HL Deb 13 August 1904 vol 140 cc512-4


Order of the day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, if this Bill settled permanently all the great questions raised by the introduction of wireless telegraphy, I think your Lordships would have very strong reasons to complain that it was brought to your attention at this late period of the session; but the Bill has not that character. It is a temporary Bill, and expires in two years. Therefore it does not attempt to settle once for all the great questions which are beginning to be raised by the introduction of wireless telegraphy—questions which affect the defence of this country, the trade and internal communications of this country, and the progress of invention. In view of our experience in the matter of electricity, there was a great deal of disinclination to attempt to settle this question in a manner which might have the effect supposed to have been produced by legislation passed twenty years ago, in dwarfing and checking the progress of invention. I think that the plan adopted by the Government has obviated those difficulties and disarmed criticism, and, at the same time, has met what really were two very pressing needs. In the first place, it was a standing danger to the defence of this country by land and by sea, that there was no method of controlling wireless telegraphy at all. It was perfectly possible for anybody who chose to do so to set up a wireless telegraph installation, and to communicate with anybody at sea or across the Channel. There was absolutely no means of knowing what installations were set up, and it was a very real and pressing necessity of national defence that power should be taken to control all installations of this kind. Again, a peculiarity of wireless telegraphy is that, unless it is controlled, its whole utility may be negatived and nothing but chaos supervene. If the coast were studded with wireless telegraph stations under no control and in competition with one another, the only possible result would be that they would be all quite useless, and ships, whether of His Majesty's Navy or of the mercantile marine, would be unable to communicate with the shore or with each other. Therefore, for the proper civilised use of the invention control is essential. The third point is that at this transition period it was very important that vested rights should not be allowed to grow up, which the State hereafter might have to purchase at an immense cost. These three points are dealt with in the Bill, and yet no attempt is made to arrive at a permanent settlement. I ask your Lordships on this basis to accept the Bill and to read it a second time.

Moved. "That the Bill be now read 2a"—(The Earl Selborne.)

On Question, Bill read 2a; Committee negatived; and Bill to be read 3a on Monday next.

House adjourned at five minutes past One o'clock, to Monday next, a quarter past Four o'clock.