§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.
*THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (The Marquess of RIPON)
My Lords, the object of this 376 Bill is mainly to correct an error which has taken place in the Colony of New South Wales. In the course of last year a Bill was passed in New South Wales for the reform of the electoral law of that colony providing, among other things, for the redistribution of seats. After that Bill had passed the Colonial Legislature the Governor took the advice of his Attorney General as to whether it was one which ought to be reserved for Her Majesty's approval. The Attorney General advised that it was not a Bill which need be so reserved. The Governor in consequence immediately gave his assent to it, and sent it home in the usual way. When it came to this country considerable doubt arose as to whether the Bill was valid or not in consequence of its not having been treated as a reserved Bill. Steps were then taken to obtain the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown, and those learned persons advised me that the Act is, under the circumstances, invalid, because under two Imperial Statutes Acts of this kind, and especially those dealing with the redistribution of seats and other electoral questions, are required to be treated as reserved Bills, and sent home in that form for Her Majesty's approval. Under those circumstances, it has been necessary to take steps to give the Act the validity which at present is wanting. The matter is one of extreme urgency, inasmuch as the Bill came into operation in the Colonies as soon as the Governor had given his assent to it, and the redistribution of seats was at once proceeded with, as well as the preparation of Registers for a General Election, which will take place next month. A Proclamation has been issued under the authority of this Act to bring the new electoral system into operation. Consequently, if validity is not immediately given to this Bill great confusion and inconvenience will be caused to the Colony of New South Wales. I need say no more, I am sure, to convince your Lordships that it is desirable Parliament should take steps without delay to prevent such great inconvenience being caused to the colony. This unfortunate mistake was made apparently through error. I may be asked whether Her Majesty might not have given her Assent to the Bill now. No doubt she might; but all the proceedings under it would still have been invalid, 377 because the Bill would only come into operation from the date of the Assent being known in the Colony, and it is necessary that it should be made valid from the time it was signed by the Governor. Curiously enough, a similar case has occurred in Western Australia, since the Bill has been sent home, and there is some doubt with regard to Mills connected with Victoria and other Colonies. To meet all such cases the scope of the Bill now before your Lordships is extended beyond the Colony of New South Wales. Therefore, as there are only a few days remaining of the Session, it is necessary that I should ask your Lordships to suspend the Standing Orders in order that the Bill may be passed and sent down to the House of Commons to-day.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Marquess of Ripon.)
§ *LORD KNUTSFORD
My Lords, I only rise to express my entire concurrence in the steps which the noble Marquess has taken, and in his plea of urgency for the Bill. It is, of course, necessary that the Bill should be passed through both Houses as rapidly as possible. In these days of telegraph it will be known almost by this time in the Colonies that this Bill has been introduced to cure a blot, and it is most desirable that it should be passed to secure the validity of the Colonial Act before any action is taken to dispute that validity and to set aside any steps taken in the Colony under the Act. I consider the noble Marquess has acted very prudently in sweeping into his net all the Australian Colonies. In view, however, of the entirely different relations that now exist between these great Colonies and the Mother Country as compared with the state of things that existed when the Imperial Acts to which the noble Marquess referred were passed, I would suggest that the noble Lord should consider whether the time has not arrived when the question of the power of reservation might with advantage be dealt with, and whether the necessity for reserving Bills might not be dispensed with, so far as small alterations in the constitution of the Electoral Bodies in the Colonies are concerned. I confess that I am of opinion that, in small matters, it is not worth while to retain 378 this power of reservation, and I would suggest that this point should receive the consideration of the noble Marquess.
§ Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly; Committee negatived; Then Standing Order No. XXXIX. considered (according to Order), and dispensed with; Bill read 3a, and passed, and sent to the Commons.