HC Deb 23 January 1918 vol 101 cc1044-9

The metals and ores to which this Act applies are zinc, copper, tin, lead, nickel, aluminium, and any other non-ferrous metals and ores to which this Act may be applied by order of the Board of Trade. The expression "metal" shall not include metal which has been subjected to any manufacturing process except such as may be prescribed; and the expression "ore" shall include concentrates, mattes, precipitates and other intermediate products.


I beg to move to leave out the word "nickel."

The subject of nickel has been very inadequately dealt with in the course of these Debates by the Government. It was dealt with at some length by myself on the Second Reading, on which occasion I received no reply. I raised the matter again on the Committee stage, and I said then that whatever might be said of some of the other metals, certainly no case had been made out in regard to nickel. It had not been proved that this country or the Government had been embarrassed in regard to the supply of nickel. It had not been proved that the German metal combine had obtained the control of nickel. It had not been shown that British companies dealing in the metal were not able to look after themselves without any protection such as is offered by action of this kind. These things have not received an answer, though I think they demand an answer, but I have another matter to raise. which I think is equally important. I have information in my possession which indicates that the British Government itself is now a shareholder in a company which would not be entitled to a licence under this Bill. It has now been proved, by answers to questions in this House, that the British Government has an interest in a company known as the British-America Nickel Corporation. I maintain that this is a company with enemy association. Large shareholders in it are also shareholders in a company known as the Christiania Nickel Refining Works, as well as other mines and smelting works in Norway. Though these are operated by a company which is ostensibly a Norwegian company, they are nevertheless controlled by a German company in Frankfort. If that is so, and I have reason to believe that there is foundation for these statements—certainly statements to this effect have been published in newspapers in Canada without any contradiction on behalf of the Government or on behalf of the British-America Nickel Corporation—you have this curious situation, that the Government is now passing a Bill laying down certain conditions in relation to the trade in nickel which would prevent a company in which it is itself interested from carrying on business in this country. That is a very good reason for not including nickel in the Bill. I would draw the attention of the House to the third paragraph of the First Schedule, which lays down the condition,

"That the company, firm, or individual is or was at, any time after the twelfth day of November, one thousand nine hundred and seventeen, party to any agreement, arrangement, or understanding, which enables or enabled an enemy to influence the policy or conduct of the business."

As I understand it, the business of these Norwegian shareholders, who are really holding for the Norwegian company, is being controlled or influenced by an enemy company. Here you have, therefore, the British Government, a large shareholder—indeed, some people say guaranteeing dividends on the shares of a company in which another company, influenced by the enemy, are large shareholders. I have given two solid grounds for excluding nickel from this Bill—first, that no case has been made out in respect of nickel as one of the metals which should be included either on the ground that the Government was embarrassed in relation to the stocks of nickel early in the War or on the ground of German control of nickel during or before the War and the second consideration which I have now been enabled for the first time, after great diligence and research, to discover—

sir J. D. REES

It is not new matter.


It is new matter to most Members of this House, if not to my hon. Friend, that the British Government is a shareholder in this corporation which- cannot carry on business in this country under this Bill. If that is the situation we are bound to insist that nickel should be excluded, so that the Government should not incur the penalties laid down by the Bill, namely, a fine of £100 or imprisonment for three months. The President of the Board of Trade cannot be allowed to go to gaol if this Bill were passed. We wish to save him from imprisonment, although prison may be one of the safest places in which to be later on and it might be a fate for which. many of his colleagues might envy him. We do not desire to see him made a victim of this protective and punitive legislation: therefore, I move this Amendment.


I beg to second the Amendment.

We are coming a little nearer to the real foundation of this Bill. The British-America Nickel Corporation is somehow or other at the root of this Bill. If what my hon. Friend says is right—and I believe be is quite correct—in saying that the British Government has lent a large sum of money to this British-America Nickel Corporation, and if that corporation is under German influence, director indirect, this Bill is a peculiar parody upon That fact. It seems that this company and its ramifications have got into. the Board of Trade somehow or other, and they are trying to get out of it. I believe there is no genuine foundation for this Bill in the idea of metal control. You have never suffered from enemy control of nickel. France has the nickel mines of New Caledonia; Canada has nickel mines; and these two between them control the whole of the nickel trade. In fact, the great firm of Rothschild for many years—I do not know: whether they do it now—controlled the whole of the nickel trade, and if anybody tried to smelt nickel in this country he did it at his own peril, because the Rothschild's came in and undersold him in such a way that he could not possibly go on. The control of nickel, so far as there has been any control at all, has been with that great firm and has been in this country, Canada, and France. There is no pretence for saying that Germany controlled the nickel trade in the slightest degree.


I am sorry I am not possessed of the necessary information upon which to give a complete reply to the hon. Member for North-West Lanarkshire (Mr. Pringle), who has moved this Amendment. If the British Government is interested in, or has any control over, any nickel corporation, that transaction, whatever it was, has not been carried out during the time that I have been in office, therefore that transaction was not within my particular knowledge. I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of what he has said—I have no knowledge—in regard to certain statements contained in Canadian papers on this particular point, but I would remind the hon. Member, even if it is true, and assuming that it is true, that the British Government has an interest in some nickel corporation, it would point to two things—one is that during the War the Government found it necessary to take some interest in a corporation in order to secure a supply of nickel to this country.


Does the right hon. Gentleman not know that his Department has answered a question to the effect that this corporation cannot supply any nickel to this country within two years?


That may be true. I do not know. What I have said was that if the British Government did find it necessary to interest itself in a nickel corporation, it probably did 89 with the idea that if might secure a supply of nickel for this country. It may not have succeeded in achieving its desire, but I should have thought that was one of the reasons that would have prompted a scheme of that kind, assuming that it was done. I would also remind the hon. Member that, even assuming that the British Government is interested in a corporation which has some enemy connection, that might bring this particular company within the Schedule, it does not necessarily follow that that company would be debarred from trading in nickel in this country. While I Personally am deeply appreciative of the effort which my hon. Friend has made to keep me out of prison, I would remind him 'hat the President of the Board of Trade can adopt the very simple expedient of licensing that particular company, and therefore relieve himself of that burden.


He will licence himself.


That is not the particular point I desire to make. If the British Government has any connection with this company, and although it may come within the Schedule, it does not follow that that particular company would not receive a licence if, in the discretion of the Board of Trade, it was deemed desirable that a licence should be granted.


The exhibition of ignorance on this matter by the President of the Board of Trade is deplorable. I will further enlighten him upon the matter. I will read to him some of the evidence which was given before the Royal Ontario Nickel Commission, published by the Ontario Government early in 1917. It says in the course of this evidence that Fourteen millions and a half dollars of the twenty millions of common stock of this company— that is the British-America Nickel Corporation— is in the name of a British subject resident in London. Allan Anderson is the holder Has the right hon. Gentleman ever heard of Allan Anderson? Has he ever come into contact with him in the course of his Presidency of the Board of Trade. He told me some time ago, when this Bill was last before the House, that the investment in the British-America Nickel Corporation was merely a Treasury matter. Surely this is not the whole truth. If Sir Allan Anderson is the holder, and is an official of the Board of Trade—


He is the Comptroller of the Admiralty now.


If he is an official of the Government, holding this stock, it really ought to be a matter about which the President should know something. I hope that before allowing this Bill to pass we shall really get to the bottom of which Department is responsible for investing British money in the. British-America Nickel Corporation, and that we may get some real answer as to the necessity for this investment.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)

I really do not see how this arises on the Bill. The matters referred to may be right or wrong, but are not a matter for legisla- tion. The question is whether A is right in this legislation to include nickel in this list of metals?


On a point of Order. Is it not relevant to point out that by including nickel in this Bill you will be excluding from trading this company in which the Government has actually taken an interest?


I do not think that is the effect of the Bill. The point is whether it should operate with a licence or not. That is the only point.

Amendment negatived.