HC Deb 20 July 1871 vol 208 cc54-5

asked the Under Secretary for the Colonies, Whether the Government will lay upon the Table a Copy of all Correspondence with the Governments of Queensland and New South Wales, respecting the system of importation of South Sea Islanders to the Colony of Queensland, a system, to use the language of Earl Granville, which involves not a mere Queensland question, but affecting foreign, although uncivilized countries, and the honour of the British name in connection with them; whether he is aware that there are only four small vessels of war now on the Australian station which extends over all Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, the Fiji, and New Hebrides groups; and, whether the Government will not at once take measures to put down the traffic in native labourers which is carried on between the Fiji Islands and Queensland, and which it is publicly stated is approved of by the Queensland Government?


Sir, my hon. Friend has put to me a Question which it is almost impossible to answer concisely. We do propose to give all the Correspondence for which he asks, but there are several reasons which have caused delay. One of them is that there are two questions relating to the South Sea Islands—one concerning the deportation of labour, the other concerning the proposals for the annexation of the Fiji Islands, and care has been necessary to keep these two questions separate. Then, the matter being one partly concerning the Foreign and partly the Colonial Office, some delay has been caused by the necessary interchange of communications in order to prevent the same Papers being given twice over. Besides this, they are very voluminous, and some of the Correspondence has been going on until within a very few days. I have done all in my power to expedite the matter, but I regret to say that it is very doubtful whether I shall be able to lay these Papers upon the Table before the close of the present Session. As to the second part of my hon. Friend's Question, I must demur to his application of the word "small" to the ships on the Australian station; but the Question is one which would be more properly addressed to the First Lord of the Admiralty, from whom, if it is put with due notice, my hon. Friend will, no doubt, receive a satisfactory reply. With regard, to the last part of the Question, I cannot allow my hon. Friend to state that Queensland immigration is "nothing more than slavery." We have heard of, and we fear there have occurred, cruelties and nefarious practices with regard to the kidnapping of the South Sea Islanders—not Fiji Islanders, for the Fiji group is a competitor with Queensland for imported labour. Against all such practices we have constantly set our face. But these cruelties have nothing to do with Queensland. That colony imports labour under the Polynesian Immigration Act, under restrictions originally suggested by the Home Government. The importation is carried on under strict regulations. Every care is taken to prevent cruelty and wrong being perpetrated, and only during the present year the Queensland Legislature has adopted the plan of sending a Government agent in each vessel for the protection of the Natives. If, therefore, that which is practically a slave trade does exist, it must be confounded with the legitimate arrangements for the importation of labour carefully and legally carried on by the colony of Queensland, which I cannot allow to be aspersed without a prompt vindication.


wished to re-call attention to the language used by Earl Granville in reference to the Question.


said, as the hon. Gentleman only gave notice of the Question on the previous night, he was not prepared to answer it in every particular; but he should be glad to furnish him with any further information if he desired it.