§ MR. SMEATON (Stirlingshire)
I beg to ask the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies whether the negotiations for the concession of the Ceylon pearl fisheries during 1904 and part of 1905 were carried on in strict secrecy by means of confidential correspondence without any reference to the people of Ceylon; whether this method of administering the domestic affairs of the Colony and the granting of such a concession to a private company in this manner are contrary to the usual practice in the Colony of openly inviting tenders after public advertisement; whether, of the fourteen members of the Legislative Council who voted for the Ordinance sanctioning the concession, ten were paid officials, three were representatives of non-permanent European communities, one was a Singhalese official in the pay of the Government; and whether the four members who voted against the Ordinance were the only independent Ceylonese non-officials in the council; and whether, during the confidential negotiations with the late Colonial Secretary for the concession, Sir West Ridgeway acted on behalf of a group of South African financiers and mine owners who held a preponderating position on the syndicate and who have the largest holdings in the new company.
§ MR. CHURCHILL
I am informed that the communications, being business negotiations, were necessarily confidential, and, in regard to the second part of the Question, that this was not contrary to the usual practice of the Colony. According to the division list, the i majority who voted for the Ordinance consisted of seven officials, the officer commanding the troops, the Kandyan representative, who is, it is understood, one of the native headmen and paid in that capacity, and the three European non-official members. The four who voted against it were the representatives of the Low country Sinhalese, the Tamil, the Burgher, and the Mahommedan communities. I have no knowledge as to the last point referred to by the hon. Member.
§ MR. SMEATON
asked the Speaker whether he was entitled to ask the late Colonial Secretary to give information on this extraordinary transaction, which was enshrouded in so much mystery?
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
asked whether, inasmuch as the name of the late Colonial Secretary had been frequently mentioned in connection with this transaction, it would be in order for that right hon. Gentleman to make a personal explanation.
§ MR. SPEAKER
There is no question of a personal explanation. What the right hon. Member for St. George's, Hanover Square, would be called upon to do would be to expound the policy of the late Government, and that, of course, would lead to some debate.
§ MR. LYTTELTON (St. George's, Hanover Square)
Perhaps the House will allow me to state that I did ask the Speaker whether it was in conformity with the rule of the House that I should make a statement on this matter. Mr. Speaker said that it was not. I confess that, without apportioning any blame to the Under-Secretary, he is not precisely the channel through which I should desire my views to be conveyed to the House of Common. It would be a matter of satisfaction to me, inasmuch as this trans action—
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The right hon. Gentleman is going to do the very thing I told him he could not do.
§ MR. LYTTELTON
said he would not pursue that point, but instead would ask the Prime Minister, as this matter had been conveyed to the House in sporadic Answers to sporadic Questions, and very incompletely, as he thought, whether he would facilitate the discussion of the subject by giving a day.