HC Deb 14 May 1896 vol 40 cc1324-6
MR. ALEXANDER CROSS (Glasgow, Camlachie)

I beg to ask the Secretary to the Treasury, as representing the Postmaster General, if he is aware that when a National Telephone subscriber at a distance is rung up over the Government trunk wires and found to be engaged speaking to someone else, it has become the practice to charge one-fourth the tariff rate for this information, no value having been received or conversation, had, and, as no fractions are accepted, the fourth of 3d. is held to be a 1d., or 6d. to be 2d., and of 9d. to be 3d.; whether he is aware that no such charge is made in foreign countries, and that no such charge was made when the trunk wires belonged to the National Telephone Company; and, if he can see his way to put an end to this charge?


I do not think that the hon. Member has been correctly informed. There are two distinct cases, one of a subscriber engaged on a trunk circuit and the other of a subscriber engaged on a local circuit, but rung up over the trunk wires in cither case. In the former case the call is held over until the subscriber is free, and it is only when the person with whom the call originates is unwilling himself to wait and desires that the call may be cancelled, that one-quarter of the fee is charged. In no case does the charge exceed 6d. I think this must commend itself as a reasonable rule, for in such a case a service is certainly performed by the Department and the person originating the call is treated with every consideration. In the other case, the practice is to momentarily interrupt the local conversation and inform the subscriber that a person in another town wishes to speak to him over a trunk wire. If he declines to to respond and prefers to go on with his local conversation, the whole fee is charged for the use to which the trunk wire has been put. The two cases are essentially different. In the one the subscriber may be in the midst of a conversation for which a substantial fee has been paid, and if the conversation were interrupted it might be extremely difficult for him or his correspondent to arrange for its being resumed. In the other he is in the midst of a conversation for which no fee has been paid, and which can probably be resumed easily and in a very short time. I am not aware that the Company had laid down any definite rules on the subject; but it is clear that, if the working of the trunk wires by the State is to be fair for all and is not to subject the taxpayers to loss, there must be rules to prevent waste of time on the extremely valuable system which is placed at the disposal of the public. I am not aware that no charge is made in foreign countries. On the contrary I am informed that in similar cases in Holland one half, and in Germany the whole of the full fee is charged.