§ Order for the Second Reading read.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
, in moving the second reading of the Bill, said that its object was to make the best of a bad bargain. In 1858, the late Government entered into an agreement with a Company which had engaged to establish an electric telegraph communication between England and India. By that agreement the Company were guaranteed an annual payment of 4½ per cent on any sum up to £800,000 which they might expend on the work, provided they succeeded in establishing such a communication. The Company laid down the communication, and for a short time each separate part was in successful operation, and messages were for some days transmitted from England to Kurrachee. The Company had therefore fulfilled the condition. But very soon after the line had been brought into working order, some of the most important of its links became defective, and had never since been restored. The Government nevertheless were still bound to pay the stipulated 4½ per cent per annum. Under these circumstances the whole matter was then thrown upon the Government, who declined to attempt to restore the telegraphic communication themselves, but entered into an agreement with a new Company, by which that Company were to be remunerated from the profits of the undertaking, so that their profits would 398 depend on the successful operation of the telegraphic communication.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.
§ THE EARL OF ELLENBOROUGH
observed, that electric telegraph communication with India was not merely of commercial importance, but of the highest political importance also. If the matter were left to the management of a Company, he had no great hopes of the success of the scheme. The line must pass through the territories of foreign rulers. A Company would hardly be able to carry out the object without the intervention of the Government. He therefore thought it would have been better if the Government had kept the whole matter in their own hands.
§ LORD LYVEDEN
said, he did not agree with the noble Duke in thinking that all that now remained to be done was to make the best of a bad bargain. He wished to know whether the Government had gone into the question, whether or not the electric telegraph to be established under the Bill would form the best line of communication with India? Suppose this Company should fail, were Government to take no other steps to complete telegraphic communication with India? Had they considered whether this scheme was feasible? The correspondence which had taken place between the two Companies was very meagre, and there had been no declaration, by the Government as to what the contract was.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
thought his noble Friend misunderstood the whole transaction. The arrangement as to the payment of the late Company was not altered. They were absolutely entitled, under a Report made to the House of Commons, and a vote of that House, to every farthing of money that was given to them by this Bill. There was a provision in the Bill, however, for converting that payment into annuities, and for their redemption by Government. The new Company, at their own risk and with a large expenditure of capital, offered to fish up the Red Sea cable and complete the line of communication with India, without any advance or guarantee from the Government, and only stipulating for the profits of the line if they succeeded. He thought such an arrangement, so far as the Government were concerned, was making the best of a bad bargain; and he was not sure that, after all, this was not the most certain mode of establishing telegraphic communication 399 with India, which the Government were most anxious to see carried out.
§ LORD REDESDALE
observed, that while the Bill stated there were certain arrangements which had been entered into with Her Majesty's Treasury, these were not set out either in the preamble or schedules. He thought it extremely important that these arrangements should be specified in the Bill. He had hoped that the mode in which the Bill was drawn had been exploded long ago.
§ EARL GREY
wished to know whether the arrangement the Government had made would be any obstacle to their establishing another line, either by the Red Sea or through Persia, if that should be considered advisable, or whether a complete monopoly was given to one Company? He thought it most important that the hands of the Government and Parliament should not be bound by such an arrangement.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
approved the general principle stated by the noble Chairman of Committees. Parliament should undoubtedly keep a sharp lookout in all these cases; and had that taken place in 1858, very possibly the original agreement would not have been sanctioned. The whole of the present arrangement had been laid before Parliament in the shape of a Treasury Minute, and the letter of the new Company accepting the terms. This was before the end of March, so that the House of Commons had had time maturely to consider the subject; and, in point of fact, no objection had been made to it. There was no guarantee given that other lines should not be established; the only agreement was that the new Company should restore and complete the communication, and that they should have all the profits of the line up to the limit of 25 per cent, beyond which there were various arrangements as to the right of pre-emption. All this was specified in the Treasury Minute, but he should not object to insert the Treasury Minute in a schedule, if the rules of Parliamentary procedure would permit of that course.
§ LORD REDESDALE
said, he did not think there was much reason to apprehend any competition in the establishment of such a line of communication. His opinion was that the £200,000 proposed to be expended in restoring this communication would be thrown away; and, oreover, he was convinced that in the 400 event of a war the communication would be destroyed.
§ Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Friday, the 13th instant.