§ THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
rose to ask the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies the following Questions:—I. Is it the fact that one of the Crown Agents is a director of the London Assurance Company, and is such appointment in accordance with the regulations of the Civil Service; and why are not the Crown Agents paid a fixed salary like other members of the Civil Service sufficient to preclude their receiving any other emoluments? II. (1) Is the Under-Secretary for the Colonies aware that the British India Steam Navigation Company has recently joined what is known as the "Shipping Ring," namely, 1330 that association of shipping firms carrying goods to South Africa which has agreed to maintain a high rate of transport for freights? (2) Is the Under-Secretary aware that at the present time freights between England and South Africa have been raised to about 38s. a ton, whereas from New York to South Africa they are only 12s. a ton? (3) Is the Under-Secretary aware that the result of this raising of the freights levied by all British shipping firms trading with South Africa is such as to cause increased orders for goods to be placed in New York and in other parts of the United States of America, in order to take advantage of the low freight (12s. a ton) from American ports to South Africa, while something of the same kind takes place with regard to Belgium-and Western Germany in connection with the transport from Hamburg? (4) Will the Under-Secretary state the arrangements which have been made by the Crown I Agents in connection with the shipping of Government goods to South Africa during the last six months, giving the names of the firms employed and the rate of freight agreed upon?
He said: My Lords, in putting the Questions standing in my name on the Paper, I must apologise for their length, but my remarks upon them will be very short. As regards the first Question, the information which I am particularly anxious to elicit is whether or not the Crown Agents are considered a department of the Colonial Office, and whether they therefore come under the regulations and conditions of the Civil Service. If it is true that the Crown Agents are permitted to hold other posts, which I am informed is the case, it is hardly fair that that prohibition should apply to other civil servants, like those connected with the Foreign Office. This is not the occasion, nor the time, to consider the propriety or impropriety of the existing regulations concerning the Civil Service; but I wish to point out, with regard to this directorship of the London Assurance Company, that this company does, so I am informed, do the chief, if not the whole, of the insurance business of the Crown Agents' department. It would appear to me that in the interests of the public service, and in the interests of sound administration, the insurance business 1331 of the Crown Agents should be put up to tender, and should be tendered for by a certain number of the first-class insurance agencies. It is not, in itself, satisfactory that a Crown Agent should be a director of any particular insurance company.
With regard to the question of the rates of freight between this country and South Africa as compared with the freights from New York to South Africa, I may mention that while in some cases the freights between England and South Africa have been raised to about 38s. a ton, the latest information which I have received is that the average rate of freight by the Conference Lines—that is, the shipping ring—is at the present moment 30s. a ton to South African ports from Great Britain, as compared with 12s. a ton from New York to South Africa. I should like to make this other statement in connection with the question of the shipping ring, that I am informed that this ring, which consists almost entirely of British firms, has established, and is now maintaining, a fleet of steamers running between New York and South African ports to carry American manufactures at less than one-half the rate of freight charged from British ports. I beg to put the Questions standing in my name.
§ THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOE THE COLONIES (The Duke of MARLBOROUGH)
My Lords, the noble Earl has been very considerate in not departing from the Questions he has put down on the Paper and pursuing other matters of Colonial administration which I admit on a previous occasion he could not help following. He has on the present occasion confined himself entirely to the Questions on the Paper, and I am sure the noble Earl would wish that I should reply to them more or less categorically. He asks me, in the first place, whether it is the fact "that one of the Crown Agents is a director of the London Assurance Company. The answer to that is in the affirmative. Then the noble Earl is anxious to know whether such appointment is in accordance with the regulations of the Civil Service. I must explain to the noble Earl that the Crown Agents, technically, are not Civil servants; but I will not press that point 1332 to the extent of giving the reasons why. I am in perfect agreement with him that it is unusual—in fact, I do not think it is possible—for members of the Civil Service to hold directorships.
Then the noble Earl wishes to know whether the Crown Agents are paid a fixed salary. I think I told him when we last debated this question that their salaries were fixed, and could only be altered at the wish, or with the sanction, of the Secretary of State. The fact that one of the Crown Agents (Sir Ernest Blake) holds a directorship is somewhat exceptional. I do not think I need go into the reasons why Sir Ernest Blake holds this appointment. He has conducted his work as a Crown Agent in a most admirable and proper manner, and I do not think the fact that he has been a director of this assurance company has been detrimental in any way to the public service over which he presides. The noble Earl is no doubt aware that this matter has already been brought up in another place, and the Secretary of State, in reply, said he would consider the question. I can assure the noble Earl that the Crown Agent in question has put himself entirely in the hands of the Secretary of State, who is considering this question and will give his decision when the Colonial Office Vote is taken in the House of Commons. In view of the fact that the Colonial Office Vote must be taken at a date not very far distant, and in view, moreover, of the fact that this is a somewhat personal matter, involving the private affairs of a public servant who is under the authority of the Secretary of State, I hope the noble Earl will take my assurance that the matter is being considered, and will agree with me that it would be better and more appropriate that the announcement of the Secretary of State's decision should be given by the Secretary of State himself.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
The noble Earl next asks me whether I am aware that the British India Steam Navigation Company has recently joined what is known as the shipping ring. Yes, I can assure the noble Earl that we are 1333 perfectly aware of that fact. The other day the noble Earl below the Gangway (Earl Grey) deplored the fact that the Colonial Office had not employed this line, and he called it the "one solitary independent line." We were perfectly aware of the fact that the British India Steam Navigation Company had close commercial relations with the Conference Lines. There is an agreement with the Conference Lines to this effect, that the British India Steam Navigation Company will not deliver any goods from this country to any of the South African ports, except Beira and Delagoa Bay, and I am informed, moreover, that even with regard to these ports the rates are not competitive. It is, therefore, perfectly clear that they are not an independent line. There is no real competition between this country and South Africa, and it would be impossible for us to regard the British India Steam Navigation Company as an independent line, or to contemplate treating them as such as long as they have this agreement with the Conference Lines.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
I am afraid I cannot give the noble Lord the exact date. I rather think it was about twelve months ago; and subsequent to that agreement they made a second one, so I am informed, to the effect that the rates even to Delagoa Bay and Beira are no longer free and independent rates. They have come to a definite understanding with the Conference ring as to what those rates should be. Therefore, I think the noble Earl will admit that the British India Company is not an independent line, but is closely associated with the Conference. The noble Earl who placed these Questions on the Paper next asks whether I am aware that at the present time freights between England and South Africa have been raised, and are higher than the rates between America and South Africa. It is very difficult to form an accurate opinion, because it is so hard to make an accurate comparison. In the first place, we require the whole of the American tariff and the whole of 1334 the English tariff, and then it is not a question of average. Three or four different tables or classes are laid down. There are first, second, third, and fourth classes, and goods are classified under these different heads. For instance, rails would be under the lowest class of all—the cheapest class, whilst small parcels of breakable goods would probably come under the most expensive class, so that unless you have before you the different rates and can ascertain to which Schedule a particular article belongs, I submit it is most difficult to make an accurate and proper comparison.
§ THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
It is quite true that there are different rates according to different scales, but my point is this, that I have found out that the average difference between the rate3 from this country and from America bears this enormous disproportion.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
The noble Earl may be correct in his average. I am quite unable to say, for I do not know how it is arrived at. It is most difficult and complicated. In addition, you have to take into consideration the cost of landing, lighterage, and sorting, which the shippers have to do. Although I will not challenge the statement of the noble Earl that the American rates are lower than the English rates, yet I do submit that it is most difficult to ascertain the difference between the two rates, because there are so many complicated items which have to be considered. I do not think the noble Earl is correct in Saying that the freights from New York to South Africa are only 12s. a ton. My information is that they vary from 15s. to 17s. 6d. a ton, and I believe I am right in saying that the lowest public rate between this country and South Africa is about 25s. a ton, so the noble Earl will see that the difference between 17s. 6d. and 25s., though I admit it is considerable, is somewhat less than that which he has quoted to your Lordships.
Then the noble Earl suggests that the result of this raising of freights levied by British shipping firms upon trade between this country and South Africa is to increase the trade between America and South Africa. It may be that the 1335 trade between America and South Africa is increasing. No doubt the noble Earl has evidence to support that view, but I do not know that it has increased quite to the extent that he seems to infer. Americans are extremely clever traders, and many articles may be required in South Africa which cannot be obtained in this country, and unless the noble Earl can show me that the trade between America and South Africa in goods similar to those which can be sent from this country has increased, I do not think there is very much to complain of. We cannot object, for instance, to large consignments of grain going from America to the Cape, and if very low freights are quoted, it is clear that the Americans will get the control, or, at any rate, the largest order in that particular commodity.
§ THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
Will the noble Duke give us the comparative volume of trade between the two countries and South Africa in the last few months?
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
I am afraid I cannot give that, but I know, with regard to the total South African trade, that at present we possess two-thirds and that one-third is enjoyed by America and other countries. As to the low rates which the noble Earl has quoted, can he assure me that the American shippers are making a profit? I am informed that they are losing a considerable amount of money in quoting these low freights, and that they have only done so in order to try and undercut the English trade and eventually get a monopoly. I think it is reasonable to suppose that they will not succeed in their design. The result will be that these low freights, which I do not deny may now exist, will not be at all permanent. I anticipate seeing in a few months, perhaps a year, the 17s. 6d. increased to a higher figure. I cannot quite agree with the statement which the noble Earl makes at the end of his Question, that something of the same kind takes place with regard to Belgium and Western Germany in connection with the transport from Hamburg. My information is that the German lines all belong to the Conference, and that the Tate of freight on the sea is uniform, and 1336 is the same from Germany to South Africa as it is from this country. But the reason why the Germans are able to send their goods to South Africa cheaper than we can is this—that the German State railways grant a preferential rate to manufactured goods from the places of manufacture to the port where they are shipped, and consequently, as they gain an advantage on the railway rates, they can naturally quote in South Africa through rates which are more favourable than those which British shipowners can offer, and no doubt that is the explanation why the Germans are pushing forward their trade in South Africa at the present moment.
The noble Earl was anxious to know what arrangements have been made by the Crown Agents in connection with the shipping of Government goods to South Africa. I cannot give the noble Earl a full statement of the contract which the Crown Agents have made with the Conference lines. It is a very long and complicated document, and I feel sure that the noble Earl would not wish me to occupy the time of the House in presenting it. Moreover, I do not think it would be altogether in the interests of the public service that it should be published in its entirety. I suppose the noble Earl wants to know roughly what agreement has been made in order that he can compare it with the public rates, or assure himself that the Crown Agents have made proper and reasonable terms on behalf o the Colonial Office. We believe that the arrangement which the Crown Agents have made with the Conference lines for the shipment of goods from this country is a reasonable and a good arrangement, and one which compares very favourably with those made in previous years. To give the noble Earl an instance, I may mention that 30,000 tons of rails are to be shipped this year to South African ports at a uniform rate of 16s. per ton. For a somewhat smaller consignment of rails the price is higher, namely, 18s. 6d. a ton. Then arrangements have been made to ship locomotives and building material at 20s. a ton; but the noble Earl will understand that in addition there are, of course, lighterage, sorting, and other charges to be added, these being charges 1337 which the Conference lines, and indeed, all shipping lines, make to the public or to the Government.
The noble Earl asked me to state the names of the firms employed. I presume he means by that the names of the companies in the Conference lines. The names as are follow: The Union Castle Mail Steamship Co., The Clan Line of Steamers, the Bucknall Steamship Line, Ballard, King & Co., John T. Rennie & Co., the Ellerman Harrison Line, and R. P. Houston & Co. With regard to the general question, I do not know whether the noble Earl, in asking for this information, was inclined to consider that this question of freights was directly connected with the business of the Crown Agents. I hope he will not assume that because he can show that the freights between America and the Cape are lower than those between this country and the Cape that has anything to do with the efficiency of the administration of the Crown Agents. All that they are concerned to do is to carry out the orders they receive from the Colonial Office, and we believe that the agreement they have made on behalf of the Colonial Office for the shipment of goods from this country to South Africa is not only a good agreement but one which will give satisfaction to the Governments of the Transvaal and of the Orange River Colony.
As to the question of getting a better rate for the public, that is entirely outside the province of the Crown Agents. It is a matter which the Government alone could undertake or examine, and it is very doubtful whether it would be wise for the Government to do so. The noble Earl may have read the Report of a Committee of the House of Commons, presided over by Mr. Evelyn Cecil, which went very carefully into the question whether it would be wise for the Government to grant subsidies to any particular steamship lines for the purpose of encouraging trade in any part of the world. They unanimously came to the conclusion that it would be unwise for the Government to do so, and, furthermore, they pointed out that in the case of Continental Powers that had given these subsidies, they did not think their action had been advantageous. I know that the noble Earl is solicitous for the wel- 1338 fare of persons trading between this country and South Africa, a feeling which I myself share, and he may be interested to know that the various Governments in South Africa propose Sending representatives to a conference which is to take place in South Africa to discuss this question of the rate of freights. Until we know what the result of that conference is, until we are informed of the wishes and views of the people of South Africa themselves upon this subject, it would be premature for His Majesty's Government to offer any opinion upon Such a difficult and complicated matter.
§ EARL GREY
My Lords, I desire to conform in every way to the rules of debate in your Lordships' House, but really the noble Duke makes it extremely difficult for me to do so. He was asked certain Questions on matters of fact, but in replying to those Questions he has, delivered a speech brimming over with controversial matter and matter of opinion. There is no Motion before the House, and I am conscious that I am debarred by the rules which govern debates here from making a speech in answer to the observations which we have just listened to from the noble Duke, I but, with the permission of the House, I will briefly refer to one of the points in the noble Duke's Speech. The noble Duke has twitted me with having misinformed the House on the last occasion when this question was under debate, and with having told your Lordships that the British India Steamship Company was an independent line of steamers so far as Delagoa Bay was concerned. It is true that I made the statement that at that time the company was, as I believed, an independent line to Delagoa Bay. Of course, I was aware that there was an arrangement between that company and the Conference lines with regard to the South African ports, but that arrangement left Delagoa Bay an open field for competition between the British India Steamship Company and the Conference lines.
I asked His Majesty's Government whether they would support this independent line to Delagoa Bay, the owners of which were more anxious to get a share of the freight consigned to that 1339 port than to obtain a subsidy from the Government. The extraordinary answer I received from Lord Onslow was—"How can His Majesty's Government even consider the expediency of shipping freight to Delagoa Bay by a steamship company that does not want to stop at Cape Town or Port Elizabeth"? I did think that was trifling with the business capacity of this House. Delagoa Bay was a port at which the British India Steamship Company, certainly at the beginning of this session, was perfectly entitled to compete with the Conference lines. I want to know whether His Majesty's Government ever gave them an opportunity of tendering for a single ton of cargo to Delagoa Bay. I also want to know whether His Majesty's Government ever gave an opportunity of tendering for a single ton of cargo to Messrs. Houston & Company when that was an independent line. It is my belief that it is the action of the Government in refusing to Support the independent lines which has forced those lines one after the other into the Conference ring. I warned your Lordships in the last debate that if you pursued this policy of only feeding the Conference lines and did not follow the example of the Indian Government in supporting the independent lines, you would force the British India Steamship Company in its turn into the Conference ring. There is a great deal more to be said in answer to the noble Duke, but as we shall, no doubt, have another opportunity of discussing the points raised, I will not longer detain your Lordships now.