§ House in Committee (according to order).
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
My Lords, before I move the Amendment which stands in my name, I should like just to explain to your Lordships what its effect would be. At present, as I read the Bill, the Post Office has complete power, if it thinks fit, either to place overhead wires in a neighbourhood, or, if the owners of the property object to overhead wires, to take them before the Railway Commissioners, and to put private individuals to a large expense in consequence of their thwarting this influential Government Department. My Lords, I think that is scarcely fair. I may tell your Lordships that many of the inhabitants of Wimbledon, who are thirty thousand in number, object strongly to overhead wires; and the County Council of Surrey, of which I have the honour to be a member, absolutely refuses to allow any overhead wires under any circumstances; therefore we cannot be surprised if those who are subject to this authority think they are rather hardly treated if the Post Office has the power, which I understand it will have by the Bill, to fasten overhead wires upon them. My Lords, the clause which I have drafted, and which I venture to move, would, I 1788 think, not do any injustice to the Post Office, and it would certainly be a great satisfaction to those who are immediately affected by it. I may be met by the remark that this clause ought to have been moved in another place when the Bill was in Committee. The simple reason why it was not is that Bills have been so hurried, I do not say intentionally, in another place during the last ten days or a fortnight that it would have been undoubtedly impossible for those affected by this provision to know what was going on. If they had been aware, this Amendment would have been moved in another place; as it is, I venture to move it now.
In Clause 1, page 1, after Section 2, add "Provided always, that the Postmaster General shall not consider that the inhabitants of any district or any Public Authority are debarred from the public convenience of telegraphic communication in any case where it is practicable to effect such communication by means of underground wires, and where such refusal to consent to the construction or maintenance of a work arises from the circumstance that the telegraphic communication is effected, or is intended to be effected, by means of overhead and not by means of underground wires."—(The Viscount Midleton.)
My Lords, I am unable to accept the Amendment; but I think there is a point which I must take beforehand. The noble Lord' moves it as a proviso to Clause 1, and it is obvious that it is a proviso to Clause 2. We must dispose of Clause 1 before I make the answer to what the noble Lord-has said.
§ Clause 1, without Amendment, agreed to.
§ Clause 2.
My Lords, taking the proviso as moved to this clause, I must ask the House not to accept it. I think, if your Lordships will look at the clause, you will see that it is designed only to meet extreme cases, and is certainly one that will not be used unless it is absolutely necessary, because the delay and expense which will be caused by it, not only to private individuals, but also to the Government Department itself, will be sufficient guarantee, I think, 1789 that the machinery will not be put in force except in an extremely urgent case. The noble Lord has raised the question of overhead wires and underground communication. My Lords, I shall agree with him in the abstract that underground wires are very much better than overhead wires when that method of communication can be obtained, and probably the House will agree with that in the abstract; but the design of Clause 2 is only to provide for the extension of the telephone into sparsely populated districts and to places where the expense of carrying a wire underground would practically be prohibitive, and if this proviso were put in it would nullify Clause 2 altogether, and really would have the result of making one or two owners complete masters of the situation, enabling their prejudices to prevent all telephonic communication in the district. The provision which is contained in the clause was deliberately approved of by a Select Committee of the other House, and it is in strict accordance with the recommendations of the Committee on telephone and telegraph wires appointed by the other House in 1885. It has been a long time before the public and Parliament, and I hope that the House will not accept the Amendment which is now moved. I have only to say finally that in many cases the working of the ordinary line of a telegraph, and still more of a telephone, would be seriously affected if it had to be laid underground. I do not say that that is of universal application, but the acceptance of this proviso might force the Post Office into an expense which would be prohibitive, and would altogether prevent the extension of telephonic communication to the districts to which it is intended to extend it.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
My Lords, I very much regret the decision at which the Post Office has arrived. I think the proviso that I have ventured to suggest for insertion would only have done scant justice to those affected by it; but I do not propose at this late period of the Session to put your Lordships to the trouble of dividing upon the Amendment, especially as the Government have taken up their position, 1790 and I should probably be beaten if I did so.
§ Amendment (by leave of the Committee) withdrawn.
§ Clause 2 agreed to.
§ Clauses 3, 4, and 5 agreed to.
§ Clause 6.
My Lords, the object of this Amendment which I have to move is to prevent the alteration of the law by a side wind in a matter on which it should not be altered without the full knowledge of all concerned. The Bill as it stands, especially Clause 6, would give the London County Council certain powers within the City of London which are now exercised by the Commissioners of Sewers, and the object of the Amendment is to maintain the existing law which was settled after careful discussion when the Electric Lighting Act of 1882 was passing through Parliament. The only effect of the Amendment, so far as we know, is to preserve the jurisdiction of the Commissioners of Sewers in the City of London, but it has, of course, this other effect, of which I think your Lordships will approve: that if this Amendment is inserted there can be no difference between the Local Authority which has to exercise the powers under this Bill and the Local Authority which gives or withholds consent under the Electric Lighting Act, 1882. On those grounds, my Lords, I beg to move the Amendment.
To omit the word ("in") in line 32 to the word ("Council") in line 35, and insert ("of the Local Authority as defined by the Electric Lighting Act, 1882, for the district within which such electric line is laid.") (The Lord Balfour.)
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Bill, as amended, agreed to; and to be reported To-morrow.