HC Deb 27 February 1906 vol 152 cc1068-76

6. £500 (Supplementary), Diplomatic and Consular Services.

MR. BOLAND (Kerry, S.)

called attention to the question of the publication of the diplomatic and consular reports which, he complained, were of no use to Ireland in the form in which they were published, although, he said, they could be made most useful. He pointed out that the reports gave no statistics as to the imports and exports to and from Ireland as distinct from England, but that the Consuls lumped all the figures together in a way that was perfectly bewildering; with the exception of the reports of the Consuls at Boston and Philadelphia he had seen none which were of real use to Ireland.


did not think the question to which the hon. Member referred was in order upon this Estimate.


asked why there should be so large an increase as £2,600 for the delimitation of the Anglo-German boundary east of Lake Victoria. Why had the Estimate for that purpose been exceeded by £2,600?


said that the excess amount of this Vole was caused by the fact that the Anglo-German Boundary Commission had undertaken more work than was originally anticipated, as well as occupying a longer time. The Joint Committee was despatched in July, 1902, for the delimitation of the Anglo-German boundary east of Lake Victoria, and in 1903 the British Commission found an opportunity of doing more work in the same region. It was cheaper to under-take the work by a Commission near the spot than by sending out a separate Commission. Finally, the Commission was detained a little longer than had been anticipated.

Vote agreed to.

7. £54,683, Newfoundland Fisheries Indemnity.

MR. HAROLD COX (Preston)

said the point at issue in this Amendment was an important one. Under the recent treaty with France we were conferring a great boon upon the people of Newfoundland, and he contended that the Newfoundlanders ought to pay this indemnity and not the people of Great Britain and Ireland. Many people argued that this was an Imperial matter, but who were the people who benefited? By the Treaty of 1783, the French were confirmed in certain eights over a large portion of the coast of Newfoundland. So strong was the confirmation that the English King undertook to prevent his subjects from disturbing the French fishermen by competition with them. In other words only a portion of the island was ours absolutely; our rights on the French shore were subject to the superior rights conceded to the French. The people of Newfoundland when local self-government was conferred upon them, acquired only such rights as we before possessed. But they had never been content to accept that limitation, and had constantly been trying to oust the French. He did not altogether blame them. They believed there were minerals there, and believed that their position would be improved if the French were excluded. From the British point of view, however, their demand was extremely disagreeable, because it put us in the position of either appearing to evade our treaty with France or of being compelled to coerce our own Colony. In 1891 Lord Salisbury introduced in the House of Lords a Bill for coercing the Colony of Newfoundland because it refused to carry out the terms of the treaty with France. Lord Salisbury then pointed out that it was impossible to come to a settlement with France because of the unreasonableness of the demands of the Colonists. Now at last the Colonists had secured everything they asked for, but doubly at our cost. In the first place, in order to induce the French to go out of Newfoundland this country had conceded to France territory in the Colony of Gambia, a group of islands off the coast of West Africa, and a large slice of Northern Nigeria—all for the sake of 200,000 Newfoundlanders. In the second place the private rights of French fishermen had to be dealt with, and it was agreed that we should pay compensation, which had been fixed by arbitration at £54,000. This sum Parliament was now asked to pay in order to compensate the French fishermen for abstaining from fishing on the French shore of Newfoundland. But who benefited by that? Clearly the Newfoundlanders, and therefore they ought to pay. It was said that the Colony was poor, but he found that the Chief Justice of the Colony, writing not long ago, spoke of his own Colony as a "large and wealthy Colony" of British subjects. He repudiated the argument that because there were some poor people in Newfoundland that therefore the island should have something for nothing. It seemed to him an absolutely immoral doctrine. At whose expense were they to have it? Were there no poor people in England or Ireland? Irish fishermen would be taxed in order to increase the profits of the Newfoundland fishermen, who were probably much better off than were the Irish fishermen. This question also raised the whole issue of the way in which the late Government and former Governments lavished money on any Colony that chose to hold out its hand. In 1881 the Civil expenditure of the Colonies was only £72,000; in 1897 it was £294,000, and then the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham discovered the Empire, and took charge of the Colonies, and during his administration the expenditure rose to nearly £1,500,000. This was one of the items of that huge expenditure placed upon the people of this country by the policy of always voting money whenever a Colony chose to ask for it, and though it might be said that this particular sum was small, he did not think the Chancellor of the Exchequer would speak with contempt of a sum of £50,000, and would be glad indeed to lay his hand on it. He ventured to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the stand he had taken with regard to economy generally, because it was not only from the Colonies, but from every quarter that little or big sums were being demanded, and, except the Chancellor of the Exchequer, there was no one to protect the money of the taxpayer or the credit of the country. It was said that this country could not go back—that the money had been already paid out of the Treasury chest and the chest must be filled up again. Yes, but there was nothing to prevent this country demanding from the Colony the repayment of money they clearly owed to us. He would like to press this point upon the Government, and, further, to urge that a a stop should be put to the practice of allowing the Colonies to have everything they chose to ask for. We had for too long been pouring out our substance for the benefit of people whose natural resources were at least as great as our own, and whose burdens were very much lighter, but who, in spite of that fact, contributed not one penny to the expense of maintaining the Empire.


I do not for a moment question the right or propriety of my hon. friend in raising the merits of this question, but, at the same time, it is too late in the day now to go back on what has been done. It was arranged and understood and settled in the last House of Commons that the compensation which should be found due to the French fishermen for giving up the rights on the Treaty Shore of Newfoundland was to be paid by the House of Commons. The actual amount follows the general agreement with France, and that has been settled in the terms described by the agreement between the British and French Governments. The question whether the amount should be paid by the House of Commons or by the Colony is one which, I assume, was considered carefully by the late Government when they made the arrangements which have resulted in the present payment. I suppose what influenced them in deciding that it was the House of Commons they would ask to make this payment and not the self-governing Colony of Newfoundland was that they were engaged in a large operation of policy with regard to France, and that what they were making was not a settlement of individual matters each on its merits, but the settlement of one Imperial matter against another Imperial matter, the object of the whole being to arrive at a good and friendly understanding with the French Government. And so they regarded the whole as a matter of Imperial policy, with regard to which the conduct of negotiation, and even the adjustment of details, should be kept entirely in the hands of the Imperial Government. If they had made the payment of this money dependent on a vote of the Colonial Legislature, it would have been necessary to carry with them step by step, in all the negotiations which resulted in the entente, the consent of the Colony. That would greatly have impeded the negotiations between his Majesty's Government and the French Government; and I would ask the Com mittee—if it be the case, as I am sure it is, that in this House of Commons the entente and understanding with the French Government is as popular as it was in the last House—not to press points of detail of this kind, which undoubtedly must raise difficult questions between the Imperial Government and the self-governing Colony. I think we have gone too far now to ask the Colony to pay this money. The last House of Commons passed an Act in which it was enacted that any sums payable by way of indemnity or for expenses incurred should be defrayed by Parliament. That was an announcement by the last Parliament to the Colony that we and not they would be responsible for the payment of the money when the actual sum had been determined. I do not think it is possible for this House of Commons to reverse what was done by the last House with respect to the Colony of Newfoundland. For the present House of Commons to resolve to go to the Colony and say, "We think the last House of Commons was too generous to you, and we mean to ask you to pay this £54,000 which the last House of Commons gave you to understand the Mother Country would pay"—that would be an unfortunate start in the relations of the present Parliament and the Colony. It would not be good business, and it would not be good policy. But I agree with my hon. friend to this extent—that I think the Colony ought to recognise that in dealing with this matter of Imperial policy we have dealt with them very generously; that the Mother Country has set them free from what was a great embarrassment and concern and difficulty. The old Treaty of Utrecht was originally a matter of Imperial policy, the new understanding with France has been regarded as a matter of Imperial policy, and Newfoundland has derived great benefit from the French rights being put into a form which is no longer embarrassing I hope the Colony will recognise, after this Vote is passed, that the Imperial Government has desired to deal very generously with them, and that in this matter of Imperial policy they have found Imperial interests so handled by the Mother Country as to confer considerable benefit on the Colony.

SIR HOWARDVINCENT (Sheffield, Central)

thanked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs for his admirable statement. He had not heard the whole of the speech by the hon. Member for Preston, but he was there to hear the hon. Member's concluding remarks, and he certainly disagreed with them. Newfoundland was the oldest of the great self-governing Colonies, and he knew from experience that the Colony laboured under the disadvantages of a very poor soil and a treacherous climate. The treaty as regarded the French shore of Newfoundland was decided without any consultation with the Colony. It dealt with a great grievance which had existed many years and might have caused severe complications involving us in misunderstanding, if not in warlike operations. The late Government in doing away with this long-standing grievance, this perpetual sore between the fishermen of Newfoundland and the French fishermen, did an enormous service to the relations between England and France. He was astonished that any hon. Member who had studied the subject at all should speak of our oldest Colony in the terms which had been used by the hon. Member for Preston.


did not agree that the money should be paid by the Colony. The Colony had nothing to do with creating the difficulty or the trouble. It was an Imperial matter, and he was pleased that the late and the present Governments had agreed that this was a proper sum to be paid from Imperial sources for the settlement of a grievance which had caused the expenditure of large sums of money otherwise, and had been a trouble, which, it was to be hoped by this Vote, would be ended. He hoped this country would be able to settle all its difficulties with foreign countries as easily as this one had been.

Vote agreed to.

8. £8,567, Samoa Arbitration Claims.


said he would like to know something about this new item of expenditure before it was passed.


said his hon. friend had described this as a new item, but it was a very old story. In 1899 a state of civil war arose in Samoa, and the representatives of the British and American Governments on the spot took steps to deal with it. A certain amount of damage was done to property, and it was claimed that the British and American Governments were responsible for the damage caused by the action of their forces. The Germans also had a considerable number of subjects there who claimed for damage to their property. Although the arbitrator did not fix any sum, he established that the British and American Governments were responsible for the damage, and the British, American and German Governments were left to settle the matter as to the actual figures of the damages out of court. That took a considerable time, and it was only last April that the Foreign Office were in a position to estimate what the actual amount would be, and consequently they did not know that it would have to be paid out of the revenue for the present year. That was the reason why it was not included in the annual Estimates last year. It was agreed on behalf of Germany that something like £8,000 should be paid to German subjects, and this had been paid by the United States and this country. The United States had subjects whose property was damaged and so had this country, and it was agreed that each country should pay the claims of its own citizens. The British claims amounted to £3,635. Other small claims had been paid to Danish subjects, and that was how this item had arisen.


said he was exceedingly obliged to his right hon. friend for his very clear statement. He was sure it would be acknowledged that he was entitled to that explanation before his money went.

Progress reported.


took the Chair.

Resolutions to be reported To morrow; Committee to sit again To morrow.