§ Order read, for resuming adjourned debate on Question [3rd May], "That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the Agreement of the 2nd day of February, 1905, between the Postmaster-General and the National Telephone Company, and to report whether it is desirable in the public interest that the Agreement should become binding."—(Lord Stanley.)
§ Question again proposed.
§ MR. KEARLEY (Devonport) rose to propose the Amendment which stood in his name on the Paper. He was not objecting to the appointment of this Committee, but his point was that to use the words of his Amendment, "having regard to the public statement of the Postmaster-General that under no circumstances can any alterations be made in the agreement with the Telephone 991 Company to which he has given his assent, this House fails to see the necessity for the appointment of a Committee to consider it."
I may point out to the hon. Gentleman that this Amendment will not be in order. It is a direct negative, but he will be at liberty to make his speech.
§ MR. KEARLEY
said his objection was that while he considered it necessary that there should be a Parliamentary Committee, he objected to it being appointed with truncated powers, to it not having a free hand, and to it receiving in advance instructions from the noble Lord that it must either accept or reject this agreement. In view of the past experience the House had had, and in view of the ill effects of all the various previous agreements, he did not think that was a position which Parliament would desire to acquiesce in, and he felt he was justified in that view, because there was overwhelming evidence to show that during the whole time agreements had from time to time been arrived at by successive Postmasters-General, the House of Commons had had no opportunity of genuinely considering those agreements, otherwise much money would have been saved to the nation, and they would have had an efficient and adequate telephone system at much cheaper rates than they had now. This agreement completed an operation, part of which had already been carried out. The agreement of 1901 dealt with the buying up of the London plant—the London exchange area—and this agreement proposed to complete the operation by buying up the plant of the whole of the United Kingdom. Indeed, it went beyond that. It really included the purchase of the buildings in the London area which were not included in the 1901 agreement.
§ MR. KEARLEY
continuing, said they had this important fact, that the 1901 agreement provided for the purchase of the London plant, and now in 1905 they had an agreement which contemplated 992 the purchase of the whole of the plant of the United Kingdom, plus the buildings in London, which in itself meant a very large sum. It was, therefore, more necessary now than ever before that Parliament should consider with the greatest care what was going to happen under this agreement. Yet the Committee which it was proposed to appoint was to have its power restricted at this important moment. It was not treating Parliament in the way it had a right to expect to be treated. They were a deliberative body, and the noble Lord had no right whatever to say to a Committee—"Here is this agreement, take it upstairs and consider it; if you do not like it reject it; if you think you can accept it, do accept it, but you are not to make a single suggestion by way of amendment, because if you do that you will be going beyond your powers." There was another point. Supposing this Committee went to work and its deliberations occupied a long time. Supposing it did not come to some decision before the end of the session. The right hon. Gentleman told them the agreement would then come into force whether the Committee came to a decision or not. That was a most astonishing position to put Parliament in. They could not urge at this moment that there was any urgency, because the purchase agreement would not really become effective until the expiration of the licence of the National Telephone Company in 1911, so that there were six solid years in front of them, during which they ought to have an opportunity of considering this in all its bearings. This Committee, when appointed, ought to have a free hand.
Let them consider for a moment the effect of the various agreements come to between different Postmasters-General and various telephone companies. He would endeavour to review these agreements in chronological order, so that the House might appreciate the point he was endeavouring to make. Every one of these agreements, without a single exception, had had this effect, that it had worsened the national interests and bettered the interests of the telephone company. No single Postmaster-General had conserved the national interest; on 993 the contrary, every agreement that had been made had acted definitely to the benefit of the telephone companies.
Order, order! I do not think the hon. Gentleman will be entitled to go into criticism of the agreements themselves. The question before the House is whether the Committee shall be appointed to consider that question, and he is now anticipating the work of the Committee.
§ MR. KEARLEY
pointed out that the Committee was proposed to be appointed to deal with a particular agreement. His argument was directed towards this. If the Government put a limit on its powers, the Committee would not have the full opportunity of doing justice to the national interest, and he was using, as an illustration, what had happened in regard to previous agreements. He proposed to point out that the effect in the past of not submitting these agreements genuinely to Parliament had been bad and hurtful to the national interests.
That would be a good argument for sending this agreement to a Committee, and the hon. Member is entitled to do that.
§ MR. KEARLEY
continued that his argument was that the powers given to the Committee were too restricted. He had not the faintest objection to the appointment of the Committee. He thought, indeed, that a Committee should be appointed and he welcomed this appointment. He would next review what had happened under these various agreements which had been entered into on this matter, and which had not been genuinely submitted to Parliament. The telephone system of this country was not one of Very long standing; it was only about twenty-five years old. In 1880 the first real telephone company was formed, the United Telephone Company. In 1880 the Postmaster-General, as representing the Government, took action against the United Telephone Company, and it was successfully maintained in the Courts of Law that the telephone was really a telegraph, and consequently the 994 use of this discovery was prohibited by the Courts. He mentioned that to show to the House what a lack of concern for the national interests had been displayed by the Government, because, after having achieved that success in the Courts of Law, the Postmaster-General, instead of taking over the business and operating it in the interest of the country, entered into an agreement, with the United Telephone Company and granted them a licence for thirty years, the licence which expired in 1911, and the only consideration he got was that the Post Office should receive a royalty of 10 per cent. Now, in 1884 Mr. Fawcett, who was then Postmaster-General, announced that the policy of the Government was that there should be free competition in the telephone business, and the result was that as many as fifteen or twenty rival companies sprang into existence; but in 1901 the patent under which the telephone system was then being worked expired. That brought them down to the next agreement of 1892, the most fatal agreement into which this country entered, and he wanted to direct the special attention of the House to it. They had made a point of free competition, but under the agreement of 1892 there was created an absolutely entrenched monopoly. It was put in an unassailable position, and the Government aided and abetted that monopoly in swallowing up its rivals, and it further enabled it to make whatever charges it liked without any obligations as to supply except that it could supply where it chose. There were no terms as to the dividend to be paid, and the company did pay as much as 40 per cent., although it had been the practice, to limit dividends for gas and other undertakings. The Government also secured for the company the control of the streets. It was the Post Office itself that gave the telephone company the control of the streets.
§ MR. KEARLEY
said that later on he would have something to say about the right hon. Gentleman's share in these transactions. He repeated that the 995 agreement of 1892 wrenched away from the local authorities the power they had over the telephone company in regard to the streets.
Order, order! The hon. Gentleman must come to the point. He is now fourteen years back; he must come a little more up to modern date. The House cannot go into an elaborate discussion. The question before the House is simply whether or not it shall appoint a Committee to consider this last agreement, and I shall have to stop the hon. Gentleman if he persists in his present course.
§ MR. KEARLEY
said the powers of this proposed Committee were restricted, and he was endeavouring to show that by restricting those powers there would be brought about a similar state of things to that from which the country was suffering now. Under the 1892 agreement, the Government agreed to purchase the trunk lines, to supply trunk lines as they might be required, and empowered the telephone company to make exchanges with various post offices throughout the country. The obligation upon the Government to construct trunk lines on behalf of the telephone company was a tremendous backing, and it was not to be wondered at that the company succeeded in swallowing up all rival competition. In evidence of that, he might say that, although prior to the agreement the capital of the company was little more than £750,000, yet within two years it had grown to £4,000,000, much of which consisted of "watered" capital.
How had Parliament been treated in this matter? His argument was that if Parliament had been taken fully into consultation much that had happened would not have occurred. The dissolution in 1892 took place at the end of June. It was not a sudden dissolution. It had been hailed from the housetops for a month or six weeks before it took place. During the last week in May a Treasury Minute was issued describing the proposals which were to be included in the agreement of 1892. A Bill was introduced and instantly got its Second Reading, and in the first week of June was referred to a Committee upstairs. 996 Ten days after the reference, the Select Committee reported that the responsibility for the details of the agreement must rest with the Government, but they thought that the agreement should be laid before Parliament. He thought every Member would agree that that Report bore the impression of the matters not having been considered seriously. It was a hurried transaction in a hurried Committee; there was no real Parliamentary consideration of the agreement, otherwise such an agreement would not have passed and the country would not have been saddled with the conditions of to-day. On August 11th, after the Government had been defeated at the polls, and on the very night of the division on the Asquith Amendment, which resulted in the eviction of the Government, the then Postmaster-General signed the agreement. He submitted that that was not a genuine consultation of the wishes of Parliament.
§ SIR J. FERGUSSON
The agreement had been most fully explained at the Table, not only by myself, but by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ MR. KEARLEY
said he had seen many Ministers fully explain agreements at the Table after midnight, with perhaps half-a-dozen Members in the House. What he was urging was that an agreement of such far-reaching importance should be genuinely considered by a Committe upstairs without any fettering of its powers. But that was not what happened. What was the hurry in signing the agreement on August 11th? The Asquith Amendment that night brought the Government to an end. Many Members considered then, and had considered ever since, that it was a very doubtful transaction indeed. It was contested in this House by Sir John Lubbock and in the House of Lords by Lord Hobhouse, and it was to prevent a repetition of that sort of thing that he was urging that this Committee should be given untrammelled and unrestricted powers to deal with the present agreement. As a result of the 1892 agreement, there had been shackled upon the country this telephone monopoly with its inefficient, inadequate, outrageously dear system. London had had to bear the 997 brunt of the burden, and had been exploited to the extent of 75 per cent. more in charges than any other part of the country. The natural outcome, of that agreement was a great agitation throughout the country, and when the new Government came in a new Committee was moved for. The Committee was duly appointed, and it was in the midst of its deliberations when another dissolution came. It reported to the House that it had not had time to complete its investigation and that it hoped to be reappointed in the next session. It never was reappointed, and perhaps the noble Lord would explain why it was never reappointed.
§ LORD STANLEY
I was a member of the original Committee which came to an end—the 1895 Committee—and there was another Committee appointed. That really continued the work, although it was not reappointed as soon as we came in.
§ MR. KEARLEY
submitted that the Committee was not reappointed at all in the true sense of the word. No Committee was appointed until 1898. The agitation continued in the country, and many municipalities were taking steps with the idea of getting licences, because they were able to prove that they could really give a telephone service at a much lower rate. Some of them estimated that they could give the full benefit of unlimited user at five guineas an instrument, and London sent in figures to the Postmaster General showing that they could give unlimited user at £10. As a result of that persistent agitation another Committee was appointed in 1898, over which the late Mr. Hanbury presided. Everybody regarded Mr. Hanbury as a thoroughly capable, fearless and good business man, and many Members of the Opposition held that he had not had the recognition which his great abilities deserved. The Committee recommended—After reviewing the whole of the evidence, your Committee is strongly of opinion that general, immediate and effective competition by either the Post Office or the local authorities is necessary, and considers that a really efficient Post Office service affords the best means of securing such competition.There is no doubt about that recommendation. It was clear, definite, and 998 emphatic. What happened? The 1901 agreement proceeded from the recommendation of that Committee, and all the brave talk about general and effective competition vanished into thin air. Mr. Hanbury himself was shunted to the Board of Agriculture.
§ MR. KEARLEY
Yes, he spoke on it He accused me personally of objecting to the proposals because I wanted to get a telephone for my own selfish interests on the cheap. That was the sort of criticism that the late Mr. Hanbury directed against certain hon. Members at that particular time. The agreement of 1901 dealt with the purchase of the London plant. The Post Office itself decided to start competition, and laid down the condition that there should be free inter-communication between the two systems forthwith. But there was no real competition at all. The Post Office entered into a sort of silent partnership with this huge monopoly, and instead of the general and effective competition recommended by the Committee they made an agreement for uniformity of rates. That was to say, they bolstered up and continued rates that were already 50 percent. higher than the necessities justified. That was the outcome of the brave recommendations of the Committee upstairs. The Post Office bolstered up the rates to the detriment of the national interest and to the great strengthening of the telephone monopoly. In the prelude to the proposed new agreement, the noble Lord stated that the House had expressed its approval of the 1901 agreement after full discussion. That was true as far as it went in a Parliamentary sense. But would the noble Lord deny that that agreement was carried on pure Party lines?
§ LORD STANLEY
Did the hon. Member ever know an Amendment to the Address on which the Party Whips were not appointed?
§ MR. KEARLEY
said he was not sure, but it did not matter. The fact remained that that important agreement was not left to the freewill of the House. The noble Lord's statement supported that. But why should an important question like that have been dealt with on the Address? Why was not a Committee appointed and an opportunity given, as he wished to see done now, for full, free, and untrammelled consideration of the question; with power to move Amendments to the agreement if necessary? That was the point he was now making. He submitted that the Committee about to be appointed should be free to deal with the 1905 agreement, and to amend it if it thought fit. It had no such power at present. It was prevented from so doing. It could reject or accept the agreement, but if it came to neither determination before the end of August the agreement would come into force without any expression of opinion at all. That was surely not fair. There were so many important points in the agreement, and yet this was the Last opportunity that would be afforded to Parliament to consider the question at all.
§ LORD STANLEY
The hon. Member has no right to say that. The hon. Member has made a statement which is contrary to the fact. The Prime Minister has distinctly said that there will be an opportunity given in the House of considering this agreement.
§ MR. KEARLEY
said the noble Lord would have done much better if he had allowed him to explain. What he meant by the last opportunity was that this was the last time they would be able to consider this agreement. 1000 Did the noble Lord not see that his intervention was rather premature.
§ MR. KEARLEY
said that there were none so blind as those who would not see. [MINISTERIAL cries of "Oh, oh !"] This was the last occasion on which it could come before Parliament because this completed the operation, and, when this agreement was got through Parliament sanctioned the buying up of everything belonging to the National Telephone Company. He never suggested that there would be no further opportunity for debating this question. He was aware that the noble Lord had stated that there would be another opportunity, but that was not the point. His point was that this discussion closed the contract, and therefore it was more than necessary that the Committee before which this agreement was going to be considered should have powers to amend it if necessary. What could be the object of purchase? Obviously to give the country an improved service and a lower rate. If the Post Office had no idea of doing that then the Government had far better leave this monopoly in its present position. The object must therefore be to give the country an improved service and lower rates. He wanted to know if the Government were in a position to do that. Upon the price they paid and the conditions they made would depend the future rates for the telephone service. If they made a bad bargain—and they certainly would if this Committee had not power to amend the agreement—either the existing rates would continue, or, upon the instigation of the Treasury, the rates would be reduced. He thought the Treasury would take good care to see that such rates were charged as would pay interest and sinking fund on the amount of the purchase money. It was to save the House from once more making a bad bargain that he was anxious that the Committee upstairs should have free and unrestricted power to deal with this matter, and that was the reason why he had put down the Amendment on the Paper which had been ruled out of order. He apologised to the House for entering so fully into this historical survey of the 1001 question, but he had done so because it was impossible for him to put the case clearly before the House without entering into these various agreements.
§ MR. TENNANT (Berwickshire)
said there were one or two things upon which he did not feel perfectly certain. One of them was with regard to the interruption which had just been made by the noble Lord the Postmaster-General. He wished to ask him what opportunity would be given to this House to discuss the agreement between himself as Postmaster-General and the National Telephone. Company beyond the debate which they were having to-day? The second Question which he wished to put to the noble Lord was what powers would the Committee which they were about to appoint have in regard to this agreement? He thought he should have the noble Lord's concurrence when he said that he thought it was of great importance that this Committee should have powers to send not only for persons, papers and records, but should also have power to say whether Clause 7 or Clause 8 or Sub-clause B was a good or wise proceeding. In other words, he thought it was necessary the Committee should have the power of making Amendments. He thought it of great importance that power should be given to this Committee not only to say that they would take this agreement en bloc, but that they should be able to say whether they disapproved of this section or that sub-section, and generally to amend it if they thought necessary. What he felt more strongly was that this was a question of abstract justice, and he meant by that the justice of the Post Office towards the National Telephone Company's employees. He appealed to the House on grounds of justice. These women and others had been employed in the service of the National Telephone Company for a long time, and they had put their lives and training into its service. In other words, they had put their capital into this particular business because they had had to be well educated for their position. What did he read? He read in Clause 8, Sub-clause 1, that it was probable that The Postmaster-General would be prepared to take into his service a considerable 1002 number of the employees, but that he was not prepared to accept any obligation on this score, and he left the matter to the National Telephone Company. He knew that this company had paid very large dividends, but he was not aware that they had overpaid their staff. He knew there had been general complaints that they had not done this. He thought it was very hard lines upon these women who had put all their training and capital into this business that they should not be taken over.
§ LORD STANLEY
Perhaps the hon. Member is not aware that I accept the second Amendment on the Paper.
§ MR. TENNANT
said he was not aware of it, and he was very glad that the noble Lord had assured the House on this point. After that assurance there was no need for him to trouble the House further.
§ MR. YOXALL (Nottingham, W.)
said he was glad the noble Lord had seen his way to accept the second Amendment on the Paper, but he wished to ask him one or two further Questions. Supposing the Committee discovered that by the terms of the agreement the interests of the employees had not been fully considered and safeguarded, what power would a Committee of this House have in the matter? Would they be able to strike out words and insert others in order to safeguard the interests of the men and women concerned? He believed there were no less than 13,000 persons employed by the National Telephone Company, but at any rate there were a great number. He wished to know definitely would the Committee be able to insert in the draft agreement words to give these employees protection for their service and some guarantee for a continuance of their employment? Would the Committee be obliged either to reject this agreement altogether or take it as a whole? Would the noble Lord be able to sign the agreement just as he pleased, no matter what the opinion of the Committee might be? If so what was the use of appointing this Committee at all? He had no doubt that he intended to do the utmost he could to secure employment for these employees, but he 1003 wanted to know how far this would be possible.
§ MR. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
said the right hon. Gentleman had not succeeded in his attempt to hustle the House of Commons in regard to this matter. As a matter of fact, this agreement was practically made in February last, and now it was the 22nd of May, and this was the first occasion they had had an opportunity of even asking a few Questions upon this most important matter. He thought they were indebted to his hon. friend for pressing this matter forward, and for the historical account he had given of the negotiations which had taken place upon this subject between the National Telephone Company and the Post Office. The noble Lord told them that if they did not grant this Committee without any discussion in Government time they would not get any discussion at all, and the agreement would go through. He thought it was a pity he made that statement, because when the Government came to consider the matter, they found that they had to give them this free opportunity, but they still kept the Committee tied up. He was aware that they promised after the Committee had finished its Report that there would be another opportunity for a full discussion in the House. His hon. friend had made a request that this Committee should be left free to get whatever evidence it required in regard to this most important matter, so that the noble Lord, and the Government, and the House of Commons, could pay full attention to any recommendation that was made. He hoped it would not be understood that the Committee must accept every line in the agreement just as it stood, and that it was no use for them taking any other course. That was not the usual method of proceeding in this House. He thought that the Committee should consist of fifteen members. Originally there were only seven, but they had gradually squeezed the noble Lord and he had given consideration to the matter and agreed that the employees should be represented. He believed that these employees would not be worse off when employed by the State than when employed by the company, but that was a 1004 question which they would be able to raise in the House. The noble Lord had promised to give that matter his attention, but he thought the Committee should be entirely free and be able to go into everything that was material.
There were some large questions upon which it would be necessary to give the House more information. The first question which occurred to him was, why did the noble Lord make this agreement now? In 1904 they were anxious to know what the noble Lord was going to do, because it was then possible to have gone into the whole matter and bought out the undertaking of the National Telephone Company; and had the noble Lord done that before June 30th, the Government would have taken over the undertaking in December last. Month after month passed, but the noble Lord came to no agreement, and no notice was given in 1904 to buy out the company. After that time nothing could be done for seven years, and now they had this agreement before them. Now the noble Lord had entered into this arrangement. He wanted to know why he was tying the hands of future Postmasters-General?
Order, order! The hon. Gentleman is not discussing the Motion before the House. He is entering into a discussion upon the agreement, and that is not in order.
§ MR. LOUGH
said he thought there was an understanding assented to by the Prime Minister that in this debate they would be allowed to go into the general question of the agreement. He thought a good deal could be said on the proposal that a Committee should be appointed, but he desired to bow to the ruling. They were in great difficulty with respect to this Motion to appoint a Committee, for none of them wished absolutely to oppose the appointment, but they did want to give reasons why it should be a strong and a perfectly free Committee, able to consider every part of the agreement, and to amend it in any direction they pleased.
The other point he desired to put was in regard to the interests of the municipalities in this matter. He thought the interests of those municipalities which 1005 had set up telephones of their own should be considered, and that the Committee should be able to hear evidence, and to hear what suggestions they had to make. This was not the first agreement that had been made. There were purchase clauses in all the licences granted to municipalities. He thought those municipalities would be very anxious indeed about the terms inserted here. They were much more liberal than in other cases, and especially those of Glasgow, Hull, Ports mouth, and one or two others. They were most anxious to give evidence in regard to the position in which they would be placed if this agreement should be put through, and he thought the House should have an assurance from the Postmaster-General that the evidence which the municipalities desired to tender would be freely received and freely considered. They were placed in great difficulty by the action of the Government because they did not want to oppose the granting of the Committee. Indeed, they did not think that the matter could be rightly disposed of without a Committee, but they objected to the way in which the time had been shortened. The Committee would require to work under pressure. It would have to hurry very much to get its Report ready. On that ground he would ask the Postmaster-General whether a later date than August 3lst could not be adopted for the completion of the contract. It did not seem to him that there was any hurry. He hoped the noble Lord would tell them, in the interest especially of the greatest municipality of the country—
§ MR. LOUGH
said the matter wanted consideration. In the 1901 agreement there was no obligation to purchase any buildings or any land. [An HON. MEMBER: Order!] He did not think that was out of order. He was only giving reasons why the agreement should be considered without pressure with regard 1006 to time, and without limitation of the subjects to be considered. This agreement did modify the agreement of 1901 and brought in other subjects besides the purchase of plant. He thought the noble Lord should consider whether a later date should not be mentioned. At any rate he hoped he would see his way to allow all the evidence to be brought up, and that it would be fully considered, and further that any suggestions made would receive the sympathetic consideration of the Government.
§ MR. FIELD (Dublin, St. Patrick)
said he did not desire to detain the House at any length, but he should like to ask the noble Lord what powers the proposed Committee would have in the matter of receiving evidence from the commercial community. If it could not receive such evidence the Report of the Committee would not have the value which otherwise it would have. That was his view, and he hoped the noble Lord would correct him if he was wrong. Recently he took part in a debate as a member of the Associated Chambers of Commerce. In the discussion there was considerable difference of opinion among commercial men as to the telephone agreement. After all it was the commercial community who were most concerned in the telephone service. He was at the annual meeting of the Trades Protection Association in London the other day, and this agreement was discussed. The opinion of the Chambers of Commerce, and of the Trades Protection Association, and commercial men generally, was really the opinion which ought to be taken into account in the settlement of the question, for, after all, it was more a commercial question than anything else. Another point he desired to bring before the noble Lord was this. He had been waited upon by a deputation, and he had received many communications with respect to the staff. Although the time was far distant when the Government would take over the telephones a large number of the staff were very anxious to know how they were going to be circumstanced under the new agreement. It appeared to him that it would be unwise to approve of this agreement without 1007 consulting the commercial class, and, after all, Parliament was the representative, or was supposed to be the representative, of the whole community. Undoubtedly the commercial class were precisely the people who used the telephone, and they could give very useful evidence in regard, not alone to the further utility to which the telephone service could be devoted, but also with regard to the way in which this transfer ought to take place, and the terms on which the existing plant could be taken over and utilised. He did not wish to go further into the matter at present. He was obliged to the noble Lord for the concession which he had already made when he accepted a portion of the Amendment.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said he did not know whether it was that he misapprehended the meaning of hon. Gentlemen opposite, or whether it was that they misapprehended the character of the Committee, because he noticed repeatedly it was suggested that the Committee should have power to amend the agreement. It was not possible on the part of the Committee to amend the agreement. [An HON. MEMBER: Why?] Might he explain to hon. Members that a Committee, whether a Select Committee, or Committee of the Whole House, was a Committee to which the House had committed a definite matter for consideration, and no Committee, not even a Committee of the Whole House, had power to do more than report, to the House for the House's decision. They could not give a Committee of this House absolute powers.
§ MR. TENNANT
You give your Select Committees power to alter Private Bills. Is not this the same sort of thing?
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
said the hon. Member was perfectly right in regard to Committees on Private Bills. These were judicial bodies, and they had power to come to judicial decisions. But that was not the case with a Select Committee of this sort, or with a Committee of the Whole House, which made alterations in Bills. No doubt their decisions were generally accepted and generally final, but, after all, they might be altered 1008 on Report. All that a Committee could do was to report to the House, and upon that Report the House might act as it pleased. It might accept or reject the Report of a Select Committee. It was impossible to conceive that this Committee should have power to amend the agreement. What the Committee was appointed to do was to consider the agreement, and to report whether it was desirable in the public interest that it should become binding as it stood. When the Committee had so reported, it I would be for the House to accept or reject the Report, or differ from the Committee. The House was not bound by the Report of the Committee. Hon. Members opposite seemed to think that the Committee had the power of amending, which it had not. It seemed to have the power of calling any witnesses it pleased on the point it had to consider. Meantime, as he understood the situation—and he believed he understood it rightly—it was this. There had been signed, conditionally he supposed, by the Postmaster-General, what was at this moment an inchoate agreement, and it was only proposed that a Committee—a most proper Committee to be appointed, and he hoped it would be appointed without difficulty—should be appointed to consider whether the agreement should become binding. It seemed to him that the powers of the Committee would be adequate for the purpose for which it was appointed. The terms of reference were sufficient, and if the terms of reference were such as to enable the Committee to cut the agreement into little bits he should think that a very dangerous reference indeed to make to the Committee. He only rose to remove what seemed to him a slight misapprehension as to the functions and powers of the Committee.
§ MR. MCCRAE (Edinburgh, E.)
said he thought the noble Lord had been misunderstood, and that it was his intention that this Committee, when appointed, should have the agreement sent to it, and that the Committee should have all the powers and privileges which any similar Committee possessed. This House might give the Committee power "to send for persons, papers and records," and if that was so, perhaps the 1009 noble Lord would say, if the Committee should report recommending some alteration in the agreement, what position this House would be in then when it considered the Report of the Committee. He thought the noble Lord had always endeavoured to be very fair with the House. He remembered Last year that he raised this question when the Postmaster-General was asking a grant of £3,000,000 to extend the telephones. The noble Lord gave a very definite pledge. He said that he did not wish to be bound with regard to the form, but he pledged himself that the House should have every possible opportunity, so far as he could arrange, for considering the agreement, and that no agreement should be binding on the Government until it received the assent and ratification of the House. That brought him to a very important point. He thought the House was generally agreed that there should be an acquisition of the telephones, and it was merely a question of terms. What the House was concerned in principally was to get the best possible terms, and he asked the noble Lord, if they agreed to the appointment of this Committee, and if it recommended an alteration in the agreement, what position would the House be in in considering the Report of the Committee.
§ LORD STANLEY
said the hon. Member had stated that he had rather left the House in the dark on certain points. He wished now to clear up these matters for the House. He would explain what his position was in the matter. Last year the only obligation he came under was that before the agreement became binding this House should have the opportunity of saying "Yea" or "Nay." He said at the time that he thought probably the best way would be for the House to appoint a small Select Committee which would take evidence and submit their Report to the House. He thought the House could not possibly do otherwise. He thought it was the best way then, and he thought it was the best way now. The House should have an opportunity of saying "Yea" or "Nay" to the agreement. Even if he had the power to limit the powers of the Committee, it would be absolutely against his intention to do so. 1010 He wished the Committee to be a Select Committee, on exactly the same terms as every other Select Committee. [An HON. MEMBER on the OPPOSITION benches: That is all we want.] He desired it to make the fullest inquiry that might be necessary and then report to the House. His hon. friend the Member for King's Lynn had put the case better than he could-viz., it was not in the power of the Committee to alter the agreement. They might make recommendations if they liked; and these recommendations would come up to the House in the same way as the Report of any Committee, and then the House would have to consider whether or not these recommendations, if adopted, vitiated the agreement. For his part he would have to consider whether he could go on, in view of the recommendations, with the agreement, seeing it could only be accepted as a whole. If hon. Members had been under a misunderstanding, he apologised.
The hon. Member for Islington asked why an agreement should be now come to. Everybody wished to see the matter brought to a satisfactory conclusion. They did not wish in 1911 a hiatus with no telephone company, and that would be obviated if this agreement was ratified at once. At the present moment a great deal of the complaint against the National Telephone Company was due to the fact that, apart from London, there was no interchangeability between the two systems. A message on the Post Office system could not be taken for the National Telephone system, and vice versa. The instant this agreement came into operation that would cease; and as a business matter that should appeal to hon. Gentlemen opposite.
The hon. Member for Rugby, he thought, was under some misapprehension as to how far this agreement would affect the employees of the National Telephone Company. What he had endeavoured to secure in the agreement was that the rights of the National Telephone Company's employees should be satisfactorily adjusted up to the time they became Post Office servants. It could be no part of the agreement between the National Telephone Company and the Post Office as to what the Post Office should do 1011 with these employees after the undertaking was transferred. It was impossible five or six years beforehand to say whether A., B., or C. would be efficient at a particular date; but he believed that every single man and woman now employed by the National Telephone Company, who was certified by those best able to judge, viz., their superiors, to be efficient in 1911, would be taken over, and necessarily taken over. He pledged himself and his successors to take over the bulk of these employees, but not every individual.
§ MR. TENNANT
said that the noble Lord had said that if the Committee recommended Amendments to the agreement, these would be considered by the House; but the noble Lord had not said whether it would be in his power to say whether any particular Amendment should be adopted.
§ LORD STANLEY
said that that would be quite impossible. He had signed a particular agreement and could not alter it. If the House said that, in view of the recommendations of the Committee, they disapproved of the agreement as a whole, the agreement would drop to the ground.
§ MR. BLAKE (Longford, S.)
said there was no doubt that the Committee had no power to make Amendments to the agreement. They could consider the whole agreement and might say what were its good and its bad points, and how the latter could be improved. He was very suspicious of some of the terms of the purchase agreement, having regard to what took place at the meeting of the National Telephone Company. However, the noble Lord the Postmaster-General had clearly stated on a former occasion, and had reaffirmed it that day, that the agreement would not become binding unless the House ratified it. But that was not altogether carried out by the last clause of the agreement, and it was important that the discussion should not come to a close without a distinct understanding that, notwithstanding the difficulties the last clause might produce, the Government would carry out the spirit of the undertaking of the noble Lord.
§ LORD STANLEY
said he gave the hon. and learned Gentleman the assurance that the House should have an opportunity of saying "Yea" or "Nay" to the agreement before it became operative.
§ *SIR CHARLES DALRYMPLE (Ipswich)
said that this was an agreement between two parties; not with the Post Office alone, but between the Post Office and the National Telephone Company. The right hon Member for Wolver-hampton, who was chairman of the National Telephone Company, he thought should have been in his place, and might have been appealed to by the hon. Member for Islington quite as fairly as the Postmaster-General had been appealed to as to any change in the time in which the agreement was lo come into operation.
§ MR. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)
said that those on his side of the House were anxious that the House should have a full and free opportunity of deciding upon the policy of the noble Lord in entering on this agreement and the terms upon which that policy was to be carried out. In view of the past history of this company it was necessary that, before a decision was finally come to, the negotiations for the agreement should be discussed in the full light of day. He understood that the noble Lord was now willing to allow suggestions to be made by the Committee.
§ MR. DALZIEL
said he was very glad to hear it. He understood that the policy of the noble Lord was that the Committee could say "Yea" or "Nay" to the agreement; that the Committee were empowered to call witnesses in regard to certain portions of the agreement; and 1013 that if, in the course of their investigations, it appeared to them that Amendments ought to be made to it, they were powerless to make those Amendments.
§ LORD STANLEY
said he had distinctly stated that the Committee could recommend alterations, and that that was all the Committee could do.
§ MR. DALZIEL
said they were always glad to have something given by the Minister in charge of a Bill which was worth having, but he was not going to take something from the noble Lord after a Committee had sat which would be worth nothing whatever. The question was whether it was desirable, in the public interest, that this agreement should be sanctioned. There was no suggestion here about new proposals or fresh terms, or anything of that kind. The one point on which the Committee was to give judgment was not whether or not this Agreement should be altered, but to say "Aye" or "Nay" to the agreement. What was the Motion that would be put before the House? It was that the Select Committee's Report be adopted, so that when this agreement came back to the House the House would not have any authority to alter a single stop or comma in it. The noble Lord, who made this agreement on behalf of the Government, would make it a vote of confidence in himself, which would mean that they could not give a vote which would at all imperil the continuance, so long as his Party was in power, of his tenure at the Post Office.
When the proposal was made last year to send this agreement to a Select Committee, he spoke immediately after the noble Lord, and assented to it, because he thought the Committee would then investigate the whole matter before a definite decision was arrived at. But now, after it came back from the Select Committee, every Member of the House would be denied the opportunity of making any Amendment to the agreement, because the noble Lord had said they must take it or leave it, for the recommendations which the Select Committee would make to the noble Lord would not give sufficient opportunity to the House to discuss it. In a matter of this kind the public thought that the immense 1014 Parliamentary influence of the persons involved in an agreement of this kind allowed them to make terms which ought to be very fully and completely inquired into, and the House, as the matter at present stood, had not sufficient opportunity to do that. In the ordinary acceptation of the word "Select Committee," this House would imagine that such a Committee would examine into both sides of the argument and make a Report; that they would call witnesses as to the merits and demerits of the proposal contained in the Bill, and would be able to alter the Bill or they would be able to present a Report without looking at the Bill at all. Then there was a Select Committee to which a Bill might be referred, which could alter every clause of the Bill if they chose, so that it did not do for the hon. Member for King's Lynn to say they could not appoint a Committee to deal with this agreement in any way. This House could give a Select Committee power to deal with any one of the clauses or with the whole of the clauses of this agreement exactly in the same way as reference might be given to a Select Committee to deal with any Bill.
A further reason why they should be careful was that the whole agreement was based upon what was called the tramways arrangement, it being altogether forgotten that the tramways had a continued monopoly and that this telephone company had to stop on acertain date. So that there was and could not be any comparison whatever. Now what he desired to come to was this, the noble Lord apparently was willing to listen to suggestions from the Select Committee. He was willing that this agreement should go to the Select Committee and that any suggestions they made should be considered in the House. In his opinion that would be a Parliamentary procedure for which there was no precedent whatever. There was no precedent for a Committee making suggestions as to Amendments and making no Amendments. He wished the noble Lord to keep, an open mind upon this matter and not to make it a matter of confidence, a condition of things which would leave them in a very much freer position than they were at present. Therefore he proposed 1015 to add after the word "agreement" the words "with such Amendments if any as may be deemed expedient." It might be that no Amendments would be required at all, but what was the use of all this? What was the use of having a Select Committee to strengthen the right hon. Gentleman as to his policy if that Select Committee was not to be allowed to alter or amend any particular clause in the agreement? He might have perfect confidence in the agreement he had made, but even then he would be consoled by the fact that he would have a majority of his supporters upon the Committee. Therefore he submitted that the noble Lord ought to be able to accept this Amendment. Such a thing would add great force to the recommendations of the Committee, and he firmly believed it would save much time when the recommendations came back to the House. He asked the noble Lord to accept this Amendment, which involved a very important question of policy. As they stood to-day no one would be satisfied that sending the agreement to a Select Committee would be of any use whatever without power being given to that Committee to alter it. To send it to a Select Committee without such power as that would be a farce, and therefore he appealed with confidence to the noble Lord to accept his Amendment and shorten the discussion. He begged to move.
In line 5, after the word 'agreement,' to insert the words' with such Amendments, if any, as may be deemed expedient.'"—(Mr. Dalziel.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
said it appeared to him that there was a grave doubt whether, under the terms of reference as they stood, it would be in the power of the Chairman of this Committee to carry out the pledges of the noble Lord. They had all heard those pledges, and, so far as he was concerned, with one exception, they were satisfactory. But the moment the Committee was set up the power of the noble Lord to redeem his pledges was gone. He had no power over 1016 the Committee, and supposing the Committee proceeded, in pursuance of the pledges the noble Lord had given, to consider the suggestions made by the Committee in their recommendations, the Chairman of the Committee might say the terms of reference did not contemplate any Amendment and therefore they were out of order. Where was the noble Lord then? He would be under pledges to this House, but his power to redeem those pledges would be absolutely gone, and he would find himself in this House in the position of a person who is denied the facility to redeem pledges which he has made with the best will in the world, and there would be no remedy. The last clause of the agreement would come into force because the House of Commons would be asked to decide this matter without hearing those recommendations which the Committee wished, but were not allowed to make, and if they did not decide then the agreement would come into force after August 31st whether they sanctioned it or not. Therefore it was necessary to see whether the terms of reference made it binding on the Chairman of the Committee to carry out the pledges given by the noble Lord. That was his first point, and the words of his hon. friend below him had that for their object.
He passed to another point of some importance in regard to which one pledge of the noble Lord did not satisfy him. What the Committee was called upon to do under the terms of the reference was to recommend alterations in this agreement. He did not agree with his hon. friend below him on one point, and he did agree with the noble Lord that it would be against all precedent to give, if it were possible to give, to a Committee upstairs the power of altering this agreement. The thing was not practicable, because an agreement was an agreement between two parties, and the moment the Committee upstairs altered the agreement then that agreement was at an end, because unless the other party agreed to the alterations it was no longer the agreement that was entered into. Therefore, the demand to allow the Committee upstairs to alter this agree-was an impossible demand. What they wanted was this: They wanted full 1017 power, and they wanted it made clear in the terms of reference given to the Committee, to recommend alterations in the agreement.
That brought him to his second point, where he disagreed with the noble Lord. He did not think the Committee ought to be compelled by the wording of the reference to report whether "on the balance" they thought this agreement ought to be accepted or not. He objected to that. He thought they ought to be allowed to report in any of three ways, either whether "on the balance" the agreement ought to be annulled, or that it ought to be accepted in the public interest, or they ought to be allowed to make an open Report saying that, in event of certain alterations being made which they recommended, they would recommend that the agreement be accepted. Under the terms of reference as they now stood they would not be allowed to do that. Why should not they be allowed to make such a Report, because that was the Report which he thought they ought to be allowed to make, namely, that they were in favour of the agreement being made with the telephone company in the public interest, but not on the terms of the present agreement. Then the agreement would be altered and would go back in that form to the telephone company and the telephone company, with all the chances before them, would agree to accept the modifications suggested by this House, or go a long way in that direction. Why, then, should the Government tie up the hands of the Committee, and thus give warnin to the telephone company that they only had to stand firm to get what they wanted. He claimed that the terms of reference were most skilfully drawn so as to turn the proceedings of the Committee into an absolute mockery, because the Committee of the House of Commons, after the recommendations of the Select Committee were brought before them, were tied to two great alternatives, either to destroy the agreement altogether, or to accept it with all its faults. The Committee might hesitate greatly in the public interest, and say, "We will accept it;" but, on the other hand, were they to tell the Committee to devote weeks of labour; to examine 1018 witnesses with great expense; to make a series of recommendations, but to wind up their inquiry by the adoption of the agreement, and thereby stultify themselves? Because, did any body suppose that the telephone company, with such a point in their hands, would ever take the trouble to read over the recommendations of the Committee under such circumstances?
They were engaged on a very important discussion which might mean millions to the public of this country. These great contracts were very serious matters. He did not profess to know anything about this matter, and it was not in the least necessary that he should know anything about it, but it was a very technical matter, and the House ought to proceed cautiously because of that fact, and because it involved a question of millions. He had heard it stated that if this matter were carefully considered, and the principles, even of the tramways terms, applied strictly to this bargain, that the telephone company would get £2,000,000 less for their interest. He did not know if that was true, but, in any case, the House ought to be very careful in regard to anything in respect to which such a statement could be made, and it should do its best to get the best terms possible. He did not blame the noble Lord, because he had done the best according to his judgment; all he said was that the House should have a word in the matter; but, because the noble Lord had made what he thought to be the best terms possible, he had drawn the terms of reference in such a way as to make the labours of the Committee absolutely nugatory. He suggested that the noble Lord should leave it open to the Committee to send down to the House what he called an open Report to the effect, if they held that opinion, that they considered it extremely desirable in the interests of the public service that the telephones should be bought up, and that on certain lines and terms which they suggested they would agree to the purchase. But if those terms were not made then they agreed to make no recommendations.
§ SIR CHRISTOPHER FURNESS (Hartlepool)
said he personally knew nothing about this matter, but he had noticed in the papers first on one day that the contract between the Government and the telephone company had been made, and then that the shares of the telephone company had gone up. Then a day or two afterwards that statement was contradicted and it was said that the shares had gone down. The hon. Baronet on the other side of the House had informed the House that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton was the chairman of the telephone company. That was news to him, but the hon. Baronet then complained of the absence of the right hon. Gentlemen in this debate. He should have considered it would have been in very bad taste if the right hon. Gentleman had been in his place on this occasion, and he commended him, if he were connected with this company in any way, upon his absence that afternoon. It would have been very much better if others had also been absent. He had heard certain insinuations with regard to this matter and he called them most unworthy insinuations, because he declined to believe that any Gentleman in this House had acted in this matter in any way unworthy of the best interests of the State. It seemed to him that this Amendment might be withdrawn if the noble Lord would agree to a suggestion which he ventured to make. It was perfectly clear to any business man that the terms which had been entered into could not be varied by any Committee upstairs. It was quite clear that it was within the province of that Committee to make alterations in this provisional agreement which would not be in any way binding on the Telephone Company. Both sides must agree, before it could be a binding agreement, but it did seem to him that the difficulty might be easily got over. Let them assume that this Committee recommended that the noble Lord should see the telephone company and made certain suggestions; the noble Lord should consider those suggestions, and after the Committee had reported, place himself in communication with the telephone company, and if he was unable to obtain any modification in this provisional agreement, he should 1020 give a pledge to this House that the agreement should not become binding on August 29th, but that the House should have an opportunity of discussing this matter.
§ LORD STANLEY
The hon. Baronet could not have been in the House when I was speaking, for what he has asked for I have already offered.
§ SIR CHRISTOPHER FURNESS
said he did not understand the noble Lord to give such an undertaking as that, but if he had done so he was satisfied.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
said he had taken part in a good many discussions in connection with this agreement with respect to the telephone company. He had opposed all these agreements because it always appeared to him that for some reason or other the company always got the best of the public and the Post Office. But if the noble Lord would accept the suggestion of his hon. friend he thought this agreement would be most desirable and it would be very desirable to see it carried out. The hon. Member for Mayo pointed out that the noble Lord was not entirely free in this matter. They had not only to deal with the noble Lord but also with the telephone company itself. The company had its agreement, a most unfair agreement, he thought, so far as they Were concerned. It was to continue its existence until 1911 and then it was to be bought under certain conditions. It was admitted that it was injurious to the public that the telephone company should act under that agreement until the year 1911, and therefore he thought it was most desirable that they should come to some arrangement with the company to enable the service to be freer before then than it was at present. His hon. friend had proposed this Amendment. The words were as follows, "With such Amendments, if any, as may be deemed expedient." He presumed his hon. friend meant that he would have the agreement 1021 taken clause by clause, and that Amendments should be moved one by one on those clauses.
§ MR. DALZIEL
said he recognised that as the agreement was a provisional one it might be inconvenient to take it clause by clause, and he would alter his Amendment by making it "suggested Amendments."
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said the question was that Amendments might have to be taken on the agreement itself, and he did not see how that would be possible or how it could be dealt with in the agreement itself, and he did not see how his hon. friend could deal with the matter at all by way of suggested Amendments. The Committee would look into the matter and discuss it, and then issue their Report, and then what would be done would be to move Amendments in this House on the Report itself. He thought it could be done under the Motion itself. But if there was any doubt on the matter, then he suggested to the noble Lord that if he thought it might be desirable that any of the recommendations should come before the House as the recommendations of the Committee, they might add these words, or words in this form, "either in its accepted form or in any form in which it is suggested by the Committee." That was the ground of objection.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said it was not quite the same thing. The House would have to receive the Report, and, assuming there were certain suggested alterations, the noble Lord would have to consider those suggested alterations himself, and if he were of opinion that it was desirable that they should be made, he would go to the company and say, "You hold us perfectly fast; you may say that I have made a provisional agreement subject to ratification by the House; but I think the suggested alterations are sound, and I submit it to you whether in your own 1022 interest, and in the interest of the public, it would not be desirable that you should; give your assent to them." But as the agreement stood, the company could refuse its assent; and he wanted to make it as easy as possible for the noble Lord, to whom he thought the House owed a debt of gratitude for the agreement he had come to. The company had on previous occasions been very difficult to deal with; it had always been in favour of its pound of flesh, and it had the power now to stand up for and to insist on its pound of flesh, much to the harm of the country, until the year 1911. He gathered that the noble Lord wished the Committee to be able to make recommendations; that being so, there being many Members on that side of the House who did not think it would be possible under the present wording of the Motion, he hoped the noble Lord would accept such words as he had read out, or words tantamount to them, so as to make the matter clear.
§ LORD STANLEY
desired to make his position perfectly clear. As representing the Post Office he had made the best agreement that he possibly could—in his own opinion at all events—in the interests of the country, and he believed that that agreement was the utmost that they could expect, but he wished to be fortified with the opinion of a Select Committee of the House. The proposed Select Committee had the full powers which appertained to every Select Committee; it would be able to declare what its opinion of the agreement was, also in what part, if any it thought the agreement defective. That power belonged to every Select Committee and he was neither adding to nor taking away from it. When the Committee had considered the question it would make its recommendation as to whether in the best interests of the country the House should accept the agreement or not, giving its reasons. He had not the slightest pride in this matter, and if he found that his judgment had been wrong, and if the Committee found that he had been wrong, he would not hesitate to say so to the House of Commons. He would then let the agreement drop, as he could do by means of a vote of the House of Commons, and Commence de novo with a new agreement. 1023 He really thought that that was all the House of Commons ought to ask him to do. Personally, he believed that the Committee would find that this agreement was in the best interests of the country, and he could not accept the Amendment.
§ MR. MCCRAE
said the noble Lord had just stated that this Committee would have full powers, but they on that side of the House were afraid that those powers were somewhat circumscribed by the terms of the reference.
§ MR. MCCRAE
said that was where the difference of opinion came in, and he suggested, in order to make it clear that the Committee had full power to consider the whole matter, that the noble Lord should strike out the words after "report" in order to insert, "as to any recommendations thereon." That preserved the attitude of the noble Lord, and it would also meet the wishes of hon. Members on that side of the House.
§ MR. LOUGH
said he would not be surprised if they were at a complete agreement, but they on that side of the House felt, whether rightly or wrongly, that if the reference was maintained in its present wording the Committee would or might be restrained from making a full examination of the subjects which this agreement raised. They only wanted to be sure that the Committee would be quite free to examine the whole question and to make whatever Report it pleased, and he thought that if from the end of the reference there had been omitted the words "and to report whether it is desirable in the public interest that the agreement should become binding," the matter would have been nearly all right.
§ MR. LOUGH
said that if the words had been "To consider and report on the proposed agreement" they would have taken no objection at all. Ultimately the House of Commons would have to decide this matter; but they would not have the necessary information to enable them to give a full judgment upon the 1024 question unless the Committee was left perfectly free. They wanted the Committee to examine the agreement from every standpoint, and to look at the telephone question from every standpoint, and then to make a wide and open Report. If the noble Lord would make the matter entirely open they would be satisfied, and the debate would come to an end.
§ LORD STANLEY
said that if the present Amendment were withdrawn, and the House would agree to it, he would be willing to insert words so that the reference should read, "and to report as to any recommendations thereon and whether it is desirable in the public interest that the agreement should become binding." That would be inserting the the words suggested by the hon. Member for East Edinburgh. For his own satisfaction he desired the Committee to say whether they considered it desirable in the public interest that the agreement should become binding.
§ MR. DILLON
said that was exactly what he objected to, as it was making the matter in the Committee a question of confidence in the Government, denying to the Committee the power to give an open Report. They would then get, not the true mind of the Committee, but only the mind of the noble Lord's supporters.
§ MR. KEARLEY
suggested that it would meet the views of the Opposition if the noble Lord would leave out all words after "report" and insert "thereon."
§ MR. DILLON
said that would not do at all. The noble Lord wished to retain the words "whether it is desirable that the agreement should become binding." The agreement was the noble Lord's agreement, and he wanted to force the Committee to say whether or not they approved of his agreement. That was what the Committee ought not to be forced to do.
§ LORD STANLEY
said that for his own satisfaction and justification, he must ask the House to keep those words in. If there were any words he could add 1025 which would give a third alternative he was perfectly ready to put them in, but he must insist on retaining in the Resolution the words "whether it is desirable in the public interest that the agreement should become binding."
§ MR. DILLON
asked whether it amounted to this—that the noble Lord objected to leaving it to the Committee to give an open Report.
§ MR. DILLON
said the retention of these words did not leave it open to the Committee. Under them the Chairman and the Committee would be bound to bring up a Report for or against the noble Lord's proposal, and he would not allow the Committee, even if they wished to do so, to give an open Report saying—
§ LORD STANLEY
The words are—Whether it is desirable in the public interest that the agreement should become binding with or without modification.I will read it to the House. I do not know whether the hon. Member will then withdraw his Amendment. It will then read—That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the Agreement of February 2nd, 1905, between the Postmaster-General and the National Telephone Company, and to report as to any recommendations thereon; whether it is desirable in the public interest that the agreement shall become binding with or without modifications.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question amended, in line 4, by inserting, after the word "Report," the words "as to any recommendations thereon," and in line 5, by adding, at the end of the Question, the words "with or without modifications."
After the words last added, to add the words, 'and also whether the interests of the employees of the National Telephone Company have been duly considered.'"—(Mr. Luke White.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question, as amended, agreed to.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the Agreement of the 2nd day of February, 1905, between the Postmaster-General and the National Telephone Company, and to report as to any recommendations thereon whether it is desirable in the public interest that the Agreement should become binding, with or without modifications, and also whether the interest of the employees of the National Telephone Company have been duly considered."
§ "That Mr. Benn, Lord Bingham, Sir Horatio Davies, Mr. Keir Hardie, Mr. Helme, Sir William Holland, Mr. Lambton, Mr. Morrison, Mr. Joseph Nolan, Sir Charles Renshaw, Colonel Royds, and Mr. Stuart-Wortley be nominated Members of the Committee."—(Lord Stanley.)
§ MR. DALZIEL
said he noticed that the Government had two more Members on this Committee than the Opposition had, and as a rule in such Committees the Goverment only had a majority of one. He thought the noble Lord might 1027 be satisfied with having a bare majority of his own supporters on the Committee. He raised this objection upon Lord Bingham name, but he did not object to Lord Bingham any more than any other member of the Committee. He thought the Government should be content with one more, and in view of the importance of this matter he suggested that the noble Lord should take one of his own supporters out. He might take out any one he pleased.
§ LORD STANLEY
I do not know exactly what the right proportion on this Committee is between the two sides, but if I find that the proportion is wrong—
§ LORD STANLEY
I am not sure that it is, but if I find that it is so, after consultation, I shall prefer to add one more to the Committee from the opposite side.
§ MR. DALZIEL
said he should be perfectly willing to accept that. If the noble Lord counted the Irish Members as members of the Opposition he would find that the Government had a majority of two. He begged leave to withdraw his objection.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records."—(Lord Stanley.)
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Three be the quorum."—(Lord Stanley.)1028
§ Question, "That Five be the quorum," put, and agreed to.
§ Ordered, That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the Agreement of the 2nd day of February, 1905, between the Postmaster-General and the National Telephone Company, and to report as to any recommendations thereon whether it is desirable in the public interest that the Agreement should become binding, with or without modifications, and also whether the interests of the employees of the National Telephone Company have been duly considered.
§ Mr. Benn, Lord Bingham, Sir Horatio Davies, Mr. Keir Hardie, Mr. Helme, Sir William Holland, Mr. Lambton, Mr. Morrison, Mr. Joseph Nolan, Sir Charles Renshaw, Colonel Royds, and Mr. Stuart Wortley nominated members of the Committee.
§ Ordered, That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records.
§ Ordered, That Five be the quorum(Lord Stanley.)