HC Deb 07 December 1928 vol 223 cc1614-9

"The Postmaster-General may at any time acquire any or all of the afore-mentioned undertakings which are being transferred by this Act at a price not exceeding the price paid by the Communications Company by virtue of this Act."—[Mr. Malone.]

Brought up, and read the First time.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

I wish to safeguard the country against paying an inflated price when it is decided to re-acquire these undertakings. I hope that some future Government may consider it desirable to take back these undertakings which are being disposed of and to re-acquire them for the good of the State. When that occasion arises, we do not want the Post Office to be faced with having to pay inflated prices for these underakings, because that is exactly what will happen. Even in the last few weeks, since this scheme first came before the country, the shares in certain of the undertakings concerned have enormously appreciated, and they will undoubtedly appreciate very much more. One reason for this is because of the contract which the Postmaster-General is going to make in regard to the beam wireless. The right hon. Gentleman has given an altogether too favourable contract leasing the beam wireless. If the beam wireless were going to be leased on a sliding scale, there might be some justification, but it is being leased at a fixed sum of£250,000 for 25 years, and—


Any transactions connected with beam wireless are not dealt with under this Bill, and the hon. Member must confine himself to arguments relating to the undertakings which are being transferred under this Bill.


I apologise for transgressing your ruling, but it is very difficult, when the two contracts are so inextricably interlocked, not to touch on that point, which is fundamental to the question.


As my hon. Friend has said, it is extremely difficult to discuss this matter without covering the whole field, but I will endeavour to confine my remarks strictly to those undertakings which the Postmaster-General is apparently so anxious to get rid of that he is not likely to be anxious to resume control of them. Nevertheless, we have to remember that Recommendation (vii) of the Imperial Conference, headed "Additional Safeguards and Conditions," recommended—and the recommendation has been accepted by the Government—

  1. (a) "that British control of all the companies must be guaranteed;
  2. (b) that the Governments may assume control of the cable and wireless systems in time of war or other national emergency."
That recommendation is perfectly definite and has been accepted by the Government, and it seems to me, in these circumstances, that it is important to devote a few moments to considering the conditions under which that control or possession may he resumed. Personally, I believe that at no distant date it will be felt that the Government's decision on this matter has been a hasty and an ill-considered one. I believe that the decision will be reversed, and what I am anxious to secure is that if and when another Government desires to resume possession of the assets which are being transferred by this Bill, we shall net be compelled to pay a price out of all proportion to the price which we are receiving now. I think that constitutes the whole case for this new Clause.


Both the hon. Members who have supported this Clause have put their case shortly, and I do not blame them, because the case for the Clause is not a very strong one. I have seen a good many new Clauses in my time, and I have been responsible for a good many, and know when a new Clause is capable of defence, and I can assure the hon. Members that this Clause is wholly incapable of defence. As the Clause stands, what would happen would, be that it would enable the Postmaster-General to acquire, at a price not exceeding the price paid by the Communications Company, the Pacific cable, the West Indian cable, and the Imperial cables, but not to take back the lease of the beam wireless, which would remain quite unaffected by this Clause. The result would be that the Postmaster-General would be re-purchasing the least remunerative part of the system and leaving the most remunerative part outside.

Apart from that, the Clause is quite unworkable from the point of view of the Dominion Governments, for it is not to be considered probable that when a question of re-purchase came it would be necessarily inferred that, for instance, the Canadian and Australian Governments would acquiesce in the re-purchase by the British Post Office, which is what this Clause suggests. From the point of view of the Communications Company and the development of its operations, it is an impossibly unworkable arrangement that they should be expected to carry on the system with the knowledge that, no matter what additions they make to it or what extra capital they spend Oil it, at any moment it may be re-purchased by the Postmaster-General at a price not exceeding the price paid by the company. Therefore, as the new Clause stands, both in its words and in its spirit, I really do not think it is capable of de fence. But more than that, it is in fact unnecessary to confer on the Government powers to take over the service in time of emergency. They already possess those powers, and, therefore, if this Clause professes, as the hon. Member for East Bristol (Mr. W. Baker) suggested, to be a Clause conferring those powers on the Postmaster-General, then it is otiose and unnecessary.


It seems to me that the Postmaster - General's argument might be put the other way round. He asks what would be the use of buying these new cables while the main company still retained the beam, but the extraordinary part of the matter is that the beam is only leased. Supposing at the end of 25 years the Government of the day did not wish to continue the lease, and supposing the lease came to an end, that is a time when the power to re-purchase these cables would become a very practical question. I could quite understand the right hon. Gentleman saying that the figure mentioned in the Clause is not a fair one, but I can see an enormous advantage in the hands of the Government, if at any time the lease was terminated either by the company or by the Government, that at any rate there should be some definite figure at which the Government would have the right to re-purchase these cables in order that the system might become uniform again. The Postmaster-General seems to me to have entirely ignored the point really raised by this Clause.

Question put, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 98; Noes, 180.

Division No. 37.] AYES. [1.36 p.m.
Ammon, Charles George Hirst, G. H. Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)
Baker, Walter Hirst, W. (Bradford, South) Shepherd, Arthur Lewis
Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery) Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield) Shiels, Dr. Drummond
Barnes, A. Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath) Shinwell, E.
Barr, J. John, William (Rhondda, West) Sitch, Charles H.
Batey, Joseph Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Smlille, Robert
Beckett, John (Gateshead) Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd) Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)
Bellamy, A. Kennedy, T. Smith, Rennie (Penlstone)
Benn, Wedgwood Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M. Snell, Harry
Bondfield, Margaret Lansbury, George Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip
Bowerman, Ht. Hon. Charles W. Lawrence, Susan Stamford, T. W.
Brlant, Frank Lawson, John James Stephen, Campbell
Broad, F. A. Lee, F. Sutton, J. E.
Buchanan, G. Lunn, William Taylor, R. A.
Capt, Thomas MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R, (Aberavon) Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plalstow)
Charleton, H. C. Mackinder, W. Thurtle, Ernest
Cluse, W. S. Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton) Tinker, John Joseph
Compton, Joseph March, S. Townend, A. E.
Connolly, M. Maxton, James Wallhead, Richard C.
Cove, W. G. Montague, Frederick Walsh, Rt. Hon. Stephen
Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale) Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.) Wellock, Wilfred
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Murnin, H. Welsh, J. C.
Day, Harry Naylor, T. E. Westwood, J.
Dunnlco, H. Oliver, George Harold Wilkinson, Ellen C.
Gillett, George M. Palin, John Henry Williams, David (Swansea, East)
Gosling, Harry Paling, W. Williams, Dr. J. H. (Lianelly)
Greenall, T. Parkinson, John Allan (Wigan) Williams, T. (York. Don Valley)
Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Coine) Pethick. Lawrence, F. W. Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attarcllffe)
Grentell, D. R. (Glamorgan) Ponsonby, Arthur Windsor, Walter
Grundy, T. W. Potts, John S. Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)
Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton) Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)
Hardle, George D Ritson, J. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Hayday, Arthur Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O.(w. Eromwich) Mr. Charles Edwards and Mr. Whiteley.
Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley) Sexton, James
Alexander, E. E. (Leyton) Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester) Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnee)
Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S. Davies, Dr. Vernon Haslam, Henry C.
Applln, Colonel R. V. K. Dean, Arthur Wellesley Henderson, Capt. R. R.(Oxl'd. Hanlty)
Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W. Drews, C. Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.
Atholl Duchess of Edge, Sir William Henn, Sir Sydney H.
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Edmondson, Major A. J. Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.
Balfour, George (Hampstead) Elliot, Major Walter E. Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.
Balniel, Lord Ellis, R. G Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard
Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Evans, Captain A. (Cardiff, South) Hope, Sir Harry (Forfar)
Barnett, Major Sir Richard Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.) Hopkins, J. W. W.
Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H. Everard, W. Lindsay Howard-Bury, Colonel C. K.
Bennett, A. J. Falle, Sir Bertram G. Hume, Sir G. H.
Berry, Sir George Ford, Sir P. J. Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer
Betterton, Henry B Forrest, W. Illffe, Sir Edward M.
Birchall, Major J. Dearman Foster, Sir Harry S. Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.
Bourne, Captain Robert Croft Foxcroft, Captain C. T. Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth. Cen'l)
Bowyer, Captain G. E. W Fraser, Captain Ian James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert
Brass, Captain W. Gadle, Lieut.-Col. Anthony Kennedy, A. R. (Preston)
Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Cilve Ganzonl, Sir John King, Commodore Henry Douglas
Briscoe, Richard George Gates, Percy Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John Knox, Sir Alfred
Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I. Glyn, Major R. G. C. Lamb, J. Q.
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks, Newb'y) Gower, Sir Robert Lister, Cunllfle, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip
Brown, Ernest (Leith) Grattan-Doyle, Sir N. Livingstone, A. M.
Cazalet, Captain Victor A. Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley)
Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. Sir J. A.(Birm.,W.) Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London) Loder, J. de V.
Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood) Griffith, F. Kingsley Looker, Herbert William
Charterls, Brigadier-General J. Grotrlan, H. Brent Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vera
Clayton, G. C. Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E. Luce, Major-Gen. Sir Richard Harman
Cobb. Sir Cyril Gunston, Captain D. W. MacAndrew. Major Charles Glen
Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D. Hacking, Douglas H. Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)
Cope, Major Sir William Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich) Macintyre, Ian
Courtauld, Major J. S. Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland) McLean, Major A.
Crookshank, Cpt. H.(Llndsey, Gainsbro) Hammersley, S. S. Maltland, A. (Kent, Faversham)
Culverwell, C. T. (Bristol, West) Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Maltland, Sir Arthur D. Stsel-
Curzon, Captain Viscount Harmsworth, Hon. E. C. (Kant) Makins, Brigadier-General E.
Malone, Major P. B. Preston, Sir Waltor (Cheltenham) Stuart, Crichton-, Lord C.
Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn Renter, J. R. Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Frasc[...]
Margesson, Captain D. Rhys, Hon. C. A. U. Tasker, R. Inigo.
Meller, R. J. Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y) Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)
Merriman, Sir F. Boyd Roberts, E. H. G. (Flint) Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)
Milne, J. S. Wardlaw Ropner, Major L. Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Mitchell.
Mitchell, W. Foot (Saffron Walden) Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth) Tistchfieid, Major the Marquess of
Momell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M. Rye, F. G. Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement
Montague, Frederick Salmon, Major I. Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.
Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr) Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham) Ward, Lt.-Col. A.L.(Kingston-on-Hull)
Moore, Sir Newton J. Sandeman, N. Stewart Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.
Morden, Col. W. Grant Sandon, Lord Waterhouse, Captain Charles
Moreing, Captain A. H. Savery, S. S. Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)
Nelson, Sir Frank Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down) Wells, S R.
Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge) Sinclair, Major Sir A. (Caithness) Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)
Nicholson, O. (Westminster) Skelton, A. N. Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)
Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn. W. G.(Ptrsf'ld.) Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.) Windsor-Cilve, Lieut.-Colonel George
Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William Smithers, Waldron Winterton. Rt. Hon. Earl
Pennefather, Sir John Somerville, A. A. (Windsor) Withers, John James
Penny, Frederick George Southby, Commander A. R. J. Wolmer, Viscount
Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings) Spender-Clay, Colonel H. Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley
Perring, Sir William George Stanley, Lord (Fylde) Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.
Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome) Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'eland)
Pllditch. Sir Philip Steel, Major Samuel Strang TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Pownall, Sir Assheton Stott, Lieut.-Colon I W. H. Sir Victor Warrender and Captain Wallace.

The proposed new Clause standing in the name of the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Benn) is not in Order, but he can move it with the omission of Sub-section (3): (3) The governments represented upon the Imperial Advisory Committee shall have power to assume complete control of the services transferred by virtue of this Act and also the Beam wireless services in time of war or other national emergency.