HC Deb 06 July 1899 vol 74 cc40-1

I ask the leave of the House to explain some answers which I gave yesterday, and which seem to have been the subject of some misapprehension. In answer to the hon. Baronet, the Member for the Northwich Division of Cheshire, I said that the High Commissioner was in communication with the Cape Ministers, and then to the hon. Member for the Rushcliffe Division of Nottingham, who asked me a supplementary question, which I am afraid I rather incautiously answered without notice, I said that we had not received any representations from the Cape Government I intended by the two answers to convey that, while the High Commissioner was in communication with the Cape Government, and, therefore, of course, aware of their views, no formal representations had been received by Her Majesty's Government. I have heard to-day from Sir Alfred Milner that Mr. Schreiner, the Prime Minister of the Cape, wishes it to be known that the Cape Ministry have made several representations through the High Commissioner, and have only abstained from addressing formal minutes for communication to Her Majesty's Government because they were convinced that independently of formal communications their views were known to Her Majesty's Government. I have also to ask leave to make a personal statement on quite a different matter. I observe from the newspapers to-day that I am stated to be one of the largest shareholders of the Royal Niger Company, and one or more of these newspapers states that I am thus in the position of a vendor and a vendee. I doubt very much whether any cause is served by insinuations on the honour of public men; but in any case I desire to state exactly what my position in the matter is. When the National African Company, which was the parent of the Royal Niger Company, was formed seventeen years ago, I applied for shares, and a certain allotment was made to me. As it was less than the application I made, I subsequently increased my holding to 1,500 shares. There seems to be a misapprehension as to the value of this investment, because there are two classes of shares in the company—one of £10, fully paid up, and the other £2 only paid up. My allotment was the £2 shares, and my total investment was of the smaller amount—£3,000. I may say, in passing, that it would be difficult for any hon. Member of this House to invest in anything which might not at some time or other be the subject of discussion in this House. But when the question of the possible revocation of the charter came before the Government I took the opportunity to inform the Prime Minister and my colleagues of the fact that I had some interest in the company; and I begged, therefore, to be excused from offering any opinion on the transaction, and from taking any part whatever in any negotiations which might subsequently take place. Accordingly these negotiations have been entirely in the hands of my right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I did not know of the result until the matter was substantially settled. In the House of Commons the other night I voted on the Resolution in Committee under the belief that that was merely a formal proceeding intended to introduce the matter to the consideration of the House. I believe it has been ruled by you, Sir, and by your predecessors, that holding as a shareholder in any liability company does not disable an hon. Member from taking part in discussions which may subsequently arise in which the company in which he is interested may be concerned. But for myself I have always intended that in the future stages of this proceeding I would not take any part whatever, either in discussion or in the matter of vote. I have only to say, in conclusion, that if I were free to vote according to my own personal interest I should vote against the transaction, because I believe the shareholders will find it more to their advantage to be allowed to continue to carry out the operations in which they are engaged. I thought it right to make that explanation to the House.