respect should the rights of the Government be interfered with, or the possibility of competition, when necessary, lost. He thought it was a mistake for the hon. Gentleman to compromise the reserved rights of the Government by stating that they were not reserved in this document. Surely it was unnecessary to put into the document that those rights were reserved by Parliament to the executive Government.
§ SIR J. M. CARMICHAEL
It was put in to the agreement.
§ MR. G. J. GOSCHEN
said, these rights were inherent in the executive Government. He thought he might state in the strongest possible way that the Postmaster General, the present Government, and the late Government held that view. Were the rights given away by the draft, agreement or by the heads of the agreement? Was there any private promise to the Company that the Government could not grant licences if it wished? The power remained to Her Majesty's Government to grant licences to municipal corporations, or to grant licences to other companies if they so chose, and therefore no attack upon this agreement could be made with regard to 230 any particular conditions. No examination by the Committee could strengthen the inherent right of the Government which had been retained, and, therefore, to upset an agreement which had been made in order to insure rights which existed, not with standing that agreement, was surely a course which the House of Commons need not take. He would ask the House of Commons whether it realised what it would mean by disavowing this document. Hon. Members feared that they had parted with certain rights, but if it could be shown, as it had been, that those rights were reserved to the executive Government the agreement need not be attacked for the purpose of securing to the municipal corporations the right to exercise the powers they desired to exercise. It would be the first time in the history of Parliament, he believed, that a document signed by the Government was repudiated by the House. It would be evading the law if they were to endeavour to get out of a contract which had thus been entered into, and it would at least be considered very sharp practice. The House of Commons ought not to enter on a course of this kind. He had shown that it was unnecessary to upset the agreement, and he now contended that it would be inexpedient. He felt strongly that in such a case the House would be embarking upon a course which if successful would make it very difficult to conduct negotiations in future. The late Government was as much compromised in this matter as the present Government. [Several hon. MEMBERS: "More so."] Yes, he frankly admitted more so. It was, however, with the present Government to settle the policy side by side with the agreement; but unfortunately, the late Government were no longer in a position to give effect to their responsibility. He frankly told the House that if they were still in power and a document signed by them was repudiated by the House he should hold that the Minister could no longer hold his position. He believed such a course, if adopted, would shake general confidence in the administration of public business. He wished to say just one word or two about the position outside the agreement. If was a question for Her Majesty's Government how far side by side with the agreement, and in virtue 231 of the rights which had been reserved under it and reserved to Parliament, they would or would not allow further competition. It must be borne in mind, however, that competition in the question of telephones stood on a different footing from competition in other matters, because of the confusion it must necessarily involve. There might be many industries in which five or six companies might exercise their business at the same time, but great confusion would arise if that number of companies—or even two companies—sought to conduct telephone business together in the same area. Still, he attached less importance to that point because the Government had offered to refer that matter to a Select Committee. The Committee, he gathered from the speech of the Postmaster General, would discuss a number of questions—how far competition should be introduced, how far municipal corporations should be intrusted with the exercise of certain powers, and he was not sure whether or not it would be within the scope of their reference to consider the question of the purchase of the telephones. He was inclined to think that the words "and otherwise" would enable the Committee to do so. He desired to say here that the late Government were entirely responsible for the non-purchase of the telephones two or three years ago. The policy of the Treasury minute had scarcely been impugned. By that policy they stood, and by that policy they hoped the Government would stand. With regard to the trunk lines he would point out to the hon. Member for St. Rollox that if the Government had not bought the trunk lines no Member from Glasgow could communicate with London except by the kind permission of the National Telephone Company.
§ SIR J. M. CARMICHAEL
I am entirely in favour of the purchase of the trunk lines and of the Treasury Minute.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
said, that then the hon. Member must be in favour of the agreement. ["No, no."] Could the hon. Member prove the slightest divergence between the two, except that the conditions expressed in the Treasury Minute had not been included in the agreement. He had put his views very candidly before the House, and he hoped the 232 majority of Members would be satisfied with the offer made by the Government. That offer was made with considerable reluctance, because the Government were anxious to maintain their own responsibility. The Committee would discuss the question of municipal licences, of competition, and if necessary, of the purchase of the telephones by the State. He hoped that hon. Members would be satisfied with that result, and would not go the length of upsetting this contract.
§ MR. H. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
said, the real question, was whether the House ought to have the right to ratify or to reject this agreement. They did not quarrel with the Government for purchasing the trunk lines; but the agreement went a great deal further, and embodied all sorts of conditions and arrangements with the existing Telephone Companies. The report of the Committee on the Telephone Bill stated that the agreement was to be laid on the Table, and he entirely contested the Postmaster-General's statement that that simply meant that it was to be placed on the Table in order that the House might be advertised of the fact that the agreement had been made, It was impossible to conceive that such an agreement could possibly be made without being laid upon the Table of the House. The hon. Member for North Bucks, who was a member of the Committee on the Telephone Bill, informed him that he understood the Committee's report to mean that the agreement was to be submitted to the judgment of the House. It was said that the agreement had been initialled by the late Postmaster-General, and that, therefore, it was binding upon his successor. But that agreement was made with two separate Telephone Companies, the object being to prevent a monopoly and to create competition. Since then, however, one of the Companies had absorbed the other, and, therefore, the fundamental basis of the agreement no longer existed. His right hon. Friend the Postmaster General had given them a distinct pledge that this agreement should be laid on the Table of the House, and that they should have an opportunity of discussing it. But was he not trifling with the House if he led them to believe that an opportunity for discussing the matter was to be afforded? At any rate, that 233 promise involved the right of the House to expect that the agreement would not he ratified before they had a chance of approving it. He did not think it at all a good one, because it created a monopoly, and gave this company power to lay its system over any particular town without first obtaining the permission of the Post Office, which every other Company had to get.
§ MR. ARNOLD MORLEY
said, that, if the agreement had not come into existence at all, the company would have its licences notwithstanding, and would be in exactly the same position as under the agreement. Instead of being restricted to local areas, they would have licences over the whole country, trunk lines and all.
§ MR. H. LABOUCHERE
said, that might be so, but would any other company have got a licence? One of the terms of the agreement was that two or three licences should be swept away. He would tell his right hon. Friend what occurred with the late Mr. Fawcett at the commencement of the telephones. Mr. Fawcett had granted a licence to this telephone company, whereupon some responsible persons came to him in the Lobby complaining that they could not get a similiar licence. He represented to Mr. Fawcett the result of the interview, and that Gentleman fully agreed with him that in giving only one licence he was creating a monopoly, but stated that he should be ready to grant licences to persons who had a monetary basis. But under the late Postmaster General there seemed a tendency not to give them, and his right hon. Friend appeared to be following the same policy. By a clause in the agreement the licence had to be renewed every seven years; if it were not renewed then the company ceased to be a telephone company; but his right hon. Friend had said, "No one would dream of enforcing this." That was to say, that a huge monopoly would be created, and in the end the State would have to pay an excessive price for them as was the case with the telegraphs. This was one of the most watered companies existing, and he did not think they should encourage such watering of capital, and levying of rates, to benefit 234 capitalists and other objectionable people. He hoped his hon. Friend would stick to his guns rather than accept the offer which the right hon. Gentleman had made.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir W. HARCOURT,) Derby
said, it would be a most serious thing if the House of Commons repudiated an agreement which had been made by the Executive Government. The administration of the country depended to an enormous extent on the good faith of the Government and the good faith of Parliament. If Parliament interfered with that principle it would strike a blow which would affect questions far wider than anything connected with telephones. With regard to this agreement, he must say that if it was interfered with they would inflict great public mischief. He did not believe, however, that the House of Commons would do anything of the kind. It never had done it, and he did not believe it would do it now. As he understood the objection to the agreement, it was that the agreement had in some way or other deprived the Government of something which it ought to have. The Postmaster General said it did not, and that he could set up any competition that he liked. In this matter they had to take into account various considerations. He remembered perfectly well an estimate made by Mr. Scudamore that the purchase of the telegraphs would cost about £3,000,000, but ultimately it cost the Government £10,000,000; and at this moment the Government lost £500,000 a year by the telegraphs. It, therefore, required great caution in dealing with this matter. He thought the policy adopted was a sound policy. If they set aside this agreement the company would have a more complete monopoly than before. The Member for Northampton spoke of a poor company and watered capital, but he knew nothing about that. Let him observe that the first tiling the Committee would have to consider would be whether the provision made for telephone service in local areas was adequate—whether sufficient service was given at a proper price. If the Committee came to the conclusion that the service was not good, or that the 235 charges were too high, they would report against the company. What would be the consequence? Some other service would he given in place of the service which was inadequate. The company was, in fact, only acting as temporary agents for the Government, and if the Government were not satisfied they could give it in favour of some other persons. The Government desired to carry out the policy of the Minute of 1892. It commended itself to his hon. Friend because it recognised the right of competition, if competition were necessary. The first thing which the Committee would have to determine was, what was the position and action of the present company under its present conditions. The next thing to determine was whether, in substitution or supplement of the present service, and in response to the desires of other parties, licences should be granted to the local authorities or otherwise. What more could hon. Members wish the Committee to do? It was not denied that the House of Commons could do anything short of turning a man into a woman; it could, no doubt, repudiate the National Debt it had the power to do so, but it would not be advisable. It seemed to him, therefore, that everything which anyone could desire was included under the terms of the recommendation to the Committee which his right hon. Friend had offered, because it would have to determine whether they were or were not satisfied with the service as being adequate, or whether the service should be handed over to the municipalities or anyone else. The reference to the Committee would be—to consider and report whether the provision now made for the telephone service in local areas is inadequate, and whether it is expedient to supplement or improve this provision either by granting a licence to local authorities or otherwise.The Government had reserved actually the power to grant licences to whomsoever it chose, to undertake the service itself, or to give it to some one else. It was a mistake to suppose that it had created a monopoly in this company There was no monopoly contemplated by the minute, arid no monopoly was created 236 by the agreement. He hoped in these circumstances that the House would adopt such a recommendation as he had indicated.
§ MR. A. D. PROVAND (Glasgow, Blackfriars)
pointed out that the contention of the Mover and Seconder of the Motion was to the effect that the policy of the present Government was not that of the last Government. They did not object to Parliament buying the trunk wires, but to the method by which the purchase was to be effected. The Treasury Minute was perfectly clear on the points of granting licences to local authorities and maintaining competition; and the policy of the last Government, as stated in the House by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Postmaster General, was to the same effect. The objections taken were, to the policy pursued by the present Postmaster General, inasmuch as he refused to grant licences to local authorities; and also to the fact that the proposed agreement went altogether beyond the Treasury Minute. In the proposed agreement there were new charges to be made to the public which might be described as terminals. There was not a word relating to such a charge in the Treasury Minute, nor in the statements made to the House by the last Government, nor in the evidence given before the Committee of 1892. The Postmaster General had said that that Committee had considered the whole policy of the Government, and had approved of it. That was impossible, as they reported in the month of June, while the heads of arrangement were not initialled until the following August, and these were kept secret by the Postmaster General for two years after that, although asked for frequently in the House during that time. It was impossible that the Committee could report on anything more than was before them—namely, the Treasury Minute and the Bill—to neither of which had any objection been taken during that Debate, except as to the excessive mileage scale of the Post Office. The chairman of the National Telephone Company drew the attention of the Committee to the high mileage rates the Post Office intended to charge, and said that while many of the 237 company's present rates were 3d. and 6d., the Post Office would make them 6d. and 1s., that was to say, they would double them. The terminals would operate in this way: If, for example, London had a telephone licence, it could not send a message to Brighton unless Brighton had also an exchange, which would deliver the message free, otherwise the London message would he delivered through the present Company at Brighton, which would charge a terminal for doing so, The effect of that would lie to double the rate between London and Brighton. In Scotland the increase in charges would be enormous. Where the excessive Post Office mileage scale and the terminals both operated, many of the current rates would be not only doubled, but trebled. Competition would therefore be seriously checked by the proposed agreement. In many places such a large number of commercial men required inter-town telephone service, that they would not subscribe to any exchange which could not give it at least as cheap as at present, and this would be made impossible by the proposed agreement. The monopoly of the National Telephone Company expired with the Bell Patent at the close of 1890, but the monopoly had since been recrerated and maintained by the Postmaster General refusing licences to municipalities in order that they might compete. The National Telephone Company had no monoply, except that which was conferred on them by the action of the Postmaster General. The Treasury Minute expressly noted the inefficiency of single-wire telephone exchanges, and the necessity of a double-wire system, and the Telephone Company's own witnesses told the Committee in 1892, that the local exchanges in different towns must have double wires, otherwise the Government trunks would not give efficient service. One of the Telephone Company's witnesses said that the £1,000,000 the Government intended to expend would be useless unless they were connected with double-wire local exchanges. Nevertheless, the Postmaster General had refused to license municipalities, who would erect double-wire exchanges, and 238 proposed that agreement with a telephone company that had no double wires at all, except, a few in the Newcastle district; and, in the end, we should therefore have a system which the Treasury Minute had said was inefficient, and which was condemned by the Telephone Company's own representatives. If the Postmaster could amend his suggestion for a Committee by referring to it all that had occurred since the Act of 1892, the offer might be taken as satisfactory, but, if not, he recommended his hon. Friend the Member for the Tower Hamlets to go to a Division. Down to the end of 1890 the National Telephone Company had an absolute monopoly. Since then they had no monopoly whatever except what had been created and maintained by the Postmaster General. He deprecated terminals which were now being charged, and said they were invented by the Agreement. There was no mention of them in the Treasury Minute, although it was claimed that it left a wide discretion to the telephone companies in the matter. Many other objections to the Agreement might be pointed out. The Treasury Minute said an efficient telephone service was impossible without double wires. The Post Office was refusing licences to Local Authorities who would have proper double wire and were making a bargain for 17 years with companies who had few such wires.
§ MR. J. FLETCHER MOULTON (Hackney S.)
only wished to put quite clearly the position of those who thought it advisable that the inquiry should be somewhat widened, lest it should be thought that they were less particular about the good faith of the Administrative Government. The question to go before the Committee was not the question of the validity of the agreement, but the question of the nature of the proposals contained in it—
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER,
interposing, said that that would be within the scope of the reference.
§ MR. MOULTON
expressed himself as being quite satisfied. There were many things in the proposed agreement which required explanation, and it was most 239 important that the House should be made fully aware of the nature of these grants and their full scope. They had had enough experience in connection with Tramways and Gas and Water Companies to make them very careful how they granted any further monopolies.
§ MR. J. W. BENN
understood that the agreement was to be submitted to the Committee, and that its effect on the rights of the municipalities of large towns like Liverpool, Glasgow, and other places to establish systems of their own would be considered. In that case he thought he would not be wise in pressing his motion.
§ MR. A. C. MORTON (Peterborough)
asked the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he would withhold the agreement until after the Committee had reported?
§ MR. H. S. FOSTER (Lowestoft)
suggested that it could do no harm to hold the agreement over for another month. He would like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman was aware that the chairman of the National Telephone Company, at a recent meeting of the shareholders, stated that the agreement would be submitted to Parliament for approval. If that was so, what ground was there for supposing that the National Telephone Company would have any cause of complaint if Parliament desired to modify that agreement?
§ MR. J. W. BENN
said, he would be glad if the Postmaster General could see his way to accede to the request that the agreement should be held over pending the deliberations of the Committee, for the reason that he and those who agreed with him contended that the agreement laid on the Table did not in some respects agree with the heads of the arrangement.
§ SIR W. V. HARCOURT
explained that what he said was that the effect of the agreement was to be before the Committee. As to the matter of form, the proper way in which the question would be put was to leave out all the words after the word "consider" in the Motion of his hon. Friend, and to insert words carrying out the suggestion made by his right hon. Friend the Postmaster General. 240 Question:—''That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question.Put and negatived.
§ Question proposed: "That those words be there added."
Amendment proposed to the proposed Amendment:—
To leave out all the words after the word 'consider,' to the end thereof, in order to add the words 'and report whether the provision now made for the telephone service in local areas is adequate; and whether it is expedient to supplement or improve this provision either by the granting of licences to Local Authorities or otherwise."—(Mr. Arnold Morley.)
That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the proposed Amendment.
put and negatived. Words added.
That the words, 'a Select Committee be appointed to consider and report whether the provision now made for the telephone service in local areas is adequate; and whether it is expedient to supplement or improve this provision, either by the granting of licences to Local Authorities' be added after the first word 'That,' or otherwise.
§ Put and agreed to.
§ Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.
§ Ordered: That a Select Committee be appointed to consider and report.