HL Deb 11 May 1905 vol 146 cc28-30

My Lords, I beg to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he can state the present position of the negotiations with the German Government with respect to the trade in the Marshall and Cardine groups of Islands.


My Lords, I am able to give my noble friend some information which I hope may be of interest to him, and to those who, like him, take an interest in this question. Since the subject of British trade in the Marshall Islands was discussed I have received a communication of a most considerate character from the German Government. In the first place, the German Government admit that the Convention of 1886 entitles German and British subjects in the possessions of both Powers in the Western Pacific Ocean to equal treatment; although they contend that both Governments are given by that agreement a free hand in regard to the imposition of taxes and duties within their own territories. The German Government hold that the regulations which were issued by them with regard to shipping tolls and export duties on copra are, in fact, applied equally to both German and British subjects, and that they are therefore not inconsistent with the convention; they also maintain that there is no contradiction between the convention and the agreement concluded in 1888 with the Jaluit Company, because they think that the rights of each Government to administer independently their own possessions were in no way restricted by the terms of the convention. However, although the German Government maintain that their attitude was perfectly justified from a legal point of view, they feel that it would be most undesirable that in connection with a matter of such trifling importance there should be any serious difference of opinion between the two Governments; and, as the Government of His Majesty believe that the effect of the agreement of 1888 has been to give preferential treatment to the Jaluit Company, the German Government have decided to terminate that agreement at the close of the present financial year—March 31st, 1906. The result of that will be that after that date the administration of the Marshall Islands, and especially the collection of public revenues, will be transferred from the company to the Imperial authorities.

I am further able to say that the German Government intend to proceed immediately to a revision of the regulations at present in force in the islands with regard to the levying of public revenues, and that they intend to remodel those regulations on the basis of "balancing the revenue and expenditure." I take that to mean that the revenue will be collected with the object of meeting the necessary expenditure, and not with the object of protecting in an especial manner any particular interests. Measures adapted for this purpose will come into force on October 1st next. The effect of this statement, I think, is to show that before long the monopoly of the Jaluit Company will disappear; and although of course, we are at present without knowledge as to the new arrangements which may be introduced, we may hope that the abuses to which my noble friend called attention, and which in our view certainly did exist under the administration of the company, will come to an end.

That is the main point. There are, of course, subsidiary points, such as the claim of a British firm for compensation and the treatment of a British vessel the owners of which complained of the manner in which they were treated in the Marshall Islands, but these are still under investigation, and unless my noble friend particularly desires it I do not propose to say anything about them now. In the case, however, of the ship "Ysabel," which it was stated had been refused a supply of water when she touched at the Marshall Islands, I think it is due to the German Government to give their explanation, which was that the vessel would have been given an ample supply of drinking water, but, there being a scarcity of water in the islands, they could only have given her enough boiler water to carry her to another group of islands, at which a sufficient supply might have been obtained. That is the only subsidiary point which I think it necessary to touch upon now, unless my noble friend desires to ask any further Questions.


The noble Marquess has obtained a more satisfactory statement from the German Government than I had expected. His speech will be read with considerable satisfaction both in this country and in Australia, and I do not think I can do better than leave the further negotiations in his hands without more comment.

House adjourned at Six o'clock till To-morrow, half-past Ten o'clock.