HC Deb 23 April 1923 vol 163 cc16-7
21. Captain BERKELEY

asked the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he will make a statement as to the reason for which the elected members of the Legislative Council of Fiji recently refused to participate further in the proceedings of the Council; whether the Secretary of State for the Colonies pledged that colony, without consulting the Governor-in-Council, to refund to the Colonial Sugar Refining Company the export tax imposed on sugar by the Legislature; and what was the reason for which the Secretary of State came to this decision?


The staple industry of Fiji is sugar, and that is almost entirely in the hands of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. Early in 1922, owing to the severe fall in the price of sugar, the company announced reductions of pay to labourers and of prices to cane-growers, and a situation arose which made the continuance of the industry doubtful and might have involved the repatriation at the public expense of a considerable proportion of the Indian population of Fiji. Discussions locally having failed to reach any solution, the late Secretary of State asked the chairman of the company to come to London. Shortly after his arrival the Governor represented urgently that the growers refused without some concession to cut the 1922 season's crop or to plant for future years. My predecessor, who was charged with the conduct of the negotiations, undertook, with the approval of the Secretary of State, who had been advised that the export duty imposed by the Government in 1916 was no longer economically sound, that duty should not be charged on the coming season's crop, the objects being to secure prices for cane which should save last year's crop, of obtaining wage concessions from the company and of enabling the Colony to retain the New Zealand trade. I am glad to say that all these objects were attained, as a result of the action of my predecessor.


Will the hon. Gentleman undertake that in future unconstitutional acts of this kind will not be taken, and that, before any such pledges are given to individuals, the Legislature of the Colony will be consulted?


This was clearly a matter of emergency. The negotiations seem to have broken down, and the Fiji Government, and everybody, appear to have considered that it was vital that a decision should be come to quickly to save the Colony's last year's crop. As to the future, I can only say that if an emergency arises we shall have to take emergency measures, but naturally we shall follow constitutional procedure in all possible circumstances.