§ MR. HENNIKER HEATON (Canterbury)
I beg to ask the Secretary to the Treasury, as representing the Postmaster General, whether his attention has been called to a letter of the late Postmaster General, Mr. Arnold Morley, to the hon. Member for Canterbury, in which the writer officially laid down the right of the Post Office to take over the telephone system of this country, without conditions in the year 1911; whether he has detailed information as to the enormous development of the National Telephone Company's system and business, of the vast increase in the amount of capital invested therein, and of the claim of the Company to receive ulti- 1342 mately full payment for all such expenditure and investments from the Post Office; whether he is acquainted with the presnt value of the capital invested in the Company's operations; whether he will call for an estimate of the value of such capital in the year 1911; and of the sum which will then be claimed by the Company; and, whether at an early date, he will be able to state (in order to avert misunderstanding and financial trouble) the policy of the Government on the question?
§ MR. HANBURY
I assume that the letter referred to is the one which was published in The Times on 9 July 1894, and which ran as follows:—On the termination of the licence in December 1911, the right of the National Telephone Company to carry on telephone exchange business will cease and determine. All they will have to sell will be their plant, and even this the Government will be under no obligation to buy. Believe me yours very truly, ARNOLD MORLEY.I have nothing to add to this statement. The Postmaster General has seen from time to time the published accounts of the business of the Company, but he is not aware that the Company have made the claim which the hon. Member describes. As Mr. Arnold Motley's letter shows, no such claim could be admitted by the Government. The Postmaster General is not acquainted with the present value of the capital invested in the Company's operations. It would clearly be useless for him to call for an estimate of its value in 1911. I hope to be able at an early date to state the Government's policy on the general question, but I may say at once that the Government has no intention of buying up the Company's business, and will, therefore, give no notice to purchase, which it has the power to do, on or before 30 June 1897.
§ MR. HENNIKER HEATON
I beg to ask the Secretary to the Treasury, as representing the Postmaster General, whether his attention has been called to the increasing dissatisfaction with the telephone service in London, its cost, and the errors and delays by which it is attended; whether the Post Office is making any efforts to supply the public with an independent State service, characterised by greater speed, accuracy, and economy; whether the Post Office authorities have and exercise any power 1343 of compelling the National Telephone Company to improve their service in the above respects; and whether he is prepared to grant licences to companies which may be willing to afford a cheaper and better telephone service?
§ MR. HANBURY
No, Sir; the Postmaster General has no reason to believe that there is an increasing dissatisfaction with the telephone service in London. The Post Office has not attempted to establish a telephone exchange system in London. The power which the Department possesses is that of licensing fresh companies or of competing itself. The question whether licences should be given is one of policy, and, as I have already said, the policy of the Government will be stated at an early date.
§ MR. G. C. T. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
asked whether it was not a fact that the National Telephone Company were unable to supply persons with telephones, and kept them waiting for them sometimes for months?