THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
said, that he desired to preface the Question to his noble Friend the Secretary for the Colonies on the subject of the Coolie Trade in the Mauritius, of which he had given Notice, with a few observations. It would be in the recollection of their 475 Lordships that in 1871, in consequence of a Memorial presented to the Government in that year, a Commission was appointed to inquire into the condition of the Coolies in that island. After a lengthened inquiry the Commissioners issued their Report in 1874; and last year the noble Earl the Secretary for the Colonies wrote a despatch to the Governor in which he summarized the recommendations in the Report and stated generally his views as to the way in which those recommendations should be carried into effect. There could be no doubt that the circumstances found to exist amply justified the appointment of the Commission. In 1867 a Colonial Act was passed for the purpose of dealing with the question of vagrancy. He did not say that some such enactment was not necessary at the time that Act was passed; but no one could read the Report of the Commissioners without seeing that the Act had been carried out in a most harsh manner. He would not detain their Lordships by many particulars to prove that fact; but their Lordships might judge of the manner in which the police had carried out the law from the circumstance that the gatekeeper of a level crossing was arrested on the supposition that he was a vagrant because he could not produce a ticket. It would appear that this was not a solitary case, because the Chief of the Police thought it necessary to issue an order that persons in the uniform of railway officials should not be arrested. The Commissioners found that there was an officer, known as the Protector, whose duty it was to see that the Coolies were properly treated, but that this officer had no power which would enable him to act; so that his title was a misnomer. The result was such as might have been expected. The Commissioners found that, while on many estates the Coolies were well treated, there were others upon which the "deductions" from their wages were arbitrary and excessive. The state of the hospitals was most unsatisfactory. On some estates there were systematic harshness and cruel treatment of the immigrants. All this, they reported, resulted from there being no efficient system of inspection. They also pointed out that magistrates and other officials were unable to discharge their duties in consequence of their having no knowledge of any Indian language. By 476 way of summing up, they reported that the education provided for the Coolies was very defective, and that they could not say that the condition of the immigrants in the Mauritius was an improvement on what it had been in their native country. The Commissioners suggested that the Vagrant Act of 1867 should be greatly modified, though they did not recommend its entire abolition. He saw with regret that his noble Friend (the Earl of Carnarvon) also was of opinion that it could not be entirely dispensed with; but he was glad that his noble Friend had stated in his despatch that it ought to be greatly modified, and that an end must be put to what were known as "vagrant hunts" after escaped immigrants. These, according to the Commissioners, differed very little from slave hunts. Up to 1854 the immigrants were entitled to return passages after a service of five years; but in that year, when the Duke of Newcastle was Colonial Secretary, they were done away with. One of the Commissioners, Mr. Frere, was of opinion that return passages ought not to be provided for the immigrants as had formerly been done; but Mr. Williamson, the other Commissioner, was of a contrary opinion, and he was glad to find that the noble Earl had adopted the views of the latter. Both the Commissioners recommended that the second engagement ought not to be for longer than one year, and that the magistrates and officers at the Immigration Office should be acquainted with at least one Indian language. He attached great importance to the recommendations of the Commissioners; but anything that might be enacted would be of exceedingly little use if power to enforce it was not put in the hands of the Governor. The subject was an important one, seeing that the Coolies numbered 220,000, or nearly two-thirds of the population of the island. He observed with some regret that his noble Friend had stated to a deputation that the Ordinance by which it was intended to carry out the recommendations of the Commissioners was to be drawn up in the island. He thought the better course would have been to draw it up in this country and send out the draft that it might be considered in the Mauritius. He would now, in conclusion, ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies what steps have been taken to carry into effect 477 the recommendations of the Royal Commission of Inquiry respecting the treatment of Coolies in Mauritius?
THE EARL OF CARNARVON
said, it would be invidious for him to object either to the Question of the noble Earl, which he thought was a very reasonable one, or to the temperate manner in which he had put it. Very little had been said by his noble Friend in which he did not fully agree, and he could assure his noble Friend that the Government were very desirous of improving the condition of the Coolies. The Report of the Commission was a very voluminous one, the Commissioners having gone into a discussion of the circumstances of each property, and that made it very difficult to compile an analysis of the whole. But beyond that cause of delay there was another. On the 4th of March in last year he sent a despatch to the Governor of the Mauritius, inviting the opinion of himself and the Council, and expressing an opinion that an Ordinance would be necessary to give effect to many of the recommendations of the Commission. It appeared that by some misapprehension while, as he believed, the Ordinance was being proceeded with in the Colony, they thought in the Colony that it was being proceeded with here, and it was only late in the year that this misapprehension was discovered. He then wrote to the Governor, desiring that he should draft the Ordinance. He believed it was now on its way to this country, and that it might be expected by the next mail. His object in having it drafted in the Mauritius was that he might in the first instance obtain the opinion of the local authorities, and so save time. The despatch to which his noble Friend had alluded was an analysis of the Report of the Commission. As to the question of the "vagrant hunts," he quite agreed with his noble Friend that nothing could be worse than the state of things disclosed in the Report—it demanded immediate attention. It was impossible to at once deal with it as a whole; but he had so far dealt with it in his despatch as to direct that the "vagrant hunts" should be done away with, and the law carried out in a fair spirit, that the power of the police to arrest persons should be limited, and that illegal arrests should be punishable. He believed that ultimately a satisfactory solution of the 478 question would be brought about. As to return passages, he was himself in favour of them. The opinions of the Commissioners were divided; but, at the same time, the Governor, of whose judgment he had a high opinion, and most of the officials in the Colony were against it. In other colonies return passages were given as a protection to the emigrants. He did not think they were so much required in Mauritius on that ground, but were desirable rather for reasons of expediency. The immigration was very large, and led to a vast amount of vagrancy—there were said to be in the Mauritius no fewer than 10,000 vagrants—and the moral and sanitary condition of these people was bad. On the other hand, he understood that the Indian population in the island had acquired almost a monopoly of small trades and successfully competed with the Natives for domestic service. As to the payment of wages, he had always thought it expedient, and had suggested in his despatch, that the payments should be monthly. The Governor concurred in the suggestion; but it was said that there was some difficulty in the way of carrying it out owing to the planters not being always able to procure coin. The Coolies in the West Indian Islands had to provide themselves with food, but in Mauritius rations were provided for them, so that they had not the same necessity for ready money at all times. He was opposed, however, to large arrears. As to medical treatment, that was another difficult point; but he thought the medical men entrusted with the supervision of the Coolies should be as independent as possible of the planters, because as between the planter and the Coolie he was afraid the case of the latter would be postponed. It would be, perhaps, too expensive to maintain medical men solely for the Coolies; but he was in favour of the suggestion that while private practice should be allowed to the medical men having supervision of the Coolies, that permission might be withdrawn where the Governor saw fit to withdraw it. He concurred with his noble Friend that whatever laws and Ordinances they might frame, they must, after all, entrust large powers to the Governors. There was an embarrassing ignorance of the language of the Coolies in the Courts referred to by his noble 479 Friend. Even the interpreters were so ignorant of their craft that they were of little or no use. There were two classes of magistrates—the stipendiary magistrates and the district magistrates. The Commissioners recommended a fusion of the two classes and of the practice in their country. The Governor was in favour not of a fusion but of a complete separation; and he (the Earl of Carnarvon) believed that separation was the preferable policy. It was not necessary that the stipendiary magistrate should be a trained lawyer. The ability to do the work he had to perform was easily acquired. A knowledge of our Indian language by the person to be appointed to the office was, however, very desirable, and he was informed that eligible candidates could be found in India. He thought the choice of the Government in respect of these appointments ought to be left free, while at the same time the local Bar ought not to be excluded. He had, he thought, now touched upon all the points raised by his noble Friend. He wished only to add his belief that of late years the position of the Coolies had been improved in some important particulars; but while admitting the condition of the Coolie in the Mauritius was not what it should be, he could not go so far as his noble Friend, and say it was not better than it had been in his native country. A few years ago the disproportion of the sexes led to great irregularities; but the latest Returns showed that the female Coolie population was increasing considerably—there were now 58,000 females to 150,000 males. Again, the mortality was much reduced—and, quoting again the last Returns, he found that while the mortality of the general population was 27 and a decimal per 1,000, that of the Coolies was 23. As to their monetary condition it was very satisfactory. In 1870 of 4,000 Coolies who returned to India 3,500 paid the passage money and took away between 600,000 and 700,000 rupees. The deposits which the Coolies held at the Savings Banks amounted to £120,000; and some individuals among them had amassed large sums and purchased property. He believed the Governor was anxiously watching every opportunity for improving the condition of those people, and he had every confidence that the efforts in that direction would be successful.
§ VISCOUNT CARDWELL
said he took great interest in the question; but after the speech of the noble Earl the Secretary for the Colonies there was no need for his saying much in addition to what had been urged by his noble Friend who had introduced the subject (the Earl of Kimberley.) There appeared to have been some delay in preparing the new Ordinances, but he hoped it would arrive by an early mail. When the despatches containing those opinions which the Earl had referred to as being entertained by the Governor and the Ordinance were on the Table, their Lordships would be in a better position to discuss the whole matter if further discussion should be found necessary. They seemed to be all pretty well agreed as to the manner in which the Coolies should be treated and as to the objections to which the present system too frequently gave rise. His noble Friend (the Earl of Kimberley) was not expressing his own opinion, but that of the Commissioners, when he stated that the condition of the Coolie in Mauritius was not better than what it had been in his own country; but he was gratified that the noble Earl (the Earl of Carnarvon) saw his way to taking a more favourable view, and he was sure that his noble Friend was equally so. As to return passage money, he thought the noble Earl had shown that there was an additional reason for giving it to the immigrants in Mauritius—namely, that it was desirable on grounds of expediency; and the Governor had expressed a decided opinion in its favour in consequence of the density of the population. The people of Mauritius were principally Natives of India, and the return passage was not costly, and that was an additional reason why they should apply to the Mauritius the rules which were applicable to all tropical colonies.
THE EARL OF CARNARVON
wished to explain that he had qualified his observations in reference to the density of the population, and had stated that it was being absorbed in the local trades.
§ VISCOUNT CARDWELL
said, that such a state of things must be satisfactory. In regard to the magistracy he thought it would be well to employ uncovenanted servants from India, who understood the Coolie well, and made good administrators of justice. He would also mention that in the West 481 India Islands, in the case of an estate on which abuse was proved to have prevailed, the Governor had the power of refusing to permit the owner to receive more immigrants, but there was no such power in the Mauritius, and he would suggest to his noble Friend whether it would not be well that there should be such a power there. The present Governor of the Mauritius had gone there with great Indian experience, and he might state that Sir John Peter Grant, when Governor of Jamaica, who was also a great Indian administrator, had shown what could be done; and he (Viscount Cardwell) hoped the same thing was in store for the Mauritius. The present system of immigration was capable of yielding great benefit both to employer and employed—both to the proprietor in Mauritius and to the Coolie in India; yet it required so much careful watching, and was liable in its nature to so many evils that a very influential body of Civil servants in India had come to the conclusion that they would be better without it altogether. He did not share in that opinion, and he hoped when the new regulations were before them that apprehension would be entirely dispelled from the minds of the Indian Civil Service, and that mutual advantage would be found to accrue both to the employer of labour and to the Coolie.
§ LORD STANLEY OF ALDERLEY
expressed himself satisfied with the observations of the noble Earl (the Colonial Secretary), especially as regarded his intentions of remodelling the magistracy.