House of Lords response to the 1905 Roth Report
House of Lords Debate 09 May 1905 (vol 145 cc1298-321)
THE NATIVES OF WESTERN AUSTRALIA.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY rose to call attention to the Report of the Royal Commission on the Condition of the Natives of Western Australia; and to ask for information.
He said: My Lords, in rising to call attention to the subject of which I have given notice, I desire to make a single preliminary observation. The task which I have undertaken is not a pleasant one, and I do not think the subject to those of your Lordships who give attention to it will be found agreeable or satisfactory. I hold in my hand the Report of the Royal Commission on the Condition of Natives in Western Australia, and I am happy to say that the Report is not widely current in England. It is probably well that that should be the case, because its general currency would be apt to do more harm than good because it would lead to the rash generalisation that the description contained in it is typical of the condition of things in other portions of His Majesty’s dominions, which certainly is not the case. I venture to think that the statements which this Report contains are unique among modern records of administrative work in any portion of the British Empire.
The Report deals, as those of your Lordships who have read it will know, with the condition of, roughly speaking, 40,000 aboriginal inhabitants in a region extending over about 1,000 miles in one direction and 500 miles in another in the northern portion of Western Australia. For some time allegations have been made that the treatment of the aboriginal tribes in the northern portion of Western Australia was, to say the least, very unsatisfactory. Some eight or nine years have elapsed since attention was called to the subject by the Anglican Bishop in Western Australia, the Bishop of Perth, who lives some fifteen to sixteen hundred miles away; and the allegations which he made were, I believe, laid before the Legislature of the Colony. They were, however, considered to have been exaggerated and no practical action was taken on the subject. There has been there, as elsewhere, an officer known as the Protector of Aborigines, but that officer lives at Perth, which is many hundreds of miles away from the scene to which this Report refers, and it is naturally impossible for him, as matters now stand, to exercise a personal supervision unless he were more largely supplied with officers under him than is the case at present.
Last year the Governor of Western Australia, Admiral Sir F. Bedford, felt the matter to be so important that he borrowed for the purpose of inquiry the Chief Protector of Aborigines in Queensland, on the other side of the Continent, and that gentleman, Dr. Roth, a man of singular capacity for the work, was appointed a Royal Commissioner to investigate the allegations made and to ascertain the actual facts respecting the treatment of the aborigines. The document I hold in my hand is the Report which he produced, and one satisfactory element in the whole consideration of this subject is that the Report emanates from ourselves so to speak; that it is not from an outside critic, still less someone hostile to our administration, that the information has been obtained; but that the British authorities in the colony themselves have brought the matter to light. The difficulty of making the inquiry becomes apparent the moment the facts are looked at—the largeness of the area, the sparseness of the population, and the fact that the only witnesses available are people who are themselves more or less identified with the very acts in question. That is not quite true of them all, because there are those engaged on the mission stations, and the information which comes from them is, of course, of the highest importance. His accuracy can always be checked by such statements as would be made in cross-examination.
The conditions that are prevalent in that region are certainly conditions with which it is excessively difficult for anybody to deal. This great native population is divided into a large number of small tribes, most of whom are hostile to each other; so much so, that it is rendered impossible for a member of one tribe to pass in safety through the region roamed over by another. Hitherto they have subsisted mainly on kangaroos and other wild animals. The difference that has come into their lives has been this—that into this region have come a large number of white squatters or settlers, who have been granted large tracts of country, and whose interest is to eliminate the kangaroo and to rear cattle and sheep. In the result the natives are driven to great straits, and not unnaturally resort to the killing of cattle and sheep for subsistence. Possibly they are unable in such a region as that to distinguish between the ownership of cattle and the wild kangaroo on which they have been accustomed largely to subsist. The ignorance and degradation of the race is, of course, immense, and the internecine warfare makes the matter all the more difficult if we try to devise remedies. The Report then states the facts that have come to light after careful inquiry and examination of witnesses by this exceedingly competent Royal Commissioner. I am going to quote some sentences from the Report, but I have compared it most carefully with the evidence which follows, and I am not able to find anything which is inconsistent in the evidence as compared with the Report which summarises it.
The first point raised is that of the conditions under which employment is given by white people to the members of the aboriginal tribes. It is usually given to the natives on the runs, far less because of the advantage that comes from their labour than because it is only possible to get the natives under the control of the squatter or settler by making them in some sense his employees. For such employment as the white settler gives the natives, the sole return is food and clothing. No wages whatever are paid. It is said that this is practically the only course to be adopted, because natives have no use for money except to spend it on drink. Further—and this is noteworthy—there is usually no indenture of any kind with regard to the employment of natives by white people. Indentured labour, where we are dealing with native races or savage people employed by another race, could hardly, I think, find a better argument in its support than the details of what may happen where there is no indenture, and where the natives are employed at the will of those who hire them and with practically no control exercised or no responsibility undertaken by any outside authority, at any rate in regard to the person who gives them employment. Employment is given both outdoor and indoor, and it is thus described by Dr. Roth— “Even without contracts the blacks are not free to come and go as they please. The assistance of the police is also invoked to bring such runaways back, an official acquiescence which is, of course, quite illegal: the native is practically forced to work for his so-called master. While under such circumstances the absence of a contract does not prevent the employer securing and enforcing the services of the aboriginal, it relieves him of all responsibilities in the way of rations, clothing, and maintenance during sickness.” That is the condition prevalent; and the Report goes on to say— “The Chief Protector is obliged to admit the injustice of a system where, taking a concrete case, a child of tender years may be indentured to a mistress as domestic up to twenty-one years of age, and receives neither education nor payment in return for the services rendered.” The total absence of an endeavour to educate these people is certainly one of the most marked features in the accounts given of their employment and conditions. It is not very easy to distinguish between enforced labour without wages [the police being employed to bring back a runaway, and the conditions being those that I have described] and that which every subject of the British Crown desires to repudiate—a system of slavery.
Far more serious than the account of the way in which labour is obtained is the procedure for the investigation and punishment of crime and wrong-doing, the only crime prevalent being that of killing cattle. That is the common offence, and the story of what takes place when that occurs is certainly an unpleasant one to read. Information comes to the police that such instances are occurring in a particular district. A police expedition starts to that region, and I will read from the Report an account of what takes place— “When starting out on such an expedition the constable takes a variable amount of provisions, private and Government horses, and a certain number of chains. Both he and his black trackers, as many as five of them, are armed with Winchester rifles. A warrant is taken out, in the first place, if information is laid against certain aborigines, but when the police go out on patrol, and the offence is reported, the offenders are tracked and arrested without warrant. Very often there is no proper information laid, in that it is verbal; when already out on patrol, there may be no information at all. Blacks may be arrested without instructions, authority, or information received from the pastoralist whose cattle are alleged to have been killed; the pastoralist may even object to such measures having been taken. Not knowing beforehand how many blacks he is going to arrest, the policeman only takes chains sufficient for about fifteen natives; if a large number are reported guilty, he will take chains to hold from about twenty-five to thirty. Chains in the northern, not in the southern, portion of this State are fixed to the necks instead of to the wrists of native prisoners.…Children of from fourteen to sixteen years of age are neck-chained. There are no regulations as to the size, weight, of attachment, or length of chain connecting the necks of any two prisoners. When the prisoner is alone, the chain is attached to his neck and hands, and wound round his body; the weight prevents him running away so easily.…Apparently, unknown to the Commissioner of Police, chains are used for female natives, not only at night, but sometimes during the day; these women are the unwilling witnesses arrested illegally for the Crown.” That is amplified in detail. I have given your Lordships a single quotation only. At once the question arises, why is it necessary, in an investigation of that kind, to bring to the scene of inquiry or trial so large a number of witnesses? The answer is not far to seek in the Report— “The larger the number of prisoners and witnesses, the better, pecuniarily, for the police, who receive from 1s. 6½d. to 2s. 5d. daily per head, or as it is called in the North-Western vernacular ‘per knob.’ One constable admits making a profit; a corporal considers that this allowance acts as a temptation to bring in a larger number of prisoners and witnesses than otherwise; a civilian does not think so many cases would be brought before the Courts if these allowances were not sanctioned; a resident magistrate has always been struck with the idea that this was the reason for so many natives being brought in at a time.’” There is still another reason, upon which I do not desire to dwell. It relates, I need hardly say, to what happens with regard to the women and girls who are caught as witnesses. The culprit and witnesses once secured, the trial follows.
The conditions of the trial are these. The only interpreter available is one of the trackers—one of those who have brought the culprits down—and a conviction is always obtained. The native prisoners often plead guilty, in ignorance of the meaning of the questions asked. If a man were asked whether he had not killed an ox, he would say “Yes” if he happened to have killed an ox at any time. I quote the following from the Report— “The resident magistrate, Wyndham, states, ‘I think, and have seen it, that a man will plead guilty now for killing a beast some time ago. The native cannot separate two charges on two beasts, and will still have the same offence in his mind; if he kills a bullock once he will plead guilty to every subsequent charge of killing a bullock, no matter how often he will be charged with it.’ Thus, all to the advantage of the prosecution, when once the native has been induced to plead guilty, there is no necessity, under this Criminal Code Amendment Act of 1902, for any awkward questions being asked concerning proof of identity or ownership of the beast, the actual killing, eating, or alleged removal of the carcase. One witness, who has brought about or perhaps over, 100 natives into Court, does not remember any who have been found ‘not guilty ‘; under the circumstances already detailed this is no matter for surprise.’” Again, this question was asked of one of the gaolers in one of the most extensive prisons— “Amongst the aborigines sentenced for cattle-killing whom you have shown me and to whom you have spoken in my presence, how many do you think really understand what they are here for?” His answer was— “Not one of them, in my opinion.” Part of their employment as prisoners being the mending of roads, they believe they have come down for that purpose, and are totally unaware what the circumstances are under which they have been brought there. There is much difficulty in getting the witnesses home again because of the hostility of the different tribes, which prevents the natives of one tribe passing through the region occupied by another. The peril of going is great; the peril of staying, especially for the women, though of a different character, is greater still. Rations and allowances are given to the police for escorting them back, but it does not follow that they are so escorted. I quote again from the Report— “Because rations are charged for to take the witnesses home again, it does not follow that they are escorted back; in some cases they are certainly not; in others they may hardly have time to get to their destination before they are ‘rushed in’ again by the police with another mob. It is no secret that the police say if the ration allowance was cut down or taken away they would not arrest so many natives. By their own assertions, every native caught means more money in their pocket; reliable witnesses have heard such assertions made. At present there is nothing to prevent the constable arresting as many blacks as he chooses, while there is no limit to the number of witnesses he is allowed to bring in with him.”
As to the treatment of the prisoners in goal it seems almost incredible that under the British flag such conditions as are described in the Report can exist— “Except in times of sickness, etc., the prisoner is neck-chained from the day he comes into gaol until the day he leaves it, sometimes from two to three years and upwards, according to sentence.” It is further stated that— “All the gaolers in the North-West are in agreement that the present system of neck-chains could be abolished, and suitably replaced by wrist-cuffs, one prisoner’s right hand being connected by chains to his neighbour’s left; that a shorter connecting chain could be used; that more freedom of movement would be allowed; that the present employment outside the prison walls would not be interfered with; and that, when necessary, the transport of prisoners, thus chained, could be effected in safety.…Chains could be abolished in the case of aboriginals working inside the prison, and at night, if the gaols were properly built.” From the accounts we gather that there are practically no walls round the gaols, and the only mode of keeping the prisoners within them is by the process that this Report indicates. The following question was asked— “If you had a gaol built sufficiently strong, would it be necessary to so chain aboriginals?” to which the reply was— “No. The chains would only be necessary when they were out working.” The witness was next asked— “Give me your personal opinion about those chains being used at all?” and he replied— “I do not see that we can do without them. The chains could be abolished in the case of aborigines working inside the prison, and at night, if we had properly built gaols.” I think I have said enough—though I have given you the merest outline—to show that there was at least ample justification for the inquiry that has taken place. There are many other points of great importance upon which it would be possible to deal in connection with this matter. Along a great portion of the coast, if not the whole of it, are pearl fisheries in which a large number of Malays are engaged. What has happened when these pearl fishers land and supply drinks to the natives, what the drink is exchanged for, and the scenes that follow, I would again prefer not to quote. The whole of the conditions of the pearl fisheries require most careful examination. The Protector states that he has money at his disposal for relieving natives, but has no means of securing that the money or the rations he gives for the relief of the indigent or starving natives reach them. All this, however, raises a question of inefficient administration rather than of principles. I distinguish between questions of that kind, and the question of the existence of a general system of treatment of natives which seems to belong to an age utterly different from that in which we live. I am far from wishing to ignore the extraordinary difficulties of the administrative problem, but I have said enough to show justification for the protest first made, I am glad to say, by some of the Church authorities a good many years ago, and renewed from time to time, and to prove the need for protective legislation.
Two points seem to me satisfactory in the matter. In the first place, I cannot find anything in the Report to show that the settlers in their ordinary behaviour to the natives are systematically cruel. The other point is that the information comes from the authorities themselves. It is eminently satisfactory that it should be so, and that the information is not the outcome of hostile or outside criticism.
Of course, I am well aware that the matter concerns a self-governing colony, and that it is not for His Majesty’s Government at home to say what can most effectively be done at this moment; but I cannot but believe that the fact that the matter has been ventilated in England will assist the colonial authorities in dealing vigorously with it. This matter was brought before the House of Commons some six weeks ago, but, strangely enough, it did not receive any great notice in the Press, although the speeches, of course, have appeared in Hansard. The Colonial Secretary then stated that he was in communication with the authorities in Western Australia and hoped to be able to ascertain quite speedily what was taking place. I shall be very anxious to learn to-night what has been the result of those communications and what is being done in Western Australia itself.
Though the matter is one which immediately concerns Western Australia, it does concern the whole of the British Empire. We have always believed, and prided ourselves in the belief, that we of the British race have some peculiar gift—it has been proved a thousand times in India and elsewhere—for dealing with the extraordinarily difficult problem of government of races other than our own; and I venture to think that a Report of this kind, while it comes to us as a rude shock, is satisfactory in this, that it is unique in its character. It may be asked: what has been the action during this time of those who represent religious organisations? I am not in the least prepared to deny that if funds had been placed at our disposal, more might have been done than has been done, but it is satisfactory to note that a great deal has been done. A certain Father Nicholas, of the Roman Catholic Mission in that region, has been doing extraordinarily self-sacrificing work among the people, and the account of his work is the one piece of bright reading in the Report. As far as the Church of England is concerned, we are determined to make a large and more systematic attempt to deal with the problem; and steps will be taken to send out men really competent to investigate these matters for themselves, to try to bring some elements of civilisation into the condition of the aboriginal tribes, and, what is still more important, to raise the standard of the sense of responsibility among the white people.
VISCOUNT KNUTSFORD My Lords, as I had a great deal to do with this question of the treatment of natives in Western Australia during the time I had the honour to be Secretary of State for the Colonies, perhaps your Lordships will allow me to say a few words before the noble Duke the Under-Secretary replies. Almost the first question that came before me when I took office in 1887 was the question of granting responsible government to Western Australia. Personally, I was strongly in favour of that step being taken, mainly because I advocated the federation of the great Australian Colonies, and that federation would not have been complete had not
Western Australia been included, and yet that colony could not have been included so long as it had a different form of Government to that prevailing in all the other Australian Colonies.
At that very time I had my attention called to the statements that had been made in 1886 as to the cruel and illegal treatment of the natives in the North and North-West districts of West Australia, both by squatters and the police- These statements had been brought under the notice of my predecessors, Lord Granville and Mr. Stanhope, and had, under their orders, been inquired into by the Governor. There could be no doubt that a very serious state of things existed which required immediate and careful protection and supervision, and, in these circumstances, I thought it only just and necessary for the protection of the natives to insist as a condition of granting responsible government to Western Australia that an Aborigines Protection Board should be maintained, and that certain funds should be provided each year for the use of the Board to be spent in relieving the natives and promoting their welfare generally. An Aborigines Protection Board had been created by a local Act in 1886, no doubt owing to the complaints that had then been made of the treatment of natives, and that Board had among its duties— “To exercise a general supervision and care over all matters affecting the interests and welfare of the aborigines, and to protect them against ill-treatment, imposition, and fraud.” The maintenance of that Board seemed to me a necessary condition to make when granting responsible government. This condition was strongly objected to in Western Australia, but I persisted, as I considered that in view of the difficulties and questions, financial or otherwise, that arise upon the creation of a new form of Government, it was very likely, unless some clause of this kind was inserted, that the interests of the natives would be overlooked, at all events, for some time. At last the Legislative Council yielded, and a section (Sect. 70) giving effect to the conditions, was inserted in the Local Constitution Act. The Imperial Act sanctioning the Local Constitution Act was passed in 1890.
At the time that I insisted on this condition I was aware that it was not quite consistent with the principles of responsible government, but the circumstances were very peculiar, and, moreover, I was satisfied, and my successor, the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Ripon) and Mr. Chamberlain have since practically confirmed that view, that, but for the insertion of that clause, the Bill would not have passed the Imperial Parliament. In a despatch to the Governor of February 3rd, 1893, Lord Ripon writes— “Section 70 appeared in the Constitution Bill as passed by the Colonial Legislature, and undoubtedly largely contributed to its acceptance by the Imperial Parliament.” And Mr. Chamberlain in a dispatch of December 27th, 1895, says if these conditions, i.e., maintenance of the Aborigines Protection Board, and fixed appropriation for its service, had been omitted— “There can be no doubt that the passage of the Bill through the House of Commons might have been rendered difficult, if not impracticable.” As I fully expected, applications were made, very soon after the establishment of responsible government, to the noble Marquess opposite in 1893 to allow the repeal of the clause, and to hand over the treatment of the natives altogether to the responsible Government, but the noble Marquess said that, though he regarded the provisions of the clause as of a temporary character, the time had not yet arrived ‘for its repeal, and in that view Mr. Chamberlain in 1895 strongly concurred. In 1898, however, Mr. Chamberlain thought the time had arrived when the responsible Government should have the full care of the natives, and the Aborigines Protection Board was abolished. It appears now that there has been a recrudescence of the unfortunate state of things that previously obtained, and a full inquiry has been made by a most competent and experienced officer, Dr. Roth. The most rev. Primate has dealt with that Report, and I will only call your Lord ships’ attention to the concluding words of it. It says— “In the settled areas of those portions of the State along which his investigations have led him, your Commissioner is satisfied that the natives; generally speaking, are not subject to any actual physical cruelty. On the other hand, the wrongs and injustices taking place in these areas, and the cruelties and abuses met with in the unsettled districts, cannot be longer hidden or tolerated. Fortunately they can be largely remedied by proper legislation combined with firm Departmental supervision.” Dr. Roth made a number of recommendations, and I would like to ask the noble Duke the Under-Secretary for the Colonies whether any steps have been taken to legislate on the lines of those recommendations.
LORD TENNYSON My Lords, I have received a communication from Australia which will partly answer the question before the House. A great wave of in dignation has swept over Australia in consequence of the revelations made by Dr. Roth. The acting Prime Minister of Western Australia has, however, assured a deputation which waited on him not long ago that the Government would adopt immediately some, at least, of Dr. Roth’s recommendations, The following reforms, according to the communication I have received, are what the Government have pledged themselves to. More stringent measures are to be taken for the prevention of the grave immorality described by the Royal Commissioner. The services of the police are no longer to be available for the purposes of hunting down unindentured natives who have left their employment, as those natives are fully entitled to do. As far as the existing condition of the North-West gaols will permit, Dr. Roth’s recommendation as to the chaining of natives is to be carried out. Native prisoners, when working out of doors, are to be chained by the wrist instead of by neck collars. The head-money system of rationing prisoners and witnesses is to be abolished. Amending legislation will be introduced at the commencement of the ensuing session of Parliament. I think the late Prime Minister, Mr. James, and the Government deserve the greatest credit for having sesured the services of Dr. Roth. Dr. Roth is an expert, having studied the natives very carefully, and is well-known to me as a straightforward, fearless man, who does not mince matters for anybody. The shadow of civilisation darkens the path of the 100,000 or more natives who still survive in that great island continent, but I am sure your Lordships will rejoice with me that the Government and people of Western Australia have decided that they can and will do something effective to alleviate the lot of those natives who live under their immediate jurisdiction.
EARL CARRINGTON My Lords, I should like to be permitted to say one or two words on this subject, I have not read the Report, but I think we are indebted to the most rev. Primate for the way in which he has brought this subject before the House, and for the very states manlike and temperate language which he used. I was very glad to hear from Lord Tennyson of the action taken by the Prime Minister of Western Australia. Indeed, any one who has had experience of Australian statesmen would feel certain that the matter would be dealt with at once. I was also very pleased to hear from the speech of the most rev. Primate that it is stated in the Report that there is nothing to prove intentional cruelty on the part of the squatters.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY I did not say that that statement was made in the Report, but that there was no evidence in the Report of any such cruelty.
EARL CARRINGTON I think that shows what the English character is, for your Lordships must remember that a squatter up country in that region is away from every sort of help and assistance. He is living in the middle of hostile tribes, and it is quite possible that he may return from his run to find his wife and children speared by the blacks. It is almost impossible to describe the dangers and difficulties of bush life up country. My own experience in New South Wales, and, indeed, in every part of Australia that I have visited, has convinced me that the statesmen and people of Australia are most anxious to do all they can to put a stop to any abuses of the kind brought before the House to day by the most rev. Primate.
THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (The Duke of MARLBOROUGH) My Lords, the Government cannot but recognise the justice of the course which has been taken by the most rev. Primate in bringing this matter before the notice of your Lordships’ House. The most rev. Primate has given a very accurate account of what is contained in the Report of Dr. Roth, and has pointed out to your Lordships many of those grave irregularities which, we must admit, have been committed in dealing with the native population in the western paint of Australia. I am afraid there can be no doubt that many grave irregularities have occurred, and I can assure your Lordships, if that assurance be necessary, that the Government join with the most rev. Primate in deploring the condition of affairs, which is certainly contrary to our ideas of humanity. I was glad to hear from Lord Tennyson that in this we are at one with the whole of Australia. We desire, as keenly as the most rev. Primate, that steps should be immediately taken to mitigate and, I hope, to remove for all time the gross disabilities under which the in digenous population of Western Australia has suffered for some years past.
The Report of Dr. Roth displays a most deplorable condition of things, and no one, after reading it, would wish to offer any defence for much that that Report contains. It is certainly not the desire of His Majesty’s Government, on the present occasion, to offer any defence. I will give your Lordships a short history, antecedent to this Report, and remind you of the steps which have already been taken, and which will be taken, to remove these grievances. In 1890, as the noble Viscount behind me (Viscount Knutsford) reminded your Lordships, responsible government was given to Western Australia, but the protection of the aborigines was not included in the Act, but was continued by the Aborigines Protection Board, an unofficial body, responsible only to the Governor of the Colony.
From 1892 onwards, the responsible Ministry in Western Australia were continually reminding us at home that it was not quite compatible with the principles of self-government to withdraw from them the right of looking after the native population. After considerable hesitation the Secretary of State of the day granted them their re quest, and in 1897 the Aborigines Act was passed which did away with the old Protection Board and set up in its place an Aborigines Department, presided over by one of the responsible Ministers, and £5,000 was set aside for the proper protection of the aborigines, a sum which was increased last year to £8,000, and I am informed by those who are competent to know that a much higher sum than that has been spent during the last two or three years by the Department. The duties of the Department are, roughly, to apportion, distribute, and apply, as may seem fit, the money placed at their disposal, to distribute blankets, clothing, and other relief to the aborigines, to provide for the custody, maintenance, and education of the children, to provide, as far as practicable, for the supply of medical attendance and medicines, and to exercise a general supervision and care over all matters affecting the interests and welfare of these people.
It was hoped that this machinery which had been set up would adequately protect and safeguard the aborigines who were placed under the care of the responsible Ministry. As the Ministry sought for full responsibility in the matter of the care of the natives, we were entitled to expect that special care would be exercised in the discharge of those duties. It is pretty clear, however, that the Australian Ministry were far from satisfied with the working of the Act, and it was this which led them to send Dr. Roth as their Special Commissioner to report on the condition of affairs. The most rev. Primate has reminded your Lordships of the position occupied by Dr. Roth, and it is unnecessary for me to add anything to what has been said about this distinguished gentleman. Many of the results of Dr. Roth’s inquiry have been detailed by the most rev. Primate, and I do not propose to travel over that ground, in the course of my observations beyond saying this, that it is apparent that the Chief Protector of Aborigines has not sufficient power; that the system of contract is in a chaotic state; that the wages are never paid to the natives; and that only clothing and food are supplied to them, for the reason that if they were given money they would only spend it on drink or on the purchase of fire arms.
Then there is the question of the pearl fisheries and the incidents connected therewith. I do not think it is necessary for me to dwell upon these incidents this evening, beyond saying that it is clear that sufficient precautions were not taken to prevent undesirable consequences taking place between the visitors to the shores of Western Australia and the aboriginal tribes. The most rev. Primate reminded your Lordships of the conduct of the police. He told the House that the chief crimes committed by the aborigines were sheep-stealing; and it is clear from the Report that natives have been arrested without authority, and that gross irregularities have been committed by the police in many ways. Then there is the question of the prisons, and the system by which the prisoners are chained. The system of giving relief is bad. In some instances kangaroo and lizard are supplied to the natives instead of the food which should be purchased with the money given to those responsible for distributing relief. There is a tendency for the natives to be dispossessed of the hunting rights to which they are entitled, and the kangaroo, lizard, and other animals on which they exist get killed off, and the consequence is that the natives have to commit the very crimes for which they can be severely punished.
The Report concludes by stating that— “In the settled areas of those portions of the State along which his investigations have led him, your Commissioner is satisfied that the natives, generally speaking, are not subject to any actual physical cruelty. On the other hand, the wrongs and injustices taking place in those areas and the cruelties and abuses met with in the unsettled districts cannot be longer hidden or tolerated.” I am sure no noble Lord will gainsay me when I say that there is no reason to suppose that the authorities in Western Australia were not animated by the most sincere desire to discharge their obligations towards the natives in a right and proper spirit. The intention of the Colonial Government has been perfectly good, but there is very little doubt that the machinery for carrying into effect the wishes and desires of the Government has entirely broken down. This is clearly seen from the Report. The Chief Protector of Aborigines has no one on whom he can rely; he has no officer under him, and he is obliged to get his information from the local magistrates and other people resident in the country, who may or may not choose to give him the information he requires; and I have no doubt there have been cases in which he has received erroneous information. In other cases the persons from whom he gets information may be people interested in keeping back the true facts.
This fundamental difficulty has been the fruitful parent of all the other irregularities which have been referred to. We deplore the consequences which have resulted from the insufficient control exercised by those who undertook the management of the native races; but inasmuch as self-government, which includes the right to solve this problem of the management of the natives, has been given to Western Australia, it would be unwise for us to suggest that they were incapable of carrying out the task which has been committed to their care. It must be recollected, as the most rev. Primate has observed, that this inquiry has not been forced upon the Government of Western Australia from outside. It is the direct result of their own investigations, and this fact alone is, I think, a sufficient guarantee that they are alive to the gravity of the situation.
The Commissioner not only points out the irregularities that have been committed, but at the same time suggests remedies for them; and at the end of his Report, speaking of the abuses that had been committed, he says— “Fortunately they are of such a nature that they can be remedied by proper legislation, combined with a firm departmental supervision.” Indeed, he goes even a step further. For each abuse that has been committed he recommends a specific remedy, and I should like most respectfully to ask the most rev. Primate whether he does not think that if all these recommendations are included in the measure now before the Colonial Parliament, and adequate steps are taken to ensure that that measure when passed into law is properly administered, we have got the best possible reason in the world for assuming that these abuses and irregularities may be entirely removed in future. The Parliament of Western Australia meets in about a week. They have not yet had an opportunity of studying this Report, but we are informed that a Bill will be introduced by the Ministry which will include the recommendations in the Report. In the meantime we are of opinion that all is being done which could possibly be done under the existing regulations to prevent a recurrence of those irregularities.
We are informed that since this Report has been issued the following regulations have been put into force temporarily. Police officers have been directed to use the greatest vigilance in carrying out these regulations. Further regulations have been made prohibiting the use of chains in prisons, without the sanction of the Governor, or of the Colonial Secretary of Western Australia, and outside the prisons as recommended by the Royal Commissioner; enforcing the discontinuance of the use of neck-chains; limiting the number of hours for which prisoners are made to work in the tropical heat; regulating the terms of contract under which natives are employed, and requiring that engagements should be properly attested; prohibiting police officers from returning to stations natives who have been unlawfully engaged; preventing the Asiatic pearlers from landing, except at prescribed places, and prohibiting the natives from frequenting such places; prohibiting the presence of women on board the pearling boats, and exacting the greatest vigilance for the detection of offences against the morality of children; laying down that arrest for cattle-stealing should only be made on direct evidence; that no female witnesses should be taken unless there were no male witnesses available; and that the grant of travelling rations for prisoners and witnesses should be accompanied by vouchers, by which means the police officer is deprived of the chance of making a profit on rations, and so of the inducement to seize as many witnesses and prisoners as possible.
Magistrates have been informed that their reports of convictions must contain information as to the locality, and must give the ages of the prisoners; and instructions have been given that the recommendations of the Royal, Com missioner are to be carried out generally. I think these regulations, which are to be enforced vigorously and strenuously, clearly show the desire of the colony not to allow for a moment longer the irregularities and abuses which have been brought to light. We deplore the condition of affairs as disclosed in this Report, but we have no reason to believe that the Government of Western Australia are incapable of fulfilling those obligations and responsibilities towards the indigenous population which they voluntarily sought and which the Government of this country, after mature consideration, finally decided to grant to them.
THE MARQUESS OF RIPON My Lords, I am sure that every one in this House will agree with me in tendering thanks to the most rev. Primate for having raised this discussion. This is a question upon which it is highly desirable that the opinion of the people in this country should, be made known to our Australian fellow-countrymen. I believe that that opinion will be likely to have greater weight than any other instrument that could be employed upon their legislation and upon the administration of native interests, and therefore I am very glad that the question has been raised. I am also glad that it has been raised in the tone which has distinguished this debate. There has been no attempt to ask the Government to take any steps inconsistent with the conditions under which responsible Government exists in Western Australia and elsewhere. Those conditions, as your Lordships know, leave to the Government at home no power of controlling the administration of a self-governing colony, and I rejoice to think there has been no attempt to-night to say a single word which pointed in the direction that anything could be done in regard to this matter except to express—as I have no doubt the Secretary of State has expressed, and will express—in the strongest manner the feeling which this Report has excited in this country, and to call upon the Government of Western Australia to remedy the great and crying evils which have been brought to our notice.
The noble Duke the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies has shown that the Government of Western Australia are fully alive to their duties. We might have concluded that from the fact that they had themselves appointed this Com missioner and sent him to inquire into the matter. Therefore we cannot doubt—indeed we are sure, after the speech of the noble Duke—that the Government of Western Australia are alive to their duties in this respect, and are going to take effectual measures for carrying out the recommendations of the Commissioner. There is one feature in this case which is very satisfactory, and it is that there is nothing in the Report to show that the natives in Western Australia are cruelly or unjustly used by those who employ them. It appears that it is in connection with the arrest of persons for trial for offences that the principal of these evils has arisen, and it is comparatively easy for the Government to deal with their officers and effectually put a stop to those evils.
We all know that there are no questions of greater difficulty than those which relate to the management of native races, especially of those so backward as the native inhabitants of Western Australia. They are questions full of complication and difficulty. In self-governing colonies they must be left to be dealt with by the responsible Government. The Secretary of State at home cannot fairly be charged with having the same responsibility over these matters in self-governing colonies that he has in other colonies which have nominated Executives. It must always be under stood that if the management of native races is to be left to the self-governing Colonies they must be prepared, if they mismanage those natives—if they pro duce trouble and difficulty and possibly rebellion in the colony – to deal with those questions themselves, and must not expect aid in money or men from the home Government for the purpose of putting down trouble of that description. Happily there is no chance of such difficulties arising in Western Australia, for the natives there have no means of resistance of a serious kind; but the fact of their helplessness and ignorance makes it more essential that their treatment should be of the best and most satisfactory kind. Therefore I rejoice that an opportunity has been given of making known to the people of Western Australia the sentiments entertained in this country in regard to this matter, and also that the debate has elicited from the noble Duke a satisfactory statement with regard to the intentions of the Government of Western Australia.
THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE) My Lords, I desire to add my thanks to those which the most rev. Primate has received for the manner in which he has treated this subject. I do not think it would have been possible to treat a case, which naturally appeals very strongly to our emotions, with more moderation and self-restraint than the most rev. Primate has shown. I read this Report, as the most rev. Primate did, with feelings of deep indignation, and also with feelings of humiliation, because we have always believed that evils of the kind which we are discussing were of rarer occurrence under British rule than under the rule of any other civilised Power. Holding that belief we have not infrequently taken others to task for breaches of those laws of humanity which we ourselves so sincerely desire to respect.
To my mind, one of the most mortifying features of these incidents is that they will, in the future, deprive our remonstrances of a good deal of the force that they have hitherto commanded. The noble Duke has offered to your Lordships the best defence which could be offered. He has dwelt strongly on the fact that the inquiry was initiated by the colony, and he has shown that the Colonial Government intend at the earliest moment to introduce the legislation which is necessary for the purpose of remedying some of these abuses. He has also shown that where executive action could be taken that action has already been resorted to. But the best defence that could be made was that which the noble Duke did in fact make—the defence that these things should not be allowed to happen again, and for that we must look to the colony itself. If the privileges of self-government mean anything they mean that these questions must be dealt with by the colonies that enjoy those privileges. I for one am ready to believe that we may look to the enlightened opinion of Western Australia to see that these incidents are not repeated. If we could conceive such an alternative, I think it would be most unfortunate, and the worst kind of education that we could give a young colony to take a question of this kind out of their hands and to place the care of their aborigines under a specially constituted board dissociated from the responsible Ministers of the colony.
I agree with the most rev. Primate as to the great difficulty of dealing with these problems. They are problems which present themselves all over the world, wherever the tide of what we are pleased to call civilisation comes into contact with uncivilised races. The problem generally takes this shape. The advance of the white man means the disappearance of the food supply of the natives. In Canada the buffalo is wiped out of existence; in Australia it is the kangaroo which disappears; in India, as the noble Marquess well remembers, the numerous sources of support which many of these indigenous races used freely to draw from the forests are denied to them because the preservation of the forests has become necessary for public purposes. And so it comes to pass that these poor people, finding themselves deprived of the means of existence, are driven to desperation. As often as not it is sheer hunger that prompts the acts by which they incur the ill-will, and some times bring upon themselves the vengeance, of the white settlers. The problem is a difficult one, and requires handling with the utmost patience and forbearance, and I trust that we may look forward to the realisation of the hopes expressed by the noble Duke that the colony in this case will be equal to its responsibility. It is impossible to get rid of the hardship altogether, but you can do something to mitigate it.
Two precautions suggest themselves naturally. One is that a sufficient amount of country should be reserved for the aborigines, and the other that the utmost care should be taken in the selection of the persons who are made responsible for the administration of justice. Not only should you have good and just laws, but the people who receive executive power and carry out those laws should be selected with due and sufficient care. I am afraid that some of the passages in the Report that has been quoted show that some of the subordinate officials have in this case a good deal to answer for. I venture to think that nothing but good can come from this discussion. I believe that the most rev. Primate’s words will find an echo far beyond the walls of this House, and that the result of the debate can scarcely fail to tend towards the redress of the great evils that have been disclosed.
EARL SPENCER My Lords, I have heard with great satisfaction the speech of the noble Marquess, who stands in a peculiarly difficult position in such a matter as the exponent of the views of this country to other nations. What the noble Marquess has said will be echoed all over the country and will emphasise the responsibility of all who are entrusted with the duties of government for carrying on administration in a manner that will not impede the efforts of His Majesty’s Government to check cruelty towards native races in other lands. This debate will, I think, show our colonists that their actions are followed here with the greatest possible interest, and in some cases with anxiety; and I trust that the instances of grievous wrong-doing to the natives of Western Australia will now cease, and that the aborigines in that region will be governed in a humane, just, and generous way.