HL Deb 14 March 1859 vol 153 cc88-9

moved for Copies of any Contracts which have been made by Her Majesty's Government with any Individual or Company for the Construction and Maintenance of Electric Telegraphs. The noble Earl said, as he understood no opposition would be made to the Motion he would not trouble their Lordships with many observations; he would only say that he trusted in any contracts which might be made, care would be taken to include a power to the Secretary of State, in any public emergency, by warrant, to take possession of the electric telegraph and keep it as long as the public service demanded, compensation being awarded to the company. Such a power was taken in all Acts relating to telegraph companies in this country, and if such a power was of importance here it was still more so with regard to telegraphs connected with British possessions abroad—such as Malta and Corfu—in order to preserve communication with England, and exercise the necessary control over the transmission of messages. Cases of public emergency might arise so as to require the exercise of this power, either in actual war or in anticipation of war, and he trusted the Government would see the necessity of such a clause. There were other powers also which he thought it expedient the Government should possess—that of purchasing electric telegraphs, submarine or otherwise: the compensation to be fixed by arbitration or by any other mode the Executive Government should think fit. The principles laid down by the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) the other night were quite satisfactory—first, that no monopoly should be given to any one company; second, that no guarantee should be given to any electric telegraph company unless in actual working order; and that such subsidy be granted only so long as the electric telegraph was in working order. Another point of importance was that the Government should not tie themselves up to any arrangement with any company or individual, but should be open to receive the best terms from any quarter; and he thought it the more necessary to make these observations as he had been informed that an offer had been made for constructing an Atlantic Telegraph on a payment by the Government of £25,000 a year, and that the person who had made this offer had received no answer. He did not know whether or not that was correct, but he hoped the Government would, by competition, obtain the best terms they could for the public.


said, there would be no objection to the Return. The points which the noble Lord had mentioned were most important, and would receive full consideration. He had no knowledge of any such application having been made to the Treasury as that to which the noble Lord alluded.


said, that a different practice prevailed in this country with regard to public works from that which existed in other countries. In other countries the Government undertook the construction of such public works as private companies undertook in this country. The introduction of the principle of the Government guarantee to public companies was a novel one. He had always objected to them; for they were unnecessary and were absolutely injurious, for when once the practice was established no work would be undertaken without a guarantee. Generally speaking, in this country, whenever an undertaking was likely to pay it would not languish for want of encouragement. He had strenuously opposed the proposal to give guarantees for the Irish railways, and now, though unguaranteed, they paid on the whole better than the English lines.

Motion agreed to,