HC Deb 27 July 1909 vol 8 cc1023-7

asked the Under-Secretary for the Colonies whether he can give the House any information as to the result of the conference between His Majesty's Government and the delegates from South Africa with regard to the South Africa Union Bill, and as to any agreement for the amendment of the same?

Colonel SEELY

The House will not wish me, in reply to the right hon. Gentleman-—and I thank him for putting the question—to explain the main provisions of the Bill. But in order to make the meaning of such changes as have been made in the Bill quite clear, I would say generally that at the present time South Africa is divided into the four self-governing Colonies and the Protectorates and Territories under Imperial control. The immediate purpose of the Bill is to provide for the union of those four self-governing Colonies, the Protectorates remaining outside. But all men must recognise that it may not be possible or even desirable for those territories for ever to stand apart. For this reason a schedule has been added to the Bill by its franiers, laying down certain broad lines on which the transfer should be effected, if and when the transfer is desired, and is sanctioned by the Crown.

In this schedule elaborate provision is made for the safeguarding of the rights and immunities of the native races, who form almost the whole population of those territories, and I think the House will not be slow to recognise the enlightened policy contained in the clauses which deal with these matters.

I will say a few words only with regard to the Amendments made during the last few days. There are a number of drafting Amendments to which attention need hardly be drawn, e.g., the phrase "the Union of South Africa" is substituted for "South Africa" for reasons of convenience. Then the Bill as passed by the Convention was framed to meet the possibility that one or more of the South African Colonies might hold aloof from the Union. Happily, that is no longer a possibility, and the unanimity of the four Colonies has rendered the retention of certain clauses and phrases unnecessary. Again, there are Amendments of a more or less technical character, such as the clause applying certain Imperial Acts, for instance the Colonial Boundaries Act, to the Union.

The other Amendments, though of more importance, in no case alter the purpose of the measure. They are designed in each instance to carry out the known intentions of the framers of the Bill, and they have in each instance received the consent of the delegates. In this spirit, a provision has been inserted, making it clear that any differential treatment of Asiatics will be a matter for the Union Government, and not for the Provinces. Similarly, the provision in the Schedule prohibiting the sale of intoxicating liquor to natives in the territories, and that providing for the financial relations of the territories to the Union, have been amplified, and now embody the fullest possible safeguards. It should be understood that these Amendments are modifications made by mutual agreement to give effect to a common purpose.

The Bill, as laid before Parliament, is not the work of an individual, a Government, or a party. It is a concrete expression of the will of South Africa—of the will of the new Colonies of the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony, as well as of the older Colonies of the Cape and Natal; of the will of the parties in oppo- sition in those Colonies as well as of the parties in power. It is a worthy embodiment of a great national purpose, with which His Majesty's Government are glad indeed to have the privilege of associating themselves, in commending it to the approval of Parliament. But, of course, this unanimity has only been arrived at by concessions at many important moments, and on many points of vital concern—the Bill is conceived in a spirit of conciliation and compromise, and in the same spirit it will be considered, I doubt not, by the House of Commons. Indeed, we know this will be the case; for if strife has been hushed in South Africa, no less has it been hushed here; and I would like gratefully to acknowledge, on behalf of the Government, the help given by all parties in this country since this movement for closer union in South Africa took practical shape. I should like to acknowledge gratefully, on behalf of the Government and of all who have at heart the future of South Africa, the generous spirit in which all parties in this House and in this country have approached this measure. It is due to their co-operation that this happy result will be secured. Perhaps I may add that a special meed of acknowledgment is due to the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lyttelton) who asked this question.

If the House will permit me I would add that we view this unanimous resolve not only with gratitude, but with wonder. Few could have believed not many years ago that such unanimity for this great purpose would have been possible in South Africa. But one must not forget that many years ago there were men who believed in and worked for this happy solution. The name of one may be recalled, a faithful friend of both Dutch and English in South Africa—I mean President Brand. On his grave is recorded his saying, which was the motto of his public life, prophetic words of hope which seem to be coming true to-day, "Alles sal recht komen"-— "All shall come right."


May I ask whether, in the concurrence of all parties in the measure now before the House, native opinion in the Protectorate has been taken; secondly, whether, in the event of the time coming when it is proposed to transfer the Protectorate from the Crown to the new Parliament, this House of Commons will be allowed to discuss the matter before it becomes finally binding; and, thirdly, with regard to the franchise now enjoyed by coloured people in Cape Colony, the same safeguards are in the Bill as have been introduced in regard to the liquor traffic, so that any change which has been made shall not worsen the conditions under which natives hold the franchise at the present time in Cape Colony?

Colonel SEELY

The hon. Member will realise that putting these three very important questions to me, without notice— although I do not in the least complain— it is difficult for me to give an adequate reply on so delicate a matter. I would say with regard to the first point, as to the wishes of the natives, we have taken every step we possibly could to ascertain what their wishes are. With regard to the second point, and it is akin to it, as to the transfer of the Protectorates, I think I made it plain in my statement that the schedule of the Bill is permissive, that it arranges the broad principles, and indeed the generous principles, with regard to native rights and immunities on which such transfer should be effected, if and when that transfer is desired by South Africa as a whole and is assented to by the Crown.


Including; the natives?

Colonel SEELY

Certainly; when I say South Africa as a whole I mean South Africa as a whole. With regard to the technical point which he desires to ask me, I think it will be better to wait for the Bill, and the hon. Member will see that the matter is not immediately possible, for the Parliament cannot be set up for at least another year from now, and it will then be for them to discuss many matters, including possibly this one, and it will be for the Government of the day to consider whether they should advise His Majesty and the Privy Council to accede to that demand. With regard to the third point, the franchise, I think it would be impossible for me to talk of what is a technical point, as to the relative advantages of the two kinds of safeguard, on an occasion of this kind when question and answer is only permitted by the leave of the House. It would be better, if I were permitted, to reply to the question on a subsequent day, or when the Bill is introduced to this House.


Will the hon. Gentleman communicate to the House now on what date the South African Bill will be introduced into this House?

Colonel SEELY

I believe the Prime Minister will make a statement on Thursday. I am not yet in a position to say exactly the date.