HC Deb 19 August 1909 vol 9 cc1651-60

Mr. ELLIS GRIFFITH moved to amend Section (3) of the Schedule ["The members of the Commission shall be appointed by the Governor-General in Council …"] by inserting after the word "appointed," the words "as to two by the Governor-General, and as to the remainder."

Earlier in this discussion the proposal was made to have a special representative of the natives in the senate, but it was pointed out that the Schedule had a special application to the natives in the territories. I understand that in this Schedule the Governor-General in Council, which is another name for the Prime Minister, may proclaim law in these territories without the consent of the people, or the chiefs, or the assemblies, and even without the consent of the Union Parliament itself. It is a tremendous power to give to one man. The Schedule says that the Prime Minister shall be charged with the administration of the territory transferred and he shall be advised by a Commission consisting of not fewer than three members, with a secretary to be appointed by the Governor-General in Council, who shall take the instructions of the Prime Minister in regard to correspondence and official papers relating to the territories. I think it is fair that the Governor-General shall appoint not less than two, as my Amendment proposes, or, at least, one member of this advisory Commission. If the members of this Commission, when they are appointed, wish to appeal against the Prime Minister, they have to make an appeal to the Prime Minister and they are in a very illusory position.

Colonel SEELY

The hon. Gentleman proposes that as regards two of the members of this Commission they should be appointed by the Governor-General.



Colonel SEELY

He thinks at least one or two should be appointed by the Governor-General and not by the Governor-General in Council. In other words, that we should appoint them from here. I do not think that is a proposal that would work for this reason, that you cannot have two different systems at the same time. Either we keep control of the Protectorates or we do not. If we decide to keep control of them, and we wish to, we can. But this House itself foresaw, when it passed the Resolution a year and a half ago, that the time might come for transfer. When you do that it would be, I think, a ridiculous mistake to endeavour to do the thing by half, to hand them over and yet to retain a little control by nomination. I do not think that could ever work, and I would suggest that the hon. Member should not press the Amendment.

Question, "That those words be there inserted," put and negatived.

Mr. KEIR HARDIE moved, at the end of Section (14) ["It shall not be lawful to alienate any land in Basutoland or any land forming part of the native reserves in the Bechuanaland Protectorate and Swaziland from the native tribes inhabiting those territories"] to insert the words "nor shall tribal tenure of the land be interfered with nor titles to hold land be granted to other than members of the native tribes inhabiting those territories." It is well known that most of the troubles in connection with natives in South Africa have been connected with land, and it does not appear to those well qualified to form a judgment, in whose name I am speaking, that the section goes far enough. The object of the Amendment is to secure that tribal tenure of land shall be continued and that the title to land shall not be given to others. If that system continues there will never be the trouble which has arisen in this country in trying to get from unearned increment a small proportion for the benefit of the State. So long as the land remains tribal the whole of the increment goes to the community, and, if for that reason only, the Amendment ought to meet with sympathetic consideration at the hands of the Government.

Colonel SEELY

The Amendment must naturally endear itself to every true Liberal on the ground on which it is moved, but I do not think it will necessarily have the effect that the hon. Member anticipates. No perpetuation of the tribal system has been possible in any community advanced in civilisation. The point is rather interesting historically, and, if I may refer my hon. Friend to Sir Henry Maine's book, the arguments are put there better than I could put them against the perpetuation of the tribal system. The actual provision against the alienation of land is a valuable one and will be safeguarded.


What is covered by the phrase "it shall not be lawful to alienate any land"?

Colonel SEELY

The definition of the word "alienate" is difficult to give at this time of the evening, but it is the plainest word in the English language.


It was by means of tribal tenure that the Crofters lost all of their lands in 1845. If there is such a thing as tribal tenure in any of these territories I hope the Liberal Government will at least protect them and not allow these people to get into the miserable state the Crofters were allowed to get into through their lands being stolen.


I think the Under-Secretary has missed the point. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Keir Hardie) referred to tribal tenure; he did not say tribal system. There may be a great many things in the tribal system not connected necessarily with tribal tenure. What is wanted is something in the nature of what in this country is called the nationalisation of the land. What the hon. Member fears is that the land will be alienated to people who will make themselves very pleasant to the Prime Minister and the Government of the day and other people in charge. They may give them money—I do not mean improperly. Money may be given to individual natives by people who are clever enough to get their own way, and gradually we may have a system of land owning there which may be detrimental to the best interests of the natives.


I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move the addition of the following words to Section (14) of the Schedule, "and such pitso or other form of native assembly recognised under this Act shall be consulted concerning the framing of all laws or regulations affecting the tribe." I think it is very important that we should have some specific declaration from the Colonial Office on this point, and at the same time perhaps the Undersecretary might deal with the Amendment of which the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Ellis Griffith) has given notice, namely, "no new tax or increase of any existing tax shall be made by proclamation, unless such proclamation shall have been laid before and considered by the pitso or other national assembly of every territory affected thereby, and unless such proclamation shall, prior to its promulgation, be approved by two-thirds of the total number of members of both Houses of the Union Parliament at a joint sitting." I do not ask that the national assembly should have a determining voice as to what the taxes shall be. The experience we have had in this House is rather against that. We know that the imposition on the natives of the but and poll taxes led to very serious trouble. When the natives have a crude form of Parliament it is most desirable that before new taxes are imposed that assembly should first be consulted. If there was a strong indication given by the Colonial Office that it is expected that this shall always be done in regard to new taxes and new laws I am sure the hint given, although not specifically laid down in the Schedule, would lead to its being adopted by those responsible for the conduct of native affairs in South Africa.

Colonel SEELY

This Amendment raises a similar point, thought not in quite so precise terms, as the Amendment to be moved next by my hon. Friend below the Gangway (Mr. Ellis Griffith). I think, on the whole, that the words of the clause are sufficient to provide for the continuance of the national assembly, and when you continue the assembly you continue the instruments necessary thereto. It is not proposed by my hon. Friend (Mr. Keir Hardie) to carry it to the extreme length of getting consent to any taxation, for he says that the assembly in Basutoland is not sufficiently representative to say aye or no. It is a most useful advisory body, but not sufficiently representative to make it advisable to give it control over finance. I have a great admiration for Basutoland and the Basutos, but I think that really they do not understand the preparation of estimates, and it might be very easy for a Minister with a glib tongue to induce them to do all sorts of wild things, if they were given the kind of powers suggested by some of the words of my hon. Friend's Amendment. But the question of fully safeguarding the existing rights of the native assembly will not be lost sight of.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. ELLIS GRIFFITH moved after Section (18) to add the following Section: "19. No new tax or increase of any existing tax shall be made by proclamation, unless such proclamation shall have been laid before and considered by the pitso or other national assembly of every territory affected thereby, and unless such proclamation shall, prior to its promulgation, be approved by two-thirds of the total number of members of both Houses of the Union Parliament at a joint sitting." There is nothing that leads to so much disturbance in South Africa as the levying of new or the increasing of old taxes. If my hon. Friend (Colonel Seely) can give me an assurance that this point shall be urged on the delegates it would make us much more comfortable. Another point is in reference to these immense powers given to the Prime Minister of the Union Parliament, unprecedented in the history of this or any other country. He can make laws by proclamation- and raise taxes. There should be some check on these powers.

Colonel SEELY

The Amendment of my hon. Friend makes two propositions. The first is that before new taxes or increased taxes are raised the local assembly should be consulted. I cannot foresee that the Government could do otherwise than insure that the local assembly should be consulted with a view to ascertaining their wishes before any such action is taken. They ought to be consulted so that they should have an opportunity of saying what they wish. On that point I desire to meet the wish of my hon. Friend. With regard to the second proposal, which is that a two-thirds majority should decide the matter, I am not quite sure that this would not be regarded as a retrograde proposal. In the view of such persons as Mr. Sauer, the great thing is to have as much continuity as possible.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill reported without Amendment.

Motion made, and question proposed, "That the Bill be read the third time."


In submitting this Motion to the House, I wish to take the opportunity of putting on record the fact that this Bill, consisting of over 150 clauses and a very complicated Schedule, after very careful consideration by this House, has been passed without Amendment. It is not to be understood—it would be a totally false impression if it were suggested—that as regards all the provisions of the Bill there is unanimity of opinion in the House. In particular, as regards some of the clauses which deal with the treatment of natives and the access of native Members to the Legislature, there is, as everybody who has followed these Debates will have seen, not only no difference of opinion in this House, but absolute unanimity of opinion in the way of regret that particular provisions of the Bill have been inserted. I wish, before this Bill leaves the Imperial Parliament, to make it perfectly clear that we here have exercised, and I think wisely and legitimately exercised, not only restraint of expression, but reserve of judgment in regard to matters of this kind, simply because we desire this great experiment of the establishment of complete self-government in South Africa to start on the lines and in accordance with the ideas which our fellow citizens there have deliberately and after long deliberation come to. It is perfectly true, the Imperial Parliament cannot divest itself of responsibility in this matter. We do not do so, and if we yielded as we have yielded in points of detail, on some points on which many hon. Members feel very strongly, if we yielded to the deliberate judgment of South Africa, it has been because we have thought it undesirable at this stage, the last stage in the completion of an almost unprecedentedly difficult task, to put forward anything that would be an obstacle to the successful working in the future.

Speaking for myself and for the Government, I venture to express not only the hope but the expectation in some of these matters which have been the subject of discussion here in the House, both on the Second Reading and the Committee Stage, that the views which have been so strongly and practically, without any discordant expression of opinion, given utterance to here, will be sympathetically considered by our fellow citizens there. For my part I think, as I have said throughout, that it would be far better that any relaxation of what many of us, almost all of us, regard as unnecessary restrictions from the electoral rights or rights of eligibility of our fellow subjects should be carried out spontaneously, and on the intitiative of the South African Parliament, rather than they should appear to be forced upon them by the Imperial Parliament here. While we part from this measure without any substantial, or any Amendment of any sort or kind, I am sure our fellow subjects will not take it in bad part if we respectfully and very earnestly beg them at the same time that they, in the exercise of their undoubted and unfettered freedom, should find it possible sooner or later, and sooner rather than later, to modify the provisions.

But, Sir, having said that, may I add that whatever particular criticisms may be made of special provisions of the Bill, this Imperial Parliament, without distinction of party, regards it as one of the greatest steps that has ever been taken in our legislative history. By free concerted action of the communities which only a few years ago seemed to be fatally and irremediably divided by history, by sentiment, and even by interest, all worked together to make this not only a component part of the British Empire, but a community which, forgetting all the bad traditions of the past, will undertake new duties in a spirit of loyalty and patriotism and concord. We here, if I may venture to voice the opinion of the House, wish this great and magnificent experiment all possible success. It starts on its voyage with every good wish that we can give it; we trust and believe that in South Africa, as throughout the other parts of the British Empire, the fullest concession of local autonomy and free and unfettered powers of self-government, may be found to be the best safeguard for Imperial unity.


I am very glad to be permitted, on behalf of the Opposition, to support what has just fallen from the Prime Minister. My remarks will be very brief, because I feel as strongly as anybody in the House that to attempt to follow the Prime Minister on an occasion such as this is to essay an extremely difficult task. He has spoken on this occasion not only for the Party of which he is the distinguished head and leader, but for the whole House of Commons, and I rise only in order that there may be no mistake as to the view taken on this side. We agree with all that he has said as to the feeling which has animated the House in the line it has taken during this Debate.

May I be permitted to offer my congratulations to the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies upon the tact and ability with which he has conducted a measure of this importance, a measure the conduct of which has been attended with no little difficulty. I think all will agree, even those who have found themseves in conflict with the Government in the course of the evening, that nobody could have shown greater consideration for those to whom he was for the moment opposed, or greater tact in discharging his duty than the hon. Gentleman has done; and, without affectation, I heartily congratulate him and the Government on the accomplishment of this great task. May I also offer my congratulations to those distinguished statesmen who are here from South Africa, whose labours have found their crowning success to-night in the passage of the measure which is the remarkable and unique result of their work in conventions in South Africa. I would not venture to add to the description which the Prime Minister, with his well-known power of language, has given of their labours, and of the wonderful fact which must be ever present to the mind of every citizen of the Empire, namely, that all the difficulties and all the causes which led to separation in the past were with marvellous rapidity removed; that the men who had so much to divide them found themselves able to unite in the prosecution of a common task, the result being the measure which we have passed with unanimity through this House to-day. I had the great privilege and honour of being present very often when these statesmen and their colleagues and friends of South Africa were discussing the difficulties that arose from time to time during the three months which elapsed between the two Conventions, I can speak from personal experience of the spirit in which they approached the consideration of this question. I believe, as I ventured to say on the Second Reading, that the same spirit which animated them then will animate them in the future. I believe that they will approach the discharge of their great task of the government of this great part of the British Empire with a true appreciation of the difficulties that lie before them, with a real and sincere desire to face their difficulties like men and to do justice to all. I believe they are animated by sincere love of their own country, South Africa, and by a sincere and genuine pride in the British Empire, of which they form a part. The auspices and the day being as excellent as they are, we may all, I believe, join in the expectations given expression to by the Prime Minister, that the work we have done to-day is a good work for the British Empire, and it is the beginning of a work for South Africa which will be a credit to the statesmen of South Africa, to the Imperial Parliament, and to the permanent advantage of the citizens of South Africa and the rest of the British Empire.


I do not rise to continue the Debate, nor to add—it would be presumptuous to do so—to what the Prime Minister has so well said. I want to make just this explanantion: if we do not divide against the third reading of this Bill I wish to safeguard ourselves iron having it thrown at us in the future that we have allowed it to pass without challenge. Any division now would, in my judgment, have the effect of somewhat spoiling the influence of the appeal which the Prime Minister has just made to the new Dominions beyond the sea. I most sincerely hope that his anticipations, and those of the Government, will be amply realised in the new country. If some of us during the course of the day's proceedings have taken what may here appear to be a suspicious line with regard to certain provisions of the Act and their effect on the natives, the House will remember that in doing so we were erring, if we did err, in good company. Lord Selborne, in the most emphatic language, has declared "that the interests of the natives could not with safety be left to a Parliament in which they were not represented and which was composed of men whose interests were diametrically opposed to those natives. Our object has been to attempt to safeguard the future against any possibility of this Act being used to the hurt or injury of the coloured people.

Eulogies—well justified—have been pronounced upon the Statesmen of South Africa who were, in the main, responsible for the framing of this Act. But there is another set of people, no less loyal to the Crown, no less desirous of seeing South Africa united, and no less representative of South Africa, now in this country, reflecting the point of view of those who are not included within the terms of the Act. I refer to the deputation which is here in the name of, and on behalf of, the natives of that great territory. May I say that, in my judgment, though the Government has resisted the appeals to amend the Act—and may be right in having done so—I am certain that the statements made in regard to certain portions of the Act, and the appeal to which we have just listened from the head of the Government, will give these gentlemen—Europeans and coloured alike—an assurance that their visit, their mission, to this country has not been in vain; and that the opinions expressed to the House may reasonably be expected to produce good results for those whom they represent in the very near future in South Africa. We shall not divide upon the Third Reading in the fervent hope and expectation that the provisions which the Prime Minister has foreshadowed as Amendments to this Act on the lines of those suggested this afternoon of becoming law speedily will be realised in the immediate future.

Mr. LUPTON (who spoke amid cries of "Agreed, agreed")

In the midst of the congratulations which we have had, I wish to recall the fact that no case has been made out for this Act at all. No one has said why the Act should pass except that it is a good thing. The only conspicuous thing done by the Act is that it establishes a colour bar. This colour bar established will be a slight upon our Asiatic fellow-subjects. Every man who comes from India now knows if he goes to Africa he will be considered inferior. It is only two years since the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony got their Constitutions. Yet now we are beginning to experiment with a backward step for which I shall always feel ashamed, and the Liberal Government—