1. Mr. FOOT MITCHELL
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is aware that in 1860 leases of land were acquired, in accordance with treaty, by the British Government on terms of perpetual lease and, for the purpose of convenience, sub-leased to firms in Tientsin, Hankow, Chinkiang, Canton, Amoy and Kiukang on 99 years' leases; whether, in view of the approach of the end of this period, the British Government is now proposing to enforce higher terms for the extension of leases of all these properties; whether, seeing that it was the original intention that such land should be held in perpetuity, that 336 foreign nations similarly interested to ourselves leased the land to their nationals in perpetuity, and that the land at other treaty ports in China, including Shanghai, is held on terms of perpetual lease, he will consider the effect of any demand for increased payments on the said British firms in competition with the said foreign firms, who will not be burdened by such additional charges; and whether, therefore, he will carry out the undoubted intention of the British Government of the time regarding these leases as granted in perpetuity?
§ The FIRST COMMISSIONER of WORKS (Mr. Jowett)
I have been asked to reply to this question. It is the case that the original leases were granted to the British Government in perpetuity. The sub-leases, however, were granted to firms on 99 years' tenure on ordinary commercial terms, and not for the purpose of convenience, and the price paid by the firms was based on this tenure. A scheme for the renewal of the leases has been approved by the Government, who are satisfied that the terms offered are fair and reasonable. The points to which the hon. Member draws attention were carefully weighed by the Government in arriving at their decision.
In view of the great importance of the subject to British merchants in China, I should like to inquire whether the Secretary of State fur Foreign Affairs will be prepared to receive a deputation on the subject?
§ Mr. JOWETT
That will be for the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to determine; but the matter comes within the jurisdiction of tie First Commissioner of Works.
§ Mr. A. M. SAMUEL
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a great deal of ill-feeling has been created by the decision of the British authorities, and that they regard the action of the British authorities as a breach of faith? In view of that, will the right hon. Gentleman, in order to save time and further friction, appoint a Committee of three Members of this House, one from each party, to look into the matter.
§ Mr. JOWETT
On the contrary, the holders of some 64 per cent. of the lots have expressed their willingness to accept 337 the terms, and the holders of only 6½ per cent. are opposed to the scheme. The lot holders of the remaining 29 per cent. have not said anything. What is asked for by the holders of 6½ per cent. of the lots is that they should be given a free gift of £40,000 a year. These lot holders bought their lots by auction on 99 years' leases. They now wish to convert these 99 years' leases into perpetual leases. To that I cannot agree.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to bring a deputation to him, to show him that he has been misinformed on this matter?