HC Deb 12 June 1884 vol 289 cc76-7

asked the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies, Whether it is the fact that the last labour ordinance passed in Fiji prevents any Native Fijian from hiring himself for employment in the "home" districts for more than one month, and even then under conditions so troublesome as practically almost to shut out the Native population from employment by the Colonists; whether this Law was passed in the supposed interest of the Native race; whether, in considering the Native race, only the Native chiefs were consulted; whether it be the fact that these chiefs are interested in keeping their people working only for them, and that the effect of the Law is to prevent their people from getting that price for their labour which they would get in an open market, and to keep them in closer bondage to their chiefs; whether the Native race being now British subjects, each man individually is not entitled to sell his labour where he pleases; and, whether Her Majesty's Government have in contemplation any scheme for securing to them that right?


The hon. Member is not quite accurate in the first part of the Question; but I must apologize to him, because I think the error has been caused by a letter written at the Colonial Office, in which it is not quite accurately stated. What is accurate is, that the new ordinance does not forbid hiring for more than a month, but only insists, as a condition previous, that the labourer should be placed on a labour register. The Native can apply to have his name placed on the register, in which are entered the names of all those who may be engaged for service outside their home districts, or for periods exceeding one month. Generally, I may say, in answer to my hon. Friend's Question, which is rather more argumentative than is usual, or than I can deal with, that that the law was passed in consequence of three consecutive representations made by the Chiefs in annual Council assembled, to the Fiji Government, to the effect that whole districts were occasionally swept of all the able-bodied men, and nothing left but women and children, who suffered starvation. Restrictions, therefore, have been imposed in the interests of the whole community. The Government have certainly tried to rule in harmony with the ancient tribal system of village communities; but we have no reason to believe that the Chiefs exercise the powers they possess in the manner suggested by the Question, and there have been no complaints of that character. The Native can sell his labour as he likes; he is only restrained from binding himself in certain circumstances for any very lengthened period or in distant parts.