HC Deb 14 April 1914 vol 61 cc153-6

No loan shall be made under this Act after the period of five years from the passing of the Act."


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a second time."

Under this Bill the Colonial Office has power to advance a loan of £3,000,000. It is obvious that these Protectorates cannot absorb £3,000,000 at a very great rate, and we want to set some kind of limit to the lending of this money. For five years we may allow the Colonial Office to go on making advances as the demand comes in for British East Africa, but after five years let the Colonial Office come again to Parliament and ask for a fresh Bill if it wants to lend any more. It is extremely important that there should be some sort of time limit for legislation of this sort. To give to the Colonial Office the power indefinitely twenty or thirty years hence to start, it may be entirely afresh, lending money to Nyasaland or to Uganda, seems to be something which this House, with its careful regard for finance, ought not to tolerate for a moment. Therefore, I hope the House will accept this Clause limiting, not the operation of the Bill, because, of course, the interest will go on being collected on the old debt, but limiting the period during which fresh loans may be made by the Colonial Office.


I hope the House will refuse this Clause a Second Reading. I believe there is not a single case in the many Acts of this kind the House has passed in which a limitation of this kind has been put in, and I challenge the hon. Member to show me a single case in which there has been undue delay in advancing the money. The fact is that the Protectorate and the Treasury and the Colonial Office wish to get on with the work as quickly as possible, but it is obviously not in the interests of the Protectorate that the money should be advanced to it before it can be spent, and before there is any possibility of carrying on the work. There is every intention of getting on with the development of the Colonies as quickly as possible, but it would be obviously a mistake to force the Colonial Office to lend money in anticipation of the possibility of placing contracts, and a hard and fast time limit would be a grave financial mistake.


I am very surprised at the statement that there is no precedent for the limitation of time. I am speaking from memory, but I think when this House sanctioned a £30,000,000 loan to South Africa they placed a five years' limit upon the loan, and it is a very dangerous thing for this House to sanction a loan in the present year 1914 which may or may not be made use of during the course of the next three years. Unless this House preserves some sort of time limit upon its finance and upon financial matters of this character it undoubtedly loses and impairs its financial control, and I suggest that it would be extremely wise to adopt the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member (Mr. Wedgwood), because I regard with very real apprehension the possibility of this House sanctioning a loan in 1914 part of which may be issued during the course of the present year, but part of which may not be issued for the next six or seven years, and if we want to maintain what the country expects us to maintain, a proper financial control upon matters of this character, it is essential that there should be a time limit. I am very surprised that the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Montagu) should object to a time limit of this character.


The objections of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury do not seem to me to be well founded. I do not think he could have understood the proper reading of the new Clause. He said it would be extremely imprudent—and I agree with him—to advance the money all at once, and to force the Protectorates to take it. That is not the argument in favour of the new Clause. As I understand the object of the new Clause it is that, if during the next five years it is found that the Protectorates do not want more than £1,000,000 or £2,000,000, the remainder should not be lent to them. It may be found in five years either that the Protectorates do not want the money or that they are not able to pay the interest and the sinking fund, and the House would have an opportunity of considering whether we should continue to advance the money. The Amendment would give power which would enable the House, if circumstances arose in five years of which they do not know at present, to curtail the advance if it had not already been made.


I wish to associate myself with what has fallen from the hon. Baronet. The Secretary to the Treasury seems to regard this House as an assembly of wild beasts to be avoided. The suggestion is that if we pass the new Clause the whole of the power of the Treasury would be concentrated upon using the money. I should have thought that if the money was not used in five or six years the House should be given the opportunity of considering the matter again. We are accustomed to do that in connection with other loans. I believe the great London County Council, dealing with a huge population of white people, is not entrusted with the powers that are proposed to be given to the East African Protectorates, where in one case there are 2,000 white people, and in another case about 3,000. The London County Council at its election has the whole light of day thrown on its transactions, and yet it is not given such wide powers. The same thing may be said with regard to urban district councils and local corporations throughout the country. It is a familiar doctrine that unless they do their work within a certain time, the thing shall be reviewed again by this House. It is the same with regard to Local Government Board Orders. We are taking money to develop the Protectorates in this way, and, so far as we know, without any proper guarantee for the repayment of the money. I would therefore appeal to my right hon. Friend not to get up, as he has done half a dozen times to-day, and simply use the old Tory doctrine that, because a certain thing has been done in the past, he is thoroughly justified in doing it now. I should expect this Government to set an example in the matter of local finance. I think the recognition of the Committee of this House in controlling finance would have been another matter of glory to a Government which has already done so well. The refusal to make the proposed limitation is, in my opinion, simply for the purpose of getting round the House of Commons.


I regret that on this occasion I cannot agree with my hon. Friend. It is perfectly ridiculous to suppose that these moneys would have been asked for unless they had been really wanted for some definite purpose on which they were to be spent.

It being Eleven of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.

Committee report Progress; to sit again to-morrow (Wednesday).