HC Deb 28 June 1937 vol 325 cc1747-9

Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 69.

[Sir DENNIS HERBERT in the Chair]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That it is expedient to remit any sums which have become or may become payable to the Exchequer under section three of the Royal Niger Company Act, 1899, and to extinguish the liability for the payment of such sums."—[King's Recommendation signified.]—.[Mr. Ormsby-Gore.]

9.9 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Ormsby-Gore)

This arises out of a discovery of the Public Accounts Committee, that careful body which examines various matters of State, that there was still on the Statute Book, Section 3 of an Act of 1899, relating to the winding up of the old Niger Company which operated in the hinterland, and which in that year was terminated by Section 3 of that Act. However, that Act is still on the Statute Book and the Section says— All such sums as the Treasury determine to be receipts from the territories administered by the company at the passing of this Act in excess of the expenses of administration of these territories shall be paid into the Exchequer, save so far as these sums are with the approval of Treasury applied towards the development and improvement of the territories. The fact that this Act has been overlooked is largely because separate accounts were never kept for the territories administered by the company. As soon as settled government was established the company gave way to the Imperial Government. The area in which the company operated comprised a series of native areas with whose chiefs the company had made treaties, but the "treaty" area did not coincide with the area administered. In fact the company's administrative activities and expenditure were limited to the vicinity of the rivers, that is the River Niger and its tributaries on which they had established trading stations. This is borne out by the fact that their expenses of administration of the native territories at the date of transfer did not exceed £50,000 a year.

At no time in the past, however, has there been any precise definition of the territories administered by the company, and after the passing of the Act no such definition was practicable, nor it is practicable at the present time. Fifteen years later, all the territories in this part of the world formed part of the Dependency of Nigeria, and consequently if any sums were due they would be due from the whole of Nigeria. It would be impossible to assess them because the company has long since ceased to exist, and this Resolution is necessary in order to lead up to a one-Clause Bill wiping out to the satisfaction of the Public Accounts Committee and everybody concerned Section 3 of the entirely obsolete Act of 1899.

Mr. Goldie

Can the right hon. Gentleman say how far the Statute of Limitations would apply to the Royal Niger Company as distinct from the Crown?

Mr. Ormsby-Gore

The company ceased to exist 38 years ago. The Public Accounts Committee discovered in 1935 that this Section was still on the Statute Book, and it is only right that an obsolete provision of this kind, when found, should be removed.

9.14 p.m.

Mr. Morgan Jones

I cannot charge my memory with the actual circumstances in which the Public Accounts Committee came to their recommendation in this matter, but the Government have framed the Resolution on the recommendation we made in our annual report. I hope the House will feel that the Public Accounts Committee in the discharge of its difficult task has to call attention sometimes to irregularities or to something which requires Government action. I am glad the Government have seen fit to take this action.

Resolution to be reported To-morrow.