HL Deb 23 February 1885 vol 294 cc1012-6

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Whether he will introduce into this House the Bill to enable the Australian Colonies to form a Federation for certain purposes; and, if so, whether he proposes to take the second reading before Easter? He further asked whether he had been correctly informed that the noble Earl was still in correspondence with the Colonies about this measure; and would delay its introduction till replies had been received? He observed that, as far as he knew, he was the first person who had publicly raised this question some 14 or 15 years ago. He did not wish on this occasion, or on a mere Question, to enter at length into the matter. He had advocated a different modus operandi from that now proposed; and he wished to make arrangements to be present when the second reading of the Bill was taken.


In answer to the Question of the noble Earl, I have to state that I shall be prepared to bring in the Bill to which he has referred, and I think it will be better to introduce it in this House. With regard to the Correspondence on the subject, I may remind your Lordships that on the 11th of December last I sent out a despatch to the various Governments concerned, suggesting that certain alterations should be made in the draft Bill which they had sent home. That despatch has been laid on the Table. I have received only one answer as yet and that came from Western Australia. The remainder of the replies are daily expected. Obviously the noble Earl will see that it would not be courteous to the other Colonies who have been expressly consulted to proceed without waiting until the answers which they may have to give have been received. I cannot, therefore, pledge myself to bring in the Bill before Easter. It is, however, the desire and the intention of the Government that there should be no unnecessary delay.


asked whether New Zealand was included in the scheme?


said, that the Bill was one empowering Colonies to join, but not compelling any Government to join, for federation purposes; and it would, therefore, depend upon New Zealand itself whether it came within the scheme or not.


said, that the answer of the noble Earl to the first part of the Question was quite satisfactory; but, in regard to the second part, he should be sorry if his noble Friend allowed any undue delay to arise in this matter. That was just one of those questions which, when once they were brought forward and when circumstances were sufficiently ripe, ought to be dealt with at once, as the opportunity should not be lost. He said this from having clearly before his mind what occurred in similar circumstances in the confederation of Canada. This was a question which had excited a great deal of attention, and one which was preceded by negotiations and conferences: and when at last the matter came before the Government, of which he was a Member, some said that it was time, others demurred to that opinion, while others said that it was a question as to whether delays at the last moment were not politic and seasonable. Those, however, most directly connected with that measure thought otherwise, and that it was an occasion which, if lost, might not have readily presented itself again. He was, therefore, anxious that there should be no undue delay in this matter. The Australian federation scheme was not merely preliminary to the federation of the Australian and New Zealand Colonies, but it was a high step to that Imperial federation which many of them so much desired. There was, however, one other step towards Imperial federation which had been taken, and which had proceeded unexpectedly from the Colonies themselves. He referred to those splendid and munificent offers of military assistance which had been made to this country by the Australian Colonies. When he referred to the munificent offers of the Australian Colonies he did not mean the Governments of those Colonies alone; it was not merely the Governments, but the individuals in those Colonies, who were combining with one another in princely liberality. He could hardly remember such a splendid outburst of patriotic feeling. Whether these offers proceeded from the Australasian Governments or from individuals, he implored the noble Earl not to allow official technicalities or rules to stand in the way of the acceptance by the Government of those great offers in the fullest and amplest manner. There was one aspect of these offers which he viewed with especial satisfaction, and that was the proposal that all the Australian Colonies should constitute their forces into one general body. That was a great step indeed in the direction of federation; and he should sincerely regret if anything should be said or done to throw cold water on that proposal. There was a school of politicians who depreciated our Colonial connections; but their eyes must recently have been opened upon seeing so splendid an outburst of national feeling on the part of the Australian Colonies and Canada. Our Colonists, he always believed, were in spirit as much Englishmen as ourselves; and he must honestly confess that of late years he had often thought that many of our English virtues had crossed the seas, and existed there in much greater force and reality than with us. Certainly the offers of the Australian Colonies, whether made on behalf of the Government or of individuals, were a complete answer to all those objections that had been urged—to the effect that their Colonies would be unwilling to bear their share in the common liabilities of Imperial responsibility, and also a complete answer to some of the doubts of foreign critics as to our present condition. So long as the English Colonies could produce such a spectacle as had been seen during the last few weeks England might count on their support. Amid all the unfortunate circumstances of the past year, and amid all the present gloom in so many directions, the conduct of the Australian Colonies was the one bright spot upon which he looked with satisfaction.


said, he thought that while they spoke of the Australian Colonies they should not forget that the Dominion of Canada had not been behindhand in her desire to rally to the support of the Empire. When connected with the Colonial Office he had always regarded the Colonists as Englishmen, to all intents and purposes, only separated from England by the expanse of ocean beyond which they they lived, but under the same Sovereign and with the same rights as those at home. Nothing was more gratifying than the manner in which they had recently shown their attachment to the Empire. It had been rumoured that the offers made by certain of the Colonies had not been received by the Government with that warmth and gratitude which was desirable. He hoped that the noble Earl would be able to state that such reports were unfounded, and that he fully appreciated the offers made, not only from one, but from all the Colonies.


said, the remarks of the noble Earl (the Earl of Carnarvon) with respect to the liberal offers of the Australian Colonies did not arise out of the Question on the Paper; and he had, therefore, not alluded to the subject. But if any Member of the House wished, as the noble Lord on the Cross Benches (Lord Brabourne) seemed to wish, for further explanations as to what the Government proposed to do with regard to these different offers, it would be more convenient for him to give Notice and bring the matter regularly forward. For the present it would be sufficient to refer to the declarations made by him in that House, and by the Prime Minister in the other House, which showed that there was on the part of the Government no such ingratitude and coldness as the noble Lord had referred to. With regard to the precise manner and time and extent to which the Government could avail themselves of these offers, these were not matters to be decided simply from a wish to do what was most agreeable to all parties concerned. They involved many considerations which must be decided in conjunction with the Military Authorities. For instance, the arrangements for the Suakin Expedition had been already made, and to largely increase its numbers now would probably be to raise questions of transport and supply, which might considerably add to the difficulties of the undertaking. He must beg noble Lords not to suppose that because they had delayed acceptance of the offers at the present moment it was to be held to imply indifference to the feeling which dictated these offers, or any intention ultimately to refuse them.