HC Deb 04 February 1904 vol 129 cc339-42
MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies when he will be in a position to lay upon the Table of the House a copy of the Labour (Importation of Asiatics) Ordinance (or any Paper relating thereto) recently passed through the Transvaal Legislative Council; and whether he will undertake that the Government will not finally decide the question of the allowance or disallowance of the Ordinance until after the House has had an opportunity of discussing and deciding the question on its merits. May I point out that the Government have already promised to give an opportunity for a full discussion of this question.

MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)

At the same time may I ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether, before arriving at any decision upon the Ordinance permitting the importation of Chinese into South Africa, which is now being considered by the Legislative Council at Pretoria, he will, in case that Ordinance should be passed in the Council, cause the text of the Ordinance to be laid before this House, and arrange that this House shall have an opportunity of fully discussing it. I also wish to ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he will cause to be presented to Parliament the evidence taken before the Commission which recently sat in the Transvaal to examine into the question of labour for the mines. It is of extreme importance that we should have this.


The Papers which were published yesterday contain a draft of the Asiatic Labour Ordinance as introduced in the Legislative Council of the Transvaal, and a telegraphic report of the Amendments made in Committee. These Papers will afford the hon. Member the means of examining the details of the proposed legislation; and I am taking steps to obtain, at the earliest possible moment, the official text of the Ordinance as actually passed, which will be published as soon as it is received. In reply to the second part of the hon. Member's Question, I have announced, in answer to an inquiry addressed to me, that His Majesty's Government will defer giving their final sanction to the Ordinance for the introduction of Asiatic labour into the Transvaal until Parliament has had an opportunity for full discussion of the subject. This announcement, which was made with the concurrence and approval of the Prime Minister, was in consequence of, and was designed to meet, a request of the Leader of the Opposition to the effect that, inasmuch as debate was sure to take place on this subject on the Address, this legislation should not be an accomplished fact before the meeting of Parliament. In order to carry out the pledge which was thus given, I have instructed Lord Milner to introduce into the Ordinance a clause suspending the operation of the Ordinance pending further instructions. I have to point out, however, that, as is evident from the Blue-book, the question is one of great urgency, and His Majesty's Government cannot undertake to postpone their decision longer than the termination of the debate on the Address. A Question has been asked me with reference to the publication of the evidence. I have to say that the evidence is now in the printer's hands and will be laid on the Table of the House. I anticipate that we shall be able to place advance copies of the evidence in the library either on Saturday or Monday next.

MR. JOHN ELLIS (Nottinghamshire, Rushcliffe)

When will the House see the actual words of the Ordinance as finally passed.


I cannot definitely say as to a day. Hon. Members have already in the Blue-book the amended Ordinance, and they have further Amendments which have been introduced and which will be placed in the Blue-book. Hon. Members have, therefore, the opportunity of consulting the full Ordinance as we believe it has passed; but by Saturday or Monday my hon. friend will certainly have the official text of the document.


I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his evident desire to meet the wishes of the House; but those who are interested in this subject are anxious, before the House proceeds to discuss, consider, and pronounce an opinion on this matter, that they shall be in possession of the whole of the materials. It is quite obvious that the actual evidence given before the Commissioners is an essential part of the case. I think perhaps the most convenient way will be to hang the matter up until we get the evidence and the other documents required. I think the right hon. Gentleman will also see that, after we have these materials actually placed in our bands, hon. Members must have a little time to master and understand the situation before them.


I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether, in view of the promises on behalf of the Government that Chinese labour should not be introduced into the Transvaal against the wishes of the population, he can see his way, either by means of the referendum or some other plan, to obtain the opinion of the people before giving his sanction to the Ordinance which the Transvaal Government have approved.


In view of the vote and debate in the Legislative Council and of the other evidence contained in the Blue-book, on which Lord Milner's advice to His Majesty's Government has been based, His Majesty's Government are of opinion that the introduction of Asiatic labour is in conformity with the wishes of the people of the Transvaal. They are not able to agree that the expedient of a referendum should be adopted.