§ REPORT OF AMENDMENTS.
§ Amendments reported (according to order).
§ *LORD HOBHOUSE
My Lords, I do not propose to offer any opposition to this Bill at this stage or any other; but I do not like to let the Bill proceed to its end without calling attention to the effect that it will have upon the state of things in the County of London. Your Lordships are, no doubt, aware that, after very long agitation by the Local Authorities, there was passed last year an Act for the purpose of bringing under some public control, in the general interests of the inhabitants of London, all the overhead wires in London; but from the control which was thereby given to the London County Council the lines vested in the Postmaster General were excepted. I do not quite know on what principle the exception was made, whether it was that it was considered that the Postmaster General was a great public official who himself would look after the matter in the general interests of London, or whether it was considered simply that it was not well to have one public body looking after another in the same matter. However, so it was; it was not liked on behalf of the Londoners, but it was a very small matter, for I believe a very small percentage, say five per cent. it may be of the lines, was vested in the Postmaster General. Well, now it is proposed to supply the Postmaster General with money to buy up the lines, at all events the main trunk lines, of communication, and possibly the whole. And so far as the object of this Bill is carried into effect, so far will the Act of last year be rendered of no effect. I certainly do not think it right to offer any obstacle or difficulty in the way of the Bill passing, it being a general measure all over the Kingdom, and the effects of it being uncertain as to what extent the Postmaster General would require these lines in London. Nor 1868 did I see my way to moving any Amendment, simply to save the existing jurisdiction of the London County Council, because the effect of that would be to introduce some confusion into the lines possessed by the Postmaster General, some of which would be subject and others not subject to the London County Council. I therefore did not see my way to propose to maintain the jurisdiction vested in the London County Council over the lines they have now. But your Lordships will see that it does make a very considerable difference in the state of things, and it seems to me that, if this Act is generally put into force, the time will come, perhaps next year, when the whole subject must be reviewed, and it must be considered whether it is not right to have some authority which, in the general interests of the inhabitants of London, shall have some jurisdiction over these lines. I do not propose to review the principle now, but I do not like to let the Bill pass without giving full notice that there will be a demand to review it.
My Lords, I believe the House will expect me to say a word or two in reply to the observations of the noble Lord; and I should like to say at once that I cordially and cheerfully acknowledge the courtesy which he has displayed in not moving an Amendment, and simply confining himself, at this period to the Session, to making a protest, and giving the notice that he has been good enough to give on this occasion. My Lords, I am bound to say, however, that I think that in speaking on behalf of the London County Council he overrates the importance of the change made by this Bill. As he told your Lordships fairly and frankly, the lines owned by the Postmaster General on behalf of the Post Office were exempted from the Bill of last year. But there was no prohibition in the Bill of last year against the Postmaster General acquiring existing lines, and therefore, if without this Bill at all the Postmaster General had acquired any lines, they would ipso facto have passed out of the jurisdiction of the London County Council. Therefore, the only connection of the Bill with the matter, is because 1869 the Bill proposes to give the Treasury power to raise a million of money to expend on telephones. I am not on this point able to speak with absolute certainty; but I cannot conceive that not much of that million pounds can be expended within the jurisdiction of the County Council of London. I say not much relatively, and for this reason: that the policy of the Post Office, confirmed by a Select Committee of the other House of Parliament, is, as I explained to the House the other day, that the Post Office should purchase the trunk lines, and not the lines of intercommunication between points within municipal areas. For instance, the exchange in London from one point of London to another will, as I understand the matter, remain in the hands of the companies; and similarly at Birmingham, Liverpool, or Leeds. If at any point one man in Birmingham desires to communicate with another in Birmingham he will communicate with him under the control of the company having the licence for that community. The object of the Bill is to procure for the Postmaster General the trunk lines between London and Birmingham, and Birmingham and Liverpool, or any other of the important centres; and therefore, although I quite admit that, if wires are purchased by the Postmaster General within the jurisdiction of the County Council of London, to that extent they will pass out of the provisions of the Bill of last year and into the exceptions, I have already said that I do not think it is a matter of great importance; and I think, my Lords, I may say this, on behalf of the Post Office, that they will be prepared to receive and consider any representation on the matter which the London County Council may be good enough to make to them, having regard to the way in which this Bill has been received by the County Council on this occasion. At the same time I would like to say that on this point the Bill has not been altered since it left another place, and that the Post Office would have been very glad to discuss the matter in the other House, where there was more time to do it, but where they did not know that any objection was entertained to any of the provisions of the 1870 Bill on behalf of the London County Council.
§ LORD HOBHOUSE
May I say one word—that the speed with which this Bill was passed through the House of Commons and has come up to this House has been such that the County Council have hardly had time to take breath in the matter?
§ Bill to be read 3a To-morrow.