§ (1) There shall be established an Imperial Advisory Committee consisting of representatives appointed by the British Government, such representatives as may be appointed by the Governments of Canada, the Commonwealth of Australia, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, the Irish Free State, and India, and such other representatives of parts of the Empire as may be approved by the British Government.
§ (2) The Imperial Advisory Committee shall have absolute control over the policy of the Communications Company as regards the maintenance and development of the services, the establishment of new services, the rates to he charged, and allocation of the funds which become available for rate reduction, and shall accordingly have access to all information in the hands of the Communications Company which will be necessary to enable the committee to carry out its duties.—[Mr. Benn.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
I am very grateful to you, Mr. Dennis Herbert, for putting my Clause in order. I understand that Sub-section (3) is out of order, because it deals with certain 1620 duties of other Governments which would not be within our purview. The difficulty we are in is that the Government have so drafted this Bill as to shut out from discussion all really material matters. They said to their draftsmen: "What can you do to produce a Bill which will give the minimum possible opportunity for criticism of the Government's decision?", and they have produced a Bill which gives the minimum legislative authority required to enable the Government to behave as they desire to behave on the recommendations of the Conference. But it has been understood that, whatever the exact meaning and terms of the Bill may be, the purpose is to set up a new organisation, and to limit it and control it in British and Imperial interests. Obviously that is the intention. Our difficulty is this. We said: "In order that we may be assured before we as a House of Commons part with the possession of these national assets, namely, cables, and before the Postmaster-General leases the beam, will you lay before us the agreements, so that they can be approved by a general omnibus Resolution of the House of Commons?" To that course the Government were not willing to assent. They tell us that the Communications Company has not any existence up to the present moment—
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I am afraid I must help the hon. Gentleman to keep his speech as well as his Amendment in order. He must not here discuss any dissatisfaction that he may have as to the course of the Government in drafting this Bill.
I am very grateful to you. Of course, if the Bill were adequate, I should not need to be moving new Clauses. I was trying to justify the course by which a private Member of this House is compelled to draft something which the Government should have drafted.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
But the hon. Gentleman is not justified in making a long speech as to why he proposes to try and improve the Bill.
I think that all debate should be used to show why we desire to improve a Bill, but I will confine myself to my particular improvement. The Government ought to have told us about this Advisory Committee. It was not for them to leave it to a private Member to draft a Clause. The Advisory Committee is the link through which the Governments concerned control this service, but is it unreasonable to ask that the Government should have put into the Bill what I am submitting to the Committee, namely, the terms in which they propose to set up and to control the organisation of this Advisory Committee?. It is because of that lack on the part of the Government that this new Clause is drafted, and it is left to a private Member to endeavour to embody in the Bill something which is the essence of the scheme, and which should have been put before the House before we parted with any of our assets at all.
I do not propose to defend the terms in which this new Clause is drafted; it is a difficult thing to ask a private Member to draft a constitution for such an important body as this, but the Government have not done it. They have given us in this very able and terse Report which was made by the Secretary of State for Scotland, what their ideas are, and what we have done has been, as far as possible, to follow the Government's own intentions in order that they might be embodied in the Statute, instead of being dependent on the will or whim of an administrative act. The Report says:The Communications Company [is] to consult, in regard to questions of policy, including any alteration of rates, an Advisory Committee.That is the first point.
"No increase of rates prevailing at the date of the formation of the Communica- 1622 tions Company to be made, except with the assent, of the Advisory Committee."
It is interesting to note that it refers only to increases of rates beyond the rates prevailing at the date of the formation of the Communications Company. I think that I am right in saying that the tendency of cable rates has been to fall. One of the results of the beam service was to reduce considerably the cable rates, and it is interesting to observe that the Advisory Committee is not to be consulted except in relation to any increase of rates beyond the rates prevailing at the date of the formation of the Communications Company. If it be true to say that the beam will constantly reduce the price of cables, it seems to me that this precaution of saying that the Advisory Committee must assent to any increase beyond a certain date is illusory, and one may go further and say "eyewash." The next thing that the Advisory Committee is to do is tohave access to all information in the hands of the Communications Company.The next thing is that it is tobe given absolute powers in regard to any proposed increase to existing rates, and the allocation of the funds which become available for rate reduction.There are other questions upon which this Committee has to be consulted. The Committee will find them set out in page 19 of the White Paper. For example, it says:It will be desirable that a reasonable proportion of the total cable traffic between Great Britain and Australia and New Zealand should continue to pass over the route by way of Canada, which does not touch foreign territory at any point.So that it is still intended, apparently, to preserve the ideal of the Conservative party in 1901. I remember the Debates on what they called the All-Red Route. Furthermore,In all such matters of general policy the Communications Company should consult the Imperial Advisory Committee.In fact, there are further safeguards recommended in this White Paper, and I would like to ask the Government whether it is intended that these should be exercised through the Advisory Committee, or in some other way. On page 20, most important safeguards are referred to, such as British control of all the companies, and the control of the 1623 Government of the cable and wireless systems in time of war. I do not know how that is to be exercised. I should have imagined that the ordinary Emergency Powers would have been sufficient. It may be that it will be done in some way through the Advisory Committee. I can hardly think that it can be done through the Communications Company, because the most that we can do in the way of control over the company is by the approval of two directors who are to be nominated by other people, one of them to be the Chairman.
Therefore, seeing the vital importance of these safeguards in the public interest and seeing the importance of these forms of control as to rates and as to the form in which the messages are to be sent, and as to control for public safety, the only course open to us is to place a new Clause in an imperfect form on the Paper, in order that the Government may either be pleased to accept it, or, if they will not accept it, to tell us what we are entitled to know, namely, exactly what steps they have taken in regard to this Committee. It is not unreasonable that the House of Commons should know before it takes this final step, because I would remind the Committee that we are not to debate cables again. The House will not be asked to approve the contracts. The Prime Minister has said that they would be put in the Library, but they will not be laid in any effective form so that we can debate them. Therefore, this is our last opportunity, and the Government should tell us precisely in what form this Advisory Committee is to be set up. Has it been set up? Are the Government's nominees decided? Is the constitution provided for, or has any sort of thought been given to the matter? I have no doubt that answers will be forthcoming, but it is inconceivable that the Government should have gone so far in the matter without this being in draft.
§ Mr. W. BAKER
This proposed Clause is likely to be the great test, so far as the average man is concerned, of the attitude of the Government towards the whole problem of Imperial communications, because there is nothing in the new Clause which is not strongly recommended by the Imperial Conference. My hon. Friend was justified in calling 1624 attention to the fact that, in spite of the strong recommendations of the Imperial Conference, this Bill contains no reference whatever to the only adequate safeguard which the people of this country are likely to have once the Bill is passed into law. I do not know how many members of the Committee recollect the precise reference in the Report of the Imperial Conference, and perhaps I may be forgiven if I quote the Report in support of this new Clause rather than offer comments of my own. The Conference, on page 18 of their Report, said:It is obviously desirable that, as a corollary to handing over to private enterprise the conduct of public services, there should be an effective method for ensuring that the users of this service shall not be exploited for the benefit of the shareholders in the private undertaking.I am glad the Imperial Conference appreciated the danger which we have been trying to bring to the notice of the Government in these Debates. The Imperial Conference, having recognised that there was a definite danger to the interests of private users, went on to deal with the problem and to make specific recommendations. They said:The Communications Company to consult, in regard to questions of policy, including any alteration of rates, and advisory Committee, which we suggest should include representatives of the Governments participating in this Conference, to whom representatives of other parts of the Empire may be added as required from time to time with the approval of the Governments concerned. No increase of rates prevailing at the date of the formation of the Communications Company to be made except with the assent of the Advisory Committee.Why is it that this definite recommendation, which is the only safeguard the private user has, finds no place in the Bill? On page 19 of their report the Imperial Conference go on:As the undertaking is one which closely concerns the several parts of the Empire, it is essential that they should have a voice in the direction of the policy of the undertaking; and having regard to the responsibilities of the Governments concerned, as trustees for the public, it is essential that they should be in a position to exercise an additional measure of control over policy to that secured by approval of the nomination of certain members of the Board of the undertaking. …As has been indicated above, the main concern of the Governments is to secure an efficient and cheap service. For this reason the Imperial Advisory Committee should, we suggest, be 1625 given absolute powers in regard to any proposed increase to existing rates, and the allocation of the funds which become available for rate reduction in accordance with recommendation (v) above.The Government ought to be reminded that in the view of the Imperial Conference they are the trustees of the public interest. In listening to these discussions, one is forced to come to the conclusion that the Government are much more inclined to think of the commercial and financial effect of these transactions on certain other persons than they are of the effect upon the public well being. I am glad the Imperial Conference are so definite as to the necessity of safeguarding the public interest. The Bill presented by the Government makes no proposals to safeguard the public interest, and if it passes into law without such a safeguard we have no guarantee that an Advisory Committee will be set up, or that any steps will be taken to prevent private interests securing the full fruits of the system.
§ 2.0 p.m.
§ Mr. GILLETT
I presume we may take it that the recommendation on this point which appears in the Report has the support of the Secretary of State for Scotland. We have put down a new Clause to give it effect, and although we do not believe in what the Government are doing at all, yet we feel that to adopt this suggestion would be better than to do nothing. But what I want to point out to the right hon. Gentleman is that whether this proposal or the other be adopted, it will be an exceedingly difficult thing to lay down the exact terms on which the Advisory Committee are going to work. It says in the report that the Advisory Committee ought to have a voice in the direction of policy. That depends on what is meant by "a voice." Is it to be a voice crying in the wilderness, or is it a voice which has some definite authority behind it? Supposing a question arises as to sending messages by Canada—a question to which reference is made in the Report. Supposing it is more expensive to send messages by Canada, 'and that from a commercial point of view it is better to send them another way, though from the Imperial standpoint they ought to go by Canada. The Advisory Committee may think they ought to go by Canada, but the Communica- 1626 tions Company may say, "No, we are not doing very well financially, and they must go the other way." The Advisory Committee have had their voice, but who decides the question? If the Communications Company say, "No, we will not listen to you," does that end the matter?
Then the question may arise as to whether it is advisable to build a new station or develop a service which at the moment is not very profitable but which is perhaps necessary in the public interest. We can get an analogous case from the tramways. A tramway or a railway may be developed in a certain direction because the public interest will need it in a little time, though it may be necessary to wait until houses have been built up in the district before the line brings in profit. An ordinary commercial company might say it was not worth while to do that. If the Advisory Committee made a similar suggestion in regard to new cable services, but the Communications Company did not agree with their recommendation would that be the end of it? The question of the rates to be charged, particularly the rates for special services, may also arise. I believe that at present the newspapers can send press messages on special terms. Suppose the Advisory Committee thought the press were being unduly favoured and made representations to the Communications Company, I take it that here again, unless the Communications Company were willing to agree with them the recommendations would be nothing more than a mere suggestion.
It seems to me that all through there is nothing to show that the Advisory Committee have any power. Will the conditions of the employés of the Communications Company in regard to wages and other matters fall within the purview of the Advisory Committee? Supposing, the employés in this country were not receiving satisfactory wages and the matter was raised in the Rouse of Commons. It would be said that the Government have representatives on the Communications Company and also have members on this Advisory Committee. Would it be in order for the Advisory Committee to make representations to the Communications Company that the conditions of the employés were not satisfactory? There is one other point, it is stated that all the information in 1627 the books of the Communications Company must be available for the Advisory Committee. I should like to know from the right hon. Gentleman how that provision will be made to work. Suppose the Advisory Committee fall out with the Communications Company, how are they going to compel the company to give them information? The whole thing must depend upon the two bodies working together. The Advisory Committee have very little power. They may talk, and, if the Company agree to their recommendations, something may be done, but, except for that the institution of this committee is a very slender return for the loss of control. It is better to have this Advisory Committee than nothing at all. We feel that we should have a body of this sort even if the power left to the Government, after handing over these cables, seems to leave very little power in the hands of the Advisory Committee.
I hope the Financial Secretary will give us the fullest possible information about the constitution and personnel of the Advisory Committee, and I trust he will not be deterred by any possible criticism from his own supporters. The point which occurs to me is: who is going to appoint the Advisory Committee? Will they be appointed on the recommendation of the cable companies in the same way as the Government representatives are appointed, and will the Government have a final say in the matter? The words are:approved by the Government at the suggestion of the cable companies.In my view, that will be quite ineffective. The main purpose of this Amendment is to try and establish some safeguard of our Imperial interests. We have urged in the course of these Debates that one of the reasons for the formation of the merger and the Communications Company was the need of maintaining the cables for the sake of Imperial strategy. Now it has emerged in the Debate that this will be no safeguard at all in fact, one of these cables is going to be scrapped as soon as it has been transferred. Consequently, there will be absolutely no safeguard in the way of preserving Imperial strategy for the future, because one of these cables is to be scrapped in a few years' time.
1628 With regard to the Imperial Advisory Committee which is provided for in this new Clause, the most important question to be considered by them is the rates to be charged by these companies. I think that is a matter which affects everybody in this House and every commercial and private person in this country. If the Advisory Committee go into the whole question of rates, they will find that the British public is very seriously handicapped by the high charges made by the cable companies. Take the case of Hong Kong or Shanghai, where you have to pay 3s. per word for a cablegram. It costs exactly the same to the companies to send those messages to Canada, where the charge is only 9d. per word. I suggest that the Advisory Committee ought to go into the whole question of Imperial communications, because it costs the companies exactly the same to send a message to any part of the world. With the new short wave length it is possible to work a chief station on 25 kilowatts at all times of the day, and to get a regular service of communication at 300 words a minute. It costs exactly the same to transmit a message to Canada, South Africa or Australia, although in the latter case you have now to pay 3s. a word. The statement has been made by those who look after the cable companies that it costs more to send a message a long distance, but that is an absolute fallacy. It is possible to-day to have an all-round fixed rate of 5d. per word to every part of the Empire, and I suggest that the Advisory Committee might look into that question, and see whether it is not desirable to fix a lower rate and possibly scrap some of these cables.
I am aware that if this scheme was not brought in, many cables would have to be scrapped. We have been told that they are all required for Imperial service. I have been looking at the map of the Eastern service supplied by the Eastern Telegraph Company, and I cannot see why some of those services should not be scrapped. Why should we continue to spend money on these out-of-date services when a better service can be maintained by wireless beam stations of 25 kilowatts? I think all these matters ought to be examined by an efficient body which would not work behind closed doors. I hope that when we get a reply from the Government we shall he given some assurance that the whole question 1629 of rates charged by these companies will be gone into. The Financial Secretary is rightly interested in the Chambers of Commerce. I know that they are sending messages every day to all parts of the Empire, and it is in their interests that they should be able to send those messages at a cheap rate. If they could send messages to Hong Kong, Shanghai and Australia at 5d. per word, look at the business which the companies would be able to do. A reform of that kind would establish an all-round reduction of rates at a fixed flat rate, and subsidies in all these cases might be found necessary for Imperial purposes. That is one example of the very important points which ought to be gone into by this Advisory Committee.
I appreciate the difficulty we are in owing to the very complex nature of this contract and the many things which are outside the scope of this Measure. I would like to ask: will this Advisory Committee be able to review the whole situation of beam wireless? Will they be able to review not only the cable system which is contained in this Bill, but also the question of communications with Europe? I do not think that the Postmaster-General has given us any indication that, when we are forming this great world-wide international Communications Company, we are leaving out the question of vital communications with the Continent of Europe. The Postmaster-General has now sole control of 64 cables to Europe and the ordinary land lines. It is true that there are two competing services. The Marconi Company was given a licence to communicate with certain European countries, and the Postmaster-General has maintained corn munications with other countries. You have also got a competing system in the wireless. I cannot see when you have this great international combine which will deal with the communication side of European countries how the Post Office can carry on effectively the remainder of those communications with other countries in Europe. For instance, the Marconi Company is already competing with the Post Office even in those countries where they have not a licence to communicate by radio. They communicate between London and Berne by wireless, but they have not the right—
§ The CHAIRMAN
I understand that the Communications Company will not operate at all to and from the Continent of Europe, and, if that be so, the Advisory Committee cannot get any jurisdiction in these matters.
But many of the messages which go over the lines and over the radio controlled by the Communications Company go from or to other countries in Europe, and it is impossible, in examining the whole situation, not to take into consideration the communications between this country and the Continent of Europe.
§ The CHAIRMAN
That may be an argument against the whole proposals of the Report, but what is before the Committee at the moment is a new Clause to set up an Advisory Committee to control the Communications Company. Obviously, that committee will neither advise nor control the Communications Company in respect of services with which that company has nothing to do.
I took it from the White Paper that the Advisory Committee was going to advise the Government as to what they should do, and not the Communications Company, and it would be proper in that case for them to advise as to what policy should be adopted in regard to the European services; but I will leave that point. There are two other points which I think ought to be fully understood, and on which we have had no information at all. The first is as to the Government's attitude towards telephony. There is a very vague reference to it in the White Paper. I do not know whether this is the appropriate point at which to raise it, but the whole development of wireless depends on telephony. The Post Office commenced the inauguration—
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member seems to me to he making suggestions for the general reform of communication by the Post Office throughout the world. This, however, is a very limited proposal to set up an Advisory Committee to control the Communications Company, and the Communications Company, I understand, are to have nothing to do with telephony.
§ The CHAIRMAN
They cannot operate it, I understand, without a licence from the Postmaster-General. These questions will be perfectly relevant on the Post Office Estimates, but not on this particular Clause.
The White Paper says:The Post Office in London …will agree with the Company the terms on which it will have the right to use the Company's wireless stations, or portions thereof, for telephonic purposes.That seems to indicate that the Communications Company will ultimately control all the telephonic services between this country and the Continent of Europe. The telephone service has been another growing asset to the Postmaster-General—
§ The CHAIRMAN
That is not dealt with by this Bill. This Bill only deals with a fraction of the proposals for reform, and this particular Clause only deals with certain aspects of that. The hon. Member seems really to be addressing himself to the policy of the Post Office all round, and that is quite outside this Bill.
I bow to your Ruling. I am only indicating some important matters which the Advisory Committee ought to consider and report upon. I will content myself with supporting the Amendment and expressing the hope that the Financial Secretary will inform us on the two points that I have raised, namely, the constitution of this Committee—who they are going to be, and whether they are going to be appointed by the Government, or whether they are going to be nominated by the cable companies, as the directors have been nominated, and only approved as a second thought by the Government—and what definite authority the Advisory Committee will have in regard to fixing rates for cables all over the Empire on an equitable basis.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Arthur Michael Samuel)
The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Malone) has asked about the personnel of the Advisory Committee, and by whom they will be nominated. To the question whether the members of the committee will be nominated-by the cable companies, my answer is "No." To the question whether they will be nominated 1632 by the Government, my answer is also "No." They will be nominated by the Governments, that is to say, the British Government and the sister Governments of the Dominions and India.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
Yes, severally; each person will be nominated by the Government whom he purports to represent. As to the fears of contingencies expressed by the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Gillett), and in some degree also by the hon. Member for Northampton, I will not weary them or the Committee by reading the last 21 lines on page 10 of the Report of the Imperial Conference and the first six lines on page 20, beginning at the words "The Imperial Advisory Committee" on page 19, and continuing down to the word "accordingly" on page 20. These paragraphs exactly answer the question of the hon. Member for Finsbury as to what it is recommended that the Imperial Advisory Committee should have power to do, and they deal with every one of the points that he raised.
§ Mr. GILLETT
My questions arose from my reading of those paragraphs, because I could not understand them.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
That is not my fault, if I may say so. I hope the hon. Member will not, take it as discourteous, but I must say that it is a rather careless way of reading the Report if he does not understand it. I cannot help him to do more than read the Report, and I think he will find it very easy to understand. All of these points will he provided for in the agreement that will be made—
§ Mr. SAMUEL
Perhaps I may be allowed to make my own speech. If the conditions of the agreement are not carried out, the sanction, as it is called in diplomatic language, will operate, that is to say, the licence will be withdrawn, and the company will not be able to operate. There will be that stranglehold upon them.
§ Mr. GILLETT
What I wanted to understand was this: The Report says that the Advisory Committee should have a voice in the direction of the 1633 policy of the undertaking, and what I desire to know is, what is meant by having a voice. Does it mean that when they have said a thing it will have the force of law? I can read that paragraph over and over again, and still the voice will be there.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
It means that the Company cannot move on certain matters without the assent of the Advisory Committee, which, accordingly, has a stranglehold on them.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
As I said yesterday, the hon. Gentleman must recollect that the Secretary of State for Scotland and myself are not children in business matters, and we are doing our duty in protecting the interests of the taxpayer and the House of Commons. The hon. Gentleman also asked why we had not embodied in the Bill the proposals contained in this Clause. My answer is that the licences which I have just explained, and which are really a strangle-hold on the Company, will be granted, and the agreement will provide for all points that are necessary to secure the interests of the various Governments—
§ Mr. SAMUEL
It is being gone into; it is in hand. The hon. Gentleman must get out of his head the idea that those who are acting for the Government are children. One reason for not embodying these proposals in the Bill is that the conditions and safeguards are so many and so complicated that it would be a physical impossibility to embody them in a convenient form in an Act of Parliament unless the Act were of unreasonable length. A further point which I would beg the hon. Gentleman to bear in mind is that the interests are not ours only; we have to take into account the whole Empire. It would be inappropriate—I will not use a stronger word, although a stronger word would he justifiable—to include in an enabling Bill provisions to limit or define a direction and discretion that is not ours alone, but is shared by us with other Governments.
The first part of the proposed new Clause says that there shall be a committee of representatives of all parts of the Empire which shall be subject to the approval of the British Government. 1634 That again, if I may say so, is careless drafting. The Imperial Conference said "Governments," in the plural. All the Governments have to be taken into consideration and, for that reason, that part of the new Clause is entirely inacceptable. Take the second part. This goes beyond the recommendations of the Conference. It would give the Advisory Committee absolute control over the policy of the Communications Company. Have the Committee realised this? The Advisory Committee, under the recommeadations of the Conference, is to have an absolute veto over any increase of rates and the distribution of half the surplus profits. The point at which that becomes operative is over£1,865,000, the fixed standard revenue. If the profits grow beyond that point, 12 per cent. comes to us, and it goes into the taxpayers' pocket—it comes to us at the Treasury—and half the surplus is to be returned to the consumer in the form of reduced charges and better services. It is now suggested in the new Clause that the Committee should have power to reduce rates how and when they please. Hon. Members opposite have knowledge of business enough to know that no company would tolerate a condition of that kind. No company would be formed. They would say: "Leave the thing alone. We will not take it on subject to such a proviso." The condition is impracticable. It would wreck the undertaking.
A point has been raised about the resumption of control. This is recommended by the Conference and is quite sound. The way hon. Members want to do it is not possible. It cannot be done by legislation. Hon. Members forget that there are two ends to a cable. The services are not located in Great Britain only, but all over the Empire, so that you could confer power on the British Government but not on the other Governments. Finally, legislation is not necessary because the licences and agreements will provide that the various Governments can in emergency reassume control of the Empire communications in any part of the Empire concerned. That is quite sufficient to give effect to the suggestion hon. Members opposite have embodied in their proposal with regard to the resumption of control.
I was not quite clear about rates. I understood the hon. 1635 Gentleman to say the Post Office had a strangle-hold in being able to cancel the licence.
Does that mean that if the Advisory Committee reports that it is an economic proposal to communicate by beam wireless to Hong Kong at 5d. a word and make a profit of 100 per cent., the Government would be able, if necessary, to cancel the beam wireless?
§ Mr. SAMUEL
That very point, on broader lines, is dealt with on page 19, and, if the hon. Member will read it, he will see his question answered.
Will there be a clause in the agreement with the Communications Company allowing for cancelling the 25 years' lease?
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I cannot give an assurance on a difficult point like that across the Floor of the House at a second's notice, but I will take note of it.
Now see where we really stand. We put down a new Clause full of mistakes as far as drafting is concerned. I said that at the outset. We are not Parliamentary draftsmen. It is the Government's job to put this in writing. I make no apology for any faults in drafting, but it is quite a material point of principle. We ought to see the terms of this understanding before we part with property. What is the hon. Gentleman's defence? First, that the thing is too long to put in writing in the Schedule of an Act of Parliament. The second is that it is being put in writing and will be published later in the form of a licence.
Let us see where we are now. We had a solemn undertaking from the Prime Minister that we are to have this thing published for the information of Members and for definite approval by the House. Now the hon. Gentleman says he does not say it is going to be published. Are the contracts going to be published or not? How can you manage with people like this? Furthermore, he says the licence will be issued by the Government. It is not 1636 issued by the Government, but by the Postmaster-General. Surely, it is the Postmaster-General who issues all licences for telegraphic communication. Here is a further difference of opinion.
That is very illuminating. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury says that this will not be issued by the Post Office.
I certainly am not going to quarrel with the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. I think he said that, but if he says he did not say it, of course I shall accept it. The licence is issued by the Postmaster-General. Is it in draft? Will anyone put it on the Table? We do not know. I ask hon. Members who do not agree with us and think we are all wrong and our views unsound: is it unreasonable to ask, before we part with this property, that something should be put on paper by the Postmaster-General or someone else? Let us again see how far we have got. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury says, "We need not bother about the new Clause. We have a strangle-hold, because the Government, or the Postmaster-General, has to issue a licence to these people and, if they do not obey, we will withdraw the licence." That sounds a very good argument. The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Malone) saws, "If you lease it for 25 years, have you the power to terminate, despite the lease?" and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury says, "That is a point I must consider." What sort of position are we in? Is it a fact that you have a stranglehold by an annual licence? When you have granted a 25 years' lease, is not that done with? It is not unreasonable to raise these points before we part with these big assets.
Let me take another point. This Advisory Committee is the pivot of the whole thing, because it is the link between public control and this large private undertaking. The Advisory Committee has to do a great many things. I think the hon. Gentleman was wrong in one respect. They can only 1637 protest against an increase of the cable rates, and not against the rates existing at the time of the agreement. My argument was based on the fact that there is, in fact, a normal decline in rates, and they are never likely to be raised beyond the point at which they stand now. However, there is a very much more important point. The Financial Secretary says that this Advisory Committee is going to prevent this new merger or Communications Company from doing such things as, for example, imperilling Imperial interests by not sending a certain number of messages by what is called the All-Red Route to Canada. That is one of his great illustrations. Is the Advisory Committee in existence at the present moment? May I ask him that question in passing? May I ask him for any gesture, "Yes" or "No". He does not know. He says, of the Advisory Committee, for example, that this is the sort of job they are to do. They are to see that the All-Red Route is protected by ensuring that a certain number of messages pass via Canada. Hon. Members will remember that the
§ Imperial cables and the Canadian Atlantic cables put forth a girdle entirely on British territory. The Financial Secretary is probably not aware that one of his colleagues has said, in his absence, that one of the first things that this Communications Company are going to do is to break the Imperial Red Route. Really, is it tolerable in the House of Commons that the Financial Secretary should come forward and tell us that one of the great things for the Advisory Committee to do is to preserve the All-Red Route, when he does not know that in his absence an hour or two ago one of his colleagues said that we are selling the thing, we are getting the best price we can, and breaking the link by disposing of one of the cables. In these circumstances, I think that the best thing that we can do is to take this new Clause or some Clause in order, before we lose a complete grip of the matter, that we should have, what is commonly called "something on paper."
§ Question put, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 103; Noes, 187.1639
|Division No. 38.]||AYES.||[2.38 p.m.|
|Baker, Walter||Hardie, George D.||Sakiatvala, Shapurji|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Hayday, Arthur||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Barnes, A.||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley)||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Barr, J.||Hirst, G. H.||Sexton, James|
|Batey, Joseph||Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)||Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)|
|Beckett, John (Gateshead)||Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield)||Shepherd, Arthur Lewis|
|Bellamy, A.||Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Shiels, Dr. Drummond|
|Benn, Wedgwood||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Shinwell, E.|
|Bondfield, Margaret||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Smillie, Robert|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Smith, Rennle (Penistone)|
|Briant, Frank||Kennedy, T.||Snell, Harry|
|Broad, F. A||Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.||Snowden. Rt. Hon. Philip|
|Buchanan, G.||Lansbury, George||Stamford, T. W.|
|Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel||Lawrence, Susan||Stephen, Campbell|
|Cape, Thomas||Lawson, John James||Sutton, J. E.|
|Charlston, H. C.||Lee, F.||Taylor, R. A.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Lunn, William||Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)|
|Clynes, Ht. Hon. John R.||Mac Donald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Aberavon)||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Connolly, M.||Mackinder, W.||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Cove, W. G.||Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton)||Townend, A. E.|
|Dalton, Hugh||March, S.||Vlant, S. P.|
|Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale)||Maxton, James||Wallhead, Richard C.|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Montague, Frederick||Walsh, Rt. Hon. Stephen|
|Day, Harry||Murnin, H.||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Dunnico, H.||Naylor, T. E.||Welsh, J. C.|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Oliver, George Harold||Westwood, J.|
|Gardner, J. P.||Palin, John Henry||Wilkinson, Ellen C.|
|Gillett, George M.||Paling, W.||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Gosling, Harry||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)|
|Greenall, T.||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)|
|Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)||Ponsonby, Arthur||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Potts, John S.||Windsor, Walter|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Grundy, T. W.||Ritson, J.|
|Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton)||Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O.(W. Bromwich)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Mr. B. Smith and Mr. Whiteley.|
|Alexander, E. E. (Leyton)||Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W.||Balfour, George (Hampstead)|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Atholl, Duchess of||Balniel, Lord|
|Applin, Colonel R. V. K.||Baldwin, Rt. Hon, Stanley||Barclay-Harvey, C. M.|
|Barnett, Major Sir Richard||Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.||Perring, Sir William George|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Gunston, Captain D. W.||Pilditch, Sir Philip|
|Beckett, Sir Gervase (Leeds, N.)||Hacking, Douglas H.||Power, Sir John Cecil|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||Pownall, Sir Assheton|
|Bennett, A. J.||Hammersley, S. S.||Preston, Sir Walter (Cheltenham)|
|Berry, Sir George||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Reid, D. D. (County Down)|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Harmsworth, Hon. E. C. (Kent)||Remer, J. R.|
|Birchall, Major J. Dearman||Harvey, Majors. E, (Devon, Totnes)||Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Haslam, Henry C.||Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)|
|Bowyer, Captain G. E. W.||Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley)||Roberts, E. H. G. (Flint)|
|Brass, Captain W.||Heneage, Lieut.-Col. Arthur P.||Ropner, Major L.|
|Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive||Henn, Sir Sydney H.||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Briscoe, Richard George||Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.||Rye, F. G.|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Salmon, Major I.|
|Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I.||Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard||Samuel, A. M, (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks, Newb'y)||Hope, Sir Harry (Forfar)||Sandeman, N. Stewart|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Hopkins, J. W. W.||Sandon, Lord|
|Buchan, John||Hore-Belisha, Leslie||Savery, S. S.|
|Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Howard-Bury, Colonel C. K.||Sheffield, Sir Berkeley|
|Cazalet, Captain Victor A.||Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer||Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down)|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. Sir J.A.(Birm., W.)||Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.||Sinclair, Major Sir A. (Caithness)|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood)||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Skelton, A. N.|
|Charteris, Brigadier-General J.||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton)||Smith, R.W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer||Joynson-Hicks, Rt. Hon. Sir William||Smithers, Waldron|
|Clayton, G. C.||Kennedy, A. R. (Preston)||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Cobb Sir Cyril||King, Commodore Henry Douglas||Spender-Clay, Colonel H.|
|Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)|
|Cockcrill, Brig.-General Sir George||Knox, Sir Alfred||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'eland)|
|Cope, Major Sir William||Lamb, J. Q.||Steel, Major Samuel Strang|
|Courtauld, Major J. S.||Lister, Cunliffe-, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip||Storry-Deans, R.|
|Craig, Sir Ernest (Chester, Crewe)||Livingstone, A. M.||Stott, Lieut. Colonel W. H.|
|Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gainsbro)||Loder, J. de V.||Stuart, Crichton-, Lord C.|
|Culverwell, C. T. (Bristol, West)||Looker, Herbert William||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser|
|Curzon, Captain Viscount||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vare||Tasker, R. Inigo.|
|Davies, Sir Thomas (Clrencester)||Luce, Maj.-Gen. Sir Richard Harman||Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)|
|Davies, Dr. Vernon||MacAndrew, Major Charles Glen||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Dean, Arthur Wellesley||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I, of W.)||Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Mitchell-|
|Drewe, C.||Macintyre, Ian||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Edmondson, Major A. J.||McLean, Major A.||Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.|
|Elliot, Major Walter E.||Maitland, A. (Kent, Faversham)||Wallace, Captain D. E.|
|Ellis, R. G.||Maitland, Sir Arthur D. Steel-||Ward. Lt.-Col. A. L. (Kingston-on-Hull)|
|Erskine, James Malcolm Monteith||Makins, Brigadier-General E.||Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.|
|Evans, Captain A. (Cardiff, South)||Malone, Major P. B.||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.)||Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Everard, W. Lindsay||Margesson, Captain D.||Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)|
|Falle, Sir Bertram G.||Mason, Colonel Glyn K.||Wells, S. R.|
|Ford, Sir P. J.||Merriman, Sir F. Boyd||Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)|
|Forrest, W.||Milne, J. S. Wardlaw-||Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)|
|Foster, Sir Harry S.||Mitchell, W. Foot (Saffron Walden)||Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)|
|Foxcroft, Captain C. T.||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Fraser, Captain Ian||Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. c. R. (Ayr)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Ear|
|Gadle, Lieut.-Col. Anthony||Moore, Sir Newton J.||Withers, John [...]ames|
|Ganzoni, Sir John||Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Gates, Percy||Morden, Colonel Walter Grant||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley|
|Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Moreing, Captain A. H.||Woodcock, Colonel H. C.|
|Glyn, Major R. G. C.||Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Gower, Sir Robert||Nicholson, O. (Westminster)|
|Grant, Sir J. A.||Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Grattan-Doyle, Sir N.||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William||Mr. Penny and Major the Marquess of Titchfield|
|Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London)||Pennefather, Sir John|
|Grotrian, H. Brent||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)|
§ The CHAIRMAN
The next new Clause which stands on the Paper—(British, control to be guaranteed)—appears to me to be open to the objection that it departs from established constitutional usage. It appears to impose obligations upon companies, some of which would be domiciled in various Dominions and would, therefore, be subject to Dominion laws. I cannot see my way to select that new Clause, because it would be a serious departure from established constitutional usage.
On that point of Order. I would point out that the Communica- 1640 tions Company is compelled to make a full disclosure to the Advisory Committee. On the Advisory Committee, we are to have nominees, and the Communications Company will be, under the terms of the licence, compelled to make a full disclosure.
§ The CHAIRMAN
Yes, but some of these companies will be Dominions companies, and by this proposed new Clause they would be required to give guarantees satisfactory to the British Government. That would be upsetting established constitutional usage.