HC Deb 24 April 1896 vol 39 cc1697-702

Resolution reported; That it is expedient to authorise the issue, out of the Consolidated Fund, of a sum not exceeding £300,000, for the purposes of the Telegraph Acts, and to authorise the Treasury to borrow such sums by means of terminable annuities, payable out of moneys to be provided by Parliament for the service of the Post Office, and, if those moneys are insufficient, out of the Consolidated Fund.

Resolution read a Second time:—

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."


said, that the House was entitled to a detailed statement as to the way in which the money was being spent. It was impossible to tell how much of the public money the National Telephone Company had got. If this Report were agreed to, would the right hon. Gentleman promise that the Bill should be brought on at a time when the subject could be properly discussed? [Cheers.]


said, that he could not give a guarantee of that kind. No portion of this money would go to the National Telephone Company, which had already received about £450,000 out of the £1,000,000 provided in the former Bill. The rest of that sum had gone to purchase wires for the main trunk lines. The additional sum asked for was in order to complete the purchase of the wires.


said, that the topic was of the greatest importance to the commercial community, and, unless the Government could give the assurance asked for, he should feel compelled to proceed with the discussion at once. He desired to raise the question of the facilities given by the Telephone Company.

Mr. J. COLVILLE (Lanark, N.E.) moved the Adjournment of the Debate. [Cheers,]

MR. HERBERT LEWIS (Flint Boroughs)

seconded the Motion.


hoped the Motion would not be pressed. There would be an ample opportunity of discussion on the Second Reading of the Rill. This Resolution was merely necessary to the introduction of the Bill.

MR. W. ALLEN (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give a definite pledge that the Bill will come on before 12 o'clock?


No, Sir; I cannot promise that.


I am sorry that the Leadership has got to such a state— [Ministerial cries of "Order!"]— that we should be receiving pledges privately which are repudiated publicly. [Opposition cries, and persistent Ministerial cries of "Withdraw!"] I shall not withdraw. The hon. Member for the Black-friars Division of Glasgow had assured him that he had obtained a definite pledge from the Secretary to the Treasury, or some other representative of the Government—[Ministerial laughter]—that, if this Resolution were allowed to go through, the Bill should be brought on before 12 o'clock. ["Hear, hear!" from Mr. PROVAND.] The hon. Member for the Camlachie Division agreed with that statement. [''No!" from Mr. A. CROSS and Ministerial laughter.] If the hon. Member was satisfied with the assurance he would not countenance any further continuance of the Debate. [Ironical laughter.] But, whether a pledge had been given or not, he appealed to the Leader of the House to say whether there was not some reason in hon. Members at the present time protesting against a Government which scarcely allowed a week to pass without asking for some alteration in the procedure of the House, without making some further incursion on the time of private Members, and which asked the House after midnight to consent to the passing of Government Business. It was absolutely unprecedented. The Government had suspended the 12 o'clock Rule more frequently this Session than any Government in any preceding Session up to the present time. ["No, no!"]


said that he and the hon. Member for the Camlachie Division met the Secretary to the Treasury in his room the previous night. In speaking about passing this Resolution, the Secretary to the Treasury was asked whether they would have the opportunity to discuss the question at a later period if they allowed the Resolution to pass without objection. The right hon. Gentleman said "Yes." ["Hear, hear!" from Mr. HANBURY.] He was asked further whether a Bill would be brought in to give an opportunity for discussion, and the right hon. Gentleman said "Yes." Then the right hon. Gentleman was asked, "In plenty of time?" "Yes," said the right hon. Gentleman— ["No, no! "from Mr. HANBURY]—and with that promise in his mind he did not oppose the Resolution, which otherwise he would have done had he not received the assurance just described.


had no intention of doubting the perfect good faith of the Secretary to the Treasury. It was true that he and his hon. Friend put the points mentioned, but the reply of the right hon. Gentleman was qualified; he said it would be done "as far as was in his power." [Laughter.] He certainly understood that the purport of the right hon. Gentleman's reply was that reasonable facilities for discussion would be given. ["Hear, hear!"] In his opinion the Debate ought to be adjourned because a suitable opportunity ought to be provided for a discussion of the relations between the Government and the telephone companies. There was no more important commercial question than this now before the House of Commons, and the adoption of the principle involved would vitally affect the policy of the Government in regard to future transactions of a similar nature. ["Hear."]


was glad that the hon. Member who had just sat down had done him the justice to admit that he gave no such pledge as the hon. Members opposite suggested that he did give. [Opposition cries of "No!"] The hon. Member had stated very accurately what really did take place. He did say that he should be glad if the subject could come on before 12 o'clock, but he added that he had no power whatever to bring it on then. [Opposition cries of " Oh!"] It was not in consequence of any pledge given by him that either of the hon. Members opposite withdrew their opposition last night, and the conversation that took place referred to last night, and not to-night. What did weigh with the hon. Members was the following consideration. The hon Member for Glasgow was most anxious to bring forward certain matters relating to this Bill, but it was pointed out to him that if this Resolution came on after midnight, and he rose to speak upon it, it would at once become opposed business, and would not be proceeded with, and it was agreed that the hon. Member should make his speech not on the Resolution, but on the Second Reading. As regarded the Second Reading he gave no pledge, except so far as had been pointed out by the hon. Member for Camlachie. As to what had been said by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy, there was absolutely no foundation for it.

MR. ASQUITH (Fife, E.)

said this appeared to him to be a somewhat important matter. It affected the general trade of the country, and Glasgow and other Scotch towns in particular. It appeared that an understanding had been arrived at last night, in consideration of certain hon. Gentlemen abstaining from speaking on the Resolution, that full opportunity for discussion should be given. Those Gentlemen did abstain from speaking last night, on the understanding that some time or other a full opportunity would be given to them of discussing this question. That night, owing to the forms of the House, they were precluded from getting that opportunity. He therefore submitted to the Leader of the House that in these circumstances, and in the interests of the conduct of public business, he might very reasonably give an undertaking that an opportunity would be afforded at a reasonable hour when the Second Reading came on to raise this important question in all its bearings. If such an undertaking were given he thought this Debate might very well come to an end. ["Hear hear!"]


said that if he rightly understood what had occurred, their present position might thus be stated. Last night they discussed one of the two formal stages which precede the Second Reading of the Bill. To-night the House was asked to pass the second of these purely formal stages. It was perfectly true that it was not consistent with the practice of the House that these formal stages should be used for substantial Debate, but he understood that the right hon. Gentleman opposite desired that when the natural and proper period for discussing the Bill- the Second Reading—came on, an opportunity should be given hon. Gentlemen opposite of laying their views before the House. It appeared to him that hon. Gentlemen opposite had complete command of the situation. It was true that the Report stage of this Resolution was not subject to the Twelve o'clock Rule, but the Second Reading was, and, therefore, any Gentleman by objecting could absolutely prevent the Hill from being taken after twelve o'clock.


You have power to suspend the Twelve o'clock Rule. [Cheers.]


could not help thinking that that had only just occurred to the hon. Gentleman's mind. He was quite ready to promise that the Twelve o'clock Rule should not be suspended in reference to this Bill specially. He pledged the Government not to use the suspension of the Twelve o'clock Rule in order to pass the Second Reading of this Bill. If hon. Gentlemen were ready in the interest of public business to do their best to restrict the Debate within comparatively narrow limits, he would agree to take this Bill at eleven o'clock on the night it was put down, which he hoped would meet the wishes of hon. Gentlemen. If, however, hon. Gentlemen tried to drive the Bill off to the fag end of the Session it might not be possible to afford those facilities. He hoped his proposal would satisfy both sides of the House that the Government had no desire unduly to restrict Debate of this subject. ["Hear, hear!"]


contended that the understanding come to on the previous night was that this matter would be taken at a period of the evening when a Debate could be taken with reasonable fulness. He thought that if the right hon. Gentleman would say 10 o'clock they would be willing to accept that. ("No, no!")


did not think they could find fault with the tone in which the Leader of the House had put his proposition. If the right hon. Gentleman were willing to interpret the hour he had mentioned in a liberal spirit he thought they might accept his suggestion.


also wished to enforce that view. He was sure the right hon. Gentleman would not object to giving a reasonable time for Debate.


said he would do his best to meet the wishes of the hon. Gentlemen opposite.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Hanbury and Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.