HL Deb 17 December 1902 vol 116 cc1459-61

My Lords, in the unavoidable absence of my noble friend Lord Lamington, he has requested me to ask the Question which stands in his name, although, as it appears on the Paper, it is perhaps rather vague—"To ask the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies a Question with reference to the reply sent to the Petition forwarded by the South Sea Islanders in Queensland." The noble Earl the Under Secretary of State will remember that last August, when Lord Lamington asked him a Question with regard to the repatriation of certain Kanakas who were going to be removed from Queensland, the noble Earl then promised that he would bring the case under the notice of the Common wealth Government†; and I understand the purpose of my noble friend today was to ask whether that had been done, and what response has been received from the Common wealth Government.


My Lords, I must take a little exception to the form that this notice assumes. It is "To ask.… a Question with reference to the reply sent to the Petition forwarded by the South Sea Islanders in Queensland." By the courtesy of the noble Lord in whose name the Question stood, I received an intimation from him of what the nature of the Question was to be, but it was something very different from what the noble Lord has just stated to your Lord ships. It was to ask whether the interests which were involved in this measure were not Imperial rather than local; but I understand now that what he really wants to know is, what reply we have received from the Commonwealth † See (4) Debates, exii., 1081. Government. I hope that this may not be a precedent as to the manner in which Questions are to be put down 'on the Paper of your Lordships' House, because if so we shall presently get to something like this, "To ask the Under Secretary of State a Question with reference to the British Empire!" I will endeavour to answer the noble Lord as far as I can, but if I had known what was the exact nature of the Question I would have been better prepared.

I may point out that these Kanakas, who are to be repatriated to their own country are not British subjects at all unless, of course, they have been born in, and resident in Queensland. We have been in communication with the Government of the Commonwealth, and they assure us that they will take every possible precaution to see that these people, when the time comes (it has not yet come) for them to be repatriated, will be treated with every possible consideration, and that they will not be sent back to any place where they are not likely to thrive and be happy. It has been said that some of these islanders have lost all connection with their homes, and that they have now become practically Queenslanders, accustomed to a settled form of government, and accustomed to regular work. His Majesty's representatives in the New Hebrides and in other places have been instructed, and are taking the necessary steps, to provide for any of these Kanakas in whose case it may be dangerous or disagreeable that they should return to their native homes. The Government of the Common wealth have given us the most complete assurance that, when the closing scenes of Kanaka employment in the plantations of Queensland arrive, they shall be accompanied by none of those cruelties and barbarities with which it was initiated. These islanders will obtain special and anxious attention, and it is hoped that whenever deportation is found to be necessary the Government will at the same time ensure the safety, and as far as possible the future welfare, of those towards whom Queensland has undertaken obligations which the Australian Commonwealth is bound to fulfil.


explained that in putting this Question he had been almost as much in the dark as the noble Earl himself as to the exact purport of Lord Lamington's Question.