HL Deb 15 July 1889 vol 338 cc378-83

House in Committee (according to order).


My Lords, on Clause 31 have to move an Amendment. In the first place, I wish to put the question whether we ought to part with this enormous territory? As your Lordships know, this large district of Western Australia is almost the last of the colonial territories which remain undisposed of. The noble Lord has told us that the population of the colony is estimated at about 40,000, a number far exceeded by the population of many country towns in England, while the territory is about eight times the size of the whole of the United Kingdom. That population, as far as I have been able to learn, is not scattered throughout the colony, as in other colonies, but it mainly exists in the South-West corner of Western Australia. There are settlements on the sea coast in other parts, but they are very small and insignificant. In the Bill a different arrangement is proposed to be made in regard to this colony from what has been made in other instances with reference to the waste lands lying South of the 26th parallel of latitude. My Lords, I do not understand why, when to this colony the boon of Responsible Government was given (which is a very great boon to so small a community), so very large a concession should have been made to them of those waste lands. If, as was the case some 50 or 60 years ago, we were very anxious to dispose of all our colonial possessions, something might be said for this proposal; but when we remember that all our colonies have ceased to be under our control, if any scheme of colonization or emigration is to be carried out, it is to this colony of Western Australia we must look. Your Lordships ought, therefore, to be chary of parting with the control over that enormous territory. Some control should be maintained over it, and the whole district should not be given away, as is done by Clause 3. The condition of the land of the colony is very variable; it is in some parts pasturage, in others it is under agriculture, while in some parts, again, the mineral features are the most marked. In some parts of the interior it is said the land is not in a fit state for colonization. But that argument cuts both ways. If this large tract of land in Western Australia is not suited for immediate colonization, why should we part with all control over it to a community so small as that which now exists in the colony? We do not know what future resources may be open to us there. I suppose the great reason why the interior of Australia is so barren and so unsuited for agricultural purposes is the deficiency of moisture and the want of irrigation; but probably, as in England and all over the civilized world, they will have to solve the problem how best to utilize the rainfall so as to supplement the deficiency which exists during the other parts of the year. I am informed that the rainfall in Western Australia average 30 inches a year. At no distant rate, probably, engineering science will provide us with the means, at a small cost, of storing up a portion of this rainfall so as to irrigate this barren territory. My Lords, I do not say that I am prepared with any scheme for this purpose; but anybody who bears in mind that the attention of engineers is being gradually turned with more and more effort to the solution of this great problem of the storage of water will see that, before long, there is a probability we shall obtain the means of effecting it. If that be the case, if that can be done, this large area will become very valuable—an enormous district which is now treated as not of the value of an old song. It is by no means improbable that we may before many years be enabled to fertilize those barren regions. If then you leave to the colonists a proper share of the waste lands which belong to them in proportion to the numbers of the community occupying them, to be developed by their own resources, you will have a very large territory removed from the jurisdiction of Western Australia and at present provided with no Government at all. My Lords, I do not think that is a very serious difficulty. You have a parallel case in South Australia of the Northern Territory, which is very far removed indeed from the seat of Government in South Australia, and is under very different conditions to those which prevailed in that colony. I hope a similar policy will be pursued in the colony of Western Australia. I cannot help thinking, my Lords, we are acting very rashly and very improvidently in parting with the control of so large a tract of country as that which lies under the 26th parallel of latitude unreservedly to Western Australia, and retaining only so shadowy a control over the waste lands to the North of that parallel. I do not see why we should part with the whole of our estate in that part of the world, and so deprive ourselves of the right of legislating in the future for colonists who are not under the jurisdiction of Western Australia. I do not think so large a tract of country should be handed over to so very limited a number of colonists as occupy that part of Australia. I do not go into the question of their fitness for Responsible Government. I believe the time has now come when their condition in that respect must undergo a change; but I do think greater wisdom should be shown in retaining control over those waste lands. If I am told that that land is barren and worthless, then I say that is a reason for not assigning it to a community of these limited numbers. If it is worthless, at all events, let us keep it in our hands and see whether the resources of modern civilization will not enable us to use and develop it. My impression is that we shall be able to do so far better than this small community of colonists, whose efforts will be absorbed for many years to come in developing the lands which lie nearest to them, and in completing their colonization of those lands lying more immediately under their own control. For many years to come they will certainly be unable to grapple with the large tracts of land proposed to be assigned, by this Bill. The great question is, whether we shall once for all part with our control over this large territory, which, as I have said, is about eight times the size of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, for the benefit of a community not so large as the present population of the City of Worcester, this being the last of all the colonial possessions of England. I hope your Lordships will be disposed to carry the restriction further than is proposed by the Bill, and with that object I beg to move this Amendment.

Amendment moved, "To leave out Clause 3."—(The Earl Beauchamp.)


I regret that I am unable to accept the Amendment. As the noble Earl has very properly abstained from arguing whether Responsible Government should be given to Western Australia, I need not repeat the reasons for that change which I stated a few days ago, but only remark that, though the responsibility for making the change must rest upon Her Majesty's Government, I think the noble Lords who have administered Colonial affairs expressed general concurrence in the action taken by Her Majesty's Government. It was admitted in the former Debate that if Responsible Government was granted to a colony the control of the Crown lands should be vested in the Colonial Government. That principle was fully recognized by Lord Carnarvon and Lord Derby, and, I think, by your Lordships generally. An exception has been made in the present case, inasmuch as the management of the northern part of Western Australia, north of the 26th degree of latitude, is still reserved to the Crown. But this was done for the special reason pointed out by Lord Derby in the despatch to which I referred in the Debate on the Second Reading of this Bill— namely, that within a certain number of years it was probable that that territory would be separated from the rest of the colony. With reference to the Amendment proposed by the noble Earl, I desire to recall to your Lordships the present condition of the case as regards the management of the land in Western Australia. For many years past the whole of the Crown lands in the Colony have been virtually under the control of the Legislative Council of Western Australia, so that it can hardly be said that any concession has now been really made to the colony of a vast area of land. Strictly speaking, no doubt the Governor—that is, the Crown—has the power of disposing and dealing with the land, subject to rules and regulations which the Governor in Council, that is, the Governor with the advice and consent of his Executive Council, is empowered to make. But, practically, the Governor and Executive Council have, in dealing with these lands, been largely guided by the feelings and views of the Representative Council, in which, as I have before stated, the Crown does not command a majority. It may then be fairly stated that it is the Legislative Council which has practically been managing the whole of the large area of land south as well as north of the 26th parallel. What has been then the policy of the Colonial Government during these years? I have shown on a former occasion that it has been largely in favour of promoting immigration. This is proved by the evidence given before the State-aided Colonization Committee, by which it was shown that Western Australia was one of the four colonies which most promoted immigration. It is proved also by the passing of land rules and regulations about three years ago, by which a distinct preference was given to the smaller settlers and those who were prepared to reside and cultivate. A man can get land for 10s. an acre, and may spread the payment over 20 years, so that he need pay only 6d. a year per acre, and it can scarcely be said that that is a hard tax for an emigrant. I have seen it urged that vast tracts of land have been granted to certain individuals and corporations, but I would point out that no grants of fee simple have been made of these lands, but only leases, and that at any time agriculture areas may be cut out of these lands for the settlement of small agricultural holders, should the lands ever become adapted for agriculture. There is no reason to suppose that the colony will make any change in its policy of encouraging immigration. The leading men in the Executive and Legislative Councils in the colony have shown themselves in favour of immigration, and these men, after Responsible Government has been granted, will be the Ministers. Why should we assume that they will change their policy? Why should we fear to trust them? I believe that the establishment of Responsible Government will greatly assist in attracting immigration, and introducing fresh capital. We have the precedent of Queensland and of the other Australian Colonies in support of this view. In all these cases there was, unless I am misinformed, a large expenditure for immigration after Responsible Government was granted. I would venture to urge upon your Lordships that any large curtailment of the area over which the Responsible Government are to have control, might lead to the colony declining to accept Responsible Government. This would be very unfortunate for the reasons which I stated in the debate on the Second Reading of this Bill, and it would create considerable dissatisfaction in the other Australian Colonies, which have heartily supported Western Australia in their desire to change the form of Government. But I venture to think that the curtailment of area would not benefit the cause of immigration. No system of emigration from this country to Western Australia can succeed unless it has the concurrence and cooperation of the Government of the colony; unless it can avail itself of the experience of that Government and of the machinery which they have created. If, however, the area of control were limited, the concurrence and help of the colonists would equally be limited. The lands on the south-east, for example, which are the lands referred to in the Amendment, are at present not adapted to agriculture, and the only chance of getting settlers upon them is by the establishment of communication with the rest of the colony, but no such communication will, it may be feared, be established if the colony has no control over this district. The Colonial Government will naturally confine their energy and help to promoting immigration to the southwestern district; and the south-east territory, which it is proposed to reserve, will remain without communication and unfitted for settlement. On these grounds, and again calling attention to Clause 8 in the Bill, which will prevent obstacles being thrown in the way of British settlers, I trust the Amendment will not be accepted.

Amendment negatived.

Bill reported, without Amendment; and to be read 3a To-morrow.