HC Deb 26 March 1906 vol 154 cc965-75

As amended, considered.


objected to an Amendment carried at the instance of the Postmaster-General to extend the operation of the Act until December 31st, 1912. Since the Bill was last before the House various communications had reached him as to the effect which the Bill would have in regard to hampering the industry and the injustice it would inflict upon many who were devoting their intelligence and their capital to the development of this branch of science. As the Bill now stood it tied the hands of the public and Parliament as to wireless telegraphy till 1912. The Admiralty employed the Marconi system, but the War Office was using the Oliver Lodge-Muirhead system, but neither Department let the other know what they were doing. This was part of the bargain between the Marconi system and the Admiralty. The Lodge-Muirhead group alleged that Marconi had infringed their patents and were endeavouring to serve a writ upon the Admiralty. But the Admiralty refused service of the writ, referred the matter to the Treasury solicitors, and meanwhile this Bill was being rushed through the House to put the Lodge claim out of court. If the Bill were carried it would mean that the Lodge - Muirhead system would have no appeal in regard to their rights, and a monopoly would be established for the Marconi system, which was that of a foreigner. The Lodge-Muirhead system had proved a great advantage in India during the visit of their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales. It had also proved useful in other directions, including the conveyance of news from the Andaman Islands. He had recently received a Blue-book issued by the Government showing that during the past year the Lodge system as worked in India, had proved profitable both to the public and to the company concerned, and yet the Imperial Government was going to prevent the Lodge undertaking all chance of operating on the south coast of England, which was the most valuable part of the United Kingdom both commercially and scientifically for wireless telegraphy. He need not say that he had no sort of interest direct or indirect in any wireless or other telegraph company. He protested against tying the hands of Parliament in matters of the highest national importance. He moved to limit the operation of the Bill to December 31st, 1908.


seconded the Amendment, and said he objected to the public's being deprived of the right of experiment and improvement in the system of wireless telegraphy. It would be impossible for any improvements to be carried out in scientific research if investigators were obliged to get licences before they could undertake the work. The restrictions were imposed at first for a limited period, but now they were to be imposed in perpetuity.

Amendment proposed to the Bill— In page 1, line 6, to leave out the word 'twelve,' and insert the word 'eight."—(Mr. Claude Hay.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'twelve' stand part of the Bill."

MR. J. D. WHITE (Dumbartonshire)

pointed out that the Act which gave the Post. Office the monopoly of commercial telegraphy gave it incidentally the monopoly of wireless telegraphy. This was evident from the terms of the judgment in the telephone case, which laid down the doctrine that the telegraph monopoly extended to the telephone as well. By the Act of 1904 a much wider monopoly had been created, and the monopoly applied not only throughout the country, but to the territorial waters and the high seas. That was a very important step to take. The inventor was placed at the mercy of a monopolist Department, and experiment and progress in invention were checked. If it had been found that messages from one place interfered with messages from another place in such a way that wireless telegrams could not be worked, then he should be ready to assent to this monopoly being given to the Post Office, but that was not the case. As regarded the application of the measure outside the United Kingdom, he objected that the measure interfered with British ships carrying the apparatus for wireless telegraphy, while foreign ships remained perfectly free to do so. It seemed to him that the great reason for this Bill was that of national defence, but the necessary powers might well be secured by a provision which would enable the Privy Council in times of special danger to issue regulations. This was an occasion for obtaining some agreement with other nations as to the use of wireless telegraphy on the high seas or elsewhere, but it seemed undesirable to have a restriction, which, as regards the high seas, would operate only with regard to British ships. The question was now raised as to how long this Act should be continued. Originally the Act was designed to last only for two years. It was now proposed, without any very adequate discussion of the great principles involved, that this extensive monopoly should be extended for another six years. He was sure every hon. Member recognised the many difficulties with which the Post Office was confronted, and he for one would never do anything to embarrass that Department. He wished, however, to put before the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster-General the desirability of considering a reduction of the proposed extension to some shorter period than six years.


said the object of the Bill was to prevent a monopoly springing up, and to give the Post Office and the Admiralty control over wireless telegraphy. At the time the original Bill was proposed there was only one Wireless Telegraph Company in existence — at all events, only one in active operation—and one of the chief objects of the original Bill was to prevent a monopoly of that sort which could not be prevented otherwise. If it were found in the next two or three years that further legislation was required in order to prevent a monopoly he could assure the House that so far as he was concerned such a Bill would be introduced, but the time had not yet come which necessitated any material alteration in the Act of two years ago. Against that Act there had bean no complaint from any quarter so far as he had heard. It only gave power to the Postmaster-General to license various companies which applied for licences. It was not possible to have stations close to one another, and so far as invention had at present gone it was necessary to have stations so as not to interfere one with another. He could assure the House that the object of this Bill was certainly not to give any company a monopoly. All applications had been considered, and it was a mistake to suppose there was anything in the way of private inventors or companies wanting to carry out experiments. The fullest possible opportunity was given to all such persons. It was given under licence because from the Post Office point of view it was in the general interest of the public that there should be some control in regard to this matter. The Admiralty were absolutely convinced that it was essential not only that they should know where all the stations were, but that they should be able to put their hands upon them in time of emergency and at a moment's notice, and unless there were licences that information would not be available. The Post Office desired to give every facility to experiments by rival systems. They wanted to have experiments tried on these rival systems, in order that they could see which was the best. He took the same view as his predecessor, and had no desire to limit experiments, but on the contrary he desired to encourage so far as might be the various systems. He hoped under these circumstances the House would agree to the extension of this Act, on the understanding that, if the process of wireless telegraphy proceeded so rapidly owing to the discovery of inventions as to make it necessary to introduce other legislation, a Bill would be introduced either by himself or his successor before the end of six years. That moment had not yet come, and therefore it was wiser in order to prevent confusion to extend the Act as it at present existed. After all, the late Government did pass some good measures, and he thought that the Wireless Telegraphy Bill was one. In the interests of public policy he asked the House to reject the Amendment and to allow the Bill to proceed.

LORD BALCARRES (Lancashire, Chorley)

said the Postmaster-General had not given good reasons why the Amendment should be rejected. The Bill contained the words "until Parliament otherwise determines," and that provision left it open to Parliament at any time to reopen the whole question, and to examine any new facts connected with wireless telegraphy that might supervene. The right hon. Gentleman had said he wished the Act to continue until 1912—that was to say, for a period three times as long as the original Act was framed to cover. The right hon. Gentleman had also said that if necessity arose in the next year or so he would be fully prepared to amend the Act. It seemed to him that that gave away the whole case. If that were so, why not accept the shorter time limit, or keep the words "until Parliament otherwise determines," which evidently was the considered policy of the Post Office at the date of the introduction of the Bill. The Amendment was passed three weeks ago without an inquiry, and no explanation was given why it was inserted. The only explanation given by the Postmaster-General was that negotiations had taken place, presumably on this particular point, and that he, in consequence, introduced these amending words. The right hon. Gentleman had said that the intention of the original Bill was to prevent a monopoly. He could not help thinking that the effect of the present scheme would be to perpetuate, if not to create, a monopoly. Under this Bill there was not a doubt in his mind that the Lodge-Muirhead system would be practically excluded from being used by the public service in this country. Litigation was pending—in fact, they had been trying to bring the matter into the courts for months past, but had been unsuccessful, owing to the blocking of the matter by the Admiralty. In his opinion, under the original Act, which it was now proposed to continue for six years more, it was practically impossible for suitable experiments to be undertaken by persons who were investigating the question of wireless telegraphy. The right hon. Gentleman had said that full opportunities would be given by the Post Office in such cases, and that there was no intention on the part of his Department to stand in the way of inventors and investigators. But against that he would simply put the practical experience of people engaged in this enterprise. He suspected that the Postmaster-General or his officials must know that at this moment experiments with wireless telegraphy were going on in this country for which licences had not been applied for or taken out by the experimenters, who preferred to run the risk of twelve months imprisonment with or without hard labour rather than submit under the Act to special conditions and restrictions without which the Postmaster-General permitted no licence to be granted. Everybody knew the position as regarded the Post Office. One particular system had been adopted by the Department to the exclusion of all others, and the humble inventor with small means and small facilities for carrying out these experiments did not dare take his claim to the Post Office to ask for a licence, because he knew it must be submitted to a particular Department which naturally and properly enough would put on whatever restrictions, conditions, and special terms they might think fit, not only to his detriment but necessitating the publication of his professional secrets. These men had to explain their system, where there stations were, at what altitude they would be placed, and so forth, so that the Post Office could understand whether their messages could or could not be intercepted by the existing system. It was too much to ask these men to inform their opponents of all the vital facts on which their systems were based. If the Postmaster-General would revert to the phrase in the original Act "until Parliament otherwise determines" there would be no objection on the part of hon. Members who took the view he did with regard to the Act, and the objection of a large number of scientific investigators, whose claims ought to be taken into account, would be satisfied, because they would then be certain that there was no intention on the part of the Post Office to create what appeared under the present Bill to be a monopoly in favour of one particular company.

SIR EDWARD CARSON (Dublin University)

said they all knew that the Admiralty had very large contracts with the Marconi Company, and he should like to know whether the statement was true that this litigation was pending, because it was quite clear that if the Admiralty were interested in the Marconi system, and the right to give monopoly was in the Post Office, it was very possible that the Lodge-Muirhead system would not be able to carry out the necessary experiments to complete their system, which, as they knew, had greatly advanced in India. The system appeared to be entirely a new one, and the House ought to take care that these licences were not worked in such a way as in anywise to favour the particular company with which the Government had entered into contracts. When the original Bill passed through the House it was considered essential that it should be passed in a tentative form and only for two years. The reasons which led to that conclusion still applied. This science was in its infancy, and he thought nothing would be lost by simply prolonging the Bill for another period of two years. A good deal might be done in the meantime. The litigation that had arisen would probably be finished, the merits of the different systems would be known, and there would be no suspicion of partiality towards those with whom the Government had entered into a contract. He suggested in fairness to all parties the Amendment should be accepted.

LORD R. CECIL (Marylebone, E.)

expressed the view that, wireless telegraphy being in a progressive condition and having by no means reached the stage

of finality, it was extremely desirable that the Act should not be continued for more than two years. This legislation was alleged at any rate to belimiting the progress of an art. Take the instance given by the Postmaster-General. The right hon. Gentleman had said that there must be these licences because stations could not be put close one to another. There was no reason why that difficulty should not be overcome in the course of the next two years. The right hon. Gentleman had given his undertaking, if any fresh discoveries were made, to make proposals to the House for any necessary alterations. That was surely a most unreasonable attitude, for how could the right hon. Gentleman bind his successors in office? The right way of meeting the situation was by limiting the duration of the Act to another two years.


said that he was advised that the Bill would not in any way affect the position of the companies which had been referred to and the Admiralty.

Question put.

The House divided: Ayes, 293; Noes, 39. (Division List No. 27.)

Abraham, William (Cork, N.E.) Bowerman, C. W. Cooper, G. J.
Acland, Francis Dyke Brace, William Corbett, C H (Sussex, E. Grinst'd
Adkins, W. Ryland Bramsdon, T. A. Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.
Agnew, George William Brigg, John Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.
Ainsworth, John Stirling Bright, J. A. Cowan, W. H.
Alden, Percy Brocklehurst, W. D. Craig, Herbert J. (Tynemouth)
Allen, A Acland (Christchurch) Brodie, H. C. Crean, Eugene
Allen, Charles P. (Stroud) Brooke, Stopford Cremer, William Randal
Asquith, Rt. Hn. Herbert Henry Brunner, J. F. L.(Lancs., Leigh) Crossley, William J.
Baker, Sir John (Portsmouth) Bryee, Rt. Hn. James(Aberdeen) Cullinan, J.
Balfour, Robert (Lanark) Buchanan, Thomas Ryburn Davies, David(Montgomery Co.
Baring, Godfrcy (Isle of Wight) Burke, E. Haviland - Davies, Timothy (Fulham)
Barlow, Percy (Bedford) Burns, Rt. Hon. John Davies, W. Howell (Bristol, S.)
Barnard, E. B. Burnyeat, J. D. W. Delany, William
Barnes, G. N. Buxton, Rt. Hon. Sydney Chas. Devlin, Charles Ramsay(G'lway
Barran, Rowland Hirst Byles, William Pollard Dickson-Poynder, Sir John P.
Barry, E. (Cork, S.) Cairns, Thomas Dilke, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles
Beale, W. P. Caldwell, James Dobson, Thomas W.
Beauchamp, E. Carr-Gomm, H. W. Dolan, Charles Joseph
Beaumont, Hubert (Eastbourne Causton, Rt. Hn. Richard Knight Duckworth, James
Beaumont, W. C. B. (Hexham) Chance, Frederick William Duffy, William J.
Bellairs, Carlyon Channing, Francis Allston Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness
Belloc, Hiliare Joseph Peter R. Cheetham, John Frederick Dunn, A. Edward (Camborne)
Benn, John Williams (Devonp't Cherry, R. R. Edwards, Enoch (Hanley)
Berridge, T. H. D. Churchill, Winston Spencer Edwards, Frank (Radnor)
Bertram, Julius Clarke, C. Goddard (Peckham) Ellis, Rt. Hon. John Edward
Billson, Alfred Clough, W. Erskine, David C.
Birrell, Rt. Hon. Augustine Coats, Sir T. Glen(Renfrew, W.) Essex, R. W.
Black, Arthur W.(Bedfordshire Cobbold, Felix Thornley Everett, R. Lacey
Boland, John Collins, Sir Wm. J.(S. Pancras, W. Ferens, T. R.
Fiennes, Hon. Eustace M'Crae, George Robson, Sir William Snowdon
Findlay, Alexander M'Kenna, Reginald Roche, John (Galway, East)
Fuller, J. M. F. M'Killop, W. Rogers, F. E. Newman
Fullerton, Hugh M'Laren, H. D. (Stafford, W.) Rose, Charles Day
Gilhooly, James M'Micking, Major G. Rowlands, J.
Ginnell, L. Maddison, Frederick Runciman, Walter
Gladstone, Rt. Hn Herbert John Manfield, Harry (Northants) Rutherford, V. H. (Brentford)
Glover, Thomas Mansfield, H. Rendall (Lincoln) Samuel, Herbert L. (Cleveland)
Goddard, Daniel Ford Marks, G. Croydon (Launceston Samuel, S. M. (Whitechapel)
Grant, Corrie Marnham, F. J. Scarisbrick, T. T. L.
Greenwood, G. (Peterborough) Massie, J. Scott, A.H. (AshtonunderLyne
Greenwood, Hamar (York) Meagher, Michael Sears, J. E.
Grey, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward Meehan, Patrick A. Seaverns, J. H.
Gulland, John W. Menzies, Walter Seely, Major J. B.
Gurdon, Sir W. Brampton Micklem, Nathaniel Shaw, Rt. Hon. T. (Hawick B.)
Haldane, Rt. Hon. Richard B. Mond, A. Sheehan, Daniel Daniel
Harcourt, Rt. Hon. Lewis Montagu, E. S. Sheehy, David
Hardie, J. Keir (Merthyr Tydvil Montgomery, H. H. Shipman, Dr. John G.
Hardy, George A. (Suffolk) Mooney, J. J. Silcock, Thomas Ball
Harmsworth, Cecil B. (Worc'r) Morrell, Philip Simon, John Allsebrook
Harmsworth, R.L.(Caithn'ss-sh Morton, Alpheus Cleophas Sinclair, Rt. Hon. John
Hart-Davies, T. Murphy, John Smeaton, Donald Mackenzie
Harvey, A. G. C. (Rochdale) Newnes, F. (Notts, Bassetlaw) Spicer, Albert
Haslam, James (Derbyshire) Nicholls, George Stanger, H. Y.
Haslam, Lewis (Monmouth) Nicholson, Charles N.(Doncast'r Stanley, Hn. A. Lyulph (Chesh.
Haworth, Arthur A. Nolan, Joseph Stewart, Halley (Greenock)
Hayden, John Patrick Norman, Henry Strachey, Sir Edward
Hazleton, Richard Norton, Capt. Cecil William Straus, B. S. (Mile End)
Hedges, A. Paget Nussey, Thomas Willans Strauss, E. A. (Abingdon)
Henderson, J.M.(Aberdeen, W.) Nuttall, Harry Sullivan, Donal
Henry, Charles S. O'Brien, Kendal(Tipperary Mid Summerball, T.
Herbert, Colonel Ivor (Mon., S. O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny) Taylor, John W. (Durham)
Higham, John Sharp O'Connor, James (Wicklow, W. Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe
Hobart, Sir Robert O'Dowd, John Tennant, E. P. (Salisbury)
Hobhouse, Charles E. H. O'Grady, J. Thomas, David Alfred (Merthyr
Holland, Sir William Henry O'Kelly, Conor (Mayo, N.) Thompson, J. W.H.(Somerset, E.
Hope, W. Bateman(Somerset, N. O'Kelly, James (Roscommon, N. Toulmin, George
Horniman, Emslie John O'Malley, William Trevelyan, Charles Philips
Hutton, Alfred Eddison O'Mara, James Ure, Alexander
Hyde, Clarendon O'Shaughnessy, P. J. Verney, F. W.
Idris, T. H. W. O'Shee, James John Villiers, Ernest Amherst
Illingworth, Percy H. Paul, Herbert Wallace, Robert
Jenkins, J. Pearce, Robert (Staffs. Leek) Walters, John Tudor
Johnson, John (Gateshead) Pearce, William (Limehouse) Walton, Sir John L. (Leeds, S.)
Johnson, W. (Nuneaton) Philipps, Col. Ivor (S'thampton Ward, John (Stoke upon Trent
Jones, Leif (Appleby) Phillipps, J. Wynford(Pembroke Ward, W. Dudley(Southampt'n
Jones, William (Carnarvonshire Philipps, Owen C. (Pembroke Warner, Thomas Courtenay T.
Joyce, Michael Pickersgill, Edward Hare Wason, John Cathcart Orkney)
Kearley, Hudson E. Pollard, Dr. Watt, H. Anderson
Kennedy, Vincent Paul Power, Patrick Joseph Wedgwood, Josiah C.
Kilbride, Denis Price, Robert John (Norfolk, E. Whitbread, Howard
Laidlaw, Robert Priestley, W.E.B.(Bradford, E.) White, J. D. (Dumbartonshire
Lambert, George Radford, G. H. White, Luke (York, E. R.)
Lamont, Norman Rainy, A. Rolland White, Patrick (Meath, North)
Law, Hugh Alexander Raphael, Herbert H. Whitehead, Rowland
Lawson, Sir Wilfrid Rea, Russell (Gloucester) Whitley, J. H. (Halifax)
Layland-Barratt, Francis Rea, Walter Russell (Scarboro' Wilkie, Alexander
Lehmann, R. C. Reddy, M. Williams, J. (Glamorgan)
Lever, A. Levy(Essex, Harwich Redmond, John E. (Waterford) Williamson, A. (Elginand Nairn
Levy, Maurice Rees, J. D. Wilson, H. J. (York, W.R.)
Lewis, John Herbert Renton, Major Leslie Wilson, J. H. (Middlesbrough)
Lough, Thomas Richards, Thomas (W. Monmth Wilson, J.W.(Worcestersh N.)
Lundon, W. Richards, T. F.(Wolverh'mpt'n Wilson, P. W. (St. Pancras, S.)
Lupton, Arnold Richardson, A. Winfrey, R.
Lyell, Charles Henry Rickett, J. Compton
Macdonald, J.M. (Falkirk B'ghs Ridsdale, E. A. TELLERS FOR THE AYES—Mr.
MacNeill, John Gordon Swift Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln) George Whiteley and Mr. J.
MacVeagh, Jeremiah (Down, S. Roberts, John Bryn (Eifion) A. Pease.
MacVeigh, Charles (Donegal, E. Roberts, John H. (Denbighs.)
M'Callum, John M. Robinson, S.
Acland-Hood, Rt. Hn. Sir Alex. F. Craig, Captain James(Down, E Rawlinson, John Frederick P.
Arkwright, John Stanhope Dalrymple, Viscount Roberts, S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall
Arnold-Forster, Rt. Hn. H. O. Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers- Rutherford, W. W. (Liverpool)
Balcarres, Lord Fell, Arthur Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone, W.)
Beach, Hn Michael Hugh Hicks Fetherstonhaugh, Godfrey Smith, F.E. (Liverpool, Walton)
Bignold, Sir Arthur Finch, Rt. Hon. George H. Walker, Col. W. H. (Lancash.)
Bowles, G. Stewart Forster, Henry William Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
Bull, Sir William James Gibbs, G. A. (Bristol, West) Wortley, Rt. Hn. C. B. Stuart-
Castlereagh, Viscount Hamilton, Marquess of Younger, George
Cave, George Hill, Henry Staveley (Staff'sh
Cavendish, Rt. Hn. Victor CW. Hills, J. W. TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Mr.
Coates, E. Feetham (Lowisham Legge, Col. Hon. Heneage Claude Hay and Lord
Cochrane, Hon. Thos. H. A. E. Liddell, Henry Robert Cecil.
Corbett, A. Cameron (Glasgow) Marks, Harry Hananel (Kent)
Courthope, G. Lloyd Pease, H Pike (Darlington)

Bill read a second time, and committed for to-morrow.

Bill to be read a third time tomorrow.