HC Deb 22 February 1917 vol 90 cc1492-3W

asked the Secretary of State for India whether an assurance has been given by His Majesty's Government to the planting community in Fiji that the present system of indentured labour would be permitted to continue for another five years; and, if so, will he explain why this declaration has been made, in view of the announcement made by Lord Hardinge in March, 1916, that the early abolition of the system, which he described as a badge of helotry, had been determined upon?


I do not wish to appear to underrate the strength of Indian feeling on the subject which, as Lord Hardinge observed, educated Indians tell us they look upon as a badge of helotry. But if the hon. Member will refer to the late Viceroy's speech, in which he quoted, without adopting as his own, this forcible expression of Indian opinion, he will see that the late Viceroy saidThe Secretary of State has informed us, in reply, that he is entirely prepared to accept the policy of eventual abolition" advocated by us, and we have his full authority to accept this Resolution. On behalf of His Majesty's Government he has asked us, however, to make it clear that the existing system of recruiting must be maintained until new conditions under which labour should be permitted in proceed to the Colonies should have been worked out in conjunction with the Colonial Office and the Crown Colonies concerned; until proper safeguards in the Colonies have been provided; and until they should have had reasonable time to adjust themselves to the change, a period which must necessarily depend on circumstances and on conditions imperfectly known at present. A period of five years was named as the outside limit within which the change must be completed. I think there is every reason to hope that it will be accomplished earlier. In the meantime, I am glad to say that the condition of the indentured labourer has been greatly ameliorated by recent changes in Colonial laws, and I take this opportunity of expressing my appreciation of the spirit in which the Colonial Administrations have met us, and of the help I have received from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies and his predecessor.