HL Deb 26 July 1910 vol 6 cc463-74

LORD AMPTHILL rose to call attention to the present position of the question of British Indians in South Africa; and to ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies—

  1. 1. How many Indians have been deported from South Africa.
  2. 2. Whether he still maintains that none of those deported were domiciled in South Africa.
  3. 3. Whether it is not a fact that about a third of those deported are of South African birth.
  4. 4. What is the precise nature of the arrangement made by the Transvaal Government with the Portuguese authorities at Mozambique for carrying out these deportations.
  5. 5. Whether it is not unprecedented in the annals of the Empire that British subjects should be handed over for punishment to a Foreign Government.
  6. 6. Whether the punishment of transportation is not as obsolete in British law as those of the pillory and the stocks.
  7. 7. Whether the speech made by the Governor-General of the Dominion of South Africa at Johannesburg on the 8th July may be taken to indicate that His Majesty's Government have adopted a more decided policy in regard to their Imperial obligations towards His Majesty's Indian subjects; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have not troubled your Lordships with the question of the British Indians in the Transvaal since November last. I understand that the noble Earl the Secretary of State for the Colonies, who is obliged to be absent now, has been good enough, rather than postpone the Questions, to entrust the answers to my noble friend opposite, the Lord President of the Council. The reason why I have not troubled your Lordships or the noble Earl with Questions during this long period is that I had sincerely hoped that the negotiations with the Transvaal Ministers which were begun about this time last year would have borne fruit, and would have resulted ere this in some satisfactory settlement of this deplorable question. But so far from there being any signs of settlement at the present time, matters have gone from bad to worse, and I should feel ashamed of myself if I kept silence any longer. I must let your Lordships know what is going on, for the unfortunate difficulty in this matter is that it seems impossible to get either House of Parliament, or the Press, or the public to take any interest in a matter which is really one of vital Imperial importance.

The ex-President of the United States, Mr. Roosevelt, when speaking at the Guildhall on May 31, made a remark which struck me as singularly true and appropriate. He said— You are so very busy at home that I am not sure you realise just how things are, in some places at least, abroad.

My Lords, that is absolutely true of this question, and I feel that not only should I be lacking in duty, knowing the facts as I do, if I refrained from pressing them upon your Lordships on every possible occasion, but also that no excuse is necessary for trying to bring home both to Parliament and to the people of this country the very great risk which they are running if this matter is not going to be settled. Now what is going on at the present time? The Indians who have been contending so bravely all these years and with such devotion and self-sacrifice, not for any personal or political privileges or rights but for the honour of their race, are now being deported from the country. They are being tricked out of the Transvaal by administrative action, and in a manner which allows them no appeal to the Courts of law.

The process, as I understand it, is this. These Indian gentlemen are asked whether they have registered. They reply that they have. The next question is, "Where is your certificate?" The answer is, "I have destroyed my certificate as a protest against the action of the Government when they failed to carry out the promise which we believe they made." Thereupon they are put into the train and carried across the border. As soon as they are across the border of the Transvaal they are told that they are at liberty, but that is only a way of speaking, for while the train is going at forty miles an hour, it is obviously impossible for them to alight and take advantage of the liberty which is said to be given to them. Thus they are conveyed to Delagoa Bay, and there the Portuguese authorities arrest them as undesirable aliens and put them on board ship and send them off to India. I imagine—and this is one of the points that I want information upon—that the Transvaal Government pay the bill of the Portuguese Government for doing this dirty work. When these unfortunate men arrive in India they are met by friends and sympathisers who have been collecting funds all over India in order to relieve the suffering of their fellow-country-men in the. Transvaal and who arrange to have them shipped back again. When they arrive back they are forbidden to land, and the shipping companies are, of course, placed in great difficulty. Your Lordships will see that this process of shipping these men backwards and forwards between South Africa and India cannot go on indefinitely.

I believe—and here again is a point on which I want positive official information for the public—that altogether nearly 300 of these people have been deported since this policy was instituted about a year ago. Certainly within the last two months something like 120 or 130 have been so shipped off to India, and of this last lot all were domiciled and identified; that is to say, all of them had their homes in South Africa and had voluntarily registered themselves. When in November last I asked the noble Earl the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether any of those who had been deported were South African born, he said lie thought that none or them were, and lie said it in a manner Which implied that if any of them were domiciled in South Africa lie would take a very different view of the question, and that it would be a matter which would demand instant and vigorous protest from himself. But the fact which I think is now established beyond doubt is that one-third of these people are actually South African born, and it follows that many of them have never seen India. South Africa is their home. They have never been anywhere else, and when they arrive in India they are naturally completely at a loss what to do. What makes matters worse is that their wives and families are left behind in South Africa, and your Lordships can well imagine what the privations and sufferings of these poor people must be.

I want your Lordships particularly to "note the effect of all this in India. We learn very little about it from the newspapers, because, for reasons which I have been unable to fathom, the subject is one which is not favoured by the Press of this country. But I know, as a matter of fact, that nothing is creating greater discontent or stronger resentment among those in India than the treatment of their fellow-countrymen in South Africa at the present time. At the meeting of the Indian National Congress held at Lahore in January there was only one point which gave occasion for a general demonstration of feeling, and that was when Mr. Bownaghee appealed for funds for their fellow-sufferers in the Transvaal. That was the one appeal at that Congress which met with a sympathetic and really feeling response. Now, my Lords, will any one maintain I hat this is not a genuine grievance, or that it is not a grievance for which we as a nation have to reproach ourselves? The people of India regard the Queen's Proclamation as the great Charter of their rights and their privileges, and it is to that that they are constantly referring, and when they say in this matter— Our rulers and Ministers and Governors have departed from the letter and spirit of the Queen's Proclamation, I, for one, should be unable to deny that that was the case.

But there have been more definite and more explicit promises made actually in reference to these grievances, and I hold that a promise is a promise and must be kept. If our promises, made through the mouths of responsible Ministers, are not kept, surely we must expect that our credit and our reputation for honour and justice must suffer in India. Besides the general declarations of Statesmen of both Parties in this country and of Statesmen in South Africa, there was Lord Milner's very definite assurance given to the Indians in the Transvaal in 1903 when he assured them that once they registered themselves their domicile was established and no further registration would be necessary, and that that registration gave them the right to be there and the right to come and go. I have repeated over and over again in this House that that promise, which nobody can deny was made, has not been kept. This question is no fad of mine, although, unfortunately, I cannot get any one else to take it up and support me in it. I should like to remind your Lordships of what has been said by some of the leading men in this country. The noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition himself said, as far back as 1899— A considerable number of the Queen's Indian subjects are to be found in the Transvaal, and among the many misdeeds of the South African Republic I do not know that any fills me with more indignation than its treatment of those Indians. The harm is not confined to the sufferers on the spot, for what do you imagine would be the effect produced in India when these poor people return to their country to report to their friends that the Government of the Queen Empress, so mighty and irresistible in India with its population of 300,000,000, is powerless to secure redress at the hands of a small South African State.

My Lords, that referred to the grievance of the Indians at the time of the South African Republic. But that statement applies with even greater force at the present time. If it should have been a matter of surprise and resentment to the people of India that the Government of the Queen-Empress could not secure such redress at the hands of a small South African State, how much more must they feel it when the Government cannot secure redress for them at the hands of what is now a British Colony?

There is not only Lord Lansdowne's fear of these people returning to India and spreading indignation in the country. I could quote Mr. Lyttelton and Lord Selborne. The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, put it to us whether it was not our duty to see that our dusky fellow-subjects in the Transvaal, where they had a perfect right to go, should be treated as the Queen in our name had promised that they should be treated. Recently there has been a declaration on the part of the new Governor-General of South Africa. Lord Gladstone, at Johannesburg a short time ago, said he recognised that the Mahomedan and British Indians had claims on his attention, and he could not forget His Majesty's Imperial responsibility or ignore his own. Yes, but why has the duty arising out of these Imperial responsibilities not been discharged during the past ten years? Surely we have had enough of brave words on this subject without corresponding action. As I have said over and over again in this House, there have been many opportunities for settling this question. I fully admit that the noble Earl the Secretary of State for the Colonies found this question infinitely more difficult of solution when he came into office. The opportunity of the Transvaal loan, and other occasions, had been lost. But the noble Earl, too, has had his opportunities. He had a great opportunity last summer when the Transvaal Ministers were here on the business of the South African Constitution, when he was able to talk the matter over with them face to face, and I must say I am intensely disappointed that nothing has thus far come out of that opportunity.

I cannot help feeling that in this matter, as in other matters, it is a case of where there is a will there is a way. I quite admit that the noble Earl has secured a certain improvement in small matters. The British Indians at the present time are better treated on the railways, and their treatment in the gaols has certainly been improved. But those are not the real grievances. The real grievance is that arising on the point of honour, the grievance which results from the insulting and humiliating manner in which the policy of restricting Indian immigration is carried out. The restriction of immigration is necessary and justifiable. I have admitted that over and over again, and so have the British Indian community in the Transvaal. But what is not necessary and not justifiable—and I defy any one to say that it is—is that the Indians should, for the purposes of this policy, be classed as criminals and that we as a nation should be dishonoured and discredited in India by the action of a Colonial Government.

This is a big Imperial question. The Times remarked a short time ago that there was no truly Imperial question of greater complexity, and at the same time of more vital urgency. I quote The Times because when I have said in this House that this is an Imperial question which is both urgent and vital and which is going to produce difficulties far greater than any of us can foresee it has only provoked a smile, but the time will come, I feel certain, when circumstances will arouse the British public to a sense of the harm that is being done, and when they will demand full information on the subject and require to know why these grievances have remained unredressed and why this deplorable state of affairs has been allowed to continue all these years.


My Lords, my noble friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies is unfortunately unable to be present this evening, and I desire on his behalf to express his regret for his absence, which I am sure I. regret as much as any noble Lord, because naturally he has a much more intimate knowledge of this subject than I can possibly have. I will endeavour to answer the Questions of which the noble Lord has given notice, but I am sure he will recognise that it is impossible for me to answer any of those various points he has mentioned but of which he has given no notice.

To the first Question, as to the number of Indians deported from South Africa, the answer is 257 since March 11, when the deportations commenced. In the last three months the numbers are— May, 39; June, 11; July, 4. The noble Lord next asks whether it is still maintained that no Indian domiciled in South Africa has been deported. It is stated by the Union Government that every opportunity was afforded to individuals of proving their domicile, but all failed to do so. In many instances persons ordered to be deported refused absolutely to give any information, while some stated that they desired to co to India. Whenever it appeared that a person had been resident or born in any other part of South Africa, lie was returned thither. In every case where a person to be removed claimed to have a wife and family, he was allowed facilities to take them with him at the public expense, but only in one instance was this taken advantage of.

Next the noble Lord asks whether about a third of those deported are not of South African birth. Particulars of all these cases are not available. Particulars of sixty-nine cases have been submitted to the Colonial Office, and fifty-six of these have been reported on by Ministers through the Governor-General. It is stated as an illustration of the difficulty of dealing with the question that no trace can be found of twenty-three of the names given. Twenty-five of the fifty-six were stated to have been born in South Africa, and it is reported by the Union Government that eleven of these twenty-five cannot be traced, that twelve of them refused to give any means of identification, ten stating that they did not claim South African domicile. The same statement was made by six of the others in the list who were not alleged to have been born in South Africa. In only one case outside the lists is there independent evidence in the Colonial Office records tending to establish domicile in Natal, and in that case the man was removed to Natal and not to India.

In reply to Question 4, I have to say that the operative document in this matter is a by-law of the township of Lorenzo Marquez, issued on July 15, 1909, which is as follows:— All Asiatics entering the district by land, no matter from whence they have come, who are not provided with official documents authorising them to reside in the district or in the neighbouring colonies shall he obliged to leave this port by the first boat immediately after their entry into the township. The noble Lord asks whether it is not unprecedented that British subjects should be handed over for punishment to a foreign Government. Might I, in the first place, say that I am not quite sure that I agree with the noble Lord in his use of the word "punishment." The actual fact is that under the Transvaal laws these Indians are put over the border of the Transvaal province and are then dealt with under the laws either of other provinces of the Union or of Mozambique. The position of Mozambique vis è vis the Transvaal is without precedent, as it contains, though a foreign country, a port—namely, Lorenzo Marquez—which is becoming to an ever increasing extent the port of the Transvaal. So long as Portuguese legislation is not differential and applies to all Asiatics alike, it is difficult for His Majesty's Government to protest.

As to Question 6, "transportation" is, think, in this connection something of an attempt to raise prejudice, and the question of British law hardly affects the case. The deportation of persons who are held to be undesirables by reason of transgression of the laws or otherwise is a recognised part of the Colonial law, not only in South Africa, but in other parts of the British Empire—Canada, for instance. With regard to Lord Gladstone's speech and the policy of His Majesty's Government, I have to say that His Majesty's Government have always recognised the gravity of the situation, and have steadily and continuously tried to find a solution. They have brought all allegations of the ill-treatment of prisoners immediately to the notice of the Transvaal and Union Governments. Endeavours to effect a. settlement were made when the Transvaal Ministers were in England in connection with the Union Act. Almost as soon as the Union was inaugurated the Governor-general was requested to urge on his Ministers that a happier commencement could not be made than by arranging a settlement acceptable to all parties. The present position is that the Union Government are carefully considering the question of policy in respect of Indians lawfully resident, though they cannot agree to unrestricted immigration, and hold themselves bound to enforce the law in every case where Indians not resident with proper authority endeavour to enter or reside. As to the publication of Papers, Papers will be laid if the Union Government agree, and they will be pressed by His Majesty's Government to agree. I think that covers all the points which have been raised by the noble Lord.


My Lords, I only rise to say a word on behalf of those who sit on this Bench, because my noble friend behind me has a little assumed that he speaks alone in this House, and he regretted that he had almost a monopoly of feeling on this subject. I cannot allow that to pass on behalf of my noble friend who is not present, Lord Lansdowne, because he has spoken himself with great sympathy and feeling on this subject in previous debates. My noble friend addressed a very eloquent appeal to the House, but he stopped short of the point of telling His Majesty's Government, what it was exactly that he would desire them to do, and what course he would recommend them to take. I think he must recognise that this is a subject of very great difficulty for any Government, especially having regard to the present situation in South Africa.

I do not rise to do more than press this Upon the Government, that the whole of the Papers which have been published are very uncomfortable reading to many of us, and I should think probably to the Government themselves. We cannot help feeling that there is force in what has been urged by my noble friend behind me that an opportunity of obtaining some permanent assurances on this question was lost, at the time the Union was granted, as also at the time when the very large sum of thirty millions for which the Transvaal was indebted was remitted, and a further loan of five millions was granted to them. I think that that would have been an opportunity to bring before the Government of the Transvaal the very serious feeling there is with regard to these Indian subjects of the Crown, and to press upon them that some regulation which would prevent these undoubted cases of hardship should be adopted.

I know that it is at this moment almost impossible for His Majesty's Government to give any pledge except that which the noble Earl has given on behalf of the Secretary of State for the Colonies. But I am sure my noble friend will remember that in the case of these questions of races of different colour the difficulty is not confined to South Africa. Questions have arisen in other Colonies and in other Dominions of the Crown, where a position has been taken up by the local Government as to which His Majesty's Government may not find themselves altogether in accord. But if they have not taken steps in those cases, as in this, it may, I think, be reckoned that there is no question of want of sympathy, but that any attempt to impose on a people to whom you have given free institutions any law or regulations of this character might, and probably would, be deeply resented. From the office which I had the honour to hold I personally had the opportunity of becoming specially aware of these questions which the noble Lord has so admirably voiced in this House with regard to the feeling which exists in India, and I do hope that His Majesty's Government will go as far as they reasonably can to secure to the full extent the observance of the pledges which have been given in the past, and that they will take care that what. I think my noble friend is right in saying may become a dangerous state of feeling in India should not be accentuated by any apparent remissness on the part of His Majesty's Government. I do not wish to detain your Lordships further, but I hope it will be clearly understood that if we do not speak in any more vehement fashion on this subject it is only because we do not want to make more embarrassing an already very difficult situation, and that it is from no want of sympathy with those who have suffered an undoubted hardship.


I hope your Lordships will allow me to say two or three words in reply. In the first place, I want to correct a slight misapprehension on the part of the noble Viscount who has just spoken. The last thing I had in my mind was to make any complaint that the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition had not taken an interest in this question. I may say that he is the only member of your Lordships' House who has taken notice of it. What I complain of is that there is not a much more general interest taken in this question, such as, for instance, is taken in the management of the island of Vatersay. The noble Viscount reproached me for not suggesting a solution of the difficulty. It was not my province on this occasion to do that. I was merely asking for information in order to ascertain what the present position of affairs was. I have on many occasions had the privilege of acting as negotiator between those interested in the case of the Indians and His Majesty's Government, and I have made suggestions; and if there were occasion, and I had the opportunity, I should be able to make other suggestions again for settling this matter finally.

The noble Lord said that it was a hopeless difficulty to try and settle this matter, because we should cause resentment in the Colony. If that be a sound argument it follows that we may allow not only any Colony but any foreign nation to inflict a vital injury on us without our being able to do any thing to defend ourselves, or to prevent an injury, for fear of raising resentment. That surely is a view which your Lordships cannot accept. With regard to the answers which the noble Earl was good enough to give me, I only want to make this remark. The Transvaal Government apparently have reported that those who were deported have failed to prove, or refused to prove, their identity. That is one way of putting the case. But what actually happens is this. All these men are registered. The Transvaal Government know exactly who they are. They have got all the particulars on record, so that it is a mere pretence to say that they are not identified, and that they do not know who they are. The Transvaal Government say they do not know who they are, and therefore they must turn them out of the country. The Indians say, "You have got us registered, and you know perfectly well who we are, and therefore it is unnecessary for us to produce these certificates"; and the certificates they do not produce because they have burnt them as a protest against what they regard, rightly or wrongly, as the violation of a promise on behalf of the Transvaal Government. I thank the noble Earl for his courtesy in replying to my-Questions.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.

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