HL Deb 08 June 1888 vol 326 cc1509-22

My Lords, I rise to move for— Copies or extracts of correspondence between the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Governors of the Australasian Colonies on the subject of the admission of Chinese immigrants to such Colonies. There is no question affecting the Australian Colonies which is of more serious import than this, and I think the Colonial Secretary will agree with me in thinking that the importance of it is not confined to Australia, but that it is very important as regards this country, our Treaty obligations, and our relations with a powerful State. In Australia there has been from time to time very considerable difference of opinion and of action with regard to it. The question is not a new one; it has arisen at different times. The Australian Continent has been alarmed at the sudden invasion of large numbers of Chinese, and legislation has been adopted in different Colonies with the view of meeting the evil. It is to be observed that on almost every occasion on which that legislation has been introduced the number of Chinese immigrants has sensibly fallen off. Now, in the present case there has been a diversity of action. In Now South Wales a Bill was passed by the Assembly in very hot haste, but which has been since delayed in the Council. Certain Chinese immigrants who arrived in ships were also refused the right to land. That was a decision taken by the Executive Government, but it has since been over-ruled by the Judges. In New Zealand, on the other hand, the Government have adopted the very questionable course, as it seems to me, of declaring the Chinese ports whence the immigrants have sailed to be infected, placing the ships arriving from them in quarantine. Lastly, Victoria and South Australia have desired to meet this difficulty by means of an Intercolonial Conference. The genesis of the agitation in Australia is briefly this:—A despatch was sent by the Chinese Minister here in London to my noble Friend the Prime Minister requesting that greater facilities should be given for the admission of Chinese to our Colonies. Meanwhile the Chinese themselves appearing in great numbers in the Northern districts, created alarm and agitation. That agitation, I am sorry to say, has spread far and wide. It is a matter of public feeling which can no longer brook delay. Now, there are two sides to this important question. There is the Chinese view of the question and also the Australian view. Let me give your Lordships a summary of what those views are. The Chinese Government might complain, and perhaps with some justice, of the precipitancy which has characterized the action of the authorities in New South Wales. I think the result of that has undoubtedly been bad, and much evil has been inflicted on trade on account of persons leaving China with the full conviction that they would be allowed to land in Australia having been sent back. It must not be forgotten that Chinese subjects can come from any of our Colonies, such as Singapore, as British subjects, provided only that the certificates of naturalization they bring with them are right. On this point great complaint has constantly been raised. It is said that those papers of naturalization have often been forged, and that the difficulty of detecting one Chinaman from another is so great that practically no exclusion exists. Your Lordships must not forget what the general relations of this country with China are. I am quite aware that the general tradition of the Chinese Government has never been to force emigrants upon any other country. On the contrary, the tradition has been to keep them at home; but whether or not that tradition holds good now it is impossible to say. About 25 or 30 years ago we compelled the Chinese, at the mouth of the Canton, to receive our traders; and, of course, there does seem to be an inconsistency that they are refused leave to land on British soil. I do not know how far the Treaties which we have with China affect this question; but I am not sure that the Treaty of Pekin does not contain clauses which would be rather awkward to construe in reference to the present case. On the other hand, the Australian Colonies have a very strong case. During many years, whenever their grievance has become great, they have passed prohibitory laws and have issued warnings to Chinese labourers; and they might claim with perfect truth that, on the whole, their treatment of Chinese immigrants has been good. Compared with their treatment in Cuba, in America, and in other parts of the world, the treatment of the Chinese in Australia has been of a mild and satisfactory character. The real difficulty of the question is to be found in the fact of the excessive population of China. They are not merely alien in blood, but their habits are different from those of the Anglo-Saxon inhabitants of Australia, and they live in quarters by themselves which they frequently make notorious. If ever a large swarm of these people found their way to Australia I can well understand the consternation and dismay which would be created. Almost without exception, every Australian statesman is of one mind on the subject, not to allow the unrestricted immigration of these aliens. To a large extent I sympathize with them, because, although I am disposed to uphold Treaty rights to the utmost, nothing will ever induce me to run the risk of peopling the Australian Colonies with Mongols instead of with Anglo-Saxons. The Secretary of State must have thought this question over both in regard to the wishes of the Australian Colonies and the claims and requirements of the Chinese Government. The matter may easily be placed upon a Treaty footing. Quite recently the Government of the United States arranged such a Treaty. A Conference, at which the Australian Colonies are to be represented, is to be held shortly at Sydney to consider this question. Nothing could be better or wiser than to hold such a Conference; but I must ask, with reference to one very important particular, who is to represent our Imperial interests, and who is to expound the views of her Majesty's Government at that meeting? I sincerely hope and trust that the noble Lord is not going to allow this Conference to be held without sending over someone to attend it who is in the confidence of, and who knows the mind of, her Majesty's Government, and can speak their opinions with regard to this question. This question is essentially an Imperial one, and it involves responsibilities from which no English Government can possibly escape. I hope that my noble Friend will recognize the fact that her Majesty's Government are bound to take part in the solution of this question, and will give their hearty assistance in bringing it to a satisfactory solution. I will further say that it is essential, as it appears to me, to both England and Australia that a friendly solution of this question should be brought about. I should like to ask your Lordships whether it has ever occurred to you to note how great has been the advance of the Chinese Empire during the last few years, both as regards their domestic and their external affairs? They have adopted steamers, railways, and telegraphs, while their trade has increased enormously. The Chinese Empire is, in fact, year by year, for better or worse, taking its place in the family of civilized nations, while her material force in our Colonial waters enables her to make her views respected. These are all serious facts which Her Majesty's Government will do well to consider. China has had her disputes with France and Russia, but our relations with her have recently been of a peculiarly friendly character. I would also ask the Australian Colonies to remember that their interests and those of China are by no means antagonistic, and that friendship with that Empire is well worth purchasing, even at the cost of some little sacrifice. This, therefore, is a question in which there must be, on the one side, co-operation and friendly offices, and on the other great forbearance. I beg, my Lords, to move for copies of the Correspondence of which I have given Notice. Moved, "That an humble Address be presented to her Majesty, for copies or extracts of correspondence between the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Governors of the Australasian Colonies on the subject of the admission of Chinese immigrants to such colonies."—(The Earl of Carnarvon.)


said, he begged to move the addition of the following words to the Motion of the noble Earl:— And for a Return of all Acts passed by Colonial Legislatures affecting Chinese immigration. His reason for wishing for a Return of these Acts was that a great mass of Colonial legislation dealing with Chinese immigration existed, but was very little accessible, and it was very desirable that Parliament and the country should clearly understand the views that the various Colonies had from time to time taken on this subject. On the general question raised by the noble Earl he only proposed to say a word or two. The noble Earl had thoroughly explained to the House the universal desire expressed by statesmen and the public generally in Australia that some check should be placed upon Chinese immigration. No doubt at various times broader views had been held by different Colonies, but the sudden influx of Chinese into the Northern part of South Australia had brought about a different state of feeling. It was of great importance to preserve a friendly feeling with China, and he trusted that Her Majesty's Government would use as much expedition as possible to arrive at a conclusion on this subject.

Amendment moved, To add, at the end of the Motion, the following words:—"And for a Return of all Acts passed by Colonial Legislatures affecting Chinese immigration."—(The Earl of Dunraven.)


My Lords, with respect to the Amendment of the noble Earl who has just sat down, I will only say that I am prepared to give the information he desires. I understand him to wish for the production not only of the existing Acts, but of any that may have been passed within recent years, although since repealed, so as to show generally the lines of legislation upon this subject. I am satisfied that your Lordships have listened with great interest to the statement of the noble Earl who introduced this subject, and with greater interest, perhaps, because he has so recently come from Australia, and, therefore, is far more in touch with the feelings of the Australians than I can possibly be. I hope the noble Earl will acquit me of discourtesy if I reply to his speech rather briefly, because, as has already been stated, an Intercolonial Conference is to consider the whole of this subject on June 12, at Sydney. The more fitting time, therefore, to make a full statement on behalf of the Government, and to produce Papers, will be when the Conference has concluded its labours, and when we shall have in our possession the Report of its proceedings. As at present advised, I am unable to agree as to the advantage of sending an Imperial delegate to that Conference. The noble Earl who sug- gested that a delegate should be sent is well aware of the jealousy that is still entertained of anything approaching to what is called Downing Street spirit or Imperial influence, and I think it far better that the Colonial Governments should express and discuss their views upon this matter free from the presence of an Imperial delegate. If I answer briefly, it is not because I do not recognize the importance of this subject. The Government are, indeed, fully alive to its importance and to the strong feeling that has very naturally sprung up in Australia. The Government are as anxious as any of the Colonial Governments to secure that proper checks should be put upon this Chinese immigration, and proper precautions taken to prevent the Colonies from being swamped by it. The noble Earl has shown very clearly, and, indeed, it cannot be disputed, that the character of Chinese immigration is totally different from that of immigration from any other country. There are certain special evils, or rather defects, inherent in Chinese immigration, from which the other class of immigration is free, and therefore it is absolutely necessary that Australia should be protected from unchecked Chinese immigration. The Australian Government have shown for many years their sense of the difficulties, and, I may say, dangers, arising from unchecked Chinese immigration, and, as your Lordships are aware, there have already been many Colonial Acts specially directed against this immigration. In some Colonies a poll tax, varying from £10 to £30, has been imposed, and in all the larger Australian Colonies, I think, there are legislative provisions for limiting the number of immigrants by enacting that there shall be only one Chinese immigrant, not being a British subject, to 100 tons. I leave promised the production of Papers, and stated my reasons for not now entering upon a full discussion of this very important question, but as attacks have been made not only in this country, but, unfortunately, in the Colonies also, upon the action of her Majesty's Government, and as we have been accused of neglecting the interests of the Colonists, perhaps your Lordships will allow me very briefly to explain the position of affairs and to show that these charges are unfounded. The feeling of distrust and alarm at Chinese immigration was very greatly intensified at the beginning of this year by the large and unexpected influx of immigrants into the Northern territory of Australia. Great fear was entertained lest the Chinese, whose presence might possibly be very useful and unobjectionable in that territory, if they could be confined to that territory, should spread from there over other portions of the Australian Colonies. The report of this sudden influx of Chinese into the Northern territory was received by me on April 7, and I received at the same time a telegram from New South Wales referring to the rumour of a Treaty between the United States and China, and asking for some similar protection. I rather fancy that that Treaty has not yet been ratified in the Senate, but, at all events, its terms were published, and I sent them out to the Australian Colonies. Upon receiving the telegram from New South Wales I replied at once that the matter was under consideration, and I learnt by a telegram that that reply was received with satisfaction. During April, therefore, there was no pressure upon the Government to lead them to take immediate action. In fact, at the end of April we received a telegram from the Governor of Victoria asking us not to take any decision adverse to opening negotiations with the Chinese Government until we should have received despatches which had been forwarded. I mention this to show that during April there was no delay on the part of the Government and no disinclination to act. In the last days of April and the beginning of May vessels with an unusual number of emigrants on board arrived at Melbourne and Sydney, and then followed the action of the New South Wales Government. There is some defence to be made for that action in the sudden panic and great alarm which sprung up at Sydney. It resulted in the prohibition to land, and in hasty legislation. That I regret, because it made any opening of negotiations with the Chinese Government at the time impossible. It certainly would have been useless to begin negotiations then. The charge against the Government of having before that time refused to negotiate is absolutely unfounded. It was unfortunate that not only that re- port but many other unfounded reports appeared in the Colonial newspapers, because they tended to excite feeling and to spread the belief that the Government did not desire to meet the wishes of the Colonies. I have more than once contradicted the reports; but, perhaps, as a proof of the desire of the Government to meet the wishes of the Colonial Governments, I may be permitted to read a telegram which I sent to Lord Carrington on May 11— Referring to your telegram of April 26, no foundation for report that the Government refuse to negotiate with Chinese Government. Negotiations being carefully considered. Before arriving at conclusion against negotiations, Australian Colonies would have been consulted further. Her Majesty's Government fully recognize strength of feeling. The fact is that we have been always ready to negotiate, but it was necessary before beginning negotiations that we should thoroughly understand the case. Exact information as to the state of Colonial legislation with respect to Chinese immigration had been called for by a Circular Despatch early in the year; and it would have been useful to have had that information, and to have learned whether the Colonial Governments were all agreed upon total prohibition, or upon carefully restricted immigration, and the nature of such restrictions. We should have been unwise to enter upon negotiations at once in a hurry, and with imperfect information. So much for the charge, which, I trust, I have fully disposed of, of refusal of her Majesty's Government to negotiate. Let me add, as another proof of the unfounded character of the charge, that we did not regard the strong feeling existing in Australia upon this subject, that although, as I have before said, we regretted the action of the New South Wales Government in passing through the Assembly a very stringent law against Chinese immigration, we gave the Governor leave to assent to the measure, without prejudice to Her Majesty's power of disallowance should the provisions prove inadmissible. I shall not now enter upon the Treaty question which has been touched upon by the noble Earl, but I may say that there is no reason to suppose that legislation restricting the immigration of Chinese and imposing certain limitations upon it is opposed to the Treaty of Tien-Tsin. I have now sketched the action of the Government up to the middle of May, and shown that there was no disinclination, but that there was, on the contrary, a desire to co-operate with the Colonists. Early in May we were informed of the proposal to hold a Conference, and from the very first we readily assented to the plan. We offered at once to communicate points which we thought were deserving of special consideration and discussion, and, within the last few days, we have formulated and sent over certain questions which we think might usefully be brought before the delegates at the Conference. The object of these questions is to discover how far an effective restriction of Chinese immigration can be secured in a manner conducive to the general interests of the Australian Colonies and the Empire at large. I have great confidence that the whole subject will be most carefully discussed at this Conference, and that all its bearings, political and commercial, will be considered. But until that Conference has reported, it would not be right for the Government to take any further step or to make any more definite declaration of policy. I cordially concur with what the noble Earl said as to our position with China, and I need hardly assure your Lordships that it is our earnest desire to maintain and strengthen our relations with that great country. Her Majesty's Government will do all in their power to secure a friendly solution of this very important question, whether by Treaty or otherwise. With the co-operation of the Australian Colonies, we hope to come to some arrangement beneficial and honourable alike to all interested. I feel that the answer I have given to the noble Earl does not meet many of the points to which he refers; but he is more in the position of a chartered libertine than I am. Speaking for her Majesty's Government, I should desire to express our sympathy with the views and wishes of the great Australian Governments, our sense of the importance of the question, and our hope that we may arrive at a speedy and satisfactory solution of it.


My Lords, I do not rise for the purpose of criticizing the conduct of the Government, as to which I was not aware that they had been subject to attack, nor do I wish to find any fault with the very wise caution and reserve which my noble Friend has exercised in his present announcement. I think he is quite right not in any way to anticipate the discussions or decisions of the Conference which is about to be held; but we who are not responsible, we who have simply the position of interested lookers-on, are not under the same restraint; and I do not think that a plain and frank expression of opinion on the part of Members of this House can do any harm or increase the present complications. There are two questions involved. One is whether the line of conduct which the Australian Governments have pursued, are pursuing, and evidently intend in the future to pursue upon this question of Chinese immigration, is in itself an altogether wise and reasonable one; and the other is whether, supposing we entertain some doubt upon that point, it is any part of our business to interfere to prevent their taking their own course. The former, to my mind, is really an abstract and theoretical question as to the latter, the question, What is our duty? is a practical question. I apprehend there may be some shades of difference between individuals; but, speaking generally, there will be an almost unanimous feeling in this country that, in point of fact, and to put it plainly, we have no option. Supposing we were to veto any anti-Chinese legislation on the part of the Colonies and to announce that any similar legislation would be similarly vetoed in future, what would be the result? Can we suppose that that veto would be submitted to? You know perfectly well that you would have an agitation spreading through every one of the Australian Colonies, and even if the prohibition of Chinese immigration could not be obtained by legal means, we know very well that popular feeling would be translated into action and whether by legal means or by means beyond the law, the immigration would soon be stopped. We are in the hands of the Colonists, and they must do in this matter as they please. If there is in Australia any opinion which is universally held, it is that Australia belongs to the Australians, and that it is not for us to regulate the conditions for the admission of the Chinese or other immigrants into their country. I do not for a moment conceal that certain inconvenience may arise from what is being done in Australia with regard to the Chinese; but I do not think it will interfere with our general relations with China. I do not believe that at any time it has been the policy of China to encourage emigration. The Chinese have plenty of room at home; and, if we know anything of their way of thinking, those among them who have most considered the matter seem to be anxious to see the stream of Chinese emigration directed towards their own interior Provinces rather than to foreign countries. But the matter does touch us in this way. We have for many years past been trying to obtain admission for our merchants, traders, missionaries, and whoever may have business of any kind into the interior of China. I am afraid that what our Colonial friends are doing will cut the ground from under our feet. We can have no locus standi to claim the right of unlimited admission into China for our people when the Chinese are practically excluded from Australia. But if this is a question which touches us, it is not a question which greatly concerns Australia; and it is childish to suppose that in a matter in which their own feelings and, as they suppose, their own interests are very much concerned, they will sacrifice their own wishes to considerations of Imperial policy. I believe that upon this question of the keeping out of the Chinese, the Australians are practically of one mind. I quite agree with my noble Friend the Colonial Secretary in his reason for declining to send a delegate to the Conference now being held in the Colony—that he wishes the discussions of that Conference to be uninfluenced or unbiassed from home. As to the merits of the Colonial policy itfelf, perhaps the less said the better. I have seen articles in the newspaper Press about the alleged immoral habits of the Chinese; but, taking them in the mass, I believe the Chinese population are quite as moral as any similar number of Europeans. Nor can I treat seriously the supposed danger to Australia of becoming a Mongol rather than a white community. Some 10,000 or 100,000 Chinamen pouring into Australia would not make it a Mongol community any more than the negroes imported into the United States have made the United States a black Republic. It really is, to speak plainly, a question of wages. The Chinaman is exceedingly industrious; he works very hard for very low wages; he does not spend his wages when he has earned them, but he takes them home; and that course of conduct is naturally not popular in a country which is governed by its working class. The rate of wages all over Australia is one which we in England should think abnormally high; those who have the power in their hands do not desire that it shall be lower. The strongest objection that I see—and it is one that may really cause some practical difficulty—is the exclusion of those who are formally British subjects from our own Colonies. There are immense numbers of Chinese naturalized or Colonial-born in Hong Kong, Singapore, and the Strait Settlements; and it is not easy to justify upon any general ground the absolute exclusion of British subjects belonging to one Colony from another Colony. Whether any concession will or can be made on that point I do not know, but I think it is a matter to which attention should be drawn. One moral I draw from this agitation. We hear a great deal in these days about large schemes for pouring out our surplus population upon the Colonies. If we were to do it upon such a scale or in such a manner as to materially lower the rate of wages, we should find that the immigrants being Englishmen and not Chinese would not prevent them from being almost as unpopular among the working class as the Chinese are. The whole question of immigration is really in the hands of the Colonists, and the sooner and more thoroughly we recognize that fact the better.


My Lords, I agree with my noble Friend that, practically, when the Australian Colonies are united upon a point of this kind it is impossible that they should not have their own way; but I should like to call attention to the fact that the interests of the Australian Colonies are not the only interests that have to be considered. There are the interests—and they are not small—of the rest of the British Empire; and a portion of that Empire which is specially concerned is India. No one can deny that it is most important as affecting India that the relations of this country with China should be not only friendly but cordial. It is of the highest moment to this country that China should be our cordial ally. It is impossible not to feel that this question of Chinese immigration places us in difficulty in the conduct of our foreign relations. Although I do not profess to be able to suggest a solution, yet if my voice could have any influence in Australia I would say I hope that in discussing this question they will take into serious consideration our relations with other countries of the world and with China. I would deprecate strongly—I trust it is not likely to happen—that this question should be left simply to the Colonists to settle by legislation of their own, and that it should not be settled by some distinct and, I hope, satisfactory agreement with China. I trust that the Australian statesmen will so conduct this matter that, while doing justice to the strong feeling of their countrymen in Australia, they will do everything in their power to facilitate the negotiations with China which have to be conducted by Her Majesty's Government.


said, he readily assented to what the noble Lord had said as to the ground for delaying the production of the Papers on the assumption that as soon as that reason ceased to operate they would be produced. He wished to impress upon the noble Lord the Secretary of State for the Colonies not to leave this matter to be decided entirely by the Australian Colonies. He did not think that that represented at all the view of the Government or their wish in the matter. The arguments used that night as to the complexity of the interests involved, not merely Colonial but foreign also, showed how important it was that there should be someone in the Colonies who could speak on behalf of her Majesty's Government, who could indicate the view of the Government, and who could remind the Colonies that ultimately the management of affairs must rest with her Majesty's Government. He wished, therefore, to impress upon his noble Friend the great importance of not abdicating in any degree the Imperial responsibility and the Imperial power in this matter. Australian statesmen, in dealing with this question, would prefer to know the views of Her Majesty's Government, and once they were assured of the sympathy of this country with them, he believed they would not be found to be in the slighest degree unreasonable in their demands.


What I intended to say, though I fear I may not have expressed myself clearly, was that Her Majesty's Government did not wish to interfere with free discussion at the Conference, and that when they had the result of the Conference and the views of the Colonial Governments before them, and not till then, they would decide what course should be taken. Her Majesty's Government are aware that the responsibility of finally dealing with this question rests upon them, and the power is also in their hands, because, as the noble Earl is aware, they could disallow Colonial legislation, though they would be very unwilling to take such a step. This responsibility will devolve upon her Majesty's Government when they have received in a concrete form the views and wishes of the Colonies.

Amendment agreed to.

Then the original Motion, as amended, agreed to.

House adjourned at half-past Six o'clock, to Monday next, a quarter before Eleven o'clock.