HC Deb 05 May 1924 vol 173 cc135-45

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."


I have an Amendment on the Paper—at the end of the Clause, to add as a new Sub-section: (4) The sums payable under this Section by the Government of any contributing Colony shall be apportioned amongst the Governments mentioned in the Schedule to this Act in the proportions therein specified. I propose, however, not to move this Amendment, but rather to speak on the Clause. I know that the Colonial Secretary has to go, and that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will reply to any points, and I do not wish to stand in the right hon. Gentleman's way, because we quite understand the circumstances of the case. The first point that I want to make is a small one, to prepare the way for my Amendment to the Preamble, after the word "Antigua" to insert the word "Montserrat." The Amendment which I have on the Paper to Clause 3 is covered already by the second paragraph of the Preamble, which provides for the money which is to be dealt with under Clause 3, namely, the annual expenses of this new system of submarine cables and wireless. If there are any profits, they are to be allocated as in the Schedule, and the contributions, as I gather from second paragraph of the Preamble, which are to be available for the purposes of Clause 3, are to be in similar proportions.

My first point is that 14 shares out of the total are to be contributed by the Federal Exchequer of the Leeward Islands, and that in the Bill telegraphic communication, whether by cable or by wireless, is only provided for three out of the five contributors to those revenues. The Leeward Islands are a federation, and the Federal Services are going to contribute these 14 shares, which are fixed percentages on each of the five con- 8.0 P.M.

stituent elements of the Federation. Three of the constituent elements are to have cable or wireless communication, namely, St. Kitts-Nevis, Antigua, and Dominica. I gather that all of them, in the first instance, are to be linked by wireless, because the new cable system which is being provided by this Bill merely provides for a cable from Turks Islands to Barbados, with two other cables, one from Barbados to Trinidad and one from Barbados to British Guiana. The remainder are provided with communication with the central wireless station in Barbados. In fact, Barbados is to be the general junction for the wireless and the two subsidiary cables. St. Kitts, Antigua and Dominica are to be connected with this new system, but, unfortunately, Montserrat has got to contribute and yet gets no service. If there are any profits, under Clause 4, St. Kitts-Nevis, Antigua and Dominica are, apparently, going to get some of those profits. Montserrat will get nothing. If there is one of the West Indian Islands which has been thoroughly badly served in the past, it is Montserrat; and Montserrat under the arrangement which, I gather, has been made, will, through the Leeward Island Federation, have to contribute to the new scheme and get nothing out of it. I may as well deal with this, so that it will shorten the proceedings of my Amendment to the Preamble, because that is the gravamen of my charge. You are providing for a distribution of profits and a share of expenses, but you are not giving an equal service. It would be a very cheap thing, compared with the total amount you are spending under this Bill, to provide a small wireless station in the Island of Montserrat. Hitherto this island has had no telegraphic communication at all, and it is high time that it had it. I remember when my right hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Mr. E. Wood), and I, were going to Montserrat from Antigua, an accident took place in Antigua, and we were prevented from going. There was no means of communication, however, and we had to cancel our visit. The only method of communication that has been attempted is by heliograph. From time to time heliographic communication has been attempted from the Island of Montserrat to Antigua, but it has almost invariably failed, partly because the Island of Montserrat, being mountainous, is frequently covered in cloud, while the Island of Antigua, which is much less mountainous, is not in the clouds. Therefore, communication by heliograph has been very difficult. The distance is approximately the same as that between Boulogne and Folkestone, but there has been no cable and no wireless communication between those two islands. It is high time, when we are providing for the West Indian telegraph and taking money to do so, that we should complete the system by establishing a small wireless station in Montserrat. If the representatives of the Treasury who worked out the figures under this Bill say that it would be expensive to equip a transmitting station there, at least let them have a Government receiving station. It would make a very great difference. There is a small community of 12,000 people on this island, which has been sadly neglected. These inhabitants, utterly cut off as they are, and receiving very little news from the outside world, are yet one of the most go-ahead of the smaller West Indian communities. They are, I think, the principal West Indian producers of Sea Island cotton, and formerly they made their name famous by the production of Montserrat lime juice. This is a small point, leading up to my Amendment on the Preamble, which I intend to press.

The other point I want information about is: what are the agreements which Clause 3 makes operative? It states: Such sums as are received from any Government of a Dominion or Colony on account of the annual expense of the said system shall be paid into the Exchequer. What are those sums? They obviously refer to agreements made by the various Governments referred to in lines 13 and 14 of the Preamble. I gather that certain arrangements have been made between the various contributing Governments as to what these sums shall be. On the Financial Resolution the Secretary of State for the Colonies gave us certain figures, but they were the figures for the old system, which passes away when this Bill becomes operative, namely, the annual subsidies paid by the various contributing Governments to the West India and the Panama Telegraph Company. I want to know if the same sums are guaranteed by the British Government, and the various contributing Governments, towards the new service provided in this Bill, as were provided towards a subsidy for the West India and Panama Telegraph Company. Those are the two main points on Clause 3. Then we have this point: The amount required in each year for the annual expenses of the said system shall be defrayed out of receipts arising in connection with the said system, and, so far as those receipts are not sufficient, out of moneys provided by Parliament. That caused a certain doubt in my mind when I first read it. It appeared that in so far as the users of the cable and wireless failed to pay the working expenses of the new system, the whole of the deficit was going to fall on this House. I gather, from the answer of the Colonial Secretary the other day, that that is not so, and that Sub-Section (3) is really a reference to this matter. It is due to the fact that we are so terrified of putting into any Bill or any Act of Parliament anything which would look like taxing the Colonies. Ever since the incident of the Boston Tea Duty, apparently, we are very careful how we phrase our Acts of Parliament. Therefore, we get such samples of drafting as in the present case, which, coupled with the Preamble, really makes the Clause, on the face of it, rather foolish. Everybody knows that we are not going to bear the whole of the expense. If the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill can give me answers to those three points which I raise, namely, the Montserrat question, the question of the actual amounts agreed on with the various contributing Governments, and to which they are liable under this Clause, and a clear understanding that the money necessary is not going to be provided entirely by the British Exchequer, that will satisfy me, and I shall be much obliged.


After the very clear speech which we have just heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Ormsby-Gore), I rise because he has mentioned the question of the Island of Montserrat, in which I am specifically interested. I am unable to understand the reasons for not including this island in the Bill. The present state of things is causing very serious inconvenience and trouble to Montserrat. It is also causing that community to suffer in its prosperity as it has suffered in the past through the inattention of our Governments to this Pacific island. It is important that we should look just for a moment at the value that this particular island of Montserrat is to cur country. The three particular things grown in this island are sugar, Sea Island cotton, and the famous Montserrat lime juice. As regards the lime juice, I am quite sure that in view of the very hot weather we all hope we are going to have this summer, and when the Exhibition is in full bloom, we shall enjoy the Montserrat lime juice. Sugar I am not going to deal with, but I particularly want to deal with the question of Sea Island cotton. It is a cotton which is produced with the longest staple in the world. It is very largely used by the fine cotton spinners of this country, and, as hon. Members know, the finest cotton spinners are the people who are largely connected with those parts of the cotton industry which have been busy, even during the depression of the last two or three years. Just outside my constituency, at Bollington, most of the Sea Island cotton is spun into fine yarn, and when I tell the Committee that one pound weight of cotton spun from Sea Island cotton will stretch from Macclesfield to London and back—a distance of something like 200 miles—it will show how wonderful that particular cotton is, and how valuable is its staple. We are deliberately throwing the value of this cotton away. It is most important that, situated as we are at the present time, we should encourage, not only larger growths of cotton, but a finer quality of cotton. We can only do that by improving such islands as the island of Montserrat and encouraging them to grow this beautiful and fine cotton. Yet we are in this Bill trying to discourage them from growing it I have gone to a great deal of trouble to look out the financial position of this island. It is very interesting. In 1900 its revenue was only £60,000. Last year that figure was more than doubled. The expenditure in 1900 was £9,000 and last year it was less than £8,000. Imports in 1900 amounted to £26,000. Now they are over £50,000. Exports in 1900 were only £8,000 and last year they were over £60,000. Those figures are very remarkable. They show that even in spite of the systematic discouragement of the island by the British Government they have shown the most wonderful progress, and if they had had encouragement they would have secured an even greater result. I feel very strongly that unless something is done to encourage this island to a far greater extent it will have a most serious effect upon our status and our position in the West Indian Colonies, and I hope the Financial Secretary will be able to give some information which will be of greater advantage to them than they have had in the past. After all they are entitled to better consideration. Their history, with their long line of associations with this Empire, entitles them to much greater consideration than they have had. It is true there are only 12,000 odd people in the island, but their position and their natural resources make it very essential that we should give them better consideration.

I have been trying to find out why it is that we have given them such scanty support, and I think I have at last found a reason, because the people in this island speak with an Irish brogue, therefore possibly it may be another injustice to the Irish nation. In the early seventeenth century Irish people colonised the island, and their brogue is still maintained. I think there is perhaps a further reason. The chief town is known as Plymouth. I am sure when we come to examine all that can be written about the island—we find it is cool and healthy and there is no malaria—it is just the island which we should try to encourage. It has a mean annual temperature of something like 78 fahrenheit and a rainfall of 40 to 80 inches. It was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493, and was first colonised by Sir Thomas Warner in 1632.


The hon. Member is giving us what is to him, no doubt, the interesting history of the island, but it is not in order on this Bill. He should restrict himself purely to the Amendment.


I was trying to show that we should do all in our power to encourage the island for the purpose of increasing its prosperity. It was first colonised—


The hon. Member must obey my ruling. I told him he could not go into the history of this Colony. He must restrict himself to the Amendment.


I was speaking on the point of Order, and as you did not dissent, I thought you had waived your objection. Here we have shipping going into and outside the island at great danger and passing through grave difficulties. I am told the roadstead of Plymouth is not by any means too safe. But we are not providing in this Bill any wireless station whatsoever, causing great difficulty in bringing goods from Montserrat to England, when it is most vital to encourage trade with her. I feel very strongly that the Government have shown a good deal of contempt in this matter. It was raised on the Second Reading, and we have not the slightest intimation that they are even considering the point. This is the only island of the West Indies which is deprived of wireless communication. Why it should be so excluded I do not know. I implore the hon. Gentleman to tell us exactly why wireless communication is not provided, and when he proposes that it shall be provided, and to tell us definitely that at some future date it will be provided, and that in future better attention will be given to the island than has been given in the past.


My hon. Friend seems to have been very effectively pushing a new health resort, and, although I did not discover it quite so early as Columbus, I can safely say it is one of the most attractive islands under the British Grown. I did not rise, however, to continue a discussion on Montserrat, but again to try to make a point which I have raised on the two previous occasions when the matter has been before the House, that is, from the point of view of the control of these cables themselves, whether they are really satisfied and whether the Colonial Secretary will really satisfy himself whether the control is absolutely British or not. I saw the Colonial Secretary leave the House, and I intended to postpone my remarks until the Third Reading, but it has occurred to me that if I make them now the Financial Secretary—I cannot expect that he is entirely au fait with all the details—will pass them on to his colleague, who will be able to find answers to my additional queries before the Third Reading takes place. On the 31st March this Cable Bill came up, and I then asked the Colonial Secretary whether we were to have a really British all-red route, and he said "Yes." I asked him whether this cable was to be entirely British-controlled, and he assured me "Yes." I was not quite satisfied, and I again raised the point on 8th April, when I elicited that a certain proportion of the capital of these two cable companies was held in the United States, and that one of the directors was an American, although he had never taken any active part or management in the concern.

I have since gathered a certain amount of further information which I find rather disquieting, and I would like the Financial Secretary to pass on the information to the Colonial Secretary. These two cable companies are controlled by the same number of directors and the same personnel. These directors are: Sir Thomas Skinner, Mr. T. H. Skinner, Mr. H. F. Russell, Mr. Hughes and Mr. Clapperton. Every one of these directors is also a director or employé of the big American Cable Trust, Sir Thomas Skinner, the chairman, being a director of the Commercial Cable Company. Mr. H. F. Russell is the manager in England of the Commercial Cable Company, which, I need hardly say, is the leading American concern. Mr. R. G. Hughes is the electrician in England of the Commercial Cable Company, and Mr. Clapperton, who died recently, was a vice-president of the Commercial Cable Company in the State of New York. Surely these facts go to show that even though these gentlemen are British subjects there must naturally be a strong American influence at the side of them. I am all for the closest co-operation with the United States, but we have heard that this is to be an all-red British cable, and it is important to find out whether it is entirely British, both from the point of view of personnel and control of the capital.

I put a question to the Colonial Secretary in regard to the capital, which I was assured was British, but I have found out that 55 per cent. of the capital of the companies is held by United States nationals, or British interests acting as nominees for this American Cable Company. Since I put the question down, I have been informed that arrangements have been made to transfer a certain amount of stock from the Commercial Cable Company to the chairman of the Bermuda company, who is a British subject, but who, as I have already pointed out, is a director of the American Commercial Cable Company, and one cannot help asking whether he will be merely a holder on behalf of this American concern. I know why the Colonial Secretary is not here to-night, but perhaps the Financial Secretary will endeavour to find out the facts before the Bill is finally passed, so that we may know whether this proposed cable company, which is to add another link, we all hope, to the chain of British communication round the world, is to be what the great majority of us would be delighted to see, an absolutely British run and British controlled and owned concern.

The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. William Graham)

Three hon. Members have raised points with which I will endeavour to deal. The Secretary of State for the Colonies is unavoidably absent, but on his behalf, and looking to the urgency of the Bill, I will give what information I possess. On the last point raised, the hon. Member for Acton (Sir H. Brittain) has already asked several questions and received certain information, but he still entertains doubts as to the British character of the control. I undertake to place the additional points he has mentioned before my right hon. Friend and to get information regarding them from the Colonial Office. I am able to deal in rather greater detail with the questions asked by the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Ormsby-Gore) and the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Remer). As regards the three points asked by the hon. Member for Stafford, it is of course clear that the charge does not fall entirely upon the British Exchequer. Coming to the other two points which he raised as to the general finance, the position is that this Bill continues the allocation of the burden between this country and the various West Indian Colonies in more or less the form in which that burden was allocated under the agreement with the West India and Panama Telegraph Company. That agreement comes to an end on the 30th September of this year, hence the urgency of this Bill. So great is the necessity in this connection, that it was necessary to anticipate to some extent the general allocation, and contracts had to be placed in order that the work might be undertaken and that there should be no interruption of telegraphic communication after the 30th September of the present year. Contracts were placed, and they work out at £304,000 as against £347,000 in the earlier estimate. The broad plan of the old agreement with the West Indian and Panama Telegraph Company is that this country is responsible for 80/263 of the financial side of the scheme.

In substance, the capital expenditure is about £400,000, and on the basis of 5 per cent. spread over the term of 30 years' repayment the total contribution from all the parties is £26,000 per annum, of which our portion is £7,900. It is anticipated that very soon the receipts will exceed the annual expenditure and that the net amount payable by this country will be about £5,500. Of course, as against that, the contribution which we are making now of £8,000, that is, our part of the £26,000 subsidy to the West India and Panama Telegraph Company, disappears. That fact must be taken into account when we mention the new liability. We can only hope for the success of a scheme of this kind in order that we may be relieved of burden, but, in any event, on the point that he has mentioned as regards the contributions of the other parties the hon. Member for Stafford, to use a popular phrase, has tumbled to the impossibility of inserting in this Bill the kind of Amendment which he had on the Paper, because as I understood him the effect of that would be to make the contribution obligatory. But I am afraid that that has not been the case in dealing with similar questions in the past.

There is another question on which my two hon. Friends combined on behalf of the island of Montserrat. That is strictly a Colonial Office matter, but it is known to hon. Members that Monserrat was not covered by the former or the existing arrangement. That is, it was not served by the existing Cable Board. I was asked, "Why do you not take steps to bring Montserrat within the scheme?" I say at once that if that had been possible without delay it would have been a point to recommend, but unfortunately, as hon. Members will appreciate, it would have meant an alteration of the manner in which those 263rds of shares are allocated among the different parties, and after all possible steps had been taken towards this arrangement I am afraid that it would have involved, in the present position of this legislation, a rather dangerous delay. There is one fact which will go a long way to meet the case which the hon. Members very properly put. None of us desire to have any island of the group outside of communication, but it happens that the authorities in Montserrat themselves have taken steps towards the establishment of a wireless station, and the wireless station will be in communication with the centre in Barbadoes, and there is every reason to believe that, on the completion of the present schemes it will be in communication with the other Colonies in the group. Beyond that I could not go at the moment, but I think that all hon. Members will agree that that is a reassuring statement. Any other proposition advanced in the interests of this most interesting island—and I have heard with great respect my hon. Friends on that point—will of course be very carefully considered, because we all unite in the desire to see this part of the world linked up in the general scheme of communication. I hope that that explanation will meet the point which has been raised by hon. Members.

Clauses 4 (Application of profits), 5 (Payments, accounts and audit), and 6 (Short title) ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Preamble stand part of the Bill."


In view of the statement made by the Financial Secretrary to the Treasury, I do not propose the Amendment of which I had given notice, to include Montserrat.


For the same reason, I do not move the Amendment to the same effect which stands in my name.

Bill reported, without Amendment; to be read the Third time To-morrow.