HC Deb 18 July 1889 vol 338 cc699-703
MR. KING (Hull, Central)

I beg to ask the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies whether the attention of the Secretary of State has been given to the Return presented to the House purporting to be a Return of sales and grants of land in Western Australia during the past ten years, and in particular to certain discrepancies of statement on the face of the Return; whether he has observed that, while the hon. John Forrest, Commissioner of Crown Lands, who makes the Return, states that the total number of acres "alienated" was 1,877,045 up to the end of 1877, and during the past ten years only 285,044, he gives a record of over 130,000,000 acres granted under the head of "Leases, licences, &c., of Crown lands, showing rents or instalments of purchase money due for 1889," but without indicating how many of the annual payments are rents and how many instalments of purchase money; whether the Colonial Office has any information as to how many of the holdings are leases and how many acres have been purchased on payment by annual instalments, and whether he can explain the exact meaning in the Returns of the word "alienation;" whether the Secretary of State has observed that "leases" or "licenses, &c.," have been granted to individuals or syndicates or banks of blocks of land amounting to many millions of acres, and whether any persons or officials who have been in the service of the Government are directly or indirectly interested, in any of these grants; whether any of the Forrests to whom certain of these, grants have been made are relatives of the Commissioner of Crown Lands; if so, if he will explain the circumstances under which these grants have been, made; whether it is correct, as stated in the Colonial Office List, that while the entire area of Western Australia at present under cultivation is 105,582 acres, and only 2,895 square miles have been "alienated," 201,904 square miles are "leased, licensed, &c.," while 853,203 square miles remain still unoccupied; and whether, in view of these facts, he will order an inquiry into the manner in which the Government of Western Australia has dealt with the Crown lands, and in the meantime consider the propriety of withdrawing the Bill for the Government of Western Australia until these matters have been, investigated?


The Return as to sales and grants of land in Western Australia has been examined, and does not appear to contain any discrepancies of statement. If my hon. Friend will refer to the land regulations printed in C. 5743, he will find, information explanatory of the Return, and of the mode in which the Crown, lands are dealt with. As regards the second and third paragraphs of his question, although the sales on deferred payment are not distinguished from the pastoral leases in this Return, it is, apparent that the small holdings are cases of purchase under deferred payment, and the large acreages are pastoral leases. It is not understood why, for present purposes, it is material to have the information in greater detail. "Alienation" is shown in the land regulations to be used, as elsewhere in Australia, in its natural sense to indicate land sold, or conditionally sold, in fee, as distinguished from lands leased and resumable by the Crown. With respect to the fourth paragraph, it is well-known that in Western Australia, as in the other Australian colonies, immense tracts are leased by persons or companies to be used for grazing until required for sale in fee, when they are resumed without compensation. It is not known whether, or how far, official persons in Western Australia have been or are interested in these leases. They are obtained by the first applicant, without favour; and in the other colonies Government officers have not been precluded from having shares in pastoral leases. As regards the fifth paragraph, some at least of the Forrests mentioned are relatives of the Commissioner of Crown Lands. One is a well-known explorer and land agent, and he has the same right as any other person to apply for a lease. As regards the sixth paragraph, probably the statement in the Colonial Office List was correct up to date. In regard to lands alienated, it is closely in accordance with the Return lately presented to the House. There is no ground for ordering an inquiry into the matter in which the Colonial Government has dealt with the Crown lands, which are managed with the utmost publicity, in exact accordance with the regulations approved by Her Majesty's Government. There are no indications of any abuses or mistakes such as should be investigated before the Responsible Government Bill is passed.

SIR G. CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy)

Perhaps it will be convenient for the right hon. Gentleman to answer now the further question on the same subject which appears on the Paper in my name—namely, whether he can state under what circumstances large blocks of land in Western Australia have been given over to single individuals or firms, often amounting to several millions of acres in each case; whether there has been anything to prevent banks and individuals accumulating in their own hands hundreds of separate grants; under what rule were lands leased or sold previous to the recently promulgated rules, and whether some of the large grants were made outside of rules with the sanction of the Legislative Council under Mr. Forrest's Memorandum, paragraph 6; for what terms leases previous to the new rules are held, and when they terminate; and, whether there is any truth in the assertion that West Australian land leases are renewable and practically perpetual?


In reply to the first paragraph of the hon. Member's question, I have to say that these large blocks of land are not granted or given over, but leased for pastoral purposes under the Land Regulations (No. 56 and following), printed at page 98 of Blue Book C. 5743. The answer to the second paragraph is in the negative. The practice throughout Australia has been to allow the holding of numerous pastoral leases by an individual or company. The lands held by the banks have no doubt passed into their hands through the failure of lessees to repay advances. As regards the third paragraph, such lands were dealt with under the previous regulations of October 11, 1882, which did not differ materially in principle from the present regulations. All the large areas of land mentioned in the Return are under pastoral leases. Grants made under Regulation 115 (printed at page 107 of C. 5743) have rarely been large. As regards the fourth paragraph, leases issued previous to the new rules expire on December 31, 1893; that is, for the most part they were for about 11 years. The assertion referred to in the fifth paragraph is unfounded. The form of lease printed at page 113 of C. 5743 contains no provision for renewal, and it expressly stipulates that during the term of the lease the Government may sell to any person all or any part of the leased lands, and may grant or sell all or any part for public purposes.


I beg to give notice that in moving the rejection of the Western Australia Constitution Bill I will call attention to this subject.

MR. CHILDERS (Edinburgh, S.)

In reference to the answer to the second question of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. King), may I ask if there is any objection to give a supplemental Return to show what are and what are not Crown lands?


I will endeavour to do so.