Memorandum by the Hon. Mr. Richmond on Native Land Purchases.
In accordance with the Governor's request, conveyed in a memorandum dated.2nd July, His Excellency'? Responsible Ministers submit the following observations on the heads of a Bill prepared by Mr. Sewell, and transmitted with the memorandum referred to.
The distinctive feature of Mr. Sewell's proposal is the constitution of a Board of Commissioners appointed by the Crown, having the Governor at its head, to which are to be transferred the important functions—First, of conducting land-purchasing operations; secondly, of regulating the sale and disposal of land acquired from the Natives; thirdly, of supervising the survey and preparation for settlement of such lands. Under existing arrangements the first of these functions is exercised by the Governor, who acts upon the advice of his Responsible Ministers as to what blocks shall be purchased and what prices shall be paid, subject however to His Excellency's right of veto, if political reasons render it, in his opinion, inexpedient to make a particular purchase. Practically the Chief Land Purchase Commissioner (over whose appointment and removal the Governor retains a personal control, and who is the sole medium of communication on the subject of land purchase between the Government and the Native) exercises a very large influence over the conduct of land-purchasing operations. The second function at present belongs to the General Assembly, and the third and last to the Provincial Governments.
His Excellency's Responsible Ministers are decidedly of opinion that the union of these powers in a permanent Board would not fail to excite strong public dissatisfaction, and that the proposal cannot be made to the Legislature with a chance of success. It appears improbable that such a system could work in harmony with the representative institutions of the colony. Nor, looking at the scheme abstractedly, without reference to popular opinion or to the congruity of the scheme with the existing institutions of the colony, does it seem calculated to secure greater stability or efficiency of administration than the present system. Ministers arc aware that the existing system is by no means unexceptionable in theory or in its practical operation. The changes required, however, are not, in the opinion of Ministers, in the direction of Mr. Sewell's proposal.
By clause 13 of the heads of Mr. Sewell's Bill, it is provided that the Governor shall lay out districts for purchase with reference solely to their suitability for systematic colonization, excluding consideration of the state of tribal title and of the disposition of the Natives to release their rights. Ministers are in general opposed to the plan of buying piecemeal whatever small and inconveniently-shaped blocks the caprice of the Natives or the state of their titles may from time to time induce them to offer. At the same time they are of opinion that it would be in the highest degree impolitic for the Government to bind itself rigidly by the rule laid down by clause 13. It is often impossible to acquire footing in a Native district, or to disentangle the complications of Native land disputes, otherwise than by operations which the clause in question would altogether prohibit. Besides which, the plan is absolutely inapplicable to all that portion of the Northern Island which lies north of Waikato Heads, where, from the way in which Native lands and Crown lands are already intermixed, it is quite impracticable to proceed by such extensive operations as Mr. Sewell contemplates.
No one can doubt the desirability of operating only upon large blocks, but it is often quite impracticable to do so, and the difficulties are of a nature which no lapse of time would remove, without the intervention of the Land Purchase Department. Though the Government may, in certain cases, find it expedient to purchase small blocks, it does not follow that these should be thrown open for immediate settlement. The advantages of systematic colonization are undeniable, but those advantages may be secured by retaining the blocks required, until the extent of territory at the disposal of the Crown in a given district is sufficient for the formation of a regular settlement.
To many of the minor features of the Bill Ministers see no objection. Under the Bay of Islands Settlement Bill, l858, a settlement is to be formed somewhat on the plan which Mr. Sewell's scheme appears to contemplate, where Maori proprietors holding Crown grants will be intermixed with the European immigrants. Ministers consider that this system may be advantageously extended, and that the prospect of obtaining the advantages which such a plan secures would be found a strong inducement to the Natives to release their territorial rights.