HC Deb 19 August 1909 vol 9 cc1647-50

The King, with the advice of the Privy Council, may on addresses from the Houses of Parliament of the Union, transfer to the Union the government of any territories, other than the territories administered by the British South Africa Company, belonging to or under the protection of His Majesty, and inhabited wholly or in part by natives, and upon such transfer the Governor-General in Council may undertake the government of such territory upon the terms and conditions embodied in the Schedule to this Act.

Mr. KEIR HARDIE moved, at the beginning of the clause, to insert the words, "At a period not less than 10 years after the passing of this Act, and subject to the consent of the territories affected expressed in a manner to be determined by the King with the advice of the Privy Council." This clause deals with the-transfer of the government of native territories to the Union Parliament. It provides that the King may, with the advice of the Privy Council, transfer to the Union the government of any territories outside those administered by the British South Africa Company inhabited wholly or in part by natives. The object of my Amendment is that this transfer shall not take place until a period of 10 years have elapsed from the date of this Act coming into force. This would give the new situation created in South Africa time to consolidate and settle down, and it would give the natives in the territories concerned a feeling of confidence that they would not be rushed immediately into the Union without their consent. There has been considerable apprehension on this point expressed both by the natives themselves and by Europeans, more especially by missionaries; and if there was some specific understanding that nothing would be done to force these natives to come within the domain of the new Union Parliament for at least a period of 10 years, that in itself would have a soothing effect upon the native mind, and would tend to allay the unrest which now exists. Another object of my Amendment is that before these native territories are taken over native opinion shall be consulted and be expressed in some manner to be determined by the King, with the advice of the Privy Council. If any attempt is made to force these natives to come within the South African Union without their consent there may be trouble of a very serious kind. The Colonial Secretary, in reply to a question, practically gave the assurance that before these natives were brought within the Union in those territories their feelings and opinions should be consulted and ascertained. I hope we shall have definite declaration from the Government on these two points. The provisions of the Bill as they now stand are viewed with considerable apprehension. I beg to move.

Colonel SEELY

My hon Friend's Amendment raises two points. The first is, whether the territories are to foe transferred immediately, and the second is, when they are to be transferred will regard be had to native wishes in the matter? He does not, as I understand it, wish to press the Amendment to a Division; he wishes to know the intention of the Government as to the meaning of the words. On the first point, I may say at once it is not anticipated that any transfer will take place for some time to come; and, more than that, our right to transfer or not remains unimpaired by the provisions of this Bill. The other day I gave, with the sanction of the Prime Minister, an undertaking, so far as we could bind ourselves and our successors, that no such action would be taken without the House of Commons being informed; and I repeat that undertaking now. This statement having been definitely made now, and it being known, as it will be, in South Africa, it might, if we put in the suggested time limit, give the impression that in ten years the transfer would take place. After the statement I have been authorised by the Prime Minister to make, the ten years' time limit might operate in the reverse way it is intended. I do not, therefore, think it would be advisable to put it in now. It would, I know, meet the views of some of my hon. Friends if we were to say the consent of all the natives must be obtained, but, apart from that technical point, I can assure the House that the wishes of the natives in the territories will be most carefully considered before any transfer takes place.


I should have preferred my own proviso at the end, but I understand the Government Gave really given us all they can of what I ask, and on that understanding I shall not move.


May I ask whether the pledge the hon. Gentleman has just given means that before any such territories are taken over, the House will have an opportunity of expressing their opinion?

Colonel SEELY

Oh, certainly. They will have an opportunity of discussing, and, if they wish, of disapproving of the action of the Government. So far as my right hon. Friend is concerned, I can make that pledge.


When that time arrives, shall we not be told that we must not interfere in the autonomy of a self-governing Colony, exactly as we have been told in this Debate? If not, why not? Why should we be told to-day we must have no part in the proposal brought before us by our Colonial friends, and yet, when this question of transfer comes before us, be left with a perfectly open mind? It appears to me, and has done all along, that the four Colonies have bitten off quite as much as they can manage. I do think they would do well not to ask in addition to take over a number of our Imperial responsibilities, which I, for one, am not prepared at the moment to surrender. They would much prefer to retain their allegiance direct to the King instead of having to look forward to being governed by the Prime Minister and the Governor-General in Council. We know that the wishes of the natives are that they should not be taken away from our Imperial rule, and I do not know why we should not regard their wishes.


Before the lands are taken, will treaties be entered into with the natives that they shall be paid for them?

Colonel SEELY

All that is provided for in the Bill.


Will the House of Commons be consulted as to agreements for the transfer of the land?

Colonel SEELY

If this Government is still in office, the House will have the fullest opportunity of considering any agreement.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause agreed to.