HC Deb 05 August 1839 vol 49 cc1239-47

Mr. Labouchere moved the third reading of the New South Wales Bill.

Mr. C. Buller

concurred with the Government in thinking that it was expedient and prudent to renew this bill from year to year, but he thought it would be still wiser and much more expedient to give the people some chance, at no very distant period, of exercising that self-control in the affairs of the Government without which civilization could never be efficiently advanced, nor any thing like rational freedom established. He felt assured, that the least prospect of this control could not fail to occasion the greatest satisfaction among all classes of the colonists. The Act now proposed to be renewed, was a measure which originally had been introduced in 1827. It was no matter of surprise that the circumstance of the Executive Council not being of popular choice should occasion loud and angry complaints, and should give rise to feelings of more bitterness in the Australian colonies than were to be found in any other possessions of the British Crown. The revenue of these colonies was produced from the largest amount of direct taxation with which any country on the face of the earth had ever been burthened. It was thought that the English people enjoyed exclusively the privilege of being the heaviest-taxed people who had ever pos- sessed an independent and regular Government. The population of New South Wales was about 100,000 souls—that of Van Dieman's Land about 50,000. Concerning the revenue derived from the sale of land, it would not be correct fir him to introduce that species of property into the calculation which he purposed submitting to the House; for it was a species of fixed and permanent property that ought to be applied to objects of a permanent nature, such as the formation of roads or other works of that description, as well as fur the encouragement of immigration; but that with which he now proposed to deal more particularly was the ordinary revenue and the ordinary expenditure of the; colony. In tile year 1837 the ordinary revenue, strictly exclusive of the sale of land, amounted in New South Wales to 226,900l., and in Van Dieman's Land to 127,666l. The total revenue disbursed by the Government of New South Wales was little less than half a million of motley, while the population of our Australian colonies was something between 150,000 and 200,000. Now, in this application of their own ordinary revenue the people had no voice whatever. There was usually an expenditure of 326,000l. for the use of a population, of whom only 45,000 were not convicts. Thus, their expenditure was 2l. 3s. a-head, while the expenditure in England only amounted to 2l. a-bead; yet the Australian colonists had not the interest of any debt to discharge, whereas half the expenditure of the mother country went not for the maintenance of any efficient force, but for paying the interest of a debt incurred long since. He knew he might be told that the Government of a colony frequently found itself under the necessity of disbursing a much larger amount of revenue in public works than was at all necessary in an old civilized country. Looking at the expenditure of New South Wales, he ventured to say, that it was the largest and most lavish expenditure in the known world. In the year 1839, the ordinary revenue of New South Wales was 226,000l.; and this for a population of 100,000, while the actual expenditure was 346,000, the difference being made up from that which ought never to enter into ordinary expenditure—namely, the funds derived from the sale of lands. Thus the expenses of New South Wales imposed an average payment of 3l, 10s. per head. Now, if the interest of the national debt were not taken into consideration, it would be found that the actual expense of this country did not exceed one-third for each individual of that expended in New South Wales. He certainly did not lose sight of the great expenditure necessary in that colony for a church establishment and the formation of roads, bridges, streets, &c. Deducting 70,000l. expended on objects not required in England, it left a balance of 276,000l., the whole expenditure being 346,000l. Now, in comparing the expenditure of the colony with that of the mother country, hon. Members should recollect that the Australians had nothing analogous to our establishments of the army, navy, and ordnance, and yet these three sources of expense swallowed up 11,000,000l. annually of our ordinary revenue. The inference from all these statements was, that however great the extravagance of our Government might be in England, it was three times as great in Australia. It was curious to observe with what cool indifference any addition was made to the expenditure of such a colony. Here, if there were a proposition for adding 5,000 men to the army, it became a matter of very grave and patient investigation; but 80,000l. additional were laid upon the Australians with as little ceremony as if money were not an object of difficult and rare acquisition. Neither was there the least scrupulousness practised in reference to the source whence the means of this additional expenditure was to be obtained. The Government, unhesitatingly, broke its pledge on the subject of immigration. Let the House only look at the difference between our Australian and our North American colonies. In the latter, the population was ten times as great as in Australia, and yet their direct taxation did not exceed the direct taxation of New South Wales. There existed in Australia a certain kind of slavery, but it was the richest slave colony under the British Crown, not even excepting Jamaica. The population of Jamaica was 500,000, while the expenditure was only 300,000l., being one-third part of the expenditure of New South Wales; yet there existed no sort of popular control in the latter colony. The conclusion to which he wished to lead the House was, that the people of Australia ought to have some control over the administration of their own govern- ment. If they were not indulged to this extent at least, it would be quite unreasonable to suppose that any people would endure such treatment patiently. He had not forgotten that many people were of opinion that the Australians were wholly unfit for self-government. That was certainly not the opinion of persons best acquainted with their habits and circumstances. They were faulty in many respects, but one obvious mode of improving them would be to grant them some small control in the management of their own affairs. He was not singular in holding this opinion, nay, he was supported by the judgment of the highest authorities, not only in the colony, but in Europe. The hon. Member referred to the testimony of Mr. M'Arthur, a gentleman of the largest landed property in the colony, Sir Edward Parry, Sir Robert Mitchell, and Sir Richard Bourke. He had himself presented a petition last year signed by 9,000 persons, including all the magistrates. Mr. Henry Bulwer, when he had a seat in that House, presented a similar petition, praying for popular control over the Government, and being very numerously and respectably signed. At present there was a similar petition coming from Van Dieman's Land, signed by 1,942 persons, amongst whom were 125 magistrates out of 198. He felt, then, that the House would abandon its duty if it delayed much longer to do that which all parties earnestly demanded. He did not doubt the wish to grant the inhabitants of New South Wales free institutions, but it was the duty of the Imperial Government to take measures for fitting them to receive the advantages of being represented. Moreover, it was the duty of Parliament not to legislate without reference to the feelings of the people. He should not then enter into the general question of the wisdom or expediency of possessing penal colonies, but of this he entertained no doubt, that the practice of transporting the refuse of our population to New South Wales ought long since to have been discontinued. In a colony yielding so much valuable produce for export—looking at the immense tracts of fine land which it contained—he had no hesitation in saying that a wise Government would never have converted that into an abode for criminals which nature had so admirably adapted for the residence of industrious and civilized men. He would impress upon the Government the necessity of encouraging the free emigration to our Australian colonies of persons willing to leave this country. Five years of well-conducted emigration would place these colonies in the condition of being fully capable of taking care of themselves, and of enjoying those free institutions without which Englishmen, no matter in what part of the globe, or under what circumstances, would never be content.

Mr. Labouchere

conceived that no practical result could follow from the discussion in which his hon. Friend had embarked, even if the House were to come to an opinion upon the several topics it involved. Although there was little of inaccuracy in the statements which his hon. Friend had made, yet they presented so fallacious a picture to the House from the circumstance of his having omitted to advert to other matters intimately connected with the subject, that he (Mr. Labouchere) felt it necessary in some degree to supply the deficiency. His hon. Friend had begun by stating, that he hoped the day was not very distant when he should see institutions of a liberal character, and more consonant to the feelings of Englishmen, substituted for the present system of government in New South Wales. He could assure his hon. Friend, that he was far from differing from the general principles he had expressed upon that subject. He agreed with him, that whatever might be the difficulty of introducing free institutions into a colony, there was much disadvantage in requiring Englishmen to live under a government in the conduct and control of which they had no share. He had always entertained the greatest doubt upon the propriety of making those colonies convict colonies—of spreading a seed so bad upon a soil where the produce was sure to be so great. He had always regarded that policy as open to the greatest objection, and he was glad to be able to state, that the Government had taken decided steps to put a stop to the system. His noble Friend, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, who, he regretted to say, was unable to attend the House that day, had, in conjunction with the Colonial-office, taken steps to put a stop to the exportation of convicts to New South Wales. This year only 2,000, being but half the usual number, would be sent to that colony, the greater portion of whom would not be long allowed to remain there, but be taken to Norfolk Island, and placed under control a recommended by the committee to which his hon. Friend had referred. His hon. Friend would see, therefore, that the Government were not open to the charge of neglect upon that part of the subject. Directions had also been sent out to New South Wales at once to put an end to the assignment of convicts for domestic service, and in as short a time as possible to discontinue the assignment of labourers, without bringing immediate ruin or injury upon those accustomed to that supply. Such being the case with respect to the exportation of convicts, it was the more incumbent on the Government, by every practical means, to encourage the exportation of free labour, to supply the deficiency, and enable those colonies to continue in that course—of prosperity he would call it, in spite of the speech of his hon. Friend—in which they had hitherto been progressing, but which they could no longer expect them to continue in unless by the immigration into the colony of free labour. Neither could he allow, that upon this part of time subject the Government had abandoned its duty. He begged attention to the single fact—that in 1828 10,000 emigrants had gone from this country alone to New South Wales, which must evidently produce not only a considerable effect upon the supply of labour, but also in improving the general mass of the inhabitants, by the infusion of persons who might fairly be said to be persons, generally speaking, of industrious and moral habits. So deeply impressed were the Government with the advantage of it, that they had resolved to continue a system of emigration upon the same scale, and there would emigrate this year also, under the auspices of the Government, 10,000 persons, but at the expense of the colony. If the colony were to derive important benefits, even in a financial point of view, from that circumstance, it was only just that it should bear the expense. His hon. Friend had accused the Government with having invaded the land fund, and applied it to other purposes than that for which it was intended. He believed he had gone so far as to charge the Government with a breach of faith in having violated their pledge—at what time made, however, his hon. Friend did not say. He (Mr. Labouchere) denied that the Government had pledged itself, or that it would be judicious to pledge itself, come what might, to apply those funds derived from a source which of course would be always available, wholly or in part, to the purposes of emigration. It was evident, from the address of Sir George Gipps, that at this moment the finances of New South Wales were not in a satisfactory condition; that there was an excess of expenditure over income, which, if allowed to continue, could not but involve the colony in difficulty and distress. At the same time his hon. Friend, in commenting upon that fact, should have adverted to those temporary circumstances which, to a considerable extent, had given it existence. Last year had been a year of severe drought, so severe, that Sir George Gipps had stated, that instead of there having been a demand for labour, labourers were actually standing idle in the streets of Sydney, who willing to be hired, could not find employment. This calamity had moreover in another way a direct effect upon the revenue, the prices of all contracts were raised immensely, upon which the House was aware how much expenditure depended. All provisions had likewise risen in price, and added greatly to the difficulties of the year. At the same time, Sir G. Gipps, in laying this statement before the Council of New South Wales, ended by saying, that he, for one, was of opinion, that by meeting those difficulties openly and boldly, and by a strict and unflinching system of economy in every part of the service where economy could be applied, those difficulties would be surmounted, and those colonies would continue prosperous. That was an expectation in which he heartily shared. He considered it most fortunate for those colonies that they had presiding over their councils at this moment a person of the courage, ability, and integrity of that gallant Officer, by whom, with the assistance of the council, he had no doubt that those difficulties would shortly be removed, and those colonies continue to be a source of strength to to the empire. The bill before the House merely provided for the continuance of the temporary government of New South Wales. The whole subject must necessarily come before them next year. He did not think it would be wise or prudent now to hold out expectations which it might not, upon deliberation, be in the power of Government to fulfil; but he fully agreed with his right hon. Friend, that it was desirable as soon as possible to give a more free form of government to those colonies, the state of which next year would, he trusted, enable them to submit to the House some measure upon the subject.

Mr. Ward

said, that since he had given notice of his motion upon this subject, he had seen a Treasury minute, which, instead of appropriating the proceeds of land sales to emigration, distinctly declared, that until the difference which existed between the ordinary revenue and the expenditure in New South Wales should be completely covered by the colonial resources, no further portion of those proceeds should be employed in emigration. The right hon. Gentleman had not pushed that part of the question to its full extent. He stated that 10,000 emigrants had gone out last year to New South Wales, and that a similar number would go out this year under the auspices of the Government. But how was that to be reconciled with this Treasury minute, and the different appropriation of the land-fund for which the right hon. Gentleman claimed credit. He said it was to be done out of the colonial resources. But he had shown, that in those resources there was a great deficit. That being the case he (Mr. Ward) did not see how it was to be done without the interposition of Parliament. He implored his right hon. Friend not to encourage a spirit of jobbing and lavish expenditure in the colony, by throwing the whole proceeds of land-sales into a revenue over which they had no control. If he did so, he might depend upon seeing, as the result, the employment of a number of unnecessary officers, the building of new streets, and a lavish outlay for such purposes, which, while it might create a temporary popularity, would have the effect of retarding the permanent government of the colony itself. He contended, that it was unfair to deduct from the amount of land-sales the expences of the system of colonial police. The necessity for that force entirely arose from our sending so many convicts into New South Wales; and he did not think the colony should be charged with the expense of its maintenance.

Viscount Howick

vindicated the application of the land-fund to the support of the police force. No doubt, the necessity for that force arose, as had been observed by the hon. Member for Sheffield, from the number of convicts sent into New South Wales; but as convict labour had been mainly the cause of its prosperity, the colony could not object to defray the expense of those establishments which were absolutely necessary to maintain public tranquillity.

Bill read a third time, and passed.

Back to