I beg to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, in view of the fact that the Additional Act to the Brussels Sugar Convention of the 5th March, 1902, was signed on behalf of His Majesty's-Government on the 28th August, 1907, the day on which this House was prorogued, that His Majesty's Government have undertaken to ratify that Additional Act by 1st February, 1908, and that when signing the Additional Act the Swedish Plenipotentiary declared that his Government authorised him to sign it, notwithstanding that the Swedish Diet only met on the 15th January, 1908, in the conviction that if the approval of the Diet had not been given in time a request for an extension of the time allowed for deposit of ratification beyond the 1st February, 1908, would be favourably received, he will cause such a request for extension of time to be made on behalf of this country in order to afford this House an opportunity, previous to the ratification, of expressing its approval of the Additional Act and its readiness to adopt the financial measures necessary to enable His Majesty to carry out its provision.
We hear that a suggestion has been made at Brussels that the time for ratification should be extended for a few days. I have sent instructions that we are prepared to deposit the King's Ratification of the Additional Act, as well as of the protocol, whenever necessary, but that if other Powers agree to defer ratification till after 1st February, we will follow the same course. I may add that the declaration of His Majesty's Government was made as long ago as 6th June, of last year.
Then are we to understand, in the event of the negotiations for deferring ratification breaking down, His Majesty's Government intend to ratify the Additional Act before next Saturday without the consent of this House?
Before the right hon. Gentleman answers that last Question, may I ask whether I shall leave on the Paper for to-morrow the unstarrerd Question on this subject of which I had previously given notice?
Yes, I think the right hon. Gentleman might as well leave that Question on the Paper, in case I have any further information to give to the House. I think it is undesirable that the ratification should have been deferred so long as it has been. It is in the interests of traders that they should know as soon as possible whether the Convention is to be renewed or not.
Then, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, may I ask a Question which, I think, directly involves the privileges and financial powers of the House? By the Sugar Convention Act of 1903, the House agreed to provide the yearly expenses incidental to the working of the Brussels Sugar Convention, 1902, from the 1st September, 1903, to 1st September, 1908, absolutely, and after that to continue to provide them for one year, and so on from year to year, conditionally upon the Convention not being denounced. By the Additional Act, which the Government proposes to ratify without the consent of the House, it is provided by Article III that these same expenses shall continue to be provided out of public moneys after 1st September, 1908, not conditionally, nor from year to year, but absolutely and inevitably until the 1st September, 1911, and practically certainly until 1913. I wish to ask, is it competent for the Government to pledge Parliament beforehand and without its consent, to provide for three years certain and for five years practically certain, moneys which Parliament has hitherto only agreed to provide conditionally and from year to year?
My Answer to the hon. Member is that the undertaking of the Government does not commit the House of Commons. When the Vote is submitted, the House will have an opportunity of expressing its opinion.