HC Deb 26 June 1890 vol 346 cc116-40

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1.

(9.50.) SIR G. CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy, &c.)

I have to move that this clause be postponed until the other clauses have been dealt with. I think I shall be able to show that the other clauses all hang together on this clause. It is unfortunate that we cannot discuss the Bill as a whole, because it is a measure which appears to me to involve large political considerations.


The hon. Member can hardly enter into a general discussion on a Motion to postpone a clause.


This is the clause which gives responsible Government to Western Australia. As long ago as about the year 1850 an Act was passed which enabled the colony to reform its own Constitution, subject to the condition that such reform would require Her Majesty's assent, after a Bill on the subject had been laid before Parliament. This clause removes that disability, and enables Western Australia to reform its Constitution without coming to Parliament at all. It seems to me that the clause involves an enormous Constitutional question, namely, whether we are to hand over a large part of this enormous continent to a mere handful of people—something less than the population of a third rate English town. I have, of course, great sympathy with the principle of self-government, and if it were the sole object of the Bill to confer a popular form of Government upon the people I should not oppose the clause, but if it turns out, as I think it will, that this proposal is not to establish a popular Government, but an oligarchical Government, which the people of Western Australia do not want, I think the House would do well to pause before passing this part of the Bill. What this Bill proposes to do is to hand over to the colonists complete, absolute, and uncontrolled power over this enormous territory, the main part of which is unoccupied and unexplored.


I must point out to the hon. Member that his Amendment is merely to postpone the clause, and he must confine himself to that Amendment.


I beg pardon I was just about to approach that subject. When this Bill was in Committee my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthenshire moved the postponement of this clause, for the same reasons as actuate myself. We have been told distinctly and positively that the colonists will not have a responsible Government unless they get complete control over the whole of Western Australia, a demand which, I think, ought not to be satisfied. The form of the Constitution to be given to Western Australia was not thrashed out before the Committee. We were told that the question was practically settled by the Second Reading, and that that was not a matter for the Committee. I agree with my hon. Friend below me, who has taken great interest in this question, that if we are to give up this territory and to confer on the colonists the enormous powers they ask for, they ought to be given to a popular Government, and not to a narrow oligarchy. The Select Committee which considered this subject sat for 10 days, during nine of which they took the evidence of official witnesses in support of the Bill, and on the 10th they heard the evidence of another witness on one specific objection. As other witnesses were not then forthcoming, the Committee did not think it desirable to take any more witnesses, and they refused to hear the evidence of one competent individual whom I tendered as a witness.


I do not see how this line of argument can be made relevant to an Amendment to postpone Clause 1.


Very well, Sir, I will pass from that. My reason for moving the postponement of the clause is that the Committee did not hear both sides of the question. I protested against the matter being hurried over because there were delegates in this country whose object was to get this Bill passed as soon as possible. Only one day was given to the consideration of the Report, which was gone through as though the House was dealing with a Provisional Order Bill. I think the House will probably give very careful consideration to the matter before it passes this Clause. The origin of this demand for responsible Government was this—Western Australia is a somewhat old colony—


The hon. Member has given notice of a Motion to postpone Clause 1. I do not see how his present line of argument bears on that Motion.


Then I will postpone my observations on that point until we come to the Clause to which they will be more relevant. Why I ask the House to postpone the Clause is, because delegates have come from Australia who say they do not want the provision unless they get control over this land, and the question of that control, is dealt with in Clause 3.

Amendment proposed, "That Clause 1 be postponed."—(Sir G. Campbell.)

(10.9.) MR. J. MORLEY (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)

It is very disagreeable to me to differ from my hon. Friend, but as we were both Members of the same Committee, I may be allowed to say a word for two on the observations that have fallen from him. So far as I know, the Members of the Committee entered upon their inquiry without any unfair prepossession or bias, although they might have had their leanings. But the hon. Member brought to the work a tremendous bias.




The hon. Member-has just made a Second Reading speech, but what the Committee had to do was to accept the Bill as having been read a second time. The hon. Member says we were too rapid. Well, we listened with the greatest patience to the evidence that was tendered, and to many questions which did not seem to all of us to be-very relevant; and so far from being very rapid we were exceedingly deliberate. He says that certain evidence was refused. He refers, I believe, to the-case of a certain Mr. Simpson.


And Chief Justice Onslow.


The only evidence the hon. Gentleman offered to produce was that of Mr. Simpson, who could not be found when wanted; but Mr. Simpson called upon me, and the result of a long conversation was to show that the evidence of Mr. Simpson would have gone against the contentions of my hon. Friend. I asked Mr. Simpson, "Are you in favour of reserving these lauds to the Home Government?" And his answer was, "Certainly not; you must leave the control of all the lands to the Western Australians." If my hon. Friend doubts my recollection I can show him the memorandum I made of the conversation. On the point that we only took one day to consider the Report, I would remind the Committee that we listened to all the arguments that were adduced for the clauses, and gave all the weight we reasonably could to the arguments my hon. Friend produced and reiterated, and I do not believe that if we had spent a week over the Report we should have been in the least likely to come to the conclusion offered by the hon. Member. If this House is to be relieved from the immense burden of work that presses upon it, it must confide matters of this kind to well chosen Committees. I believe that all sides of the House are agreed as to the Report of the Committee in the case of this Bill, and I ask, what will it avail to refer a measure of this kind to a well chosen and assiduous Committee if, after the House has assented to the principle of the Bill by reading it a second time, all the details are to be threshed out again on the floor of the House? Unless there are some more cogent reasons than have been adduced, the Committee will be embarking on a most mischievous course if they now lend themselves to a re-discussion of all that has been settled by the Second Reading, and authorised by the Committee.


I think I can add very little to the observations of the right hon. Gentleman. I should be contravening your ruling, Sir, if I were to answer all the arguments of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy. It will be remembered that when the principle of the Bill was affirmed on the Second Reading, it was determined by the House to refer it to a Select Committee for the purpose of disposing of the very details now raised. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy has repeated an argument that the Committee to whom the Bill was referred had not an opportunity of hearing evidence on the other side. The fact, however, is, that no such evidence was tendered, the only witness who came forward being a witness adverse to the hon. Member himself. He mentions Chief Justice Onslow, but that name was never mentioned.


I mentioned it to the Chairman.


He may have mentioned his name, but he did not produce him as a witness, or say that he intended to do so. All the evidence he produced was in the form of a letter from a gentleman in Albany, who desired some fanciful division of South Western Australia, and the formation of a district which he would call "Albania." As to the argument that in the Committee itself the question was raised of postponing Clause 1, the hon. Member omitted to state that on a Division three Members, including himself, voted for that proposal, and 11 against it. Therefore, this Committee may reasonably assume that the question has been thoroughly threshed out in the Select Committee. The Government cannot agree to the proposal of the hon. Gentleman. The Committee devoted a great deal of time and careful attention to the consideration of the Bill, and to postpone Clause 1 now would be to re-open the whole question, which was decided by the House on the Second Reading.

(10.20.) MR. MUNRO FERGUSON (Leith, &c.)

I sincerely trust that the hon. Member will withdraw the Motion. If he has any suspicion of Members who sat on the Committee having been biased, at any rate I cannot be accused of any bias against the hon. Member for Kirkcaldyon this question. If I had been on the Committee I should have endeavoured to get what evidence I could in support of the view I held, and still hold, against the principle of the Bill; and if that evidence was not forthcoming on the Committee, it was the fault of those holding the opinion of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy. We have had a most careful inquiry, and I think that besides the Report presented to the House, there are other considerations, which I cannot enter into, which make it enormously important that a settlement should be arrived at on the question without further delay. I have never altered my opinion that the principle on which the Government, are acting is a wrong principle. I cannot give my reasons for that. If I had an alternative proposal to offer I should oppose the Bill, but I have no alternate proposal to that which is contained in the provisions of the Bill; and seeing that that is so, and that if we can do nothing else we have at least an opportunity of cementing the alliance between Australia and the Mother Country, I trust that, the Bill passing rapidly through, we shall at last finish this much-agitated matter.

*(10.23.) MR. T. H. BOLTON (St. Pancras, N.)

It is difficult for independent Members to exercise any influence upon the Bill at this stage on account of the understanding that seems to have been arrived at by the two Front Benches that the Bill shall pass. There has been no opportunity for a full Second Reading Debate, especially as regards the larger and more Imperial aspects of the subject. I think the Committee should not have confined itself merely to reviewing the evidence of witnesses tendered on the part of Western Australian Colonists, but should have taken means to get full evidence bearing upon the whole question of the policy on which the Bill is based. It was in that sense that the Bill was referred to the Committee.


Order, order! The hon. Member is wandering from the Question before us, which is the postponement of Clause 1.


It is proposed to postpone this clause, with the view of considering a later Amendment of the hon. Member which will raise the question of the reservation of a largo portion of the lands of this colony to be controlled by the Imperial Government, or by the Associated Colonies of Australia. It is difficult to discuss the question raised by the hon. Member without reference to the circumstances under which the Second Reading of the Bill was passed. It would appear, however, that the two Front Benches are adopting a Parliamentary manœuvre for the purpose of forcing the Bill through, and I warn them that in so doing they are not acting in accordance with the desires of the people of this country. I gladly support the proposal of my hon. Friend.

(10.26.) MR. W. REDMOND (Fermanagh, N.)

I must say that when an hon. Member who has not distinguished himself in connection with Australian affairs comes forward and accuses Members who have been assiduous in their devotion to the interests of the colony of being party to a Parliamentary manœuvre, he cannot have a great regard for true Imperial interests. As to witnesses being brought against the Bill, none came, and for a very good reason—because in Western Australia there is no opposition to the Bill. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy said that the delegates in favour of the Bill were sent over hero at the public expense; but we can rest assured that if there had been any genuine feeling against the measure its opponents in the Colony would have found the money somewhere to bring them over to give expression to their opposition. Although I did not have an opportunity of attending the meetings of the Committee I obtained evidence from delegates from Western Australia, and I am in a position to say that there is a unanimous feeling in favour of the Bill in the Colony.

(10.29.) MR. W. A. M'ARTHUR (Cornwall, Mid., St. Austell)

I think the House will hesitate before it accepts the views of a Metropolitan Member and a Scotch Representative in preference to the unanimous opinions of the people of the Colony interested. Every Australian Government, without exception, not only supports the Bill, but has instructed its Agents here to press it forward in order that its passing into law may not be delayed. In face of facts like these it is simply trifling with the time of Parliament and wasting opportunities which might usefully be utilised otherwise to thresh out for the twentieth time matters which have been definitely settled by the House, and about which the people of Australia are in absolute unanimity. I trust the hon. Member will not think it necessary to obstruct the Bill any further.

(10.30.) SIR G. CAMPBELL

I may be allowed to say a word of explanation. I cannot enter into the question which has been raised by the last speaker. I maintain that it is not a question as to whether the Australian people are united on this subject, but whether the people of this country wish to part with that territory. I think that my right hon. Friend (Mr. J. Morley) is mistaken in regard to the evidence of Mr. Simpson, who is the friend and associate of the Member for the Albany Division of Western Australia. Mr. Simpson is strongly in favour of retaining a large part of the temperate southern territory, and of not giving in a hasty way responsible Government to Western Australia. I will not, however, press the matter further now; it is, perhaps, better that we should reserve what we have to say until we reach Clause 2.

DR. CLARK (Caithness)

I am opposed to the policy advocated by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy, but I could not conscientiously support a Bill which contains a number of pernicious principles. I cannot support a Bill which lays down a land qualification which, I believe, will play into the hands of the squatting minority.


The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy has withdrawn his Amendment. The hon. Gentleman is anticipating a Debate which may arise later on.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

*(10.33.) MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)

I would not intrude myself upon the attention of the Committee if I had not been requested to bring the point dealing with my Amendment before the Committee by certain persons in Western Australia with whom I am connected. I say at once I am heartily in sympathy with the general principle of the Bill, but I do not think there is that unanimous support in favour of the Bill in the form in which it is laid before the House, either in Western Australia or in Australia generally, which is claimed for it. Everyone in Western Australia wants responsible government, and the land to be in the hands of the people; but the delegates who have brought forward this question and those who have framed this Bill, are, in my opinion, wishing to obtain the control of the land for a section of the community, whereas those for whom I speak wish to get the control of the land for the whole of the community. What I have to propose is to add at the end of the clause— Provided that such Order in Council shall not be made until the said Scheduled Bill has been amended in the following particulars (that is to say) by the abolition of the property qualification for a Member to be elected to the Legislative Assembly, and by omitting 'and' in line 24 of Sub-section (3) of Section 39, and inserting 'or' instead thereof. The practical effect of the latter part of the Amendment would be to substitute for the £10 householder and lodger franchise proposed by the Bill manhood suffrage. What the Bill proposes is that there should be a property qualification both for the Legislative Council and the Legislative Assembly, and until six years have expired, and until the population has increased to 60,000, the Upper House has to be a nominee House. Hon. Members who know anything about Australia know that in the other Australian colonies the qualification for the Lower House is that a man should be on the electoral roll; that manhood suffrage is the basis of the franchise; and that in most colonies a six months' residence only is required. We may be told we have no right to deal with this question. It is perfectly within our power to withhold our assent to the Scheduled Bill, and I think we would be amply justified in doing so if we can show that the people of Western Australia are not in favour of the details of the Bill. My point is that we ought to postpone this matter till a Bill is framed which really represents the wishes of the great majority of the Western Australian people, and I can call no better evidence of the substantial ground on which I am asking the Committee to come to this decision than that of the late Governor, Sir F. N. Broome, who, before the Select Committee, said— If the question of the property qualification were to be put to the whole people of Western Australia, they would reject the property qualification by five or six to one. I think that we ought to do everything we can to get a loyal support in Australia, and this we can do by following the instincts and wishes of the people. I must complain of the action of the Colonial Office in not taking the opportunity which was open to them two years ago, when the first draft Bill was sent over to them to deal with this question. Instead of adopting the advice of Sir F. N. Broome, that the Legislative Council should be made an Elective Council, the Colonial Office insisted that the Upper House should be a nominee House. The Colonial Office lost a favourable opportunity of winning the approval and consolidating the good will of the masses of Australia. I shall be told that we ought to go by local opinion [Mr. J. MORLEY: "Hear, hear."] My right hon. Friend cheers that. I will give some local opinion. I will give the opinion of Mr. Hensman, the leader of the popular Party in Western Australia, a man whose integrity and sound judgment, I am sure the Colonial Secretary will be ready to admit. His point is that the property qualification is not fair in Western Australia, for the simple reason that there are many suitable men who have not the means to serve with this qualification. He says:— There has been great difficulty in this poor community, where every one almost works for his living, in getting 17 men who have the property, and are willing to give up two or three months a year to the work. That is as to the existing Council. Turning to the provisions of this Bill, he says:— The Bill proposes two Chambers—the Council with 15 members, and the Assembly with 30 members. They cannot get 45 men with the qualification who will be content to give up one third of the year to do this duty. The property qualification is absurd here.…The great objection is that it will prevent a number of honest men, who may be in all other respects suitable, from giving their services to the public.…The intention of this clause is to keep the management of affairs in the hands of the clique who now rule the roost. In no other colony is there any property qualification for the Lower House. It will be a different Constitution from the other self-governing colonies of Australia, and this at a time when federation is being insisted on. The opinion of Australians has been referred to. Well, Sir Samuel Griffiths has said that the property qualification of this Bill is not only an anomaly but an absurdity, and in one of his despatches Sir F. N. Broome drew attention to the fact of the great difficulty of obtaining a sufficient number of qualified men to serve on these Legislative Bodies. He drew attention to it in words which have special bearing on the character of this Bill. He said, for instance, in 1884 that there were not enough men in the colony with sufficient leisure and means to serve in the way required. Mr. Parker, one of the delegates who gave evidence before the Select Committee, drew attention to the fact that when the question of the property qualification for the Lower House was before the Legislative Assembly, a great majority of the elected representatives of Western Australia voted for the abolition of the property qualification in this Bill, and that the property qualification in the Scheduled Bill was only retained by means of the votes of the nominee members. Allusion was made, in the evidence, to an election which took place two years ago when this Bill was under discussion in the town of Perth, which contains one-fourth of the whole population of the colony, in which election the candidate who stood on the platform of manhood suffrage and the abolition of the property qualification was returned by an enormous majority. Therefore, I think I am justified in saying that public opinion, as expressed by the evidence of Sir F. N. Broome, by the votes of the elected representatives of Western Australia, and by a test election that has taken place on this question, is clearly in favour of the contention I have laid before the Committee. What adequate reason, then, does there exist for our giving the Australians this narrow and stunted Constitution against the will of the people? We have two reasons given in the evidence laid before the Committee. One reason is given, and given freely enough, by Sir F. N. Broome, in a despatch dated April 14th, 1888, and covering a Petition against responsible Government sent to Her Majesty's Government, and signed by 80 or 90 of the leading capitalists and monied men in Western Australia. He said— This Petition is signed by a body of most respectable and sterling settlers, every one of whom has a substantial stake in the colony. I do not think this Petition can over-ride the expressed wish of the Colonial Legislature, but it may be taken in evidence of the wisdom of not casting the new Constitution in too Radical a mould. The Conservative minority in this community is strong, not only in property qualification, but also in sober judgment and sound sense; and the views of those who compose it should weigh, at least, so far as to lead Her Majesty's Government to guard the new Constitution very carefully against mob rule. The franchise, then, is to be restricted with the deliberate intention of protecting the monied classes from what Sir F. N. Broome calls mob rule. I shall be much surprised if I find any of those who sit around me and claim to be Radicals, agree with that interpretation of the duties of the State towards the people of Western Australia. I state that this is one reason for this Bill which was given in the evidence before the Committee. There is another and absolutely contradictory version given, and that is given by Mr. Parker, a delegate who came forward on behalf of the Legislature of Western Australia. He poses as the representative of the Popular Party, but I have considerable doubt as to his legitimate claim to figure in that part. He gave as a reason for wanting this Bill that, as soon as the people get this Constitution, they will be able to sweep away the property qualification and the restricted franchise, and they will take steps to break up the land monopoly in Western Australia, by passing a Land Tax and Succession Duty similar to that passed in other Australian Colonies. I doubt this view, and believe the view put forward by Sir P. N. Broome. The whole history of the origin of this Bill shows that it has been promoted and shaped by a narrow clique of moneyed men who do rule, and have ruled, and wish to continue to rule, the destinies of Western Australia. It is a Bill to enable the moneyed men of Western Australia to retain the control of the land question in their own hands. It is the Bill of those who wish to take the lion's share of land grants, such as the blocks of 12,000 acres par mile along the Albany and Beverly Railway—of those who wish to pick out the "eyes" of the land. It is said that the nominees of the Lower House will, of course, acquiesce in the resolution of that House in favour of abolishing the property qualification. Is that at all likely, when we have the evidence before us that when this Bill was before them the nominee element deliberately kept the property qualification in defiance of the wishes of the elected Representatives? I move this Amendment not only because I have been requested to do so by Western Australians, with whom I have been in constant correspondence, but because I feel that the lowering of the franchise and the abolition of the property qualification are essentially necessary in the interest of those English, Scotch, Welsh, and Irish immigrants who carry their strong hands and stout hearts to Western Australia, but who by this squatter oligarchy will be excluded for years to come from taking any share in the rule of the colony either as electors or as Members of the Lower House. As a Radical, I claim that they, as British subjects, have a right on going to Western Australia—which is British land, thank God, and I hope will remain so—to share in settling questions which affect their own interests and the interests of the colony to which they have attached themselves. I say that, in the interests of those men whom we expect to build up a great future for our colonies, and with the object of knitting more closely the feelings of confidence and friendship which exists between the colonies and the Mother Country, we ought, at least, to give the colonists fair play.

Amendment proposed, At end of clause, to add the words "Provided that such Order in Council shall not be made until the said Scheduled Bill has been amended in the following particulars (that is to say) by the abolition of the property qualification for a member to be elected to the legislative assembly, and by omitting 'and' in Section 39, Subsection (3), page 13, line 24, and inserting'or,'"—(Mr. Channing,) —instead thereof.

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

*(11.0.) BARON H. DE WORMS

I doubt whether the hon. Member has considered the Bill before the House, because he seems to have come to the conclusion that the proposed qualifications are inserted in that Bill. The hon. Member seems to have overlooked the fact that the Western Australians themselves introduced this property qualification in the scheduled Bill; and though the hon. Member claims to speak on behalf of the Western Australians, the Committee will be inclined to accept the clauses of the scheduled Bill in preference to the authority of the hon. Member himself.


Does the right hon. Gentleman contest the fact that the elected portion of the Legislature voted for the abolition of the property qualification?


Yes; but the property qualification remains as the result of the deliberations of the Legislative Assembly. They ought to be the best judges of what they themselves desire. By the 32nd section of the 13th and 14th Vict. Western Australia and other colonies have the right exclusively con- ferred upon them of making what conditions they like as to the qualifications for electors and elected Members. That is so, and I need not waste time upon arguing it. The hon. Member admits the Act confers that right, and in accordance with that Act they have inserted the provisions which are contained in the scheduled Bill. When the hon. Member says these provisions do not express the views of the people of Western Australia he must be aware that Mr. Hensman, to whom he has alluded, is a member of the Western Australian Legislature, and had an opportunity of expressing the views the hon. Member depresses by proxy. His views were not the views of the majority, and Mr. Parker, to whom the hon. Member has alluded, is the leader of the Liberal opposition in the Western Australia Legislative Assembly, and therefore, I think, as qualified and as able to express an opinion as the hon. Member. The Legislature in Western Australia Responsible Government will have the power of altering these qualifications when and if they think fit by subsequent statutory enactments of their own. If the hon. Member will look at Sections 5 and 73 of the schedule of the Bill he will see they will have that power, and they may some day use it. We have not the right or the power, under 13 and 14 Vict., cap. 50 and 59, to deprive Western Australia of the right conferred on the colony by Statute. [Cries of "No!"] If hon. Members will take the trouble to read they will see that I am correct. [Cries of "Read!"] It is so; the reference is open to any hon. Member—


Order in Council, 30 days before this House.


That power, I say, was given to Western Australia by the 13 & 14 Vict., caps. 50 and 59; and if hon. Gentlemen introduce this Amendment to the clause, it will simply have the effect of defeating the Bill. The Western Australians would not accept it; and they would be perfectly justified by Statute in refusing it.

*(11.5.) MR. T. H. BOLTON

I am not altogether opposing the Bill on the ground on which my hon. Friend (Mr. Channing) opposes it. I think it is very likely people in Western Australia, having at the present time responsibilities of Government, know the sort of qualifications that will probably suit the infant colony under its new conditions. They may think it de sirable for a time that the suffrage should be restricted and that there should be qualifications for Members sitting in their Parliament; but if the arrangements are found to work unsatisfactorily, I have no doubt there will be sufficient force in public opinion to enlarge the suffrage and improve the arrangements connected with their Elective Assembly. I am, therefore, not prepared to oppose the Bill on that ground. But this Bill proposes to vest in this new Representative Assembly the full control of a vast territory—


The Amendment moved is directed to an amendment of the schedule, and the hon. Member must confine himself to that.


Do I understand that I cannot refer to the original Motion in connection with the Amendment moved upon it? I am discussing the Amendment, but this does not deprive me of the opportunity of referring to the original proposition.


There is no original Motion. An Amendment is moved to the clause. After that is disposed of, the question of the clause itself comes forward.

(11.8.) DR. CLARK

I had hoped for some information from the Under Secretary, but we only get an argument based on the statement that the people of Western Australia desire to have a property qualification, and will only have the Bill on this condition. As a matter of fact, the people of WesternAustralia—the bulk of them—the big majority of their elected Members, have voted against this property qualification, and the property qualification is only there because of the influence of Members nominated by a Government who have jobbed away millions of acres of land. These, with a small number of elected Members, have introduced the property qualification to keep power in the hands of a ring. The whole influence of the Government is based upon inaccurate information, and instead of retorting upon the hon. Member that he should seek information, the right hon. Gentleman should give us evidence from the colony. He will find the difference is as between 10 and 7. I am very anxious that Responsible Government should be conferred upon Western Australia, knowing how this House treats all these colonial questions with contempt, and hon. Gentlemen opposite do not like to be troubled with these things which affect a bigger country than this, and likely to be greater than this has ever been; but I cannot support a Bill that will throw power for some time into the hands of men who have misused that power and have jobbed away millions of acres of land. I would support a Bill for a Constitution similar to the Democratic Constitution of all other Australian Colonies; but against the wish of the majority of the elected Representatives you are thrusting this Constitution upon the colony. The majority of the elected Members were against it, and only the nominated element carried it. It is for the purpose of retaining power in the hands of those who have misused it. Why should a man of £5 or £8 rental be disqualified, and the man who pays £10 be qualified? It is an absurdity in modern legislation. Why the exclusion of ministers of religion? We may have such men here, and often in the colonies the leading men are ministers of religion, who devote themselves to the support of religion. But you are going to disqualify this class, and why? I can understand a Clerk in Holy Orders being disqualified because he is a State-paid official, and by disfrocking he can qualify himself. Then, again, if a man absents himself from illness, or any other cause, for two months, he loses his qualification at once. We are not prepared to delegate to a Committee of 21 gentlemen full power of determining all these points. I am not prepared to follow the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle in maintaining this property qualification. I am strongly in favour of a Bill to confer Constitutional Government on Western Australia; but it should be a Bill giving power to the people such as is enjoyed in Great Britain, irrespective of whether a man holds a large amount of freehold property or not.

(11.13.) MR. G. OSBORNE MORGAN (Denbighshire, E)

My hon. Friend is really trying to induce the Government to impose conditions against the wishes expressed by the people of Western Australia. The people there have sattled the matter in Constitutional manner under the Act 13 & 14 Vict., and have passed their Bill. Wise or not in our judgment the Bill may be, but I am of opinion that the people of Western Australia are far more competent to form a judgment upon the points that have been raised than we who live so many thousand miles away from that country. We do not understand what the franchise means out there. Mr. Carter, who opposed the property qualification, said he had not the slightest doubt that as soon as the colony had this Constitution, the property qualification we aid be completely swept away, and the franchise would be reduced to something approaching manhood suffrage. Witness after witness in giving evidence asserted that this franchise which the Western Australian Legislature have now established is exactly the same as, or perhaps even less restricted than, the franchise originally established in the other Australian Colonies, where it has been widened step by step. It would be a monstrous thing to hang up this Bill indefinitely, and so to deprive the people of Western Australia of the advantages which they desire to acquire, in order that hon. Members in this House may give effect to their own particular views.

(11.15.) MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)

I have no wish to deprive the people of Western Australia of the Bill, and have no reluctance to entrust them with this power. I have carefully read the evidence given, and I have listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Northamptonshire, and certainly I think that if it is in the power of this House to make the Amendment, it is necessary to make the Bill what it ought to be. I observe the right hon. Gentleman did not read us the particular part of the schedule of the Act 13 & 14 Vict, which deals with this particular point. The right hon. Gentleman said it will be in the power of the Legislature of Western Australia to abolish this property qualification in the future, and, as I understand, it is quite within the power of Western Australia to accept the Bill with this Amendment. I conceive it to be the duty of every friend of Manhood Suffrage to support this Amendment. I approached the Bill with an open mind. I was told it was absolutely necessary to pass the Bill this Session in order that Western Australia might have the benefit of it, and I assented to that. But now I find that it is not absolutely necessary to pass the Bill rapidly if we are not satisfied with it. If it is possible to add the Amendment, and Western Australia can still accept the Bill. I hope the Amendment will be pressed.

(11.16.) MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)

In the interest of Members who are disposed to facilitate the progress of the Bill, but take exception to details, I would ask will it be in order to propose any Amendments to the text of the scheduled Bill?


No, I think not. It is a mere historical statement of what passed in the Legislature of Western Australia.

(11.17.) MR. DEASY (Mayo, W.)

There seems to be a general impression that, if the Amendment were accepted, the result would be to hang up the Bill for another year. That is not so. An Order in Council may determine whether this Amendment can be accepted or not, and it will be for the Privy Council to advise Her Majesty whether the Bill should be sanctioned or not. This is an important point that influences me in my opinion whether I ought to support this Amendment. If I thought that it would have the effect of putting an end to legislation of this kind for a year I would not vote for it. I would not be a party to preventing the people of Western Australia from managing their own affairs according to their own wishes, but I feel it is essential for good government that the colony should have a really popular franchise such as obtains in the other colonies. If you restrict the franchise in the manner proposed you may rest assured that continual agitation and dissatisfaction will result, while a great deal of the property of the colony will become alienated in the interests of the few who will govern under this Bill. Whatever may be said to the contrary, half a dozen families guide the destinies of Western Australia. In a short time, no doubt, as public opinion advances, these men will have to change their views, and democratic principles will prevail; but, in the meantime, they will simply be feathering their own nests, and when the people come to look after their own affairs they will find very little to administer, inasmuch as everything worth having will have been appropriated. It will be a regretful thing if this Bill is sanctioned by Parliament in this form. I trust that the Amendment will be introduced, and I am sure it will in no way retard the progress of the measure. It has been urged again and again that the restrictive franchise will have no practical effect on the Government of the colony. If that is so, why retain these objectionable provisions; why not abolish these restrictions, and put the Government of the colony, practically speaking, into the hands of the people? I know that words are attributed to Sir Napier Broome to the effect that to lower the franchise will be to give mob rule, but I cannot reconcile this with the known condition of things. My own opinion is, that unless a Constitution similar in every respect to those which obtain in other colonies is given to Western Australia, the question will not be regarded as satisfactorily settled. You will have it reopened from time to time. I do not wish to prolong debate. I am anxious to see this Bill pass in an amended form; and I trust Radical Members, who have always been on the side of household suffrage and manhood suffrage, will not permit such a clause to go through without such an Amendment as this moved by my hon. Friend.


The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down appears to be under a misapprehension as to the powers of the House. Both he and the hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment talk as if the House were imposing a restricted suffrage upon the people of Western Australia. It is doing nothing of the kind. The power of the British Parliament is simply either to accept or reject the Constitution the colony itself has passed. The colony, under the powers conferred on it by the Act 13 and 14 Vict., c. 59, has passed a Constitution, and the House can accept or reject it, but cannot amend it. The effect of accepting the Amendment would be to refuse a Constitution to Western Australia until the House has compelled the colony to amend the Act. I cannot conceive any more offensive and tyrannical way of imposing a Constitution on a colony. It is because I am strongly in favour of Local Self-Government and of Home Rule for the colonies, and of leaving them to say that a particular Constitution will suit them, that I strongly object to this Amendment. The Committee may be perfectly at ease as to the progress of free institutions in Western Australia. The Legislature which can amend the present Constitution Act can also amend the Act to which the House is invited to give its assent, and the Committee may very well trust the Legislature to be established by this Constitution to make such reforms as may be necessary for the interests of the colony. I therefore think the Committee should give its consent to the only Constitution it is possible for the British Parliament to give.

*(11.27.) MR. CREMER (Shoreditch, Haggerston)

The speech we have just heard has tilled me with amazement. As I understand the right hon. Gentleman, this House has no power to amend the Bill. Then why, may I be permitted to ask, were we allowed to enact the farce of passing the Bill through Committee if we have no power to amend the Bill submitted for our endorsement?


The scheduled Bill cannot be altered; the Bill itself may be.


We are asked to pass a Bill which creates a property qualification and confers a restricted franchise, a qualification fortunately long since abolished in this country, and a franchise restriction that has disappeared from among us. We are invited, as it were, to take a step backward by this Bill, and this I decline to do. We are asked to enact for our kindred in Western Australia restrictions against which we long ago successfully struggled, and to this, I, as a Democrat, offer my sturdy opposition. I hope that a large minority, at least, of the Members of this House will register a solemn protest against the proposals of the Government as contained in this Bill.


They are not the proposals of the Government.


If the Bill is not being promoted by the Government, why are we asked to consider it? The Government might as well closure the Debate and tell us we must simply be dumb on the matter. If the Government are not promoting the Bill who are? Some of the proposals it contains are most extraordinary. The franchise proposed is one which the House of Commons would reject with indignation for itself, and why should it be imposed on the colony. The result of the Bill will be that a certain body of persons will get all the power into their own hands. I shall, as a Democrat, offer the most strenuous opposition to this measure, and I am amazed that the leaders of the Liberal Party should give their assent to such reactionary proposals.

(11.34.) MR. J. MORLEY

I will not go into the argument whether or not my hon. Friend is a good Democrat, but I may say I feel sure that my hon. Friend has only taken up his present position through a thorough misunderstanding. The scheduled Bill is no more the work of the Government than it is the work of the hon. Member himself. The Western Australian Legislature have full power to pass that schedule, containing the restrictions to which I no less than the hon. Member object, without coming to the House at all [Sir G. CAMPBELL: No], if they had not been obliged to get the assent of the British Parliament to matters dealing with land. The 25th and 26th Victoria enacts that the Legislative Council of Western Australia may alter the provisions for the election of Members to the Council and for the qualifications of electors and of the elected Members.


Go on.


Certainly I will go on. The enactment continues— Provided always that every Bill passed by the Council shall be reserved for the signification of Her Majesty's pleasure thereon, and shall he laid before Parliament 30 days at least before Her Majesty's assent be given to it. If the House wishes to takeaway the power to which that Statute refers, the House will have to repeal that Statute. My hon. Friend forgets that Mr. Brandreth, the legal representative of the Colonial Office, gave evidence before the Committee, to the effect that for the Imperial Parliament to interfere in any way in the qualifications of the electors of Western Australia the Statute which has been quoted this evening would have to be altered. This is a Bill which has been passed by the representative Government of Western Australia, whose definite decision in the matter I contend it is not for the House to override. If the Committee adopt the Amendment, the effect will be that they will have to send the Bill back to Western Australia to revise. The Colony certainly do not want that, for the immense weight of opinion in Western Australia is strongly in favour of the whole Bill being passed, and passed without delay. Moreover, that is not merely the feeling of Western Australia; but, as an hon. Member has stated, the Agents-General representing the whole of Australia back up the demand, and I believe I am right in stating that they have waited on the First Lord of the Treasury and pressed him to fix a date for the passing of the Bill. That is an important fact, and would it be wise, because certain views are entertained in reference to property qualification for voting—views which I myself share—to oppose the wishes of the colonists in this matter, and to force those views upon Western Australia? Would it be wise to thus place ourselves in a false position, not only with reference to Western Australia, but the whole of the Australian Colonies? I believe not, and it is because I think it undesirable that this House should burden itself with interference in all that is done in distant Dependencies, because I believe that this work can be better done by those on the spot, who are best acquainted with the circumstances—in short, for the same reason that I am in favour of Home Rule in Ireland, that I support the Bill, and entreat the Committee not to delay passing it.

(11.43.) Mr. JOHNSTON

rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put;" but the CHAIRMAN withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.

Debate resumed.

(11.44.) SIR G. CAMPBELL

I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has read to the Committee the words of the enactment. The important proviso is contained in the fact that these Bills must be reserved for the signification of Her Majesty's pleasure thereon, and that the Bill must be laid before both Houses of Parliament for the space of 30 days before Her Majesty's pleasure is signified. That means that if this House in that period requisitions Her Majesty not to approve the Bill, it will not be approved. This is a matter of Constitutional right, and I believe the passing of this Bill would only tend in years to come to increase the difficulties of popular Government.

(11.46.) MR. DEASY

The right hon. Gentleman on the Front Opposition Bench has interpreted my ideas. I would not for a single moment stand up and oppose this Bill on account of the prevailing opinion in Australia, although I do believe the Colony are making a great mistake in having this restricted franchise. I am in favour of Home Rule for Western Australia, and I believe the people there will not be content with anything but Home Rule. We may, and do, object to some of the details of this Bill, but I shall support it on broad principles.

(11.50.) DR. CLARK

I shall support the Amendment, because for 12 years there will be a Council not elected by the people, but appointed by the Governor, under the Bill as it stands, and then there will be a Council elected by a small section, namely, the wealthy class only. I desire, as strongly as anyone can, that the people of Western Australia shall have self-government; but by this Bill you are not giving it to them, you are definitely withholding it from them for a long period.

(11.51.) MR. W. REDMOND

I share the objection which has been expressed to the proposed property qualification, but the question is, whether the Bill before us with that qualification is not better for the people of Western Australia than a continuance of the present system. I have no hesitation in saying that the great majority of the people of the colony would infinitely prefer this Bill, and I cannot understand how anyone in favour of self-government can oppose or retard the measure. The sending back of the Bill to Western Australia to get re-considered the clause as to property qualification would postpone for a year certainly, and perhaps indefinitely, this extension of the liberties of the people, whereas if the Bill is carried I have no doubt that the colony will soon realise the wisdom of having an extended franchise.

*(11.54.) MR. CHANNING

I maintain that the hon. Member is wrong in contending that the Bill will be indefinitely postponed if this Amendment is passed. Her Majesty's Government will have the power to make an Order in Council at any time, and the House will not have to consider the Bill again.

(11.55.) MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)

This Debate has manifestly raised a question of the utmost gravity, and one which ought not to be hastily determined. I am one of a considerable number of Members who entertain doubts as to the Constitutional position of this question. We have been told that if the Bill is amended it must be referred back to the colony. We ought to know more on this, and I beg, therefore, to move the adjournment of the Debate.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Sexton.)

*(11.56.) THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH,) Strand, Westminster

I hope that the House will not consent to the Motion. This question has been very carefully considered by a Committee in which the House has full confidence. If the Bill is not passed, Western Australia will have to remain under her present Constitution, which is open to many objections. All that the House can do is to accept and sanction that which the colony propose, or refuse it; we cannot change it.

(11.58.) MR. FLYNN

I am very much in the same position as my hon. Friend. We do not understand the Constitutional bearing of this Bill. I take it that the vast majority of us are in favour of the Bill, and it would delay it but a day or two if we agreed to this Motion and had time to consider—

(11.59.) Viscount GRIMSTON

rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."

Question put, "That the Question be now put."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 245 Noes 108.—(Div. List, No. 161.);

Question put accordingly, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."

(12.15.) The Committee divided:—Ayes 94; Noes 255.—(Div. List, No.162.)

Whereupon Mr. WILLIAM HENRY SMITH rose in his place, and claimed "That the Original Question be now put."

Original Question put accordingly, That the words' Provided that such Order in Council shall not be made until the said Scheduled Bill has been amended in the following particulars (that is to say) by the abolition of the property qualification for a Member to be elected to the legislative assembly, and by omitting 'and' in section 39, sub-section (3), page 13, line 24, and inserting 'or, "be there added.

(12.30.) The Committee divided:—Ayes 81; Noes 255.—(Div. List, No. 163.)

It being after Midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make his report to the House.

Committee report Progress; to sit again to-morrow.