HC Deb 01 August 1916 vol 85 cc259-76

Order for Second Reading read.

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


I feel that this cannot be allowed to go through without calling

Act who purchased twenty, thirty, or forty year ago, and I have appealed time and again to get for those people the fee simple of their land. I am certainly not going to be a party to allowing that to be on the Statute Book for another twelve months.


I also want to take exception to this measure going through tonight. One of the Bills mentioned in it deals with the powers of the Insurance Commissioners. I am very much interested in that Bill, and I do not think the Government will get on with the measure very satisfactorily if it is pressed to-night.

Question put, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 10; Noes, 68.

Division No. 49.] AYES. [3.59 a.m.
Flavin, Michael Joseph O'Dowd, John Whitty, Patrick Joseph
Hazleton, Richard O'Sullivan, Timothy
Keating, Matthew Smyth, Thomas F. (Leitrim, S.) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Meagher, Michael White, Patrick (Meath, North) Mr. Lundon and Mr. Nugent.
Meehan, Francis E, (Leitrim, N.)
Acland, Rt. Hen. Francis Dyke Ferens, Rt. Hon. Thomas Robinson Robinson, Sidney
Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte Finney, Samuel Rowlands, James
Baird, John Lawrence Gretton, Col. John Russell, Rt. Hon. Thomas W.
Baldwin, Stanley Henry, Sir Charles Samuel, J. (Stockton-on-Tees)
Barrie, Hugh T. Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield) Samuel, Samuel (Wandsworth)
Beck, Arthur Cecil Howard, Hon. Geoffrey Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton)
Bigland, Alfred Illingworth, Albert Holden Smith, Sir Swire (keighley, Yorks)
Bliss, Joseph King, Joseph Spear, Sir John Ward
Boyton, James Larmor, Sir J. Stewart, Gershom
Brace, William Lloyd, George Butter (Shrewsbury) Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)
Bridgeman, William Clive Macmaster, Donald Toulmin, Sir George
Carew, C. R. S. M'Neill, Ronald (Kent, St. Augustine's) Valentia, Viscount
Cater, John Mason, James F. (Windsor) White, J. Dundas (Glas., Tradeston)
Chaloner, Colonel R. G. W. Paget, Almeric Hugh Whiteley, Herbert James
Chancellor, Henry George Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlington) Williams, Aneurin (Durham, N.W.)
Clyde, J. Avon Pease, Rt. Hon. Joseph A. (Rotherham) Williams, Col. Sir Robert (Dorset, W.)
Ceates, Major Sir E. F. (Lewisham) Pollock, Ernest Murray Wilson, Rt. Hon, J. W. (Worcs., N.)
Compton-Rickett, Rt. Hon. Sir J. Pretyman, Ernest George Wing, Thomas Edward
Coote, William Pryce-Jones, Colonel E. Wood, John (Stalybridge)
Craig, Ernest (Cheshire, Crewe) Rattan, Peter Wilson Wood, Rt. Hon. T. McKinnon (Glasgow)
Craig, Col. James (Down, E.) Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)
Craik, Sir Henry Rees, Griffith C. (Carnarvonshire) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Dairymple, Hon. H. H. Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln) Mr. Gulland and Lord Edmund
Elverston, Sir Harold Roberts, George H. (Norwich) Talbot.

attention to what appears to me to be a matter of some real importance. I believe the object of this Bill is to enable the Postmaster-General to take certain powers as a war measure. That is to say, as I understand this Bill, it has been brought forward and hurried through for purposes connected with the War. I am satisfied that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Pease) has justification for asking for certain powers to prevent him being forced to undertake work of a very expensive nature in connection with the position of

telegraph poles, and so forth, throughout the country. I suggest to the House, however, that this Bill goes far beyond anything that is necessary as an emergency measure in connection with the War. I believe there are certain people who are desirous of taking advantage of powers that they have to get rid of the voluntary permission to allow the Post Office to make use of their land and property, or to extract from the right hon. Gentleman better terms, or for reasons that they are dissatisfied with the Department and the Government. I admit that the Post Office should not be called upon this time to spend large sums of money or to employ a considerable amount of labour in removing these posts from such property, but it appears to me quite unnecesary in taking this precaution, which I quite admit to be desirable, that the right hon. Gentleman should take powers for the Post Office to acquire rights over private property all over the country, indefinitely or for all time, on terms which are certainly not sufficiently generous, nor which, in my opinion, safeguard the public interest. I see no reason whatever why the permanency of this Bill should be more desirable at the present moment than at any moment during the last ten years, and therefore I suggest that that part of the Bill which refers to the permanent taking of property might very well be dropped at this time. I admit that as a primary measure something may be necessary, and I think that by an Amendment to the first Clause, it should be easily provided for that the right hon. Gentleman should not be obliged to accept notice to remove telegraph lines from property, while at the same time I see no reason why the further powers making these rights over public property perpetual need be taken now in this House to-night. If this is persisted in, and the powers of a permanent nature are considered necessary, then I think that the appeal which is given to the public, the Court, first of all, which is the County Court Judge, and an appeal to the Railway Commissioners, is doubtful, it seems to me desirable that the public should have an appeal to a somewhat higher Court, and that certainly the State should bear the cost of the appeal.

I cannot see, if you are going to say to people, "We are going to place poles on your private house or your land," and those people resist that suggestion, as they may reasonably do, why they should be put to the cost of going into a Court of law and, if they desire an appeal, of having to pay the costs of that appeal. I think it is necessary to point out that the hardship imposed by this Bill—or that would probably be imposed by it—is a real one in many instances. This Bill is to enable the Post Office to put up telegraph poles not only on lands but on the tops of peoples' houses, and where that happens, as is already very well known (for it has occurred for a long time) the expenses of these appeals fall upon the owners of the private houses, and a sort of necessary right of way is created through their houses to get to the poles. Where these poles already exist, the bells of the houses are being constantly rung to let the post office electricians go through the house and put the wire in order, and this gives a considerable amount of trouble to those who inhabit the houses or to the servants who look after them. I know that some years ago a considerable amount of fraud was perpetrated by people going about and representing that they were electricians sent by the Post Office. Servants who were looking after the houses were kept in a constant state of trouble and uncertainty, running about, and doubting whether or not they should let in the various people who tried to get in under the representation that they wished to attend to the telegraph. I suggest that if these powers are taken there should be a higher appeal allowed, and that the cost should not fall upon the individuals who object to this, but that in every way the interests of the owners of the property and the land or houses should be safeguarded as far as possible.


This Bill appears to be one of the class which is now becoming very common. It is a Bill introduced during a time of war to deal with a particular emergency, but really I think, on examination, that the Postmaster-General will find that this Bill goes very much further than he needs, and perhaps further than he suspects, because if this Bill passes as it now stands it is going absolutely to revolutionise his powers. The case, as I understand it, is that there is a difficulty in obtaining consent to the continuance of poles on certain land and houses to carry telegraph wires or telephone wires. Of course, that is a difficulty which is always growing, because the Post Office keep on making additions and alterations to its services. In the first place, they ask for a small pole, and then another wire is added, until, finally, a very large pole is required, and the owner finds that his property has become seriously damaged, and that his house has been half torn down by the great load which is placed upon it. When a new arrangement is to be made there is difficulty in getting owners of property to consent to these alterations. Of course, that is very inconvenient to the Post Office, but in ordinary times these things go on, and there is no very great difficulty. Of course, the difficulty is much greater now, owing to the scarcity of labour, and no doubt a large number of cases, such as those which have been referred to, do occur, especially was that so after the recent gale in the early part of the year, which accentuated all the difficulties of the Post Office in relation to overhead wires. This Bill, as far as I can understand it, has been drawn up with references to other Acts—a most objectionable form of legislation, because the ordinary layman cannot understand anything about it, and the ordinary member of the public cannot go searching about among Acts of Parliament in order to find out. But what the Bill appears to do is to enable the Postmaster-General to pick and choose for himself where he wants lines, and when he has once chosen the only matter for reference will be what way-leaves he shall pay on behalf of the State, and what compensation may be allowed. But he has those powers, I believe, already in relation to roadways and roadway banks and hedges at a certain distance, and when this Bill is passed he will apparently have those powers almost universally.

I am sure he does not want this power. I suggest that there should only be in the Bill what he really needs, and that is, I think, that he should not be turned out where he is now established unless there be good and urgent excuse in the public interest why he should be. I do not think anyone in the House will object to what I have described, but I am afraid the Postmaster-General will find himself in some difficulty if he proceeds with the whole of the Bill, which will require considerable examination in Committee. If it is proceeded with on the broader lines which I have indicated, and which go very far beyond what he really needs, I shall, I am afraid, have to oppose it. It takes a little time to find out what is the effect of all these references, but the Bill does revolutionise the whole law with regard to the laying of wires and wayleaves, and so forth. I think the matter can be met, and I am sure there is no one on this side of the House who wishes to damage the public interest at this moment. Whatever is necessary as a war measure will, I am sure, be given without difficulty, but if this is to be made permanent I shall be obliged to oppose it unless there is considerable amendment.


I sympathise with the hon. Member who has just spoken in regard to Bills being submitted in this particular form. The draftsmen now do these things in such a way that it is almost impossible for the ordinary Member of Parliament to understand exactly what are the powers possessed by the Government and what are the powers which are sought when Bills are brought in in this particular form. I want to explain to the House that I am seeking no new powers, as I have already got the powers of doing exactly what this Bill proposes by Provisional Order, if I am driven to that course, but that course is very expensive, and it entails a great deal of delay. Under the Telegraph Act of 1878, Parliament gave powers to the Post Office to erect poles along the highways and roads, and, in the event of a highway or road authority not desiring that any pole should be erected along its road or across it, the Post Office had no right whatsoever to enter upon that road or upon any street, but had to take the case before a tribunal, which was a County Court, or, if the parties could not agree with, the decision of a County Court it would then go to the Eailway and Canal Commissioners on appeal. Since 1878 to the present time—although there has been some little extension in connection with waste land by the Acts of 1908—there has been practically no difficulty in coming to arrangements with local authorities. Local authorities have recognised that these powers could be exerted on the one side and on the other, and amicable arrangements have been the result. What we are proposing to do is to apply that simple procedure in dealing with a few isolated cases of what I can call nothing but unpatriotic landowners who are at the present time trying to bleed the Exchequer and extort money out of the Post Office in connection with wayleaves.

I think I can best show the House the difficulties we are in, if I give one or two illustrations. In the great storm of 28th March last there was one individual, a large landowner, who was put to the expense of paying more money for his telegrams than he would have incurred if he had had his trunk lines intact. The storm had destroyed the trunk line of telephone, and he had to send telegrams. To make up for that expense he took the course of reducing his trunk line account by 11s., and he has refused from that time to the present to pay that 11s. to the Post Office, although we have demanded it. The next thing I get is a letter from this individual, and I naturally associate its contents with our demand for that 11s. The letter is as follows: To the Secretary, General Post Office, London. I beg to give you hereby six months' notice, from September 29th next, to remove from all premises, buildings and land which I own or control, all telegraph poles, stays, or other material belonging to the Telegraph and Telephone Departments which I had hitherto allowed to stand on these premises. I enclose herewith schedule of the various lands to which this notice to quit will apply. Please understand that under no circumstances will I grant an interview to any official of either Department who may desire to wait on me with a view to the modification of this notice. Then follows a schedule of all his properties, containing hundreds of poles which would cost us thousands of pounds to remove, and this at a moment when I have got no staff whatever to remove those poles, and when to remove them would inconvenience not merely the man himself, but thousands of other subscribers. I am at the mercy of this man at the present moment. I will give one or two other cases in order that Members may see why I should have these powers. A gentleman refused to pay the Income Tax and Super-tax on wayleave rents paid to him, which were already high. He insisted upon the total being raised from £9 1s. 6d. to £18, to cover the taxation. There are over fifty poles on his property, and it is impossible to remove them unless the telephone services of the district are cut off. Are the Government to give way to this method of blackmail? There is another case of an individual who rents eight telephone circuits at the unlimited rate and is annoyed at the increases of rent involved under the War Budget proposals. He gave notice that I should remove all telegraphs from his property, with the condition that they might be retained if the rents were doubled. On the Post Office objecting to the increase of rent, he said, "It is not a question of what the Postmaster-General desires, but of a notice having been served which must be carried out." The removal could only be effected with difficulty and at a cost of some hundreds of pounds. Another gentleman is subject to an increase of £2 a year in the charge for his telephone service under the War Budget proposals. On receipt of notice to this effect he represented that he would have every pole and wire removed from his estate. There are thirty-eight poles on the estate, carrying wires connecting exchanges, and it would be practically impossible to remove them without cutting off other services. Another gentleman backed up his demand for increased rent by saying that it would cost the Department more to remove the poles and set them up elsewhere than to pay the rent. I admit that it would cost a great deal more, but I am here representing the interests of the taxpayer, and I am here to procure an adequate service to the public.

The cases to which I have referred are, of course, those of isolated individuals. Many hundreds of patriotic Englishmen would not think of raising their wayleaves for a cause of this kind. It is to deal with a few that I ask the House to give me these powers. I have arranged with the hon. Baronet who sits for the City of London to accept a new Clause which will deal with the point raised by the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. J. F. Mason) with reference to entering upon property for the purpose of maintaining poles, etc. As to the speech of the hon. Member for Rutland (Colonel J. Gretton), the Post Office cannot enter upon any private property unless we do it by arrangement or under the authority secured from one of the independent tribunals. The effect of the powers I seek will be not that we shall have to go before the tribunal, but that both parties will know that if they do not come to an amicable arrangement, and if either is unreasonable, the Court will give costs to the reasonable party. When once this Bill is passed I believe we shall be able to do everything amicably in connection with any attempts to go on private property. The hon. Member for Windsor made one or two suggestions. One indicated that the Bill should be limited to the period of the War. I am quite prepared to discuss any proposals of that kind on the Committee stage.


I did not suggest that the Bill should be limited to the period of the War, but that it should be restricted to the question of maintaining existing poles rather than be applied to the erection of new ones.


I should be quite prepared to consider that on the Committee stage, but of course the difficulty in connection with that is that during the period which we are now going through extension in telephones and telegraphs is at a standstill, and hereafter we may find that there are isolated individuals who will take objection to any extension of the public service, and we want some procedure of a cheap kind which will enable us to deal with isolated unreasonable individuals, who are, happily, comparatively few in number.

I am quite prepared to consider any suggestion of that kind in committee on the Bill. I have met several individuals in connection with the proposals in the Bill, and I can assure the House, upon the legal advice I have been given, that these powers are really not so drastic as they appear to be at first sight. The position of persons interested in land will continue to be protected by the Telegraph Acts and it remains unaffected by the Bill except as to the right the Postmaster-General will have of appeal to the independent tribunal. It is only that right I seek by the Bill, and I hope that hon. Members will be prepared to give the Bill a Second Reading to-night.


We seem lately to have had an epidemic of these small Departmental Bills. We had an instance today when the Home Secretary introduced a Bill for changing the time in Ireland. I do not know why the Home Secretary's own time is not fully occupied. It would not seem to be when he has nothing better to do than to introduce ridiculous proposals like that in the House of Commons during the progress of a great war. Now another Minister comes forward with the Second Reading of a Bill which he has admitted is not required for the purpose he has in view. He has told us that there is not a single thing effected by the Bill that he cannot carry out by Order in Council. His only defence for coming here at this time with a Bill is that it is more expensive to get what he wants by Order in Council than by Act of Parliament. In my opinion, Ministers wish to be taking advantage of the party truce to rush departmental Bills of this kind through the House of Commons which are not required in the public service at all? What is the spectacle we witness now? The Postmaster-General has given us a very interesting explanation of this Bill. We see hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway, the representatives of the landed interests, allowing no opportunity to pass of defending themselves. When a miserable departmental Bill of this kind is brought into the House of Commons they at once get up and raise a cry about vested interests in land. They tell the Postmaster-General plainly—they have told him to-night—that they will not give him the Bill unless he guarantees the landlords of the country what they want and on their own terms. I say it is an extraordinary proposal that the House of Commons should be asked to occupy its time and attention at a period like this on proposals of such a nature. Let me tell the Postmaster-General that in my opinion he would be far better employed attending to the administration of his own Department where it is so defective. He and his predecessors have gone from the year 1863 to 1916 without these powers. Does he tell the House of Commons that these powers are necessary for the better conduct of the War1? He cannot tell us-that after what he has said in reply to the hon. Gentleman above the Gangway who raised the discussion on this Bill. He said he was quite prepared to meet the hon. Gentleman on two points—first of all, that this Bill should not be permanent, but that it should operate only for the period of the War. The hon. Gentleman replied to the Postmaster-General thanking him graciously, but saying that he had never asked for that.


That was not the point I was prepared to meet or accept.


The right hon. Gentleman said distinctly in reply to the hon. Gentleman that he was prepared to consider that point when the House went into Committee on the Bill.


I did not mean by considering that I was going to accept a proposal of that kind. I am prepared to give very good reasons why it could not be accepted.


Then the right hon. Gentleman replied to a further interruption of the hon. Gentleman above the Gangway, who said that he did not mean that at all, but he meant, something else, namely, that this Bill should apply only to existing telegraph and telephone poles. The hon. Gentleman is so careful of the vested interests in property in this country that he will not allow the Postmaster-General powers to put up new poles in the United Kingdom. It seems to me that is a very extraordinary thing. I object to the Government taking the Bill at this time, and I tell the Postmaster-General that there are very serious complaints in Ireland about the inability of the Post Office authorities to carry out the requests of the public with regard to accommodation for the supply of telephones. The Postmaster-General may reply that there has been difficulty on account of the recent rebellion in Ireland, but I would point out to him that these complaints in Ireland go back far beyond the recent rebellion. They go back to the time of the outbreak of war since when people who have applied to the Post Office to get telephones put in have been told that the Post Office has no staff for the purpose, and cannot afford to do it. If that is so, what is the use of the Postmaster-General coming down to the House of Commons and asking for the powers in this Bill, whether they are to be temporary or permanent, seeing that even on a small Bill like this the Cabinet cannot make up its mind any more than it can on the Irish settlement? What is the use of him coming down to the House of Commons and asking for powers in a Bill of this kind if he has not the staff or the money to carry out the work? We have had enough of measures of this sort, and I hope that in future Ministers will take their responsibilities more seriously than they seem to be doing now. They are taking advantage of the party truce to rush these Bills through; but the party truce is at an end—the Government has broken it—and we will not allow them any longer to take advantage of it.


Although I cannot indulge in the virtuous indignation of the hon. Members below the Gangway, yet I do feel justified in protesting against a Bill of such importance—although looking such a simple little Bill—being introduced at such an hour, and I would point out that some of us have waited all night to get to this measure. Really the arguments advanced by the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster-General leave me cold in many respects. I should have thought the right hon. Gentleman would have jumped at the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Mr. James Mason) when he said that the right hon. Gentleman should accept an Amendment which would simply give continuing powers to his Department. He would get a simple measure saying, that there should be no increase in the wayleaves and no enforcing of contracts on the six months' notice principle of taking down the poles or removing the wayleaves during the duration of the War. I did expect to see "Defence of the Realm" at the top of this Bill. I thought, seeing the difficulty the right hon. Gentleman is in with regard to labour and other matters, that he would be justified in following the principle of the Acquisition of Land Bill, and asking for the duration of the War and two years after, or perhaps even seven years after, but not to go on continuing the offence, such as it is—I do not speak with any great knowledge of the country, but I speak of the Metropolis—and the inconvenience and the eyesore of erecting these poles and putting wires on the top of houses. The Department is increasing the load annually, I have a case of my own where the pole has become so loaded with cable and wires that under the pressure of the storm of March it did considerable damage, and two top storeys of a Harley Street house had to be rebuilt—of course, at the expense of the Post Office, but that has gone on. Then there is the point of having the privacy of your house continually destroyed. I know the policy of the Department has been, so far, to get the wires put underground, and that great progress was made up to the outbreak of war. I understand that owing to labour and other difficulties that policy cannot be pursued at present, but the right hon. Gentleman asks the House to allow him for perpetuity the power of going into people's premises. If they raise objection they are to be taken before the County Court, or the body about which we have heard a good deal lately—the Railway and Canal Commission—and if the decision of either of these Courts is against them, they are to be mulct, not only in their own costs, but in the costs of the Department. It does seem an extraordinary proposal that private individuals, and the great bulk of individuals gladly give the Department facilities, after giving the facilities in one quarter, and perhaps on being asked for them in another, finding that inconvenient and saying, "I do not think I can concede that," are to be taken into Court. A number of people give many way-leaves. Personally I have given hundreds of wayleaves to the Department, but because I have said, "I do not think I can have it on that house as it is a new house, or because it is an old one which will not stand the strain," I am to be taken into Court, and if the distinguished gentlemen who form the Railway and Canal Commission decide against me, or if on being dragged into an unsavoury County Court it does not agree with me but with the Department, I am not only to pay my own costs but those of the Department. It is a very unfortunate thing for anyone to find themselves fighting the Postmaster-General, and, late as the hour is, I do hope the right hon. Gentleman will adopt the proposal of the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. J. Mason), and that he will go on for two or three years after the War, but will not take measures which will give him for all time the powers he seeks. It will mystify the public, because the public will not understand what goes on at five o'clock in the morning. Most of this Bill is by reference to Acts of Parliament. I cannot follow it very well, and I doubt if the outside world will understand it better than I do. I beg the right hon. Gentleman not to inflict a measure such as this upon the public.


I rise to ask the right hon. Gentleman not to press this Bill, small as it is, at this hour of the morning. It is hardly fair to us. We have been kept here till this hour simply because a Minister would not accept a reasonable proposal. I strongly urge upon the Postmaster-General the desirability of accepting the suggestion of the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. J. Mason). It is an eminently reasonable one. It simply works for continuing powers, and not for new powers. The right hon. Gentleman has made out no case for this Bill. He said that in the majority of cases he had no difficulty in dealing with the people, and that he was able to make suitable arrangements. Only unpatriotic individuals, landowners, are to be dealt with, then! Why not introduce a Bill to deal with these unpatriotic landowners, and let the country know who these men are? Why does he take to his office not only this arbitrary power, but what will affect not only the unpatriotic men but the fair men? He admits that his Department is not in a position to construct any new lines. That being so, why does he proceed with this? If it was absolutely necessary he could do it under the Defence of the Realm Act, but it is not necessary. He is utilising the present position in which the people are ready to do things to which they would not otherwise agree. If the Coalition Government were dealing with a similar case in Ireland, I suppose Sir John Max- well would deal with it under martial law. Why does not the right hon. Gentleman deal in the same way with the few unpatriotic Englishmen, the isolated individuals, of whom he speaks? Why not deal with these individuals? Let the country know who they are who are interfering with the public service, or, if he is not willing to do that because they are important landowners, and because they are dealing with a class that now sits on the Treasury Bench—and they apparently rule the Treasury Bench—let him content himself with taking continuing powers, and not seeking new powers which have not been necessary since the year 1863 up to the present time. Surely, when the country is engaged in a great, war, if the existing law was capable of dealing with this question, it is quite as competent to do so still. It is not fair to utilise the fact that the country is at war to go on with a Departmental Bill which will give arbitrary powers. I hope he will see the more reasonable attitude adopted on this side of the House by Gentlemen whose sense of reason has shown itself to-night to a much greater degree than usual, and I hope he will accept the request of the hon. Gentleman, and simply confine himself to a continuing Bill dealing with these few unpatriotic landowners who apparently live in England and not in Ireland, because if they lived in Ireland they would be dealt with under martial law.


We have had no experience of them in Ireland.


I look at this from a less disinterested standpoint We have, as I saw on Thursday, when we had a small Bill from the Munitions Department for the acquisition of land for building additional factories for the successful conclusion of this War, and when there were the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City (Sir F. Banbury) and millionaire coal-owners on the other side of the House coming here and looking after the vested interests either of themselves or of their personal friends. We have the same combination to-night. The hon. Member sitting on the second scat above the floor of the House (Mr. J. Mason) represents either vested interests of their own or those of his friends. We have a combination of landlordism and breweryism. One of the hon. Gentlemen is interested in one of the biggest breweries in the country, and I have seen, during my twenty years of Parliamentary life, that whenever there is a land question, a licensing question, or a mining question brought forward we invariably have Members above the Gangway who have a personal and direct interest, whose money is invested in these firms—the disappearance of many of which would be a benefit to the country—coming here to look, not after the interests of the ratepayers, but after their own selfish interests, or the interests of their friends. What I have to complain of is the action of the Postmaster-General, right in the middle of the War, coming here for Parliamentary powers to do what he himself admits he has already power to do. May I ask the Postmaster-General to do in this country what has been done in Ireland under the Defence of the Realm Act, if he needs these powers to erect poles and to get more telegraphic communication? Has not the Postmaster-General power under the Defence of the Realm Act to get these telegraphic and telephonic communications? I think he has. Perhaps I may surprise the Postmaster-General by giving him an idea of how Ireland has been managed by the Post Office. If I am in order, I will illustrate it by a reference to my own Constituency. There we have the largest wireless station in the United Kingdom, which is, I believe, on the Poulsen system. This is controlled by the Government, and they have complete control of it. The system is not used for commercial purposes. Tralee, which is the military headquarters of county Kerry, is only fifteen miles away from this wireless station, and yet there is no telegraphic or telephonic communication between the wireless station and the military headquarters, although this is the largest wireless installation in the country. In order to get a telegram from Tralee to this station, which is only eighteen miles away as the crow flies, the message has to be sent through several places and over a distance of 200 miles.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Maclean)

The hon. Member is not entitled to bring in any general question of Post Office administration in a discussion on this Bill.


May I point out that the Preamble of this Bill says it is a Bill to amend the Telegraphic Acts of 1863 to 1915, and I would submit, in view of that, that my hon. Friend is entitled to raise this question?


The hon. Gentleman must confine himself to what the Bill does, and the proposals of this Bill have already been defined in the speeches made. I must ask him, therefore, to confine himself to the proposals in the Bill.


Is not the title of the Bill "to amend the Telegraphic Acts, 1863 to 1915, with respect to the construction and maintenance of telegraphic lines?" May I say, with all due respect to your ruling, that I was discussing the question of telegraphic and telephonic communications under the Act of 1863. With all due respect, I say that I am dealing directly with this Bill, and with the action of the Post Office in connection with the Bill which this one is going to amend.


I have come to the conclusion that the remarks of the hon. Gentleman are outside the scope of the Bill. I have given my ruling and I do not propose to argue the matter.


Mr. Deputy-Speaker, do you really think I am not entitled to discuss any Act of Parliament which this Bill is going to amend?


I do rule that the hon. Member must confine his remarks to this Bill.


On that may I say that the Postmaster-General told us it was impossible for Members, owing to the way the Bill was drafted, to make out what really is in the Bill?


That is immaterial to my ruling.


I should also like to draw the attention of the Postmaster-General to Clause 1 of this Bill. It says, "If the owner, lessee, or occupier of any land or building refuses or fails to give his consent to the placing of any telegraphic line under, in, upon, over, along, or across the land or building within one month after being required to do so by notice from the Postmaster-General a difference shall be deemed to have arisen," and so on. Now, what does this empower the Postmaster-General to do? It simply comes to this, that if I, as a poor man, being the lessee or owner or occupier of a little bungalow, have got a little kitchen garden and recreation ground, no matter how private they may be to me personally and to my family, the Postmaster-General may, under this Bill, if it becomes law, and if I refuse to give him permission to invade my privacy by putting up a telegraph pole there, take the matter before an independent tribunal. Of course, it is not suggested the Postmaster-General would do an unreasonable thing; all the same, the private individual is at a disadvantage. The Postmaster-General says there must be a judicial or an independent tribunal. I want to know from him how he is going to form this tribunal? Will it be a judicial one or will it be a commercial one, and who is going to appoint it?


It is the County Court.


How can the right hon. Gentleman expect any County Court to satisfy our people in Ireland? We know County Courts are not impartial. I will relate one experience in Ireland of which I have personal knowledge. The Admiralty about nine years ago were negotiating with a certain landlord to acquire land for Admiralty purposes. And what occurred? The landlord asked £500 for this piece of land and the Admiralty agreed to give £490, but before the bargain was closed a surveyor of the Institute of Engineers in the City of London was sent down as an independent arbitrator. I ask the House to remember that the parties had agreed together upon a price within £10—that is to say, the owner of the land required £500 and the Admiralty were willing to give £490. The independent arbitrator came down and fixed the price at £2,000, and if the Admiralty records are searched to-day they will be found to contain a protest by the late First Lord against the way in which the State was being robbed by independent tribunals. If the Postmaster-General challenges the statement I will ask him to search the records of the Admiralty and he will then find that the statement I make is absolutely true. On the question of principle, I oppose this Bill. In many places in Ireland we have no telegraphic or telephonic communication where we need it, not so much for our own convenience but in the interests of the State to protect Ireland from being invaded by the Germans. I say in that connection that in my Constituency there is no telegraphic or telephonic communication between the military headquarters and the constabulary, and that the military authorities have no-means of communicating with each other. I have been agitating with the Post Office for ten years to get telegraphic and telephonic communication, and the Post Office will not do it. I am going to vote against this Bill as a protest against the way the Post Office has treated many parts of Ireland. I am tired of asking questions.


The hon. Member is disregarding my ruling.


I am finished. I will divide against the Bill.

Question, "That the Bill be now read a second time," put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Mr. Rea.]