HC Deb 27 June 1906 vol 159 cc924-6
MR. SMEATON (Stirlingshire)

I beg to ask the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he can explain the circumstances under which the late Colonial Secretary, on December 1st, 1905, on the eve of the general election, sent to the Governor of Ceylon a Draft Ordinance, prepared by himself, sanctioning the lease of the pearl fisheries for twenty years at an annual rental of £20,666 to a London Company, and expressing the hope that the Legislative Council would pass the Ordinance; whether it is usual to exercise such pressure in a matter of purely domestic concern to the Colony and in no way of an Imperial character; why the Ordinance was not left to be prepared and published in the ordinary way by the responsible authorities in the Colony; why the words with the advice * * * of the Legislative Council were inserted in the Preamble to the Ordinance, seeing that the Legislative Council do not appear to have been asked for nor to have given advice, and, seeing that only the official Executive Council were consulted, why the lease was antedated January 1st, 1906, although the Ordinance was not passed till February 27th; and whether this antedating has resulted in the surrender of over £30,000 of Colonial revenue to the lessees; how it is that, although tenders for the concession were not invited and no official publicity was given to it, a number of persons of various nationalities interested in the Transvaal gold mines were enabled to learn of the value of the concession and to obtain shares in it.


The correspondence presented to Parliament shows that the late Secretary of State forwarded a draft of the lease to the Governor on October 4th last, when he stated that the solicitors on both sides would now prepare a preliminary agreement and revise the draft lease from a legal point of view. This was done, and the documents were sent out on December 1st. The reasons for expressing the hope that the Legislative Council would pass the measure are given in the despatch itself, and the Secretary of State does not consider that any undue pressure was put on the Council. A condition of the provisional agreement was that the lease should be confirmed by a special Ordinance to be passed in the terms set out in a schedule to the agreement. The draft of the Ordinance was, therefore, necessarily prepared in this country. The words are a necessary part of any legislative enactment. It was expected that a decision would be taken before the beginning of this year's fishery, but it was understood throughout the negotiations that, if this should prove impracticable, the fishery of 1906 would be conducted by the Government on account of the syndicate. The Ceylon Government informed the Legislature on the Second Reading of the Ordinance that if it was passed, the lease would be antedated to January 1st, 1906. I may add that this arrangement enables the company to have the advantage of earlier possession of the lease, which will terminate a year earlier. The allotment of shares in the company is a matter which concerns the directors, and the Secretary of State can obviously have no information as to the advantages which enabled or the reasons which induced any particular individuals to apply for shares.


asked why was such secrecy observed throughout the negotiations down to the end of 1905; how was it that the people of the colony only ascertained that the lease was about to be granted through rumours in circulation; and why at the Third Reading of the Bill was discussion of the details of the lease not permitted?


said notice should be given of Questions on matters of detail.


asked whether Sir West Ridge way took any part in the negotiations during the term of his Governorship.


I think it is unnecessary to say he took no part in the negotiations loading to this lease during the time he was Governor. More than a year elapsed between his leaving Ceylon and the granting of the lease.


said the question was—Did he utilise his knowledge obtained as Governor in arranging the lease, and was that right and proper?

[No Answer was returned.]