HL Deb 11 August 1904 vol 140 cc196-202

I desire to call attention to the Twenty-second Article of the Royal Instructions issued to the Governor of the Transvaal on the 23rd September, 1902; and to ask the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies whether it is still in force. Also to ask the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies whether His Majesty's Government has any objection to lay upon the Table any correspondence which has lately taken place with regard to the recent alterations in the native taxation system of Fiji.

My Lords, at this late period of the session, and in this thin House, which I am sorry to see I am making thinner, I have no temptation to dwell at any length upon the Questions I wish to put. I ought, perhaps, to make some apology for putting them at all, were it not that I think there is a point of some gravity to which it is desirable to call the attention of this House and of the public before the close of the session. Two years ago Royal Instructions were committed to the Governor of the Transvaal on his appointment. The Twenty-second Article of these Instructions contains a prohibition to the Governor to assent to certain classes of Ordinances, some half-dozen of which are enumerated. One of these prohibitions, couched in the strongest possible terms, is a prohibition to assent in the name of the Sovereign to any Ordinance by which disabilities or restrictions are imposed on persons not of European birth or descent which are not equally imposed on persons of European birth or descent. I need not point out the glaring inconsistency between this prohibition and the ordinance lately passed in the Transvaal with regard to Chinese labour. That inconsistency is clear and manifest and needs no comment, nor will it receive any from me.

I think I know what will be the answer of my noble friend the Under-Secretary of State with regard to it. He will point out a proviso at the end of that clause of the Instructions, which allows the Secretary of State to dispense in any particular case with any of these prohibitions, and he will probably add as a further answer that similar provisions have been already enacted in other places without objections being raised to them. As regards the second objection I simply deny it. I am not at present, in this House and under the present circumstances, going into the details of the sub- ject or to argue it. It is quite unnecessary for me to go into any detailed examination of the various points in which the Ordinances on similar subjects in other colonies differ from that which has been passed in the Transvaal. In my opinion the provisions are absolutely different, and in themselves are sufficient to show how different they are. But without going into them at this time there is one distinction, and one alone, which makes them absolutely different, i.e., the object of each is different, however much separate provisions may be similar. The object of the Mauritius, West Indies, and Fijian Ordinances with regard to immigration is to ensure the performance of a contract and that only. The disabilities to which persons are subjected in those places are only those strictly requisite to ensure the performance of the contract. But the object of the Transvaal Ordinance is different. It is to prevent or hinder all association or contact between the European population and those non-European elements introduced under it. This is effected by provisions which are directed to that object, and which are not necessary merely to ensure the performance of a contract for labour. Therefore the second answer that is likely to be made to me I pay no attention to. To the first and more important answer that the Secretary of State has a dispensing power I at once admit that that forms a perfect technical answer to my objection, but not, I think, an equally satisfactory moral answer. That power of dispensation is given to the Secretary of State manifestly in order to meet practical difficulties. I do not suppose that those who framed that proviso had in their minds any intention whatever that it should set aside principles that were laid down as being of general and universal application. Occasions may arise on which on many of the subjects set out practical difficulties may occur which the interference of the Secretary of State can remove, but the great principle laid down, viz., that European and non - European residents in a country are to be treated alike, is not one which it was intended by the framers of the Instructions to be dealt with in this way.

I do not know that that alone would have induced me to ask these Questions; it is to a much wider question that I desire to call your Lordships' attention. This action is only one of many things which lead me to fear that the whole action, tone, and spirit of the Colonial Department of the present day show a grave and growing departure from the maxims which prevailed there some thirty or forty years ago. In the Transvaal Colony I see it is proposed—setting aside Chinese labour—to limit and restrict the liberties which belong to His Majesty's Indian subjects resident in that Colony. It is said that the proposal is looked on with no disfavour that all Indians resident in that colony should be restricted in their rights of shop-keeping and selling. These debates have led me to go very carefully and minutely into the subject, and I find that in the West Indies regulations which were some years ago deemed not only by me but by those of higher rank than myself, under whom I was employed at the Colonial Office, and by those who worked under me in the colony, to be essentially necessary to the protection of the imported labourer—that these regulations have one by one gradually been dropped and abandoned, and that they now no longer regulate the state of things in those islands. I see every symptom of the same thing recurring. I am not attacking His Majesty's Government or the present or the late Secretary of State for that; it is not a matter that concerns one Government or one period. All I am saying is that I believe a change, and a great change, has come over the Department which is looked upon as a permanent institution. There are many causes which may naturally account for this and I will not weary your Lordships by going into them now, at a future time I may propose to do so. I wish before the close of the session to say that taking all these things together it is my intention, if I am still on the roll of living Peers next year, to move for the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the present state of the immigration laws prevailing in the West Indian Colonies and the abandonment of protective measures for the non-European races.

That leads me to the second question. I ask my noble friend whether he will lay before the House the correspondence which has passed with regard to the alterations lately made in the native taxation system of Fiji. I do not say that those alterations may not be necessary; possibly they are; but I do know that some amendment of these regulations has long been thought to be necessary for the preservation of the native races there, and therefore I trust that any modifications which have been made are alterations decided on with great care, judgment, and moderation. We cannot form a judgment unless we see the correspondence which has passed. My noble friend will not be suprised at my taking a strong personal interest in what passes in those islands and any legislation with regard to them. I hope he will see his way to give us that information, without which we cannot accurately judge of the measures which may be called for, but which on the other hand may be measures destructive to the preservation of the native races in that region.


I am sure my noble friend's connection with the various matters relating to Colonial administraiton entitle him to be listened to with respect. He has told us that next session he hopes to bring the matter before your Lordships, and it will then be my duty to reply or give such information as I can. I am sorry that my noble friend is under the impression that His Majesty's Government have only technically kept within the bounds of the Royal Instructions. I cannot agree with him, for, as he is perfectly well aware, this clause to which he refers is still in force. The clause in question Clause 22, runs as follows— No ordinance shall take effect until assented to in Our name by the Governor, and the Governor shall not assent in Our name to any Ordinance of any of the following classes. The following classes, which are enumerated, include the one to which my noble friend alluded, namely, any Ordinance whereby persons not of European birth or descent may be subjected or made liable to any disabilities or restrictions which are not imposed on persons of European birth or descent. Although the Governor cannot assent to any Ordinance of this kind, yet, as my noble friend has pointed out, there is a proviso in the case of emergency for the immediate operation of an Ordinance. The proviso runs as follows— Unless in the case or any such Ordinance as aforesaid he shall have previously obtained Our Instructions upon such Ordinance through one of our principal Secretaries of State. My noble friend is perfectly well aware that these Asiatic Importation Ordinances have been the subject of prolonged discussions and correspondence between the Secretary of State and Lord Milner, and as that is the case it is clear that we have already complied with the proviso. But there is yet another proviso which reads— Unless such Ordinance shall contain a clause suspending the operation of such Ordinance until the signification of Our pleasure thereupon. That is to say, the Ordinance must have in it a clause, the effect of which is perfectly clearly stated in the Transvaal Labour Importation Ordinance itself. That Ordinance contains a clause providing— This Ordinance may be cited for all purposes as the Labour Importation Ordinance and shall not take effect unless and until the Governor shall proclaim in the Gazette that it is His Majesty's pleasure not to disallow the same, and thereupon it shall come into operation upon such a date as the Governor shall notify by proclamation. My noble friend will see that this proviso to which I have alluded is contained in the Transvaal Labour Ordinance, therefore he will admit that Lord Milner has complied in every way with Article 22 of the Royal Instructions. Whether we have only complied technically or not is a matter I am afraid I cannot discuss with my noble friend. He thinks we have only complied technically and that morally we are open to censure and criticism. I confess I am not able to follow my noble friend on that point, which is somewhat abstruse, but I think he will see that so far as the technical aspect or the legal aspect of the case is concerned both Lord Milner and His Majesty's Government have complied absolutely with the Royal Instructions which were laid down some two years ago.


I perfectly admit that my noble friend is technically justified. My point was only this; that when you lay down a great and general principle, if you proceed at once to act contrary to that principle, you had better abolish it at once.


Order, order! The noble Lord has no right of reply.