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West India And Panama Telegraph Company, Limited

Volume 66: debated on Wednesday 26 August 1914

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I beg to move, "That the Agreement, dated the 10th day of August, 1914, between His Majesty's Government, the Government of the Dominion of Canada, the Crown Agents for the Colonies, and the West India and Panama Telegraph Company, Limited, for the reduction of rates in respect of telegrams passing over the company's system, be approved."

The right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) protested a little time ago against any business that was not emergency business being proceeded with. I am quite sure that he will not oppose this business which has nothing to do with the War, but is the ordinary business concerning the Empire. Upon that sort of business I think we ought to adopt as our principle a motto, which is put up widely for businesses outside, "Business as usual." I hope a little explanation will be given of the Resolution, because there are a good many points which arise. I want first of all to ask what the previous amount of the subsidy was which was given by the Imperial Government and the Colonial Governments respectively. That is not stated, and I want to know whether it has been reduced or increased. Another point which is very material to the consideration of the Resolution is this: What has been the average gross income of the company during the past five years? A very large amount of reduction of rates has been brought about under the subsidy. If the gross income ever reaches £74,000, and if in any year after the fourth year it reaches £126,000, further large reductions in the rates paid for cablegrams will be due. We ought to know what prospect there is of those reductions being brought about, especially as affecting the public. I should like to know whether the company—I know it has had very great ups and downs, years of prosperity and cycles of comparative loss—has ever hitherto come up to £126,000 in one year? If so there ought to be a prospect, especially in connection with the opening of the Panama Canal, of an increase of income, and a consequent reduction of the rates for cablegrams.

There are one or two further points I should like to see gone into. One is that in Clause 6 of the agreement there are provisions for deferred or delayed cablegrams at reduced rates. Will that be worked in connection with week-end telegrams that have been so very welcome and so much used by private persons for family matters in the Colonies? I see the representative of the Post Office on the Treasury Bench, and I hope he will enlighten us on that point. One further point. In connection with Clause 10 of the agreement daily news bulletins are to be issued free of charge to the Colonies. I am quite sure that at a time like this news from the centre of the Empire ought to be extended freely, and so far as concerns people in all parts of the Empire, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to assure us that there will be, comparatively speaking, no restriction upon the daily bulletins that will be sent to the Colonies. Incidentally, in that connection, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will inform us whether this system of news bulletins to the Colonies on public matters will have operation in regard to other parts of the Empire. In conclusion, I should like to congratulate the Treasury upon being able to bring forward an agreement of this kind, and I will point out to the House what very large reductions are being made. The rate to British Guiana at present is 5s. 6d. a word, and the British public and Government in future is only to pay 2s. 6d.; another rate of 4s. 1d. per word is in future to be only 1s. 6d. I am sure that this sort of reduction on behalf of the various centres of the Empire is greatly to be welcomed, especially by the House, at this time.

This is not war business, but simply a case where the House is asked before the Session comes to a close to ratify an agreement entered into with our Colonies, largely at their request, to facilitate cheap and rapid telegraphic communication with the West Indies. The hon. Member has asked what are the subsidies at the present moment. We have paid two subsidies, one of £8,100 and the other of £8,000 a year. The first subsidy has already expired and the second one comes to an end in 1918. The liability under the new subsidy is £8,000. As to the other questions asked by the hon. Gentleman, they should be addressed to the Post Office rather than to the Financial Secretary.

Resolved, "That the Agreement, dated the 10th day of August, 1914, between His Majesty's Government, the Government of the Dominion of Canada, the Crown Agents for the Colonies, and the West India and Panama Telegraph Company, Limited, for the reduction of rates in respect of telegrams passing over the company's system, be approved."