§ SIR EDWARD SASSOON (Hythe)
in moving, "That, in view of the experimental and undeveloped condition of 1291 radio-telegraphy, this House regards with apprehension any engagements hampering the complete freedom of action of the State, and asks His Majesty's Government to grant a Select Committee to inquire into the proposals embodied in the Berlin Convention previous to ratification," said he felt convinced that His Majesty's Government were fully alive to the far-reaching potentialities of wireless telegraphy, and that the House as a whole was deeply grateful to the Prime Minister for affording an opportunity of discussing the matter at a time of political stress. The Motion spoke for itself. Although the Papers relating to the subject had not been in the hands of Members for long, he thought that those who had followed the course of the discussion in Berlin must have found it comparatively easy to assimilate the literature, to penetrate the true inwardness of that extraordinary document, and to disentangle the main and salient principle at issue. That principle was no less than the maintenance of our wireless system entirely unhampered by engagements with foreign nations, at any rate until such time as fresh developments and further knowledge might justify His Majesty's Government in adopting a forward policy. In that broad and general proposition he thought he had the cordial acquiescence of hon. Gentlemen in every part of the House. Before he concluded his arguments he hoped to convince the House that this country had played second fiddle to Germany and to her automaton voters at the Conference. The special representative of an eminent journal in this country, devoted to the views of hon. Gentlemen opposite—the Daily Chronicle—who had special opportunities of gauging the pulse and feelings of members of the Conference in Berlin, wrote to that paper—As far as important business is concerned, with the exception of the British delegates themselves, the Conference is of opinion that Germany has gained all along the line.In bringing forward this subject he was not in any way actuated by Party motives. The interests at stake were far too precious to permit of Party calculations, sordid and squalid as they would be in this connection, being brought into play. Neither had he any ulterior motive in bringing forward the Motion, because he knew nothing of the internal economy of wire- 1292 less telegraphy nor of its constituent elements, nor had he the remotest personal interest in any shape or form in the future prosperity of the system in use by us. His right hon. friend and he, together with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean, had before now stood in the breach against the unfair treatment meted out to the public and the Press by cable companies, and he therefore hoped the House would acquit him of any leanings towards monopolists; on the contrary, he had always advocated that no contracts for any lengthy period should be entered into with the British organisation, so that the hands of the State should be entirely unhampered to revise those contracts, or, if necessary, to acquire the undertaking in the public interest. They on that side of the House did not question either the soundness or the wisdom of the policy of sending our delegates to Berlin, for he believed the late Government were themselves inclined to accept the invitation from Berlin. His contention was that delegates having been sent to Berlin and the Conference having concluded its labours, it was of the utmost consequence that no agreement tying the hands of the State, indeed of the Empire—for, be it remembered, there was not a single representative of the Colonies at theConference—no instrument involving even the remotest risk to our delicately organised wireless system, or operating in restraint of the entire freedom of our maritime system, should be sanctioned unless and until Parliament, in the plenitude of its judgment, had had full and ample opportunity of addressing itself to and pronouncing upon the main bearings of the problem. That was the whole question in a nutshell. He did not propose to enter into the scientific aspects of the question for the simple reason that he was wholly ignorant of the technicalities with which it bristled. But there was the business aspect and the non-technical side—the principle of working and the method of administration—which was most important. By common admission this country possessed the most efficient and reliable system of wireless telegraphy extant. The department over which his right hon. friend presided for many years declined to enter into a contract with the organisation which now worked the wireless telegraphy service in this 1293 country. The Admiralty, after still greater deliberation, threw their ægis over that association. How it was that the Admiralty delegates in Berlin deviated from that attitude after having entered into such an arrangement seemed to him wholly inexplicable. Again Lloyds had entered into a fourteen years agreement, and Canada and Newfoundland had both signed contracts, after a great deal of circumspection, to accept the service of our present system. His first contention was, therefore, that having the most efficient and most reliable system we ought not, in an outburst of altruistic benevolence, to deprive ourselves of that unquestionable initial advantage. If the House would bear with him for a few minutes he should like to read a few extracts from two or three influential newspapers in Berlin commenting upon the action of the Conference and its results. The first quotation was from the Vossiche, September, 1906:The German industry has indeed found Incrative occupation in the construction of apparatus, but apart from a small beginning, it has shown little interest in exploitation.…It is evident that the difficulties of competition have grown very much, and it will need an arduous straining of all available energy and efficiency to counteract a supremacy which England is aspiring to.…The English tenacity, supported by remarkable capacity for organisation, shows itself here prominently. Where is there a prominent point of any importance and suitable for the erection of wireless stations that does not belong to England, or is not under English influence?…Alluding to our own organisation it said—However gratifying this progress may be from the standpoint of civilisation and the augmented safety of navigation, it is regrettable that German capital takes such a small share in this advance. At any rate with the exception of England and Italy all the other Powers have an urgent and a pressing interest to see that the British service falls, as it cripples their industrial competition and grants to England a rather dangerous influence from this system of communication.The Reichstote stated—It would be even more impossible for the other States to admit a British supremacy over atmosphere than the British supremacy over seas.He apologised to the House for the length of those extracts, but he thought they would be convincing. He desired to know whether the Committee of Defence, which they owed to the patriotic sagacity of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, were of one 1294 mind on the subject, because rumour had it to the contrary. His second contention was that our Colonies had had no means of taking cognisance of the proposals or of the difficulties of enforcing the regulations discussed in Berlin. The House as a whole did not realise the magnitude of the Canadian and Newfoundland interests in the matter. Canada and Newfoundland together had a coast line of not less than:3,400 miles, whereas the whole of the British coast line from Dover to Land's End barely exceeded 280 miles. The reproach could not be levelled at Canada, still less at the Laurier administration, of desiring to strangle the competitive systems. Their view seemed to be that, until this science emerged from its experimental stage, it was best to leave well alone. His third contention was that in any agreement providing for the interchangeability of messages between different systems indiscriminately there must be the danger of these waves being shot through ether promiscuously, and in the welter and confusion that would be thereby created it was by no means improbable that our own messages which we had to send to our reserve stations on these shores would be blurred, obliterated, or intercepted, with the general result that the whole of our service would be dislocated. His fourth contention was that, unlike the cable and telegraphs, where they required an international understanding in order to lay ends of cables and wires at certain fixed points on the coasts, wireless telegraphy scorned all geographical limitations and barriers and know no frontiers. Therefore he thought that, until such time as arrangements with foreign Powers were considered necessary for our system, this country ought to be allowed to carry on the service which suited it best, and which, so far, had worked admirably. His fifth contention, and it was the last and most important, related to the status, utility, and general economy of our own organisation as compared with the organisation of foreign nations, notably that of Germany, in so far as any reliable comparison could be instituted with regard to their respective capabilities; for, while we were the common carriers at so much a word, the bulk of the people abroad were merely manufacturers of instruments. This was the second time that attempts had been made to 1295 draw us into international agreements, and, it might be presumed, judging from the anxiety that had been displayed, that their aim was to fortify the German position and the position of other Powers, which were untenable except with our adherence. He had no doubt that was an object of great use to the foreign Powers, because what they desired was to secure the establishment of their own systems upon our shores. Should we permit that object to be carried out? He would say certainly, if any such service could be conducted, and did not involve the principle of division of authority and competition between tbe different authorities, with the corollary of the joint use of the same stations. His right hon. friend knew the difficulties inherent in the domain of international cable agreements and how difficult it was to secure the introduction of even the smallest reform. The House was aware that the telegraph services in this country were under a central authority. What would the Postmaster-General say if the different makers of telegraphic instruments were to wish to co-operate with him in the conduct of his enterprise? What would the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster have said in the early days of the telephone if it had been suggested that he should allow communication with every single instrument to be effected through the central exchange? He would have said it would mean chaos. It would be more irksome and intolerable in the case of a wireless service between ship and shore or shore and shore. Let them take a simple case, and assume that two foreign ships were approaching our station. The House would easily see that if those ships were equipped with different instruments confusion would be the inevitable result. Our own delegate, Mr. Babington Smith, in proposing to the Conference that each State should have the right to reserve certain stations on its territory from the obligation to intercommunicate, urged that the well-organised service in this country would be subject to great jeopardy from the effect of messages transmitted under the provisions of the Convention. If the service would suffer disturbance from mere attempts at communication by ships not under the control of our stations imagination staggered at the prospect of a service 1296 which would be compounded of a far greater number of conflicting elements, ships worked by shipping companies, ships worked by wireless companies, shore stations worked by Government, shore stations worked by wireless companies, and the reserve stations worked in such a way that they were sure to be crowded out. He thought the result would be confusion worse confounded. Was it worth while, even in times of peace, to do anything that would, remotely even, disturb our well-conducted wireless service? What was the advantage of it? If foreign stations had at least as good a system as our own he could have understood the sense of entering into some arrangement in the direction of international convention; but so far as he could see the result of the Convention would be to encourage foreign Governments to collect information as regards the disposition of our own wireless arrangements round our coasts. We were the largest maritime Power in the world, and if anybody was to call the tune for the rest of the world we were the people who ought to do it. The difficulty of patent rights would constantly be cropping up, and it would be a matter of the utmost difficulty to adjust and reconcile the protection of these rights. They were told that the tendency of the Convention would be to advance and benefit science. He could not conceive a diplomatic instrument more calculated to hinder and check the progress of science; for it practically said to the inventor and the patentee, "Your patent will not be usable until every single State in the Convention agrees to use it," and even then he would probably get very short shrift for his rights. As a last resort they were told that unless the Convention was passed they would be working towards the creation of a monopoly. Whatever might be the drift of services abroad, there was no such thing as a monopoly in this country, and the suggestion merely created a false prejudice in the public mind. We had enough ships and wireless stations all over our dominions to keep our present system busy throughout the twenty-four hours; and if foreign nations wished to communicate with us, let them do so by all means; but let them use the instruments that we considered best, so that they might not disturb and unnecessarily injure the working of our present 1297 organised system. The Convention bristled with regulations the enforcement of which would be, if not practically impossible, so difficult, so harassing, and so irksome, that it should really cause any Government to withdraw from it if it unfortunately entered into it. We were on friendly terms with the nation that had been so conspicuous in initiating this Conference, but we could not overlook the colossal sacrifices she was making to build up her powerful Navy—a state of things that was bound to affect our Navy Estimates. Whether those sacrifices were for purposes of offence or defence the question was one which could not be overlooked. Wireless telegraphy was fast becoming an indispensable element in naval equipment. For other nations it might be more or less of a toy; for us it was the very breath of our nostrils. Were we to forget that "charity begins at home," and to go out of our way to stimulate the efforts of other nations at the cost of a possible injury to ourselves? If our naval programme was to be increased, the first section of the community to suffer would be the working classes, and he therefore appealed to the Labour Members to look upon the question as one specially affecting them. He did not know whether he might appeal to hon. Members from Ireland. He knew certain aspirations of theirs unfortunately circumscribed the range of their political vision, but he felt certain that the hon. and learned Gentleman who so brilliantly championed the cause of the Nationalists was animated by sentiments larger than mere local patriotism. He would be glad, therefore, if the hon. and learned Gentleman would help in disentangling these questions, if only on grounds of expenditure. He would remind the Irish Members that the brilliant and gifted inventor of our system of wireless telegraphy was a son of Erin, and that a considerable portion of the capital, labour, energy, and brain that went to build up that powerful undertaking came from Ireland. Whatever the results of the appeal which he made to the Government to mark time as against a policy of immediate and forward action—or rather he should say a leap in the dark—it could not afterwards be said that respectful remonstrance shad not been addressed to them. Theirs was the responsibility. Might it not 1298 prove to have been exercised at the risk and peril of two of the most cherished interests of this country, imperial and industrial defence. He begged to move.
§ MAJOR SEELY (Liverpool, Abercromby),
in seconding the Motion, said his interest in the matter arose from the fact that he had had to consider it in reference to communication between lightships and the shore. It was to Mr. Gerald Balfour that the use of wireless telegraphy for this purpose, and with the happiest results to life saving, was due. There were two aspects of this question. Of the commercial aspect he would only say that it would be unwise, at the bidding of a Conference, composed as it was, to standardise an industry so completely in its infancy. He would say no more about the commercial aspect of the question. Nor was it necessary to deal with the fact that the Marconi Company had very nearly a monopoly in this country. We gave this monopoly of our own free will for our own purposes, and if we did not like monopolies our proper course was to buy the company out, stock, lock, and barrel. But from the strategical aspect the matter was of supreme, vital, overwhelming importance. In time of peace it was but a fractional percentage of the electrical communication of the world that was sent by wireless telegraphy.
§ MAJOR SEELY
said it would be so during our lifetime. But when this country went to war,.probably communication with our island by cable would cease. Would it not then be well, before we committed ourselves to the far-reaching provisions in this document, to reflect that probably we should have to rely on wireless telegraphy for communication with our fleet? If history was any guide, capability of communicating with a fleet would probably be worth twice the naval force that at any one moment could be put upon the sea. It had been suggested to him by a high naval authority that a Power with ten battleships and able freely to communicate with them by wireless telegraphy was in 1299 a position equal to that of another Power with twenty battleships but no such means of communication. He asked the Prime Minister, as representing the Committee of Defence, whether it was not true, looking back at the naval battles of the past, that the possession of such a system by the defeated force might have reversed the actual results. At the Conference the Great Powers of Europe were represented, none of whom had interests equal to our own, and in addition there were representatives of Brazil, Persia, Rumania, Uruguay, and Monaco, It was too much to ask the House to accept the document without further inquiry. It was always a delicate and difficult matter to know how far to invoke the co-operation of our Colonies in an international matter; but this was a matter of high interest to our Colonies, most of whom had wireless telegraphy stations of their own. They were not represented at the Conference, though they were to be in the future, but a Colony like Canada would have no more voice than one of the small German Crown colonies. The composition of the body was not such as should induce the House to accept the result without further inquiry by Select Committee. He drew attention to Articles 6 and 8, and noted the words "as far as possible"in an attempt to standardise an inchoate system. It was impossible to foretell what might result from the energy of inventors, and we might bitterly regret agreeing to the setting up of other stations alongside our own. Reference would, no doubt, be made to our reservations in the Protocol, but therein were reasons for further delay before signing this document. The House did not understand radio telegraphy, nor yet did Mr. Marconi; and who could say where we might be driven by the decision of the Conference? As a plain man he had a great dread of experts assembled in conference upon matters affecting the very life of a nation. No doubt our own representatives were well qualified to look after British interests, but he asked for the application of common sense after experts had given their opinion, and he begged the Government to assent to the appointment of a Select Committee.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed—"That, in view of the experimental and undeveloped condition of radio- 1300 telegraphy, this House regards with apprehension any engagements hampering the complete freedom of action of the State, and asks His Majesty's Government to grant a Select Commitee to inquire into the proposals embodied in the Berlin Convention previous to ratification."—(Sir Edward Sassoon.)
§ MR. BELLAIRS (Lynn Regis)
said he was glad that the hon. Baronet had by his speech taken this question out of the arena of Party politics altogether, because otherwise it would have been incumbent upon someone to point out that the late Postmaster-General had publicly blessed this agreement, and had stated that the Admiralty, the Post Office, and the War Office under the last Government were in agreement in regard to it. Evidence that that was the case was to be found in Article X. of the Post Office agreement binding the Marconi Company to concur in any arrangement the Government might make with foreign Powers. That showed that the Admiralty were in complete agreement with the Post Office in 1904. The hon. Baronet the Member for Hythe had said that the agreement with respect to the using of certain instruments would result in chaos. Personally he disagreed altogether with that view. The hon. Baronet had also said that there had been a want of consistency on the part of the Admiralty. He did not think that that had been proved. With regard to the statement that the Colonies had not been consulted as to whether they would enter into such an agreement, the matter would come up at the Inter-Colonial Conference next year, and if it were then found that their interests did not square with ours the agreement made at the Berlin Convention could be broken on one year's notice, and no great harm could be done in a year. The hon. Baronet had made a stalking-horse of maritime cables, especially in the case of the Pacific Cable to Australia which involved a loss of £90,000 a year. He denied that we were dependent on the Marconi system of wireless telegraphy for communication between the ships of the Navy or the mercantile marine. Experiments could be tried with waves of quite different length from those employed by 1301 the Marconi system between the shipping and coast stations. The House ought not to be asked to be guided by purely naval considerations, having regard to the fact that the work of our commerce went on year after year, whereas it was a hundred years since we had had a maritime war, and our mercantile supremacy had not been challenged since. His argument was that there should be an open market for all systems of wireless telegraphy as long as they did not interfere with each other. In that way we might get the best system in the future which would be for the benefit both of the Navy and of the mercantile marine. What the hon. Baronet was contemplating was a monopoly made by law. Our supremacy in the mercantile marine of the world had been attained by free competition; and the same result would follow if we allowed free competition with all systems of wireless telegraphy. We had 43,000 miles of coast-line—ten times the coastline of Germany, twice the coast-line of Germany and the United States—and half the shipping of the world. We had got the start in the mercantile marine, and he could not see how our monopoly was to be infringed upon by Germany or any other nation. Undoubtedly the Marconi Company had succeeded in getting a monopoly of the Press. Hon. Members had been bombarded with newspaper extracts presenting only one side of the case. He had read them all, and they gave a blood-curdling picture of what was to happen to this country as the result of the convention. The same predictions were made when the Navigation Laws were abolished; and yet they all knew what had happened since. Before the abolition of the Navigation Laws our commercial shipping was by no means supreme; but since it had become the greatest in the world. He believed that a similar system employed in regard to wireless telegraphy would bring about a corresponding result. On that side of the House they were not free-traders by compartments, but free-traders all along the line; and he did not see how they could adopt a dog-in-the-manger policy in regard to wireless telegraphy.
§ *Mr. JOHN O'CONNOR (Kildare, N.)
said that the hon. Baronet the Member for Hythe had appealed A to the sympathetic nature of the Irish Members for support to his Motion on the ground that the inventor of this system of wireless telegraphy was to some extent an Irishman. However ready they might be to respond to appeals of that kind, there was another element in an Irishman's nature, and that was that they thought justice should be done; and they believed that justice would not be done unless the Motion made by the hon. Baronet were adopted by the House. Much had been said in the course of the debate about monopoly; but if there was a monopoly it had been created by themselves, They had allowed it to grow up and encouraged it by contracts entered into with the Marconi Company by the several Government Departments. If the Marconi Company should be unable to perform the terms of the contracts entered into the Government Departments would be themselves to blame. It was well known that monopolies were created by other Departments than the Post Office. Monopolist rights were given through the Committees upstairs to railway companies, and good care was taken by every kind of inquiry that no infringement was made of those monopolists' rights. An agreement had also been made between the Marconi Company and Lloyds, which showed that the latter, who were the best judges of all the requirements of shipping, were of opinion that one system of wireless telegraphy should be in general use. Lloyds, after having expended £45,000 in experimenting with other systems on their own account, said that the Marconi system had been proved to be a good working system. With that knowledge the Post Office Department entered into an agreement with the Marconi Company for fifteen years with the condition that if another system of wireless telegraphy were introduced the Marconi Company were to be protected against interference at their stations—coastal or inland. That argument disposed of one Department of the State, but he now came to 1303 the agreement between the Admiralty and the Marconi Company. That company under the rules for the time being in force, by virtue of the Berne Convention had to give priority to Admiralty messages in cases of emergency, in regard to the necessity of which the Admiralty, it was provided, should be the sole judge. That was a most important provision. The Marconi Company were also bound to give certain privileges to the Post Office, and yet the Government, knowing that the company had signed the agreement, joined this Convention which invaded the rights of the company, and allowed something to happen which might disable the company from being able to perform the terms of the agreement. He therefore submitted that there was no question of monopoly. Under the Convention interference by foreign vessels might take place with our wireless telegraph stations, say, on the coast of Ireland, at Castletown by vessels coming from the west and at Rosslare by vessels coming from the east in trying to get into communication with the International Station which by this Convention, if ratified, could be erected midway between those two. There was another way in which the power of the company under the agreement would be interfered with. The Marconi Company had devoted themselves to manufacturing instruments of the highest power, and of the most delicate character. The machines manufactured in Germany were not of so delicate a character, and if the Marconi Company were compelled to receive messages from vessels that were not supplied with their own instruments one of the effects would be that they would be obliged to furnish their own stations, whether afloat or ashore, with instruments of a low grade character, and they would thus be disabled from sending their messages to the furthest distances, and from receiving messages from abroad. That would be of the greatest detriment to the company, especially in that they would have no control over their system. At the present moment there might be nothing like perfection in the Marconi system. Still they had done their best to secure it. In order to make their working more perfect they had offered and given to their servants a bonus if they carried 1304 out the regulations which would ensure perfect working. If they had to give a bonus to their own servants to secure regular working, what would be their difficulty if they had to work with persons over whom they had no control? If they had to receive messages from those under the control of foreign agencies it would be a detriment to their service and prevent them from carrying out their contracts with public departments. The incentive to take the initiative on the part of this country would also be taken away, and the general efficiency of the public service would be impaired. For these reasons he supported the Motion of the hon. Baronet and thought that the whole matter should be referred to a Select Committee which should have the advantage of expert opinion before a decision was arrived at.
§ *MR. J. D. WHITE (Dumbartonshire)
said he was sure that they all sympathised with the idea of the hon. Baronet that any Convention which would prevent advance should be regarded with considerable suspicion. He ventured, however, to differ from the hon. Baronet as to the alleged effect of this Convention. It seemed to him that the proposed arrangement had not been entered into lightly or without careful consideration. These proposals were of the same general character; as the Protocols published in 1903, which had been specially referred to in Clause 10 of the Marconi agreement of 1904. That clause dealt particularly with the possibility of such an International Convention being agreed to. The same ides was in the mind of the late Postmaster-General when he entered, into the Marconi agreement two years ago. He mentioned the Marconi agreement without the slightest idea of making Party capital out of it, but because that agreement and this Convention were very closely related. There were other systems in the field, but under the agreement we gave the Marconi Company important rights which amounted to a virtual monopoly. At the time we did so, there were other systems in the field which were formidable rivals to the Marconi system, and notwithstanding that the Marconi Company was accorded these exceptional advantages not only for the term of their master patent, but for a 1305 term extending some years beyond the time when that patent would expire. His hon. friend opposite had quoted from Clause 3 of the Marconi agreement, but he had omitted to refer to Clause 10 which made special provision for the event of our entering into such a Convention as that now under discussion. Indeed, the Marconi agreement contained special provisions for an "additional rate" to be paid to the company in certain events under such a Convention. He thought it only right for the House to recognise that the Marconi agreement had very seriously hampered the Postmaster-General in exercising his discretion in this matter. In view of the fact that this agreement was entered into by the predecessor of the present Postmaster-General he thought any action which had been taken should be criticised in a very generous manner. The hon. Baronet the Member for Hythe had made an eloquent appeal to hon. Members sitting below the gangway. He would appeal to the terms of the Convention itself. He hardly needed to remind the House that its object was to utilise wireless telegraphy for ship to shore and shore to ship messages all over the world in order that ships might receive from time to time messages which would be extremely useful to commerce. It had been said that the effect would be to standardise the system and to impose uniformity. He would remind the House that Article 3 of the Convention provided that coast stations and ship stations should be obliged to exchange reciprocally radio telegrams without regard to the particular system adopted by them. That was intended to secure fair play for all systems. It has been suggested that the convention would interfere with our National defences, but he would point out that by Article 21 high contracting parties retained all their privileges and naval and military installations were not affected. The only qualification to this, and they were only the loosest of requirements, were those relating to Article 9, which referred to the giving of priority to signals of distress from ships, and Article 8, which provided that the working of the radiotelegraph stations should be organised as far as possible in such a manner as not to interfere with the work- 1306 ing of other stations of the kind. He thought, however, that in relation to military and naval working the giving of priority to distress signals might very well be left to the good feeling of those in charge of the ships and naval stations, and that as regards interferences the use of the system for military and naval operations should be unqualified. As regarded the Colonies he thought the hon. Baronet had overlooked the fact that by Article 1 of the Final Protocol they had not come in automatically, and they would have a free hand as to whether they joined it or not. Personally, he thought that the Colonies would be benefited by joining. The mover of this Motion had asked where the benefit came in. In reply to that question he would say that in the first place the use of wireless telegraphy for all ships navigating along all the coasts of various countries would result in considerably lessening the loss of life and property from shipwrecks. He was sure all hon. Members would be very pleased that distress signals should have priority over all others. Wireless telegraphy would also be very useful to seafaring men because it would enable them to know at once what were the weather reports, what was the depth of water on bars and in harbours, what facilities there were for supplying fuel and food and other valuable information necessary for the safe and speedy navigation of ships. When the system was in full working order it would largely obviate the necessity of calling at ports for orders, and ships would be able to go direct to their destination, although they might not have had full instructions when they first set sail. He thought that would be a great advantage to British commerce. The hon. and gallant Member for the Abercromby Division of Liverpool had stated that very little commercial use had been made of wireless telegraphy, but one of the reasons for that was that they had so very little international arrangement, and his opinion was that under this Convention a great deal more would be done. In view of the fact that other nations desired this Convention, the question was whether we should join in the Convention or stand out. It should not be overlooked that this country 1307 did the lion's share of the carrying trade of the world, and therefore it was of the greatest importance that our ships should get in communication with foreign stations in order to keep up our commercial position. It would have been taking a serious responsibility if the Postmaster-General had decided to stand outside the Convention and thus place the whole of our British ships off foreign coasts in a worse position than foreign ships would be in. There was a considerable guarantee against interference because it was specially provided by the Service Regulations annexed to the Convention that certain wave-lengths should be adopted, and that if several ships came to a station at one time they were to be taken in a certain order. As regards the more general danger of interference on a larger scale, he would point out that it was quite open even now to any foreign Power to set up a wireless transmission station of its own just outside our territory in such a way as might seriously interfere with our own internal arrangements. The Convention did not deal with that point because it would be impossible for us to impose such an obligation unless we were willing to accept a reciprocal obligation from them. He thought we should be the last in the world to say that our use of wireless telegraphy should be hampered in that way. He failed entirely to follow what the hon. Baronet had said about interference with patents. It seemed to him that the Marconi agreement had done much to interfere with patents, and one object of this Convention was to secure equality of opportunity and to stimulate competition. But the best safeguard of all was that Article 11 provided for the parties modifying the terms of the Convention from time to time, and that Article 22 provided that—The present Convention shall come into operation on and from the 1st July, 1908, and shall remain in force for an indefinite period, or until the expiration of a year from the date of its denunciation.Thus if any country found that the arrangement did not suit it it could retire on giving twelve months notice. That was a most important safeguard, as it supplied the necessary flexibility, and adapted the system to the various changes which might take place through the pro- 1308 gress of invention. He thought hon. Members would agree with him as to the rapid progress which wireless telegraphy had made. Great improvements had recently been made both in the transmitting and receiving arrangements, and messages could now be sent over greater distances than before, and with a less expenditure of electric energy. Considerable progress had also been made in directing the messages and attuning the instruments It was a remarkable thing that since the beginning of this Conference an entirely new system of radiotelegraphy had been developed. The kind of radiotelegraphy contemplated in this Convention was the kind with which they were familiar which consisted in sending a series of individual impulses from the transmitting station. The now radiotelegraphy of which we had learned only in the last few months was of a continuous-current character which could compare for speed with ordinary telegraphy and which had already developed far greater facilities for attunement than any previous system. The progress of invention within the last week did not stop there, they had had news of a new system of radiotelephony in which it had been found possible to utilise electric waves instead of light waves for wireless telephonic messages, and such messages had been exchanged at a distance of sixty kilometres. This showed how rapid was the progress of invention and emphasised the importance of the provision which gave a country a free hand on twelve months notices if they found the Convention did not suit them. He was glad that the British delegates were amongst those who insisted that that provision should be inserted. The Postmaster-General had had a very difficult task before him, because he had to endeavour to secure as far as possible the full international benefit of wireless telegraphy in the present state of the art, and had also to see that structure did not hinder future developments. It seemed to him that object was well achieved. This Convention would give most-favoured-nation treatment to British ships in all parts of the world so far as wireless telegraphy installations were concerned, and it would give better security to life and 1309 property at sea. It would increase the volume of our trade, and by providing an international working of wireless telegraphy on a scale larger than before we should be taking an important step towards knitting the nations of the world closer together. Whether the Government granted the further inquiry which had been asked for or not, he ventured to say that the Convention would be of great use, and that it had nothing to fear from the most searching scrutiny that might be bestowed upon it.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND (Clare, E.)
having congratulated the hon. Member for Mid. Lanark upon his return to the House, said he would not follow the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire in his long and intricate arguments in reference to the various systems of wireless telegraphy. In his opinion the hon. Member's speech was the best and most potent argument that could be used in favour of the Motion before the House. Nobody could deny that the subject was one of great intricacy which ought not to be discussed and decided off-hand. What was asked for was the appointment of a Select Committee, so that all the arguments might be gone into and the House fully informed as to the facts of the case. The hon. Baronet who proposed the Motion had referred to the Irish Members and to the Labour Members in the most flattering terms. He was aware that many of these stations would be in Ireland, but all they were anxious about was that a Select Committee should be appointed to consider all the issues at stake. He did not know how the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire could possibly object to so reasonable a proposal. They had not all studied the matter so closely as the hon. Member, and he thought the House generally ought to have an opportunity of acquainting themselves with all the facts. That was a proposal so reasonable that he felt sure the Postmaster-General would accept it. He did not think the reference to the Colonies had been quite satisfactory. It had been said that it would be optional for the Colonies whether or not they would be bound by the Convention. He had heard some opinions expressed by gentlemen interested in Australia and in 1310 shipping, to the effect that the Colonies ought to have an opportunity of taking part in all such conferences as the one held in reference to this matter. In all international matters Colonies like Australia and New Zealand ought to have their claims thoroughly recognised. They ought to have been invited to send delegates, and no Convention ought to be ratified by this House without the most detailed consultation with the representatives of the Colonies. He appealed to the Prime Minister and the Postmaster-General to recognise that there was a very deep feeling that this important matter should be inquired into by a Select Committee, and he hoped that the interests of Australia and New Zealand and our other Colonies would not be overlooked in any inquiry that might be decided upon.
§ MR. CLAUDE HAY (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
said he did not rise to make any attack upon the Postmaster-General, although he had had occasion to cross swords with him in regard to wireless telegraphy earlier in the year. He wished to join in the appeal in favour of the Motion before the House. He thought a Select Committee on this subject would be of very great service, because it would to a great extent set at rest many of the contentions advanced by the different companies and inventors and those who desired that the Marconi Company monopoly should be brought to an end. If the Government found that it was desirable both from a national and from a commercial point of view to terminate its agreement with the Marconi Company its hands would be strengthened by the Report of the Select Committee. He did not speak on behalf of any company or inventor, nor did he support in any degree the Marconi Company or the agreements between the Admiralty and the Post Office with the Marconi Company. Those agreements might possibly have been of some advantage in the past, but they were of little advantage now, and they might be sources of danger in the future. He hoped the Postmaster-General would acquiesce in this Motion, and he did not believe that any disadvantage would result from the loss of time involved in the appointment of a Select Committee. A delay of three or four months would not imperil the 1311 national interest or injure our mercantile marine.
§ *MR. REES (Montgomery Boroughs)
said he failed entirely to see where we came in upon this matter or what this country could possibly get by this Convention. The hon. Member for Dumbartonshire had summed up his remarks in favour of the Convention by saying that if it had not contained a stipulation that it might be discontinued with a year's notice he would not have supported it. He would remind his hon. friend that it was much more difficult to get out of an engagement than to get into one. We were not out of the Sugar Convention yet. If the Postmaster-General replied upon this matter he trusted that he would be able to put forward in a much more convincing manner the advantages which this country was to gain from participation in the Convention. The only working business system at the present moment was the Marconi system, and if the action of the Government tended to perpetuate that system he would not regard it as a disadvantage. The Marconi Company were the people in possession. In spite of his hon. friend's enumeration of the merits of the Convention, how could he contend that a mere stipulation that distress signals should be taken first and that there should be general intercommunication was any justification for entering into such an agreement? Were they going to be frightened by the word "monopoly"? The Postmaster-General's Department was a great monopoly, and a very beneficial one it was. What harm was there in the Marconi system being a monopoly? Were not our cypher codes a monopoly? He wished that all matters connected with our defences were much more a monopoly, instead of being known to almost every foreign nation as they were. He thought everything connected with our defences should be as far as possible a monopoly. What was the use of shying at a mere word. For the matter of that every monopolist was not a Sir Giles Overreach, and he did not consider that for Government to favour a British company, by the way, was any crime in a British Government. Here, however, there was no question but that of the public and strategic interests concerned. He understood moreover that the Post- 1312 master-General was not precluded by his agreement with the Marconi Company from licensing other stationson the south coast of England. There was no doubt it would be more beneficial and agreeable to a foreign Power to have its own machinery instead of using ours, but it was no part of the duty of this country, indeed it was not advisable, to assist foreign countries in that way. He hoped his right hon. friend would accede to the request made in the Motion, and appoint a Select Committee. In spite of the able representatives they had upon this Convention, and no nation could have a better representative than his friend Mr. Babington Smith, they were beaten every time over these matters. They were bound to be beaten when they had all the small Powers coming in to vote. It was not this country but other nations that would be left in the cold if we withdrew from the Convention. In all these arrangements we went in as the one man who had any money to play a round game of cards with the other Powers. The Convention would involve us in all kinds of difficulties and confusion and he positively dreaded such arrangements because in nearly every case we had much to lose and nothing to gain, while other Powers had little, at any rate less, or nothing to lose and a great deal to gain, from pinning us down to restrictions which suited themselves.
§ *MR. BEAUCHAMP (Suffolk, Lowestoft)
said that in 1901, when the agreement between Lloyds and the Marconi Company was made, it was thought advisable that one system of telegraphy should be in general use. He agreed that the Marconi system had proved very satisfactory, but time passed rather quickly, and he thought Lloyds would think carefully before entering into another agreement of the kind. When that agreement was entered into the Marconi system held the field and was the only workable one. It had been stated that Mr. Marconi had obtained a monopoly, but that was subject to certain stipulations. It was part of the agreement with the Post Office that if we did enter into a Convention of this sort the Marconi Company would relieve the Admiralty and Lloyds and all other persons with whom the Company had contracted, from any 1313 obligations arising under their contracts, and that they should refuse to exchange messages with ships or shore stations in the United Kingdom not using the Marconi system. He thought that covered the point that they were doing something which they ought not properly to do. The hon. and gallant Member for the Abercromby Division of Liverpool had spoken upon this subject from a strategical point of view. He agreed with the hon. and gallant Member when he said that ten ships equipped with wireless telegraphy would be equal to twenty ships which had not that advantage. Entering into this agreement did not prevent the Admiralty having a system of wireless telegraphy. They could still have their own system whether they entered the Convention or not. If the Government did not enter the Convention at the present time it was possible that they might not be able to enter it when they desired to do so. As had been pointed out, if we did not enter into the Convention now, other countries might set up their systems, and we might be left out. He was of opinion that the Government were absolutely right in entering into the Convention. He thought it was the duty of the Government to advance as far as possible anything which would be of advantage to the world at large, provided that it would not interfere in any way with British interests. There was no doubt whatever that there were other systems of wireless telegraphy which were progressing very rapidly. The Marconi Company had been insisting with the Admiralty, the Postmaster-General, and Lloyds that they should be under no obligation to receive messages from any other system than the Marconi system. The result of that was, he thought, to prevent people from improving any particular system which they might have, and to operate as a distinct monopoly for the Marconi Company. There were two companies which he understood were quite ready to adopt what they considered a better system, but they were unable to put it in their ships, because it would be of no use when they approached our coasts with which they desired to communicate, the only practical receiving stations on these 1314 coasts being those of the Marconi Company, which refused to take any messages except those of their own particular system. He agreed that if this question, was referred to a Select Committee there would be no reason to fear that the result of its deliberations would lead to a conclusion unfavourable to our adhering to our determination to enter into the Convention.
§ MR. WILLIAM RUTHERFORD (Liverpool, West Derby)
said that, of all Conventions that had ever been signed, this was one of the least objectionable in itself. He was one of those who felt bound to treat with a considerable amount of suspicion any Convention which put, or was at all likely under any conceivable circumstances to put, the interests of this country under the domination of any foreign Power or Powers. [An Hon. Member: "The Sugar Convention."] Yes, the Sugar Convention included, to which he was personally much opposed. He approached this particular Convention in that spirit with the object of endeavouring to understand whether the arrangement would be likely to be of advantage to this country, or whether there was anything in it which might possibly do us harm. He took rather the opposite view to the hon. Member who said that this country had not been engaged in a naval war for 100 years, and suggested that we need take no precautions of any kind, as there would probably be no naval war for another hundred years. He was in Berlin on the day that the news of the Spion Kop disaster was received, and he formed a different opinion. He thought they ought to act with the most jealous care regarding anything that might by any possibility interfere with the interests of this country. As to the effect of this Convention the evidence was conflicting. Some hon. Members who had spoken, apparently with authority, had stated that it would have the effect of creating a system of wireless telegraphy on the ships and shores of foreign nations which would interfere with our interests. It had been suggested that the Marconi instruments might be interfered with. He was unable to say whether the Marconi instruments would be injured 1315 or destroyed. It had been suggested also that if the Convention were carried out the effect would be to introduce into wireless telegraphy chaos and confusion which would seriously damage our existing system, and that by going into this Convention we should be helping what was tending to become a deleterious monopoly. He spoke against the Wireless Telegraphy Bill last year and the year before. It seemed to him that anything that would hamper science and prevent experiment was a mistake. If we could do anything to break down monopoly, to improve wireless telegraphy, and to advance science we ought to do it. On the whole, he thought the Convention was a judicious one, but it was not quite clear, and under the circumstances, having regard to the vast interests at stake, he thought the Postmaster-General would act wisely if he agreed to the appointment of a Select Committee.
§ *SIR HENRY NORMAN (Wolverhampton, S.)
appealed to the Postmaster-General to accept the Motion. It appeared from the debate that the House was practically unanimous in favour of the proposal. He had heard no objection to the appointment of a Select Committee. He had taken some interest in this matter from the scientific and other points of view. In reading the Convention one thing that struck him was the extreme difficulty of realising at once its scope and far-reaching character. The conditions under which the Convention was arrived at had not been such as they could regard with satisfaction on all points. Some of the reasons for dissatisfaction had been stated and others which had better not be stated were known to Members of the House. The Government had not had an opportunity of considering the matter in great detail, and no harm could possibly be done to any interest by postponing the decision for sufficient time to enable it to be investigated by a Select Committee. The Postmaster-General had already done admirable work in his Department during his brief tenure of office, and by agreeing to the Motion they would be under still deeper gratitude to him.
§ *THE POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Mr. Sydney Buxton, Tower Hamlets, Poplar)
said the discussion had shown that Members fully realised the importance of the subject; and his hon. and gallant friend the Member for Abercromby would recognise that the insular position of this country and our interests as a naval power were predominant considerations in the minds of members of the Government, the commercial aspect being also taken into account. He was glad to recognise that no Party question was involved, and that the Government were carrying on a continuity of policy. The late Government considered the first Conference of 1903 premature, and had no means of enforcing its conclusions. The following year they considered the matter very carefully from the point of view of the draft Convention, since very considerably amended. Careful consideration was given, and it was decided to accept the principle of intercommunication subject to the view of the Admiralty that provisions essential for safeguarding our naval interests should be adopted. They were prepared to go into the Conference on that basis. In order to enable them to enter into such a Conference it was necessary to pass legislation, and one of the primary reasons for passing the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1904, was to enable the Government of the day to adhere to the Convention relating to inter-communication if it was carried through. The Post Office Agreement of 1904 also anticipated and made provision for the same event. Therefore the principle of intercommunication had been recognised by the late Government as a good thing if it could be properly fenced round with due safeguards of the Admiralty. Then it became necessary for the present Government to consider the matter, because it was obvious that wireless communication required more control than it had had in the past. The invitations to the Conference were issued last spring, and the Government continued the policy of their predecessors. After careful consultation between the Post Office, the Colonial Office, the India Office, the Board of Trade, the Treasury, the War Office, and 1317 the Admiralty, they came to the conclusion that the invitation should be accepted, and that they should go into the Conference prepared, subject to certain necessary safeguards, to accept the principle of inter-communication. He could assure the House that great consideration was given to the question in order to be quite sure that they did not commit themselves to any proposals that would in any way injure our naval or commercial interests. An hon. Gentleman below the gangway had raised the question of the Colonies, saying that they had not been consulted on this important matter. But the Colonies were specifically consulted, and the draft Convention was sent to them for their observations. Some of the Colonies suggested certain details which were accepted and were included in the Convention. He wished the House to understand that the Colonies had been in no way ignored; they appreciated the fact that they were consulted, and the Government had their support generally in regard to the present position. Although this Convention had been subjected to the examination and criticisms of our delegates at the Conference, the Government were now asked to refer it to a Select Committee in order to obtain further information and to bring to bear on it expert opinion. It was contended that, if the Select Committee came to the conclusion that the Convention was a proper one, that decision would remove any apprehension that might, at present exist in the minds of Members of the House, and perhaps in some quarters of the country, and that therefore the Convention when it was agreed to would have greater force. He quite agreed that the matter was of the utmost importance, and that it was an intricate question bristling with details which hon. Members could hardly be expected to have mastered. It was not a Party question, and therefore if it was referred to a Select Committee it would be understood in all quarters of the House that it was sent to that Committee with a view to arriving at a satisfactory conclusion which would give confidence to the House and to the country. It was obviously the feeling on both sides of the House that there should be further inquiry into this matter; and therefore 1318 he could say on behalf of the Government that they would at a very early date next session appoint a Committee to which the Convention—the Articles, the Protocol and the Regulations—would be referred with a view to assist the Government in arriving at a conclusion on the whole question. The ratification of the Convention need not take effect for some considerable time, and therefore there was ample time for the inquiry. He wished to say emphatically on behalf of the Government that they had nothing whatever to conceal, and they were not afraid of any inquiry. They firmly believed that the more the Convention was examined the more it would be found that our naval interests were fully protected, and that our commercial interests would certainly be benefited by it.
Perhaps the House would allow him to state the reasons why they went into the Conference, and to say what the Government believed had resulted from it. They were not actuated by "altruistic benevolence,"but acted because they thought that this country would benefit. The British Government could not lightly refuse an invitation to an International Conference which was intended, at all events ostensibly, for the public good. He did not say that other nations did not expect to benefit also from the Conference, but he believed that there was a general desire on the part of all the countries represented at the Conference to arrive at a solution which would benefit the world at large. Was there then any valid reason for a change of policy? After considerable consideration of the whole question, the Government came to the conclusion that we should enter into the Conference subject to certain essential conditions in regard to our naval and commercial position. Therefore instructions to our delegates were drawn up, and at the first meeting of the Conference our delegates publicly declared the conditions on which alone they would be entitled to sign the Convention. What were those conditions, every one of which were secured? A great deal had been said about our naval and military position. One of the principal articles of the Convention was that no 1319 naval station was affected in any way by the Convention itself. Our naval position stood outside the Convention. It was obvious also that in a time of war a Convention of this kind would fall to the ground, and any country would be entitled to seize, dismantle, or utilise any wireless telegraph station in its territory quite regardless of any Convention. Then there was a specific clause that each State was entitled to use secret apparatus and to carry on secret signalling when they so desired, without giving any information about the methods used. Further, the Admiralty attached considerable importance to the power of exempting any station they desired from the operation of intercommunication. The only qualification of that power was that there should be certain stations in the United Kingdom open to intercommunication for the purposes of international commerce.
§ *MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
said that was left entirely within the discretion of the Government who exempted stations. The only obligation was that there should be a station suitable for international intercommunication in the same region. The Admiralty also attached the utmost importance to regulations VI. and VII., which, at the instance of the British delegates, secured Regulations and provisions for their enforcement, adequate to prevent interference and confusion. Those were some of the positive safeguards which accrued under the Convention. In addition our delegates, acting under instructions, were able to outvote the Article in the original draft Convention, which would have required every country to boycott any system which did not carry out the Convention. They also changed the proposal for compulsory arbitration to voluntary arbitration, because the Government said they were not willing to place themselves in such a position as to be compelled to go to arbitration with some other country in regard to a matter in which they considered they ought to be the sole arbiters. Also, in regard to the American proposal for ship-to-ship communication, they 1320 considered that the time had not come when this great extension of the regulation of wireless telegraphy should take place, and from that they were exempt.
He believed one of the great advantages of the Convention, if we ratified it, would be that it would tend to enlarge, or, at all events to protect, the number of wireless stations in Great Britain, and that it would discourage the erection of foreign stations which would interfere with British stations already erected. There was an obligation on all those signing the Convention not to work stations in such a way as to have that effect. Further, the nearest station was to have the preference, and a minimum of energy was to be used. These international regulations were a very material benefit to Great Britain, because we were already in possession in the Channel of the best stations, and at all the strategical points we were also in possession of the nearest stations, and the effect of the Convention would be to discourage other stations being put up which would interfere with those existing stations. That was a very considerable advantage to us, from both a naval and a commercial point of view. We should really be actually securing, and not abandoning our predominance, our priority, and our geographical position. He thought the hon. Baronet implied, and it had certainly been implied in the Press, that if we stood out of the Convention, the Convention would fail. That was an entire misconception of the position. Every other nation, rightly or wrongly, was in favour of intercommunication, and, whether we entered it or not, the Convention would go through. If, therefore, we stood out, we should stimulate what we expressly desired to discourage—the erection of additional stations on foreign soil. If Germany, France, Holland, and other countries were not able to communicate with stations in Great Britain, they would be bound, however friendly they might be, to erect those stations in their own territory; and that would be disadvantageous to us in time of war because we should have no control over them, and in time of peace from the point of view of enterprise and revenue. And what was more, the erection of these additional stations would injure our existing stations, because there would have to be greater 1321 power used, and this would lead to more confusion between the various wireless stations. He wanted the House to understand that there were two ways in which they must look at this Convention—nimely, not only how we stood in regard to the Convention itself, but also as to what would happen if we did not join it.
He had endeavoured to show that, as regarded our naval interests, we were fully protected in the Convention, and that those interests might be jeopardized if we did not join the Convention. The hon. Baronet had laid great stress on the point that, by this Convention, we were, as he alleged, hampering the complete freedom of this country. If he meant by that that various regulations were to be carried out for what might be called the administrative use of wireless telegraphy, it was perfectly true. Any regulations which facilitated and improved the general administration of such a matter as wireless telegraphy were, to a certain extent, a restriction on freedom. On the other hand, they added very much to the use of wireless telegraphy. He would point out that, as regarded the general position, we had complete freedom as to any station or stations that we chose to exempt altogether from the operation of intercommunication, and that, though they might be exempted from the obligation of intercommunication, they retained all the other advantages which were given to those stations by the Convention. We had entire and complete freedom, from the point of view of both commerce and the Navy, to utilise any particular system that the Government might think advisable. Far from lessening our freedom in this matter, if we joined the Convention we should really be regaining it, because, unfortunately, the Admiralty, the Post Office and Lloyds were, at the present moment, hampered to a large extent by the obligation of various Agreements with the Marconi Company. To his mind, one of the great advantages of adherence to the Convention would be that, for the first time, and much sooner than would otherwise have been the case, we should be able to attain to complete freedom in regard to these Agreements. It had been suggested that there were 1322 four or five matters in which the British delegates were outvoted at the Convention, that, therefore, they were forced to accept many matters to which they objected, and that we were put in a worse position by the Convention than we should otherwise have been in. The only matter in which the British delegates did not carry their way, either directly or indirectly, was in regard to the proposal that additional rates should be charged for intercommunication. That was a matter to the detriment, no doubt, of the Marconi Company, but, at the same time, we were bound, under our agreement with them, to make up to them, for a certain number of years, these additional rates. The hon. Gentleman had said that we had only one vote while Montenegro had one also. That was true, but he would point out that, whether we had one vote or fifty, our delegates went to the Convention with certain instructions, and every single point in connection with those instructions was carried out. In addition to that, our delegates, through their ability, zeal, and tact, were enabled to obtain considerable advantages to this country which had not been anticipated. It was a question, not of the actual voting power, but of the influence which the country could bring to bear. And now the Conference had adjourned for five years. All that was left was the International Bureau, but there was not a word of truth in the allegation that that Bureau would have control over the action of the Government, or that the Admiralty would beat its mercy. There was no voting power in the Bureau because there was no representation on it; it was merely a branch of the telegraph union at Berne. It merely sat to collate and circulate information. Further, by giving a year's notice this country could retire from the Convention, and no Government would hesitate for a moment to do so if they found that our naval or commercial interests were injured by the Convention. The position of the Colonies and India had been raised, and one hon. Member had said that they ought to have been invited to the Conference, and asked to join the Convention. They did not themselves desire this, however, nor did the Government, for thus they were not 1323 made responsible for the actual drawing up of the Convention, and they could adhere to it or leave it at any time they desired. With regard to the question of voting, each country could put forward a claim to five votes for her colonies. We should thus be able to propose five votes for the Colonies; and these the next Conference, acting on the analogy of the Postal Union, would almost certainly allot to us. There was no doubt that the Government in power would do their best five years hence to communicate with the various countries concerned, so that the question of the colonial voters, he thought, could practically be disposed of before the Convention met. He hoped he had shown that the Government had been fully alive to the importance of the Imperial interests of this country and done their best to protect them.
Commercially, as a great maritime nation we stood to gain for freedom of intercommunication. And in regard to the commercial qnestion, it appeared to him that international control was essential, and that the difficulties which had arisen from one station interfering with another could only be thus effectually dealt with. At all events, one of the real advantages of the Convention would be that it would not add to the interference and confusion which at present existed, but would largely diminish it, because there would be very effective control over the methods and regulations under which ships and coast stations would communicate one with another. Besides, the ship and the operator would each have to have a licence, which would be forfeited if there was any disobedience to orders. The hon. Baronet was mistaken in thinking that the intercommunication introduced would stand in the way of improvements. In his opinion an essential element of the regulations was the encouragement of a good and the discouragement of a bad system. Special provisions, which were inserted at the instance of our delegates, only allowed licences in the case of an apparatus which conformed to a certain degree of efficiency and to competent operators. An inventor would be able to maintain absolute secrecy as to his improvement, the only obligation on him being the general one of inter- 1324 communication in the ordinary way and with the ordinary apparatus. He confessed he should have thought the general principle of free trade and enterprise in these matters was from our point of view better than tieing ourselves to one particular system, which even if at the present moment the best certainly was not likely to remain so for ever.
He had no quarrel with the Marconi Company; he had himself a great admiration and respect for Mr. Marconi, and he was sure they all felt that he had done a vast amount in this field of scientific improvement, though he was not sure that Mr. Marconi's friends did not claim a little too much for him. But it should be remembered that if Mr. Marconi had benefited England, England had also been of considerable advantage to him. The Marconi Company had received something like £40,000, and they were receiving £5,000 a year under the Admiralty Agreement. This country, therefore, had not treated them badly. He was not concerned in the claim from various companies, but he would point out that, after all, the Marconi Company was not the only British company with stations in England or the Colonies. The claim made by that company that they were the only British company, that the British Empire was bound up with them, and that British ships ought, therefore, to be fitted with Marconi apparatus, exclusively, was a grass and great exaggeration. One of the great arguments in favour of the Convention was that under the Marconi system of refusing intercommunication many British ships were increasingly hampered compared with their foreign rivals. Though the Marconi Company had not a monopoly, they had done their very best to obtain one. But the fact that they had not succeeded made it largely necessary to have this Convention. The only alternative to a world-wide monopoly was organisation under International convention and regulation. There were other powerful companies, British and foreign, and good systems besides the Marconi. New and startling inventions were constantly appearing. The company complained that they were being badly treated. But he must 1325 point out that only two years ago the Marconi Company themselves voluntarily entered into an agreement with the Post Office, for valuable consideration received, to the effect that, if the Government adhered to the Convention, they would agree to allow their stations to be placed under the obligation of intercommunication, and that they would free Lloyds and the Admiralty and others from any obligations not to intercommunicate and for any consequent pecuniary claim which the company might have on them at that time. Now that the company were asked to carry out their side of the bargain they complained that the Government were doing them damage. If it were true, as they boasted, that the Marconi Company and the British Empire were so bound up together that to injure one was to injure the other, he could only say that a few years ago they were willing to sell the country's birthright for a mess of pottage. The Marconi Company had the best stations, and if their claim was true that they had the best system, the Convention could not hurt them, for in competition they must succeed.
§ MR. JOHN O'CONNOR
Has the agreement to which the right hon. Gentleman refers ever been reduced to writing?
§ *MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
said the hon. Gentleman would find it among the Parliamentary Papers. It was published in April, 1906.
In conclusion he stated that it would have been a serious thing for this country if it had stood out from the Convention. By going into it at the first we secured our own terms; if we had not gone into it at first we should have had to go into it some time on the terms of the other countries; for everyone admitted that a Convention would be sooner or later essential. He did not say it was not possible to pick holes in it here and there, but looking at the Convention all round, he was convinced that it safeguarded our naval interests and was advantageous to our commercial supremacy. He thought the country was greatly indebted to the delegates representing the Admiralty, the War Office, and the Post 1326 Office at the Conference for the ability, pluck, and tact with which they had discharged their mission.
§ MR. BONAR LAW (Camberwell, Dulwich)
said he was very glad that the statement of the right hon. Gentleman made it unnecessary for him to indulge in a task which he did not look forward to with pleasure, and that was to make a speech against the Convention. He happened to be the first Chairman of the Committee appointed to consider the question in this country, and he therefore had a sense of responsibility in regard to the matter. Moreover, he knew how able were the delegates sent to represent this country at the Convention, and he did not wish to take action hastily, and with no more information than it had been possible for him to obtain. Though he did not intend in the least to meet the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman, he still felt, so far as he had information before him to enable him to judge, that the Convention was not one to which it was to the interest of this country to adhere. It seemed to him it was not good business on the part of this country to give a great deal more than we were going to get. The right hon. Gentleman had stated that our delegates went into the Convention with a real desire to do good to the world at large.
§ *MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
What I said was that, having first safeguarded our interests, they believed that any advantage to the world at large would be an advantage to us.
§ MR. BONAR LAW
said that did not make much difference to the point he was going to make. He said that the right hon. Gentleman went into the Convention with a strong desire to do something for the benefit of the world at large, but he thought the other parties went into it with a much stronger desire to do something to benefit the world at home. In the conflict between these two interests, he was afraid that ours had rather suffered. He was very glad that the subject was to be considered further, and it was, therefore, not necessary for him to meet the very interesting speech of the right hon. Gentleman. But supposing the position 1327 had been reversed and Germany in this industry had got a great start, either in consequence of the superiority of her system or of her territorial position, and that we had desired to come up to her and rival her, would Germany have allowed that initial advantage to be taken away from her by any Convention? The right hon. Gentleman had declared that the Convention would not destroy our initial advantage, and, if that were proved to be true, he did not think there would be much hostility to the Convention. He was very glad to have the opportunity of congratulating the right hon. Gentleman on the position which he had taken up in the matter. There had been no pressure whatever put upon him, and it would have been perfectly reasonable for him to have said that it was a question for which the Government was responsible and that the Cabinet must be the judges in the matter. Instead of doing that, he had realised that there was in the House and in the country a feeling that we were going into the matter rather in the dark, and he had met the general wish of the House by agreeing to allow it to be thoroughly considered by an impartial Committee. The right hon. Gentleman was to be most sincerely congratulated on having taken that course.
§ SIR EDWARD SASSOON,
in view of the exhaustive and extremely lucid statement made by the Postmaster-General and the announcement that His Majesty's Government had decided to appoint a Select Committee next session, begged leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ MR. JOHN O'CONNOR
asked whether the Postmaster-General would bear in mind the words of his own agreement with the Marconi Company, and see that the terms of reference to the Committee directed attention to any system of wireless telegraphy which might be installed with the object of securing non-interference with other wireless telegraph companies, and also whether the reference would include the words "without prejudice to the patent rights of the Marconi Company."
said he could give no such promise. The Government 1328 had promised that a Select Committee should be appointed, and that the whole of the Convention would be referred to them.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.