HC Deb 18 March 1907 vol 171 cc459-61
SIR HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if there is anything in the New Hebridean Convention concluded by His Majesty's Government to ensure even the minimum wages of 4d. a day, or 10s. a month, to the black labourers bartered under it, if agreement be entered into to take 1d. a month or other lower wage; and further, what precaution has been taken to safeguard the Kanaka females, if sufficiently tall, from becoming the victims of a black slave traffic for the convict population of New Caledonia.


If a labourer proposes to engage himself at a rate lower than the current rate of wages in the group, the officers who will be appointed to ensure that he fully understands the terms of his engagement will of course point out the fact to him; but if this provision proves insufficient to prevent such agreements as the hon. and gallant Member suggests, it is competent for the High Commissioner to make it a condition of issuing the recruiting licence required under Article XXXI. of the Convention that no labourers shall be engaged below a fixed rate. The responsibility for the welfare of all natives recruited in the New Hebrides for service in New Caledonia will rest in the future, as it has done in the past, with the French Government, and His Majesty's Government desire to repudiate the suggestion of scandalous maladministration on the part of that Government which is contained in the concluding words of this Question.


Have the Government taken any steps to carry out the unanimous wishes of Australasia with regard to the penal settlement at New Caledonia?


Obviously notice should be given of that Question.


Is it the intention of the Government to instruct the High Commissioner to fix a minimum rate of wage?


I must ask for the notice of that also.

LORD R. CECIL (Marylebone, E.)

I beg to ask the Prime Minister whether there is any method otherwise than by a fresh Convention of modifying that part of Article 46 of the New Hebrides Convention, which provides that in default of agreement a labourer's wages shall betaken to be 10s. a month, and that part of Article 56 which provides that it is only in the event of conviction on a serious charge, or for a second offence, that the recruiting licence may be withdrawn.


Like all international agreements, the New Hebrides Convention can only be modified by the consent of both parties. With regard to the provisions of Article XLVI. (4), I may refer the noble Lord to the Answer given by the Under-Secretary for the Colonies to the hon. and gallant Member for St. Andrews Burghs on the 21st February†; and with regard to Article LVI. (4), I may point out that recruiting licences are valid for one year only, and it is within the discretion of the High Commissioners and their delegates to refuse licences if they are not satisfied as to the character of the applicants.


Does the hon. Gentleman mean to say that those Articles can or cannot be modified?


Under the Convention certain regulations can be framed; but those regulations can only be framed for the purpose of carrying out the effect of the Convention.


Has any provision been made so far for a minimum rate?


That does not arise out of the Question.

MR. T. L. CORBETT (Down, N.)

Are any negotiations going on with the French Government in order to modify these Articles?


No, Sir. It is not proposed to carry on any negotiations with the French Government until after the Colonial Premiers have reached London.


Although the Convention can only be altered with the consent of both parties, cannot either party make regulations independently of the other for labour outside the New Hebrides?