HC Deb 23 August 1894 vol 29 cc374-8
MR. LAWRENCE (Liverpool, Abercromby)

I beg to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, in view of his statement a short time ago to the effect that the delay in settling terms of compensation with the British East Africa Company has been due to the difference between the Government and the Company as to what the amount should be, he will state what terms have been proposed by Her Majesty's Government and declined by the Company; whether the Government gave any opinion on the terms offered by the Company on 23rd June, 1893, and withdrawn 8th May, 1894; and, if no opinion has been expressed by Government on this proposal, then on what proposal has the difference of opinion arisen which has been alleged by him in the House; and whether Government have any proposals to make to the Company, and by whom the amount of compensation is to be finally determined?


No definite offer has been made to the Company, because it is understood from their proposals that their views and those of Her Majesty's Government differ too widely as to the value of their interest in the chartered territory. As far as Her Majesty's Government and the Sultan of Zanzibar are concerned, there is no reason why negotiations with regard to the sale of the concession should not proceed at once. If the terms of a settlement cannot be arranged between the Government and the Company it will become necessary to consider what is the present position of the Company with reference to its Charter and the duties which that Charter involved.

MR. A. C. MORTON (Peterborough)

May I ask whether the hon. Member will tell the House the amount which the Company claim as compensation?


I believe that the amount in the first offer was £300,000, but I am speaking from memory.


Have the Government ever intimated to the Company that they thought that demand excessive?


I understood that the Company were certainly aware that the Government were not prepared to accept that offer. That the Government thought the demand too large was clear from the fact that they did not accept it.

SIR W. LAWSON (Cumberland, Cockermouth)

Will the Under Secretary give an undertaking that, before any money is paid as compensation, the matter will be brought before the House?


Are we quite to understand that if the Government pay any money, they will get an adequate return for it to the benefit of the public.


Have the Company any legal or moral claim against the Government?


According to constitutional practice, business of this kind between the Government and a Company must be transacted on the responsibility of the Government itself?

SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT (Sheffield, Ecclesall)

Is it not a fact that the Company have done a great deal to advance the political and commercial interests of this country in East Africa?


I understood my hon. Friend to say that any decision as to the payment of money to the Company must be taken on the responsibility of the Government. I suppose that the decision of the Government will require ratification by this House before the money is actually paid?


The House, of course, can either approve or disapprove of any action taken by the Government; but I cannot give an undertaking that the Government will consult the House before taking a decision on their own responsibility.


The hon. Gentleman has not answered my question whether the Company have any legal or moral claim against the Government.


Is it true that two learned gentlemen, Members of this House, have advised the Company that they have a claim against the Sultan of Zanzibar, and is that claim affected by any action taken by the Government?

MR. CREMER (Shoreditch, Haggerston)

What is the nature of the claim that has been made?


In answer to the hon. Member for Peterborough, I have to say that there is a dispute between the Government and the Company at the present moment. That they have some claim is evident, because they have a valuable commercial concession from the Sultan of Zanzibar. They have some claim on that account. In reply to the question whether the matter will ultimately come before the House, I may remind hon. Members that, if the Government made any payment to the Company, they must afterwards ask the House for a Vote in respect of such payment. I cannot promise that the Government will consult the House beforehand.


That is a point on which I desire to press the hon. Baronet. I wish to ask whether, considering the peculiar circumstances of the case, and the strong feeling in some quarters of the House of Commons against any payment of money to the Company, my hon. Friend will follow the precedent which has been set in some cases and enter into a conditional agreement only with the Company, that agreement to be subject to ratification by the House?


The hon. Baronet has not told me the exact nature of the claim which the Company has against the Government. I understood the hon. Gentleman to say that, because the Sultan of Zanzibar had granted certain concessions to the Company, they have a claim against the Government. I must say—


Order, order! The hon. Member is only entitled to ask a question.


No, I do not think I said that. What I intended to convey was that, the Sultan of Zanzibar having given a concession to the Company, they must have a claim if that concession is taken away. That claim, of course, would be against the Sultan of Zanzibar. The Company still hold two posts in the chartered territory, where they have certain stores, &c., just as they had in Uganda. Therefore, the question of their interests in the chartered territory is not denied; but the extent and amount of that interest is just the question in dispute. In answer to the hon. Member for Sunderland, I must say that, however strong a feeling there may be in this House with regard to the claim of the East Africa Company, it is clear that it is a divided feeling, and I think there are no peculiar circumstances in this case which would justify the Government in doing anything except taking a decision on its own initiative and responsibility.

SIR C. W. DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)

Will the Government in negotiating with the Company take into consideration any compensation which the former may undertake to pay to the French and German Roman Catholic missionaries in respect of the events in Uganda in Captain Lugard's time, and will they deduct the amount so paid from any compensation claimed by the Company?


This question is of a hypothetical character, the question of the claims of the missionaries not having yet been settled. I cannot, therefore, give any definite answer.