HL Deb 21 June 1842 vol 64 cc272-7
The Earl of Clarendon

said:—In pursuance of the notice I gave, I rise to present the petition which has been forwarded to me from the Cape of Good Hope. I beg to inform your Lordships that it is signed by more than 600 persons, and that it was agreed to at one of the largest meetings, as I have been given to understand, ever held at Cape Town. This petition appears to me well worthy the consideration of your Lordships and of her Majesty's Government, both on account of the number and respectability of the petitioners, and the fact that a similar petition to the Queen in Council has been sent home with the favourable recommendation of the governor, but also on account of the great capabilities and growing importance of the colony, which will, I am sure, incline your Lordships and the Government favourably to consider any measure that the inhabitants may think conducive to their interests. The population at the Cape of Good Hope is estimated to exceed 180,000; and when we look at the geographical position of the colony, situated as it is half way between Europe and India, within twenty days' sail from Rio de Janeiro and other of the South American States, with the markets of the Indian seas open to the colony, all of which require the large quantities of provisions that the Cape of Good Hope has the means of furnishing —when we consider its importance as a naval and military station, and that our ships can at all times be supplied there abundantly and cheaper than in any other country, there can be no doubt that the colony is most valuable to us, and that we are bound to neglect nothing that can promote its prosperity. Its capabilities and productive powers are notorious, but some idea may be formed of them by the success of the settlers in the eastern province called Albany, where, not more than twenty years ago, a few poor English emigrants established themselves, and the country was at that time described to be unfit for the permanent residence of man or beast; but by industry and enterprise they have created a flourishing settlement, and last year I understand they exported to this country upwards of a million pounds of merino wool. The inhabitants, however, are not satisfied with the form of government under which they live; and a general conviction prevails among them that if they had had the management of their own affairs during the last twenty years, they would have been in a much more flourishing condition than they are at present, and they are strengthened in this opinion by the complete success which has attended the recent establishment of municipal institutions among them. These have been productive of much economy and local improvement, and they consequently think that the general interests of the community would be promoted by giving the people some influence in the management of their own affairs. Whether it will be expedient to comply with their wishes upon this subject it is of course for her Majesty's Government to determine. I think that wherever there exists a colony of Englishmen well settled they should always have free and liberal institutions; entrusting to them the management of their own affairs is the best safeguard against that jealousy of the interference of the mother country and discontent at being governed from a distance, which are always the feelings most rife in a colony; it gives the colonists confidence in themselves; it calls forth men of superior abilities among them, and it makes them feel that the money they are compelled to pay in the shape of taxes is expended properly and in a manner beneficial to themselves, or if not that they are responsible and have only themselves to blame for it. These were the principles acted upon by the late Government and from which her Majesty's present Ministers do not seem disposed to depart, for I have the satisfaction of knowing that a bill brought into the House of Commons last year by my noble Friend the late Secretary of the Colonies, for giving a representative system to New South Wales, has been adopted and again introduced by the noble Lord now at the head of that department. There are causes, however, which may properly induce the Government at home to pause before they grant a representative system to a colony, and among them are the fact of mixed races existing in such a colony; its having an extended continental frontier, and having to deal with the aborigines residing both within and beyond that frontier; the party spirit and jealousy always to a certain extent existing between mixed races may be still more excited in a representative assembly, and become dangerous, as in Canada between the French and English races; a desire usually exists in such an assembly to extend the territory of the colony, and the mother country is in danger of being involved in the expense and trouble of their border quarrels, and you can never be sure that at the hands of such an assembly the aborigines will receive that consideration and kind treatment which it is the duty of the mother country to secure to them. I am bound to admit that all these circumstances exist at the Cape of Good Hope, but I do not think them conclusive against the benefits of some form of representation being extended to that colony, for both the Dutch and English races desire it—both are convinced that it would add to the general prosperity and be for their common good, and by that means tend to promote harmony between the races. There does not appear, at present at least, any desire on the part of either English or Dutch to extend the frontier, for the territory they now possess is infinitely greater than they have the means of cultivating, and so far from there being any disposition to maltreat the natives there appears to be a good understanding between them and the British subjects resident near the borders. Nevertheless, her Majesty's Government may not think it expedient to grant the prayer of this petition to its full extent, but I think they will admit it is not to be wondered at that a large, intelligent, thriving community like that at the Cape of Good Hope should be discontented with their present form of Government, which consists of a legislative council composed of a majority of official persons and a minority of Unofficial persons, chosen by the Governor, who very naturally selects those whom he thinks most likely to be subservient to his wishes. It is not unreasonable that such a system should be looked upon as one which prevents the people from having any voice in the Government, and excludes them from all management of their own affairs. The bill to which I just now alluded for giving a representative system to New South Wales, which is before the House of Commons, provides for the establishment of a Legislative Council, of whom twelve are to be appointed by the Queen, and eighteen are to be elected by the people, which council is to have power to add to its members in the same proportion—it provides that the council shall be held once every year, and that its duration shall be five years, and that all taxes and rates shall be appropriated to the public service of the colony; it moreover provides for local government by district councils which are to be elective. If this bill shall, as I hope it will, receive the sanction of Parliament, and become law, I think the inhabitants of the Cape of Good Hope will have cause for complaint if some such benefits are not extended to them, and that they are consequently looked upon as less trustworthy and less competent to manage their own affairs than her Majesty's subjects in New South Wales. I, of Coarse, don't ask my noble Friends to give any decision upon this subject, but 1 trust the petition will be taken into the favourable consideration of her Majesty's Government.

The Earl of Ripon

said, that the Government had received a petition from the Cape of Good Hope similar to that which had just been presented by his noble relation. It had been, forwarded by the Governor, and was, as had been said by his noble Friend, signed by the most respectable inhabitants of the colony, who all seemed to agree that a representative form of government was the best, and ought to The established in the colony. It was hardly necessary for him to assure his noble Friend and their Lordships, that her Majesty's Government were anxious for the welfare of the Cape of Good Hope, and in the abstract could not object to a form of govern- ment under which this country had so greatly prospered; but, as his noble Friend himself had admitted, there were difficulties in the way of such concessions, in consequence of divisions amongst the colonists themselves. These divisions arose partly from difference of origin, and partly from difference of habit, arising from that origin; but such as they were they constituted great difficulties in granting a representative form of government. Indeed, the plan sent home by the colonists was deficient in its detail, and would not, if followed out, give them the form of government which they desired, namely, one analogous to that of Great Britain; for it was proposed that all the Members should be elected, and all should sit in one House. This was not the principle of the plan proposed for New South Wales, in which there was to fee a legislative assembly and a council, many of the members of which were to be named by the Government. When he stated this, let him add, that her Majesty's Government were not insensible to the merits of this important subject, and would give it their best attention.

Lord Brougham,

had he known that his noble Friend was about to bring forward this question, would have asked hint to postpone it to some more convenient time for discussion. As it was introduced, however, he would say one or two words on it. He was opposed, on principle, to the grant of a representative form of government to any colony where the races were so mixed that the legislative power would be concentrated in one race, and where it was probable that it would be often used to the oppresssion of the other. On this principle he would oppose any measure for extending the forms, it could not, for the present, be the principles, of the British Constitution to the Cape of Good Hope. His noble Friend had admitted that one of the difficulties Standing in the way of such a measure was the mixture of various races in the colony. In that he fully concurred. But there were others which had always been considered decisive against such a measure. Besides the argument of the various races, where the white, or European race, did not constitute the majority, the extension of the British constitution Was more nominal than real; and if, as in the case of the Cape of Good Hope, there should be, as was the fact, about one-third of the population of European descent, and if the slaves, or what was nearly the same thing, those who were recently slaves and were how free men of colour, amounted to double that, it would increase the force of the reasons why for some time to come their Lordships should not give to that colony a representative form of government. He had often, during the existence of slavery in our colonies, contended for this principle. Applications were constantly made by the white population of Trinidad for a representative form of government, somewhat analogous to our own, but the application Was as often refused; and he was one of these who joined in that refusal, on the ground that the legislative power in the hands of one party or race, would not be Used for the protection of the other. When the proper time should arrive—when the whole body of the colonists were fit for such a change— that is, when the coloured people, the bulk of the inhabitants, could share in the franchise, then would he most heartily join in any measure for effecting the change; but he would oppose a measure which Would tend materially, in the present circumstances, to oppress a portion of the colonists.

Lord Howden

was glad that the attention of Government had been called to the subject. He could by no means concur in the argument of the noble and learned Lord for refusing a constitution to the Cape of Good Hope, because that colony had imported slaves. This, it should be considered, was not the fault of the colony. It was the fault of the period during which slavery and slave-trading were openly carried on throughout the empire. It was, therefore, most unjust that this colony should be made to suffer, and have the mark of Cain placed on its brow, for an offence which could not be imputed to it more than to others, to which no such punishment was awarded. Under all the circumstances of the case he would give the prayer of this petition his most cordial support. The colony had many claims upon our consideration; but one she possessed in a high degree, namely, that not one of our colonies was more cordially attacked to the mother country. Another reason why he thought the Cape of Good Hope deserved a constitution was this— that it had so used the powers conferred on it with respect to municipal institutions, as to show that it was fully adequate to the task of self-government.

Petition read and laid on the Table.