HL Deb 08 August 1902 vol 112 cc1085-8

continuing his speech, said he was not seeking to interfere with the undoubted right of Australia to legislate for itself. But he urged that there should be communications between the Imperial Government, the Federal Government, and the High Commissioner of the Western Pacific, with a view to securing that the Kanakas, British subjects as they were, would at least receive adequate compensation, and be safeguarded if they were returned to their own islands.


I am sure the House has listened with very great interest to the speech of the noble Lord opposite, especially as he speaks with so much knowledge of the subject he has brought before the House. I am in perfect sympathy with the action of the noble Lord, especially us I understand he in no way wishes to interfere with the undoubted right of Australians to govern themselves, and has no desire to challenge the settled policy of Australians —a policy with which most of us are in entire accord—to keep Australia white. A white Australia is part of the religion of Australians, and in their determination to keep the country Anglo-Saxon as tar as possible they have the sympathy of almost everybody who has been in that part of the world. I think we may have full confidence in the fact that the Federal Government will behave towards these Kanakas in a proper and legitimate manner. But what I understand my noble friend to ask is, that when these coloured persons are being sent back to the islands in the South Pacific from whence they came, and have got outside the three-mile limit, there should be some arrangement between the Federal Government and the High Commissioner of the Western Pacific whereby they will be returned to the particular islands to which they belong, and not be "dumped down," as it were, on other islands where, of course, they would run a great I risk of losing their lives. On this point I heartily sympathise with the noble Lord, and earnestly hope that His Majesty's Government will be able to meet his wishes.


My Lords, having had the honour to fill the office of High Commissioner of the Western Pacific, I desire to say one or two words on the subject to which the noble Lord has called attention. Of course, we must all be sensible of the fact that we have committed to Australia and to the Federal Government the charge of these matters, and that they are, therefore, perfectly at liberty to pass what legislation they please. At the same time, it is impossible but that the views of His Majesty's Government must have some weight with the Federal Government, and what I take it is now asked by my noble friend is that the statements in this petition should be well weighed by His Majesty's Government, and that any representations that may seem to them necessary on behalf of British subjects appealing to the King for protection should be made with such diplomatic reserves as they think proper. There are some provisions in the Act the extraordinary nature of which— indeed, the monstrous nature of which— has not, I think, been fully considered. The Clause providing for the return to their own islands of all Kanakas who did not come in before 1879 applies also to those born in Australia. Many of these Kanakas have had children born in Australia who have grown up amid all the surroundings of civilisation and Christianity, and a number of the Kanakas born in Australia during the past twenty-three years have married there and had children; and now, under this Act, these people are to be taken out of the environment of Christianity and civilisation and to be sent back to these barbarous islands with no provision for the security of their lives and no compensation for the property of which they are to be deprived. This is a monstrous provision. The Government of Commonwealth, if it likes, can pass it, but His Majesty's Government can remonstrate, and when subjects of the King appeal to His Majesty for the protection their petition should certainly be taken into consideration.


My Lords, this Question has been on the Paper for a good many weeks, and I hope the noble Lord will not think it owing to any discourtesy on my part that I have not been able to reply to it before. The petition was received only on the 4th inst. I cannot say how the delay arose, but the Government are taking the petition into consideration. Personally, I think that the petition is a most pathetic one, and I have great sympathy with it. I have no objection to lay it on the Table of the House, together with the reply which will be made to it. The noble Lord, I was glad to hear, admitted that the Commonwealth of Australia had every right to carry out this legislation, and I understand that all he asks for now is that the Government should use their good offices to secure the most favoured treatment possible for the unfortunate Kanakas, who, under the Act, will be sent back to their own islands. I understand that they came almost exclusively from the New Hebrides and the Solomon Islands. Fortunately, in both of those groups there are English residents. I have discussed this matter with Mr. Barton, the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth, and he assures me that in the interval—it is not till 1906 that the repatriation will become necessary—he will place himself in communication with the British residents, and will endeavour to secure that these men shall be sent back to places where their property and lives will be safe. The Commonwealth will make arrangements to hand their property over under the supervision and care of the British residents, so that it may not be seized by the tribal chiefs; and I hope that provision will be made for their safety and security, as well as for a sufficiency of suitable and congenial employment. I can assure the noble Lord, in accordance with the promise I gave him on the last occasion when he called attention to this subject, that the Government will do all they can to persuade the Government of the common wealth to look after the interests and to ensure the security of the these men when the time comes to send them back.


How about those born in Australia?


They will have to be repatriated, but every precaution will be taken to see that the terrible catastrophies referred to will not overtake them.


Did I understand that the noble Earl will lay on the Table of the House the petition, together with the reply and any other communications?