HC Deb 19 July 1858 vol 151 cc1762-70

Order for Committee read.

House in Committee.

Clause 1,


said, he rose, not to trouble the House with any formal Motion, but to state some objections to the structure of the Bill, and upon a matter of principle to which he attached great importance. This measure constituted a Royal Government in New Caledonia without free institutions, and then provided that at a future period Her Majesty might, if she thought fit, establish such institutions in the colony. There were two opposite ideas as to the proper mode of founding colonies from this country, one of which was true and the other false. The true mode was that which was historically the oldest. It was that upon which our earliest colonies were established, and which was only abandoned when exceptional circumstances began to mark the origin of our Colonies—when they were founded for the purpose of receiving, not free colonists, but convicts. It was natural enough that in such colonies there should be an absolute Government; but, unfortunately, having taken to this defective principle in deference to necessity, we extended it to cases in which it had no application, and, instead of limiting it to penal colonies, made it a model and founded all our Colonies upon that rule. Hence grew up a miserable spawn of most mischievous opinions with regard to our colonial policy generally. The opinion prevailed that as it was natural, or at least useful, for a child to be carried in the arms of a nurse for twelve months, so it was natural for a colony to be dandled for a term of years in the arms of the Imperial Government, in order that it might, by a process which was called education, be fitted for freedom; the fact being, on the contrary, that the longer you applied a government of that sort to a society of free men the more you unfitted them for freedom. He had hoped that the controversies of the last twenty-five years, and the Bill passed by the present First Lord of the Admiralty in 1852 for the government of New Zealand, had exploded these fallacies; and he was sanguine enough to believe that the next time we dealt with a colony of free settlers by Act of Parliament we should, like our ancestors in the seventeenth and even in the eighteenth century, recognize it as a free and self-governing society. He regretted that in this instance that mode of procedure had been departed from, and that this Bill began by establishing a society which was not free, and then provided that at a future period free institutions might, if it was thought fit, be introduced into it. He wished the Government could be prevailed upon to embody in this Bill the principle that we were about to establish a free society. It might be said that in this colony of New Caledonia we should have a mixed and promiscuous population, of irregular habits, uncertain objects, and various origin, and that on that account it would not be right that the colony should be founded with free institutions at the outset. He was sceptical with regard to the gist of that argument, because he was afraid that if it was difficult to maintain the public peace in this new colony, if there was likely to be a considerable charge attending its foundation, the evils would be greatly aggravated by placing the responsibility in the hands of the Executive Government, especially when we considered the enormous distance at which they were to wield their powers. At the same time he was prepared to repose confidence in the Executive Government upon that subject, and to throw upon them the responsibility of suspending, if they thought fit, the establishment of free institutions. But he wanted that that should be done in deference to a distinct necessity, of which the Executive Govern- ment were to be constituted the judges, and with respect to which Parliament should hold them responsible, and require them hereafter to show for every year and every month during which free institutions were not established that there was an absolute necessity for postponing them strictly connected with the exceptional circumstances of the colony itself. If, therefore, the Government had chosen to frame their Bill in such a way that it should begin with the establishment of free institutions in principle, and should then grant to the Crown a special discretion, strictly limited to peculiar circumstances and a sufficient cause, of suspending their action, he, for one, would not have objected; but that was not a course which had been adopted. Anybody who read this Bill, knowing nothing of our colonial history, would suppose that it really expressed our normal ideas with respect to the foundation of a colony, and that our notion was that a colony should be founded as a community unfit for freedom. Moreover, the power given to Her Majesty to establish free institutions was expressed in a manner so vague that it did not imply any special duty in the Crown or the Minister to give an early development to freedom. He could not help expressing regret at the form in which this Bill had been conceived and framed. Although for a length of time we had been steadily advancing with regard to our colonial policy, and although the public mind at home had arrived at something like a general settlement as to the true principles by which it ought to be regulated, new, when an Act of Parliament was to be passed recording our present ideas, it was one which, instead of carrying them forward, actually appeared to carry them backward.


said, he fully agreed in the general principle laid down by the right hon. Gentleman. He believed that the practice of allowing a colony to start with free institutions and grow up with them was the best means of insuring its prosperity. When in office he had acted on that principle in the case of Vancouver's Island. There was at that time so small a population that free institutions were but a name, but he thought that as population increased that name would become a reality. It was doubtless not necessary to remind the right hon. Gentleman that an Act of Parliament was not necessary for the establishment of free institutions in our Colonies. By the common law of England, an Englishman carried the constitution with him everywhere, and the constitution existed in every colony. The three estates were represented—the Crown by the governor, the Commons by an elective body, and the Lords by a nominated council, and that form of government he believed to be the best. But really, under circumstances so very peculiar as those of the colony of New Caledonia, they must not shut their eyes to the dangers that would arise from giving free institutions at once. The main attraction was the gold, which was about 300 miles from the coast. The population, which would there be established at a distance from all communication, would be the outpourings of California itself, not a very regular society. Not long ago free institutions had to be suspended in California, and it was only by a sort of Lynch law that any sort of order was maintained. There was also great danger of conflicts with Indian tribes, which were used to find their rights respected, and the settlers would not be of a class likely to respect those rights. The colonial government of England had been often blamed, but most unjustly, for he questioned if any other country in the world ever had a better system. In the colony of Victoria, peace and order prevailed, whereas, in California, under a Republican form of Government, the Executive was almost powerless and in such a state that Lynch law had to be established. A comparison, therefore, between that State and Victoria, where, under our more liberal system, there was very little disturbance, and that little speedily quelled, they would afford a strong argument in favour of our old-fashioned colonial institutions. With regard to the frame of the Bill itself, he thought great credit was due to the Government. They had provided wisely for times of emergency and he should feel it his duty to give them his support. He wished, however, to draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the third clause, which purported to give Her Majesty in Council power to establish any constitution which she might think fit in New Caledonia. Now it was one thing to give the Queen, under special circumstances, power to establish something like an arbitrary government there; it was altogether another thing to give the Queen in Council power to establish any constitution she might think fit. As he read the clause it appeared to give the Queen in Council power to establish institutions, which should be permanent institutions, for the colony, by order in Council, without coming to this House. That, he thought, would be most objectionable. He thought it ought to be either the old constitutional form, or one which should be submitted to Parliament and approved by them.


said, he thought that a mistaken notion was entertained respecting the peculiar power of the Crown. The Crown had authority by charter to give what power it pleased with respect to government, so that, in fact, the Crown, without the aid of any Act of Parliament, could give any institutions it pleased to the colony. That could be shown by past history. He might take the cases of Maryland and Rhode Island, in the latter of which there was one Council, and in the other two Councils, while in Carolina a complicated system of government laid down by Locke was established by charter, but afterwards abandoned. The present Bill would expire in four years, and therefore the Colonial Secretary would be bound to provide for the expiration of the Bill. It was probable that by that time New Caledonia would contain a large population. In 1849 he proposed to frame a Bill with the view of laying down general principles as a guidance in respect to colonial government. That proposition was rejected by the House, but he thought that they would have done well to lay down some general principles beforehand. In the present Bill there was nothing that might not be done without it, and he therefore thought that the House was spending time to no purpose in discussing it. The Bill stated that certain institutions might be given to the colony, but he conceived that it would have been better to make it imperative that at the end of three years representative institutions should be given, so that nothing might be left to the Colonial Office. Not having done that, the Bill did nothing. It would be much better to give the colony free institutions to-morrow than to leave a doubt as to when it should have them. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Labouchere) was under a mistake when he drew a comparison between California and Victoria. California had a peculiar population drawn from all parts of the world. The whole ragamuffin population of the whole universe went there; and, notwithstanding that, if the right hon. Gentleman turned his attention to the constitution they drew up for themselves he would be struck with its great wisdom. It was a model constitu- tion, and the only difficulty consisted in the population. There would be the same population in New Caledonia,—quite as bad, if not worse,—and he would warn the Government to be prepared with a stringent force to coerce the population there, and then to be prepared, also, with a constitution for their government.


said, that whatever fell from the right hon. Member for Oxford University was deserving of consideration, and he was glad the right hon. Gentleman had had an opportunity of expressing his views on this subject. It would, however, have been a fairer course to have done so on the second reading of the Bill, or at any rate to have given an earlier intimation of the important alteration he had suggested, for the present was not an optional experiment in colonial legislation. The intelligence received from the colony of New Caledonia was such as to leave the Ministry no choice but to endeavour to establish, as soon as possible, a Government for a district which was threatened with great danger, and which, up to this moment, had no legal Government at all. The necessity for this measure manifested itself in a few days after he acceded to office; and his anxious desire, seeing the great perils which surrounded the district, had been to frame a measure that should pass as rapidly as possible, and conciliate all opposition. Well, the Bill he brought in was supported by hon. Gentlemen of great weight in the House, who had taken much interest in the foundation of the colony. It went through a first reading with the general approval of all the hon. Gentlemen who spoke; passed a second reading with equal unanimity; in Committee received one or two verbal alterations only; and would have been read a third time had it not been recommitted to allow the right hon. Gentleman to express his opinion upon this clause. After the Bill had gone through so many of its stages with indulgent favour, the House could hardly go back and accept a proposition that would entirely change its complexion and character, and reverse the provisions which had been so unanimously agreed to. Their first object must necessarily be to give all the power they could to the only authority at present in the colony—the Governor; but if he were to accept the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman, the consequences would be that the Governor would not have the same power that he had under this Bill. Con- sidering the great uncertainty which prevailed with regard to this colony, the next consideration was to make the Bill as pliant as possible to meet all the necessities of circumstances which we could not perceive. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Labouchere) objected to the third clause. Now, it certainly was the object of the Government that the colony should receive representative institutions within four years, if there were materials for creating them in the colony. Supposing, however, a settled population were rapidly formed, the Government might then be advised to constitute an elective chamber or council, and by Order in Council it could at once be established. He felt the force of what the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield had said with respect to the importance of maintaining a snfficient military force in New Caledonia, but that force must necessarily be to some extent limited by the accommodation and the provisions which could be procured for the troops, and under such circumstances he thought it was of more importance that that force should be efficient than that it should be large. He should have some observatious to make on this subject at a subsequent period, but he hoped that as the Bill had been so far favourably received, the House would give a further assent to the measure by allowing it to pass through Committee.


said, an hon. Gentleman had asked the other night what the colony would cost. In his opinion it ought to cost nothing, and he believed that if certain portions of the colony were surveyed, if a site were selected for a town near the gold diggings, if town and country lots were planned, and if they were offered for sale in London, a sufficient amount would speedily be obtained for the maintenance of the colony.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2.

In reply to a question from Mr. BUTT,


said, the Bill provided that the laws established by the authority of the Queen should continue in force for a period of four years; but if free institutions were established, it would be in the power of the colonial assembly to alter, amend, or abrogate any laws which might have been established by the Royal authority.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 3,


said, he wished to know whether he understood this clause aright, that it gave to the Crown the power of establishing any constitution it might think proper without the sanction of Parliament. If so, he thought it was a novelty and one of a very unconstitutional kind. He quite understood and approved of the arbitrary Government, if he might so call it, which this Bill established in the first instance, but the Crown could establish no other. By the common law every Englishman carried with him to the most distant colonies the representation of our own constitution, and nothing short of that could be established except under the authority of Parliament. He thought the clause should be struck out.


reminded the right hon. Gentleman that this Bill established in the first instance, as he said, an arbitrary Government, and what this clause contemplated was an abrogation or relaxation of those arbitrary powers. But the short answer was, that all that was done under this Act would be liable to be revised and reconsidered when it came to expire four years hence.


contended that, supposing this clause were struck out, the Queen would still have the power to give a constitution by charter, and without coming to Parliament, and in proof he referred to the constitution of Rhode Island, which was constituted by Charles II, with only one legislative chamber. He was not aware that either Act of Parliament or custom had since taken away the right of the Crown, which had been exercised so lately as the settlement of the colony of Georgia, the last of the American colonies that was planted by this country.


was understood to say, that the Crown certainly might grant a charter and appoint a Governor and Council, but the power of taxation should come from the people to be in accordance with the constitution of this country. After four years, if necessary, Government might come to Parliament to establish any other constitution which the Governor and Assembly might agree to recommend.


said, it was quite impossible, after the expiration of four years, to establish a constitution under this Act, as powers were given only during the continuance of the Act, the Crown could grant any form of government which it thought fit by charter, but it could not grant the power of taxation by charter. This Bill was framed upon the Acts relat- ing to West Australia and other colonies, in which, under the same words, the right of taxation was conferred. It was one of the reasons why the Government came to Parliament; but there was another reason which seemed to have been overlooked by the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield—namely, that at present Canada possessed certain jurisdiction which would clash with the jurisdiction given by this Bill.

Clause agreed to, as were the remaining clauses.

Preamble agreed to.

House resumed.

Bill reported, without amendment; to be read 3o To-morrow.