The said agreement is hereby confirmed and made binding and shall be carried into effect accordingly, and the tube and the subterranean space bounded by the outer part of the tube and all such right to and powers of the company in relation thereto as the Postmaster-General may require in accordance with the terms of the said agreement shall on the payment of the balance of the purchase money, by virtue of this Act, vest in the Postmaster-General.
I rise to ask the Postmaster-General one or two questions about this Bill. The House is indebted to the right hon. Gentleman in the first place for reverting to the practice of publishing a memorandum explanatory of the Bill. That memorandum, however, gives but very meagre information. If one read it, and did not read carefully also the Schedules of the Bill, one would be led to understand that for an outlay of £7,500 the country was being saved an expenditure of £40,000. This is not exactly a gift horse. Therefore, we are entitled, if not to look at it in the mouth, at least to give it a cursory glance.
Reading the contract, which is the Schedule to the Bill, one or two very interesting questions arise. It is a contract for the acquisition of a tube for use by the Post Office for a sum of £7,500. I would call attention to a recital in the contract. It reads as follows
Whereas the company has not for many years past worked the tube and the same is not now in working order, and divers persons, companies and local authorities have. without the leave and licence of the company, made breaches from time to time in the tube as originally constructed. Some of which breaches are indicated by breaks in the red lines on the said plan, and have placed tunnels, sewers, drains, and other things in such breaches, and have placed electric lines and other things in parts of the tube…
From that it seems clear that the Post Office is purchasing a derelict tube. I have no doubt the matter has been very carefully considered by the Post Office engineers and others, and that a very careful survey has been made, and I am the last person in the world to accuse the Post Office of making bad contracts on behalf of the public. But this is a matter which ought to be cleared up. We ought to be told what is the estimated cost of placing this tube in working order. Further questions arise, because it appears that the tube is being broken into. Apparently there have been many trespasses upon it, and in the first clauses of the contract it will be seen that the Post Office is not even purchasing the rights of the vendor company against those persons who have committed the trespasses. Apparently the Government are left without any remedy with regard to the breaches, and the question I put to the Postmaster-General is, how are they going to proceed to make the tube workable and usable, if they have not got these rights in respect of trespasses already committed? Paragraph 4 of the First Schedule provides that
The tube having as aforesaid been broken into and things having been placed therein as aforesaid it is old to the Postmaster-General in its existing state and subject to any obstructions existing therein and to all rights (if any) of the persons companies or local authorities making such breaches or placing such things as aforesaid.
That Clause contemplates what is probably the fact, that people have already acquired by prescription certain rights as against the original owners of the tube,
because, be it observed, the vendor company was formed in 1853, and is operating under Acts of Parliament dated, respectively, 1859, 1864, and 1872, so if people have at random been making breaches in this tube ever since 1872, prescriptive rights have probably arisen. Can the Postmaster - General clear up these various points and assure the Committee he is making a good bargain and not buying what appears on the face of it to be A pig in a poke?
I hope to be able to satisfy my hon. Friend and the Committee regarding the points which have been raised. I am afraid my hon. Friend had not the advantage of hearing the previous discussions which took place on this Bill, when all these points were dealt with. This tube is one which has been lying derelict for 40 or 50 years, and it is a fact that the Borough Councils of St. Pancras and Holborn and also the London County Council have made incursions into certain parts of it. But those incursions have not been, so to say, lateral; they have been in the other direction, so that the portions of the tube interfered with by those incursions is extremely limited, and they will be got over by the Post Office engineers by a diversion which I am advised will be inexpensive and will in no way interfere with the telegraph and telephone lines which will be laid. All these points have been carefully considered by our own engineers after discussions with engineers representing the local councils who may be regarded as the traspassers on the tube. The point on which the Committee desires to be satisfied is that the Post Office has got a bargain and the advice given to me by the competent engineers is that if instead of being able to use this tube for carrying our wires, we had to open up the streets and lay new ducts in which to place the wires, it would cost between £50,000 and £70,000. We are now getting a tube which, over the greater part of its length has not been in any way interfered with., and is still sound, for £7,500, and we are carrying out the work without the intolerable nuisance of opening the streets. We ought to be grateful to the Holborn Borough Council who first suggested we should make use of this derelict tube. With that explanation J hope the Committee will give me the Bill.