HC Deb 04 August 1885 vol 300 cc1119-25

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."—(Secretary Colonel Stanley.)


said, that he was very much inclined to think that the people who called themselves the Colonists were but a very small number of persons at either end of the telegraph wire leading to Australia, and he had seen papers which led him very greatly to doubt if the Australian Colonists really wanted this Bill. If the Australian Colonies saw their way to any complete scheme of federation he wished them God-speed. He knew, however, that New South Wales and New Zealand had both declared their dislike to the Bill and their intention not to accept it; and it was, therefore, very doubtful whether it was worth while for Her Majesty's Government to proceed with the measure. It was for that reason that he had blocked it. Personally, he did not object to the Bill, with one important exception, and he should be glad to see the Australian Colonies and Her Majesty's Government settle the matter between them. But he decidedly objected to that clause in the Bill which enabled the Australasian Colonies to deal with what was called the relations of Australia to the Islands of the Pacific. He did not know what was meant by that expression; but he had very grave doubts whether it was prudent to put such a provision in the Bill. Dealing with the question of New Guinea and the disputes which had occurred with regard to the Islands of the Pacific, he must be allowed to express the opinion that it would be imprudent to give to Australia, so long as it remained under the British flag, the power to assume protection over the Natives of the Islands of the Pacific. The alienation between this country and Germany took place with reference to the excessive pretensions of Queensland to deal with one of the Pacific Islands. He believed that the Australians would be much better off if they followed the example of the American Colonies, and developed their own territories, and did all that it was possible for them to do in that direction, without seeking foreign possessions, and endeavouring to entangle themselves in foreign complications.


said, he much regretted that a Bill of that importance should have been brought before the notice of the House on such scanty information, and when hon. Members were in possession of so little information as to the sentiments of the Colonies themselves. It was true that a certain number of Parliamentary Papers had been presented; but the information which they contained was, he thought, hardly sufficient to enable the House to appreciate the whole bearings of the question, and to understand what were the feelings with which the proposals had been received in the Colonies during the last few months. He thought it would have been valuable to the House if the Colonial Office had prepared a sort of explanatory Memorandum giving a view of the whole matter and a justification of the whole Bill. When the House of Commons was asked to undertake a function so large as that of drawing up a Constitution for communities already great, and which were likely to become infinitely greater in the future, it ought to approach a task of that kind with a due sense of responsibility and on accurate information and knowledge. He thought also there was no evidence to show that this Bill, or draft Constitution, had really been satisfactorily discussed and considered in the Colonies themselves. It appeared to have emanated in the first instance from a small coterie or conclave of Prime Ministers, and the House had nothing to show them that the best minds of our Colonies had been properly brought to bear in the consideration of the subject. The Bill would have come before the House with greater authority if it had reason to believe that proper pains had been bestowed upon it, and that proper efforts had been made to obtain full publicity and discussion for it in the Australian Colonies themselves. He thought that the circumstances he had mentioned made the position of the Imperial Parliament not quite a satisfactory one in dealing with this matter. In considering the character of the Bill, and its liability to a certain line of criticism, he said it was clear that it was a very scanty, fragmentary, and imperfect sketch of a Federal Constitution. Looking even at that important clause which provided that any one Colony could withdraw from the federation, he said if the House were free to debate the subject at length a great deal of time might be spent over the consideration of this clause alone; because a federation, which offered to any member of it the right to withdraw as soon as its wishes were not gratified, was clearly a federation of the feeblest and most transitory kind. He was content, however, that they should pass the Bill in the form in which the Colonial authorities had asked us to do so, and as a matter of favour to them; but the responsibility for its formation would substantially rest more with them than with us. He looked with more hope to the establishment of closer relations between the Executive authority here and the Colonies than to a federation among the Colonies themselves. The real value of this Constitution seemed to him to be in the provision which it made for the introduction of uniform legislation among the different Colonies, and particularly for the introduction of a uniform system of legal process and of private law in those matters in which the inhabitants of different Colonies were most likely to come into relation with one another. The experience of the United States, which was the great source of experience in these matters, showed how much advantage there was in having—how much might be lost by not having—a uniform system of legislation on certain subjects of common interest. It would be, for instance, of immense advantage for the United States to have a uniform Law of Marriage and Divorce. It was one of the great difficulties which legal reformers had to deal with in America; and he was glad to see that the Federal Council, under this Bill, had power to legislate on these subjects, on quarantine, on bills of exchange, and other such matters. As regarded the utility of the Federal Legislature, if he might so call it, for the purpose of introducing a uniform system of private law, he thought it would be very desirable to increase the size of the Council, for he thought, as at present devised, it was too small for the adequate discussion of the subjects with which it would have to deal. But in that, as in other respects, he looked upon the Bill more as a first sketch than as a complete Constitution; and he could not help believing that further legislation would be required, and that the outline contained in that measure would have hereafter to be filled up and developed in various particulars.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clauses 1 to 14, inclusive, agreed to.

Clause 15 (Matters subject to legislative authority of Council).


said, he wished, after the word "copyright," in line 41, to have the word "bankruptcy" inserted. It was true that unless the right hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Stanley) were favourable to this Amendment it would not be of use for him to propose it; but he wished to point out that bankruptcy was a subject upon which, of all others, it was desirable that there should be uniformity of legislation as between the different States. If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman did not object to this proposal, he would suggest to him that the word "bankruptcy" might be properly included in the clause.

Amendment proposed, in page 3, line 41, after the word "copyright," to insert the word "bankruptcy."—(Mr. Bryce.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'bankruptcy' be there inserted."


said, he thought he could undertake that the attention of the Federal Council should be directed to the question raised by the Amendment of the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Bryce); but he would venture to ask the hon. Member not to press the Amendment. If the hon. Member would look to Clause 4 he would find that there was power to refer to the Council any matter of general interest, and that, therefore, the subject of the Amendment was already within the scope of the Bill.


said, he admitted that it was within the scope of the Bill. He thought it desirable, however, to emphasize the particular subject of bankruptcy for the reason he had given; but after the expression of opinion on the part of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, he had no objection, with the permission of the Committee, to withdraw his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 16 and 17 agreed to.

Clause 18 (Power to Her Majesty to disallow Act to which Governor has assented in Her Majesty's name).


said, he had placed on the Paper an Amendment which was intended to make the clause clearer in respect of acts done between the date of assent and the time of annulment. He apprehended that upon a strict legal construction of the clause a Court of Law would hold that an act done between the date of giving assent and the date of annulment would be protected. Subject to the opinion of the hon. and learned Solicitor General he thought that would be so; but he also thought it would be worth while to make the matter quite clear, so that acts done after assent given by the Colonial Government would be certain of being protected. If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies did not object, he should like to have the words of his Amendment introduced into the clause.

Amendment proposed, In page 4, at end, add—"But without prejudice to any act done or right acquired between the date of such assent and the day of such signification of annulment."—(Mr. Bryce.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there added."


said, he regretted very much to have to ask the hon. Member (Mr. Bryce) not to press this Amendment. He thought it would be premature to deal with the question; and he was afraid, if these words were to be put into the Act, that it might lead to the presumption that the rule hitherto existing had been disturbed. He understood that the Amendment might draw a distinction between the custom prevailing in one Colony and the customs prevailing in others. For that reason, and because he thought the Acts in question would be protected by the clause as it stood, he asked the hon. Member not to press the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 19 to 28, inclusive, agreed to.

Clause 29 (Power to determine operation of Act in any Colony).


said, he regretted that the Amendment he was about to ask the Committee to assent to was not upon the Notice Paper. He understood that his Predecessor in Office had given a promise that the words after "Council" to the end of the clause should be omitted, and others substituted relating to the repeal of certain Acts. It had been held that it would be distinctly productive of harm if a law, passed by the assent of the Colonies united in Council, should be repealed by a particular Colony, which might be the Colony in respect of which that law was originally passed by the Federal Council. In moving this Amendment, he pointed out that power was taken providing that no assent would be given to any Act which did not contain proper safeguards for all that might take place under the provisions of this clause.

Amendment proposed, In page 6, to omit all the words after "Council" to the end of the Clause, in order to insert "unless altered or repealed by the Council."—(Colonel Stanley.)

Amendment agreed to.



said, he had no wish to delay the further consideration of the Bill; but he might be allowed to remark that this was a very tentative measure. He was not sure, however, that it would be less likely to succeed on that account. He thought he should be expressing the general feeling of the Committee by expressing regret that the most important of the Australasian Colonies—New South Wales and New Zealand—were not included in the Bill, because he thought that nothing like a complete federation policy could be obtained without those two Colonies giving their adhesion to it. He thought, however, that their union with the Colonies could not be injured or damaged by the confederation of the Colonies amongst themselves, and that the tentative way in which the Bill had been passed would conduce to all the Colonies joining in the movement hereafter, which would be lasting, and for the good of the whole.

Preamble agreed to.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered To-morrow.