HC Deb 06 June 1901 vol 94 cc1307-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Agreement made the 23rd day of April, 1901, between His Majesty's Government and the Eastern Extension, Australasia and China Telegraph Company, Limited, for the provision and working of a Submarine Cable between Chefoo and Wei-hai-wei be approved.—(Mr. Austen Chamberlain.)

SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)

said the Agreement merited the attention of the House, and he should like to have some information regarding it. In the statement which had been circulated to Parliament it was stated that the need of telegraphic communication with Wei-hai-wei having become urgent, the Eastern Extension Company was approached as to the terms on which they would establish it. The whole matter appeared to have proceeded from the Government. In the report of the annual meeting of one of the two Companies concerned, namely, the Great Northern Company, commonly known as the Russo-Danish Company, it was stated that the company had arranged with the Chinese Telegraphic Administration and the Allied Governments for the submarine cables between certain ports, and had also met the special requirements of Great Britain, Germany, and Russia. In the document laid before Parliament it was stated that an Agreement was made to the effect that no other party was to be allowed without the consent of the "said parties," that is, the Eastern Extension Company and the Russo-Danish Company, to land cables on the coast of China or the islands belonging thereto or to work such cables, and the British Government bound themselves to use their best endeavours to secure the due observance and fulfilment of the terms and conditions of that Agreement. The effect appeared to him to be that the Government had bound themselves to the two companies mentioned to use their best endeavours to retain for them a monopoly of telegraphic communication with China. The practical point he wanted to put was that they knew that the policy of the Government of the United States was to enter into direct telegraphic communication with China, and the Agreement to which he had referred seemed to bind the British Government to support the two companies in resisting any attempt on the part of the United States to enter into cable communication with China. It seemed to him to be in accordance with the interests of this country that the Government of the United States should start their own cables, as in view of a possible war it would be of the greatest advantage to have a neutral Government like the United States able to supply fresh lines of communication. He should be glad to have some explanation from the Government on the matter.


said that the position in which the Government found themselves was that they were anxious to have the cable constructed as soon as possible. There were reasons making it desirable to have it at the earliest possible moment. They found that the Chinese Administration had already pledged themselves under a previous Agreement to give no landing rights to any companies except the Russo-Danish Company and the Eastern Extension Company. Those two companies were for the purpose of the British Government one company, because they were working in common. Therefore, it was only to them they could look for the construction of the cable, and they were obliged in the circumstances to make the best terms they could, and he thought the terms they did make were very satisfactory. The right hon. Baronet referred to the parties to the Agreement as being the two cable companies; but he thought the right hon. Baronet misapprehended the matter. The parties were on one side the Chinese Administration, and on the other the two cable companies. The companies were already in possession of the Agreement, and part of the conditions put before the British Government was that they should use their influence to maintain the rights which the companies already possessed, and to secure them for a period of thirty years, which period the companies obtained in their Agreement with the Chinese administration.

Adjourned at twenty-eight minutes before One of the clock.