HL Deb 05 August 1904 vol 139 cc1101-5

My Lords, I rise to ask the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies whether His Majesty's Government contemplate making any and what, changes in the Constitutional Government of either the Transvaal or the Orange River Colony; and, if so, whether Parliament will be consulted before such changes are made. My Question arises out of a statement made in another place a short time ago by the Colonial Secretary, from which it would appear that His Majesty's Government contemplate making some changes in the Constitutional Government of the Transvaal, and possibly of the Orange River Colony. I cannot help coupling that statement in my mind with the reflection that the Government have hither-to continually asserted that the opinion of the Transvaal is in favour of their policy with regard to the Chinese.

I do not think I should be prophesying in hazardous manner if I ventured to prophesy that the first question that will arise before the new constitutional authority, whatever it may be, in the Transvaal will be this question of imported Chinese labour. There are only two ways of getting a genuine opinion from the colony. You may either grant to it complete self-government, or you may refer any particular question, such as the Chinese labour question, to a referendum. Those are the only two ways in which you can genuinely test the feeling of the country. I am not stating that I advocate the immediate grant of self-government. That is another question altogether, and I quite understand that the Government are not prepared to take that step. But is there any reason why they should not adopt the principle of the referendum? It was suggested some time ago by the Colonial Secretary, and it was refused by Lord Milner, not on any ground of principle, but on the ground of time. Time pressed; the Chinese must come, and there was not time to take the opinion of the country by that method. But there is no such pressure with regard to time now. It was said that a referendum would take six months. Well, six months may easily elapse without any harm arising to any policy of Hi Majesty's Government.

Is it to be said that the referendum is a modern or unconstitutional manner of obtaining the views of a colony? In 1896 the Colony of New South Wales decided by referendum a whole group of educational questions. In 1899 the same colony decided a franchise question by referendum. In New Zealand—and this, I think, ought to attract your Lordships' attention, having regard to the nature of the debate that is to follow tonight—there is every three years a referendum on licensing; and in New South Wales lately there has been a referendum to decide on the number of the members of the legislative body. Last of all, the important question of the Australian Commonwealth was decided by referendum. Therefore, it cannot be said that there are not precedents for recourse having been had to it. But if His Majesty's Government, without consulting Parliament, are going to give the Transvaal a representative Government which does not represent the majority of the white people in that country, and if that Government so far approves of Chinese labour, and His Majesty's Government then claim that in view of that approval the Transvaal has given its consent to that policy, then I say I do not think they will be believed in this country, and the charge will be brought against them that they are trying to believe what they know, or at any rate suspect, to be untrue.


My Lords, I am sure the noble and learned Lord will not wish me to enter again into a discussion on the merits or demerits of Chinese labour, or whether His Majesty's Government were wise or unwise in not calling upon the population of the Transvaal to record in the form of a referendum whether they were in favour of the importation of Asiatics or not. The noble and learned Lord is anxious to know what the changes in the Constitution are which are contemplated by His Majesty's Government with regard to the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony. Let me deal first of all with the Transvaal. I do not think I can convey the information which the noble and learned Lord requires better than in the words of the Secretary of State himself. The Secretary of State, on the occasion of the Colonial Office Vote in another place, said, in connection with this matter, that— The decision of His Majesty's Government is to substitute for the present nominated element in the Transvaal Legislative Council an elective element. We believe that when they are elected the representatives will be able to express adequately their views as regards the action of the Transvaal Legislature in the importation of Chinese labour, and it is our belief that they will endorse and support the action of Lord Milner and the Executive in this matter. The noble and learned Lord will understand that the statement of the Secretary of State is simply a general statement. A general principle is laid down of an elective element, and the details will, of course, be the subject of full consideration between the Secretary of State, Lord Milner and the local authorities. The noble and learned Lord will see that it is impossible for us to give him any information upon what the decision as to those details will be until full consideration of them has taken place between the Secretary of State and the authorities in the Transvaal.

Now, with regard to the Orange River Colony, I have nothing further to add to what was stated by the Colonial Secretary in another place. The right hon. Gentleman said, speaking of the Orange River Colony, that no final conclusions had yet been arrived at by His Majesty's Government. The noble and learned Lord next asked whether Parliament will be consulted before any changes are made. If full responsible Government were going to be granted to any colony, in all probability that would be a subject for discussion in Parliament; but the noble and learned Lord knows perfectly well that that is not the intention of the Secretary of State. All he has said is that he proposes to substitute for the nominated element an elective element, and this change can be effected and carried out, according to the precedents of Mauritius and Cyprus, by a simple Order in Council. The details in connection with this change of Constitution have not yet been decided upon, and I hope the noble and learned Lord will see that it is impossible for His Majesty's Government to lay Papers dealing with the details of the scheme until they have been adequately discussed with Lord Milner and until a decision has been arrived at. I do not think I need I say anything further, beyond telling the noble and learned Lord that it would be impossible for His Majesty's Government to delay action in arriving at a decision on the details of this scheme in order to give Parliament an adequate opportunity of discussing them.


My Lords, I would press upon the noble Duke and His Majesty's Government the very great importance in this matter of letting Parliament know what they do mean. I do not ask them to tell us now what they are going to do, but I do ask them and press earnestly upon them that they should let Parliament know before the matter is finally settled; that is to say, before the Order in Council has been finally passed they should let Parliament know what they intend to do, and give us an opportunity of discussing the question. There is no more difficult task than to frame a sort of half-and-half Government, which I understand to be contemplated. It is a system in which, from some experience, I am bound to say I have no confidence. But, be that as it may, it is a question of such importance that it ought not to be finally settled, so far as it can be finally settled by an Order in Council, without Parliament when it meets again having had an opportunity of discussing and considering the question.