HL Deb 07 June 1852 vol 122 cc98-101

said, that he wished to ask the noble Earl at the head of the Government a question which he would not, however, have put in the then thin state of the House, had he not felt that it was of great importance that it should not remain unanswered any longer. The subject was one with respect to which he had some time ago given the noble Earl notice of his intention to put a question to him—the constitution which it was proposed to give to the Cape of Good Hope. The noble Earl would not have forgotten that in the debate which took place last year upon the Motion which he then brought forward upon the subject, it was urged upon the noble Earl (Earl Grey) who then presided over the Colonial Office, that it was most important, with a view to the solution of the then existing difficulties, that legislation should take place in the Parliament of this country, and that the constitution for the Cape of Good Hope should be settled by an Act during the last Session. The noble Earl then at the head of the Colonial Office objected, however, to that course, and obtained the consent of Parliament to sending out draft ordinances to the colony, to be considered and adopted by the Legislative Council there, subject to the approbation of the Government at home, as the constitution of that colony. The noble Earl was, no doubt, aware that at the commencement of the discussions in the colony with reference to these ordinances, there was one of considerable importance relating to the amount of the franchise which should be fixed. It was proposed by one of the colonial officers—he believed, Mr. Porter, the Attorney General—that it should be fixed at 25l.; and after some discussion and hesitation, that qualification was eventually adopted, he believed unanimously, but certainly by all those Members of the Legislature who, being the nominees of Government, might be considered as more peculiarly their representatives in the colony; and it was finally approved of by the Secretary of State in this country. The noble Earl by whom these draft ordinances were sent out embodied in them the proposal that the franchise should be fixed at 25l. Upon the reformation of the new Legislative Council under the direction of the noble Earl, the draft ordinances were taken into consideration, and it was eventually proposed by Mr. Montagu, the Colonial Secretary, that the franchise should be fixed, not at 25l., but at double that amount, namely 50l. This proposal was not only disapproved of by those who were more peculiarly the representatives of the colony in the Legislative Council, but also by the Attorney General of the colony, Mr. Porter; but it was eventually carried by the Colonial Secretary and the nominee members of the Legislative Council. Now, although he would not wish, on any account, to say anything to the disparagement of so able and enlightened a public servant as Mr. Montagu, he must say that the view taken by Mr. Porter was much more in accordance with the interests and wishes of the colony, and with all that had previouly passed on this subject. Notwithstanding, however, the opposition which was given to it, Mr. Montagu's proposition was carried; the franchise in the draft ordinance was altered from 25l. to 50l., and now stood at that sum in the constitution, as sent home to this country for approbation. The noble Earl then at the head of the Colonial Office, under whose direction the draft ordinances were sent out—impressed, no doubt, by the prophecies of himself (the Duke of Newcastle) and others, with respect to the probable failure of the scheme, and the loss of time that it would entail, and anxiously desiring to prevent those evils—reserved to the Crown an unlimited power of altering any part of the proposed constitution which it might think fit, when the ordinances were returned to this country. He wished now to ask the noble Earl at the head of the Government whether they were prepared to exercise that power, so as to disallow the alteration of the franchise which had been made in the colony from 25l. to 50l., and to reinstate the former sum which was originally proposed by the official gentlemen in the colony, which was approved of by the representatives of the colony, and eventually sanctioned by the Secretary of State in this country; or whether it was the intention of the Government to sanction the constitution as now framed with the franchise of double the amount originally proposed? He wished also to ask another question arising out of a discussion which had taken place a short time ago in the other House of Parliament with reference to the constitution of New Zealand. An alarm had been raised by the speech of the Colonial Secretary on that occasion that it was the intention of the Government to make a Still further alteration in the proposed constitution of the Cape of Good Hope, and to substitute a nominee for an elective body as the upper chamber of that colony. He hoped, however, that this impression, which now prevailed, was not the true one, as such a change would not only delay the settlement of this important question, but would create an amount of dissatisfaction in the colony which would throw far into the shade that which had been caused by any previous events.


said, that he thought the noble Duke had put this question to him under some misapprehension as to the facts of the case, and under the impression that the ordinances, as amended by the Legislative Council of the Cape of Good Hope, had been received in this country. Now that was not the case. The last mail brought an account of the debate which had taken place on the question of the 25l. or 50l. franchise, but the ordinances had not then passed the Council, as there still remained some formalities to be gone through. General Cathcart had then just arrived; and immediately on his arrival he wrote to Her Majesty's Government, requesting them to form no opinion, to come to no decision upon the subject, until he had had an opportunity of not only seeing the ordinances, but of forming an opinion from personal observation as to what was most advisable under the circumstances. He (the Earl of Derby) thought that in this country we should not be able to form a very accurate or sound opinion upon the relative merits of the 25l.or 50l. franchise. He was not aware of the precise division which took place in the Legislative Council with respect to the substitution of the one franchise for the other; but the Government had acted on the advice of General Cathcart to suspend their judgment entirely upon the proposed amendments until they should receive the ordinances in a formal manner, accompanied by his observations and advice upon the subject. A mail had arrived that morning from the Cape of Good Hope, and most likely brought despatches with the promised advice on the subject from General Cathcart. No time would be lost by Government in coming to a decision on the subject; for he admitted, after what had taken place, no further delay should be interposed. He bad serious apprehensions as to the probable consequences of the establishment of constitutional government at the Cape of Good Hope; but there was now no possibility of recurring to the former system; and after the expectations that had been held out, and the promises that had been given, it was important that they should be carried out in the fullest spirit and with the least possible delay. With regard to the second question of the noble Duke, in reference to a supposed intention on the part of the Government to substitute a nominee for an elected upper chamber (as at present proposed) at the Cape of Good Hope, he might say that it was not the intention of the Government to introduce into the constitution any amendments except such as might be recommended by those to whom the draught ordinances had been referred.

House adjourned till To-morrow.