HC Deb 26 August 1889 vol 340 cc562-70

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


I rise to bring the attention of the House to a Charter which is proposed to be granted giving to certain individuals full rights, only stopping short of Sovereignty, over an immense district of South Africa. The first notice the public were given in this case was in the London Gazette of the 26th July. It is a very brief notice, occupying only 12 lines, intimating the fact that the Charter is to be granted to the Duke of Abercorn, the Duke of Fife, and other persons, and inviting everyone having petitions to make against it to lodge those petitions in due form with the Privy Council. Fortunately for the country at large I happened to have some personal interest in this matter, otherwise the transaction would never have been heard of. [Laughter.] No doubt some hon. Members agree with the hon. Member for Preston in thinking that the matter should not be brought before the House, but it seems to me that the House should be very much obliged to a Member possessing intimate personal knowledge of the subject for rising to give it the benefit of that knowledge. I believe I am the only man in the House who has travelled in that country, and it was my fortune—or misfortune—to go all over it 20 years ago. It is some 800 miles in length and 400 miles broad—an enormous tract of country to place under the control of a private syndicate. Through the courtesy of the officials I have obtained a copy of the Charter, and from this document I find that the whole of the territory is to be made over to seven individuals. The whole of this valuable and rich country is given over with an unlimited power of extension to the North and West, to a syndicate for the purposes of their individual profit.


I have stated, in answer to two questions to-day, that that is not the fact.


I am quoting from the Charter. There is no limit under the Charter. I know the Under Secretary has stated, in answer to a question to-day, that all this is to be altered; but if that is the case, why does he not concede the request made to him that this concession should not take effect until Parliament meets next Session? I put it to him is this not a hole-and-corner affair altogether? I questioned the First Lord of the Treasury on the subject yesterday, and he declared that he knew nothing about it, and quite laughed at the idea of the concession extending many hundreds of miles. And yet we have it here in print that that is the case. If the Under Secretary is going to alter all this and is quite prepared to bring forward a good proposal, why is he unwilling to put it off until next Session so that the House may see it and consider its details before it passes into law? Is the Under Secretary ashamed of the proposed Charter being seen and scrutinised? The argument of the Under Secretary is that we must have the Charter here before we can consider it; but, in reply to that, I must point out that when the Charter is presented to us, it will be signed, sealed, and delivered, and will have all the force of an Act of Parliament. As I said before, the Charter does not limit the extent of territory taken over; it gives the Secretary of State for the time being power to make rules to guide the company in its course of action, and those who are aggrieved will have no power of appeal. Then the company are to establish and maintain a force of police, and they will have complete control over the population, including the power of life and death. The Under Secretary pooh-poohs this idea; but his attitude is very much like that of the man who, being in the stocks, says to the officer who placed him there, "But you can't put me there." The company are not to set up or grant any monopoly of trade; but they are to be allowed to grant concessions for banks, railways, tramways, telegraphs, docks, waterworks, and stores. What is that but a monopoly of trade; stores everywhere in the Colonies—mean shops? On page 8 of the Charter it is provided that the company shall appoint all necessary officers and perform such duties and provide such Courts as may be necessary from time to time for the administration of justice. The fact is, this Charter will give to a syndicate of private adventurers as much power as the old East India Company possessed. The defence for the concession is that it will be of great good to the natives. That, however, is really a secondary affair as far as the syndicate is concerned. The great good will really be in regard to the pockets of the members of the syndicate. The whole pith of the Charter is, really to confer all these powers on one person—Mr. Cecil Rhodes. On page 12 of the Charter I find a declaration that it is to be acknowledged by the Government and by all British naval and military officers and Consuls. This means that the company will have a right to declare war upon native tribes, and to call in to their aid any of Her Majesty's forces. I do not think that any naval or military officer, having this Paper put into his hands, and being asked for assistance, could refuse to give it. What will be the consequence? We shall be involved in some native war which will cost us half-a-dozen millions' sterling before we have done with it. The Charter is to be most favourably construed and adjudged to the best advantage—not of the native tribes, but of the company. If this is such a splendid thing as it is said to be, why did not Her Majesty's Government give notice of it, and allow us to discuss it in Committee of the Whole House upon the Vote for South Africa? Why do they want to grant this Charter at a time when nobody is in London and when Parliament is not sitting? When we meet next February, we shall be told that we have lost the opportunity of opposing the scheme. I think this is the most monstrous concession to private individuals that Parliament ever heard of. Even when people asked for copies of the Charter they were refused because it was said it was not usual to give them. Yet it is advertised in the London Gazette that we were to petition for or against it. This is one of the grossest jobs that ever came before the House. The territory referred to in the Charter is not less than France, Belgium, and Holland put together, and it is to be given away to a syndicate of seven persons, who are to do pretty well what they please if they can obtain the permission of the Secretary of State. I beg to move the Amendment which stands in my name.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words— This House is unwilling to pass a Bill which places Her Majesty's Ministers beyond the control of Parliament for some months without an assurance that they will not advise Her Majesty to grant a Charter for great territories in South Africa to a syndicate of private persons before Parliament reassembles.—(Sir John Swinburne.)

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

SIR G. CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy, &c.)

I desire to second the Amendment. I have no private interest in this matter, but I have a very great public interest in it, and I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for having ferreted out the facts. No one would have had the least idea of what was going on if there had not been some hon. Members who were personally interested in the question. I agree with my hon. Friend in thinking this a most objectionable concession. It is one of the old class of concessions obtained by speculators who get up companies, and, on plausible and philanthropic grounds, get a number of Dukes and other great people to act as decoys. It is a speculator who is at the bottom of this concession. It is not only a filibustering concession, but is in the most approved form of such concessions. Power is taken to delegate rights to other companies, and I have no doubt that under this Charter very large concessions will be made to sub-companies. I think it is a most objectionable thing that an enormous concession of this kind, involving half a continent, should be granted in darkness and secrecy and without the knowledge and consent of Parliament. It is one of those things which would have been almost incredible some few years ago. I know that men of great knowledge of this House and great administrative knowledge have expressed astonishment that it is possible to do these things in this way. Everybody believed that in such a matter the Grown was the representative of the people and that it could not make such concessions without the consent of Parliament. It was, therefore, indeed an astonishment when it was discovered that lawyers had found some technical ground under which the Crown, advised by its Ministers, could do these things without the consent of Parliament. But there was a still more astounding claim put forward by the First Lord of the Treasury the other night, when he said, in reply to a question I put to him, that the Government could not interfere with the prerogative of the Crown in this matter. A similar claim was formerly put forward by the Crown with regard to the alienation of Crown property, but Parliament interfered and put a stop to that kind of thing. Are we to believe that in these days it is in the power of the Crown, as a matter of personal prerogative, to give away great continents? It seems to me that this is a most dangerous and unconstitutional doctrine, and one which Parliament will never per- mit to be established in this country. By a grant of this kind the power of Parliament over the proceedings of the Crown in regard to territory is entirely evaded. Such a grant is still more objectionable just when Parliament is about to separate, and when for months there will be no opportunity of even asking a question. I believe that some months ago there were grave rumours that some great territorial company was to be got up, but there has not been the smallest intimation for some time in the Press or elsewhere that anything of the kind was going on. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) has said that in these days we cannot submit to such things as were done in the days of the Stuarts. Are we, at this latter end of the Nineteenth Century, to submit to the Crown alienating great African territories, larger and more important than those of the Hudson's Bay Company? It is only because the matter has not been discovered until a time when 19-20ths of the Members of the House of Commons have left London that it is possible for the Government to carry out their scheme. I thought we should have been informed that the matter had not been settled, but to my surprise we were told to-day that the Government had determined to grant a Charter. It may be that the terms of the Charter will be modified, but Parliament at all events will not have the opportunity of saying a word or asking a question about it.


I confess I was somewhat astonished to hear the hon. Member for Staffordshire lay stress upon this Charter as for the benefit of individuals and as having come upon him by surprise. If there is any hon. Member who should not have used such an argument it is the hon. Member himself, for I have in my hand a copy of a letter addressed by the hon. Baronet to the Privy Council relative to the Charter which he has declared to the House is a hole and corner affair of which nobody has had any cognisance. On the 17th August, the date of the letter, he was perfectly well aware that the Charter was advertised in the London Gazette on July 23rd.


. I had not a copy of the Charter then, and I did not see a copy of the advertisement until weeks after it was published.


Well, I think the fact disposes of the statement about it being a hole and corner affair. The matter having come to his knowledge, the hon. Member wrote to the Privy Council petitioning against the granting of the Charter in the form requested by the applicants, because they did not recognise his rights of property under the rule of King Lobengula—[Sir J. SWINBURNE: Hear, hear]—in the dominions concerned, and because such a Charter would be injurious to his rights. [Sir J. SWINBURNE: Hear, hear.] After having written this letter the hon. Member poses as opposing the Charter on purely Imperial grounds. Did he protest on that ground to the Privy Council or was his protest purely based upon the assumption that the Charter, if granted, would interfere with an alleged concession of his? He now asks the Government to depart from the practice observed by all preceding Administrations—viz., of granting Charters without submitting them to Parliament—not on the ground that any Imperial interest would be imperilled by such action, but because they did not recognise his rights of property under the rule of King Lobengula. I believe that the concessions which the hon. Member thinks he possesses lapsed some eight years ago.


I have certain properties in different parts of the country. That assertion is only true in relation to one of my properties. If I had not had various others I should have known nothing of the matter. *BARON H. DE WORMS: The hon. Baronet's remark proves, therefore, that his opposition is founded on personal rather than on Imperial interests.


No, not at all.


I do not think the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy could have been aware, when he spoke of the charter as a "hole-and-corner" affair, that it was advertised in the Gazette on the 26th of July, and that it was intimated that the Charter was lying at the Privy Council Office, where claims or petitions against the Charter could be lodged. The hon. Member has often declaimed against any advance being made by Her Majesty's Government, any Protectorate being exercised, or any sphere of influence being proclaimed: and the object of the Government in granting this Charter is exactly to avoid what the hon. Gentleman dislikes so much. We wish to spread the influence of civilisation to the barbarous districts of Africa without assuming the great responsibilities which attach to an extension of Protectorate. Her Majesty's Government reserve the fullest power of control over the proceedings of the company, and it is of the greatest importance that the proceedings of British subjects in South Africa should be strictly regulated. By means of the Charter the native Chiefs of the territories in question will no longer be exposed to the unfortunate consequences of the bad bargains which they have made at different periods: the country will be opened up, and the control will remain just as before. Under these circumstances Her Majesty's Government do not intend to depart from the course always adopted in these matters, and I must therefore decline to postpone the grant of the Charter.

MR. GILL (Louth, S.)

The proceedings of the Government in reference to the Charter are in marked contrast to their proceedings in connection with the Western Australia Bill. In the latter case, although all the Australian Colonies petitioned for the passing of the Bill in the present Session, the Government have made no effort; but in the former case they are rushing through a concession for a private company.

SIR R. FOWLER (London)

We must all feel that it is desirable to develop the resources of the country, and the directors of the company are substantial and well-known men, two of whom, the Duke of Abercorn and Mr. Grey, were well known in former Parliaments. I should have been glad if the Government had been able to see their way to exerting a more direct influence over their territories by appointing a Commissioner; but under the circumstances I think that they have done wisely in granting the Charter.

MR. HALLBY STEWART (Lincolnshire, Spalding)

It is a monstrous doctrine the right hon. Gentleman has laid down that, because a Member of the House has some private interest concerned in a public question, then he must not presume to debate that question on public grounds. There is a great deal too much bandying about of motives. We can come to a conclusion on these matters on public grounds, and there is no need to cast aspersions on each other's motives. As to the Motion before us, I have only to say that I am strongly opposed to the Old World notion of the granting of these monopolies by the Crown, and I thought we had outgrown these ideas. Such cases should be remitted to the House of Commons for consideration. I shall support my hon. Friend.

SIR GEORGE BADEN-POWELL (Liverpool, Kirkdale)

I quite agree with this method of introducing civilisation into Africa. It will do a great deal to open up this part of South Africa. The Protectorate over this territory was declared by the late Prime Minister in January, 1885, without consulting Parliament, and I doubt if many Members knew of the proclamation at the time. Undoubtedly, I think the Charter will be a great advantage to the cause of civilisation.


I wish to say that the question in relation to Irish education, which I expressed my intention of raising on the Appropriation Bill, I shall reserve for the stage of Third Reading.

The House divided:—Ayes 70; Noes 20.—(Div. List, No. 348.)

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for to-morrow.