HC Deb 12 November 1908 vol 196 cc530-2

I beg to ask the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he will lay upon the Table the High Commissioner's Report of his inquiry into the allegations made against the Pacific Phosphate Company, and also a copy of the leases and licences obtained by the company on the guano phosphate island, Paanopa.

The hon. Member also had the following Questions down on the same subject:—

To ask the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he is aware that the Pacific Phosphate Company, of which Lord Stanmore, an ex-Commissioner of the Western Pacific, is chairman, holds on a nominal payment a valuable guano phosphate concession in the Gilbert Islands, Western Pacific; whether his attention has been called to the allegations that have been made that, by a system of unjust taxation, ill-treatment of natives, and general mal-administration, Colonial officials have assisted the interests of this company, and that these allegations have never been thoroughly and independently investigated; and whether he proposes to hold any inquiry into the matter.

To ask the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, with reference to the two inquiries into the allegations impugning the Pacific Phosphate Company and the connivance of the Colonial officials, whether he is aware that both were held after long delay; that, in the first inquiry, the complainants' witnesses were not present; that the second inquiry was made by the High Commissioner alone, and not on the spot; and will he explain why the Colonial Office has refused to publish the same.

To ask the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he will explain why the Government have disclaimed responsibility for the Gilbert Island natives being deprived of their guano phosphate property on the ground that Paanopa was not then British territory, seeing that some years before the Pacific Islands Company obtained any lease of those phosphate beds Paanopa had come under British rule through a treaty with Germany, which divided that portion of the Pacific between the two Powers.


I will answer together the four Questions of my hon. friend on the subject. The Pacific Phosphate Company occupies Ocean Island (the native name of which is Paanopa) on a licence under which the company pays a royalty of 6d. per ton on the phosphates exported. This royalty, which now amounts to more than £3,000 a year, has hitherto been paid to the Imperial Exchequer, but arrangements have been made by which it will in future be paid to the Government of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Protectorate. I shall be happy to communicate copies of the licences to my hon. friend, but the Secretary of State doubts whether they are of sufficient public interest to justify their being laid before Parliament. Ocean Island did not become part of His Majesty's Dominions under the Anglo-German agreement of 1886, but was annexed in 1900. A report concerning the only allegations against the company which have reached the Secretary of State is being laid on the Table. The earlier inquiry to which my hon. friend refers related to other islands in the Gilbert group, and had nothing to do with the Pacific Phosphate Company, or with Ocean Island.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this company get a lease from the natives practically under false pretences during the time the island was under the protection of the British Government, although the flag had not actually been hoisted, and that—


Order, order. The hon. Member had better put the Question on the Paper.