HL Deb 23 July 1875 vol 225 cc1891-901

moved an Address for the production of Correspondence relating to certain proposed alterations in the Constitution of Natal. He did so, because he had long thought that this small Colony was, from its liability to a serious native war, the most dangerous in Her Majesty's dominions, and because he was apprehensive lest the measures of Her Majesty's Government might diminish, instead of increasing, their power of dealing with that danger. Natal was occupied by 17,000 or 18,000 Europeans scattered among 250,000 Natives, submissive, no doubt, and grateful at present, but liable to become discontented, and in case of disturbance to be recruited or assisted by the inexhaustible tribes of Zulus and Kaffirs beyond our frontier. In New Zealand 50,000 Natives, cut off by the sea from all assistance, were pitted against almost an equal number of Europeans, and the result was before us. It could be hardly doubted that a serious African war might be far more disastrous to the colonists—more costly to this country and, what ought not to be left out of sight, would involve far greater slaughter of the Natives than that which we had lately brought to a close against the Maories. The form of government in Natal was most unfitted to meet such dangers. The administration was conducted by an Executive Council of which Government officials formed a large majority. Laws were made and money voted by a Legislative Council in which the Representative Members bore a majority of two to one. Let it be considered what would be the state of Ireland, if it were governed by an elective Legis- lature representing a small minority of the inhabitants, while the administration consisted of permanent officials sent from England, proclaiming that they existed for the protection of the majority. Such a constitution would certainly not conduce to the peaceful transaction of business. Nor had it done so in Natal—which had long been about the most troublesome colony in the British Empire. It was the A B C of constitutional history that a representative Legislature, with the power of the purse, would persistently struggle for control over this Executive. This struggle had been for some time continuous in Natal. Nor was this to be complained of. It was the natural course of colonial development. And the differences had been almost uniformly on questions which, though important, were not dangerous—finance, public works, loans, the distribution of political power, and so on. But now a fresh element was brought into view. The case of Langalibalele, whatever its merits, served us with notice of two dangers—one the combination of Native tribes against our authority—the other, that in the face of such a combination the British authority might be weak or divided. He (Lord Blachford) was strongly of opinion, that in any colony where a powerful body of Natives existed, the Government should be one of two kinds. The conduct of native policy should be with that power which was responsible for the safety of the Colony. Either the Colony should conduct its own Native policy, and be left to take the consequences of conducting it badly—which meant the establishment of responsible government and ultimate withdrawal of troops, or the Home Government charging itself with the protection of the Colony, should have thorough control over the Native policy; which meant the presence of British soldiers and government by a Crown Council. For in what might be called the leading case of New Zealand, there was a general concurrence of opinion that the attempt to separate the Native policy from the general administration of the Colony was a failure which ought not to be repeated. These being the necessities of the case, what was now proposed. It was proposed to establish a somewhat cumbrous Legislature of about 30 persons, composed of elective Members and Government nominees—but so constituted that the elective portion should have a hare majority. It must be remembered that Government nominees were not a Government party. If the office of nominee were to be respectable, the nominee must be allowed a large independence; and if nominees were to be largely independent the Government might find, when they had to confront a popular feeling, that though they might pick up a few votes among the elective members, they would be almost equally likely to lose some among their own nominees. Such a condition of things, therefore, did not furnish a firm foundation for a steady Native policy; nor, therefore, such a guarantee for the peace of the colony as this country had a right to expect. But it might be said the proposed constitution was at any rate better than the existing one. Was that so? The existing constitution was most inconvenient; but it contained one valuable clause—a power of revocation, which, in the prospect, or on the actual occurrence of serious danger, Her Majesty's Government might use to sweep aside obstacles and assume all necessary powers. That was the point at which he had been driving. What he earnestly desired Her Majesty's Government to consider was this—whether their proper course was not boldly to use the power which they had in their hands, to establish that form of constitution which in their hearts they believed to be best for the Colony and the country; or failing that, whether it were right to abandon a power which in case of actual or anticipated danger, might be used to lift them beyond the reach of embarrassment, in order to obtain a mitigation of existing evils which, he could not but fear, would prove wholly delusive. Moved, "That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for, Papers relative to the recent change in the Constitution of Natal."—(The Lord Blackford.)


My Lords, no one certainly has a better right to criticize the course which has been adopted in Natal, because no one can do it with fuller knowledge than my noble Friend opposite. He has watched all proceedings there for many years—proceedings which he admits to be full of difficulty in the ordinary administration and legislation of the Colony; and no one should be better able to appreciate, than he does, the difficulty' which not only the Home Government but which the Colony itself has to contend with in dealing with this subject. My Lords, it has been a very difficult question, and one which has taxed not only the ability of the singularly able administrator whom it has been our good fortune to have on the spot, but also the good feeling and the good sense of the Colony. And I desire thus early in my remarks to bear my testimony to the fair and, on the whole, dispassionate manner in which a question, raising, as it must have done, the gravest issues for the Natal Legislature, was discussed by that Assembly. My Lords, while I readily admit the weight of the criticism offered by my noble Friend, I entirely disagree from him in thinking that the change which has been made is either a small or a barren one. I believe, on the contrary, that it will bear fruit—I am sure that it will bear fruit if the measure which has now been passed receives at the hands of the Natal Legislature that fair consideration for which, to judge from the antecedents of the last few months, I am quite willing to give them credit. The original Constitution was one in which the Executive Power was lodged in the hands of a Governor appointed from this country and a permanent staff of Officers; while the Legislative power on the other hand was intrusted to an Assembly, not composed, as the noble Lord described it, of two elected Members to one nominated Member, but of three elected Members to one nominated Member—which made it more difficult to work. The Bill which has just been passed by the Natal Legislature reverses, it may be said, in most of its features that state of things. There have been eight Members added to the Council, all the eight being Government nominees. The total number will therefore be 28, or 15 elected and 13 nominees. Those new Members are required to have a real property qualification of the value of £1,000; they are to be on the voters' list for two years at least; and some other conditions are also laid down. Lastly, of the eight additional Members four are taken from the coast districts and four from the up-country districts, between which there has always existed a rivalry which I think their interests hardly bear out. That is the alteration which has been effected, and I quite differ from my noble Friend when he says it is small. My noble Friend seems to think there can be but one or two modes of Government applicable to a colony under the conditions which exist at Natal—either total and complete freedom, such as is accorded by the grant of responsible Government; or, on the other hand, absolute and direct control from the Home Government in England. Now, my Lords, the Constitution of Natal lies somewhat between those two extremes, and I am not disposed to quarrel with it on that ground. I value as highly as any man responsible Government, and he is a dull man who has watched the progress for some years past of Canada and the Australian Colonies without appreciating the marvellous effects produced by responsible Government in a congenial soil and under fair conditions. But its success depends on the elements from which it is to be drawn, and on the means by which it is to be worked; and the conditions which exist in Natal render responsible Government there totally out of the question. For many years past there has been a growing conviction on the part of all authorities, not only in this country, but even on the spot, that the existing Constitution of Natal which is just passing away was not only highly unsuitable, but impracticable. In 1865 a memorial was sent by the Legislative Council praying for a change. In 1869 a Bill was actually passed for the reform of the Constitution. That Bill erred, I think, on the side of giving responsible Government to the Colony, and effect was not given to it. Two years later a memorial was addressed to the Secretary of State from the coast districts praying for an increase of representation. In the following year, I think, the noble Lord opposite (the Earl of Kimberley), then Secretary of State, used the powers to which the noble Lord (Lord Blackford) has referred for the purpose of reserving to the Government a much larger control over the finances of the Colony than it had before exercised. Lastly, in 1874—only a twelvemonth ago—another Bill was passed by the Legislative Council of Natal, which was still more in the direction of responsible Government, and which I found myself obliged to advise the Crown to disallow. All this shows, at least, that even the Colony itself was dissatisfied with its Constitution. Well, what is the result? The Constitution has been tried and has undoubtedly failed. There have been repeated difficulties between the local Executive Government and the Legislature. There have been equally numerous difficulties between the Colony and the Home Government. I could quote passages from the despatches of my noble Friend opposite (the Earl of Kimberley), and those of his predecessor (Earl Granville), which point to the perfect hopelessness, in the existing state of things, of working that Constitution. At the present moment, no doubt, owing to the want of due administrative arrangements in the public offices, business of mere ordinary routine is to a great extent stopped. Moreover, I am satisfied that there has been a very large expenditure of public money on objects not always worthy of it; while, on the other hand, matters of vital consequence have been neglected; and in spite of the ability and conscientiousness of Mr. Shepstone, whose name is well known in this country, there has not in my opinion been that control over Native affairs which is required by the public interest. The result is that there has been a stagnation, so to speak, of many of the industrial interests of the Colony. There has been—as I think Sir Garnet Wolseley pointed out to the Legislature—that want of internal security which leads, in the long run, to a want also of external confidence—which hinders emigration and which prevents the real development of the Colony. Meanwhile, there have been in that Colony questions of the very highest moment to be settled. The question of emigration is one of the greatest complexity. There is also the question of public works—such as those connected with roads, with the harbours of Natal, and with the railway, which, above all things, is required there. There has been, moreover, a force of 30,000 armed Natives resting like thunder clouds upon the frontier of the Colony. I must say it seems to me impossible that those questions can be satisfactorily or safely dealt with if you have not a strong Government in the Colony itself. My Lords, that strong Government you have not had. In a great measure this is owing to the fact that, in the Legislature at least, the Government has always been in a minority and has been obliged to conciliate here and conciliate there in order, if possible, to satisfy contending parties. Not only has the Colony been often in danger, but that Native element, which I agree with my noble Friend in regarding as an element of great insecurity, is keen-sighted enough to perceive the weakness of the Government and has sometimes taken advantage of it. Under these circumstances, I felt that the time had come when the change could no longer be delayed. Now the question is, whether that change has been wise or not? My noble Friend (Lord Blachford) pointed, as I understood him, to two alternatives—one, complete Responsible Government, and the other a strict form of Crown Government. I think I have shown the House that responsible Government is not suited to the present condition of Natal. As to the other alternative, I will not say that a strict form of Crown Government would not work well, but I think it is prudent statesmanship never to insist upon more than is absolutely necessary—especially when the freedom of Englishmen is concerned. I would rather go upon the principle of trust than upon the principle of rigid restriction. The Colony has had its difficulties. The Legislature, like all other Legislatures, may occasionally not have been wise. But within the last few months it has consented to a change which must have been repugnant to the feelings of many of its Members, and I think we shall be right in trying first the principle of trust. My noble Friend talks of it as a very cumbrous machinery which is being set up. I cannot see that it is so cumbrous as he seems to think it. I believe that the Legislature will be very evenly balanced, and that with proper management it ought to work well. At all events, this is a compromise which on the one hand strengthens the Executive, while it does not take away the representative institutions which exist. If, unfortunately, it should be found, after all, that the Legislature is incapable of dealing with the questions which will come before it, then, and then only, will be the time to tighten the knot and to take greater powers than are now exercised. In the first instance, however, I would rather accept the spontaneous and free gift of the Colony than impose, in an uncompromising and, perhaps, ungracious spirit, fetters which I do not think are deserved. It may be satisfac- tory to the House to know that the result already achieved is considerable. I may mention here—what your Lordships have, perhaps, been made aware of by the public prints—that the Cape Government has acceded to the release of the Kaffir Chief Langalibalele. By this time I trust he has left Robben Island and gone to the place assigned to him for his future residence, where his family will have a reasonable amount of access to him, at the same time that all due precautions are taken with a view to the safety of the Colony. At the time when this subject was under discussion in your Lordships' House there were gloomy anticipations as to what the Cape Government would do. I ventured to say on that occasion that the Cape Government on a re-consideration of the matter would feel that there was nothing very exacting in the request addressed to them, and that they would meet us in the spirit in which we endeavoured to approach them. That confidence has been justified, for they have done all I thought they would do. The tribes have been allowed to go back to their own parts of the Colony; but it has been provided—and I think wisely—that the locations should be small and, as far as possible, separate one from the other. One tribe, which was broken up on a mere suspicion, for which it appears there was no good foundation, has been restored to its position, and the sum of £20,000 has been very judiciously laid out by Sir Garnet Wolseley in cattle, stock, agricultural implements, &c, which were to be given to the tribe by way of compensation. Farms have been assigned to White settlers between some of the Native locations; and in other respects steps have been taken to carry out the policy which was sketched in the despatch laid before your Lordships two or three months ago. That policy is one which, no doubt, raises many very grave questions. It is one which must be carried out with extreme caution. I have great confidence, however, in those to whose hands the execution of it has been intrusted. It may be that the security of the Colony will have to be provided for still further in a military point of view while this policy is in progress; but that is a matter which requires consideration. I am satisfied, however, from the reports I have received as to the progress of affairs, that though much has not been actually accomplished much has been commenced, and the way has been paved for still more. I cannot conclude without expressing my acknowledgments and the acknowledgments of Her Majesty's Government to the very eminent Officer who at a few hours' notice undertook the singularly difficult task which was intrusted to him. Sir Garnet Wolseley has given evidence of the highest military capacity, and all I would now say is that he has shown in the administration of civil affairs in the midst of very great difficulties an amount of ability, tact, and prudence which are equal to the military qualities he has displayed on other fields. My Lords, I have confidence also in his successor. Sir Henry Bulwer comes of a family whose name is illustrious in this country—of a family that has done great and good service. I entertain the hope that in the new sphere of action to which he has been transferred he will maintain the traditions of his race and name. In conclusion, I will only venture to say this much, and I shall be glad if my words go to Natal—I would earnestly entreat those who have taken part in these transactions, whatever their views may be—whether it be the Bishop of Natal, whether it be others who have taken a leading part by influence, by word, or by action—I would entreat them to allow the past now to be forgotten and to address themselves to the future. I would entreat them to bury the past discords which have agitated the society of Natal, to allow the sleeping lions of future controversy to slumber for awhile, and to give a fair, a friendly, and a loyal support to that Constitution which they have discussed freely, and which now is in existence.


thought that the noble Earl the Secretary for the Colonies implied—and, if so, he was not able to agree with him—that there was no choice between a Constitution in which the popular element should be dominant and the reduction of Natal to the position of a Crown Colony—namely, a Colony governed by a purely nominee Legislature. Surely this was not the only choice? He regretted that when the noble Earl made this change in the constitution of the Colony he did not go a step further and place the nominated members in the majority. The noble Earl hardly did justice to the main reason which rendered a popular form of Government inapplicable to a so-called Colony like Natal, where a certain number of European settlers were surrounded by a much larger proportion of uncivilized men, who could never be represented in a Legislature, and who presented a constant danger to the safety and stability of the Colony—a danger which made it always necessary for the colonists to look to the Home Government for their protection. This being the case, surely it was necessary that the Home Government should be able to control the local affairs and legislation of the Colony. The noble Earl had stated that that would be practically the effect of the change, and in most cases it probably would; but would it not have been better if the noble Earl had fully and frankly informed the colonists that the Government must secure the power of controlling the colonial policy. He believed the moral influence of a popularly elected body in the Council, although in a minority, would have been very great in all purely domestic matters. When, however, it came to questions of Native policy, in which colonial interests and feelings were often so strongly felt and so hotly excited, he was not so sure of Government being able to carry its points; and when the balance was very close it would give an awkward degree of power to one or two members of that small elected majority, who would be able either to support or overthrow the policy of the Government. If the noble Earl had gone a step further, he would have put the Home Government in a much safer position than it would now occupy, both in regard to the protection of the Native people and the assertion of its own rights and duties.


said, he could not entirely agree with his noble Friend behind him (Lord Blachford). No doubt it was a plausible thing to say that in the Colony of Natal it was desirable for the Government to have the power it possessed in a Crown Colony. He agreed that we could not establish a responsible Government in such a Colony as Natal; but what he wished to point out was that, although there was something neat, as it were, in the dilemma—"Either have a responsible Government or a simple Crown Colony," yet he thought the course taken by his noble Friend oppo- site was the wisest under the circumstances. Here was a Colony which for some time had enjoyed a very considerable measure of self-government: moreover, it was placed near other Colonies which enjoyed free institutions; and, on the whole, he thought his noble Friend had done wisely in being content with what he had attained. The willingness with which the colonists had accepted the advice of the Home Government showed their great good sense and self-control. With the liberty allowed to them by the new Constitution, it might be possible to establish a strong Government, and ultimately to pave the way to the full measure of self-government, so as to relieve the Home Government from the heavy responsibility which for a time must attach to it in respect of this Colony.


asked whether the noble Earl would produce the Papers?


replied that he would produce extracts from them after he had looked them through.

Address agreed, to.

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