§ Considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 1:—
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
On this clause I wish to move a most important Amendment. I wish to delete £865,000 in order to insert £400,000 as the sum to be issued out of the Consolidated Fund, which I think is a most generous amount The House of Commons has not been fairly treated in this matter. It has not been supplied with the information to which it is entitled before voting such an enormous sum. When this matter first came before the House my attention was called to the fact that the alleged capital was said to be £550,000. Of that only £160,000 represents cash paid up. The rest was scrip issued as fully paid. In reply to a question which I put to the right hon. Gentleman, as to whether the paid-up capital of the company represented actual cash paid, or whether the stock had been watered, the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs stated on the authority of the company that there was actually no watering of the stock but that the sum set out in 371 the Bill represented cash paid up. From the first balance-sheet of the company it appears that that is inconsistent with the truth. In the first balance-sheet (December, 1887) the authorised capital appears as £1,000,000, being 100,000 shares of £10 each; of which 66,675 shares have been issued, and £2 per share paid; 19,500 shares fully paid, issued for the purchase of assets from the United African and French companies; and 11,500 shares fully paid, issued for the purchase of goodwill. Does any man in this House pretend for a moment that the shares issued as fully paid up for the goodwill can be described as shares for which cash has been paid? The last two items are not paid-up capital, because no cash passed. This £115,000 for the purchase of the goodwill is entered on the debtor side, and the value of the goodwill is entered on the credit side; it is a double entry. But in the balance-sheet of 1889 the goodwill entry disappeared from the credit side, and in its place was the entry of "Niger Government Five per Cent. Stock, £115,000." It was therefore written off as of no value, though the amount still appears on the debtor side as fully paid-up stock. That was a very shady transaction and we are entitled to some explanation. The paid-up capital of the company can be roughly set down at £160,000. That is the total amount of the actual cash paid up, and now we are asked to pay the company over £600,000 for that amount. It seems a somewhat large order, and one that requires careful consideration. There is another item which the House is called upon to pay—£150,000 for buildings, plant, stations, plantations, etc., in Africa, including steamers. On the credit side of the balance-sheet, dated December 31st, 1898, we find, "by buildings, land, plant, stations, slipway, workshops, plantations, etc., in Africa, including steamers and other craft as per balance-sheet, £113,282." So that we are asked to pay more for these assets of the company than the company itself values them at; and companies are not in the habit of undervaluing their assets, especially when they know that negotiations are in progress for the sale of the company. Now I turn to another point—the proposed payment of £300,000 in respect of administrative losses. You are going by your action with regard to that to set a very bad precedent, which will be closely 372 watched, with the result that in all probability some day the Chartered Company of South Africa will ask for £10,000,000 for their administrative losses, which, when the time comes when you will have to take over that company, you will inevitably have to pay. The trading profits of the company have steadily increased until they have risen to £68,000 in 1897, and £94,000 in 1898. During the same time the administration was steadily losing. With the exception of the year 1893 the Niger Government lost heavily, while the trading company made from £40,000 to £90,000 profit. The total loss on the administrative branch of the concern during the last eleven years has been £300,000, while on the trading side they have made a profit of half a million. My contention is that that deficit in the administrative branch is a bogus deficit which the company have manufactured while they were paying enormous dividends, and carrying enormous sums to reserve. It is done to throw dust in the eyes of the House of Commons, and there is not a shred of a moral claim on the part of the company to be repaid a single sixpence. I fear that a precedent is being established which will eventually cost this country £10,000,000. As I have said already, these matters are largely settled by precedent. You cannot deny to the South Africa Company what you give to the Niger Company; and if this Bill passes the South Africa Company will have an irresistible claim to be recouped the deficit which has been incurred on their administrative account in Rhodesia since the Royal Charter was given. We are supposed to be buying a great and valuable empire; but it is a remarkable thing that at the very moment this Bill is introduced a Supplementary Estimate is issued for the modest sum of £70,000 towards the expenses of administering the new empire. I have no doubt that that is only the beginning, and that this £70,000 will rapidly swell to a very much larger sum, which will be the annual cost to this country of the valuable asset we are purchasing for £860,000. As a matter of fact, we are being called upon to pay this enormous sum of money in order to relieve the company of the losing portion of its concern, leaving it in full possession of the trading and profit able portion of its business. In spite of the fact that Free Trade is to be given 373 under the new administration of the law, the company will, for many years to come, hold the leading position in the trading of the country. I daresay that in some respects it has behaved itself better than other companies; but all chartered companies behave badly, as nobody who looks into the matter would attempt to deny. What did this company do? They obtained a charter in 1886, and in that charter there were two or three very important clauses. First of all, there is a clause, that:The Company shall be bound by and shall fulfil all and singular the stipulations on their part contained in the act of cession aforesaid, subject to any subsequent agreement affecting those stipulations approved by one of four Principal Secretaries of State.Then, by Clause 14, the company is prohibited from setting up or granting a monopoly of trade:Nothing in this our charter shall be deemed to authorise the company to set up or grant any monopoly of trade, and subject only to customs duties and charges as hereby authorised and to restrictions on importations similar in character to those applicable in our United Kingdom trade with the company's territories under our protection shall be free, and there shall be no differential treatment of the subjects of any Power as to settlement or access to markets, but foreigners alike with British subjects will be subject to administrative dispositions in the interests of commerce and of order.Now, let us examine the conduct of the company in regard to this prohibition of monopoly. The very instant they got the charter they set to work in every possible way to set up a monopoly, and in it they completely and absolutely succeeded. In support of that statement I will quote the letter of Lord Salisbury. What does he say?There are, moreover, other urgent reasons for the step now contemplated. The West African Frontier Force, now under Imperial officers, calls for direct Imperial control; the situation created towards other firms by the commercial position of the company which, although strictly within the rights devolving upon it by charter, has succeeded in establishing a monopoly of trade; the manner in which this commercial monopoly presses on the native traders, as exemplified by the rising in Brass, which called for the mission of inquiry entrusted to Sir John Kirk in 1895, are some of the arguments which have influenced his Lordship.It will be observed that care is taken to say the company did not break the letter 374 of the charter. Of course it was necessary to say that, otherwise the charter would have been revoked long ago. There is not, however, the slightest doubt as to the company having set up a monopoly. Now, what are the assets which we are purchasing, and for which this large sum is being given? There are 396 treaties with native chiefs and potentates, and I beg to draw attention to the fact that there is no record of a single penny having been paid. Here is Form No. 1:We fully recognise the benefit accorded to our country and people by our intercourse with the National African Company, Limited, and in recognition of this we now cede the whole of our territory to the National African Company, Limited, and their administrators for ever. In consideration of this the National African Company, Limited, will not interfere with any of the native laws, and also not encroach on any private property unless the value is agreed upon by the owner and by the said company.The only consideration set out, therefore, is the "benefit gained by intercourse with the company." Then the form goes on to say;The National African Company, Limited, will reserve to themselves the right of excluding foreign settlers.Now we come to Form 2:The said company reserve to themselves the right of excluding foreign settlers, other than those now settled in the country.In the same treaty the company undertake to respect the native customs and laws, including, I suppose, slavery. Then I come to Form 4:We bind ourselves not to have any intercourse with any strangers or foreigners except through the said National African Company, Limited, and we give the said National African Company, Limited, full power to exclude all other strangers and foreigners from their territory at their discretion.All the treaties are in direct contravention of the Berlin Act and of the terms of the charter. I turn to the records of the company, and we find that the revenue of the administrative department in the year 1887, the first year of the charter, was made up as follows:—Imports: Duties on imports, Royal Niger Company, £33,000; other traders, £998. Exports: Royal Niger Company, £15,446, other traders, £1,335. Licences: Royal Niger 375 Company, £620, other traders, £660. The last account of the administrative branch is for 1897, and these are the items:—Imports: Royal Niger Company, £47,641, others, £232. Exports: Royal Niger Company, £45,330, others, nothing. All the trade of other companies had been obliterated and wiped out of the country, not one shillings worth of goods was allowed to be exported out of the Niger Company's territory except by the Niger Company itself. That was the result of ten years' working. "Licences: Royal Niger Company, £445, other traders, none." In the year 1887 there were more licences issued to other traders than to the Niger Company. Therefore, they set deliberately to work in the teeth of the letter and the spirit of the charter and of the Berlin Act. Because they have brought this country to the verge of war in the pursuit of this policy, they are now to be rewarded on this lavish and enormous scale. I think I am entitled to demand some explanation of these facts, and to know why this great monopoly was not checked or the charter revoked before now. There is another clause in these treaties to which I desire to call attention. We do not know how these treaties were obtained; we have no information on the point whatever; all we know is that nothing was given for them, and yet every single one of them contains in its first clause a provision surrendering to the company all the rights of the natives and the whole of their territory, giving it unreservedly to the company. We have; not even a rough estimate of the cost. Why should we pay for these treaties, which are really absolutely scandalous and utterly impossible to enforce? Why should we be called upon to pay an enormous sum for these treaties, which the moral sense of the country would absolutely revolt against using, and which were in all probability obtained by the basest possible means? Beside that, there; is a clause in almost everyone of these treaties—which has however been modified in the later forms—giving an unreserved pledge, without any qualification whatever on the part of the company, to respect and maintain all the native rights and customs. One of the native customs is cannibalism, and, of course, slavery exists in this enormous district. To say that slavery is abolished is only to throw dust in the eyes of the British people, and to 376 pay a certain amount of respect to a kind of sentiment that wherever the British flag flies people must be told that slavery does not exist. Slavery is not abolished, and cannot be for many years to come, in the region of the Niger. Are you going to enforce against these wretched men that portion of the treaties which is to your advantage, and destroy or forego every portion which is to the advantage of the native? Such a course of action could not be defended. To tell me that there is any moral right attached to a single one of these treaties is, in my judgment, to state an absurdity. But if they be moral, where do we find justification for turning back on the consideration which was offered with these treaties to the men who signed them? The only consideration offered was the pledge on the part of the company, which stands as long as the treaties stand, that all the customs and rights of the people of these countries would be carefully observed. I submit that that is an absolutely irrefutable truth, and therefore these treaties are as so much waste paper. We had a most extraordinary argument advanced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day, when in eloquent and moving tones he said, "Are we to treat this company ungenerously who risked its large capital and might have lost it all?" I really thought that some Members must have been moved to considerable amusement by that appeal. Did nobody ever risk capital in a company? Some people have lost money in gold-mining companies, and there are various things in which money is lost. Men put their money into companies for the purpose of risking it in the hope of a great gain. Why should men who risked their money in this company for the sole purpose of reaping a large profit, now after ten years, with an unbroken record of prosperity, never having been without a good dividend, and having had bonuses and all kinds of advantages—why should they appeal to us because ten years ago their capital might have been lost? A more grotesque argument on which to base a claim for public generosity was never made in the House of Commons. It must not be forgotten that the money was not lost. We have to judge not by what might have happened, but by what has happened. Very few better investments have been made of recent years than was made by the people who put their money 377 into this company. A good dividend has been paid all the time, the capital has increased, the company has an enormous monopoly, which in my opinion they mean to retain, and will be able to retain for many years to come against all comers. When a company like this has been established, which has elaborate machinery, great knowledge, a trained staff, abundant capital, an ample means of breaking up any people who attempt to encroach upon the ground they occupy, it must be many years before that monopoly can be broken. The company risked their money for profit; they have made an ample profit, and they have no right to come to the House and say, "We have spread the British Empire in all these regions, and we now demand an enormous amount of money without a critical examination of our past." I say that these accounts ought to be examined very critically, and that the sum I propose to substitute is really far too generous an amount. Then we are told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and by the Colonial Secretary that this company ought to be treated generously, and that its great work ought to be recognised, because it is handing over to this country a ready-made and cheaply-made great Empire. I would rather resume the discussion on that subject ten years hence, when we have found out what this Empire will cost us. We were told what enormous advantages would accrue to this country in connection with the East Africa Company when we bought it out on a very much more moderate scale. That company had not only risked its capital, but lost it, and then it came to this country with a great Empire which it had taken hold of—certainly with considerable confusion going on, but why is there no confusion in the Niger? Because you sent out two years ago the Imperial Police, who have policed the whole frontier of the Niger for the company, not charging one penny for it. The East Africa Company came and asked for consideration. They did not get anything like the consideration we are giving in the present case. That empire may ultimately turn out a very fine country, but I doubt very much whether it will ever pay this country one penny for all the outlay it has cost. I should say it has cost us fully £5,000,000 since we took over the East Africa Company, and all we have in return is the glory of 378 the British flag flying over another country as big as France. I for my part refuse to recognise that in handing over to this country, overburdened as it is with the growing and immense responsibilities of an empire to which it is quite unable to devote that amount of attention which it is morally bound to give to the multitudes of people who are committed to its sway—I say I refuse to recognise as a great gift to this country an addition of 35 millions of unknown people. It is out of the power of this country, and still more out of the power of this House, to discharge to these helpless, silent, inarticulate races those moral duties which are entailed on the government of a great empire. In the years that are to come crimes may be committed in our name and slaughters may be perpetrated which it may be impossible for the already overburdened Ministers of the Empire to investigate, and nobody can forecast the extent of the evil that may result from this great accession to the territory of the British Empire. I beg to move.
In page 1, line 23, to leave out the words 'eight hundred and sixty-five,' and insert the words 'four hundred' (Mr. Dillon) instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words 'eight hundred and sixty-five' stand part of the clause."
§ MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
I think my hon. friend has conclusively proved that the amount to be paid to this company is excessive. On the discussion on the Second Reading of this Bill the hon. Member for Poplar pointed out that since the announcement of the intention of the Government to purchase the company its shares had doubled in value. I have always understood that when a company was taken over consideration was given to the price at which its shares stood before the proposal was made to buy it up. What are the facts in this case? On the 2nd July, 1897, the fully paid shares of this company stood at £10 11s. On the 1st July, 1898, they had risen to £15 l0s., and their present price is from 379 £19 to £21. So that since the negotiations commenced two years ago the shares have doubled in value. It is evident we are making a bad bargain, while the company are making a good one. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer found fault with my hon. friend the other day when he pointed out that a good many of the treaties negotiated with the company contained a clause providing that the native chief signing should have no connection with any stranger or anyone not of the company, and he suggested that those treaties were entered into, not by the present, but by the old company. With all due respect to the right hon. Gentleman I think he is mistaken, for I find twenty-five of these treaties have been signed since 1886, and consequently came under the company's charter. In them the signatory chiefs bind themselves "not to have intercourse with any strangers or persons except through the Royal Niger Company." Again, in Form X, No. 35, we have other treaties containing a similar clause. Everyone of these was signed in and after 1890, some of them so recently as 1892, and it is obvious that the company during the period of its existence as a chartered company has signed treaties pledging itself to do certain things for the native chiefs and exacting from them in return an undertaking not to allow any strangers or foreigners to come into their territory. Never was a more monstrous engagement entered into under any charter than this. This is bad enough, but the reigning chief is not to admit any stranger, Englishman included, who is not connected with the company. That is not all. There are fifty of these treaties for which absolutely nothing has been paid. The company have agreed to pay a certain sum per annum, and now the Government are taking upon their own shoulders these very obligations. The right hon. Gentleman buys certain land of the company, which alleges that it has acquired a wide strip of territory along the banks of the Niger for a distance of 500 miles. How did they acquire it? The right hon. Gentleman told us that the company had practically acquired a monopoly: that this arrangement with the Government deprived them of it, and that therefore it was only right they should be paid for it. But if they have acquired a monopoly they have grossly violated their charter, which 380 specifically declares that they shall not have a monopoly as against any other persons, and I say that they have violated the very corner-stone of their charter. Does it not seem monstrous that, the company having thus improperly acquired a monopoly, the Government should come forward and pay them for it? Further, the Government have agreed to pay them 50 per cent of any mining royalties that may be received in the future. I should like to know who will have to look after these mines, and to maintain order there. I venture to assert that it is the Government who will have to do it. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that we ought to take a generous view in all these matters. But, with all respect for him in his capacity as guardian of the public purse, I say I have to look to him to see that I am not robbed, and I will therefore trouble him not to take a generous view in any of these matters. Let him, by all means, take a just view. The question is, what is this worth after all? I think the Government would be acting generously in not turning the company out neck and crop without compensation, seeing that they have grossly violated their charter by creating a monopoly. The Chancellor of the Exchequer says that they have done a very great work. I know that hon. Members do not agree with me, but for my part I must say I am exceedingly sorry that they have annexed the Empire of Sokoto. At any rate they have done pretty well for themselves pecuniarily. In the first instance the shareholders subscribed £2 per share, and they were given back 30 per cent, of the amount of their subscriptions in bonds. That is to say, they paid £1 8s. down for each share, which nominally stood at £2, and now they are going to receive, if we pass this Bill, £4 per share for which they only paid originally £1 8s. I do not think we ought to treat them with such generosity, which is going beyond a fair bargain. I take it that the sum proposed by my hon. friend the Member for East Mayo, is not only a fair but a generous sum to carry out the views of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a practical way. The sum proposed cannot be justified by the assets of the company, for the shares were at half the present value two years ago. The company lost £22,000 per annum by their administration of the country; and although they have paid 6 381 per cent, out of their trading profits they have incurred further debts on account of the administration. I do not think that we ought to give them this large sum of money, especially after we have relieved them of the obligation of a loss of £22,000 per annum, for which we get nothing as a quid pro quo. The company have got no monopoly by their charter, and they are literally selling us nothing except an obligation to incur all these expenses of administration. As a matter of fact we are sure to lose more than the £22,000, because we know that governments do spend in these matters a good deal more than private individuals. There was an observation made by the Colonial Secretary upon the Second Reading of this Bill in regard to the spirit traffic, in which he said that we might reconcile ourselves to a very considerable reduction in the trade in spirits. This trade with us is only carried on by our agreeing to pay for the goods in spirits, whereas we have always protested against trading in spirits in South Africa. We have often said we would forbid entirely the trade in spirits there if we could induce other foreign nations on the frontier to do the same. We have done this because we fear that spirits would be introduced at a lower price by smuggling, but here we are told by the Colonial Secretary that the company has been obliged to allow the importation of spirits and to give spirits in payment for the produce of the country, for without that the negroes would not trade. I am perfectly certain that, when that is thoroughly understood, there will be such an outcry against this practice of using spirits as a species of currency that the people of this country will not allow it to go on in our dominions. Therefore our revenue is sure to decrease while our expenses will increase. I shall certainly support by my vote the Amendment of my hon. friend behind me, who, I think, in proposing that the sum should be £400,000,has acted in an almost excessively generous fashion.
§ * THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir M. HICKS-BEACH,) Bristol, W.
I need not remind the House that the principle of this Bill has already been confirmed by the House, and that principle, of course, is the revocation of the charter and the 382 taking over of the administrative duties of the company by the Crown. Therefore, I think I may confine myself to the point which has been directly raised by the hon. Member for East Mayo by this Amendment—namely, the amount to be paid to the company for the transfer of their rights under the charter. I must at once confess that I look at this matter from a totally different point of view from the hon. Member for East Mayo and the hon. Member for Northampton, and I believe the vast majority in the House and in the country would agree with me. For what is the point of view of the hon. Members for East Mayo and Northampton? Why, Sir, that we are doing no good to the country, but are incurring a serious burden and responsibility by assuming any rights or any influence over this vast region of the Niger and its basin. The hon. Members, judging from their speeches, would prefer that these great territories should be under the influence of France or Germany, or any other Power, rather than that of Great Britain. That is a point of view which I am totally unable to appreciate. I am sure it is not the opinion of the country at large, neither do I think that the country at large will share the estimate formed by these two hon. Members of the proceedings of this Chartered Company. The hon. Member for East Mayo went so far as to say—and I think the hon. Member for Northampton agreed with him—that all chartered companies behaved badly.
§ * SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
That is a statement utterly devoid of foundation. The hon. Member for East Mayo actually says that men like the late Lord Aberdare, Sir George Goldie, and others risked their money for the purposes of profit, and for no other purpose. I think that is a scandalous statement to make about such gentlemen. I do not mean to say that the founders of the company did not look to the profits to be secured by their trading operations—but I do say that their main intention and purpose was to extend the British Empire, British trade, and British commerce in territories which appeared to them to be of great value to the civilised world. Therefore I maintain, as I maintained before, that the company have undertaken work in Nigeria which, in the first place, has been already, and will be 383 in future, of very great benefit to this country; and. secondly, that they have performed that work in an admirable manner, with one exception—namely, that they have unquestionably so utilised the powers granted to them by the charter as to obtain for themselves a practical monopoly of the trade of the region. But surely hon. Members will see that if the charter enabled the company to obtain that monopoly—and the Foreign Office was advised by the Law Officers that it did—you cannot punish them by the revocation of the charter for merely exercising the powers contained in the charter. I know hon. Members point to the clause which says:Nothing in this our charter shall be deemed to authorise the company to set up or grant any monopoly of trade," etc.But the matter has been frequently the subject of very careful and anxious consideration by the Foreign Office, and it has been advised that the proceedings by which the company obtained this monopoly were legal under the charter. The price of the shares of the company before these proceedings commenced was no real test of their actual value, because, as a matter of fact, there was no dealing in these shares on the Stock Exchange; and, as they were not utilised for speculation, financially speaking, there is no reason to complain of the proceedings of the company with respect to them. The hon. Member for Mayo charged my right hon. friend the under Secretary for Foreign Affairs with having misrepresented the condition of the capital of the company.
§ MR. DILLON
No. I made no such charge against the right hon. Gentleman. What I said was that he only gave the company's statement with regard to their capital; and I made a charge against that statement.
§ * SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
I am glad I misunderstood the hon. Gentleman on that point. But, at any rate, the hon. Gentleman believes that the shares of the company were "watered.'' I do not think that is a fair charge to make against the company. Undoubtedly, as appears from the accounts, shares were paid to companies and individual traders who were absorbed in the company in order to advance, the company's policy of securing 384 the Niger for British trade. The hon. Member for Northampton rather blamed the promoters of the Royal Niger Company, because under this process of amalgamation they made over shares to a French company.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
I did not make it a charge against the company. I pointed out that those shareholders who became shareholders by receiving the shares of the French company could not be regarded as patriots in the sense that they were working for the benefit of England.
§ * SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
I never said they were. But the company by the amalgamation certainly did an act that will be in future of very material advantage to British trade and commerce by getting rid of separate French interests in that way on the Niger. As I said the other day, I have no responsibility for the balance-sheet or the accounts of the, company, but I think it is clear from those accounts that the capital of the company was not "watered," that the shares issued were issued in return for valuable assets of other companies, and that some of these assets represented actual cash. The hon. Member for East Mayo referred to shares issued in payment of goodwill. It would seem, from the accounts, that this goodwill must represent treaties and other rights acquired by the predecessors of the Royal Niger Company before the grant of the charter.
§ MR. DILLON
The question I asked was whether cash was fully paid up on all the shares to the amount of the actual capital stated; and the answer I got was "yes." But you cannot call goodwill cash.
§ * SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
No; the hon. Member's question was whether the capital of the company was watered.
§ * SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
I am describing what actually happened. What was entered in the company's earlier balance-sheets under the head of "goodwill" seems to represent treaties and other 385 worth which the charter itself provided should be paid for by the issue of the debt secured on the revenues of the territory. Then the hon. Member complained of the amount we propose to pay the company for the plant which we take over. He said it was quite clear we were paying too much for what we were taking over, as the company retained all its trading plant. I have looked carefully into that matter, and I have satisfied myself that the company's plant as entered in their latest balance sheet and their former balance-sheet was largely undervalued. (Opposition laughter.) The hon. Member for East Mayo does not believe that is possible.
§ * SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
I quite admit that it is unusual, but I am satisfied that it is the case. It appears from the reports to the shareholders that the allowances for depreciation, especially on the steamers, were so large a percentage that practically the steamers have been brought down to no value at all, although they are still running. In taking over the plant we have to consider what would be the value of that plant if we had to purchase it afresh. I am quite sure if instead of taking over the plant from the company, which they were not at all anxious we should take over, we had gone to the expense of clearing land, erecting buildings, and purchasing steamers, it would have cost very much more than the £115,000 put down for this part of the bargain with the company. The hon. Member also found fault with the accounts of the company. He complained that there were two accounts—one an administrative account and the other a trading account. The separate administrative account was certainly directly contemplated by the charter, which in so many words permitted the company to bear administrative expenses out of customs and other duties it was entitled to levy. It therefore became necessary to keep the two accounts. They show that the cost of this administrative work was very much beyond the ordinary expenses of administration necessary for trading purposes. The company had to resist the attempts of natives of France and Germany to establish French and German influence in those regions; and the extra expenditure in this respect and in 386 developing the territories of the company is obviously a matter for which they have had hitherto no return, and which they might have left absolutely alone, and might have divided among themselves the trading profits which, as it was, they had to devote to this extra expense of administration. This may fairly be credited to the company by way of an unexhausted improvement. But the hon. Member's main objection, after all, is that this purchase will form a dangerous precedent with regard to the South Africa Company. These cases of chartered companies must be taken separately. Parliament thought it was necessary to deal with the East Africa Company some years ago. That company had absolutely failed to carry out the purpose for which it was instituted. Its territory became practically in a state of anarchy, and the Government and Parliament of the day had no option but to assume the responsibility, which at that time was very great, and has since become greater, and Parliament voted for that company, which had completely failed, a sum of a quarter of a million. I do not know what may be the future of the South Africa Company; but if the time should ever come, as it may some day, when the administrative rights and duties of that company have to be taken over by the Government of this country, the history and the work of that company will have to be judged on their own merits; and the question cannot be decided in any way by anything we are proposing to do for the Niger Company now. The circumstances are totally different in the two cases; and I hope the House will not be led away by what the hon. Member said in suggesting that we are making a precedent which would be applicable to the South Africa Company by what we are doing in regard to the Niger Company. With respect to the Amendment, I do not know on what grounds the hon. Member thinks £400,000 would be a more fair payment than what is propose, in the Bill, or how much of that £400,000 he would allocate for the plant we propose to purchase. However that may be, in the opinion of Her Majesty's Government, it would not be fair to revoke the charter of the company on any other terms than those we are now proposing, and, if the principle be admitted that the charter of the com 387 pany should be revoked, and its administrative duties and rights taken over by the State, I trust the Committee will sanction this proposal.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)
The principle of the Bill was accepted without Amendment on the Second Reading. We are now discussing what is the whole point of the Bill—namely, the price to be paid for the purchase of this company. I do not propose to go into the question of what this company has done. I must confess that it may have made mistakes; but, on the whole, as far as chartered companies go, it has done its work well, and saved us a large territory in Africa. I do think, however, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is hardly entitled to say, as he did at the Second Reading, that we are not justified, that it is not our duty to examine very carefully the details of the proposal. If it be admitted that the larger the annual loss to the company is, the larger should be the sum the Government have got to pay, it will form a very dangerous precedent if we have ever to come to deal with and buy up the South Africa Company. There are one or two points of detail which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not quite clearly explained, or stated on what his estimate is formed. I understood him to say that half a million was raised in£2 shares. The point is, was that sum of half a million paid in actual cash out of the pockets of the shareholders for the purposes of the company? In regard to the £115,000 to be paid for steamers and other plant, I was rather suprised to hear the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Chartered Company have so managed or manipulated their accounts that they are to get a considerably less sum for these assets than their real value. The right hon. Gentleman is not going to give them the sum the company themselves put down as the value of these assets, but out of the kindness of his heart, he is going to give them something in addition.
§ * SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
We are paying considerably less than the value at which these items stand in the books of the company, but the book value is higher than that of the balance-sheet.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
That is still more mysterious. There must be some reason for putting these assets in the balance-sheet at a lower figure than they ought to have been put at, and I should like to know what that reason is. I understand that the Treasury will go very carefully into the matter. I want to know how the Chancellor of the Exchequer arrives at the figures of£150,000 for land and mineral rights, and£300,000 to make up a deficit on administrative work. The only reason the right hon. Gentlemen has given, up to the present, is that these land and mineral rights had been bought out of trade profits. But the whole surplus which the company received out of their trading accounts during the past twelve years, in addition to what was paid in the way of dividends, amounted to only£70,000. And we are now proposing to give the company£150,000 for rights upon which, at the outside, they only expended£70,000. The principal item in dispute is the£300,000 to make up the deficits, during the last twelve years, on administrative work. That sum is excessive, and I do not think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has dealt with it on the business basis on which it ought to be treated. We are going to relieve the company for the future of an annual loss of something like £24,000, and at the same time we are going to pay the company £300,000 because we are going to relieve them of the annual loss.
§ * SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
I explained that fully the other day. The reason for it, of course, is this: that through their administrative powers the company have obtained practically a monopoly in trade.
§ * SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
No, not contrary to their charter, but under the powers of their charter. With the loss of these administrative powers they will not have any exceptional monopoly; on the contrary, trade will be free on the Niger, and therefore their profits will decrease.
§ Mr. SYDNEY BUXTON
The Chancellor of the Exchequer puts it on the ground that the company are losing this monopoly, and have to be compen- 389 sated for it with £300,000. I cannot understand how the company were legally allowed a monopoly for twelve years, for there is nothing more clear in the charter than that they are not to have a monopoly of trade. That they have got a monopoly nobody denies. If they have had this monopoly for twelve years and have been able to pay dividends on their shares, and accumulate a considerable reserve fund, I do not think we should pay them a large additional sum for taking away a monopoly to which they were not entitled, and which they have enjoyed for twelve years. Then as to the administrative loss, we are really relieving the company of a considerable charge which would increase year after year. The amount we propose to give the company as compensation is, I think, somewhat excessive, but at the same time I do not see my way to support the Amendment of my hon. friend the Member for East Mayo. I do not understand on what ground my hon. friend proposes to reduce the compensation to £400,000. I would have thought that this was a case in which a Committee of the House of Commons should have looked into the figures before the Bill was introduced into the House. Although in my view the sum proposed is excessive, I am not prepared to cut it down by half. We are entitled as a Committee to further information in regard to details. I am not in a position to suggest a sum that will be absolutely fair and satisfactory, and although I supported the Bill on the Second Reading, I shall now walk out of the House, and abstain from voting.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
The hon. Gentleman has taken the true Front Bench attitude. He cannot make up his mind. I have made up my mind to support Her Majesty's Government in their policy of "Off with his head; so much for Buckingham." This is not a matter over which we should haggle. It is a matter of high State policy. Whether we are paying £200,000 too much or £200,000 too little is not the question. I am bound to say that certain admissions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to the details of this scheme have somewhat disquieted me. There is, first of all, the amazing statement as to the absolutely valueless nature of Clause 14 of the Charter. 390 This clause was drawn up by the great legal pundits of the Foreign Office. It would be thought that they would be able to carry out what they proposed, yet the Chancellor of the Exchequer now says that there is nothing in the charter to prevent a monopoly of trading. But the charter distinctly stated that there was to be no monopoly, and that trade should be free, although it was not free, and that there should be no deferential treatment, although there was deferential treatment, not only as regards British subjects but the subjects of other Powers. In every particular this clause was inoperative, and the learned persons at the Foreign Office who drew it up seemed to be incapable of stating what their intention was. This is yet another example of the intelligence of the Foreign Office, in addition to the others I have come across in the course of my historical researches. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us that he is paying a larger sum for the assets than appears on the balance-sheet, but not more than the sum which appears in the books, and he gives the strange reason for doing that that the company have written off too much for depreciation. According to the last balance-sheet £15,728 was written off, making 12 per cent. on the year. That, however, did not apply to office furniture, but to property in Africa, including buildings, plant, stations and steamers. That is an eight years' life for plant in a climate such as that of the Niger, which, I think, is very fair; and some of the steamers would be worth very little at the end of the seventh year. If the Committee will examine the previous Reports they will find in the balance-sheet for the year ended December 31st, 1894, before there was any question of purchase, that the amount of depreciation was £20,000 on £114,000, or 18 percent. As a matter of fact the present depreciation which the Chancellor of the Exchequer thinks too much is a great deal less than the depreciation five years ago, before there was any notion of the company being bought by the Government. I think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been a little too generous in assuming that the company were mistaken in the amount of the depreciation they had written off. As to the argument that a different account appears in the books, which we have not before us, I must say that the proper place for the value of the assets to 391 appear is on the balance-sheet. There is only one other question to which I will refer. It has been estimated that the Niger Company is making a loss of £24,000 a year on the expenses of government. We are buying the right to bear this loss, and in addition we are asked to give the Colonial Office £78,000 for the eight months between this and 31st March. Therefore, for one year we may assume that this will cost us £100,000 as against the £24,000 it cost the Niger Company. I think that is a very serious matter, and I think the Supplementary Estimate throws a new light on the proposal of this Bill. But as I said before, we cannot haggle over the terms of the purchase of this Empire. We are assured that these territories are very valuable, and have a great future before them. In that case we must be generous, and whether it is a swamp on the Niger or a manœuvring ground on Salisbury Plain, we have to pay double the value of what we buy. That is the natural order of things, and even the Chancellor of the Exchequer is prepared to make the sacrifices required of him.
§ DR. CLARK
I am not convinced that this is a fair sum to be paid for this company. As far as the question of policy is concerned, that was confirmed by the Second Reading, but I am rather afraid we have not given sufficient attention to the details. The questions we have to consider are whether this is a fair price to pay, and whether we ought not to have taken away the charter without giving any compensation at all. There was sufficient ground for that, because the charter was not properly carried out. We agreed with other Powers that no monopoly should be given in Africa. A year or two afterwards we issued this charter, in the fourteenth clause of which power was taken to prevent monopoly. All that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will say now is that technically the company have been able to evade the spirit of that clause, although they were morally bound by it. As a matter of fact it has been evaded, and a monopoly has been created, the company obtaining no less than twenty-five treaties from native chiefs, giving them the sole right of trading. The company abused their rights under the charter, and now 392 we are buying it back. Are we buying it back at a fair price? A couple of years ago the price of the shares on the Stock Exchange was practically at par. When the negotiations were commenced the shares rose to 50 per cent premium, and now in consequence of the bargain of the Chancellor of the Exchequer they stand at about 100 per cent premium. I say it is a preposterous price to pay. The company gave nothing for the charter, and now they are getting hundreds of thousands of pounds for handing it back. Three years after they were established we permitted the company to create a book debt of £250,000. Not a single farthing was paid for this £250,000. They divided it by giving a 30 per cent. bonus to their shareholders, keeping the rest for themselves. Now we are giving the company £300,000 for that debt, because they say they spent out of trading profits a certain amount of money in special administrative work under the charter. We are also giving them £100,000 for dislocating their business. But how are we dislocating their business, when they are still to continue trading under the old conditions? Every servant of the company signs an agreement that when his term expires he must not remain in the country, and even if an adventurer goes out he finds he cannot trade because the company has a monopoly of all the available sites. We are going to buy from the company what has been a source of loss, but the company is to remain with all its old prestige to carry on a profitable trade. We are going to buy from the company the administration of the territory, which has been to the company a source of loss, and, free from this loss, the company will, with all their old prestige, carry on a profitable trade. I for one am not satisfied with the bargain made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer; the company has, however, been very successful in the bargain, and Sir George Goldie deserves from the shareholders substantial recognition of his services. I shall vote for the Amendment, though I would rather it had been for reduction by one hundred per cent.
§ * MR. W. F. LAWRENCE (Liverpool, Abercromby)
I would like to remind the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer that my constituents have been 393 very great sufferers from the policy of the company. However, as I said before, they are prepared to forget and forgive, and have no desire to criticise the items of the Bill under which the Niger Company is to lie purchased by Her Majesty's Government. For the last ten years, however, the trading community of Liverpool has been criticising the action of the company, and I desire to point out how proper their criticisms have been. At the annual meeting of the company in 1885, Lord Aberdare, the then chairman, adumbrated the idea that it would be to the interest of the company to create a monopoly. When the charter was granted words were introduced into it seeking to prevent a monopoly; and what I and others complain of is that the charter was practically stultified in this respect, and that without any interference by the Foreign Office. Private traders have been absolutely excluded from the river, and yet the Government have taken no steps in the matter. However, when the country is purchasing this great addition to the Empire, it is not for us to look too closely into the £ s. d. of the transaction. Having had myself some interest in the transfer of the British East Africa Company to the State, I must express surprise at the treatment the Niger Company is receiving as compared with that which the East Africa Company met with from the Treasury. We are told that the Niger Company has done a great deal in developing the territories under its control. If I am rightly informed, security and protection has not been provided at a greater distance than one mile from the river, and all that the company has done is to sit in receipt of customs at favourable spots on the banks. If the British East Africa Company had been on a great river running 800 or 900 miles into the country it would have done infinitely better, and would, apparently, have received much handsomer treatment at the hands of the Treasury. That company, at any rate, set up a government 800 miles from the sea without any advantage of a great natural artery; and yet, after all their exertions, and having had no returns for their money, they were bought out by the Treasury and Foreign Office at a price which only represented 10s. 6d. in the pound. But the Niger Company, after setting up a monopoly against which its charter is supposed to guard, is, after 394 about ten years' operations, to be bought up on very handsome terms. I must congratulate Sir George Goldie and his company on having not only earned a capital dividend during these years but also obtaining a handsome profit in this sale. What I am mostly concerned about now is to urge the authorities to see that there is an adequate amount of good trading area on the sides of the Niger, so that those who now, by the permission of the company and of the Government, come in to trade shall not be placed under any undue disadvantage with regard to the existing great company, which, although shorn of its powers in some respects, yet will have the enormous prestige of having been the first in the field. It is most important that these river banks should practically be open to all the world, and that all the best places should not be left in the possession of the company. I think that the statistics that have been furnished as to the exports and imports are too meagrely given. The values only were furnished. It would be very interesting, historically, to see in future a return given, not only of the values but of the nature of the goods, so that the early development of trade may be clearly shown. Though something might be said to show that an unduly large payment is being made, I am glad that the Foreign Office has come to see that the position of affairs must be altered and a monopoly terminated.
§ MR. THOMAS BAYLEY (Derbyshire, Chesterfield)
The opinion expressed by the hon. Member for the Abercromby Division of Liverpool does not correspond with that given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer half an hour ago. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us that the company had performed in an admirable manner all the requirements of the Act of Parliament. That, apparently, is not the opinion of Liverpool, or rather of the hon. Gentleman who has spoken on its behalf. The Bill we are discussing to-day is based upon a Treasury Minute dated the 30th June, 1899. This says:The company shall be relieved of all its administrative powers and duties, and shall assign to Her Majesty's Government the benefit of all its treaties and all its land and mining rights of whatever sort and however acquired, but shall retain—except as hereinafter specified—its plant and trading assets, and its stations and waterside depôts, with customary rights of access, buildings, wharves, workshops, and the sites thereof.Then it goes on to say how much shall be 395 given for the different items. But we are asked to vote £865,000. Where is the increase of £50,000 between the Bill and the Treasury Minute going to be made, and what is going to be done with it? According to the Treasury Minute we do not buy all the mining rights in the country. The Minute says later:Her Majesty's Government will pay to the company, or its assigns, one-half of the receipts from any royalty so imposed for a period of ninety nine years from the revocation of the charter, and no specific taxation shall be imposed on the mining interest.We have, therefore, for ninety-nine years to pay half the receipts from royalties to the company. That is an arrangement that ought never to have been made, and I cannot understand why it should have
§ been made. We want it thoroughly explained. We have had absolutely no valuation from a responsible person of character and position as to these mineral rights in the country for which we are going to pay £115,000 or £120,000, and I cannot help thinking that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have been well advised if he had taken the opinion of a good business man on the subject, who had some knowledge of the country. I shall certainly support the Amendment which has been so ably proposed and seconded.s
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 143; Noes, 57. (Division List, No. 305.)397
|Aird, John||Fardell, Sir T. George||M'Killop, James|
|Arrol, Sir William||Field, Admiral (Eastbourne)||Malcolm, Ian|
|Asher, Alexander||Finch, George H.||Middlemore, J. Throgmorton|
|Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John||Fisher, William Hayes||Milton, Viscount|
|Bagot, Capt. Josceline FitzRoy||FitzGerald, Sir R. Penrose-||Monk, Charles James|
|Baird, John George Alexander||Fitzmaurice, Lord Edmond||More, Robt. Jasper (Shropshire)|
|Balcarres, Lord||FitzWygram, General Sir F.||Morton, Arthur H. A. (Deptford|
|Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J. (Manch'r||Flannery, Sir Fortescue||Murray, Rt. Hn A Graham (Bute|
|Balfour, Rt Hn Gerald W. (Leeds||Flower, Ernest||Murray, Charles J. (Coventry)|
|Balfour, Rt. Hn J Blair (Clackm.||Foster, Colonel (Lancaster)||Newdigate, Francis Alexander|
|Barnes, Frederic Gorell||Garfit, William||Nicol, Donald Ninian|
|Barry, Rt Hn A H. Smith-(Hunts||Goldsworthy, Major-General||Pierpoint, Robert|
|Barton, Dunbar Plunket||Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir John Eldon||Pilkington, Sir G. A. (Lanes. S W|
|Beach, Rt. Hn. Sir M. H. (Bristol)||Goschen, Rt Hn G. J. (St.Geo.'s)||Platt-Higgins, Frederick|
|Bethell, Commander||Goulding, Edward Alfred||Powell, Sir Francis Sharp|
|Bigwood, James||Graham, Henry Robert||Priestley, Sir W. Overend (Edin)|
|Bond, Edward||Greville, Hon. Ronald||Pryce- Jones, Lt.-Col. Edward|
|Bowles, T. G. (King's Lynn)||Hamond, Sir Chas. (Newcastle)||Purvis, Robert|
|Brassey, Albert||Hanbury, Rt. Hon. Rbt. Wm.||Renshaw, Charles Bine|
|Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John||Hedderwick, Thos. Charles H.||Ridley, Rt. Hon. Sir M. W.|
|Brookfield, A. Montagu||Helder, Augustus||Ritchie, Rt. Hon. C. Thomson|
|Bullard, Sir Harry||Hill, Sir Edward Stock(Bristol)||Rothschild, Hon. Lionel W.|
|Campbell, Rt. Hn. J. A. (Glasg'w||Hoare, Samuel (Norwich)||Russell, T. W. (Tyrone)|
|Carson, Rt. Hon. Edward||Holland, Hn. Lionel R. (Bow)||Ryder, John Herbert Dudley|
|Cavendish, V. C. W. (Derbysh.||Howard, Joseph||Samuel, Harry S. (Limehouse|
|Cecil, Evelyn (Hertford, East)||Jeffreys, Arthur Frederick||Scoble, Sir Andrew Richard|
|Chaloner, Captain R. G. W.||Johnston, William (Belfast)||Sharpe, William Edward T.|
|Chamberlain, J. Austen (Wore'r||Johnstone, Heywood (Sussex)||simeon, Sir Barrington|
|Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry||Kay-Shuttleworth, Rt Hn Sir U||Smith, James Parker(Lanarks.|
|Cochrane, Hon. Thos. H. A. E.||Kemp, George||Stanley, Sir Henry M. (Lambeth|
|Coddington, Sir William||Kenyon, James||Stanley, Lord (Lanes.)|
|Coghill Douglas Harry||Kimber, Henry||Stirling-Maxwell, Sir John M.|
|Cohen, Benjamin Louis||Knowles, Lees||Stone, Sir Benjamin|
|Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse||Laurie, Lieut. -General||Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)|
|Colomb, Sir J. Charles Ready||Lawrence, Sir E. Durning-(Corn||Thornton, Percy M.|
|Colston, C. Edward H. Athole||Lawrence, W. F. (Liverpool)||Tomlinson, Wm. Edw. Murray|
|Cooke, C. W. R. (Hereford)||Lawson, John Grant (Yorks.)||Valentia, Viscount.|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Lecky, Rt. Hon. W. Edward H.||Whiteley. H. (Ashton-u.-Lyne)|
|Cripps, Charles Alfred||Llewellyn. E. H. (Somerset)||Willox, Sir John Archibald|
|Crombie, John William||Llewelyn, Sir Dillwyn-(Swans.)||Wilson, John (Falkirk)|
|Curzon Viscount||Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine||Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm|
|Dalbiac, Colonel Philip Hugh||Long, Col. Chas. W. (Evesham||Wrightson, Thomas|
|Denny, Colonel||Long, Rt. Hn. Walter (L'pool)||Wylie, Alexander|
|Dickson-Poynder, Sir J. P.||Lopes, Henry Yarde Buller||Wyndham-Quin, Major W.H.|
|Donkin, Richard Sim||Lowe, Francis William||Wyvli, Marmaduke D'Arcy|
|Doughty, George||Loyd, Archie Kirkman|
|Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-||Lucas-Shadwell, William||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—|
|Doxford, William Theodore||Macartney, W. G. Ellison||Sir William Walrond and|
|Duncombe, Hon. Hubert V.||Macdona, Johns Cumming||Mr. Anstruther.|
|Abraham, William (Rhondda)||Gourley, Sir Edward Temperley||Molloy, Bernard Charles|
|Allison, Robert Andrew||Hayne, Rt. Hon. Chas. Seale-||Nussey, Thomas Willans|
|Austin, M. (Limerick, W.)||Healy, Timothy M. (N.Louth)||Pirie, Duncan V.|
|Beaumont, Wentworth C. B.||Holden, Sir Angus||Reckitt, Harold James|
|Billson, Alfred||Holland, Wm. H. (York. W. R.)||Robertson, Edmund (Dundee)|
|Broadhurst, Henry||Horniman, Frederick John||Shaw, Charles E. (Stafford)|
|Burt, Thomas||Joicey, Sir James||Sinclair, Capt. J. (Forfarshire)|
|Caldwell, James||Jones, William (Carnarvonsh.)||Soames, Arthur Wellesley|
|Cameron, Robert (Durham)||Kinloch, Sir John G. Smyth||Strachey, Edward|
|Clark, Dr. G. B. (Caithness-sh.)||Labouchere, Henry||Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath)|
|Colville, John||Lawson, Sir W. (Cumberland)||Thomas, A. (Glamorgan, E.)|
|Condon, Thomas Joseph||Lewis, John Herbert||Warner, Thomas Courtenay T.|
|Curran, Thomas B. (Donegal)||Lloyd-George, David||Whittaker, Thomas Palmer|
|Davitt, Michael||Macaleese, Daniel||Williams, John Carvell (Notts.)|
|Dewar, Arthur||M'Crae, George||Wilson, John (Govan)|
|Dilke, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles||M'Kenna, Reginald||Woods, Samuel|
|Donelan, Captain A.||M'Leod, John||Yoxall, James Henry|
|Doogan, P. C.||Maddison, Fred.||TELLERS OF THE NOES—|
|Duckworth, James||Maden, John Henry||Mr. Dillon and Mr. Thomas Bayley.|
|Foster, Sir Walter (Derby Co.)||Mappin, Sir Frederick Thorpe|
§ Question proposed, "That Clause 1 stand part of the Bill."
§ MR. DILLON
It is quite evident that the company are getting a monstrous price for their assets. And here I wish to draw attention to several extraordinary statements which have been made by the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs. I do not for a single moment attribute to the right hon. Gentleman any intention to deceive me or the House. When I first put the question to him with regard to the capital of the company he asked me to postpone it, and two or three days later he gave me a reply, which he stated had been furnished to him by the company. It was to the effect that the capital of the company as set forth in the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer represented cash paid up, and did not include any watered stock. Now we have the admission that that is not the fact, and that a very large proportion of the stock does not represent cash paid capital. For instance, £195,000 of fully paid up stock was issued for the purchase of the assets of the company, while £115,000 of fully paid up stock is admitted to have been issued for the purchase of the goodwill. When I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what was the goodwill I got an extraordinary answer. I had supposed, from my examination of the balance-sheets, that it was the goodwill in the trade of the company. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer informed me that it was nothing of the sort, but that it was represented by treaties which had been negotiated by 398 the African Company. Those treaties, however, were paid for.
§ * SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
I do not think I put it so strongly as that. I said that that was what I understood. I really am not responsible for drawing up the the balance-sheets of the Niger Company.
§ MR. DILLON
I think, at any rate, we ought to have some information as to what we are paying for. Here is a considerable sum which it is now admitted does not represent stock on which cash was paid. It was issued as scrip fully paid for the purchase of the goodwill, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer thinks that that goodwill consists of treaties which had been negotiated by the company. If we accept that explanation, I say that those treaties had been already paid for out of the loan of £250,000 which we are now called upon to liquidate. It is obvious that this portion of the company's capital represents not one single penny of capital paid up, and that it is really a portion of the loan which was raised, by the permission of the Home Government, on the security of the revenue of the Niger district, and which is still retained by the company in its own hands. I understand that some hon. Members in the last Division found difficulty in supporting my Amendment, because they thought I had not sufficiently gone into details to show how I arrived at the sum of £400,000. I now propose to give the items which go to make up that sum. 399 First we have £300,000 to pay off the debt of £250,000, contracted when the company was started as a chartered company——
* THE CHAIRMAN
Order, order. I think the hon. Member is now going back on the decision which the Committee has already come to. That decision was that the sum to be paid should be £805,000. Of course, by rejecting this clause the Committee can refuse to pay any sum at all, but the fact remains that, if anything at all is to be paid, it shall be £865,000.
§ MR. DILLON
Some hon. Members, as I understand, thought I had selected too low a figure. Surely, it is open to us to show that the bargain as a whole is a bad bargain, and that is why I am endeavouring to deal briefly with the items which go to make up the total, There is a sum of £300,000 for undeveloped improvements. I will not enlarge upon that, as I shall be able to deal with it on an Amendment later on. All I will now say is that I think it should be knocked out altogether. We are to pay £150,000 for land and mining rights, and for war material,: buildings, wharves, steamers, and stores: another £115,000. We have had a most extraordinary statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to this latter item. I find on careful examination that we are, in all, paying over £200,000 for assets which are valued by the company at only £113,000. Is not that a monstrous thing? The Chancellor of the Exchequer says be is satisfied that the company have enormously undervalued their assets in their own balance-sheets. Surely we are entitled to a more satisfactory answer than that. The right hon. Gentleman admits that it is unusual, and I say it is so unusual that there must be a motive for it. If it be true, the only reason I can gather from it is that the company wrote off enormous sums for depreciation in order to hide their profits. They were afraid for the public to know the extent of those profits, because they knew that if the information became public, and if their true position were revealed, the proposition now before the House; would be vigorously opposed. I think we are entitled to protest against that, and we 400 ought to have a better answer than that., on examination, the Chancellor of the Exchequer finds that a small portion of their assets are worth more than appears on the balance-sheet.
§ MR DILLON
Well, the company are retaining all that they require for the purposes of their business and what they consider necessary for the further prosecution of their trading operations. They are simply handing over to the Government what they do not themselves want. It it perfectly plain that they are selling to the Government at nearly double their value a portion of the assets, and I therefore do hope that hon. Members, feeling that the sum named by the Government is too large, will vote against the clause as a whole.
§ DR. CLARK
I support the Amendment of my hon. friend because, although it is very drastic, I think we can justify the taking over of this territory without giving a single penny to the company. I hold that the Government should have adopted that course, because of the way in which the company have used the powers entrusted to them. The Chancellor of the Exchequer must know that under the Treaty of Berlin, which was signed a year or two before this charter was granted, it was provided that no trading monopoly should be created, and, indeed, in the charter is to be found a clause to the effect that nothing shall be done contrary to the provisions of that treaty. Yet what have the company done? Here we find on page 28 a form of treaty under which the kings and chiefs who signed it bound themselves "not to have any intercourse with any strangers or foreigners except through the Royal Niger Company." Now that treaty is certainly contrary to the terms of Clause 15 of the charter and to the provisions of the Berlin Treaty, and I therefore say the Government would be thoroughly justified in not paying the company a single penny. The fact is the Government are buying a bad asset on. which the company are losing money, and 401 the company are retaining their good asset on which they have been able to make from 30 per cent. to 50 per cent. profit, and they will practically retain their trade monopoly. We must not forget that it was their misgovernment that brought about the rising in the Brass country. I hold it would be quite sufficient to give them back their capital, plus 50 per cent.; then you could destroy their monopoly, and allow the Liverpool and Glasgow merchants to share in the trade. That monopoly was only created through the stupidity of the Foreign Office, and right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of this House are equally to blame for not seeing that the provisions of the charter and of the Treaty of Berlin were properly enforced.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
I do not think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has very cogently replied to our complaint that he is paying too much for these assets, and that he is handing over infinitely more than their value as set forth in the balance-sheet. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that those assets are undervalued; if that be the case then surely the Public Prosecutor should come in and deal with the directors of the company. The directors have no right to put down false figures. It must be remembered that shares are quoted at a certain price, and that a person wishing to buy naturally looks into the balance-sheet to see what the company is doing. If, therefore, assets of the value of £100,000 are put down as only being worth £50,000 the shareholder may be defrauded. A company consequently is not permitted to publish false figures in its balance-sheets. These assets are put down as worth £113,000; yet the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in that generous spirit which 1 am very sorry to say he is accustomed to exhibit in these matters, is going to give them nearly £250,000.
* THE CHAIRMAN
I must remind the hon. Member that the sum has already been decided on. The only question now is whether the company shall be paid £865,000 or nothing at all.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
We are being asked to pay what we believe to be an excessive sum, and we prefer that this clause should be deleted from the Bill and 402 the measure thrown out, because we feel sure that if that course is adopted the Chancellor of the Exchequer will come forward with a more reasonable proposal next year. We contend that the Bill should be referred to a Committee upstairs, which would find out what the value of the company's assets is. I shall vote for the Amendment.
§ MR. WARNER (Staffordshire, Lichfield)
Upon this point I think we are in rather a difficult position. It is a serious thing to say—although I do not blame the Government or the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the matter—but in some way or other there is no doubt that there has been what is known in commercial matters as a "job" perpetrated, and three things show it. In the first place the whole assets of the company are valued at £113,000, and the Government are going to pay £115,000 for only a portion of those assets.
§ MR. WARNER
I notice that we are paying an enormous sum for the goodwill of a losing business, and what are we to take out of the business? We are simply going to pay money for this goodwill for the privilege of losing money. The company still retain their trading powers, and their dividend remains while we are going to pay for the government of the country. The shares of the company have risen to nearly double their value since it was known that the Government were going to purchase. These reasons point to the fact that the Government is giving too much, and that there is some sort of mistake about this transaction. I understand that, after the last Division, the agreement cannot be modified; therefore, I think this proposal had better be rejected altogether. It is a fraud on the taxpayers of the country that this enormous sum should be paid for a thing from which we shall get no income and which is not worth the money. Although I am anxious to see the Chartered Company done away with, I think the price proposed is too great, and I shall vote for the Amendment of my hon. friend.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
I rise because the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made no attempt to 403 answer some of the criticisms which have been made in this Debate. We are left without any reply at all to some very damaging criticisms which have just been passed upon this measure. There is one point which the Committee has a right to have cleared up, and that is the difference between the money proposed to be paid for the assets of the company and the figure at which those assets are put down in the company's own balance-sheet. I understand that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has admitted that we are proposing to pay the company more for a portion of these assets than what the whole assets were put down for in the balance-sheet of the company. We understand that the right hon. Gentleman proposes to give £113,000 for steamers, etc., and in addition to this £115,000 for land and mineral and mining rights. It is proposed that:the company shall be relieved of all its administrative powers and duties, and shall assign to Her Majesty's Government the benefit of all its trade and all its land and mining rights of whatever sort and however acquired.I call the attention of the Committee to the fact that we are only getting a portion of the assets for this £115,000.
§ * SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
It is not a fact that the Government are proposing to pay £115,000 for what has been set down in the company's balance-sheet as being worth only £113,000, because the sum of £115,000 includes a considerable amount of warlike stores and ammunition.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
My interpretation of that would be that the lands which are mentioned in this balance-sheet and in the paragraph I just read are the same, and I take it that a portion of this £115,000 will be for the land.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
I take it that £115,000 represents the price paid for the assets of the company. The assets are set forth in this balance-sheet as being worth £113,000, and we get only a portion of them, so that we are paying £2,000 more for a portion of the assets than the company put down for the whole of them.
§ * SIR M. HICKS BEACH
The hon. Member is quite wrong, and I must com- 404 plain that it is not the first time that he has come in late and repeated criticisms to which I had already replied. I have explained the whole of this matter fully before, and I am not going to waste the time of the House by explaining it again. It is not a fact that we are paying £115,000 for assets which are set down in the balance sheet at £113,000, because other things are included.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
The right hon. Gentleman complains because I came in late, but I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the Government kept us here until half-past two this morning. There are other hon. Members here who heard the right hon. Gentleman's speech, and they say that the right hon. Gentleman, in their opinion, has not answered this question satisfactorily. Taking the warlike stores at £9,000, it means that we are paying £115,000 for a portion of what was put clown in the books of the company as being worth £122,000, and I call that a very bad bargain. The explanation of the right hon. Gentleman is that the company actually under-estimated the value of their own assets. This is one of the most miraculous companies I ever heard of in the world of finance, because it requires a close-fisted Chancellor of the Exchequer to level up its assets beyond the point at which they have estimated them. The Government propose to relieve this company of the administrative portion of their work, upon which they were making a very heavy deficit of £20,000 a year, and we are asked to pay back the money which they have lost. That means that in this excellent bargain we are asked to pay the company a large sum for relieving them of this annual loss. I think the company should pay something to the State for taking over their liabilities. I believe if the Chancellor of the Exchequer had proposed £2,500,000 for this company the House would have accepted his proposal, because hon. Members are anxious to bring the session to an end. I desire to enter my protest against such a very bad bargain being entered into at this late period of the session.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 171; Noes, 78. (Division List, No. 306.)407
|Anson, Sir William Reynell||FitzGerald, Sir Robt. Penrose-||Milton, Viscount|
|Arnold-Forster, Hugh O.||Fitzmaurice, Lord Edmond||Milward, Colonel Victor|
|Arrol, Sir William||FitzWygram, General Sir F.||Monk, Charles James|
|Asher, Alexander||Flannery, Sir Fortescue||Moon, Edward Robert Pacy|
|Atkinson, Right Hon. John||Fletcher, Sir Henry||More, Jasper (Shropshire)|
|Bagot, Capt. Josceline FitzRoy||Flower, Ernest||Morrell, George Herbert|
|Baird, John George Alexander||Foster, Colonel (Lancaster)||Morton, Arthur H A (Deptford)|
|Balfour, Rt. Hn. A. J. (Man.)||Garfit, William||Murray, Rt. Hon. A. G. (Bute)|
|Balfour, Rt. Hn. G. W. (Leeds)||Goldsworthy, Major-General||Murray, Charles J. (Coventry)|
|Banbury, Frederick George||Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir John E.||Murray, Col. Wyndham (Bath)|
|Barnes, Frederic Gorell||Goschen, Rt. Hn. G. J. (StGeo.'s)||Newdigate, Francis Alexander|
|Barry, Rt. Hn. A. H. S.-(Hunts||Goulding, Edward Alfred||Nicol, Donald Ninian|
|Barton, Dunbar Plunket||Graham, Henry Robert||Parkes, Ebenezer|
|Beach, Rt. Hn. Sir M. H. (Brstol)||Greville, Hon. Ronald||Penn, John|
|Bethell, Commander||Haldane, Richard Burdon||Pierpoint, Robert|
|Bhownaggree. Sir M. M.||Hamond, Sir C. (Newcastle)||Pilkington, Sir G. A. (Lancs, S W)|
|Bill, Charles||Hanbury, Rt. Hon. Robt. Wm.||Platt-Higgins, Frederick|
|Bolitho, Thomas Bedford||Hare, Thomas Leigh||Powell, Sir Francis Sharp|
|Bond, Edward||Heaton, John Henniker||Priestley, Sir W. O. (Edinburgh|
|Boulnois, Edmund||Hedderwick, Thomas C. H.||Purvis, Robert|
|Brassey, Albert||Helder, Augustus||Renshaw, Charles Bine|
|Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John||Hill, Sir Edward Stock (Bristol)||Rentoul, James Alexander|
|Brookflield, A. Montagu||Hoare, E. Brodie (Hampstead)||Ridley, Rt Hon. Sir Matt. W.|
|Bullard, Sir Harry||Hoare, Samuel (Norwich)||Ritchie, Rt. Hon. C. Thomson|
|Campbell, Rt. Hn. J A (Glasgow)||Holland, Hon. Lionel R. (Bow)||Russell. T. W. (Tyrone)|
|Cavendish, V. C. W. (Derbyshire)||Howard, Joseph||Ryder, John Herbert Dudley|
|Cayzer, Sir Charles William||Howell, William Tudor||Samuel, Harry S. (Limehouse)|
|Cecil, Evelyn (Hertford, East)||Hozier, Hon. James Henry Cecil||Scoble, Sir Andrew Richard|
|Cecil, Lord Hugh (Greenwich)||Jackson, Rt. Hon. W. Lawies||Sharpe, William Edward T.|
|Chaloner, Captain R. G. W.||Jeffreys, Arthur Frederick||Simeon, Sir Harrington|
|Chamberlain, J Austen (Worc'r)||Jessel Captain Herbert Merton||Sinclair, Louis (Romford)|
|Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry||Johnston, William (Belfast)||Smith, Jas. Parker (Lanarks.)|
|Cochrane, Hon. Thos. H. A. E.||Johnstone, Hey wood (Sussex)||Spencer, Ernest|
|Coddington, Sir William||Kay-Shuttleworth, RtHnSirU||Stanley, Hon. A. (Ormskirk)|
|Coghill, Douglas Harry||Kimber, Henry||Stanley, Edw. Jas. (Somerset)|
|Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse||Knowles, Lees||Stanley, Sir H. M. (Lambeth)|
|Colomb, Sir John C. Ready||Laurie, Lieut.-General||Stanley, Lord (Lancs.)|
|Colston, Chas. Edw. H. Athole||Lawrence, Sir E. Durning-(Corn||Stone, Sir Benjamin|
|Cook, Fred. Lucas (Lambeth)||Lawrence, Wm. F. (Liverpool)||Sutherland, Sir Thomas|
|Cooke, C. W. R. (Hereford)||Lawson, John Grant (Yorks.)||Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)|
|Cox, Irwin Edw. Bainbridge||Lecky, Rt. Hon. William E. H.||Talbot, Rt Hn. J. G.(Oxf'dUniv.|
|Cripps, Charles Alfred||Llewellyn, E. H. (Somerset)||Thornton, Percy M.|
|Crombie, John William||Llewelyn, Sir Dillwyn-(Swan.)||Tomlinson, W. E. Murray|
|Curzon, Viscount||Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|Dalbiac, Colonel Philip Hugh||Long, Col. Charles W(Evesham)||Tritton, Charles Ernest|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Long, Rt. Hn. Walter(Liv'pool)||Valentia, Viscount|
|Disraeli, Coningsby Ralph||Lopes, Henry Yarde Buller||Whiteley, H. (Asht'n-under-L.|
|Donkin, Richard Sim||Lowe, Francis William||Whitmore, Charles Algernon|
|Doughty, George||Loyd, Archie Kirkman||Wilson, John (Falkirk)|
|Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-||Lucas-Shadwell, William||Wodehouse, Rt. Hn. E. R. (Bath|
|Doxford, William Theodore||Macartney, W. G. Ellison||Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm|
|Duncombe, Hon. Hubert V.||Macdona, John Cumming||Wrightson, Thomas|
|Fardell, Sir T. George||M'Killop, James||Wylie, Alexander|
|Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn E.||Malcolm, Ian||Wyndham-Quin, Major W. H.|
|Field, Admiral (Eastbourne)||Manners, Lord Edward W. J.||Wyvill, Marmaduke D'Arcy|
|Finch, George H.||Martin, Richard Biddulph||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—.|
|Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne||Mellor, Colonel (Lancashire)||Sir William Walrond and|
|Fisher, William Hayes||Middlemore, J. Throgmorton||Mr. Anstruther|
|Abraham, William (Rhondda)||Clark, Dr. G. B. (Caithness-sh.)||Foster, Sir Walter (Derby Co.|
|Allen, Wm. (Newc.-un'r-Lyme)||Colville, John||Gourley, Sir E. Temperley|
|Allison, Robert Andrew||Condon, Thomas Joseph||Hayne, Rt. Hon. Chas. Seale-|
|Austin, M. (Limerick, W.)||Crilly, Daniel||Healy, Timothy M. (N.Louth)|
|Bayley, Thomas (Derbyshire)||Curran, Thomas B. (Donegal)||Holden, Sir Angus|
|Beaumont, Wentworth C. B.||Davitt, Michael||Holland, Wm. H. (York, W. R.)|
|Billson, Alfred||Dewar, Arthur||Horniman, Frederick John|
|Birrell, Augustine||Dilke, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles||Jameson, Major J. Eustace|
|Blake, Edward||Donelan Captain A.||Joicey Sir James|
|Broadhurst, Henry||Duckworth, James||Jones, William (Carnarvonsh.|
|Caldwell, James||Dunn, Sir William||Kinloch, Sir John Geo. Smyth|
|Carmichael, Sir T. D. Gibson-||Esmonde) Sir Thomas||Langley, Batty|
|Lewis, John Herbert||Moulton, John Fletcher||Steadman, William Charles|
|Lloyd-George, David||Nussey, Thomas Willans||Strachey, Edward|
|Lough, Thomas||O'Brien, James F. X. (Cork)||Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath)|
|Macaleese, Daniel||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)||Thomas, Alfred (Glamorgan, E.)|
|M'Crae, George||O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)||Walton, J. Lawson (Leeds, S.)|
|M'Ewan, William||Oldroyd, Mark||Warner, Thomas Courtenay T.|
|M'Kenna, Reginald||Palmer, Sir Charles M. (Durham||Wedderburn, Sir William|
|M'Laren, Charles Benjamin||Pirie, Duncan V.||Williams, John Carvell (Notts.|
|M'Leod, John||Power, Patrick Joseph||Wilson, John (Govan)|
|Maddison, Fred.||Price, Robert John||Wilson, J. H. (Middlesbrough)|
|Maden, John Henry||Reckitt, Harold James||Woods, Samuel|
|Mappin, Sir Frederick Thorpe||Robson, William Snowdon|
|Molloy, Bernard Charles||Shaw, Charles Edw. (Stafford)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—|
|Morgan, W. P. (Merthyr)||Soames, Arthur Wellesley||Mr. Dillon and Mr. Labouchere.|
|Morley, Charles (Breconshire)||Souttar, Robinson|
§ Clause 2:—
§ MR. BUCHANAN
Unless the accounts are concluded within one year some words such as I suggest in the Amendment I rise to move will be necessary in order that we may have an annual account presented to the House under the Act. As the clause now stands there is no provision that there shall be an annual account sent in to the House of Commons by the Comptroller and Auditor-General.
In page 2, line 16, after the word 'Act,' to insert the words 'and in every financial year thereafter.'"—(Mr. Buchanan.)
§ Question proposed, "That these words be there inserted."
§ * SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
There will be no annual accounts, because the principal sum will be expended in this year, and the interest and instalments for repayment will appear in the Colonial Vote as a vote in aid. I think the hon. Member will see that under these circumstances full information will be given.
§ MR. BUCHANAN
After the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 2 agreed to.
§ Clause 3:—
§ MR. BUCHANAN
In the course of this Debate the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated that the territories indicated in this clause were not merely the territories at the present moment under the administration of the company.
§ MR. BUCHANAN
I was very much surprised when I heard the statement, but the object of this Amendment is to clear up the ambiguity. I think I have accepted the natural and obvious interpretation of the words. There will be considerable difficulty experienced in the working out of this clause, because we have been told that what I may call the maritime part of the company's territory is now to be amalgamated, and will form a part of Southern Nigeria. Under this clause a separate account will have to be kept in the future of the revenue from that part which was not formerly included in the Niger Company's territories. Accepting that interpretation of the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it appears to me that there will be considerable practical difficulty in separating the revenue that comes from that part of Nigeria which was formerly under the administration of the company. I therefore beg to move the Amendment.
In page 2, lines 27 and 28, to leave out the words 'administered by the company at the passing of this Act,' and insert the words, 'of Northern Nigeria, Southern Nigeria, and Lagos.'"—(Mr. Buchanan.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the clause."
§ * Sir M. HICKS-BEACH
explained that the only territories intended to be charged were those now under the administration of the Company.
§ MR. BUCHANAN
I shall not press the Amendment, as it appears I was under a misapprehension as to a statement of fact.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.409
§ MR. BUCHANAN
I desire to move to leave out the last two lines of the clause. This clause purports to make the sum which we are advancing from the Consolidated Fund a debt upon the territories of the Niger Company. The Chancellor of the Exchequer himself told us, in his Second Reading speech, that it did not make an actual debt charge on the revenues of these territories, but that it was more of a pious wish that in the future any surplus revenue might be used in paying off this advance. I should like to have put into the Bill a definite expression of the intention of Parliament that this was to be a formal debt upon the Niger territories, and that when there is a surplus that surplus should be devoted to the purpose of redeeming that debt. In the early part of the clause it is stated that the Treasury are to determine what are to be the receipts from the territory administered by the company in excess of necessary expenses of administration. A certain surplus might a few years hence be yielded, but the value of that provision is almost destroyed by the last two lines, which I wish to leave out. After the Treasury have stated, "Here is a surplus," the Colonial Office can step in and say "No; we want this surplus for the development and improvement of these territories," and the Treasury may give its assent to that diversion of the surplus. Therefore, I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will strengthen the Bill by agreeing to the omission of these two last lines.
In page 2, line 29, to leave out from the word 'Exchequer' to end of clause."—(Mr. Buchanan.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the clause."
§ * SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
The Amendment which the hon. Member desires to make would weaken rather than strengthen the clause, because these words are inserted to make it quite clear that the Colonial Office could not apply the surplus revenues of these territories to their development or improvement without the consent of the Treasury. When some years hence these territories have a flourishing revenue—
§ * SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
Long before that. But when these territories have a revenue more than sufficient to pay the ordinary expenses of their administration there will be a surplus, which, if these words were omitted, the Colonial Office might say they wanted for the purpose of improvements; but these words give the Treasury a voice in the matter. It would be a very foolish policy to starve this colony in order that this debt might be repaid the sooner. The colony can only be made prosperous by a reasonable and judicious expenditure in development and improvement, and I think that that expenditure ought to be made only with the assent of the Treasury.
§ MR. DILLON
If we could make a bargain that the Colonial Office would say, "In the next 50 or 100 years we will spend on the territory all the surplus revenue, provided this House is not called upon to vote any deficit," I would close with it at once.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Question proposed, "That Clause 3 stand part of the Bill.'
§ * SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucester Forest of Dean)
I should be glad if the right hon. Gentleman would explain how these revenues are to be distinguished. At the present moment the direct trade is stopped, and we have never had the Report on the troubles which arose from the suppression of the direct trade. I only ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give some indication of how he proposes to attain his end. I hope the interference with the direct trade will not continue.
§ * Sir M. HICKS-BEACH
said that he had already stated there would be only one custom-house for all the territories, with the exception of the necessary restrictions on the importation of liquor.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Clause 4 agreed to.
§ MR. DILLON
In moving the new clause of which I have given notice, I desire to call attention to the extra- 411 ordinary way in which this Bill has been drafted. We have just been called upon to vote, and have voted, an enormous sum of money for the purchase of certain property, but there is nothing in the Bill which gives the slightest indication of what we are going to get for the money. The only reference to any value to be obtained is contained in the preamble, which has no enactive power. There we are told:Whereas it is proposed to transfer to the Crown the administrative powers of the said company and the benefit of the treaties made by the company and the land, property and mining and other rights acquired by the company, but to reserve to them subject to certain exceptions the plant and trade assets, and their stations, buildings, wharves, and workshops and the sites thereof.In the whole of the Bill that is the sum total of reference to what we are to get. By those words we are led to suppose that for this money we are acquiring without conditions all the mining and other rights, which may or may not be valuable. But in turning to the Papers which have been supplied to us we find that £150,000 are to be paid to the company for its treaty land and mining rights, and further on there occurs this paragraph: "Her Majesty's Government will pay to the company or its assigns half of the receipts from any royalty so imposed"—that is, in pursuance of a previous provision that a royalty should be imposed on any mining rights—"for a period of ninety-nine years from the revocation of the charter." Therefore, while we are called upon to pay this very large sum of money for the mineral rights, the Government are bound under this provision to hamper the mineral industry by the imposition of royalties. From every point of view that is a most vicious principle. In the first place, it checks in its infancy, if any minerals are discovered, the development of the industry; in the second place, it asks the House of Commons to sanction in addition to the payment, which heaven knows is a very generous one, and which we have now voted, an absolutely indefinite payment for the future, for which they give us no value. If some great mineral deposits are discovered we have no idea what revenue this Niger Company may draw from these royalties. It is perfectly monstrous, when even on the admission of the Government the sum of money mentioned in the Bill 412 is an ample compensation for all the rights we are acquiring, that we should be asked to give in addition to that an indefinite sum on the future resources of the country. We have heard a good deal of criticism and attack on the Government of the Transvaal, but that Government has the most liberal gold laws in the world. But what is the position of the Government of Nigeria? If rich gold mines are discovered they will not be able to imitate President Kruger, and throw those resources open to the industry and enterprise of the world. The dead or living hand of the Niger Company will have been by this iniquitous clause planted upon all the undiscovered resources of the territory, and the company will be able to claim these royalties, which in every other part of the world has been swept away, and which where they have been sought to be enforced have led to disturbance and even to rebellion. What will happen if gold is discovered in Nigeria? You will not be able to enforce the royalties, because the American and Irish will come there, and will very soon kick over the traces and refuse to pay them. Goldminers are a very independent class of people, and are not inclined to be sat upon. You will, thereupon, after paying this monstrous sum, be called upon to compensate the Niger Company for the royalties you are unable to enforce. I turn to the balance-sheet with some interest to see what was the estimate placed upon these great mineral rights by the Niger Company itself. Not a single penny! There is no such item at all. So that really this is an extremely important matter, and I trust the Government will see their way to meet me in some degree at least with regard to this new clause. The other branch of the clause is also a very important matter, because what has happened under the present agreement? The Government are taking over certain lands, but those lands are the leavings of the Niger Company. The Niger Company have retained their other lands for their own purposes. The Chancellor of the Exchequer pronounced a eulogy on the company as patriotic. It may be that these men are patriotic, but it is ridiculous to tell me that the founders of this company were animated by pure patriotism. It was a patriotism founded on pure business principles and dividends. They proposed to carry on their trading business and to. 413 do so prosperously—so they stated in their circulars to their shareholders—and therefore they reserve all the stations and lands on the banks of the river which are necessary for carrying on their business, and I conclude that the lands handed over to the Government for an enormous sum are their mere leavings and less valuable than those retained by them for trading purposes. Really sixty acres at Copper Beach valued at £25,000 is a large draft on our faith. Inasmuch as there is to be freedom of trade in the future, and as we have paid an enormous price for the land and mineral rights, the fair thing would have been to have handed the lands over to the Government, which would have let to the company whatever lands they require, so that the company should not be able to entrench themselves and boycott other traders as they have done in the past. Unless that is done I say that all this talk of freedom of trade and breaking up a monopoly is sheer humbug, because the company have secured to themselves all the best positions, and any other trader coming in would only get a swamp or some other unhealthy site.
§ A clause (lands and mineral rights of the company to be transferred to the Crown)—(Mr. Dillon): Brought up and read the first time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed: "That the Clause be read a second time."
§ * SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
I will not follow the hon. Member and other previous speakers through all their repetitions. In regard to mineral rights I stated to the House on the Second Reading the reasons why the Government thought it best to deal with this subject by way of royalty. It is perfectly true that there is nothing in the balance-sheet of the company about mineral rights, for the obvious reason that there are no trading profits at present from mineral rights, and it is impossible to tell what their value might be. The result was that neither in the valuation of the assets of the company, nor in the balance-sheet could they be entered. I stated to the House that there has been a very wide difference of opinion between Sir G. Goldie and myself as to the possible value of these mineral rights. At 414 one time he put the value at a million, but that did not appear to me to be a reasonable valuation, and finally, the conclusion come to was that it would be fair that the mineral rights, whatever they might be, should be mainly paid for by reference to what they actually produced. The hon. Member has pictured to the House that the yield of gold in Nigeria will be as large as in the Transvaal, and that there would be great difficulty in meeting the enormous sums we would have to pay the company in royalties; and then he went on to say that the mineral rights are worth nothing at all. If they are worth nothing at all nothing will be paid. If valuable the royalty is not likely to be high; for example, only 2½ per cent. is charged in the Gold Coast Colony. The hon. Member wishes to put a clause in the Bill providing that all the lands and mineral rights now owned by the company should become the property of the Crown, but that would not be a full statement of what we are purchasing from the company. It is quite unnecessary to put any clause of this kind in the Bill. The Government will not pay the company the sum provided in the Bill until some time after the charter has been revoked and sufficient time has elapsed to enable the new administrator of these territories to visit the lands and to see that the company are not retaining in their possession anything contrary to the agreement. I think that this statement ought to satisfy the hon. Member that we do not intend to expand the funds provided by the Bill in any other way than Parliament intends.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON
I shall support the Amendment. On the Second Reading of the Bill I drew attention to this question of royalties. In regard to the question of the land, I think that the explanation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, although it goes to a certain extent in the right direction, does not go far enough. I understand him to say that before the money is paid for the land a surveyor will be sent to see that the proper land is handed over, and that there will be no opportunity to the company of manipulating the best sites. But that certainly is not stated in the Treasury Minute. Of course if the lands in connection with the trading centres are left intact in the hands of the company, although the monopoly on paper disap 415 pears, the company will practically have I still a very substantial monopoly. There is another point with regard to these lands which the right hon. Gentleman has said nothing about. That is that when the company made these treaties with the native kings, in large numbers of cases the company bound themselves to pay certain sums annually to the native chiefs. Are the lands and mineral rights to be taken over apart from the annual payments to the native chiefs? I think there was a great deal of force in what the hon. Member for East Mayo said in regard to royalties. They will hamper the power of the Government in dealing with the proper development of industry. I believe that the principle of royalties is an exploded idea. The principle now adopted is the direct taxation of the profits of the mines. The Minute of the Treasury itself deals with that point, and prevents the imposing of specific taxation on the mining industry as hampering its development. The Government therefore prevent themselves from dealing with these mining properties in the best way, because they have agreed to give these royalties for ninety-nine years. The large sum of £865,000 ought to be taken as inclusive of all the rights and privileges of the company. I think these royalties will very seriously hamper the Government in dealing with an important part of their revenue, and will very largely prevent the development of the country. I shall certainly support my hon. friend's Amendment.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
I very much welcome my hon. friend's condemnation of this Bill, but I think he has not sufficiently dwelt on the clause giving half the receipts from mining royalties to the company. My interpretation of this clause is that it gives the company practically the last word with regard to the taxation that may be imposed on the mining industry. Suppose the Government decided that the tax on that industry should be an income tax, the company could prevent it.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
I am very glad to hear it, and to have that matter cleared up. Now I come to the question 416 of the lands. The right hon. Gentleman has said that none of the money will be paid over until the Government agents have surveyed the land, and have seen that the company has not preserved all the valuable land for itself.
§ * SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
It has been contended over and over again that we have not made a bargain with the company that will enable free trade to be carried on on the Niger. We contend that we have, and we shall take care by the check exercised by administrators on the spot that the company in the future will not be able to prevent free trade.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
By preserving certain stations they will be able still to retain a monopoly. I would point out that the agents of the Government will not be able to deal with a free hand with this matter, because the lands are set forth in this document, and they will not be able to pick and choose. To that extent I think that the right hon. Gentleman has unduly narrowed the power of the Government. I do not think it will be in the power of the right hon. Gentleman ever again to say one word with regard to the taxation of the mining industry in the Transvaal, or in any other part of the world, in face of this provision. I do not know whether there is mining wealth or not on the Niger, but the right hon. Gentleman made allusions to the possibility of gold being there. Fancy the monstrous position in which the Government will find itself, should a great gold industry grow up, in having to pay to the company for a period of ninety-nine years half the mining royalties in addition to the moneys they now obtain.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
I should like to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer where the company derive their title to these mining rights. They have about 300 treaties, but I find that not one of them states that the mining rights have been given up by the native prince or chief. The company has no more right to them than I have. We shall have to insist on depriving the natives of these rights, and then we will have to give half the royalties to the company.
§ SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
As I have repeatedly stated, the company derives these mining rights from treaties made in the empires of Sokoto and Gandu, which extend over considerably larger areas than the area defined in the Treasury Minute. I am not an authority on the effect of these treaties, but that is the interpretation placed upon them.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
When the House of Commons is asked to give a certain sum of money, and to levy royalty on mines in the empires of Sokoto and Gandu, we ought to have the treaties before us, in order that we may know whether the company have acquired these rights. But we ought to have some sort of assurance, before we pledge ourselves to charge a royalty and to give a certain proportion to the company, that the company have really acquired a good title to those minerals. The company state that these rights are worth a million, and I would suggest to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give the company £500,000 less, and leave the company in possession of all these rights for what they may be worth. Personally, I do not believe they are worth two pence.
§ DR. CLARK
Of all the elements in this bad bargain, I think this is the worst of the lot. Under it we are compelled to impose a royalty on all minerals. Until now all royalties were limited to gold and silver, but now all minerals are to be included. The hon. Member for East Mayo spoke of the result of royalties in Australia. I should like to say a word as to royalties in Great Britain. The hon. Member for Merthyr, who has had great experience of gold mining in Australia, found good reefs in Wales. He developed a few mines, but the industry was confiscated by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer by the royalties he placed
§ on the mines. By this provision also you limit the method of taxation. I hope my hon. friend will take a Division. We are doing enough in paying away hundreds and thousands of pounds, and we ought certainly to prevent the imposition of a so-called royalty on gold for the first time.
§ MR. MCKENNA (Monmouth, N.)
I wish to draw the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to a very simple point. Will it not be the case that for the first time the power of imposing royalties will be granted by this agreement, and will not the company get half the royalties in respect to territory where at the present moment they do not possess mining rights at all?
§ SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
No doubt it is the case that the company have had mining rights over a far larger area than is specified in the Treasury Minute, from which they will receive half royalties, and there is a portion of territory not included in that area; therefore, so far, they will have royalties where they are not entitled to mining rights. This was made matter for discussion and bargain between Sir G. Goldie and myself.
§ MR. MCKENNA
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his explanation, but there is this further point. There are three parties concerned—the Government, the company, and the natives—and, presumably, the rights in the new territory belong to the natives. We ought not, therefore, to take them away.
§ Question put—
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 89; Noes, 160. (Division List, No. 307.)419
|Abraham, William (Rhondda)||Bolton, Thomas Dolling||Causton, Richard Knight|
|Allison, Robert Andrew||Broadhurst, Henry||Cawley, Frederick|
|Asher, Alexander||Bryce, Rt. Hon. James||Clark, Dr.G.B. (Caithness-sh.)|
|Atherley-Jones, L.||Buchanan, Thomas Ryburn||Colville. John|
|Balfour, Rt. Hn. J. B. (Clackm.||Burt, Thomas||Crilly, Daniel|
|Bayley, Thomas (Derbyshire)||Buxton, Sydney Charles||Crombie, Johd William|
|Beaumont, Wentworth C. B.||Caldwell. James||Curran, Thomas B. (Donegal)|
|Billson, Alfred||Cameron, Robert (Durham)||Dalziel, James Henry|
|Birrell, Augustine||Campbell- Bannerman, Sir H.||Dewar, Arthur|
|Blake, Edward||Carmichael, Sir T. D. Gibson-||Dilke, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles|
|Donelan, Captain A.||Leng, Sir John||Robertson, Edmund (Dundee)|
|Doogan, P. C.||Lewis, John Herbert||Shaw, Charles Edw. (Stafford)|
|Duckworth, James||Lloyd-George, David||Sinclair, Capt John (Forfarshire|
|Dunn, Sir William||Lough, Thomas||Soames, Arthur Wellesley|
|Esmonde, Sir Thomas||Macaleese, Daniel||Steadman, William Charles|
|Evans, Sir F. H. (South'ton)||M'Crae, George||Strachey, Edward|
|Fitzmaurice, Lord Edmond||M'Ewan, William||Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath)|
|Foster, Sir W. (Derby Co.)||M'Laren, Charles Benjamin||Tennant, Harold John|
|Gourley, Sir E. Temperley||Maddison, Fred.||Walton, J. Lawson (Leeds, S.)|
|Harwood, George||Mappin, Sir Frederick Thorpe||Warner, Thomas CourtenayT.|
|Hayne, Rt. Hon. Charles Seale-||Mendl, Sigismund Ferdinand||Wedderburn, Sir William|
|Healy, Timothy M. (N. Louth)||Norton, Capt. Cecil William||Williams, John Carvell (Nots.)|
|Holland, W. H. (York, W.R.)||O'Brien, James F. X. (Cork)||Wilson, Charles Henry (Hull)|
|Horniman, Frederick John||O'Connor. T. P. (Liverpool)||Wilson, Henry J. (York, W.R.|
|Joicey, Sir James||Oldroyd, Mark||Wilson, John (Govan)|
|Jones, Wm. (Carnarvonshire)||Palmer, Sir C. M. (Durham)||Wilson, Jos. H. (Middlesbrough|
|Kay-Shuttleworth,Rt HnSirU||Palmer, George W. (Reading)||Woods, Samuel|
|Kinloch, Sir John Geo. Smyth||Pirie, Duncan V.|
|Labouchere, Henry||Power, Patrick Joseph||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—|
|Langley, Batty||Price, Robert John||Mr. Dillon and Mr. M'Kenna|
|Lawson, Sir W. (Cumberland)||Provand, Andrew Dryburgh|
|Aird, John||Disraeli, Coningsby Ralph||Long, Col. C. W. (Evesham)|
|Anson, Sir William Reynell||Dixon-Hartland. Sir F. Dixon||Long, Rt. Hn. Walter (Liverp'l)|
|Arnold, Alfred||Donkin, Richard Sim||Lopes, Henry Yarde Buller|
|Arrol, Sir William||Dorington, Sir John Edward||Lowe, Francis William|
|Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John||Doughty, George||Loyd, Archie Kirkman|
|Bagot, Capt. Josceline FitzRoy||Douglas, Rt. Hon. A Akers-||Lncas-Shadwell, William|
|Baird, John George Alexander||Doxford, William Theodore||Macartney, W. G. Ellison|
|Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J. (Manch'r||Duncombe, Hon. Hubert V.||Macdona, John Cumming|
|Balfour, Rt. Hn. G. W. (Leeds)||Dyke, Rt, Hon. Sir W. Hart||M'Killop, James|
|Banbury, Frederick George||Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn Edward||Malcolm, Ian|
|Barnes, Frederic Gorell||Fergusson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Manc'r||Manners, Lord Edward W. J.|
|Barry, Rt. Hn. A. H. S (Hunts.)||Finch, George H.||Middlemore, J. Throgmorton|
|Barton, Dunbar Plunket||Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne||Milward, Colonel Victor|
|Beach, Rt. Hn. Sir M. H. (Bristol||Firbank, Joseph Thomas||Monk, Charles James|
|Bhownaggree, Sir M. M.||Fisher. William Hayes||More, Robert J. (Shropshire)|
|Bigwood, Charles||FitzWygram, General Sir F.||Morrell. George Herbert|
|Bill, Charles||Flannery, Sir Fortescue||Morton, A. H. A. (Deptford)|
|Bolitho, Thomas Bedford||Fletcher, Sir Henry||Murray, Rt. Hon. A. G. (Bute)|
|Boulnois, Edmund||Flower, Ernest||Murray, Charles J. (Coventry)|
|Bowles, T. G. (King's Lynn)||Foster, Colonel (Lancaster)||Murray, Col. Wyndham (Bath)|
|Brassey, Albert||Garfit, William||Newdigate, Francis Alexander|
|Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John||Gedge, Sydney||Nicol, Donald Ninian|
|Brookfield, A. Montagu||Gibbs, Hn. A. G. H. (City of Lon)||Penn, John|
|Bullard, Sir Harry||Goldsworthy, Major-General||Platt-Higgins, Frederick|
|Butcher. John George||Goschen, Rt Hn. G J (StGeorge's||Priestley, Sir W. O. (Edin.)|
|Campbell, Rt. Hn. J A (Glasgow||Goulding, Edward Alfred||Pryce-Jones, Lt.-Col. E.|
|Cayzer, Sir Charles William||Graham, Henry Robert||Purvis, Robert|
|Cecil, Evelyn (Hertford, East)||Gray, Ernest (West Ham)||Quilter, Sir Cuthbert|
|Cecil, Lord Hugh (Greenwich)||Halsey, Thomas Frederick||Renshaw, Charles Bine|
|Chaloner, Captain R. G. W.||Hamond, Sir C. (Newcastle)||Ridley, Rt Hon Sir Matthew W.|
|Chamberlain, J. Austen (Wore.||Hanbury, Rt. Hn. Robt. Wm.||Ritchie, Rt. Hon. C. Thomson|
|Chaplin. Rt. Hon. Henry||Hare, Thomas Leigh||Russell, T. W. (Tyrone)|
|Clarke, Sir Edw. (Plymouth)||Heaton, John Henniker||Samuel, Harry S. (Limehouse)|
|Cochrane, Hon. Thos. H. A. E.||Hill, Sir Edw. Stock (Bristol)||Savory, Sir Joseph|
|Coddington, Sir William||Hoare, Samuel (Norwich)||Scoble, Sir Andrew Richard|
|Coghill, Douglas Harry||Holland, Hon. Lionel R. (Bow)||Sharpe, William Edward T.|
|Cohen. Benjamin Louis||Howard, Joseph||Simeon, Sir Barrington|
|Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse||Howell, William Tudor||Sinclair, Louis (Romford)|
|Colomb, Sir Jno. Chas. Ready||Hozier, Hn. James HenryCecil||Smith, James P. (Lanarks.)|
|Colston, Charles E. H. Athole||Jessel, Capt. Herbert Merton||Spencer, Ernest|
|Cook, Fred. Lucas (Lambeth)||Johnston, William (Belfast)||Stanley, Hon. A. (Ormskirk)|
|Cooke, C. W. Radcliffe(Heref d)||Johnstone, Heywood (Sussex)||Stanley, Edward J. (Somerset|
|Courtney, Rt. Hon. Leonard H.||Kimber, Henry||Stanley, Sir Henry M.(Lambeth|
|Cox Irwin Edward Bainbridge||Knowles, Lees||Stanley, Lord (Lanes.)|
|Cripps, Charles Alfred||Laurie, Lieut.-General||Stone. Sir Benjamin|
|Curzon, Viscount||Lawson, John Grant (Yorks)||Strauss, Arthur|
|Dalbiac, Colonel Philip Hugh||Lees, Sir Elliott (Birkenhead)||Sutherland, Sir Thomas|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Llewelyn, Sir D.-(Swansea)||Talbot. Lord E. (Chichester)|
|Denny, Colonel||Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine||Talbot, RtHnJ. G. (Oxf'd Univ.|
|Thornton, Percy M.||Whitmore, Charles Algernon||Wyndham-Quin, Major W. H.|
|Tomlinson, Wm. Edw. Murray||Wilson, John (Falkirk)||Wyvill, Marmaduke D'Arcy|
|Tritton, Charles Ernest||Wodehouse, Rt. Hn. E. R. (Bath|
|Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—|
|Valentia, Viscount||Wrightson, Thomas||Sir William Walrond and|
|Whiteley, H. (Ashton-u.-Lyne)||Wylie, Alexander||Mr. Anstruther.|
§ MR. DILLON
Not wishing to be too severe upon the patience of the House, I will confine myself to one of the three Amendments standing in my name on the Paper, though I should very much like to move the whole three. I think it is extremely important that the preamble should he amended by the addition of the words embodied in my second Amendment:—And whereas there was also in the charter a clause prohibiting the Royal Niger Company from establishing any monopoly of trade in the regions committed to its charge.There can be no doubt, practically speaking, that the Niger Company did, throughout the whole course of its administration, carry on its operations in opposition to the spirit of the clause of the charter. When we raised that point on another stage of the Bill, what did the Chancellor of the Exchequer say? He said it was true that the policy of the Niger Company in establishing a monopoly throughout its ten years of existence had been the subject of careful consideration. But he said the Foreign Office were advised by their legal advisers that while the Niger Company were undoubtedly using their power to establish a complete monopoly of trade, they were not breaking the law, and that all they were doing was technically covered by the provisions of the charter. That was a very ugly condition of things, and I think the Government, which had ample power to revoke the charter, are seriously to blame for allowing the Chartered Company to carry on their operations in the teeth of the spirit of this clause of the charter. Inasmuch as a number of facts are proposed to be set forth in the preamble, I think I am justified in insisting, as I now propose to move, that amongst those facts should be set forth the fact that there was contained in the charter a clause prohibiting the company from doing just that very thing which they did do—viz., from setting up a monopoly of trade. I beg to move.
In the Preamble, page 1, line 5, after 'territories,' to insert, 'And whereas there was also in the said charter a clause prohibiting the Royal Niger Company from establishing any monopoly of trade in the regions committed to its charge.'"—(Mr. J. Dillon).
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ * SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
The hon. Member desires to add to the first sentence of the preamble a statement with regard to one particular clause of the charter, which prohibits the company from establishing any monopoly of trade. I can see no reason for selecting that particular clause for insertion in the preamble; no other clause is inserted therein. Moreover, the insertion of the words would have no enactive power whatever, and would not make the slightest difference in the provisions of the Bill.
§ * SIR CHARLES DILKE
It has been pointed out that a clause in this charter re-enacts the whole of the provisions of the general Act of Berlin. When the law officers gave their opinion upon the charter, and passed that charter as one to which the Crown ought to assent, they must have thought we were going to act upon the provisions of the Berlin Act as recited in the charter. This is a matter of some importance. It is certain we shall have to pay damages for acts of the company in violation of the Berlin Act. There is no doubt whatever that claims have been made against the company, and those claims will have to be met by the Government. I think my hon. friend is justified in calling attention to the matter, and in trying to put something in regard to it in the preamble of the Bill. The Berlin Act, with regard to the navigation of the Niger, is extraordinarily strong in its terms. It seems to have foreseen all the difficulties which afterwards arose. It gives freedom of navigation, not in mere general terms, but in a whole series of clauses; and it expressly stated that trade on the Niger 423 should not be exposed to any obligation in respect of landing stages and depôts. That is exactly what trade in the Niger has been exposed to. That Act has been distinctly broken, and the company will be held responsible, and damages, if not paid by the company, will afterwards have to be paid by us. Therefore, I think it is almost essential that some reference should be made to these events, for which this House will undoubtedly have to make some provision in the future.
§ * MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
I think the right hon. Gentleman should really give us some answer to the important point which has been raised. What is the nature of these claims, and their extent? If it is true that, in taking over the territories and powers of this company, we are also taking over the responsibility for these outstanding questions between this company and France, it is a very serious addition to the burden we are taking over. If a large number of claims are outstanding which are to be placed on the shoulders of this country, it may be that, instead of paying £860,000 for the company, we shall have to pay double that amount. I certainly think the point is worth the attention of, and deserves explanation from, those who are responsible for this Bill.
§ * SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
This point was raised by the right hon. Baronet on the introduction of the Bill. I then stated that, though there was a claim against the company, there was a much larger claim by the company against France for injuries done to them on the Niger. It is not a matter upon which I, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, can express an opinion, but the Foreign Office has the matter fully before it.
* THE CHAIRMAN
I do not see how the question of claims by France or any other country against this company can be raised on the question whether certain words should be inserted in the preamble with reference to monopoly of trade. It seems to me to be outside the motion now before the Committee.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
That is what I was going to point out. But this 424 addition to the preamble would make no difference in the liabilities of Her Majesty's Government, either towards France or towards the company. The fact that there are other claims of the company against France is a very important matter in favour of this Bill. I should be very glad if the Chancellor of the Exchequer would tell us the amount of those claims.
* THE CHAIRMAN
I do not see how the question of outstanding claims can be entered upon on the Amendment now before the Committee.
§ MR. DILLON
The Chancellor of the Exchequer did not give any reason why he should not accept this Amendment. All he said was that it was the only reference to a particular clause, and he did not see what good it would do. I attach great importance to it. I know the preamble has no enactive force, but it is a statement of facts, and it states a number of facts as forming the basis of this great grant of money. It is an all-important fact that the company were bound not to set up a monopoly, and it may be a strong argument in disputes which may arise between the Government and the company in reference to claims for various things; I think it would strengthen the hands of the Government against the company.
§ MR. SAMUEL EVANS (Glamorgan, Mid.)
I really think the right hon. Gentleman has not sufficiently answered this point. This Amendment of the preamble constitutes a recital setting up what is the claim of the Government against the Chartered Company. It shows that we claim that at the time of entering into this agreement any liability which the company had incurred would still continue a liability of the company and would not become a liability of this country. It is surely most important if there are outstanding liabilities that we should put in the very front of our Bill a statement that we are not liable for those liabilities, and that the company, although they handed over to us all their existing interests in the territory, did not thereby get rid of their outstanding liabilities.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
It would not do any good to put this in the preamble, and moreover it is really a statement 425 contrary to the facts as stated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer—that the company were not prohibited by the terms—
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
I took his words down. He said that the monopoly which was set up was not contrary to the terms of the charter.
§ MR. DILLON
That is quite a mistake. Here are the words of Article 14:—Nothing in this one charter should be deemed to authorise the company to set up or grant any monopoly of trade.How can you get over those words?
§ MR. MCKENNA
The observations of the hon. Member for King's Lynn are the strongest argument in favour of the insertion of these words, so that there may be no doubt with regard to the monopoly of trade. I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will accept these words, as they would make the fact much clearer than it is at present.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
This is a very important point. Look at the position in which the right hon. Gentleman places himself and the Government. He now states the Government will have present to their minds the fact that there are large outstanding claims against the company. Those claims may or may not be compensated for by the claims of the company against the French Government. Surely before we pay over this money to the company, they should give a free bill of health to the Government with regard to all these things. Can the right hon. Gentleman not introduce a few words to secure this? If the French Government make good their claim against the company, and the company fail to make good their claim against France, then there will be an addition to the liabilities of the company, and a large increase in the amount the Government will be called upon to pay. Will the Government undertake to safeguard us against that?
§ * SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
If the hon. Member thinks that we are going to pay the company the money provided under the Bill, and to allow the company to impose upon us payment for some injury 426 done by the company to France, he is much mistaken.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
That is a most satisfactory statement. But why not set it forth expressly in the Bill? I hope that between this and another stage the Chancellor of the Exchequer will see his way to put in words to secure this end.
§ * SIR CHARLES DILKE
The assurance given by the right hon. Gentleman is most satisfactory. It concedes the principle for which we fought in vain in the case of the British East Africa Company.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
After that assurance I think we may be perfectly certain that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will keep in hand a sufficient sum to meet any claims of this sort, so that the company, and not the country, will have to pay.
§ MR. DILLON
I am strongly of opinion that the words should be inserted in the Bill, but after the assurance given by the right hon. Gentleman I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment by leave withdrawn.
§ Preamble agreed to.
§ Bill reported without Amendment; to be read the third time To-morrow.