HC Deb 22 June 1892 vol 5 cc1763-9


Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2.

DR. CLARK (Caithness)

I was only able to put down one Amendment to this clause yesterday, because I had not time to further consider it. There are, however, one or two important points in connection with this clause about which I should like some information. I notice by this second clause that it is the intention of the Government to lend the money out of the Consolidated Fund, whereas the proposal when it came before the Select Committee, of which I was a member, was that the Government should simply guarantee the loan. I believe if the British Columbia Government were to put their bonds for this three per cent. loan upon the market they would stand at par, with the guarantee of the British Government behind them. If that course were pursued the bondholders could only comedown upon the Home Government in case the Government of British Columbia repudiated the debt. But the proposal before the House opens up a very different state of things from that. We are to take the bonds of the Government of British Columbia, and lend them the money out of the Consolidated Fund. Now, we know what has occurred in the past with reference to a number of loans of that description, both as regards the Colonies and various Local Bodies. Unless the thing is a success the British taxpayer has to find the money, and I am a little doubtful about the success of this movement. I think the Government should not have gone further than the scheme as originally drafted by Mr. Begg, simply for commercial purposes, because there is a strong commercial element in this matter. Then I should like an explanation of Sub-section (2). It says the Government of British Columbia— Shall repay every sum advanced by equal half-yearly instalments within twenty years from the date of its advance, and the first of such instalments shall be paid within five years from the date of the advance. Does that mean that for five years they are to have the loan free of interest, or is it merely to be a deferred payment?


With regard to the first question, I would point out that the proposal before the Select Committee was not the guarantee of a loan, as the hon. Member appears to think, but the advance of £150,000 at two and three-quarters per cent. On the second point about which he asks for information, I may say that the Government of British Columbia will pay three per cent. interest during the first five years, such interest being added each year to the capital so as to become compound interest. The Committee will see, therefore, that the British taxpayer will lose nothing in the way of interest.

MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen, S.)

I should like to move, as an Amendment to Clause 2, to leave out in line 27 the words "one-hundred and fifty thousand pounds," and insert "one thousand pounds." That is to say, that the sum to be advanced shall not exceed £1,000, instead of £150,000. I do this in order to enter my protest against what I regard as an odious squandering of public money and a most discreditable association with land adventurers. The proper way to cure the existing state of things in the Highlands is not by spending public money to remove from the country the working portion of the population. If we are to spend public money at all for the purposes of emigration it should be to remove the landlords—the idle and useless part of the population. I must respectfully enter my protest against what is a scandalous abuse of the powers of the Imperial Government in employing money for the purpose of encouraging land schemers and land adventurers in British Columbia to rob Scotland of population which it can ill afford to spare.

THE CHAIRMAN (Mr. J. W. LOWTHER, Cumberland, Penrith)

The Amendment proposed is hardly of a serious character, and it would completely alter the character of the Bill. The proper course for the hon. Member to take would be to object to the second clause, and when I put it to vote against it.


In the past we have always been permitted to move the reduction of any sum proposed by the Treasury. On the Second Reading we affirmed the principle that some sum should be given, and on the Third Reading of the Bill, as we are not allowed to reduce the amount, we will give it a parting kick. If my hon. Friend does not press his Amendment I shall move the one of which I have given notice, namely, that the rate of interest to be charged be three and one-eighth per cent. instead of three per cent. We recently had before the House a scheme for the creation of small holdings, and we then asked the Treasury to lend the necessary money to the County Councils—a body over which we have much more control than we have over a Colonial Government—at three per cent. in order that they might carry out this policy of home colonisation. However, we were told that it was absolutely necessary to charge three and one-eighth per cent. unless we were to make a loss. Either that statement was wrong or the Treasury are proposing to lend this money to the Government of British Columbia at a lower rate than the cost will be. The object of my Amendment, which I now beg to move, is to place the Colony on the same footing as the County Councils.

Amendment proposed, In page 2, line 8, to leave out the word "three," and insert the words "three and one-eighth."—(Dr. Clark.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


If I were convinced by the ingenious argument of the hon. Member I should be unable to accept his Amendment, because the Colony has passed an Act to accept this advance at three per cent. interest, and they would refuse to carry out this scheme of colonisation in British Columbia except under the terms of that Act. With regard to the very ingenious dilemma which he seeks to create, that either this three per cent. to be charged to the Colony is too low or the rate of interest charged to the County Councils is too high, I might point out that this arrangement with British Columbia is the result of negotiations between ourselves and the Legislature of that country. Originally the Colony wished to pay only two and three-quarters per cent., but eventually we arrived at a compromise by which they agreed to pay three per cent. It is useless, therefore, to suppose that the Government of British Columbia will consent to carry out this colonisation scheme unless they can borrow the money at three per cent.

(1.50.) DR. CLARK

I do not think it would be a very serious evil if the Bill were postponed and new negotiations were entered into between the Government of British Columbia and the Treasury. I happen to know the whole history of this from the beginning, because Mr. Begg is one of my constituents, or rather he comes from Caithness. He took up this scheme and formed the company which is to find a market for the fish, and by bringing pressure to bear on the Government of British Columbia got them to countenance the scheme. He is running the undertaking as a commercial speculation for profit to himself, and the moment this money is paid to British Columbia the company will come into active operation. I say there is no need for this loan. There is plenty of room for these Highlanders at home. I will not ask the Government to take my word or the word of any Radical, but I will give them the evidence of the Royal Commission, composed of six gentlemen, five of whom were Conservative landlords who have fifty acres of deer forests. The evidence given to the Commission will prove that there is no need for this Bill. All that is wanted is to place the people where they ought to be, and then there would be no congestion whatever. I do not know whether that evidence will convince the Government, but it would convince any unbiassed person that there is not congestion there of the kind that exists in the East End of London and in the large manufacturing towns. It is an artificial congestion; and if the Treasury are going to lend the money to the Colonies to relieve congestion of this kind, they might easily lend one hundred and fifty millions. Again, I question whether we ought to permit the Treasury to lend money to the Colonies at a lower rate than it advances money to our own County Councils. I think we ought rather to increase it. And I must point out to the Government that at the present moment British Columbia cannot raise money at less than four per cent. I hold their bonds at that price, and if they go into the open market they cannot get money for less. With the figures in the Bill if the money were borrowed it would be below par, at ninety-six or ninety-seven probably, and there would be a certain amount of risk. The undertaking, as I have said, is purely commercial; there is nothing philanthropic in it, and I do not see why such terms should be given.


The hon. Member is following out the line he took on the Committee some time ago, but he did not divide the Committee against this scheme for British Columbia. He did oppose the principle, and he divided the Committee on the proposed extension of the experiment to Manitoba, and he stood alone. The hon. Member complained at the time of the way in which the Government were treating these Highlanders in preferring emigration to migration, and I admit that he is now only following out the action he then took. No one can quarrel with that, but I should like to point out that the large majority of the Committee approved of the scheme. The question of the percentage seems to me to be a matter between the two Governments, and one in which the Committee need not interfere. With respect to the suggestion that British Columbia might repudiate its liabilities and obligations under this loan, I think it should not have been made, and I am sure this House will give no encouragement to the supposition. No British colony has ever yet failed in its obligations. This colony is one of immense resources, and its statesmen have shown a prudence and ability which are not at all likely to lead to the evil example of repudiation.

(1.56.) DR. CLARK

I was not speaking of any fear of British Columbia repudiating the liability, but the right hon. Gentleman must know that there are several cases in which loans have been made to Crown Colonies, and even to self-governing Colonies, and the money has not been repaid to the Treasury. The same thing has occurred locally, and there seems to be an idea that when money is borrowed from the Treasury for a special purpose and the experiment is not a success, the Treasury must bear the brunt. That argument has been use in several cases. I frankly admit that on the Committee several years ago to which the right hon. Gentleman (Sir James Fergusson) has referred, I did not object to this particular scheme, because the Government were determined to have some kind of emigration experiment, and they voted £30,000 for it. The experiment was a failure because of the bad way in which it was carried out, but I think the present experiment has a far greater chance of success. I shall watch the experiment with interest, and it is because I believe it has greater chances of success that I do not oppose it so strongly. But I do oppose it in the interest of the taxpayer, and also because these people, whose emigration is to be provided for, could under just and reasonable conditions be quite as happy at home.

Question put.

(2.0.) The House divided:—Ayes 9; Noes 40.—(Div. List, No. 195.)

Bill reported, without Amendment; to be read the third time To-morrow.