§ MR. SCOTT
said, he would beg to inquire of Her Majesty's Government the date of the treaty whereby the Imaum of Muscat ceded to Her Majesty the group of Kuria Muria Islands, valuable for their deposit of guano, and whether there was any objection to lay the treaty on the table of the House? The amount of guano on the islands in question had been estimated at no less than from 1,000,000 to 2,000,000 tons, which at the present price would be of the value of £24,000,000 sterling. The question was, therefore, one of the highest possible importance to all persons connected with agriculture, the more especially as it had been stated that the lease of the island, with the sole privilege of trading in guano had been given by the Government to Captain Ord and other private persons; he wished to know whether that statement was true, and also whether there had not been a collision with the natives of those islands, and that Captain Ord and his party had been driven off.
§ LORD NAAS
said, that he had also given notice of a question upon the subject. He wished to ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies, under what authority the Emigration Commissioners had granted to Captain Ord and others the exclusive right of raising and exporting guano from the islands of the Kuria Muria group; and, whether the opinion of the law officers of the Crown had been taken as to the power of the Commissioners to grant such a licence?
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, in answer to the question of the hon. Member for Berwickshire, he had to state that there was no treaty with the Imnum of Muscat, but that there had been an instrument of cession with reference to the Kuria Muria Islands, which was dated the 14th of July, 1854, and which he had no objection to lay upon the table of the House. In answer to the question put by the noble Lord (Lord Naas), he had to state that the Emigration Commissioners had only acted as the agents of the Colonial Office. Two of those Commissioners were lawyers of distinction and eminence, and it had always been the habit of the Colonial Office to employ them as its agents. It was undoubtedly true that the Colonial Office had given a licence of exclusive trading with the islands, and exclusive property in the guano, for a limited period of years, to certain individuals, and had not thought it necessary to consult the law officers of the Crown in reference to its power in the matter, because they apprehended that it rested upon the ancient and undoubted prerogative of the Crown. As a proof of the propriety of the proceedings, he might also state that the noble Lord and his friends, when in office, acted upon precisely the same principles with regard to certain islands supposed to contain guano, on the coast of Australia, and proposed to give certain individuals an exclusive licence for a period of six years to export from them; that proceeding, however, did not come to a conclusion. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Scott) had referred to the apprehensions which existed, if certain parties should have a monopoly of guano from these islands, and that if there should be a very large quantity guano, the public would not benefit to the extent which they had a right to expect. He thought any apprehensions on that score might easily be dispelled, because, in the first place, when the persons in question applied to Lord Clarendon for an exclusive licence, they offered voluntarily to submit to a condition that the whole of the guano should be publicly sold in open market by a broker at Liverpool, either in large quantities or in small lots to suit the convenience of purchasers, so as to provide against any monopoly. That circumstance, coupled with the short period of the lease, would assuredly secure to the public that the guano should be imported in large quantities. But in addition to that, a letter had been received from the persons holding the licence in 1059 which they had offered to allow any others to resort to the islands in question, to obtain guano therefrom on the stipulated payment of a royalty of £2 per ton.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, he answered that question a few nights ago. They were disturbed and driven off, and the hope now is, that protection may be afforded them from Bombay.