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Transvaal Loan (Guarantee) Bill

Volume 181: debated on Wednesday 21 August 1907

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a third time."

said he only desired to say that if they on that side of the House did not challenge a division it was not to be supposed that the opinions which he and his hon. friends expressed on the Second Reading of the measure were either modified or withdrawn.

said that in supporting the Bill he regarded it as a wise and just measure of assistance and reparation to the young Colony. The Government had only carried on the policy pursued by the Party opposite in guaranteeing this loan to the Transvaal. He wished to ask whether the Under-Secretary for the Colonies could give them any information as to the nature of the legislation which was to be proposed by the Transvaal Government with the view, apparently, of carrying on the Indentured Labour Ordinance. As far as he understood the reports telegraphed to this country, it was proposed to re-enact the Chinese Ordinance of 1904 for a period as long as might be required for the existing contracts. If that were so, it would be a piece of legislation obviously in violation of the pledges which had been given in that House over and over again by His Majesty's Government to the effect that no Ordinance of that kind would be permitted after the expiration of the present one, and in violation of the express terms of the Letters Patent granting a constitution to the Transvaal. That Constitution contemplated that after a year from the time of the first Transvaal Parliament, the Ordinance of 1904 must be abrogated, and that no Ordinance of the same kind should be brought forward, and that acceleration of the repatriation of the Chinese would take place. A great deal of faith had been placed by the supporters of His Majesty's Government in that House, and out of it, on those pledges and the terms of the Constitution. He was quite sure that Ministers had not the slightest intention of going back from their assurances so given; nor did he suggest for a moment that the Transvaal Government had any idea of such a thing as not abiding by the terms of the Constitution. The Transvaal Government had accepted the Constitution on the terms stated, and they were men of honour prepared to carry out their pledges. At the same time, the reports telegraphed to this country had caused considerable uneasiness, and, therefore, he asked the Under-Secretary for the Colonies, who so far, had given no information to the House on this subject, to give them what information he possessed.

said he was compelled to say a few words on this subject before the Bill passed its Third Reading. For very nearly a month past the leading papers in the country had given currency to the statement that the Transvaal Government was engaged in bringing forward legislation having for its object the continuance of the contracts whose period would not have expired on 31st March, which was the time limit set by the Letters Patent when the whole system of indentured labour in that Colony should cease and determine. The Leader of the Opposition in the Transvaal Legislative Assembly, Sir George Farrar, had told them that that Assembly had before them such proposals. If that were true it was in direct violation of the enactment. The words of the Letters Patent were very distinct. They asserted that within one year of the meeting of the Transvaal Legislature their rules and regulations in regard to the system of Chinese labour should cease and be determined. Not only were the worth very precise but the promises made by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer were in accordance with the Letters Patent. They had told them that the Government would not sanction any laws which laid down conditions of service in which there was anything of a servile nature. But it appeared that these contracts in regard to Chinese labour in the Transvaal were to continue. He hoped that the promises made by the Government would be carried out so that this horrible system of Chinese labour would not be continued. The British people were just as determined as ever about the system and they wished to get rid of it.

said that he had not yet received any information as to this legislation, and until he did so it was obviously impossible to form an opinion upon it. A year's interval was allowed in which the Transvaal Government should have an opportunity of taking stock of its position and in order that they might put forward any other proposal they chose in regard to their labour system. The Letters Patent provided also that any legislation passed by the Transvaal Government would be reserved for the sanction of the Secretary of State, and nothing had been done which was inconsistent with anything which had been stated by the Secretary of State. What was the policy of the Transvaal Government on this subject of Chinese labour? They were a responsible Government, independent of us, and perfectly free to deal with this subject. Any proposal they made in regard to it would not be outside the scope of their authority. He understood their policy to be repatriation on the expiry of indentures. Some 15,000 Chinese would be gone before Christmas and steady shipments would take place during the two years following, until at the end of a period of three years from the time the last Chinaman was landed in the country the whole system would be absolutely wiped away. If that was their policy, he thought it a very reasonable policy. He would be very glad if the Government found it possible to accelerate that process of departure, but he never contemplated the wholesale repatriation of the Chinese in a batch. An interval would elapse between the period fixed by the Letters Patent for the termination of the Ordinance and the time when the last of the contracts would expire, during which a constantly-diminishing number of Chinese would remain in the country. What was proposed to be done with those Chinese? It could hardly be suggested that they should have all sorts of restriction removed, so that they might move about at liberty throughout the whole country; still less that all restrictions on their employment should be put an end to. It was obvious, then, that there must be some legislation governing them.

asked the right hon. Gentleman to explain the words of the Letters Patent which laid it down that within twelve months of the meeting of the Transvaal Legislature the system of labour arising from the Chinese Ordinance should cease.

said it was perfectly obvious that, the Ordinance falling to the ground, the system of labour under it ceased. What he was suggesting was that another Ordinance might be brought forward by the Transvaal Government, and that Ordinance must be judged when it arrived in relation to all the circumstances on its merits.

asked whether the Government would regard a re-enactment of the existing Ordinance as a compliance with the terms of the Constitution.

said he did not know what the Ordinance was to be, but he did not think it followed that the Ordinance that was being considered by the Transvaal Government would be in the same terms as that which now existed. On the contrary, he had good reason to believe that that point had been prominently borne in mind by those who were concerned. He did not know whether it would be possible for him to make any statement before Parliament rose, but if he had any further information, he would take an opportunity of giving it to the House. They were now going to separate and none of them were sorry, but after all they would meet again, and Parliament would be able then to hold the Ministers strictly accountable for their conduct. This matter had occupied the country greatly in the past, and had by no means passed out of the minds of the working classes who felt that their position had been undermined by Chinese labour. He only now desired to acknowledge the attitude taken up by the right hon. Member for East Worcestershire in not re-opening on this occasion the issues that were raised on Monday last. He commended the Third Reading of the Bill to the House as part of the policy of reconciliation and reconstruction which both Parties had been pursuing since the war came to a close; and because it was the only means by which the Transvaal Government could be insured in regard to vital matters affecting their labour system. The Government had no reason to believe that there was not adequate security for the guarantee; and the objects for which the money was to be lent were worthy, laudable, lucrative, and satisfactory.

thought the House ought to have a more definite assurance than the right hon. Gentleman had given them in regard to the new Ordinance. It was a question which involved the honour and credit of the Home Government. The mass of the working classes in this country objected to the existing Ordinance because under it a particular class of workmen were subjected to conditions which they regarded as conditions of slavery. Was that objection going to be found in this new Ordinance? He could not understand why the information had not been obtained, unless it was that the session would soon be at an end, and the House would have no opportunity of considering the matter until the Ordinance had become an accomplished fact.

said that was an unfair suggestion that the Government were keeping back information from the House in order that they might proceed to do something which they would not dare to do if Parliament were sitting. He would endeavour to find out what were the general terms of the Ordinance. He had good reason to believe that many of the objectionable conditions had been removed. Bill read the third time, and passed.