§ As amended (by the Standing Committee) considered.
§ SIR F. BANBURY (City of London)
moved to leave out the words, "Without prejudice to the exercise of any powers previously given for the like purpose." It was pointed out on the last occasion that although this money was voted for telephone extension the Bill was called the Telegraph Bill, and the statement of the Postmaster-General was the only guarantee which the House had that the money would not be allocated to other 238 purposes than the telephonic system. That being so, the right hon. Gentleman had put down an Amendment for the purpose of safeguarding the object he had in view What he desired to know was whether if these words were left in they would not prevent the purpose which the right hon. Gentleman had in view in proposing his Amendment. If they were not superfluous he would not oppose them, but as he thought they were, he begged to move.
§ Amendment proposed to the Bill—
§ "In page 1, line 7, to leave out from the word 'system,' to the word 'issue' in line 8.' "—(Sir F. Banbury.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."
§ THE POSTMASTER-GENERAL (Mr. SYDNEY BUXTON, Tower Hamlets, Poplar)
said it was a mistake to suppose that these words had any effect in regard to the £6,000,000. They only applied to small amounts—a balance already existing. "Like purpose" clearly meant telephonic purpose.
SIR F. BAN BURY
asked under these circumstances what was the amount of the balance and why this was necessary. This Bill did not abrogate any existing Act, and he did not know there was any necessity to confirm an Act already in existence.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
said he had been advised by his advisers that these words were necessary in order to secure the balance in the new Act, and the words only proposed to cover that balance.
§ MR. BOWLES
said the right hon. Gentleman had told the Committee that he had an unascertained balance which was applicable to this purpose. His object in seconding the Amendment was to obtain information as to the position in which this telephone business now stood. The right hon. Gentleman had resisted both in the House and upstairs the demands of the hon. Member for Preston for a clear statement of the large and growing demands of these services. A vital element in the matter was what amount the right hon. Gentleman had now which was applicable to this service. The Postmaster-General wanted £6,000,000 to spend in the next four years, but he had not said, and apparently did not know, how much money he already had. He was informed that the amount was something like half a million.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
said the unexpended balance on 31st March last was £250,000, and there were a few thousands still in hand.
§ MR. T. L. CORBETT (Down, X.)
said there was some little confusion about the balance in hand. The right hon. Gentleman first spoke of a few thousands, his hon. friend then said he had heard it was £500,000, and now the right hon. Gentleman said it was £250,000 in March last, but that it had now been almost wholly expended on the telephone service.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. BOWLES
moved an Amendment to limit the rate of the expenditure of £6,000,000 to £1,500,000 a year. He said it would be in the remembrance of those who were present on the last 240 occasion that the Postmaster-General told them that he proposed to spread this item of £6,000,000 over four years; that it was not his intention to exceed an expenditure of £1,500,000 a year. It was exceedingly important from the point of view of national credit that not more than £1,500,000 should be spent in any one year on this particular service. They did not know exactly what was the position of this large and growing concern; all they knew was that it might involve a considerable growing loss to the people of the country. Therefore, in view of the right hon. Gentleman's pledge, as he took it to be, that he would not spend more than £1,500,000 in any one year, he begged to move.
§ SIR F. BANBURY,
in seconding the Amendment, expressed the hope that the right hon. Gentleman would accept it. All it asked him to do was to carry out what he himself had said he intended to do. It had been pointed out to the Postmaster-General that the state of the money market was such that even the anticipation of an issue of £6,000,000, though not issued all at once, would have nearly as bad an effect on the market as the issue of £6,000,000 immediately. Although they did not doubt the sincerity of the right hon. Gentleman's promise that the expenditure should be spread over four years, if during that time the Party now in Opposition were returned to office and embarked on what hon. Members opposite called a policy of extravagance, there was nothing in the Bill to ensure that the intention of the right hon. Gentleman would be carried out.
§ Amendment proposed to the Bill—
§ "In page 1, line 9, after the word ' sums,' to insert the words, ' not exceeding one and a-half million pounds in any one financial year, and.' "—(Mr. Bowles.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
said that it would be impracticable to accept the proposal, as it would be impossible to anticipate what amount would actually be spent in each year. His statement to the House on the Second Reading was that the £6,000,000 would be spread over four years, but he had not said, and could not say, that in no one year would more 241 than £1,500,000 be spent. Some of the money would be spent on new exchanges in London, and he might be asked to purchase one or more of the remaining municipal systems; and so an unexpected charge might be thrown on a particular year, with the result that there would be a larger expenditure that year and a smaller expenditure in the next. It was impossible to estimate from year to year what amount would be expended, but. as ha had said, the £6,000,000 would be fairly spread over the four years, although it would be impossible to limit the, expenditure in the way proposed to £l,500,000 each year. It had been remarked that fixing the period of four years was to avoid the criticism of the House of Commons, but if that were so there would be the greatest possible temptation to his successor to spread the money over the longest period possible. He did not think that the limitation proposed by the Amendment was in any way required. There was no desire to spend this money except in a bona fide way and in the direction desired by the House of Commons.
§ VISCOUNT TURNOUR (Sussex, Horsham)
thought the gravamen of the charge as to this being a rash speculation rested upon the late Government and not upon the right hon. Gentleman. He thought, however, that they should have rather more assurances from the right hon. Gentleman that the whole of this £6,000,000 would not be spent at once. There was no doubt, as he thought the Postmaster- General would himself admit, that this was a very rash speculation, and it was doubtful whether it could be made a financial success. He thought that, there fore, the Post Office ought to go slowly in the matter; it was reasonable, to ask the Postmaster-General not to spend more than a certain amount each year, and he should bind himself to that effect. The House should guard against the whole of this money being spent in the first two years. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would give them the assurance that the money would be spent in the most careful way and with the minimum of risk to the taxpayers. In the absence of any such assurance, he for one intended to support the Amendment.
§ MR. HAROLD COX (Preston)
said that, if the hon. Member opposite reflected he would see that the course which he proposed might have most serious inconveniences. Supposing that this Bill had been not for four but for forty years, surely it would be inconvenient that the House of Commons should vote such a large sum of money in 1907 to last to the year 1947, simply on the assurance that so much would be spent in each year. The really important thing was to keep the control of the House of Commons over the expenditure, but they did not retain that control simply by insisting that the total sum spent should not exceed a certain amount in any one year. It might be necessary to spend more in one year and less in another as might prove convenient. Therefore, the really important point was to get a reduction of the total sum asked for in order to compel the Postmaster-General to give the House an account and justify the demand.
§ *MR. CARLILE (Hertfordshire, St. Albans)
thought that the right hon. Gentleman was largely and personally responsible for the impression that this expenditure was to be spread over four years and that in any one of the four years the expenditure was not to exceed £1,500,000. That was the recollection of his hon. friends around him of the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman in Committee. As that did not appear on the face of the measure itself, his hon. friend by his Amendment was end devouring to place it there, or at any rate to secure from the right hon. Gentleman an assurance more definite and personal than they had heard, that that was the method in which he proposed to deal with this vast sum. He would also like an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that in contemplation of taking over the National telephones he would so use the money in developing the system that there should be no waste in the sense of overlapping or duplication.
§ MR. T. L. CORBETT (Down, N.)
said he concurred in the view that the House ought to retain its control over 243 the expenditure of such a large sum of money. He thought that the anxiety of the electors was very largely aroused about these great commercial enterprises undertaken by municipalities and experimentally by the London County Council—
§ MR. T. L. CORBETT
said he was intending to illustrate the danger of these great industrial enterprises being in the hands of municipalities or departments of the Imperial Government like that of the Postmaster-General.
§ MR. T. L. CORBETT
said he entirely agreed that there ought to be a constant and vigilant control over expenditure by the House of Commons, and that could only be effected by keeping a careful watch over the annual expenditure.
§ MR. RAWLINSON (Cambridge University)
said the point raised by the Amendment was not so much one of controlling a large expenditure as of borrowing a sum of £6,000,000 in one year. The words used by the Postmaster-General on the last occasion he took as being a complete reassurance on the point, and by the Amendment they were merely carrying out what the right hon. Gentleman had said. What the right hon. Gentleman had said when they talked of disarranging the money market by issuing a loan of £6,000,000 forthwith, was that the amount would be issued in small sums from time to time, and in one year probably the sum would exceed £1,500,000, and they would not go to the public market at all. Possibly that had escaped the mind of the right hon. Gentleman, and it was in that spirit that this Amendment was moved.
§ *MR. STEADMAN (Finsbury, Central)
said that as a member of the Committee 244 which had this Bill before them, he would like to say a word or two in reply to what had been said. The right hon. Gentleman had been asked for an assurance whether this or that was going to be done, but in his opinion, whatever assurance the Postmaster-General gave, hon. Members on the other side of the House would not be satisfied. If there was extravagance in spending the ratepayers' money or the money of the taxpayers, the responsibility rested on those who were elected by the people to look after their interests.
§ *MR. STEADMAN
Yes; he knew they were, but what was the reason they were doing it? He remembered that the Postmaster-General under a Conservative régime gave a fourteen years lease to the Telephone Company. He was prepared to say that if that lease had not been granted the present Postmaster-General would not have needed to come to the House at this juncture to ask for £6,000,000. The real objection of Members who supported the Amendment was that they were there to champion the interests of monopoly, which it was the intention of the Bill to break down. It was useless to bind the Postmaster -General to a certain expenditure each year, for it was obvious that whatever sum they might fix it would in some year or other be exceeded, perhaps by only a few pounds, and the result of tying the right hon. Gentleman's hands might be that work would be delayed. It was that form of meddling and muddling that very often prevented municipal or State employment from paying the same profit as private enterprises. He hoped that the-right hon. Gentleman would adhere to his Bill.
§ MR. ASHLEY (Lancashire, Blackpool)
said the last speaker had dwelt very much on the fact that they wished to tie down the Postmaster-General to £1,500,000 each year. They did not wish to do that; they simply wished to have in the Bill what the Postmaster-General said was his intention when the matter was 245 last discussed. The hon, and learned Member for Cambridge University had read the clear statement of the right hon. Gentleman that £1,500,000 would be required for each of the four years, and his hon. friend had put an Amendment on the paper to carry out that object. He could not understand what objection the Postmaster-General could have to the Amendment, and he would be very glad to hear what explanation he had to give.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
said he had already given his reasons why he could not accept the Amendment. He had used the words "probably a million and a half,"' for it was perfectly obvious that some years there would be a little more expenditure and another year a' little less.
§ Question put—
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 22:; Noes,. 189. (Division List No. 280.)247
|Ashley, W. W.||Corbett, T. L. (Down, X.)||Salter, Arthur Clavell|
|Aubrey- Fletcher.Rt. Hn. SirH.||Craik, Sir Henrv||Sassoon, Sir Edward Albert|
|Bignold, Sir Arthur||Fell, Arthur||Turnour, Viscount|
|Butcher, Samuel Henry||Fletcher, J. S.||Wortley, Rt.Hon.C.B.Stuart|
|Carlile, E. Hildred||Gretton, John|
|Cave, George||Hills, J. W.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—MR.Bowles and Sir Frederick Banbury.|
|Cavendish,Rt. Hn.VictorC. W.||Lock wood, Rt. Hn. Lt-ColA. R.|
|Cecil, Lord R. (Marylebone, E.)||Pease,Herbert Pike(Darlington|
|Chaplin,Rt. Hon. Henry||Rawlinson,John Frederick Peel|
|Acland, Francis Dyke||Crombie, John William||Holland, Sir William Henry|
|Ambrose, Hubert||Crooks, William||Holt, Richard Durning|
|Ashton, Thomas Gair||Davies,M. Vaughan-(Cardigan||Horniman, Emslie John|
|Asquith.Rt.Hn. Herbert Henry||Davies, Timothy (Fulbam)||Hudson, Walter|
|Astbury, John Meir||Dewar,Arthur (Edinburgh,S.)||Illingworth, Percy H.|
|Atherley-Jones, L.||Dickinson, W. H(St. PancrasN.||Jones,Sir D.Brynmor(Swansea)|
|Baker,.Joseph A.(Finsbury,E.)||Dobson, Thomas W.||Jones, Leif (Appleby)|
|Balfour, Robert (Lanark)||Donelan, Captain A.||Jones,William (Carnarvonshire|
|Baring,Godfrey(Isle of Wight)||Duncan,C. (Barrow-in-Furness||Jowett, F. W.|
|Barlow. Percy (Bedford)||Dunn, A. Edward (Camborne)||Joyce, Michael|
|Barnes, G. N.||Edwards Clement (Den bigh)||Kekewich, Sir George|
|Beale, W. P.||Erskine, David C.||Kelley, George D.|
|Belloc, Hilaire Joseph Peter R.||Everett, R. Lacey||Kilbride, Denis|
|Bethell, T. R. (Essex, Maldon)||Fenwick, Charles||Laidlaw, Robert|
|Boulton, A. C. F.||Ferens, T. R.||Lardner,'James Carrige Rushe|
|Branch, James||Flynn, James Christopher||Law, Hugh A. (Donegal, W.)|
|Brigg, John||Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Walter||Layland-Barratt, Francis|
|Bright, J. A.||Fowler, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Lever, A.Levy(Essex, Harwich|
|Brunner'J.F.L. (Lanes.,Leigh)||Fuller, John Michael F,||Levy, Sir Maurice|
|Burt, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Gibb, James (Harrow)||Lewis, John Herbe|
|Buxton,Rt.Hn.Sydney Charles||Gilhooly, James||Lough, Thomas|
|Byles, William Pollard||Gladstone,Rt.Hn Herbert John||Lundon, W.|
|Cameron, Robert||Goddard, Daniel Ford||Lynch, H. B.|
|Cawley, Sir Frederick||Greenwood, G. (Peterborough)||Macdonald, J. R. (Leicester)|
|Cheetham, John Frederick||Gulland, John W.||Macdonald,J.M.(Falkirk B'ghs)|
|Cherry, Rt. Hon. R. R.||Gwynn, Stephen Lucius||MacNeill, John Gordon Swift|
|Churchill, Rt. Hn. Winston S.||Halpin, J.||Macpherson, J. T.|
|Cleland, J. W.||Hardy, George A. (Suffolk)||M'Crae, George|
|Clough, William||Harvey, A. G. C. (Rochdale)||M'Killop, W.|
|Clynes, J. R.||Haslam, Lewis (Monmouth)||M'Laren, SirC. B.(Leicester)|
|Coats,SirT.Glen(Renfrew,W.)||Hawortn, Arthur A.||Maddison, Frederick|
|Collins, Stephen (Lambeth)||Hayden. John Patrick||Manfield, Harry (Northants)|
|Collins, SirWm.J.(SPancras,W||Hazel, Dr. A. E.||Marnham, F. J.|
|Corbett,A. Cameron(Glasgow)||Helme, Norval Watson||Mason, A. E. W. (Coventry)|
|Corbett,CH(Sussex,E.Grinst'd||Henderson, Arthur (Durham)||Meagher, Michael|
|Cox, Harold||Higham, John Sharp||Menzies, Walter|
|Craig, Herbert J. (Tynemouth)||Hobart, Sir Robert||Micklem, Nathaniel|
|Crean, Eugene||Hodge, John|
|Montagu, E. S.||Robertson,Sir G.Scott(Bradf'rd||Torrance, Sir A. M.|
|Mooney, J. J.||Robertson, J. M. (Tyneside)||Toulmin, George|
|Morgan, G. Hay (Cornwall)||Robson, Sir William Snowdon||Ure, Alexander|
|Myer, Horatio||Roche, John (Galway. E.)||Verney, F. W.|
|Nicholls, George||Rogers, F. E. Newman||Walton, Sir John L. (Leeds, S.)|
|Nicholson,CharlesN.(Doncast'r||Runciman, Walter||Warner, Thomas Courtenay T.|
|Nolan, Joseph||Russell, T. W.||Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)|
|Norton,. Capt. Cecil William||Rutherford, V. H. (Brentford)||Waterlow, D. S.|
|O'Brien,Kendal (TipperaryMid||Samuel, Herbert L. (Cleveland)||Watt, Henry A.|
|O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)||Scarisbrick, T. T. L.||White, J. D.(Dumbartonshire)|
|O'Donnell, C. J. (Walworth)||Sehwann, Sir C.E.(Manchester)||White, Luke (York, E.R.)|
|O'Grady, J.||Scott,A.H.(Ashton under Lyne||White, Patrick (Meath, North)|
|Parker, James (Halifax)||Sears, J. E.||Whitehead. Rowland|
|Pearce, Robert (Staffs. Leek)||Seely, Major J. B.||Whitley, John Henry (Halifax)|
|Pearson,W.H.M. (Suffolk, Bye)||Shackleton, David James||Williams,Llewelyn (Carmarth'n|
|Pollard, Dr.||Shipman, Dr. John G.||Williams, Osmond (Merioneth)|
|Priestley,W.E.B. (Bradford,E.)||Spicer, Sir Albert||Williamson, A.|
|Pullar, Sir Robert||Stanger, H. Y.||Wilson, Hn.C.H.W.(Hull,W.)|
|Rea, Walter Russell (Scarboro'||Stanley,Hn. A.Lyulph(Chesh.)||Wilson, John (Durham, Mid.)|
|Redmond, John E. (Waterford||Steadman, W.C.||Wilson, P. W. (St. Pancras, S.)|
|Rees, J. D.||Strachey, Sir Edward||Wilson, W. T.(Westhoughton)|
|Richards, T. F. (Wolverh'mpt'n||Summerbell, T.||Young, Samuel|
|Rickett, J. Compton||Taylor, Austin (EastToxteth)|
|Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)||Taylor, Theodore C. (Radeliffe)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—MR.Whiteley and Mr. J. A. Pease.|
|Roberts, G. H. (Norwich)||Thomas, Abel (Carmarthen, E.|
|Robertson,Rt. Hn. E.(Dundee)||Thorne, William|
§ *MR. HAROLD COX
moved an Amendment to cut down the proposed expenditure from £6,000,000 to £3,000,000. In the first place, this sum was larger than had ever before been asked for by the Post Office; it was twice as large as any sum asked for previously by the Department. It was quite true that the sum asked for was to be spread over four years, but surely they had to take into consideration the amount as well as the time, and he proposed, instead of £6,000,000 in four years, £3,000,000 in four years. A further reason for reducing this sum was that the Postmaster-General had assured them that he would devote a portion of the recess to working out a better financial statement of the telephone accounts. But he thought that they ought to have the advantage of the Postmaster-General's work before they were committed to so large an expenditure. The right hon. Gentleman claimed that though they were losing nearly £1,000,000 a year on telegraphs, they were actually making a small profit on telephones. He repeated that he did not know how they were to make that 248 certain, the accounts being so badly kept, and he used the word "badly" advisedly. In the Postmaster-General's report different figures were given on different pages for the same item. When they found such a thing as that in the annual report they were justified in saying that before the House sanctioned this enormous expenditure they ought to have a clear statement. The Postmaster-General had very fairly met him on that question, but they would not have this statement made until the autumn. Let him prepare his statement in the autumn and then two years hence come and ask for an extra £3,000,000. The House had spent five hours in discussing this sum, and it was not too much that the House of Commons, which was the custodian of the nation's business, should devote five hours once again to the consideration of such a huge amount as £6,000,000 sterling. The Postmaster-General had himself said more than once—and he was quite sure that he had not done so merely out of courtesy—that he welcomed the debate, 249 as it would strengthen his hands and enable him to resist pressure for concessions which would involve loss. They wanted to strengthen his hands again two years hence, because he was quite sure that in the interval of two years there would be a great deal of other pressure put upon the right hon. Gentleman by well-to-do people to have telephones supplied to them at less than cost price and at the taxpayers' expense. £6,000,000 represented the entire proceeds of the sugar tax, and he questioned whether it was right to maintain a tax involving a burden upon the poorest class of taxpayers for the purpose of sub sidising a service largely used by the well-to-do classes. That was the reason why he thought the House of Commons should have an opportunity of examining the accounts which the Postmaster-General had promised to prepare in order to see whether this business was being run on right lines.
§ MR. GRETTON (Rutland)
seconded the Amendment. To him this measure afforded a glaring instance of the lax way in which the House of Commons dealt with the expenditure of very large sums of money. No board of directors or committee of shareholders would venture to embark upon an expenditure of any sum very much less than this unless those who were proposing the expenditure were prepared to submit a statement of accounts, or a reliable estimate as to the way it was proposed to expend the money. The Post Office had taken no trouble to look into the matter; the Postmaster- General was asking authority to rise £6,000,000, and he had not been able up to now to present any accounts whatsoever to the House. He did not think the public departments of the Government ought to be allowed to transact their 250 business in this way, and he entered a strong protest against the manner in which the House was being treated in regard to these loans. He wished to endorse the remarks made by the hon. Member for Preston as to the great risks which would be run by the taxpayer. Proper accounts ought to be prepared before the House was asked to expend a further £6,000,000 on the telephone service. It was not desirable to raise a large sum of money in the present state of the money market, and the raising of another £6,000,000 would have very serious effects.
§ Amendment proposed to the Bill—
§ "In page 1, line 10, to leave out the word 'six' and insert the word ' three.' "—(Mr. Harold Cox.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'six ' stand part of the Bill."
§ *MR. REES (Montgomery Boroughs)
urged the Postmaster,-General to agree to the Amendment to accept £3,000,000 now and come again for the rest. It was a fact that in this country the telephone was a luxury, and the reason why it was so dear and had to be subsidized out of the taxes was that it was under Government management. Elsewhere, in the remotest parts of Europe, and even on the borders of Lapland, an excellent service was found, cheap and efficient, but in this country it was only possible to have the telephone at a comparatively high price and of very moderate efficiency. It was the system of Government management that ruined the whole thing. An hon. Member had asked why, if the Government of India could manage telephones and telegraphs at a profit, we could not do the same in this country. India was not that example of socialistic enterprise 251 which, no doubt very much to the surprise of that benevolent bureaucracy, it was frequently described as being in the House of Commons. He could quote instances of successful Government enterprises taken up there solely because private enterprise was wanting, being dropped as soon as private individuals were ready to take them over because it was considered unjust and improper that the taxpayers should compete with what was the proper province of private enterprise. The railways again were chiefly made with Government capital, or were guaranteed, and even then management by a company was generally preferred. The accounts in all enterprises managed by Government Departments were not kept in a manner that would give satisfaction to the shareholders of a company; and the accounts of the Post Office would not be satisfactory until the telegraphs and telephones accounts were kept separately, which he understood the Postmaster-General contemplated. He did not oppose the Bill, but he supported the Amendment of his hon. friend the Member for Preston.
§ VISCOUNT TURNOUR
supported the Amendment. Personally, he would have no objection to the Post Office taking over the telephones, but he objected to spending upon them such a large sum of money, because the whole thing had been entered into without a proper idea of the financial and other responsibilities involved. The right hon. Gentleman was not so much to blame in this matter as the right hon. Member for East Worcestershire, who was Postmaster-General when the scheme was first entered upon. He did not think that even now it was too late for the House to avoid the effect of that mistake, but the Government ought not 252 to enter into the undertaking without adequate safeguards. The Post Office was a more or less risky business, but that risk would be very much increased if this huge network of telephones was placed in their hands. He had been amazed in this discussion at the lack of information at the disposal of the right hon. Gentleman as to the method in which this money was to be spent. The truth was that the permanent officials of the Post Office had got an idea that by means of the telephone they were going to make up for previous misfortunes in connection with the telegraphs. He had no objection to the Government taking over the telephone system which was a legitimate business for them to control, but they ought to have some undertaking from the Post Office that that service would be cheaper and more efficient in the future, and that the mistakes which had been made in regard to the telegraphs would not be repeated. He could not understand why the right hon. Gentleman did not furnish them with some specific and proper account of how it was proposed to spend this money. A number of instances, which could easily be multiplied, had been given of cases in which it was difficult to make out Post Office Estimates. A perusal of the Estimates would convince anyone that they were laid before the House in such a way that nobody could tell how the money was going to be spent. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would undertake to supply hon. Members with information showing exactly how this money would be spent, how far the undertaking had been a success up to now, and what guarantee they had that the mistakes of the past would not be repeated. Even countries like the 253 United States hesitated in the matter of the telephone service, and the effect of the American Government not taking over that service had been to give the United States a far more efficient and a cheaper service. It was too late for the Postmaster - General to undo the unfortunate bargain which had been made by his predecessor, but it was not too late to safeguard the position of the House and the taxpayers with regard to this Vote.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
hoped the Amendment would be rejected, because he was really following precedent in this matter. When money was previously taken for a limited period the circumstances were different, as the policy of the country in regard to telephones was unsettled. The reason for now financing for four years was that in 1911 the National Telephone Company would become a public institution. Ample opportunity would be given for the reconsideration of the telephone system on the Bill which would then have to be introduced. He would not be surprised if it became necessary, for various reasons into which he need not enter, to introduce that Bill three years hence. There would also before that be ample opportunity on the Estimates for the House to consider rates and other questions; and he would welcome on the Estimates support given to him against importunities for greater expenditure. The hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London had expressed some alarm lest the whole of this £6,000,000 would be put on the market. He agreed with the hon. Baronet that nothing could be worse than to attempt to float a £6,000,000 loan at the present time, but the money would not be put on 254 the market. It would be issued from time to time as it was required, and would be taken from Government Departments, such as the Post Office Savings Bank. In regard to the general criticisms that had been made, he could only repeat what he had said on the Second Heading, that, as far as the telephone system was concerned, it was the desire of the Post Office to carry it on on business principles. It ought to pay interest on capital, provide a proper sinking fund, and produce a small profit in addition. The rates would be kept as low as possible, but, as a public department ought to meet the convenience of the public, they would revise the rates with that object in view. The capital expenditure he asked for was not excessive, and would carry them over a short period, after which the whole matter would have to be reconsidered and the House of Commons would have a full opportunity of considering it as a whole.
§ LORD BALCARRES (Lancashire, Chorley)
said that everyone would rejoice at the statement just made by the Postmaster - General that it was intended to keep the accounts more closely on business lines. With that object in view the right hon. Gentleman was about to revise the rates. When powers were being taken to borrow this large sum of money, the Postmaster-General might be asked to give some assurance on the subject of rates. He had been getting resolutions lately from chambers of commerce and other business associations in Lancshire to the effect that the alteration in rates contemplated would be likely to put difficulties in the way of the extension of the use of the telephone. That surely was not the desire of the right hon. Gentleman. If the telephone 255 system was to be conducted on business lines, it was clearly the interest of the post office that every facility should be afforded to those who wished to use it. In Lancashire, and in the commercial community generally, there was considerable anxiety on this point, and he hoped that at a later period of the session the right hon. Gentleman would make some precise statement as to what the new arrangements were going to be.
§ *MR. HELME (Lancashire, Lancaster)
asked whether the Government had already made up their minds on the question of granting facilities for the continuance and development of local municipal telephone systems. In the evidence given before the Select Committee who considered the proposal that the Government should take over by purchase the business of the National Telephone Company, it was stated that the municipalities gave a lower rate than the company, the annual subscription for an unlimited service by the Corporation of Glasgow being about five guineas. It was, he thought, the desire of all that under whatever arrangements might be made, whether the telephones were controlled by the Government or by municipalities, every householder or tradesman should be able to become possessed of a telephone at the reasonably low subcription named.
§ *MR. BYLES (Salford, N.)
said that when the Bill was in Committee he was one of the small minority who supported the Amendment now before the House, 256 and consistency required that he should do so now. But he confessed that he did not like his company. He specially desired to dissociate himself from the arguments used by the hon. Member for the Montgomery Boroughs in support of the Amendment.
§ *MR. BYLES
said his sole reason for supporting the Amendment was that it seemed to him £6,000,000 was too large a sum to allow the Postmaster-General to obtain from the Treasury during the next four years in connection with the telephone enterprise. He did not in any way desire to check the carrying out of an efficient telephone system, but he thought that when half of the amount now asked had been spent the right hon. Gentleman should come back and ask for the rest in order that the House might have another opportunity for a debate of this kind.
§ SIR F. BANBURY
said it did not matter to him with whom he voted so long as his vote was a proper one. If the Amendment to reduce the amount by one-half were carried, he failed to see where the Postmaster-General would lose. All that would happen would be that when the £3,000,000 had been expended he would have to come back to the House of Commons and ask for another grant. The Amendment only carried out the principle advocated by right hon. Gentlemen opposite—namely, that the House of Commons should have full control of the national expenditure. He denied that there was, as the hon. Member for Central Finsbury had said, a desire in this 257 matter to maintain monopoly and privilege. What he and his friends desired was to maintain the control of the House of Commons over the expenditure of the nation, and to see that the expenditure was carried out with due economy. The right hon. Gentleman had said very truly that something was going to take place in 1911. In that year they were going to buy up the business of the telephone company. The capital of the company was £10,000,000, and in view of the assurance lately given that there was to be no confiscation in another matter, he presumed that there would be no confiscation in this case. He thought he had some reason to say that the amount paid to the company would not be less than £10,009,000. S) that even if the Amendment was carried, there would be an expenditure of something like £13,000,000 in the next four years in connection with the telephones. It had been stated that the telephones were to be worked on business lines; the Government must, therefore, be careful not to spend money in the next four years which might be wasted by duplication. The telephone service was used by the richer classes, and the whole nation paid for it. The
§ House ought to take care that the richer classes paid a sufficient sum to recompense the State for expenditure, interest, and sinking fund. He supported the Amendment.
§ MR. RAWLINSON
reminded the House that they were custodians of the public purse. When large sums were entrusted to the Government ordinary business precautions ought to be taken. the Postmaster - General thought the telephone system had been carried on at a profit, but had given no figures nor details. Yet they were asked to embark on a further expenditure of.£6,000,000, which would not be required this year nor next year. It had not been pleaded that there was urgency for the expenditure. the Postmaster - General had been perfectly frank in stating that he did not intend to spend it all at once. He hoped the House would not vote the whole of the £6,000,000 on such information as they had now before them.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 172; Noes, 24. (Division List No. 281)259
|Acland, Francis Dyke||Cheetham, John Frederick||Donelan, Captain A.|
|Ambrose, Robert||Cherry, Rt. Hon. R. R.||Duncan,C.(Barrow-in-Furness|
|Astbury, John Meir||Churehill.Rt. Hon. Winston S.||Dunn, A. Edward (Camborne)|
|Bilker,Joseph A.(Finsbury,E.)||Cleland, J. W.||Edwards, Clement (Denbigh)|
|Banner, John S. Harmood-||Clough, William||Erskine, David C.|
|Baring, Godfrey (Isle of Wight)||Clynes, J. R.||Everett, R. Lacey|
|Barlow, Percy (Bedford)||Coats,SirT.Glen(Renfrew, W.)||Fenwick, Charles|
|Beale, W. P.||Collins, Stephen (Lambeth)||Ferens, T. R.|
|Belloc,Hilaire Joseph Peter R.||Corbett.A. Cameron(Glasgow)||Flynn, James Christopher|
|Bethell.T. R. (Essex, Maldon)||Corbett,CH(Sussex,E.Grinst'd||Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Walter|
|Boland, John||Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||Fowler, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry|
|Boulton, A. C. F.||Crean, Eugene||Fuller, John Michael F.|
|Branch, James||Cremer, Sir Williain Randal||Fullerton, Hugh|
|Bright, J. A.||Crombie,.John William||Gibb, James (Harrow)|
|Brunner, J.F. L.(Lanes., Leigh)||Crooks, William||Gladstone, Rt.Hn.Herbert John|
|Burt, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Crosfield, A. H.||Goddard, Daniel Ford|
|Buxton,Rt. Hn. Sydney Charles||Davies, M. Vaughan- (Cardigan||Greenwood, G. (Peterborough)|
|Cameron, Robert||Davies, Timothy (Fulham)||Gulland, John W.|
|Cawley, Sir Frederick||Dickinson.W.H. (St.Pancras.N||Gwynn, Stephen Lucas|
|Charming, Sir Francis Allston||Dobson, Thomas W.||Halpin, J.|
|Hardy, George A. (Suffolk)||Manfield, Harry (Northants)||Rutherford, V. H. (Brentford)|
|Harvey, A. G. C. (Rochdale)||Markham, Arthur Basil||Scarisbrick, T. T. L.|
|Haworth, Arthur A.||Marks,G.Croydon (Launceston)||Schwann.SirC.E. (Manchester)|
|Hayden, John Patrick||Marnham, F. J.||Scott,A.H.(Ashton-under-Lyne|
|Hazel, Dr. A. E.||Mason, A. E. W. (Coventry)||Sears, J. E.|
|Hedges, A. Paget||Menzies, Walter||Seaverns, J. H.|
|Helme, Norval Watson||Micklem, Nathaniel||Shipman, Dr. John G.|
|Henderson, Arthur (Durham)||Money, L. G. Chiozza||Spicer, Sir Albert|
|Higham, John Sharp||Montagu, E. S.||Stanger, H. Y.|
|Hobart, Sir Robert||Mooncy, J. J.||Steadman, W. C.|
|Hodge, John||Morgan, G. Hay (Cornwall)||Summerbell, T.|
|Holland, Sir William Henry||Myer, Horatio||Sutherland, J. E.|
|Holt, Richard Durning||Nicholls, George||Tavlor, Austin (East Toxteth)|
|Horniman, Emslie John||Nicholson,Charles N.(Doncast'r||Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe)|
|Hudson, Walter||Nolan, Joseph||Thomas, Abel (Carmarthen, E.)|
|Hyde, Clarendon||Norman, Sir Henry||Thorne, William|
|Illingworth, Percy H.||Norton, Capt. Cecil William||Torrance, Sir A. M.|
|Jackson, R. S.||O'Brien,Kendal (TipperaryMid||Toulmin, George|
|Jones, Leif (Appleby)||O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)||Verney, F. W.|
|Jowett, F. W.||O'Grady, J.||Walton, Sir John L. (Leeds, S.)|
|Joyce, Michael||Parker, James (Halifax)||Wason,John Catheart (Orkney)|
|Kekewich, Sir George||Pearce, Robert (Staffs. Leek)||Waterlow, D. S.|
|Laidlaw, Robert||Philipps, Owen C. (Pembroke)||Watt, Henry A.|
|Lardner, James Carrige Rushe||Pollard, Dr.||White, J. D. (Dumbartonshire)|
|Law, Hush A. (Donegal, W.)||Power, Patrick Joseph||White, Luke (York, E.R.)|
|Layland-Barratt, Francis||Priestley,W.E.B. (Bradford, E.||Whilehead, Rowland|
|Lever,A.Levy (Essex, Harwich||Pullar, Sir Robert||Whitley, John Henry (Halifax)|
|Levy, Sir Maurice||Rea, Walter Russell (Scarboro'||Wiles, Thomas|
|Lewis, John Herbert||Richards.T.F. (Wolverh'mpt'n||Williamson, A.|
|Lyell, Charles Henry||Rickett, J. Compton||Wilson, Hon. C.H.W.(Hull, W.)|
|Lynch, H. B.||Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)||Wilson, John (Durham, Mid)|
|Macdonald.J.M. (Falkirk B'ghs||Roberts, G. H. (Norwich)||Wilson, P. W. (St. Pancras, S.|
|Macdonald, J. R. (Leicester)||Robertson, Rt.Hn. E. (Dundee)||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|MacNeill, John Gordon Swift||Robertson, J. M. (Tyneside)||Young, Samuel|
|Macpherson, J. T.||Robson, Sir William Snowdon|
|MaeVeigh.Charles (Donegal,E.)||Roe, Sir Thomas||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—MR. Whileley and Mr. J. A. Pease.|
|M'Crae, George||Rogers, F. E. Newman|
|M'Hngh, Patrick A.||Rose, Charles Day|
|Maddison, Frederick||Russell, T. W.|
|Ashley, W. W.||Craik, Sir Henry||Smith,F.E. (Liverpool, Walton|
|Balearres, Lord||Kimber, Sir Henry||valentia viscont|
|Banbury, Sir Frederick George||Lock wood,Rt. Hn. Lt-Col. A. R.||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C.B. Stuart|
|Bignold, Sir Arthur||Pease,HerbertPike(Darlingt'n|
|Bowles, G. Stewart||Rawlinson,JohnFiederickPeel||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—MR. Harold Cox and Mr, Gretton.|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Rees, J. D.|
|Byles, William Pollard||Salter, Arthur Clavell|
|Cecil,Lord R.(Marylebone,E.)||Sandys,Lieut.-Col. ThosMyles|
|Corbett, T. L. (Down, North)||Sassoon, Sir Edward Albert|
§ And, it being Five of the clock, further proceeding on consideration of the Bill, as amended, stood adjourned.
§ Bill, as amended (by the Standing Committee), to be further considered upon Monday next.