HC Deb 29 May 1854 vol 133 cc1057-62

said, the questions of which he had given notice were of greater length than was usual, but he had wished by putting them to save the House the trouble of a discussion on the matter to which they referred by his snaking a Motion respecting it. His questions were:—1. Whether it was true that the Governor of New Zealand, having proclaimed the new constitution of that Colony on the 17th day of January, 1853, postponed till the latest possible day allowed by the Constitution Act—namely, till the 17th day of July, 1853—the issuing of writs for the election of Members of the Legislative Assembly; and, notwithstanding the direction of the Act that the Assembly should be convened "as soon as conveniently may be after the return of the first writs," had taken no steps for convening the Assembly up to the time of his leaving the Colony in January, 1854, although the Provincial Councils were in full action? 2. Whether the last revenue appropriation ordinance passed by the former Legislative Council did not expire on the 30th day of September, 1853? whether the Governor did not subsequently to that. date appropriate revenue by his own sole act? and, if so, whether such appropriation was not illegal? 3. Whether Governor Sir George Grey did not continue to dispose of land under new regulations after and notwithstanding a decision by the Supreme Court at Wellington that such regulations were illegal, and after an injunction by the said Court to restrain such disposal of land? 4. If all or either of these allegations were correct, whether it is the opinion of Her Majesty's Government that the course so taken by Sir George Grey admitted of satisfactory explanation, and met with their approval? 5. Whether Her Majesty's Government have received any information, or have issued any instructions, with respect to the Legislative Assembly of New Zealand being convened by the acting Governor? 6. Whether Colonel Winyard, the Commander of Her Majesty's forces in New Zealand, and now acting Governor of the Colony, offered himself as a candidate and was elected as Superintendent of the Settlement of Auckland? and whether Her Majesty's Government approve or have expressed disapprobation of such a combination of offices?


said, that as these questions were of unusual length, and as he could not answer them merely in the affirmative or negative, he must ask the indulgence of the House for making a statement of some length in vindication of the character of an official who was held in very high estimation by the Government as a most valuable public servant, and whose conduct was attacked in the questions that had been put. The first question implied that Governor Sir George Grey had endeavoured to defeat the intentions of the Legislature of this country in passing the Constitution Act for New Zealand, that he had deprived the colonists there from receiving the full benefit of the constitution which Parliament intended to give them, that he had also endeavoured to defeat the intentions of Parliament with regard to the General Assembly, and that he had done this in two ways—first, by postponing till the latest possible day the issuing of writs for the election of Members of the Lower House of General Assembly, and next, by omitting, when those Members had been elected, to issue any proclamation fixing the time when the General Assembly should meet. The right hon. Gentleman must have supposed, if he believed that these assertions were correct, that as soon as the constitution had been proclaimed, nothing remained for Sir George Grey to do except to issue the writs for the election of Members; whereas, in truth, there had never, perhaps, been an instance in which Parliament had intrusted to a single individual such responsible and varied duties in constituting a new form of government as were intrusted to Sir George Grey by this Constitution Act: because Parliament had left to Sir George Grey not only the defining of the boundaries of the new provinces, not only the determination of what should be the electoral districts, but also of what number of Members both Houses of the General Assembly and each of the Provincial Councils should consist; and he was likewise called upon to state the nature of the registration of voters, to make arrangements for the revision of the lists of voters, for the situation of polling-places, for the appointment of returning officers, and for several other details. Sir George Grey had discharged all these duties with as great an expedition as was consistent with their being performed in that honest and painstaking manner in which it was his wont to do everything that was intrusted to him, and in the course of about two months he had settled all these matters of detail. It then remained that the list of electors should be framed, and the claims of electors had to be received; and, notwithstanding every exertion on the part of Sir G. Grey, it was not until the middle of June, 1853, that the electoral roll was complete. As soon as it was closed, Sir G. Grey issued writs for the election of Members to the General Assembly. The second part of the question was, whether Sir G. Grey, after the members had been elected, did not omit to convene the General Assembly; and the right hon. Gentleman had referred to the language of the Act of Parliament, which directed that the Assembly should be convened "as soon as conveniently might be after the return of the first writs." He was glad that the right hon. Gentleman had done so, because it was upon those Words that he should rest the defence of Sir G. Grey. He had been informed by Sir G. Grey that it was not until within seven days of his quitting the island of New Zealand that he received the return of the writs which had been sent to the province of Otago, that province being 800 miles from the seat of government, with which its communication by sea was not frequent. Thus it was not possible for him to have issued a proclamation convening the General Assembly until seven days from the time of his quitting the government of the island; and he had given an explanation of his omission to take that course, which appeared to him perfectly satisfactory. He had said he considered that the responsibility of the step of summoning the General Assembly ought to rest with the officer who was about, in a few days, to assume the government, but that he had advised that officer in private to do what he himself had intended to do if he had remained—namely, to convene the Assembly without delay; and we knew, not indeed from official sources, but from statements in the newspapers, that Colonel Winyard, the moment he assumed the acting governorship of the island, issued a proclamation convening the General Assembly at the earliest possible period. The second question of the right hon. Gentleman was, whether Sir G. Grey had taken upon himself, by his sole authority, to appropriate a portion of the general revenue? Sir G. Grey had not appropriated a single penny of the public money. The general revenue had been appropriated in three ways—first, to the payment of the civil list charged upon it by Act of Parliament; secondly, to the payment of certain permanent charges which had been imposed by ordinances of the late General Legislature; and thirdly, it was appropriated by the elective Provincial Councils. Sir G. Grey found that the first two charges absorbed about one-third of the general revenue, and he directed the treasurers of each of the provinces to pay the remaining two-thirds into the treasuries of the different provinces, to be appropriated according to the direction of the Provincial Councils. It appeared to him that Sir G. Grey, in taking this course, had acted with perfect propriety; but if he had done anything illegal, it was not his own fault, as it arose from an oversight of the right hon. Gentleman, for the Act of 1852 only gave power to the General Assembly to appropriate revenues raised by their own acts, whereas the general revenue now accruing in New Zealand was raised under the old ordinances of the late General Legislature. Sir G. Grey had acted according to the manifest intentions of the Act in directing that the surplus of the revenue, not otherwise appropriated, should be placed at the disposal of the Provincial Legislatures. The third question related to the disposal of land by Sir G. Grey at reduced rates, notwithstanding an injunction of the Supreme Court. Sir G. Grey had reduced the prices of land, which had been sold at different prices in different parts of New Zealand, to a uniform rate of 10s. per acre, and he had used this discretion in pursuance of powers which had been given him by the right hon. Gentleman himself, and the exercise of which had been enjoined on him by the right hon. Gentleman. The House was aware that the settlement of all questions connected with land had been transferred front the Crown to the General Assembly; but the Act also directed that, until the General Assembly should meet, the Crown should have all the powers that the General Assembly was to have. In a despatch, written by the right hon. Gentleman, relating to the land at Canterbury, he found a paragraph which appeared to him to give Sir G. Grey full powers in this respect. The right hon. Gentleman said that until the General Assembly otherwise provided, it would be lawful for Her Majesty to regulate the disposal of this and the other land in the province under the powers reserved to Her by the Constitution Act, which powers, by the same Act, she had delegated to the Governor. Sir G. Grey was therefore perfectly justified in point of law in reducing the price of land, and the legality of this regulation had not, with one exception, been contested in any one of the provinces of New Zealand. It was true that in the district of Wellington steps had been taken to call in question the legality of the proclamation; and although he had not ascertained precisely what proceedings bad been taken, he found that the Judge of the Supreme Court had expressed his readiness to grant an injunction. An injunction had been granted by a Judge of the Supreme Court at Wellington putting a stop to the sale of the lands, not within the province, but within the district immediately adjoining Wellington, the property of the late New Zealand Company. Sir G. Grey was anxious that the matter should be fairly brought before the Court, and that the Attorney General should be made a party to the cause, and the Judge permitted the plaintiff to amend his bill; but he was informed by Mr. Sewell and by Mr. Wakefield, who supported the plaintiff, that they preferred not to proceed with the bill. He could not say whether the injunction was or was not issued; or whether, while it was in force, any sales of land had taken place in the district immediately adjoining the town of Wellington. With regard to the fourth question, he could state that the course which had been pursued by Sir G. Grey, which was very different from what the right hon. Gentleman supposed it to have been, had not been disapproved by the Government, but, on the contrary, the Government had frequently had occasion to express approval of his conduct. When he remembered that Sir G. Grey had been in New Zealand for eight years, that his administration had been signalised by great success, that his policy towards the native inhabitants had created in their minds a feeling of attachment to the British Government, and that his policy towards the European inhabitants had resulted in obtaining for them the advantages of self-government, he thought that he was entitled to our gratitude. With regard to the sixth question, he admitted that, as a general rule, it was not desirable that the principal officer in a colony commanding Her Majesty's troops should fill a subordinate civil appointment, more especially when that appointment was an elective one. But the case of the Superintendent of the Province of Auckland was an exceptional case, and the Government had approved, under the circumstances, Colonel Winyard's assuming that office. He ought to state that Colonel Winyard had administered the government of this province for a period of more than two years; that he thoroughly understood the natives, who were numerous in it; and that he was well known by them. Sir G. Grey did, therefore, consider it as an advantage that for two or three years at least he should administer the government of the province; and this was also the opinion of its inhabitants, as at their request he had offered himself for the office, and had been returned after a contested election.

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