HC Deb 24 May 1830 vol 24 cc1005-14
Lord Milton rose

to present a Petition from British Settlers and others resident at the Cape of Good Hope, praying for a Representative Government. After calling the attention of the House to the importance of the question which the Petition raised, the respectability of the parties petitioning, and the obligation there lay upon the Legislature to protect the inhabitants of that colony from the effects of arbitrary power, he proceeded to say, that he considered the arbitrary imposition of taxes as one of the most objectionable exertions of arbitrary power. The Petition which he held in his hand was from British Settlers, who desired to carry with them to the colonies where they settled, the privileges which were the boast of their native country; and which they were accustomed to enjoy before they left it. In order to convey to the House a just view of the feelings of those colonists, he would call attention to some of the sentiments expressed by the petitioners. They expressed themselves deeply grateful for the benefits already conferred upon them: for example, the Trial by Jury, and other privileges enjoyed by Britons—they thought they should best show their just appreciation of those benefits by seeking to attain the full blessings of the representative system—an object for which every class in that colony were equally anxious. In those sentiments he fully concurred, the more especially when he recollected how many British colonies of less importance already enjoyed the benefits of a representative system. When the inhabitants of the Cape of Good Hope turned their attention to the other side of the Atlantic, they perceived numerous colonies enjoying a representative system perfect in all its parts; it was, therefore, exceedingly natural that they should desire to possess that which others in a similar situation had long enjoyed. He did not call upon the House to institute any proceeding immediately for the purpose of complying with the prayer of the petitioners; but he hoped that it would, at some future, and not very distant time, take it into serious consideration; and that when the time came, whether soon or late, his Majesty's Government would do all in its power to prepare the inhabitants of that colony for those privileges which they so earnestly desired to obtain, and which it was as much for their advantage, as for that of the mother country, should be conferred upon them. It was indisputable that much misgovernment had prevailed at the Cape; whether that was owing altogether to the vices of our own colonial system, or to the institutions of the Dutch, who originally settled there, and their peculiar customs and usages, he would not undertake to say; or whether those evils might not arise from both causes, it was not for him to determine. Of this, however, he was perfectly assured, that the only cure was a representative government. There was one reflection, at all events, which naturally presented itself on an occasion like the present, and it was of a very gratifying character—namely, that English settlers, wherever they went, carried with them a love of English institutions.

Sir George Murray

felt, that he should be wanting in respect to the noble Lord, and in that due attention to the colonists which he wished at all times to manifest towards them, if he did not state a few of the considerations which rendered the establishment of a representative system of government at the Cape of Good Hope extremely inexpedient. The Petition, the House would perceive, came from only a portion of the colony, and from that portion, too, in which slavery did not exist—and that made a material difference—indeed there was no country where slavery existed in which the expediency of introducing a representative legislature might not most seriously be doubted. The state of that colony, with reference to population and civilization, ought also to be taken into account. Its extent was nearly equal to that of the United Kingdom—about 600 miles long and 300 wide. The colonists amounted to only 119,966 souls, of whom the slaves amounted to 31,000, the free blacks to 35,000 and the whites to 53,996. A population so scattered, and so circumstanced, could but poorly exercise the privileges and powers of representation. Again, the whites were divided into Dutch and British, and if they had a Legislature, that body would be divided into two parties—the Dutch party and the British party—and thus one of the most important benefits of representation would be counteracted. Then the House, he hoped, would not lose sight of the difficulty which Parliament had always experienced in its attempts to ameliorate the condition of the slaves wherever a colonial legislature existed, and until something satisfactory could be done for the slaves at the Cape of Good Hope, he should be unwilling to see a representative government established there. Something had been said in disparagement of the successive governments at the Cape of Good Hope; but he must take leave to say, that the Hottentots would not have been put upon the same footing with the colonists if the Cape had up to this time remained in the hands of the Dutch. Another objection to the introduction of the representative system was, that were it once established, all the power would speedily centre in the hands of those who resided in and near Cape Town, for those who resided at a distance would never think public affairs worth such a journey. Finally, he assured the House, that if he could persuade himself that a representative government would be at all likely to promote the true interests of the settlers at the Cape, he should be amongst the first to propose and recommend it; but he felt assured, that when hon. Members weighed the reasons which he had urged, they would see the expediency of not acceding to the prayer of the present Petition.

Mr. Wilmot Horton

admitted, that the colonists of the Cape were not at the present moment prepared for representation, but he looked forward to the time when they would be capable of appreciating and exercising that privilege, and every other to which those who were accustomed to live under the British Constitution were accustomed. If the noble Lord were not to follow up the Petition by a motion to carry its prayer into effect he should oppose it, but he should be most happy to co-operate in the measures necessary to render the Colonists fit to enjoy the advantages which they sought.

Mr. Marryat

said, that the statements in the Petition presented by the noble Lord from the Cape, were equally applicable to all the colonies under the care of the Crown; a similar vicious system of government existed in all of them; and it was not possible to remove the grievances complained of but by granting the prayer of the Petition, and thus giving the colonists some control over their taxation and expenditure. These colonies were peculiarly situated. They had no independent local legislatures of their own, nor were they represented in the Imperial Parliament; but were under the immediate patronage and control of the Crown, by whom the taxes were levied and revenues appropriated. They presented, indeed, a practical example of the effects of taxation without representation. The colonists themselves had no control whatever over their expenditure, and though the produce of the taxes raised in the colony could not by law be appropriated to any but colonial purposes, yet that wise provision was evaded by the creation of new and useless offices, with high salaries attached, the payment of which was charged upon the colonial revenues. The revenues of the Crown colonies, he considered himself justified in asserting, were ample to provide for every necessary expense; but insufficient to provide also for the payment of extravagant salaries to governors, judges, and custom-house officers, which absorbed the whole amount. The current and necessary expenses had been, therefore, left to be provided for by votes of that House; and hence the complaints, that these colonies did not pay their own expenses. He contended that those colonies actually did pay their own proper and necessary expenses; but they could not pay in addition those heavy salaries, unnecessarily charged upon them. They were already taxed beyond all reasonable limits, not for their own wants, but for the benefit of those who were provided for at their expense. The colonial statements laid before the Finance Committee afforded a striking comparison of the relative taxation and expenditure of the two classes of colonies, viz.: those having independent local legislatures, and those under the paternal care of the Crown. Among the latter class the colony of Trinidad figured as a solitary example of an extravagant expenditure, sustained by enormous taxation. By the means of heavy imposts, levied exclusively upon the planter, that colony had hitherto not only paid all its expenses, but had saved from its surplus-revenue a sum of 60,000l. accumulated in the colonial treasury. The local authorities, however, (by whom he meant the placemen and pensioners of Trinidad, who are not planters, and did not personally feel the weight of taxation), were then projecting the erection of unnecessary public buildings and colonial palaces, which would not only absorb this sum, but would entail for years to come a continuance of the present burthens upon the colony. The local authorities, (who might be termed, to borrow an hon. Baronet's simile, the birds of prey who fed upon the vitals of the colony) were, he was informed, by means of intrigue and clamour, embarrassing and distracting the good intentions of the new governor, trusting thereby to throw its affairs into such confusion as to oblige him to give up in despair the task of cleansing that Augean stable, The subject, however, he had reason to believe, was now under the consideration of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, who (he was happy to take this opportunity of stating) had, in every communication he had had the honour to hold with him upon this most important subject, evinced an earnest and anxious desire to investigate and correct the abuses of our colonial system. The task was Herculean, but he trusted, as there existed the desire, so the means of reformation would not be wanting. He should state, that during the short period in which the right hon. the member for Liverpool held the seals of the Colonial office, a ray of light beamed upon this unfortunate colony. The energetic measures of reformation which he had time only to commence, and which gave a promise of brighter days, ceased however with his removal from office. That event was much regretted by the colonists, who began to congratulate themselves in being under the control of a Minister who was both willing and able to carry his beneficial plans into effect. Should, however, the just expectations of the colonists be disappointed, and another season be suffered to elapse without any alleviation of their sufferings, he should feel it his duty, early in the ensuing Session, to bring their case under the consideration of the House.

Mr. W. Smith

expressed his regret that the right hon. Secretary had not stated out of what materials a representative government could be formed.

Mr. Labouchere

complained of a practice which had existed for a long time in the Colonial Department, of sending out men of broken fortunes to occupy situations in the colonies, by which many serious evils arose to the colonies themselves. He thought that if the names of all persons appointed to colonial situations were inserted in the Gazette for some time before they went out, the evil might be avoided, because a means would thus be obtained of coming at a correct knowledge of the character of the parties, and of their fitness for the appointments. He did not mention this as arising out of any appointments which had been made since the right hon. and gallant officer came to the head of the Colonial Department, for, to do him. justice, he believed that since then no persons had been sent out who were not properly qualified for the situations they had, to fill; but the subject was one to which he thought it necessary to call the right hon. and gallant officer's attention.

Mr. Hume

did not think, that the right hon. and gallant officer had given very satisfactory reasons why the prayer of the Petition presented by the noble Lord should not be complied with. The complaint of the petitioners was, that British subjects, who had been accustomed to live under the free institutions of their own country, should, when they went out to settle in a colony, be at once brought under the dominion of arbitrary power. The nature of that government exposed it to great abuses, and the result was, that wherever it existed the improvement of the colony was greatly retarded. This had been as strongly illustrated in the Cape of Good Hope as in any colony he could name. The hon. and gallant officer had said, that he did not think this colony would be fit for a representative system of government whilst slavery existed; but he begged to ask him, when did he expect that slavery would cease there? When would that portion of the inhabitants be free? When would they be fit for a representative government? The right hon. Gentleman had, he thought, removed the period of freedom to an indefinite time. The right hon. and gallant officer's next objection was, he thought, as little satisfactory as the other,—namely, that of the distance to which the population was scattered. Now in the Canadas it was well known the inhabitants were scattered over a vast extent of country, and that was not found to be a serious objection to the establishment of a representative government. When the Floridas were ceded to the United States, they were at once incorporated into the national union, with a representative government, the distance at which many of the inhabitants were scattered from one another being no obstacle, because arrangements were easily made for meeting in the most central part of the state. It was at present a just cause of complaint, that England was taxed to pay for the expenditure of colonies which would willingly support themselves, if allowed to do so under a representative system; but instead of this, large sums were annually drawn from the pockets of the people here to meet expenses which we ought not to be called upon to pay. Give the colonies a representative system, and they would willingly pay their own expenses; though they would not pay such large salaries to governors and other officers as were now paid for them by the people of England. What was the situation of this very colony of the Cape of Good Hope? It had been for years left under a tyrannical government: he did not allude to any one individual in particular, but the nature of the government was arbitrary, and it could not be denied that it had been grossly abused. But what had been the effect of the public opinion, to which the right hon. and gallant officer had alluded? Public opinion was, no doubt, very powerful here, through the Press, which sent forth what passed in that House to the world. Without such publicity, the House would be a nuisance to the country. As it was, he did not say it was of much benefit, but without the Press it would be a nuisance—a body which would have only to register the acts of Government; but even here, with all the advantages of publicity, how far had that gone to remove the evils which were complained of with respect to the Cape of Good Hope, during so many years in which Lord Charles Somerset was governor, and while Lord Bathurst was at the head of the Colonial Department? It was of little or no use in correcting the evil. He must say, that a mere reliance upon the expression of public opinion would not be a sufficient guarantee to the colonists against the evils of an arbitrary form of government, or supply the check which a representative system would have on the executive power. It was, he must also contend, a libel upon Englishmen to say, that they were rendered by a difference of climate, unfit for a free constitution, or unworthy of enjoying it. He must again express his regret at hearing that there was to be no representative system in the colony until slavery was removed, and the population so condensed as that their representatives might come together without much inconvenience, which was putting off freedom for ever.

Dr. Lushington

concurred in the general principle, that a representative form of government would be the best for the colonies, where circumstances permitted; but at the same time he fully agreed with; the right hon. and gallant Secretary, that that system could not at present be adopted for the Cape of Good Hope without great danger to the best interests of that colony. He admitted that the government should be for the benefit of the many, and not for the few; but he did not think, that that end would be obtained by a representative form of government at the Cape. If he could believe that it would have the effect of producing better regulations with respect to slaves—that it would improve the condition of the Hottentot population—he would most readily consent to it; but until he saw some disposition evinced by the colonies which had representative governments to improve the condition of the slaves,—until he saw in them a disposition in the strong to protect the weak,—he should object to any extension of a system, particularly where slave population existed, which he had reason to believe would not produce those effects. He thought therefore that it would be better to leave those colonies which had not representative systems in the hands of Government, which was responsible for the measures which it adopted, rather than give them to those over whom we could have no efficient control. He was glad of that opportunity of expressing his gratitude to the right hon. and gallant officer for the measures which he had adopted for improving the condition of the Hottentot population. He had opportunities of knowing the situation in which that race were at the Cape, and also of knowing the effects which had been produced by the measures to which he alluded, and how greatly they had relieved that race from the gross oppression under which they had so long suffered. He would not, at the present moment, go into details upon the nature of that oppression, but were he to describe the miserable condition in which the Hottentot population were kept, he was sure the House could not hear it without indignation and abhorrence. He would repeat, then, that as long as he saw no measures adopted to put an end to slavery—as long as he saw an unwillingness in colonies with representative governments to improve the condition of their slave population—so long should he feel it his duty to oppose any extension of the representative system in our colonies, and the removal of the powers of government from the hands of those who were responsible to Parliament for its exercise.

Sir G. Murray

in explanation, begged to say, that though he had the good fortune of having had the opportunity of carrying the measures for improving the condition of the Hottentots, to which the hon. and learned Member had alluded, into full operation, yet it would not be doing justice to others if he did not state that those measures had been commenced under the government of Lord Caledon, and were afterwards acted upon to a considerable extent by General Bourke.

Mr. Robinson

was decidedly of opinion, that free institutions ought to be given to the settlers at the Cape, and to all other colonists, as soon as they were fit to receive them, and capable of appreciating their value. He by no means understood the noble Lord as recommending the immediate adoption of a measure such as the petitioners prayed for—all he urged upon the consideration of the House was, the necessity of speedily turning its attention to the subject, and taking such preliminary steps as might forward the object in view. There could be no doubt that flagrant abuses had existed in that colony, but they were not chargeable upon the present government—which was not to blame. There had existed a most scandalous carelessness with respect to colonial functionaries. Not long since a person was sent out as Chief-justice of Newfoundland who contrived to swindle the people of that colony out of a very large sum; and an Attorney-general was sent to the same place, who, though a person of better character, was totally unfit for the office.

The Petition read.

Lord Milton

, in moving that it be printed, said, he was sorry to learn that an improved system of government at the Cape was to be postponed until slavery should be abolished.

Sir George Murray

wished the House to analyse the composition of society at the Cape. The number of females was 55,000, males 64,000; from those deduct the Slaves, the Dutch, the Hottentots, and the persons under age; and the number of British colonists capable of exercising the elective franchise would be found exceedingly small.

Mr. Hume

observed, that persons of Dutch descent, resident at the Cape, were as much British subjects as any men could be born in any colony.

Petition to be printed.

Back to
Forward to