HC Deb 23 July 1924 vol 176 cc1316-20

asked the Postmaster-General whether the Government has yet come to a decision on the recommendations of the Donald Committee, and what steps have been taken to establish an Imperial wireless service?


The Government have decided to adopt the main recommendations of the Donald Committee in regard to the Empire wireless service, which were as follows:

  1. (1) That the State, through the Post Office, should own all wireless 1317 stations in Great Britain for communication with the Overseas Dominions, Colonies, Protectorates and Territories; and
  2. (2) That the Post Office should operate directly, under an improved business organisation, all the Empire stations in Great Britain.
In the meantime, the Marconi Company have put forward proposals respecting the use of short-wave directive stations (the so-called "beam" stations) for communication between this country and the Dominions and India, and they have made definite arrangements for the erection of a beam station in Canada for communication with this country. The Government are prepared to co-operate in the trial of this new system, and in the course of a few days art agreement will be submitted for the approval of the House of Commons whereby the Marconi Company will erect, as contractors, a beam station here, adapted for communication with Canada, and capable of extension so as to provide for beam communication with South Africa, India and Australia, the station to be completed within 26 weeks of the site being placed at the company's disposal. It is a condition of the contract that the installations shall only be accepted and paid for by the Government if they fulfil certain minimum guarantees, which are as follow:

Communication at 100 five-letter words per minute (exclusive of any repetitions necessary to ensure accuracy) for the following average number of hours daily throughout the year:

Between Great Britain and Canada 18
Between Great Britain and South Africa 11
Between Great Britain and India 12
Between Great Britain and Australia 7
Communication is only possible when the average altitude of the sun between the terminal points is below a certain maximum—in other words, communication can only take place during the hours of darkness and during one or two hours before and after twilight.

The hours of communication being outside the ordinary business day, stations of this type will as a rule only be suitable for deferred traffic. For long distance communication at all hours, and for simultaneous long distance transmission in all directions at all hours (conditions which the Government regard as essential both for strategic and for other reasons), high power stations of the type of that being erected at Rugby w ill still be necessary.

The Government have been in communication with the Dominions and India on the subject. The Governments of India and New Zealand have stated that a station of the new type will not meet their requirements, and the Government of India are awaiting replies to an invitation which they have issued for the formation of an Indian company to erect high-power stations in India. The Governments of Australia and South Africa have not reached a final decision, but I understand they are disposed to allow beam stations to be erected in Australia and South Africa for communication with this country in order to give the new system a trial. His Majesty's Government have undertaken, in the event of these stations being erected, to provide corresponding installations in this country as extensions of the station to be used for the Canadian service. The Marconi Company have agreed to co-operate whether the decision of the Dominions is in favour of beam stations or high power stations. It is at present proposed to extend the Rugby station from 12 to 16 masts, as recommended in the Donald Report, but this decision will he subject to reconsideration if, in view of policy adopted by the Dominions, the extension should prove to be unnecessary.

The question of an improved business organisation for the working of the stations in this country is being considered by a further Committee under the Chairmanship of Sir Robert Donald. This Committee is expected to report very shortly.


Does that mean that Australia and South Africa are abandoning the intention to erect high-power stations?


That appears to be their general attitude at the moment. At any rate, until they have given this system a trial.


Generally they will be content with communications after dark?


I have said that they have not yet reached a definite decision, but they are disposed in that direction at the present moment.


Is it not daylight in New Zealand and Australia when it is dark here? [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer!"]


What will be the cost with regard to this?


I would prefer that my hon. Friend should wait until the agreement is before the House. Hon. Members will have it in a few days. It will be better for them to see all the details then.


Surely you would look into the cost before you make an agreement.

Commander BELLAIRS

Will this involve any fresh Supplementary Estimate?




Will the House have an opportunity of discussing this agreement, and can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that in any agreement there is no question of any monopoly of any kind being given to the Marconi Company?


Is there any estimate of the cost which the Department of the right hon. Gentleman can give to the House?


I thought that it would be better to have the agreement before the House rather than to answer questions on matters of detail. The contract provides that the Marconi Company shall erect a station for the Government at cost price plus 10 per cent. contractors' profits. We cannot say the exact price, but the maximum is to be £58,000. Should additional units be required for Australia or South Africa, the additional units will cost a maximum of £36,000.


Is this experiment in beam transmission, therefore, to be carried out at the expense of the Government? From the original statement of the right hon. Gentleman, I gathered that the Marconi Company were to bear the expense, and that the Government were going to take it over only if it were successful. Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman now to say that the Government propose to pay £58,000 for the experiment?


No, the position is this. There is a guaranteed service in the contract. When the station is erected there will be a seven days' test. If that test gives the service which is guaranteed, then 50 per cent. of the price of the station will be paid. There will then be a further six months' test, and if, during these six months, the results are satisfactory, a further 25 per cent. will be paid. There will then be another six months' test, and if, at the end of that period, a final decision is given by the engineers that it is in satisfactory working order, the final portion will be paid.


Then nothing has to be spent by the Government unless these tests are satisfactory?


Yes, and even if, after the first and second payments are made, and before the final test is given, it does not comply with that test, the money paid has to be refunded.


In view of—


I understand that this contract must be laid before the House, and will not be valid until the House has approved. There will, therefore, be an opportunity for discussing it.


In view of the express undertaking of the Government that we should have ample opportunity to discuss the whole question I would like to know what procedure the Government propose to adopt with reference to the agreement, and how long will it be before the House has an opportunity of considering it?


That is a matter to be arranged between the usual channels. The House is assured of an opportunity of considering the matter.