HL Deb 23 July 1908 vol 193 cc261-4


Order of the day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the Bill which I have the honour to present to your Lordships for Second Reading to-day is substantially the same Bill as the present Lord Derby introduced into the House of Commons when he was Postmaster-General. Its object is to amend the Telegraph Acts, 1863 to 1907, with respect to the construction and maintenance of telegraph lines for telephonic and other telegraphic purposes. Your Lordships are aware that when the Postmaster-General desires to construct a telegraphic line along a road application is made to the local authorities, and if those authorities give leave the work is proceeded with; but in the event of a local authority objecting, the case is taken before a County Court Judge. In the case of a road where there is no grass margin, but only a hedge and ditch, the property generally of the adjacent landowner, and where permission is refused by this landowner, the Postmaster-General has no means whatever of constructing the line. In some cases this had led to considerable trouble, although I must say that during the time I have been connected with the Post Office—nearly three years—we have had very little trouble indeed with way-leaves. There have, however, been one or two occasions when the agents of the landowners have objected, but on the Postmaster-General approaching the land- lords themselves they have invariably given us the facilities required. This Bill only gives us power in the case of land within 20 feet of any street or road; if the ditch or hedge is further than that the Bill is non operative. Another clause in the Bill deals with the cutting of corners. At the present time we have no power, where there is a corner, of going across another man's land, and we have to take the wires right along the road. This is not the case in a town, for under another Act we can take a telegraph wire across anybody's house. By this Bill we shall have similar powers in the country. The landowner is very carefully safeguarded, as if he objects to the carrying of the Wires over his land he can appeal before the two Railway Commissioners or the County Court Judge. There is one other question with regard to the lopping of trees. At the present moment a local authority has power to lop trees providing the owner refuses to do so. We have no such power, and we propose, subject to arbitration, to take this power in connection with trees which obstruct a telegraphic line on a street or road, giving the owner or occupier of the land one month's notice. These are the main provisions of the Bill, which, I may add, is strongly supported by the National Footpaths Preservation Society and the National Trust for the Preservation pf Historical Monuments. I beg to move.

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


My Lords, I do not wish to offer any objection to the Second Reading of this Bill, particularly as the Bill has been before both Houses of Parliament in previous sessions. But I wish to point out that it makes a somewhat new departure, because up to now, if the Postmaster-General proposed to place wires across the approach to a dwelling house or to erect a post within ten yards of a dwelling house, he could only do so with the consent of the occupier. This Bill would enable the Postmaster-General to put up a post and to carry wires along right in front of a person's window, so long as it was within twenty yards of the public road. That is a very considerable power to give to the Postmaster-General, and I think that when your Lordships are giving a Second Beading to a Bill you ought to be aware of what the effect of it may possibly be.


My Lords, I do not rise to oppose in any way the Second Reading of this Bill, but there is one clause in it to which the noble Earl omitted to call attention, and which, I understand, was put into the Bill during its passage through the other House. I refer to Clause 3, which runs— Notwithstanding the provisions of this Act no telegraphic line shall be constructed on, over, along, or across any land dedicated to the recreation of the public, or any hedge or bank adjoining such land, without the consent of the person in whom such land is vested, or under whose control and management such land for the time being remains. It seems to me that if all the landowners in the country are to be taken to arbitration, it would only be reasonable that those in whom recreation grounds are technically vested should be similarly dealt with. You are just as likely to have persons unreasonably objecting in cases of this kind. As the clause now stands, there is absolute prohibition where the person in whom the recreation ground is vested refuses his consent. The noble Lord referred to the lopping of trees. At the top of page 3 of the Bill there is an expression which is now to me as far as the English language is concerned. The sentence runs— The Postmaster-General shall issue instructions to his officers with a view to ensuring that trees shall be lopped in a husbandlike manner and so as to avoid injury to their growth. I understand the rules of good husbandry and also the proper management of trees, but I do not quite understand the expression "lopped in a husbandlike manner." In these days when ladies are so assertive of their rights, I am not quite sure what this is meant to imply. There may, however, be some authority for this word, but I think that before we give the sanction of Parliament to it it should be examined with care.


My Lords, I am rather anxious to do penance in a white sheet on the matter of the word "husbandlike," to which the noble Lord has alluded. In the course of the proceedings on the Agricultural Holdings Act the noble Marquess opposite, the Leader of the Opposition, introduced an Amendment in which that word was included. I took upon myself to doubt whether it was familiar in Acts of Parliament; but the noble Marquess adduced such strong evidence that it was a word, not merely familiar in the English language, but completely proper to the occasion, that I was entirely convinced, and I am bound to support its retention on this occasion.


My Lords, I do not know that I understood the remarks of Lord Balfour aright, but it seems to me questionable to extend the powers of the Post Office to lands which are dedicated to the recreation of the public. I do not know that such lands come entirely in the same category as lands privately owned. I think there ought to be absolute power to prevent telegraph wires being put across recreation grounds or any interference with the pleasure of the public. I hope, therefore, the noble Lord will not limit the rights of the public in any way.


My Lords, I am glad that Lord Balfour drew my attention to Clause 3, which I had omitted to mention. This clause was introduced in the House of Commons, and it seems to me that some amendment is advisable. I therefore propose, subject to your Lordships' approval, to move, in Committee, to add at the end of the clause the following words— Provided that if such consent is withheld or any condition is attached thereto to which the Postmaster General objects, a difference shall be deemed to have arisen between the Postmaster-General and that person, and Sections 3, 4, and 5 of the Telegraph Act shall apply as if the difference arose under that Act. The effect of that will be to put these public recreation grounds on exactly the same terms as everybody else in the Bill. I do not know whether your Lordships would object to that, but it seems to me to be the proper course to adopt.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday next.