HL Deb 14 July 1884 vol 290 cc876-82

, who had a Notice on the Paper, to call attention to the proposed deportation of Recidivists from France to the Western Pacific, and to move for Papers, said, it had been on the Paper for several weeks; but it had been postponed more than once. Their Lordships must have felt how important the subject was to the people of Australia; and one of the objects which he had had in view with regard to the Motion was to show the people of this country how very important also were the issues involved to influence the Government of this country to make such representations to the Go- vernment of France as they might think proper, in order to secure the object in view—namely, to prevent the Bill then under consideration in the French Parliament from passing into law. That night he proposed to withdraw the Notice of Motion from the Paper; and, in doing so, he wished to give a short explanation of the reasons which had induced him to take that course. Several circumstances had occurred since be last had had the honour to allude to the subject, which had very materially modified both the attitude of the French Government, and also the position of the Recidivist Bill that was then before the French Senate. Since that time a gentleman, M. Courbet, who had been sent out by the French Government to New Caledonia to report as to what the practical effect of the Bill would be, had made his Report, and that Report was as unfavourable as it could be to the main objects of the Bill. That he (the Earl of Rosebery) regarded as a great point in the case. Since that Report the French Senate, who had charge of the Bill, had asked for further explanations as to the Bill from the French Government. The result of all this was that the Under Secretary for the Colonies in France had demanded increased powers, in order to deal with the matter. One of these powers was to keep those criminals under restraint when they arrived at New Caledonia, and that power, practically, was a direct reversal of the whole policy and spirit of the Bill. The next proposal was that the Recidivists should have guardians, in the proportion of not less that 4 per cent of the criminal population, to restrain those men in New Caledonia. There, again, was a deliberate reversal of the policy which previously prevailed. And, in the third place, they asked for power to make the convicts work. Taking these facts into consideration, he thought that if the French Government did really insist upon those demands before the French Senate, it would be far better to leave the matter to its natural solution before the French Senate, more especially as he was convinced Her Majesty's Government and Her Majesty's Ministers at Paris were doing all they could to further the objects they had at heart with respect to the matter. Two other circumstances had arisen which, he thought, were worth their Lordships' notice. It was said that the danger of the Bill was very much overrated; but, in April last, no less than nine persons, whose sentences had expired, landed in New South Wales from New Caledonia. These persons were not those who escaped in boats; but they arrived by the Messageries Steamship Company, that great ocean line of French steamers. That showed that the Australian Colonies had very good reason for their fear as to these people. But there was a still greater question raised than that; and it was that, at present, these men were being sent over to New Caledonia in daily increasing numbers. They numbered from 500 to 600 a-year. We had always flattered ourselves that the French Government could demand their extradition, and thought that it would be a wearisome and expensive process. Yet we could get rid of them. But that hope had been roughly destroyed. A very celebrated lawyer, a Professor of the University of Paris, had been writing letters to the French papers, in which he pointed out that the extradition of these criminals could not be demanded of the French Government by the Convention of 1876, the theory being that these people were not to be tried again for a crime, nor to be further punished. That would increase the difficulties to be dealt with by Her Majesty's Government. He thought that the French Government should take these circumstances into consideration not only as they regarded Australia, but also the other islands in the Pacific. He had no right to make any speech on this occasion, because he was withdrawing his Notice; but he had wished to lay before their Lordships the various circumstances which had arisen since he last addressed them on that subject, and which had materially altered the situation; and he believed that it was now the best course to leave the matter to diplomacy and the exertions of Her Majesty's Government, reserving to himself, however, he need hardly say, the right, should circumstances change, to bring it in again, and more at length, before their Lordships.

After an interval,


said, this was a subject on which he should like to make a few remarks. He should have been glad if the statement of the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Rosebery) had been followed by a few words of explanation from the noble Earl the Secretary of State for the Colonies (the Earl of Derby); but, as the latter had preserved silence, he wished himself to make a few remarks, not in any way to find fault with Her Majesty's Government, but to express his hope that they would not fail to make the French Government distinctly understand how seriously critical that particular question was. He had no doubt that the noble Earl opposite had done right in withdrawing his Motion. The facts he had stated probably rendered it expedient not to open the whole question, and to leave the matter in the hands of the Government. Under those circumstances, it was desirable the Government should speak out frankly to the Government of France, as a few timely warnings might prevent the two countries being engaged in unfriendly discussions with each other. At the same time, he trusted that the Government of France would rightly appreciate what the position of affairs really was, for he foresaw that if there should be any misunderstanding on the question, Her Majesty's Government might, before long, have to choose between giving support to the Australian Colonies and finding themselves engaged in some adverse action with the Government of France. They would have to require explanations of a definite character, and there would be some very plain speaking. He was afraid that, at present, the grievance of our Colonies in Australia was a very real one. There were now in New Caledonia about 6,000 of those criminals, who were not ordinary criminals, but relapsed and incorrigible desperadoes, who, according to the statements of French officials themselves, were steeped in vice, crime, and debauchery of every kind; and, indeed, at that moment, the French Government were subjected to strong protests on the part of their own Colonists in New Caledonia that the number of those criminals might not be increased. In deference to those protests, he believed the French Government had resolved not to increase the number; but still the presence in their neighbourhood of so many malefactors was a very great grievance to the Australian Colonies. The feelings of the Australian Colonists were still stronger, all classes of the people, the whole Press, and the members of every trade there were unanimous in protesting against the influx of such criminals into the same communities with themselves. Victoria was, perhaps, less affected by that matter than the other Australian Colonies, yet she was making their case her own; and New Zealand was also prepared to take common action with them in regard to it. He might mention that some few years ago an Act was passed by the Colony of Victoria, called the Criminals Influx Prevention Act. That Act was intended to prevent any escaped criminals from our convict station in Western Australia finding their way into Victoria. It enacted that anyone coming into Victoria from a British Possession, whose sentence had not expired three years before, might be sent back in custody by two Justices, or be sentenced to three years' hard labour; but the next provision was more serious—namely, that any master of a ship who brought such a criminal would be liable to a fine of £100, or to undergo six months' imprisonment with hard labour. That Act applied solely to criminals escaping from British Possessions; but it only required the addition of the three words "or foreign countries," to at once place French Possessions in the same category as Western Australia in regard to those penalties. At the Intercolonial Conference, a Resolution was passed in favour of uniform legislation on that particular point; and if the Australian Colonies were to pass an Act similar to the Victoria Act, but with the addition of the words "or a foreign country," he put it to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, could he, or would he, advise the disallowance of such an Act? He (the Earl of Carnarvon) did not think he could. Again, he would ask the noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Earl Granville) how he was prepared to deal with such a grave international complication as would arise if the master of a French steamer were thrown into prison and sentenced to six months' hard labour in the Colony of Victoria, or fined £100, for taking one of those criminals there. He did not say that in order to embarrass Her Majesty's Government, but to open their eyes to the gravity of the situation, and to induce them to use every effort to make the French Government under- stand how very critical and serious that matter was, so that they might not be led away as to the feeling of the Australian Colonists in regard to it. He hoped, therefore, the noble Earl would let them know that the Home Government had been ill-advised enough to twice attempt to make these Colonies the receptacles of our own criminal convicts, and had been twice forced to forego the attempt, having signally failed. Those were small cases as compared with this, and the power of the Colonies was then much less than it was now; and he was certain that if the French Government were, through any misapprehension, to commit themselves to any such difficulty as that, they would find that they had to count the cost of their undertaking. The French had a great trade growing up in those parts of the world, and they had granted a very large subsidy — 2,000,000 of francs yearly—to a line of steamers for the carrying on of that trade. He entreated them to consider whether it was worth while to sacrifice these great and growing interests, that they might push that proposal further. There were many international questions which were often all the better for delay, as it enabled passions to cool down; but this was just one of those questions from which he foresaw great danger and difficulty, if much more delay was allowed to intervene; and, for those reasons, he sincerely hoped that Her Majesty's Government, and the French Government in particular, would thoroughly understand how very serious that matter was.


said, he would remind their Lordships that, as New Caledonia was within easy access of the shores of the Australian Colonies, it was not likely that the Australians would long tolerate the sending by France of criminals of the worst class into such close proximity to them. He had lately been in the company of many Australian Colonists; and he found that, if there was one feeling among them more unmistakable than another, next to the loyalty they expressed to Her Majesty the Queen, it was their repugnance at the prospect held out to them of Recidivists reaching them from a neighbouring French Colony. When it was asked, Is it likely that a great and independent group of Colonies, who refused, years ago, to accept convicts from the Mother Country, would permit convicts from a French settlement to be landed in the vicinity of their shores, the question was responded to by cheers which left no doubt as to the spirit and determination of the audience. He would urge upon the Government the importance of remaining on the best terms with France, in order to bring about a satisfactory settlement of this matter in the interests of the Australian Colonies.


said, he so entirely approved of the spirit and also the reasons which his noble Friend (the Earl of Rosebery) had given for withdrawing his Motion on that occasion, that he did not intend to prolong the discussion on a Motion which he understood was to be withdrawn; but the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Carnarvon), following his noble Friend, had stated his views on the question. It was not the first time this Session the noble Earl had expressed a hope that Her Majesty's Government were aware of the importance of the question. Three times he had done so, and on each occasion he (Earl Granville) had stated that Her Majesty's Government were fully aware of the importance of the matter; and not only were they fully aware of its importance, but they had done their very best. In looking back, he could not see how they could have done anything more than they had done in making friendly, but urgent representations to the French Government as to the feeling and sense of the Colonists in the matter, and appealing to their sense of the comity which ought to exist between the two countries on a matter of so much importance. The noble Earl said that it was necessary to make a speech that night, in order that the French Government might know the real position of the matter. Up to that moment Lord Lyons had, quite as clearly as the noble Earl himself, presented to the Government the exact position of the question now in dispute.

Notice of Motion (by leave of the House), withdrawn.