HC Deb 21 July 1874 vol 221 cc394-7

said, he wished to put a Question to the Government with reference to the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Lambeth (Mr. W. M'Arthur), on the subject of the Fiji Islands, and as what he had to say might lead to some discussion, he would put himself in Order by moving the adjournment of the House. A few days ago the House was occupied at a morning sitting with the Public Worship Regulation Bill, and when that sitting closed a considerable desire was shown by the House to proceed further with the Bill in the evening. On the House resuming, his hon. Friend was asked not to proceed with the Notice which stood first on the Paper in his name that evening, on the ground that a statement had been made in "another place" as to the intentions of the Government with regard to the Fiji Islands. The hon. Member for Lambeth gave a view of the statement of the Secretary for the Colonies, which was immediately repudiated by the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government. Several other hon. Members had come down to ask the Government whether some opportunity would be given during the Session for considering the statement made in "another place," and which, he believed, it was the intention of the Government, but for the Public Worship Bill, to have made in both Houses. Several hon. Members had privately asked the same question of the Secretary of State for War, who used some such phrase as that an opportunity would be given; and the hon. Member for Lambeth, on putting the Question to him, received a reply to the same effect. Last night the hon. Member for Lambeth asked again when, in pursuance of that promise, an opportunity would be given, and was told by the Prime Minister, who had not been present on the former occasion, that the second reading of the Appropriation Bill would afford an opportunity for the discussion. It could hardly be contended, however, that the second reading of that Bill would afford the desired opportunity. The subject was not one of such trivial importance as it might seem. Hitherto there had been a considerable majority in that House against accepting the cession of the Fiji Islands; but it appeared, nevertheless, that Sir Hercules Robinson was to be sent out to accept the cession. It was clear that this cession would involve us in very considerable expense, and it was obviously a subject which ought to engage the attention of the House of Commons. He was not speaking against the annexation of the Fiji Islands; but he maintained that it was a subject deserving of the attention of the House, because the documents relating to it involved important statements with regard to the question of domestic slavery. The Commissioners who had been sent out stated that it would be impossible to put an end to slavery in Fiji, and that the first stop towards subjugation would necessarily be the removal of 20,000 ferocious Natives—to what part of the Islands it was not said. In these circumstances, thinking this a subject deserving the attention of the House, he begged to move the adjournment of the House.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Sir Charles W. Dilke.)


said, that, at the time, he thought the Prime Minister's answer was not satisfactory, and he subsequently asked the Secretary of State for War whether a day for the discussion of the question could not be given, and he was bound to say that he received a good-humoured answer—not given in a churlish tone, and referring him to some stage of the Appropriation Bill, but expressing the right hon. Gentleman's belief that a day for the discussion would be given. Before the Parliament met again the Government would have to adopt some decisive policy in the matter, and the House ought to have an opportunity of considering it. Questions were involved in it affecting not only Fiji, but our administration in other parts in distant seas. He trusted, therefore, that the Government would promise to give the House a fair and convenient opportunity of discussing the subject.


said, the words he used on the occasion in question were that the Government would take care that the House should have an opportunity of discussing the question before Parliament separated.


Whatever may be the opinion of others as to the comparatively trifling importance of the question of the Fiji Islands, that is an opinion which I do not share. I think that the subject is one of great importance. With regard to the statement that there was a repudiation on my part of the policy of my noble Colleague in the other House, it has no foundation whatever. It so happened that, at a moment of some excitement the hon. Menber for Lambeth (Mr. W. M'Arthur), who had been absent, entered the House. The Question then before it was whether the hon. Gentleman should give up that opportunity which he had of bringing forward the question of Fiji; and he said that, in consequence of the satisfactory announcement of the Secretary of State for the Colonies that Her Majesty's Government had accepted the cession of the Fiji Islands, he was quite content not to press his Motion. That statement created some surprise on this bench, and I naturally rose, and, in order that there might be no misunderstanding, said that this was a policy which had not been communicated to me by my noble Colleague. An offer had been made to Her Majesty's Government to accept the cession of the Fiji Islands on certain conditions—numerous and considerable conditions. Her Majesty's Government had come to the conclusion that they could not even entertain the consideration of the proposition for the cession of these Islands unless these conditions were withdrawn. They would only consider the question of an unconditional cession, and therefore I was perfectly justified in repudiating the statement of the hon. Member for Lambeth. I now come to the point on which the hon. Baronet (Sir Charles W. Dilke) has moved the adjournment of the House. It is most desirable that such a question as the cession of these Islands should be discussed in the House, and I did not for a moment suppose that the House would adjourn without discussing it. But the exact time of this discussion must depend on all the circumstances of the case. My right hon. Friend near me (Mr. Gathorne Hardy) has used language which I would have used. I would have said, certainly, that in some way or other we would secure an opportunity of discussing this question; and when I intimated that the second reading of the Appropriation Bill would be an excellent occasion for discussing it, I did not intend, as the right hon. Member for the City seemed to suppose, to treat the hon. Member for Lambeth in a churlish spirit. It is a better opportunity than Her Majesty's Government, under present circumstances, could offer. What are the circumstances of the case? On Monday next, in all probability, the Committee of Supply will be closed, and next day the Appropriation Bill will be introduced; and I shall, of course, arrange that the second reading shall be taken at such a time and under such circumstances that an opportunity would be given to the hon. Member to introduce the subject. If he avails himself of that opportunity he will be in a better position than if he depends upon a vague statement that the Government will give him a day. If he asks my advice I can only recommend him to avail himself of that suggestion.


said, that the hon. Member for Lambeth was so well satisfied with the explanatory statement of the noble Lord the Colonial Secretary that he had placed a Motion on the Paper expressing his approval. After the statement of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government as to the absolute necessity of having the question discussed before Parliament was prorogued, he would not further press the matter with regard to a particular day being fixed for the discussion, but would ask permission to withdraw his Motion for the adjournment of the House.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.