HL Deb 01 July 1931 vol 81 cc556-60

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is a Bill which has been passed, I think, without a Division in another place. It is to authorise the Treasury to guarantee principal and interest on a loan of £750,000 to the Government of Mauritius, in order to enable them to take prompt steps to repair the damage that was caused by a terrible hurricane last March. The Colony is not able to deal with such a calamity without assistance. This has happened before in Mauritius and, after a similar hurricane, similar action was taken and a loan was guaranteed by the British Government. The Colonial Government paid off the whole principal and interest in due course, and not one penny fell upon British funds. We think that, in spite of the fact that Mauritius is not doing any too well, this serious and temporary emergency can be got over with the prompt aid of the British Government's guarantee, and the Treasury does not expect any charge ultimately to fall upon British funds at all. It would be impossible to do without this guarantee, and it is necessary that it should be given promptly.

It is proposed to spend the money, (1) in repair and replacement of Government property, of offices and so on, damaged in the hurricane; (2) by advances to provide persons and companies up to the amount of the losses in the way of damage to property, stock and so on; and (3) by advances to public works, which cannot be financed in any other way, with regard to one thing or another which arose in consequence of the hurricane. This will incidentally provide immediate employment to a certain number of people, who will have been rendered workless by this calamity. I would have been happy to give your Lordships more information, but as we shall have other opportunities of discussing the Bill, it will perhaps be sufficient if I now move the Second Reading.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Passfield.)


My Lords, I would like in the first place to protest against the course adopted by the Government with regard to this Bill. It was read a first time yesterday, and put down for the Second Reading to-day, which is a much shorter interval than is usually allowed between the stages of Bills in this House. I am quite aware of the fact that this Rill is concerned with money matters in the main, but it is not a certified Bill. There are points which make it desirable that it should be discussed, and I venture to say that the interval between the First and Second Headings is a very short one.

So far as the actual Bill is concerned, I do not wish to enter into any details. I will merely say that it does seem to me to throw into very tragic relief the position in which our sugar-producing Colonies find themselves at the moment. The point of this Bill is that this loan is not to be raised for any constructive purpose at all. It is merely to be raised to restore the damage which has been done by the terrible hurricanes which occurred earlier in the year, and if this loan does serve its purpose in the course of time, it will merely leave that unfortunate Colony in the somewhat pitiable state in which it was before the hurricane occurred. The only other matter to which I would speak is a matter referred to by the noble Lord, and that is the possibility or probability of the Exchequer being called upon to find the money in respect of the guarantee of the loan. One of the provisions of the Bill is that this loan should not be granted unless it appears to the Government that the Government of Mauritius would, after the first five years, be able to meet the annual charges as they fall due. I would like to know whether the Government consider that there is a. reasonable prospect that these annual charges will be met after the first five years have passed?


I am much obliged to the noble Earl for his criticism. I quite realise that this Bill has been brought forward in a great hurry. It has already passed through all its stages in the other House, where, unfortunately, it was delayed by pressure of business. We cannot give the guarantee until the Bill is passed, and it is extremely urgent that the Bill should be passed as soon as possible. Your Lordships are of course entitled to proper notice, and to a proper interval between the stages of the Bill, but I venture to plead that this is a rather exceptional measure. It is not merely that I am asking for the Second Reading now, but I want to know whether your Lordships will take the Committee stage to-morrow. Otherwise we shall not be able to get the Royal Assent on Wednesday next. If there is any objection to that course, I of course give way, and will not ask for it, but it would be a very great convenience and advantage, and a real help to the Government of Mauritius, The Government of Mauritius are really seriously distressed by this calamity. They have, exhaused all their local resources in giving immediate relief and they now cannot finance the relief work any more. They do want the money, and there is every reason to believe that no loss will ultimately fall upon the Exchequer.

The Treasury have, quite properly, made it a condition that a Financial Commission should go out to Mauritius at the earliest possible moment, in order to see that the finances of the Island are in proper order, and that expenditure is cut down as far as possible, so as to make the Island solvent, in spite of the pressure connected with the low price of sugar. I am glad to say that Mauritius is not quite so hardly hit by the low price of sugar as some of the West Indian Dependencies. Of course, it is not doing well, but up to now estates have not gone out of cultivation, and it has been possible to reduce the cost of cultivation by several pounds per ton. Nevertheless this great hurricane comes upon them as a great calamity. I am able to assure the noble Earl that the Treasury will be able to give its certificate that it expects the Island will be able to find the money, and in order to be able to do that the Treasury have taken the precaution of deciding that a Commission shall go out there, which shall have authority to cut down expenditure and see that the revenue is raised up to the point of enabling the Island to go on. There is every confidence that they will be able to do so. If your Lordships will allow the Second Reading today, and the Committee stage to be taken to-morrow, we could then get the Royal Assent on Wednesday next. I think it would be a kindness to the distressed people of Mauritius if your Lordships allowed the Bill to be taken thus early.

THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY. My Lords, I think I should be wrong if I did not make some remark, in the nature of a protest, at the manner in which this House has been treated. My noble friend who sits behind me has told you that the Bill yesterday received its First Reading, and now the Government are asking for the Second Reading today and for the Committee stage to be taken to-morrow. I do not feel that your Lordships will desire that we should refuse the request that is made, but I do venture to utter a protest at the manner in which your Lordships have been treated. This is a Bill which, we are told, was, owing to the pressure of business in another place, delayed in coming to this House. I should have thought that it was quite possible to have had the Committee stage next week, and so comply with the usual practice in this House, that Bills should not, save in very exceptional circumstances, be passed in this very brief and perfunctory manner.

On the broader subject, I would venture to suggest to the noble Lord that it is unfortunate that to-day, when we have had an important debate, which it was well known would occupy a considerable time, four Bills should be put upon the Paper for Second Heading. Lord Polwarth delivered an important speech, which, owing to the condition of business, had to be made to an empty House. I should have thought that on an occasion like this it would have been much better for these Second Readings to have been taken at the beginning of business on another day. That is a matter not concerned with the subject we are now-debating, but I did not wish to detain your Lordships on the Motion for adjournment. As the noble Lord has put forward reasons for taking the Committee stage to-morrow, I think it is only right that we should agree to the noble Lord's suggestion, but we agree to it under protest.

On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.