§ MR. JOWETT (Bradford, W.)
To ask the Postmaster-General whether, seeing that Clause 16 of the Telegraph Act, 1868, after providing that the special use of a telegraph wire might be granted for a period of twelve hours per diem at a sum not exceeding £500 per annum, expressly provided that no undue priority or preference in respect of such rates should be given to one person over any other such occupier, and that Mr. Fawcett and Lord Eversley, when Postmasters-General, laid it down that the meaning of this clause was that the Post Office should carry on the business of transmitting news messages, and that certain newspaper proprietors have complained that postal administrators have recently given preference to the wealthier newspapers, he intends to hand over, to a much greater degree, the transmission of news telegrams over public wires loaned by private individuals, and thus set aside the Telegraph Act of 1868.
§ MR. JOWETT
To ask the Postmaster-General, whether the members of a Departmental Committee have reported that they see no objection to handing over the transmission of news telegrams from London to the provinces to private individuals, with power to loan public wires and supply their own operators; whether permanent servants of the Crown have the power to set aside public rights acquired by purchase and embodied in an Act of Parliament by administration only; whether the Committee recommends to newspaper proprietors that the whole field of Post Office pensioners is open for the recruitment of operators; and whether he is prepared to permit so large an extension of the practice of sub-contracting without making any stipulations regarding the wages or working conditions of telegraphists who are to staff public wires loaned to newspaper syndicates or news agencies.
(Answered by Mr. Sydney Buxton.) I will answer these two Questions together 1007 Representations were made to my by various newspaper-proprietors and by the Press Association, with a view to seeing whether any arrangements mutually advantageous and satisfactory to the Department and the Press could be entered into whereby a more rapid and efficient service could be given to the Press, the object held principally in view being to reduce, as far as possible, the necessary consumption of time in the reception, manipulation, and transmission of Press messages. The chief suggestion was a scheme of joint private wires on the analogy of the private wires which some of the newspapers already possess. The hon. Member appears to be unaware that the Postmaster-General has provided private wires for private individuals ever since the transfer of the telegraphs to the State. There are some 4,000 of such private wires and, where the renters of private wires employ staff, they always engage and pay their own staff. As regards the question of the proposed joint private wires, no arrangement has yet been come to. The conditions under which they should be granted, including the conditions of service of the wires where these are not staffed by the Post Office, are still under consideration. No priority or preference has been given to any newspaper proprietor in respect of the rates referred to in Section 16 of the Telegraph Act of 1868, or any other rates. I do not see that that section is in any way set aside by the proposal which I have under consideration for allowing newspapers and news agencies, like other undertakings, to rent private wires. It will be equally open to anyone who desires to apply for a special wire, a private wire, or a joint private wire. Permanent servants of the Crown, have, of course, no power such as that suggested. Their duty is to advise the Postmaster-General when, as in this case, they are called upon to do so. The power of decision rests with him alone.