The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 55
The Secretary read a long letter from the Gisborne Chamber of Commerce on the subject of the Native Lands Disposition Bill brought before the House by Mr Ballance. The letter contained copies of two resolutions passed at a meeting of the Gisborne Chamber, disapproving of the bill on the grounds that it would prevent all dealings with native lands except by lease, and that only in a cumbrous and unworkable manner. There were over one million acres of land in the hands of the natives in Cook County, and any legislation on the subject of these and other native lands should be in the direction of free trade.
Mr Tanner hardly knew what could be said in reply to the letter. What was stated was absolutely true, but what could the Chamber do, or what were they expected to do? The Gisborne Chamber might be told that the Napier Chamber sympathised with the tone of the resolutions and with the views expressed, but what then? The Government had started with the proposition that the bill was intended to promote settlement, and seemed unable to see that the hill would have an exactly page break opposite effect. The evil complained of was that at present there were no opportunities for men of small means to acquire land direct from the natives, and the Government thought that the bill would remedy this. But he would like to point out that whether native lands were leased or sold, under the bill men of small means would have less opportunity of buying direct than ever before, and for this reason—the native committees under the bill would be "for sale." The natives had been well taught by Pakeha-Maoris and others engaged in negotiating sales of land between natives and Europeans, that there was such a thing as a system of "tip." As a matter of fact, if these native committees were established they would very soon learn the value of their position, and if a person bad to go to these committees to buy land he would very soon learn the value of "tip." A bonus would have to be given, so that the man of small means not able to give a bonus or a "tip" would not be dealt with. The result would be that moneyed people and companies representing large amounts of money would have the monopoly of dealing with native lands. These moneyed people would give the committees a handsome present, and be enabled to deal with them on a large scale, and such a system would do more to retard settlement than to advance it. There were only two alternatives in this question. The Government should either resume the sole right to purchase native lands, or should give the greatest facilities for the individualisation of native titles. The difficulties in the way of the first course would be the outcry that would be raised, and the objections that would be made, similar to those when the Government were sole purchasers of native lands. It used to be then declared, and the fact was undisputed, that the agents of the Government used to purchase large tracts of worthless land. By giving the natives facilities to individualise their titles they would be placed in the position of Europeans. They could give the native a Crown grant, and then say, "You must pay rates for your land as Europeans do. If you don't want to do that, and the area of land you have is too large for you to use, sell or lease part of it so that the land may become valuable to the country." At present rates could not be levied upon native lands till the individual titles were given, and the country would never be properly settled under such a system. He did not know whether it would be of the slightest value for the Chamber to pass a resolution to the effect that they considered the Native Lands Disposition Bill would tend to retard settlement, because he did not think such a resolution would be taken much notice of. The House appeared to have thoroughly grasped the subject, and saw clearly that the bill would never have the effect which the Native Minister intended it should have.
Mr M'Lean was of a different opinion as to the value of a resolution, which could at all events do no harm, and ' would show the feeling of the Chamber. Mr Tanner: Well, I will move a resolution then. I move that this Chamber is of opinion that the Native Lands Disposition Bill as brought down by the Native Minister is not calculated to promote the settlement of the country.
Mr M'Vay was of opinion that such a resolution would have no practical effect. The Chamber, and other Chambers, had passed resolutions coming more within their scope than this one did, and it seemed that no attention was paid to any of them. In Canterbury, in connection with the East and West Coasts railway scheme, resolutions had been carried with perfect unanimity, but nothing came of them. If the resolution had been passed a month ago, when the subject first came before the House, it would have been more to the purpose. The bill stood a good chance of being shelved, and he could see no use in forwarding the resolution.
Mr M'Lean, in seconding the motion, would like to point out to the Chamber what was the position of the colony, and especially of the North Island, with regard to this native question. The proposition brought down by Mr Balance in his bill had two faces. In the first place, on the face of the bill the natives were led to believe that in all dealings with their lands they would be at liberty to elect a native committee, and that that committee should have the power to say whether the land should be sold or leased; that the committee would then make a recommendation to what was called a board of management for the district, and that the board would then have no option but to carry out the recommendation. That was not quite the fact, as the board could only consider what were the best means for giving effect to the resolution. The natives would thus be led to believe page break that they had absolute power to deal with their lands, but that was only so on the face of it. Under sections 62 and following ones, it would be found that the Governor in Council might make rules regulating the conditions upon which the land might be conveyed or leased. When Mr Ballance brought the bill before the House, he explained that the intention of the Government was that all native lands should be brought under the regulations affecting the disposal of Crown lands. But the immediate effect would be that the natives would have no say whatever in the disposition of their lands, and would not be able to say whether the land should be sold or leased in large or small blocks, but would simply have the power to say "it is our desire" that this land should be leased or sold. The Government would then say, "We propose to deal with this land as with the waste lands of the Crown." Members who had spoken in the House were of the opinion that the bill would not promote settlement. The worst feature of the bill was that it professed to give the natives the control of their land, but did not do so, and in that sense the bill was an absolutely dishonest one. That appeared to be done for a purpose. Mr Ballance, in bringing down the bill, said that he had received telegrams from various influential natives approving the bill. [Mr M'Lean here read extracts from Hansard which referred to the communications received by Mr Ballance from natives.] The natives approved the bill because it was concealed from them that the Government intended to take into their own hands every power except the power of saying whether land should be leased or sold, which was left with the natives. The natives had been induced by false pretences to give recommendations of the bill, and these recommdations were therefore worse than valueless. Mr Ballance said that one of his objects was to protect the natives, but he apparently forgot that when a native wished to sell or lease land now he was protected. In such a case the deed could not be passed and become a title of any value unless the native was prepared to prove to the satisfaction of the Trust Commissioner that he had ample lands left for his maintenance. That was a good protection against the pauperisation of the natives. The bill had been referred to a native committee, and the whole matter had been carefully considered, the result being that the four Maori members of the House were unanimous in recommending certain amendments. He (Mr M'Lean) had been furnished with a copy of those amendments, and they amounted to this—that all the Government clauses were struck out of the bill. The Government might come to the conclusion that it was important to them to keep the native vote, and Mr Ballance might in consequence be willing to take the backbone out of the bill in order to secure that result, and in the light of that possibility Mr Tanner's resolution would be a most important one to forward. If that were done the bill would be very much in the position of the Native Lands Act of 1867. Under that Act a very strong and very fair attempt was made to take away the difficulty of Europeans having to deal with a large number of natives, and the Court were empowered to issue titles showing the names of the ten principal owners of the block. [Mr M'Lean here gave a resume of the several Land Acts which have been law in the colony, and a statement of their effects when put into practice.] Two phases of the results of the passing of Mr Ballance's bill had not been much referred to, but they were very important. Just about this time a number of leases of native lands were within a few years of expiring, as the majority of them were entered into shortly after the passing of the 1867 Act, and were for 21 years. In about three years from date, in Hawke's Bay, Poverty Bay, and the Wairarapa—all round the district, in fact—a large number of these Leases would expire. The effect of passing Mr Ballance's bill would be two-fold. Leasholders would not improve, as they would say "Oh! I have no chance of a renewal of my lease, because the bill will stop that." Another effect would be that leaseholders would say, "We don't care whether the rabbits get on these lands or not, seeing that the whole thing will be taken from us at the end of three years." The Government ought to be told that they had brought down their bill in a hurry; that the Government had concealed the principal part of the bill until the Native Minister made his speech in the House; and that therefore they ought to take the measure back and think over it for another year. The subject wag of the utmost importance, as there were 13,000,000 acres of native lands in the North Island that would be affected by the bill, and he hoped Mr Tanner's resolution would be passed unanimously.
The motion was then put and carried.