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Oversea Wireless Telephony

Volume 235: debated on Wednesday 26 February 1930

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asked the Postmaster-General whether any decision has been reached as to the control of Imperial wireless telephony, and whether it is intended to use the Beam stations?

Yes, Sir. The Government have reached a decision—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]

On a point of Order. I want to know whether it is in order for Members on the other side to wave their papers over their heads, and, if so, are we entitled to wave the Red Flag?

With the permission of the House, I will state the main reasons in support of the Government's decision.

Under the late Government the Beam wireless system for Oversea Telegraphy was leased to the Imperial and International Communications Company under conditions and circumstances which are well known. The late Government, however, in conformity with the recommendation of the Imperial Wireless and Cable Conference, reserved to the Post Office the control of Oversea Telephony and deliberately refrained from committing themselves on the question whether they would or would not use the Company's stations for this purpose.

In August last I received a letter from the Communications Company urging that the Government should now decide to work Oversea Telephony through the Company's stations beginning with four services to Canada, Australia, South Africa and India. This was one alternative. The other was to concentrate all their - wireless telephone services at the Government station at Rugby which has for three years worked the service to the United States on a commercial basis. In deciding between these two alternatives there were two main issues. Firstly, which of the two systems would provide the most efficient service, and, secondly, which would be the more economical. As the first question involved highly technical considerations, the Government decided to consult two independent experts of acknowledged repute who have no connection with the Post Office, Professor G. W. Howe, Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Glasgow, and Dr. F. E. Smith, Secretary of the Royal Society of the Department of Scientific Research. They reported that apart from future developments both systems are probably equally capable of providing satisfactory telephonic communication between two points for a, given number of hours a day, and that, as regards future development, the Rugby system was the more elastic and therefore in this respect offered decided advantages.

The second main issue is the financial comparison between the two systems. Concentration at Rugby admits of economies in many directions, and, in particular, in the land-line connections to the London Trunk Exchange. A wireless service requires costly land-line connections between the London Trunk Exchange and the wireless stations. By grouping of services at one centre, such as Rugby, a smaller number of lines will suffice and the distance of Rugby and Baldock from London is much less than the distance of the beam stations at Bodmin, Bridgwater, Grimsby and Skegness. The result is that to work the four services to India and the Dominions through the beam stations would need 4,190 miles of high-grade telephone circuit, while to work them through Rugby and Baldock only 786 miles would be required.

The minimum rental asked by the company for the use of the beam telegraph stations for the telephone services in question is (excluding a cheaper scheme which is open to objection on other grounds) £40,000 to £45,000 per annum, according to the type of equipment employed, plus a royalty of 10 per cent. on the gross receipts in excess of a certain figure. A detailed estimate of the cost of working the same services from Rugby shows a saving on the above figures of £17,000 per annum and £22,000 per annum, respectively, which would be increased when the royalty commenced to operate.

The Government has had to weigh the pros and cons of a number of other questions which cannot be compressed into a Parliamentary answer. As a result of their consideration of all the issues they have decided upon a policy of conducting oversea wireless telephony by concentration at the Post Office station at Rugby with its receiving station at Baldock.

That answer, of course, is one of very great interest and importance and very great technicality. I gathered from the cheers that it received on the other side that they understand much more about these matters than I do. It is a matter, obviously, which must be discussed in the House, and I have no doubt the Post- master-General would welcome the opportunity of making a much longer and more detailed explanation on a matter which interests a great number of Members. I therefore rise for the purpose of saying that I hope the Government will give an opportunity later for a full discussion.

I desire to ask my hon. Friend if he can say why communications revealing the evidence before a Cabinet Committee on this matter appeared in the Press on the 31st January.

There have been these communications, and I can tell the House all I know about the subject. There was a Cabinet Committee appointed to go into this question, and the Communications Company was invited to give its views before that committee, and attended two meetings for that purpose. I assume that the meet-tings of the committee were private, but it is the case that, before the committee had finished its sittings, there were communications to the Press, putting part of the evidence and the views that had been placed before the Cabinet Committee, and there was a series of articles on the subject. I think it is for Members themselves to decide the propriety of communications of this sort, but I would express my own view that I think it is unfortunate that, when financial proposals are before the Government, before the Government have decided, there should be a Press campaign to try to compel a certain decision. None of these communications certainly came from the Post Office.

Will the hon. Gentleman tell us whether it is the intention of the Government to enter into partnership with any American or foreign company with regard to these oversea communications, as, for example, with Egypt; and, if so, does he propose to ride roughshod over recommendation No. 8 of the Imperial Wireless Conference Report?

There is certainly no intention to override Recommendation No. 8 of the Imperial Conference Report, which I may say, as far as I recollect, merely laid it down that the Government should have the right, if it wished, to use the beam stations, but imposed no obligation upon it. We do not intend to enter into any connection or partnership with American or foreign companies, although, of course, the House will understand that at the other end of the service, which, of course, is in foreign countries, we are bound to make some arrangement.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that at the other end of the service the wireless and cable organisation can give good service, and is he aware that Recommendation No. 8 of that Report said that it would be deplorable if His Majesty's Government did not use these British communications for the purpose of wireless telephony?

The first answer is that Recommendation No. 8 did not deal with that subject at all. The second answer is that the Government cannot at the moment say with what companies it is going to act in foreign countries. It has to consider which companies will give it access to the greatest number of subscribers and which companies have concessions. Certainly, the Government will do all it can to support British interests.

I think what has passed shows the House clearly that it is necessary that this matter should be dis-

Division No. 185.]

AYES.

[4.0 p.m.

Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)Bondfield, Rt. Hon. MargaretCocks, Frederick Seymour.
Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)Bowen, J. W.Compton, Joseph
Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. ChristopherBowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.Cove, William G.
Aitchison, Rt. Hon. Craigle M.Brockway, A. FennerDaggar, George
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (Hillsbro')Bromfield, WilliamDallas, George
Alpass, J. H.Bromley, J.Dalton, Hugh
Ammon, Charles GeorgeBrooke, W.Davies, E. C. (Montgomery)
Angell, NormanBrothers, M.Day, Harry
Arnott, JohnBrown, C. W. E. (Notts, Mansfield)Denman, Hon. R. D.
Aske, Sir RobertBrown, Ernest (Leith)Devlin, Joseph
Attlee, Clement RichardBrown, James (Ayr and Bute)Dudgeon, Major C. R.
Ayles, WalterBuchanan, G.Duncan, Charles
Baker, John (Wolverhampton, Bilston)Burgess, F. G.Ede, James Chuter
Baldwin, Oliver (Dudley)Burgin, Dr. E. L.Edmunds, J. E.
Barnes, Alfred JohnBuxton, C. R. (Yorks. W. R. Elland)Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)
Batey, JosephBuxton, Rt. Hon. Noel (Norfolk, N.)Edwards, E. (Morpeth)
Beckett, John (Camberwell, Peckham)Cameron, A. G.Egan, W. H.
Bellamy, AlbertCape, ThomasElmley, Viscount
Benn, Rt. Hon. WedgwoodCarter, W. (St. Pancras, S. W.)Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.)
Bennett, Captain E. N. (Cardiff, Central)Charleton, H. C.Foot, Isaac
Bennett, William (Battersea, South)Chater, DanielForgan, Dr. Robert
Benson, G.Church, Major A. G.Freeman, Peter
Bentham, Dr. EthelClarke, J. S.Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton)
Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)Cluse, W. S.George, Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd (Car'vn)
Blindell, JamesClynes, Rt. Hon. John R.George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)

cussed. It is impossible for the Postmaster-General to deal with the matter as he would desire, and it is impossible for anyone in the House to ask such questions as they would desire. May I have an assurance from the Government—perhaps the Foreign Secretary can give it—that some definite time will be arranged for discussion of this matter?

I will certainly make representations to the Leader of the House in the sense indicated by the right bon. Gentleman.