HC Deb 05 July 1842 vol 64 cc989-99

House in committee on the South Australian Acts.

Lord Stanley

rose to move the resolutions of which he had given notice respect- ing the colony of South Australia. The noble Lord said it would be in the recollection of the House, that when the colony of South Australia was established, the management of its affairs was intrusted to a board of twelve unpaid commissioners. The provision of the act for the government of the colony was, that no burdens should be thrown on the mother country in consequence of the measure, but that the expenditure should be borne by the colony. It was, of course, necessary that provision should be made to defray the heavy expenses incidental to the establishment of such a society—expenses the amount of which seemed not to have been calculated upon by the originators of the scheme. Power was therefore given to the commissioners to raise a sum not exceeding 200,000l., by borrowing on the future credit of the colony. Money was borrowed at an extravagant rate of interest, and the colony, without the means of defraying its current expenses, was soon saddled with a heavy debt of from 85,000l. to 86,000l., bearing interest at 10 per cent. The political administration of the colony was intrusted to a governor appointed by the Crown; but it was soon found that the division of authority thus made tended to paralyze the action of both departments of the colonial Government. In 1840 the noble Lord opposite (Lord J. Russell) thought it expedient to take the control of these matters out of the hands of unpaid commissioners, and placed it in the hands of commissioners acting under the immediate control of the Colonial-office. According to the arrangement made by the noble Lord, the same person was appointed resident commissioner, under the authority of the commissioners, and governor under the authority of the Crown. This got rid of the evil of having two separate authorities in the colony; but an inconvenience arose from the circumstance of the governor having, as it were, two masters, and receiving instructions of a very conflicting nature, which he knew not how to execute. In the meantime the affairs of the colony continued in a state of great confusion, and in July, 1841, they appeared to be rapidly proceeding towards a state of insolvency. The provisions with regard to the political administration of the colony which he proposed to introduce into the bill he wished to submit to the consideration of the House would closely follow the recommendations of the committee of last year, a power being reserved to her Majesty of establishing in the colony a popular representative system, when circumstances should appear to justify it. With respect to the financial difficulties of the colony, it would be recollected that last year an advance was made from the Treasury here to the colony of 155,000l., which sum was to be repaid by the colony, instructions having been sent out to Colonel Gawler, to abstain from drawing any more bills on the Treasury in England, Colonel Gawler, on receiving these instructions, did not, unfortunately, comply with them. Acting on what he considered a pressing emergency, he applied to the Executive Council for advice, and continued to draw on the Treasury from the 17th of February, 1841, till the 24th of April, 1841, certain bills which were not honoured. On the 10th of May, 1841, Captain Grey superseded Colonel Gawler; and he found that the expenditure of the colony, which had been estimated by the committee of last year at 70,000l., had considerably increased. The expenses of the public establishments was approaching to 94,000l., and there were other expenses, from public works, and other sources, increasing the expenditure to 150,000l., while the whole amount of revenue which existed to meet this expenditure did not exceed 30,000l. It therefore became necessary to put a stop to this expenditure, and Captain Grey entered on the task with so much zeal and activity, that he reduced it to a sum not exceeding 34,600l., effecting a saving of nearly 115,000l. These measures of economy necessarily threw into distress a large amount of population, who depended for subsistence on the Government expenditure. Many of the works in the town of Adelaide, though at present unproductive, would unquestionably be of great service and utility to the colony ultimately. They had, now, however, attracted speculation towards them, withdrawing it from those other sources of public prosperity which, though more slow, were nevertheless more certain in their development. The result of this was the rising of prices, both of labour and produce; and when a practice of economy was introduced, a vast number of persons being thrown out of employment, received, under a plan which was obnoxious to great abuses, and entailed a heavy expense, support from the Government. Abuses similar to those which existed under the worst administration of the old Poor-law made their appearance, and in consequence of this, positive instructions were issued that assistance should be given to no person who refused agricultural employment at wages even below the ordinary wages of the colony. In consequence of this, agriculture was extending, prices falling, and at present a more healthy state of things was succeeding to that which he had always looked on as a false prosperity. He would now state the liabilities of the colony from 1835 to the end of 1842. There was the Parliamentary grant of 155,000l. advanced last year as a loan, and which was to be repaid; and there was also a sum of 50,000l. taken as a vote, which was, however, not a liability of the colony, though supplied at the cost of the mother country. It was clear that the amount of the bills drawn by the Governor previously to receiving instructions to abstain from drawing must be made good. The amount of the bills which Colonel Gawler drew, and which still remained unpaid, was 27,290l.; besides those drawn already by Captain Grey, almost entirely on account of the emigrants, who were maintained at the expense of the public, amounting to 17,646l. There was, moreover, as he stated to the committee at the outset, a sum of 85,800l. borrowed by the commissioners in the first instance, which stood as a debt bearing interest from 6 to 10 per cent. Besides these, there were bills of Colonel Gawler, which he left outstanding, as money advanced to Government for various services, and which amounted in all to nearly 35,000l. The whole of that sum was advanced by individuals in the colony, undoubtedly for the service of the colony, but all, he believed, after the governor himself and the colony were aware of the peremptory orders Colonel Gawler had received to abstain from drawing upon the Treasury for the future. Besides this, there was due from the general revenue of the colony to the land and emigration fund, supposing the original system to have been carried out, a sum of 84,697l., which was the surplus realised by the sale of land, and which should have been advanced for the purposes of emigration, to which, it was pledged, but which had been advanced for the general purposes of the colony. Supposing, then, all those amounts to be defrayed, the total sum due from the colony up to the present time would amount to somewhere about 400,000l. It remained for him to state the course which, upon a full consideration of the various claims and examination of their respective merits, the Government deemed it expedient to pursue. In the first place, he thought the House would concur with him, that in justice to those who had gone out on the faith of the Government, a colony which already numbered 15,000 souls, in which there was a vast amount of fixed capital invested, the imports of which were above 30,000l, and the exports of which were rapidly increasing, ought not to be abandoned by the British Parliament for want of a small temporary assistance. At the same time, he went as far as those who said it was the bounden duty of the Government to make economical arrangements for the future, and to see that no fallacious expectations were held out, nor that any governor was to suppose that if he fell into lavish expenditure he had nothing to do but to draw bills upon the Treasury in this country. Captain Grey had reduced the annual expenditure to about 36,400l, and at the present time the expenditure on account of pauper emigration was at the rate of nearly 24,000l.; but he hoped that the measures of the Government would considerably reduce that in the course of the coming year, though it was not possible to put a stop at once to a system hitherto pursued. He had, however, reason to believe, that within the course of a very short time, if the credit of the colony were maintained by the determination of the Government to relieve it from its present embarrassment, a large portion of its first expenditure having been defrayed, the colony would be enabled to become a self-supporting colony, and to maintain its own establishments and expenditure. He did not anticipate, therefore, that it would be necessary for this country year by year to vote in the estimates any considerable sums, and he hoped not any sums for the ordinary annual expenditure of the colony. But to place it in that condition it was absolutely necessary to make arrangements to relieve it at all events from its most pressing difficulties. The revenue of the colony was estimated at 34,500l., but the present expenditure would probably exceed that amount, without reference to the debt of the colony. As to the sale of lands, in the present state of the colony, he did not believe that there was any part of the Australian dominions which afforded a fair prospect to persons disposed to emigrate with certain capital, and to employ that capital in the purchase of land and agricultural labour, because the effect of the measures which had been taken had been to render the supply of labour superabundant to the amount of capital, and consequently to reduce the rate of wages. With respect to the sum of 155,000l. advanced to the colony last year, by way of loan, he did not. think he called upon Parliament in this country to do too much to forego the payment of that sum. To insist upon the colony paying interest in the present state of its finances would be to pay with one hand and to receive with the other; and therefore, under the present circumstances of the colony, he did not hesitate to propose to Parliament to sacrifice any expectations they might entertain of the repayment of that amount of 155,000l. and interest; and in the same manner he should propose, in the present year, to submit to Parliament the expediency of making good the amount of the 27,290l. drawn by Colonel Gawler upon the Treasury, and which the Treasury felt bound to recommend to Parliament to sanction. These bills were accepted upon the confident expectation that Parliament would not refuse to make the expenditure. He proposed to ask Parliament further to sanction the expenditure incurred by Captain Grey chiefly for pauper emigrants, whom he felt it necessary, in the first instance, to maintain. That amount was 17,600l. He should then propose a vote in the estimates of this year of 15,000l., to enable the Government of the colony to be carried on in the present year, but that was intended to include another item which he would now advert to. There was a bond debt for money borrowed by the colony to the amount of 8 500l.; that was borrowed at rates of interest varying from 6 to 10 per cent. It had been important that no statement upon that subject should be made until his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer had had an opportunity of personal communication with the persons who held those bonds, and who claimed 10 per cent., the condition of the bonds being that the monies should not be paid off for certain periods, varying from five to ten years. His right hon. Friend had entered into an understanding with those persons that they should sacrifice their claim, not to the amount of those bonds, but to the 10 per cent, interest to which they were entitled, and that they should allow the amount of their bonds to remain outstanding, at interest of 3½per cent., that being guaranteed by the British Treasury; but being left a charge upon the revenue of the colony, which would enable the Government hereafter to claim it from the colony. That amount of interest at 3½ per cent, he proposed to be charged upon the Consolidated Fund, and he had referred to it in one of the resolutions which was submitted to the House. There was the further sum of 35,000l., which stood on a somewhat different footing. That sum, for which no bills had at present been drawn, was for outstanding claims for sums advanced to the Government in the colony by persons, upon the full knowledge of the peremptory orders which Colonel Gawler had received not to draw any further bills: and upon those claims considerable inquiries would have to be made. They amounted, as far as he at present knew, to 35,000l. Now, it was not proposed directly or indirectly to provide for that debt, except so far as the assistance which it was proposed to give to maintain the credit of the colony might enable it to pay a moderate interest upon it; and while, therefore, the Governor was afraid that the Government would not be prepared to recommend to Parliament to take upon themselves that amount, yet he had been authorized to issue in the colony debentures, with interest not exceeding 5 per cent.; and that security was proposed alone to be given to those persons who had advanced that sum of 35,000l. The remaining debt of the colony was one which he might call a debt in the colony itself, and amounted to 84,600l. The result, then, would be, that the debt of the colony, except the 35,000l., would become a debt of the mother country, and the sum we should be called upon in the course of the present year, and he hoped not in any future year to pay, amounted to 59,900l. He trusted, that except for very small amounts, which he hoped might not occur at all, this would be the last sum which it would be necessary to call upon Parliament to pay, in order to set the colony of South Australia in such a condition as to enable it in future to carry on its own affairs. He had felt it necessary frankly and candidly to give this explanation to the House, and he had endeavoured to place before them what was the actual condition of the debt of the colony, and what was the actual amount of sacrifice which the Government were now prepared to advise Parliament to make for relieving it from its present embarassment; but he hoped, that with such assistance the colony would be enabled, even if it made but slow, at least to make sure advances to prosperity, and that the changes in the colony, together with the measures affecting the land sales, which he had lately carried through Parliament, and the alterations in the constitution of the colony, made last year, would give the Government such a control over the affairs of that colony, as to prevent much of that disorder which had hitherto existed, and to maintain that control which they ought to have upon a distant settlement, and would be to the advantage and prosperity of the colony of South Australia. The noble Lord moved the following resolutions:—

  1. "1. That provision be made out of the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland for defraying the interest or annuities arisen, or to arise upon, securities granted by the colonization commissioners for South Australia on account of that province.
  2. "2. That any money which may have been advanced out of the said Consolidated Fund, on account of the colony of South Australia, in pursuance of an act of the fourth year of her present Majesty, shall be deemed to have been advanced in aid of the revenues of that province, and not subject to repayment to the said Consolidated Fund.
  3. "3. That provision be made for the better government of South Australia, and the management of the revenues thereof."

Mr. Divett

said, that the persons who first went out to that colony supposed that capital would do everything; out he had no doubt that under a better system of cultivation the colony would prosper. A great increase in the stock in the colony had taken place since its formation. The exports of the past year had exceeded 50,000l., and, under all circumstances, he did think that good hopes of its eventual prosperity might reasonably be indulged. The subject was one which he could not advert to without saying that all who were connected with the colony must feel deeply indebted to the noble Lord for the attention which he paid to the interests of that infant community, and for the candid statement which he had on the present occasion made to the House.

Mr. Williams

denounced everything that had been done respecting the government of the colony as presenting gross instances of jobbing and mismanagement. It was now proposed to incur an expense of 300,000l. Now, it was worthy of notice, that the whole colony contained a population of only 15,000 persons; and yet there was to be an expense of 20,000l. a-year for the maintenance of the paupers belong- ing to so limited a population. He knew it was useless to think of opposing the proposition of the noble Lord; but he really thought it would be better to give up the colony altogether than thus incur any further expense.

Mr. Mackinnon

defended the expenditure for the use of the colony, on the ground that it was necessary in the first instance to send out complete machinery for the administration of justice, and, he added, that it was necessary to do so speedily and effectually. As to what had fallen from the hon. Member opposite, he must be allowed to say, that nothing could be more absurd than to think of abandoning a colony which, with fair treatment, might in time become as powerful as the United States of America.

Mr. R. V. Smith

quite agreed with the last speaker in thinking that it would be highly inexpedient to abandon a colony so circumstanced as South Australia, and when reference was made to pauper emigrants, he must be allowed to say, that those Who were spoken of as the paupers of that colony were not parties who, by any conduct of their own, brought on the poverty under which they were now suffering. He concurred generally in the plans of the noble Lord, for they were, in a great degree, founded upon the view taken of this subject by the committee which sat last year, and of which he and the noble Lord were members. No doubt the expenses to be incurred were very considerable, but, of course, the noble Lord and his colleagues had given the subject mature consideration, and, with a full knowledge of the facts, had recommended an expense which they believed to be necessary. He had heard with cordial satisfaction the reference which had been made to the activity, vigour, and energy of his friend Captain Grey; and, on the whole, he entertained strong expectations that the establishment of the colony would eventually be quite successful.

Mr. Ward

could never be induced to concur in anything so cruel and unjust as to abandon a colony which we had founded under such circumstances, and one, too, which was rapidly advancing to a healthy condition. Its exports were increasing, and there was every reasonable prospect of its soon attaining considerable prosperity. Something had been said about the necessity of sending out. complete machinery for the administration of justice, and for otherwise regulating the affairs of the colony. Now, for his part, he should like to see more trusted to local government, and he thought it desirable that new colonies should, to some extent, at least, be thrown upon their own resources. In the resolutions proposed by the noble Lord he cordially concurred.,

Resolutions agreed to. The House resumed.