HC Deb 02 June 1908 vol 189 cc1813-23

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time"

*MR. COURTHOPE, in moving that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said that the Bill would do serious mischief to the rural districts. In order to make his reasons clear he would very briefly explain the steps which had led up to the Bill. The Telegraphs Act of 1863 gave power, subject to certain conditions and provisions, to the Postmaster-General to carry wires across land and over streets and buildings in boroughs and towns of not less than 30,000 inhabitants, and the Act of 1878 extended the powers to urban sanitary districts and included in the term "street," main roads, bridlepaths and private roads which were also public footpaths. So far he did not think there was any objection to the extension. They all agreed that the extension of telegraphic and telephonic communications was a good thing for the community, and that anything which promoted it should be supported. For that reason he had no fault to find with Clause 3 of the Bill now under discussion, which provided that where the Postmaster-General and the Railway and Canal Commissioners were satisfied that, owing to the refusal or failure of any occupier, owner, or lessor of any building, to give the necessary facilities, telegraphic communication could not be supplied except at unreasonable cost and under unreasonable conditions, steps might be taken without the consent of the person to establish the communication. The fault he found with the Bill was that it invested the Postmaster-General with powers with regard to the lopping and felling of trees. It proposed to extend to the rural districts the powers which at present only applied to towns and urban sanitary districts; and the clauses in the Acts of 1863 and 1878 which referred to streets would in future refer to country roads and lanes. In order to carry out those provisions with the least possible inconvenience to those constructing the lines the Postmaster-General sought very wide powers in the way of lopping trees and so on. The provisions with regard to the carrying of wires over land and buildings would, when applied to rural districts, enable the wires to cut off corners and to go straight across the curves of a bending road. In doing so they must inevitably come into contact with a great many trees that would not be touched under present conditions. The saving would be very small, but there would be a great risk of spoiling rural scenery and destroying fine avenues of trees which were the pride of the country neighbourhood. He did not suggest that the Bill sought to give power to cut the trees without some notice being given. Notice must be given to the owner or occupier of the land on which the trees were growing, but, unless within three weeks the owner or occupier gave a counter notice, the servants of the Postmaster-General might cut the trees down. If counter notice were given, then a difference would be held to have been set up between the Postmaster General and the owner or occupier, and the affair would go to the County Court Judge or to various other officials to decide. There was a danger that the notice might not necessarily be given to the owner; it might be given to the occupier, who in the vast majority of cases was not the owner of the trees, had no power to touch them, and was under no obligation to forward notices concerning them. Notwithstanding that, the Postmaster-General might serve the notice on him, and, if he, by any chance, failed to inform his landlord that the notice had been received, the owner would have no opportunity of serving a notice of objection. The trees would be removed and a very great hardship would be inflicted on the owner. He feared that by default of notice of objections arising in this way, the engineers of the Post Office would have the power placed in their hands to use the axe on avenues of trees of great beauty. The owner might indeed be abroad when the Postmaster-General sent him the notice, and he might suddenly discover that it was too late to stop interference with his trees by taking the matter before the County Court. He did not want to obstruct the extension of telegraphic communication. As a rule, by a little consideration and tact, a line could be taken through any avenue without damaging the trees and creating blots on the scenery, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would be able to foreshadow some Amendment to meet the point and secure that it should have consideration in Committee. The right hon. Gentleman knew as well as, and probably much better than he did, that the telegraph engineers were not the best judges of what was valued and effective scenery, and, if they were given this power, they would make the line as easy as possible from the point of view of construction and strike out every other consideration. It was with the object of securing some promise from the right hon. Gentleman that he moved the rejection.


said that in seconding the Amendment he wanted to draw attention to Clause 4, which seemed to him to be very dangerous. An occupier who had a notice given to him might disregard it altogether, and it might not come to the knowledge of the owner that any notice had been sent. If notice was sent to the owner, he might be abroad at the time, and the twenty-one days might pass, and the trees be lopped or cut down without his knowledge or consent. Moreover, the Postmaster-General's servants were in no sense of the word woodmen, and they would not in any way treat the trees as they would be treated by the person to whom the property belonged. He, therefore, hoped the right hon. Gentleman would see his way to modify the clause in some respects so that that danger could not arise. Nobody desired the beauty of the country to be depreciated in any respect simply because by accident the notice was thrown on one side by the owner or was not brought to his notice when received by the occupier.

Amendment proposed— To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day six months.' "—(Mr. Courthope.)

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


I am glad the principle of the Bill is not objected to, as I understand, namely, that the Post Office should have greater powers of obtaining way leaves against unreasonable individuals That is really the pith of the Bill. I agree with every single word the two hon. Members who have spoken have Said, and when we get into Committee I will, with the greatest pleasure, accept any Amendment which meets the view I hold equally with them, that in erecting these telephone and telegraph poles we should preserve as far as we can the local amenities. I can assure hon. Members that there is no intention whatever on the part of the Post Office to ride roughshod over any local feeling or opinion or any individual interest in regard to this matter. What we have found in regard to telegraph and telephone poles is that, while the local authority have full power to force an unreasonable individual to meet their convenience and their views, the Government Department has no power whatever. The whole object of the Bill is this. Where there is really unreasonable obstruction on the part of an individual we shall be able to override it, always subject to an appeal, in some cases to a stipendiary magistrate, and in others to the Railway Commissioners. I think it is not unreasonable under these circumstances that a public department should be able to take action in regard to this matter. The question of the lopping of trees is a difficult one, I admit, because naturally very few people like their trees lopped. A lopped tree is not so pretty as a tree that is not lopped. But where wires have to be carried along a public road it is necessary in many cages to lop the branches of the trees, and this clause was drawn with care in order to protect the interests of the individual. As we have always done, we shall ask the individual to do it himself, and if he prefers that we should do it, it will be done at our cost, and not at his, and it will be done with the utmost moderation and in the best possible way. I quite see the point of the hon. Gentleman who moved the rejection of the Bill in regard to notice to the owner, and I agree with him that the owner ought to have proper notice. It might happen that during the twenty-one days to which he has referred the owner might be away, or a letter might miscarry or be delayed, and there might not be proper notice, though the owner was perfectly willing to do it in a proper way, and he might come back and find his trees lopped in a way he would not desire. I shall be very glad to meet the hon. Member in regard to some Amendment so as to make it clear that the owner himself will have a full opportunity of considering the matter and discussing it, I hope, in a friendly way, with the postal authorities. I am sorry to have to point out that we have had cases in which an individual simply obstructs the whole of the telephone or telegraph lines, and entirely declines to lop his trees, and at very great expense to the country we have had, in some cases at a cost of many hundreds of pounds, to move a whole telegraph line. I am willing to give the promise the hon. Member desires in regard to that Amendment and any others in regard to the Bill which can be shown really to be for the good of the public interest or for the protection of the rights of private individuals. I take great interest in the matter, and have on more than one occasion taken a considerable amount of trouble to obtain way-leaves another way in order to avoid places of beauty or to preserve the amenities of the locality, and the same interest and desire will actuate any successor of mine at the Post Office. I am very willing to give the promise the hon. Member desires, and I do not think there will be much difficulty in meeting his views for with every word the hon. Member said I cordially agree.


said he was aware that the Postmaster-General was a lover of nature and an admirer of trees. His difficulty, however, was in regard not so much to the ideals and views of the Postmaster-General as to the attitude which had recently been adopted by one of his officials. He was not one of those who would stand in the way of a public improvement in a service of this character, but he had himself known cases where the Post Office authorities had alleged this very obstruction which had, when examined, proved to be quite unfounded, and where a little tact and judgment had solved the difficulty. The fact was that the official who had to work these telegraph and telephone wires was primarily a man of mechanical or engineering attainments, who could not be expected to show very much sympathy towards a line of trees overhanging a thoroughfare. There were cases where the lopping of trees was necessary, but an Amendment of the clause would not be of so much service. The best solution, apart from certain Amendments which the right hon. Gentleman had promised, was that by a system of rules issued in his name, the right hon. Gentleman should give instructions to his officials. Under Clause 4 as it stood, the Post Office authorities would be entitled to lop cedar trees in June, which would kill them at once, while in the case of other trees, switches could be cut off any day in the year without injury. The issue of rules subsidiary to the Act would obviate a number of difficulties which could not be met by Amendments to the Bill. He would not like to trust his timber to the average telegraph engineer.

MR. MITCHELL-THOMSON (Lanarkshire, N. W.)

said the right hon. Gentleman had shown such a readiness to meet expressions of opinion which had been given that he felt sure if he made a utilitarian suggestion, it would receive careful consideration. He thought the definition clause as it stood might endanger some very important works. It read— The expression hedge or bank is to include any ditch adjoining a hedge or bank as if it was part of the hedge or bank. There were thousands of oases where important irrigation cuts ran alongside the road parallel with the hedge or bank, any interference with which would be necessarily fatal. It was not likely, but interference might take place through the stupidity of some local official. The Bill excepted canals used for purposes of navigation, and it was worth while to take into consideration the question of irrigation canals.


said he was sure the right hon. Gentleman would be the last person to desire to injure trees or interfere with rural amenities, but he would not always be at the Post Office, and they might have somebody there who did not share his views. Further, he could not overlook every case that arose, but must leave a large number of cases to be decided by his subordinate, who would probably take a wrong view of the situation. The ordinary official might say that it was necessary, in order to save money, to extend the wires in such and such a direction, and that might necessitate the destruction of a certain number of trees. He did not see that there was any appeal at all in this matter, because Clause 3 did not apply to the lopping of trees.


It is provided for in subsection 2 of Clause 4.


said he did not think that point was made very clear in the Bill. What was the real reason why it was necessary to bring in this Bill? The Post Office had got on all right for a good many years without it. It was sixteen years ago since the last Act was passed dealing with the subject, and the country had got on extremely well under that Act. He wished to know why it was necessary now to bring in a Bill giving extended powers to the Postmaster-General. Apparently the great power given to the Postmaster-General under the Act of 1892 in cities and towns having a population of 30,000 inhabitants was to be extended practically all over the country. He had heard no reason given why this should be done. On the contrary he saw on the Paper a very strong reason why it should not be done, and it was contained in the Amendment of the hon. Member for Preston. He presumed that at this stage it would not be in order to move a similar Amendment. The Amendment he alluded to was— That it is undesirable to give larger powers to the Post Office until the House has been placed in possession of fuller information as to the financial results of the management of telegraphs and telephones by the Post Office. He objected to the Second Reading of this Bill on the grounds stated in that Amendment.


said he saw no reason for the Bill. It was sixteen years since a measure dealing with telegraphs was passed, and they had got on perfectly well since then without requiring another Bill. On 10th May, 1906, this or a similar Bill reached a First Reading, and on 12th December, the order for a Second Reading was read, and the Bill withdrawn. On 14th February, 1907, it was again introduced, and on 29th June withdrawn. These facts spoke eloquently for the assumption that the Bill was not required, and that the Postmaster-General asked for powers which in his opinion he ought not to have and was hoping that the Bill would slip through the House. The whole secret of the introduction of the Bill seemed to be that the Postmaster-General should be allowed to do away with underground wires. It was clear that under the Bill proper notice would not be given to the owners of private property on which it was proposed that wires should be fixed. He suggested that the interests of such owners as might be abroad at the time the notices were served should be protected, and that they should be given the opportunity of preventing unsightly telegraph poles being fixed on their property. An owner might return to his estate and find that telegraph poles had been erected upon upon his property without any notice whatever from the Postmaster-General. He would like to know to what Committee the Bill was going to be referred. Was it to be sent upstairs like the Universities Bill where it would be hidden from public sight and where there would be no record of the proceedings?


said he would take into consideration the points to which his attention had been called by hon. Gentlemen opposite.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes, 172; Noes, 20. (Division List No. 112).

Abraham, William (Cork, N. E.) Haslam, James (Derbyshire) Pearce, William (Limehouse)
Abraham, William (Rhondda) Haslam, Lewis (Monmouth) Pearson, Sir W. D. (Colchester)
Agnew, George William Haworth, Arthur A. Pickersgill, Edward Hare
Ainsworth, John Stirling Hedges, A. Paget Ponsonby, Arthur A. W. H.
Allen, Charles P. (Stroud) Henderson, Arthur (Durham) Price, C. E. (Edinb'gh, Central)
Armitage, R. Henderson, J. M. (Aberdeen, W) Priestley, W. E. B. (Bradford, E.)
Baker, Sir John (Portsmouth) Herbert, Col. Sir Ivor (Mon., S.) Pullar, Sir Robert
Balfour, Robert (Lanark) Herbert, T. Arnold (Wycombe) Radford, G. H.
Barnes, G. N. Higham, John Sharp Rea, Walter Russell (Scarboro')
Barran, Rowland Hirst Hodge, John Redmond, John E. (Waterford)
Barry, Redmond J.(Tyrone, N.) Holt, Richard Durning Rendall, Athelstan
Beale, W. P. Horniman, Emslie John Richards, T. F. (Wolverh'mpt'n
Bell, Richard Hudson, Walter Richardson, A.
Bellairs, Carlyon Idris, T. H. W. Robertson, Sir G Scott (Bradf'rd
Bennett, E. N. Illingworth, Percy H. Robertson, J. M. (Tyneside)
Berridge, T. H. D. Jenkins, J. Robinson, S.
Boland, John Jones, Leif (Appleby) Rogers, F. E. Newman
Boulton, A. C. F. Jones, William (Carnarvonshire Rowlands, J.
Bramsdon, T. A. Jowett, F. W. Samuel, Herbert L. (Cleveland)
Brigg, John Kearley, Hudson E. Schwann, C. Duncan (Hyde)
Brodie, H. C. Kekewich, Sir George Seaverns, J. H.
Burns, Rt. Hon. John Kettle, Thomas Michael Seddon, J.
Burnyeat, W. J. D. Laidlaw, Robert Shaw, Charles Edw. (Stafford)
Burt, Rt. Hon. Thomas Lamont, Norman Shipman, Dr. John G.
Buxton, Rt. Hn. Sydney Charles Layland-Barratt, Francis Silcock, Thomas Ball
Byles, William Pollard Lehmann, R. C. Spicer, Sir Albert
Carr-Gomm, H. W. Lever, A. Levy (Essex, Harwich Stanley, Albert (Staffs. N. W.)
Causton, Rt. Hn. Richard Knight Lloyd-George, Rt. Hon. David Staveley-Hill, Henry (Staff'sh.)
Chance, Frederick William Lough, Rt. Hon. Thomas Steadman, W. C.
Cherry, Et. Hon. R. R. Lyell, Charles Henry Strauss, E. A. (Abingdon)
Clough, William Macnamara, Dr. Thomas J. Stuart, James (Sunderland)
Clynes, J. R. Macpherson, J. T. Sutherland, J. E.
Cornwall, Sir Edwin A. MacVeigh, Charles (Donegal, E.) Tennant, Sir Edward (Salisbury
Cremer, Sir William Randal M'Crae, George Thomson, W. Mitchell- (Lanark)
Devlin, Joseph M'Killop, W. Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton
Dewar, Sir J. A. (Inverness-sh.) M'Laren, H. D. (Stafford, W.) Tomkinson, James
Dickinson, W. H. (St. Pancras, N Maddison, Frederick Toulmin, George
Dillon, John Marks, G. Croydon (Launceston) Tuke, Sir John Batty
Dobson, Thomas W. Marnham, F. J. Wadsworth, J.
Duckworth, James Micklem, Nathaniel Walker, H. De R. (Leicester)
Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness Middlebrook, William Walsh, Stephen
Duncan, J. H. (York, Otley) Montgomery, H. G. Walton, Joseph
Edwards, Enoch (Hanley) Mooney, J. J. Waring, Walter
Essex, R. W. Morse, L. L. Waterlow, D. S.
Esslemont, George Birnie Morton, Alpheus Cleophas Watt, Henry, A.
Evans, Sir Samuel T. Murray, Capt. Hn A C.(Kincard) White, J. D. (Dumbartonshire)
Everett, R. Lacey Murray, James (Aberdeen, E.) Whitley, John Henry (Halifax)
Fenwick, Charles Myer, Horatio Whittaker, Sir Thomas Palmer
Ferens, T. R. Newnes, Sir George (Swansea) Wiles, Thomas
Flynn, James Christopher Nicholson, Charles N. (Doncast'r Williamson, A.
Glover, Thomas Nolan, Joseph Wilson, Hon. G. G. (Hull, W.)
Goddard, Sir Daniel Ford Norman, Sir Henry Wilson, Henry J. (York, W..)
Grant, Corrie Norton, Capt. Cecil William Wilson, John (Durham, Mid
Gwynn, Stephen Lucius Nuttall, Harry Wilson, W. T. (Westhough on)
Hall, Frederick O'Brien, Kendal (Tipperary Mid
Harcourt, Robert V.(Montrose) O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny) TELLERS FOB THE AYES—Master of Elibank and Mr. Herbert Lewis.
Harmsworth, R. L. (Caithn'ss-sh O'Grady, J.
Harvey, A. G. C. (Rochdale) Parker, James (Halifax)
Harvey, W. E. (Derbyshire, N. E. Pearce, Robert (Staffs, Leek)
Balcarres, Lord Coates, Major E. F. (Lewisham) Craig, Charles Curtis (Antrim, S.)
Barrie, H. T. (Londonderry, N) Cochrane, Hon. Thos. H. A. E. Craig, Captain James (Down, E.)
Cave, George Courthope, G. Loyd Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-
Fell, Arthur Morrison-Bell, Captain Stone, Sir Benjamin
Forster, Henry William Nield, Herbert
Hamilton, Marquess of Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlington TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Sir Frederick Banbury and Mr. Goulding.
Hills, J. W. Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel
Magnus, Sir Philip Rutherford, W. W. (Liverpool)

Bill read a second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.