§ LORD AMPTHILL
rose to call attention to the statement concerning the Municipal Corporations Act and the Dealers' Licences Act of the Colony of Natal made by the Secretary of State for the Colonies on the 6th instant, and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, about a fortnight ago I asked the noble Earl the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he could lay on the Table of the House any correspondence concerning the two Acts of the 37 Colony of Natal which are named in my Motion. In doing so I refrained from comment for two reasons. The first was that the noble Earl had only just succeeded to his high office, and the second was that I thought it was desirable, if possible, that important questions of this kind should be discussed in the full light of official knowledge. The noble Earl declared his inability to present any Papers, saying that there were no Papers to give.
§ LORD AMPTHILL
Anyhow, there were no further Papers to present. But the noble Earl went out of his way to make a statement concerning the situation which has arisen in Natal on account of those two Acts. That statement added nothing to the knowledge of the subject which is possessed by the general public, but it omitted a good deal. I am, therefore, raising the question again today in the hope of persuading the noble Earl to repair those omissions, and particularly to give us some indication of his policy. We cannot, in view of past experience, rest content to leave a matter of this kind to the unquestioned discretion of the Colonial Office. We should fear that the result would be very much what it was in a recent case, on which I need not at this moment enlarge. But perhaps I may say that we all hope the noble Earl will initiate a policy at the Colonial Office rather different from that which has been pursued during the past two years, and he will, I am sure, understand that if I make any criticisms of the policy of His Majesty's Government they are not directed at him personally, although, of course, they are directed at the Government of which he is a Member.
The noble Earl said that there had been no correspondence since September, 1907, when his predecessor had addressed a letter to the Natal Government, which at that moment still remained unanswered. What I have to ask, then, in the first instance, is, why there has been no further correspondence. There has been plenty of occasions for further correspondence, and I confess I was dismayed at hearing that this had not 38 been the view of the Colonial Office. If the Imperial Government have any duty at all towards His Majesty's subjects, wherever they may be under the British flag, if they have any responsibility for the unity and harmony of the Empire, there has been ample and frequent occasion for correspondence with the Government of Natal. The Dealers' Licences Act, which was passed in the year 1897, has placed the Indian trader in Natal completely at the mercy of his European competitors. It is not clear that this measure was originally intended as an anti-Asiatic measure, although it is being at present administered as such. Licensing boards composed solely of Europeans, and those Europeans often the actual trade rivals of the Indians, have unprecedented powers of granting or refusing trade licences or renewals. But, what is most serious of all, there is no appeal from their decisions to the Courts of the Colony.
Now, these boards have of late been using their powers in a manner which can only be described as most unjust and high-handed. They have been refusing licences, or rather the renewal of licences, on the flimsiest of pretexts. Some of the Indians who have just been deprived of their livelihood are well-known shopkeepers and tradesmen who have been resident in the Colony for as long as twenty or thirty years, and had made the Colony their home. There can be no doubt whatever that all this is part of a deliberate policy to drive the Indian trader out of the Colony, and to reduce the Indian coolie to a condition which would be described by the supporters of His Majesty's Government as one of slavery. Apart from the injustice and inhumanity of this policy, it is both short-sighted and ungrateful. It is short-sighted because the Colony cannot do without Indian labour, and cannot have Indian labour unless the Indian trader remains there. It is ungrateful because the Indians—it is not too much to say it—have actually made the Colony of Natal. Natal would have been bankrupt years ago if it had not been for the presence of our Indian fellow subjects. Natal would be bankrupt to-morrow if you removed all the Indians from the Colony.
39 We may leave it to the Colonists themselves to consider the improvidence of the step so far as it is a matter that concerns their own interests; but the ingratitude concerns us, inasmuch as it amounts to a breach of an Imperial compact, and is, therefore, a serious danger to the Empire as a whole. The Indians came to Natal rather more than forty years ago by invitation. They came in response to an invitation when the Colony was in dire necessity, and their advent saved the Colony from impending ruin. These Indians made the Colony their home, relying on the good faith, not only of the Imperial Government, but also of the Colonial Government. Since they have been there they have played an indispensable part in the development of the Colony. The actual position is that there is an Indian population of 100,000, slightly in excess of the white population. Of these 40,000 are indentured labourers, while the remainder are free Indians, of whom a great proportion are women and children.
Before proceeding, I should like once more to explain my attitude on this question generally, in order that there may be no misunderstanding. I do not deny, and never have denied, the right of any Colony to limit or restrict the immigration, either of Indians or of any other people, as that is a matter concerning their own property, and the right is analogous to the rights which we exercise in our own country, both as regards public and personal property. But what I do say is that if it is necessary on economic grounds, on commercial grounds, to restrict the immigration of any section of His Majesty's subjects, the measures to that end should be so framed that there could be no suggestion or suspicion that such exclusion as might be necessary was made on grounds of colour or race prejudice. The exclusion must be on economic or proprietary grounds, and on those alone.
I return to the Dealers' Licences Act, and I should like to say that the unfairness of the Act has been recognised by many prominent citizens of Natal; and some, indeed, have protested in very strong language their indignation at the manner in which it was being administered. 40 I will not trouble your Lordships with numerous quotations. A single one will suffice. A former Attorney-General of the Colony, M. Labistour saidThat town councillors were called upon to perform a dirty work, in that they were expected to tacitly refuse licences merely on the ground of colour,and he suggested that if the legislature intended such work to be done it ough to legislate in that direction and not leave the town councils to do it.
That is a fair sample of the opinions which have been expressed by other prominent Colonists.
Now I come to the other Act—the Municipal Corporations Act. Up to 1896 free Indians in the Colony occupied a position of equality with the white Colonists, but in that year they were deprived of the political franchise. This Municipal Corporations Act proposes to deprive them of the municipal franchise. The reasons for this are not apparent. There is no analogy with the circumstances which were said to disqualify Indians for the political franchise—namely, that representative government did not exist in India. Municipal institutions do exist in India, and Indians have proved that they are well fitted to make good use of them. The Indians in Natal have done absolutely nothing to justify this proposed deprivation, and it is difficult to see what reason there can be for it unless it is to humiliate them and to render their position intolerable.
His Majesty's Government have not, so far as we are aware, protested against this law, but they have, so the noble Earl told us a fortnight ago, reserved assent to it in order to bargain for an appeal to the Supreme Court under the Dealers' Licences Act. The next question I have to ask is, Why have His Majesty's Government not protested against this proposed municipal disfranchisement? The letter suggesting this bargain in relation to the Licences Act was sent in September, 1907, and since then it appears that no further action has been taken. But meanwhile the persecution of Indians under the Licences Act has been going on apace. Why have His Majesty's Government not protested? I have seen the inner life of the Colonial Office, and I know what has been done, and can be done, under similar circumstances. Mr. Chamberlain 41 knew how to protest in precisely similar circumstances, and he did protest.
§ LORD AMPTHILL
I will take that point now. Mr. Chamberlain allowed the Act to pass because it was not apparent at the time, nor was it, I believe, the intention, that the Act should be an anti-Asiatic Act, but when he saw how it was being administered he protested. His protest met with a respectful hearing and a corresponding result; and what I want to know is why His Majesty's Government have not done the same now that this high-handed action has recommenced?
It is idle to say that these are domestic concerns of the Colony with which we may not interfere. The fact that the South African Colonies are not alone concerned is amply demonstrated by the feeling in India on this subject. His Majesty's Government, above all, cannot offer that excuse after their determined and uncompromising interference in the matter of Chinese labour. His Majesty's Government interfered to save the Chinese, who are not our fellow subjects, from ill-treatment, for so they declared it to be. By no possible quibble can they deny that the right, the power, and the duty to protect Indians who are our fellow-subjects is far greater. I will tell His Majesty's Government why they have not done anything, and why they have not been able to do anything. It is because you are not trusted by the Colonies and because you are not on friendly terms with the Colonies. At the instigation of a meddling section of your supporters, you have interfered with these Colonies and treated them unfairly in matters which are really not of Imperial concern. That is why you cannot get a hearing now when really Imperial concerns are at stake. You have interfered in the administration of justice and the preservation of order, which are purely local concerns. I need only instance your interference in the case of the murder of the police inspector in 1906, in the matter of the administration of martial law, and at the present time in the case of Dinizulu. 42 It is on account of that interference that the Colonies are flouting you now in this matter, and that they will not listen to any protests which you may make. And what is the attitude of the Dutch, whom you believe you have made your friends by the concessions you have given to them? It is only in human nature that they should be glad to see a dispute between British colonists and the Home Government, and that they should tacitly encourage it. That is what is going on now.
This inaction of His Majesty's Government has encouraged the Transvaal within the last few months to follow suit to Natal. The new Gold Law and the draft Local Government Bill, of which we have seen accounts in the Press, are attempts to restore a tyranny even worse than that which existed in the Kruger regime. What I have to ask is, What are His Majesty's Government going to do now? That is what we want to know, and we should like to see the cards on the table. We shall be told again, I suppose, that nothing can be said because it is a matter of "diplomacy." We know that diplomacy, and we want no more of it. We have learnt that what is called diplomacy, so far as the administration of Colonial affairs are concerned, means, first of all, timid protest, then long inaction, and, finally, ill-graced acquiescence. It is the diplomacy which banged, barred, and bolted the door against Colonies that favoured a policy distasteful to the Radical Party, but which licked the boots of the Colony which was ready to play the Radical Party game. It is the diplomacy which interfered recklessly to stop Chinese slavery, but which dares not raise a finger to prevent Indian slavery; which grovels before an Afrikander Ministry, but bullies a British Ministry in South Africa; which pledged five millions of British money to redeem Radical electioneering promises, but which will not give preference on a single peppercorn to promote Imperial unity. It is the diplomacy which has dragged down Imperial affairs, so far as the Colonies are concerned, into the mire of party politics. We want no more of that diplomacy, and we hope that the noble Earl, who has now so appropriately 43 been placed in the high office of Secretary of State for the Colonies, will return to the old policy of that Department—the policy of candid and fearless assertion of the rights of British subjects and of the duty of the Imperial Government, a policy which is better calculated than this recent diplomacy to inspire the confidence of our kith and kin beyond the seas, and to win the co-operation of the joint inheritors of our great traditions of freedom and justice.
§ Moved, for Papers.—(Lord Ampthill.)
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
My Lords, I anticipated a somewhat simple question from the noble Lord, but in this House one sometimes enjoys agreeable surprises. We have heard a glowing oration. If I were in the noble Lord's place I should be half disposed to ask the gentlemen in the Press Gallery not to report this speech, in order that he might have the advantage of delivering it somewhere on a public platform, to which, I think, it would be more suited than to the peaceful atmosphere of your Lordships' House.
I really have very little to add to what I said in reply to the noble Lord, whose deep and absolutely honest interest in this matter I most cordially recognise, when he put a similar question to me the other day. There are two so-called Acts concerned in this matter. One is the Dealers' Licences Act, which is in force, and the other is the Municipal Corporations Act, which is not in force; and really the only complaint I have to make of the noble Lord is that he mixed those measures so completely together that he would have almost led anybody not acquainted with the circumstances to imagine that both of those Acts were at this moment the law of Natal. The Licences Act is, but the Municipal Corporations Act is not. It is a reserved Bill.
§ LORD AMPTHILL
I said clearly that His Majesty's Government had reserved it in order to make a bargain.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
Yes, but at the same time the noble Lord denounced us for allowing Indians to be deprived 44 of their vote when, as a matter of fact, they have not been deprived of their vote. It is true that when the Prime Minister of Natal was here my noble friend, Lord Elgin, did propose what the noble Lord calls a bargain, and the reason for doing so was this, that it might undoubtedly be somewhat of a grievance to the Indian to lose his municipal vote, but the advantage of getting an appeal as to the Dealers' Licences Act would have been, from our point of view, and, as we believe, from the point of view of the Indian settlers in Natal, so infinitely greater that if that bargain could be made it would be an extremely good bargain The Municipal Corporations Act is, as we have said, not the law of the land. It is a reserved Bill; nothing whatever has happened under it, and therefore the Indian still has his municipal vote. In September last, as has been stated, my predecessor, Lord Elgin, wrote the despatch to which the noble Lord has alluded. That despatch has not, so far, been answered, and the effect of its not being answered is that nothing has happened and that the law remains exactly as it has been since 1897, when the Dealers' Licences Act was passed. So that what the noble Lord asks us to do is not, I take it, to deal with the Municipal Corporations Act, which for all we know, is dropped—at any rate, it does not, so far as we are concerned, exist—but to make an entirely fresh and independent attack upon the Dealers' Licences Act with a view of getting it altered. My noble friend Lord Elgin thought that what the noble Lord calls a bargain was the better way of getting to work, and if that bargain could be carried out I should certainly proceed with the policy of my noble friend. The noble Lord said that when the Dealers' Licences Act was passed in the year 1907, it was not imagined that it was going to apply to Asiatics. That is to me a most astounding statement.
§ LORD AMPTHILL
I did not say that. What I said was that it was not supposed to be by intention an anti-Asiatic Act.
§ Lord AMPTHILL
It is very simple. An anti-Asiatic Act is an Act intended to make the position of Asiatics less bearable, less tolerable—an Act intended to drive them out of the country.
§ The Earl of CREWE
All Acts of Parliament depend to some extent on the method in which they are administered, and if an Act is passed which in future years, when feeling becomes more pronounced, enables a colony to act in a more pronounced way, then those who gave their consent to that Act are responsible. That Act, as the noble Lord must surely know, was explicitly framed so as to include Asiatics. The wording of Section 22 is exceedingly ingenious, and includes all Asiatics without naming them; and Asiatics have, as a matter of fact, been under it ever since.
I do not propose to deal with that part of the noble Lord's speech in which he said that we were regarded in an unfriendly manner by the Colony. I have no reason to believe that that is so as regards the Colonial Office, and, indeed, I repudiate the suggestion. There is only one point of his speech in that connection to which I would allude. When the noble Lord accuses us of having lost the affections of some of the Colonies by having shown an interest in native questions, he should not forget, among all his very natural interest in, and devotion to, the cause of Indians, that there are coloured men of other races who are also the subjects of His Majesty the King, and in considering the interests of one, as I hope we shall, we certainly do not intend to sacrifice the interests of the other.
As to the reason why no further correspondence has taken place, there was no real advantage in pressing for an answer to Lord Elgin's dispatch of September last until the Natal Parliament met. The Natal Parliament has not sat for six months. It is, I believe, to meet next month, and we shall then be in a very much better position to give a full reply to the noble Lord's question than we are at the present moment. I have no hostility whatever to the idea of publishing Papers on the subject. Our reason for not agreeing to do so at once was, as I stated at the 46 time, that the Papers, if published now, would be incomplete; but I hope that before the end of the session it may be possible to lay Papers, and if the noble Lord will withdraw his Motion I will let him know if and when it may be suitable to lay further Papers on the subject.
§ Viscount St. ALDWYN
My Lords, as I happen to know something about the Colony of Natal, I should like to trouble your Lordships with a few observations on this question. I think it is not at all surprising that the noble Lord behind me, with his great experience and knowledge of India and his natural interest in the subjects of the King in that part of the world, should have brought this question before your Lordships, but I do not think he made quite sufficient allowance for the extreme difficulty of the Colonial Office in dealing with such questions as this in Natal. They have to consider, not only the rights and claims of our Indian fellow subjects, but also the feelings and the interests of the white population in the Colony.
It is very easy for us to talk of the rights of our Indian fellow subjects in a British Colony, but your Lordships must remember that it is a British Colony and not an Indian Colony. I cannot myself see that because Indians are our fellow subjects therefore they have the right to the position of what is, after all, the dominant race in the British Empire, and to be placed on the same footing in Natal as the British race or the Dutch race. But I think they have a claim—a very strong claim—to be treated with fairness and justice, having regard to the rights which they have acquired at the present time in that Colony. It must be remembered that the Indian population in Natal outnumber the white population, and that the white population have to deal, in addition, with an enormously pre-pondering number of South African native races. It is an extremely difficult position, and a position which is increasing in difficulty rather rapidly.
I myself believe that the time ought to come very soon when the immigration of Indians into Natal—the indentured 47 coolie immigration—should, for the sake of everybody concerned, be brought to an end. I think it has become something very like a danger to the future of Natal. But, however that may be, I entirely admit that any obligation entered into with the Indians already there ought strictly and rigidly to be observed. We must remember the feelings—you may call them prejudices if you like—of the Natal colonist in this matter. From my own experience, I know that the feeling of the white population in Natal, generally, might almost be called bitter against the competition to which they are subjected from the very virtues of the Indian trader. The Indian is an abstemious and frugal person, he lives upon very little, he is always sober, he is content with small gains, and he is fitted in every way to be a trader; and the white trader in Natal, as in other parts of South Africa, finds it almost impossible to compete with him successfully. So naturally there exists a feeling in Natal that they would desire, if they could, to limit the number of Indians who are allowed to trade.
The Colonial Office cannot ignore the fact of that feeling, and they must consider it in their dealings with a self-governing Colony. My knowledge of South Africa leads me to say that the less the Colonial Office interfere in any matter with the self-governing Colonies of South Africa, the better for this country, the better for South Africa, and the better for the Empire as a whole. There is the white Natal side of this question to be considered as well as the Indian side. The Colonial Office have to judge between them, and they should endeavour to do so with fairness and justice.
§ Lord AMPTHILL
I, of course, readily accept the noble Lord's suggestion that he should let me know when it is convenient to present Papers, but I would like to point out that I did not receive any answer to my question as to why there has been no further correspondence on the subject of this highhanded administration of the law and no protests against the deprivation of the municipal franchise.
§ Lord AMPTHILL
I meant to say the proposed deprivation. The Act is under the consideration of His Majesty's Government. The noble Earl confined himself more or less to an argument as regards the nature of the Dealers' Licences Act—an argument to the effect that it ought not to have been passed by His Majesty's Government in 1897, and that they should have foreseen that it would be used as an anti-Asiatic Act. There was absolutely no reason to foresee that it would be applied for that purpose. It was an Act which, on the face of it, bore nothing more than the intention to restrain objectionable persons from trading, whether Europeans or Indians. It was only some time afterwards that it was used for the purpose of persecuting Indian traders.
§ The Earl of CREWE
It did not apply to Europeans and to Indians alike. It applied to people who had not got the Parliamentary franchise at home.
§ Lord AMPTHILL
At any rate it was not an anti-Asiatic Act, and protests on previous occasions have been successful.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at five minutes before Seven o'clock, till Tomorrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.