HL Deb 10 July 1855 vol 139 cc652-7

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


in moving the second reading of the Bill, said that it would not be necessary for him to trouble their Lordships at any length, the subject to which it and the other two Bills, which stood on the paper, referred being already perfectly familiar to them. Their Lordships were aware that an Act was passed in 1850, extending the constitution which had been previously given to Van Diemen's Land and South Australia, and enabling the Legislature of those colonies to revise their own constitution. The same powers were afterwards conferred on the Legislature of Victoria. Some misunderstanding subsequently arose while Sir John Pakington was at the head of the Colonial Department, on the subject of a nominative Upper Chamber for Victoria; but that question was happily set at rest by the Duke of Newcastle. Colonial Acts, establishing Constitutions for Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales, and Van Diemen's Land, respectively, were afterwards sent home to the Imperial Government for its sanction. In the case of Van Diemen's Land, no difficulty whatever had presented itself, and the assent of the Crown to the Colonial Act had, therefore, already been granted. With regard, however, to the South Australian Constitutional Act, it was found that the colony had exceeded its powers. After much consideration, the Government at last determined that the least objectionable course was to take the colonial measure as it stood, without subjecting it to alteration, and then to pass an Act in accordance with the precedent of the Canada Bill of 1847, by which means they would obtain the authority of Parliament to enable the Crown to give its assent to the act of the colonial Legislature. With this view, the Bill now before their Lordships had been introduced, and he, therefore, begged to move that it be read a second time.

Moved, that the Bill be now read 2a.


admitted that the principle of this Bill and "of another of a similar character introduced" into Parliament, was one requiring decision on the part of the Government, and it might be injurious to the colonists themselves if any unreasonable delay were allowed to occur in giving effect to some legislative measure upon this subject. At the same time he thought the House ought to consider well whether a measure like this was the best and most convenient mode of overcoming the difficulty which had unhappily arisen. In 1850 his noble Friend (Earl Grey), then Secretary of State for the Colonies, introduced a Bill creating separate constitutions in the Australian colonies previously placed under the authority of one Government. At that period it was resolved that the waste lands of these colonies should no longer be retained within the control of the Home Government, but should be placed at the disposal of the colonial Legislatures; and clauses for effecting such a transfer of authority over them were originally included in the Bill of 1850. Those provisions were, however, afterwards withdrawn from the measure; whereupon the colonists complained that they were defrauded of what they considered was their right, and they also accused the Government of a breach of faith with them on this subject, to which they justly attached the highest importance. By the same Bill the colonial Legislatures were empowered to frame new constitutions for themselves, through the agency of those very Legislatures condemned by the Bill itself. Four of these colonies had availed themselves of the powers thus conferred upon them; and all had adopted the principle of a Government through two legislative bodies, the very principle which this House had declined to affirm when he (Lord Monteagle) had urged its adoption in 1850. The principle of legislation involved in the Bill of 1850 was this—the legislative bodies were authorised to pass a Bill framing a new constitution, which was to become law on receiving Her Majesty's approval, to be signified by Order in Council; but certain limits were laid down, beyond which the colonial Legislatures were not permitted to pass. But unfortunately in each case the Bills which had been sent over from the Australian provinces violated the very principles on which the Legislative Assemblies were authorised to proceed; they contained clauses which set at nought the rights of the Crown, and they were inconsistent with Acts of the Imperial Parliament. It was impossible, therefore, because it would have been illegal, for the Crown to assent to the Bills in the shape in which they were passed, and in the two instances of Victoria and New South Wales, the very singular course had been adopted by the Secretary of State, who had by his own authority expunged from the Bills those clauses which had been inserted by the colonial Legislatures ultra vires, and giving to them in that form the assent by which they were to become law. This, he contended, was a violation of the Bill of 1850, by which it was distinctly provided that the Royal assent was only to be given to the Bills sent from the colonies, whilst those consented to by the Crown were not the Bills which had been sent over, inasmuch as portions of them had been struck out in this country by the authority of the Government. This was a grave embarrassment, and he foresaw that it might lead to great difficulties in the future working of the Bills. The Bills from Van Diemen's Land and from South Australia, in both of which the powers granted by the Act of 1850 had been exceeded, had been most properly sent back and submitted afresh to the Legislatures which had passed them. The Legislature of Van Diemen's Land had amended its original Bill, and he believed the Legislature of South Australia was about to do the same. Why was not the same prudent course resorted to in the other instances? The Government had had sufficient time to take the same course with regard to these Bills, inasmuch as they arrived in this country in 1854, and he regretted very much that they had not done so, for so all the difficulties he had described would have been avoided. Certainly some allowances should be made for the succession of blunders, when it was remembered that during the last twelve months there had been four successive Secretaries of State appointed to administer colonial affairs. Under such circumstances, how could it be expected that colonial legislation would be conducted upon any consistent or efficient system? To that circumstance he attributed it, that no attempt had been made to obtain in the colony of Victoria, by the just and legitimate application of the same principles which had been acted upon in the case of Van Diemen's Land and South Australia, the assent of the colonists themselves to the necessary alterations in the Bills which they had sent over to this country. The Bill for the settlement of waste lands had come too late, for a state of discontent had been produced in the colonies which could not now be remedied. The original mischief had been the adoption of the theory of Mr. Wakefield, and the attempt to fix by law the market price of an article which, like all others, must necessarily fluctuate with the demand and the supply. Land became unsaleable at an upset price of 1l. Licences for occupation and the squatting system followed, and the result was the creation of a monopoly of land, a monopoly of political power, and an aristocratic interest which must throw great difficulties in the way of the colonies, and prevent the land being profitably employed. There was another point to which he wished to direct the attention of the Government. Under the law as it stood, an important privilege was reserved to the Crown in respect to the colony of Australia, the privilege of dividing it hereafter into provinces and new colonies, the privilege which had been acted upon in respect to Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, and Van Diemen's Land. Great anxiety was felt in the district of Moreton Bay and the northern provinces, lest they should be excluded from similar advantages. He earnestly hoped there was nothing in the present Bill, or in the intentions of the Government, which would divest the Crown of the fullest power of acting on that privilege in other cases as they saw fit. The people of Moreton Bay possessed just as good a right prospectively, to have an independent constitution granted to them as any of the colonies that Parliament was now dealing with. Another point to which he wished to draw the attention of the Government was the manner in which the land and emigration fund had been dealt with. The Legislature of Victoria, in the course it pursued, had violated the law and exceeded the limits of good sense and justice. By an Imperial Act, which no colonial Legislature were competent to repeal, the produce of the sale of waste lands was divided into two portions, one portion being appropriated exclusively to the purposes of emigration. Australia having partaken of the excitement which followed the discovery of gold, and which, to a certain extent, made it a curse instead of a blessing, had forgotten the obligations of that Imperial law, had seized the funds appropriated strictly to emigration, and had applied them to the general expenditure of the colony. The colony itself would be the main sufferer from this unfortunate violation of the law. He wished, then, to know whether the House was to consider that question to be now entirely disposed of, or whether any remedial measure was contemplated by the Government on the subject? Though he had felt it his duty to call the attention of the House to these points, it was not his intention to throw any difficulties in the way of this or the other Bill before the House, knowing as he did the great inconveniencies which would result from postponing the settlement of these important questions.


said, he did not think it necessary to follow his noble Friend through all the topics of the speech which he had just delivered with so much ability and fairness, and in which he had, with the most perfect consistency, rather criticised our former policy than referred to the two Bills to which he had now to ask their Lordships to give a second reading. There were two practical points with, regard to which his noble Friend asked an explanation, and to those only he would refer. The first was, whether it was the intention of the Government to introduce any measure with respect to the misapplication of monies by the colonies derived from the sale of lands? To that question he was unable to give an explicit answer, but he should make it his duty to inform himself upon the point. He did not understand exactly what the charge of misapplication of money turned upon; for, by Sir John Pakington's measure the money was allowed to be dealt with by the colonies, and therefore he did not see how they could be said to have misapplied it. As to the separation of the northern provinces and their erection into a separate colony, if his noble Friend looked to the 6th and 7th clauses of the New South Wales Bill he would find that point fully provided for. His noble Friend spoke of the inconveniences of the changes that had taken place in the Colonial Office; but he did not see that there had been any inconvenience at all. No doubt his noble Friend, who was in possession of a permanent office, felt the great superiority of his position over those who were liable to be changed from day to day; but he, nevertheless, could not show that any inconvenience had in the present instance been caused to the public service. He did not believe that, if there had been any one Colonial Secretary in office during these two years, he would have found it expedient to send these two Bills back again to the colonies, as such a step could hardly have failed to be productive of irritation, while there was no likelihood that any material change would have been consented to by them.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly; and committed to a Committee of the whole House on Thursday next.