HL Deb 24 June 1862 vol 167 cc965-70

Order of the day for the Second Reading read.


in moving the second reading of the Bill, said, that by the Constitution Act, 15 & 16 Vict., c. 72, the colony of new Zealand was divided, for the purposes of Government, into six provinces, but power was given to the General Assembly to subdivide those provinces and to create new provinces, if they should think fit, with the same powers as those possessed by the existing provinces. The General Assembly had thought fit to pass an Act, called The New Provinces Act, 1858, exercising that power. The colonial law officers were of opinion that the powers of the General Assembly had been exceeded. The law officers of the Crown concurred in that opinion, and an Imperial Act was passed in the last Session to remedy the error. Subsequently to the Act arriving in the colony there was a change of Government, and the new colonial law officers found, so ill had the New Provinces Act been drawn, that in other matters the powers of the General Assembly had been exceeded. The law officers of the Crown again expressed their opinion that the law officers of the colony were right in their objections; and this Bill was intended to correct those mistakes. The Act of last Session was accordingly repealed, and the New Provinces Act of 1858 confirmed, and fresh provisions were made respecting the establishment of new provinces in New Zealand. If the Bill made any important alteration, it was in giving somewhat increased power to the Governor, in contradistinction to the Chief Superintendents. The power to assent to Bills would he vested in the Governor, and so far, he thought, it would be an improvement on the present state of the law. He only wished that the provision could be carried very much further, because he was convinced, as he had stated in debate last year, that the powers vested in the Superintendents were very prejudicial to the good government of the colony. It was quite impossible to trench upon these powers to any great extent by Imperial legislation, but he lost no opportunity of expressing an earnest hope that the colonists themselves would favour the diminution of the powers of the Superintendents.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.


said, that this Bill had been described as one of comparatively small importance and as dealing with small and paltry matters. For himself, he regretted that the Government had not ventured to ask the House to cure some larger defects which he believed to exist in New Zealand constitution. The noble Duke had said that they could not remedy defects without withdrawing privileges from the colony. He did not concur in that view. Those privileges were accompanied with duties and responsibilities. When these extensive powers of government were given, it was understood that the colony was to provide for its own internal administration and its own internal defence. The boon which that would have been to this country had not been realized. There was a large British force, some 5,000 or 6,000 men, now in the colony, and not long since the number was considerably larger. Now, whilst there was a force of 6,000 British soldiers in New Zealand, he protested against the principle that the Imperial Treasury was to be responsible for the military expenses of New Zealand, and yet the mother country was to have no effective control over the policy which made that expenditure necessary. No one could entertain the smallest doubt that the bloody and costly war which had just been brought to a conclusion in New Zealand was the direct result of the errors of our colonial policy—errors for which he admitted the Secretary of State was very slightly responsible, because, under the existing system, he had not the power to control them. What had occurred proved the absolute necessity, that when the Imperial Legislature retained responsibility, they should retain with it the power to protect both our own interests and the interests of the colony. His noble Friend said truly that the system of elective Superintendents was most mischievous. He believed it was the single instance in the British empire of elective executive officers. Against that provision in the Act of 1852 or 1853 he (Earl Grey) vainly remonstrated at the time, and by its operation the Governor was really deprived of all effective control over the measures of the Executive in the provinces of which he was not himself president. He objected to so imperfect a Bill as this. When there were gross and obvious faults in existing arrangements, which had led to unhappy results, the Government did not fulfil its duty in asking Parliament to remedy only minor and technical defects. It ought to be put to the colonists—"Did they wish for the continued protection of England? If they did, they must concur in the arrangements of the Imperial Government which were necessary for their own safety." He was the last person to propose to withdraw the protection of the Imperial Government from the colonies. He thought they had no right to do so. He was persuaded that at New Zealand or the Cape, where there was a considerable warlike population, the withdrawal of that protection would lead to a dreadful war of extermination, because the settlers themselves would not have strength to impose on the Natives that respect and fear which was necessary in order to govern them. But if it was wrong to withdraw protection, it was equally wrong to place the military power of the empire at the disposal of the colonists, and deprive the State of all means of controlling and moderating the policy of the colonial Government.


said, he entirely agreed with what had fallen from the noble Earl, both as to the propriety of continuing our protection of the colony, and of retaining the means of asserting our authority over it. With reference to a clause which he (the Earl of Desart) had introduced into the Bill of 1852, it was intended to obviate the inconvenience of introducing a new system amongst an almost barbarous people. It was never intended to be a permanent provision; but it spoke well for its expediency that it should have been made the foundation of all subsequent legislation for colonies similarly situated.


said, that the tendency of the existing law was to paralyse the central authority. He admitted that the constitution of New Zealand was an anomalous one, and could only attribute the fact of its having worked with so little mischief to the excellent character of the colonists themselves, who were composed of some of the best of our English and Scotch population. They had thus endured a misgovernment which few other of our colonies would have allowed to exist. But, notwithstanding this misgovernment, ho was not prepared to advise Parliament or the Crown to annul the present constitution of New Zealand, without some clear proof on the part of the colonists that they themselves desired it. It was no light thing to trifle with the liberties of our colonies, and to cancel the charter once conferred upon them; nor did he blame his noble Friend at the head of the Colonial Office for hesitating to take such a step. With regard to the defence of New Zealand, he suggested that it was possible for the Secretary of State to indicate plainly to the Government of New Zealand that he would not advise the Crown again to undertake the defence of the colony, unless such a policy was pursued towards the Natives as was likely to tend to peace.


agreed that it was necessary to grapple with this question, but the noble Duke was nevertheless quite entitled to bring in a Bill which did not deal with the question, being intended for quite another object. With regard to the defence of the colony, it seemed to him that the fault was the same in every case, The Colonial Office asked the local Government to adopt a certain course; they generally refused to comply; then a time came when they asked for troops to defend the colony, and the troops were at once sent. He thought it was quite within the power of the Imperial Government to prescribe terms in such a case, and this was the course which he thought should be followed. This, however, was no reason why their Lordships should hesitate to pass a Bill, the object of which was merely to correct certain technical errors in former legislation. He wished to know from his noble Friend whether he was prepared to lay any further despatches on the table as to the proceedings of Sir George Grey in the colony.


said, it was sometimes dangerous to lay papers before Parliament while subjects were still pending and despatches might meanwhile go out again to the colony. Sir George Grey had recommended measures of considerable importance to the Home Government. Some of them had been adopted, others rejected, and others, again, were under consideration. He was willing to lay on the table all such papers as might now be safely produced, and he would undertake to withhold none which might be published without prejudice to the public service. With regard to the Bill under discussion, it did not profess to be one for the better regulation of the Government of New Zealand or for the improvement of the constitution; and unless pressing exigencies arose, or the local Legislature themselves recommended such a course, he should propose no measure for the amendment of the existing constitution. To do so would be to depart altogether from the system introduced respecting the colonies some years ago; a system which, whether right or wrong—and he believed that in the main it had led to beneficial results—should not be altered without further experience of its working, and better reasons for such an alteration than had been hitherto adduced. He had generally found the colonists amenable to reason; and when they showed the temper referred to by the noble Baron (Lord Lyveden), it was generally owing to the authoritative and dictatorial tone assumed towards them by the Home Government. As an illustration of this, he might refer to a recent money Bill on which the inhabitants of one of the colonies set great store. He wrote a despatch, pointing out in temperate and conciliatory language that the Bill involved a breach of faith; and immediately on the receipt of that communication the colonial Legislature repealed the measure.


thought that authority ought to accompany responsibility. This country was put to great expense for military purposes in New Zealand, and therefore ought to have power to call upon the colonists to take steps to make fair and proper laws. If a choice were offered between doing so and the withdrawal of British soldiers from the colony, there could be no doubt as to the decision. He believed that oppression and injustice had been practised towards the natives of New Zealand, and that was a matter upon which this country had a right to express an opinion.


supposed that his noble Friend did not wish him to utter threats which he did not intend to carry out. The noble Earl had recommended him, if the colonists refused to correct certain faulty parts of their system, and declined to pass a law in accordance with his views, to withdraw all British soldiers from the colony. Judging from past experience, the colonists would refuse to act upon his demand; and if he carried out the threat, the inevitable consequence would be an internecine war between the settlers and the natives, which would excite the horror of the people of this country, and call down their indignation upon the Government which allowed such a state of things to occur.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday next.