HL Deb 05 April 1878 vol 239 cc650-3

asked, What steps have been taken in the Colony of Mauritius to carry into effect the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the treatment of Indian labourers in that Island, and whether further Papers will be laid on the Table on the subject? The Commission reported at the end of 1874. He would not go into the voluminous evidence taken by the Commissioners, nor to the details of their Report; but there were two or three points on which he would like to say a few words. A complaint was made against the system of coolie management in the Mauritius—that, whether in the case of the coolies actually serving or in that of those passing through the country, hindrances were placed in the way of their going from one part of the island to another. It was said that there was a great deal of oppression under the police regulations. The Report of the Commissioners stated that for certain reasons the system in force could not be dispensed with, but recommended certain alterations. Another recommendation of the Report was, that magistrates appointed in the Colony should not be connected with sugar estates, but should be independent men, who would administer justice without favour or affection. Another point was this—in all other Colonies to which there was coolie immigration, the Governor had the power of withdrawing coolie labourers from estates on which they were ill-treated, and of stopping them from going to such estates. The Governor of the Mauritius had not that power. Though he believed that, as a rule, the coolies were well-treated, he thought it was of the greatest possible importance that they should have the most ample protection against oppression. Lastly, there was the question of payment of return passages to India, on the expiry of their term of labour. One of the Commissioners was in favour of free-return passages, and the other was against it. He inclined to the opinion of the Commissioner who thought they ought to be granted. These were the points on which he desired information. He had read with satisfaction the Papers already presented to the House. They showed that the Government had drawn the serious attention of the Government of India to the desirability of encouraging Indian immigration into the Colonies; and he believed that, with proper precautions, such immigration would confer a mutual benefit on India and the Colonies.


said, that the Ordinance, which had been drafted with the object of effecting the desired improvements, founded on the recommendations of the Commissioners, had been received at the Colonial Office. It was now under the consideration of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and he hoped that all matters embraced in it would shortly be dealt with, and the document itself placed before Parliament. To go into the points touched upon by the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Kimberley), would be to forestall the Ordinance. As to a power to the Governor to withdraw and stop the supply of labourers from estates in the case of ill-treatment, a measure of that sort would probably be included in the Ordinance; but the Secretary of State for the Colonies had pledged himself not to come to a conclusion as to certain matters proposed to be embraced in the Ordinance until after he should have a conference with a deputation which was to wait upon him. He was happy to believe that, since 1874, when the Royal Commissioners reported, there had been a considerable improvement in the condition of the coolies.


thought that one cause of the difficulty which had arisen in the Mauritius was owing to the fact that the coolie labourers that immigrated to that island were of a lower class than those generally sent to other Colonies. That was a considerable aggravation of the difficulties which arose under the system. Added to that were certain legislative provisions, and the practices carried on under them. He was glad that the Ordinance would be shortly laid on the Table. It amounted almost to a code. He regarded the giving of power to the Governor to withdraw and stop the supply of coolies in case of ill-treatment as the very keynote of the Ordinance, and, therefore, hoped it would not be struck out. While anxious to respect the scruples of the Colony, he thought it desirable the people of the Mauritius should bear in mind that it was only with the concurrence of the Government of India they got the coolies at all; and, unless the treatment of the immigrants was just, the Government of India would not be justified in giving its assent to the continuance of that immigration. On the other hand, if the coolies were well-treated, they would, on their return to India on the expiry of their terms of service, by their account of the treatment they had received, give the best encouragement to the system. He, therefore, regarded it as of great importance that return-passages should be secured to them. As the Governor of the Mauritius was on the point of leaving, he wished to bear his testimony to the great services he had rendered to the Colony by his able administration since the time when, at great inconvenience to himself, he had undertaken the duties of Governor. It would be a difficult task to replace him.


said, it was desirable that the fullest protection should be afforded to the coolies in the Colony. He was aware that both his noble Friends (the Earl of Kimberley and the Earl of Carnarvon), while holding the Office of Secretary of State for the Colonies, had taken great pains to secure full justice to the coolies; but it was now three years since the Report of the Royal Commission on the subject, and he trusted that the new Ordinance would be issued without further delay.