HL Deb 28 May 1924 vol 57 cc701-3

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in rising to move the Second Reading of this Bill I may briefly review the circumstances which have necessitated legislation at this time in connection with the system of telegraphic communications in the British West Indies. The question of improving telegraphic communications with the Lesser Antilles (that is including for this purpose the Colonies of Trinidad, Barbados, Windward and Leeward Islands), and British Guiana has been engaging the attention of the Government of the United Kingdom, of Canada and of the various Colonies concerned for some years. The service to these Colonics is at present provided by the West India and Panama Telegraph Company with whom a ten years' contract was made in 1914, which will expire on September 30 next. I am afraid that without a map it would be quite impossible for me to make clear the precise position of existing cables and the hew cables, and I do not propose to inflict upon your Lordships a long string of names which, without a chart, convey little or nothing for this purpose, although, of course, many of the places concerned have great historical associations. I should, however, say that the existing system of the West India and Panama Telegraph Company passes over foreign territory at least twice before reaching the Lesser Antilles and British Guiana.

The new scheme which the late Government approved—this is really the scheme of the late Government—is embodied in the provisions of the West Indian Telegraph Bill now before your Lordships' House. Under this scheme, new cables will be laid to Barbados, Trinidad, and to British Guiana. A central wireless station will be set up at Barbados, and subsidiary stations will be sec up in the six islands of the Leeward and Windward Islands. The wireless stations will be suitable for ship to shore as well as point to point work. The capital for laying the cables and for setting up the wireless stations is being provided by His Majesty's Government, and the interest and sinking fund on the capital will be a first charge on the revenues of the system. The deficiency on the working of the system, if any, is to be shared between His Majesty's Government, the Government of Canada, and the Governments of the West Indian Colonies concerned, in the same proportions as these Governments agreed to contribute to the West India and Panama Telegraph Company under the 1914 contract. In other words, the share of His Majesty's Government will be 80-263rds of the deficiency, or rather less than one-third. It is proposed that the system, when completed, shall be operated and maintained by the Pacific Cable Board, and it is mainly this proposal which necessitates the Pacific Cable Board Bill, the Second Reading of which I hope to move in your Lordships' House at a later stage in our proceedings to-day

The scheme of the present Bill which I have been outlining has the advantage of being cheaper than the existing arrangements, which cost £26,300 a year to the Governments concerned. It is, however, estimated that the deficit on the working of the proposed system will not exceed £20,000 per annum. I desire to make it quite clear to your Lordships that all the capital authorised by this Bill and other Government expenditure in connection with the scheme is to be spent on the new system which will be entirely under the management and control of the Pacific Cable Board acting as agents.

I will now deal as briefly as possible with the provisions of the Bill itself. Your Lordships will observe that Clause I empowers the Treasury to provide up to £400,000 for defraying the costs of the construction of the cables and wireless stations and for providing the working capital required. As a matter of fact, His Majesty's Government hope that a considerable saving will be effected in the estimated capital cost, since the contracts for the actual cables and wireless telegraph stations have already been placed at £304,816 as against an original estimate of £347,000. The remaining clauses of the Bill are mainly concerned with the precise financial details of these proposals, and I do not think they call for any comment.

I would, before I sit down, desire to impress upon your Lordships that the enactment of this measure is urgently required, as the existing contract with the West India and Panama Telegraph Company expires in September of this year, and thereafter the subsidies now payable will cease. It was the intention of the late Government that this Bill should be introduced into Parliament in the autumn of last year, but it proved impossible to bring the matter before the House of Commons at that time. I have now outlined the provisions of the Bill and the circumstances which have necessitated its introduction, and I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Arnold.)

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