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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 30

Settlement of the Land

Settlement of the Land

They had heard a great deal about an offence alleged to have been committed by the Government In expending between £60,000 and £70,000 without the authority of Parliament, and this had been brought forward as one of the greatest offences the Government had committed. Well, he was prepared to answer the objections; he asked for no consideration, but he would show that the policy from the beginning to the end was a constitutional policy, and that they were entirely justified on constitutional and political grounds in their actions in regard to the settlement of the land. (Applause.) One would suppose that they had been spending £60,000 more than had been definitely appropriated by Parliament, and that they had done something quite unconstitutional. His hearersought to know that Parliament gives to every Ministry the power of spending up to a £100,000 every year, without any definite votes; to be afterwards indemnified and endorsed by the special act of Parliament itself. Every year there came before Parliament appropriations which have not been specially voted, for the consideration and indemnification of the House. Well, in regard to the large expenditure they had incurred, he would ask, were there no precedents? They had only to look at the Financial Statement for 1884 and they would see that Major Atkinson came down and told the House that he had spent £260,000 in a case of emergency, for the purchase of railway material, and in making provision for the unemployed. They all remembered the action of Disraeli in connection with the Suez Canal shares, when he bought up £3,000,000 worth and negotiated for the purchase of them with the Rothschilds without any authority on the part of Parliament. Then what had he himself done in 1885? They all remembered the Russian war scare. That was a case of great emergency, and he believed that it would crop up in a few years again, and that we should continue having Russian war scares until Russia made an attack on India. He believed in this respect there was more danger than they anticipated. Well, the colony was greatly alarmed about the indefensible and undefended condition page 5 of its ports, and the Government, instead of waiting for the authority of Parliament, took upon themselves the question of harbour defences. They ordered over £150,000 worth of armaments and war material, and in addition they incurred considerable expenditure in preparing the fortifications—and all this without the authority of Parliament, Did Parliament object? No; as are as he knew, not a single member of the House raised his voice against the expenditure. On the contrary, the action of the Government was endorsed on all sides as one calculated to meet the circumstances of the case. Looking at it, therefore, from the constitutional side he would say they were justified in acting as they did. Then with regard to the political side. Last session he told the House that provision must be made for placing the working classes on the land, people with no capital or very little capital of their own. He asked for a specific vote of £5000 to be spent—he would ask them to mark that—to be spent within the year. He also placed upon the table of the House regulations that required a large contingent expenditure in cases where certain things were done by the settlers. They required that each man within five years, who had taken up a section of 20 acres, should clear, if it were a bush section, his land; and, that for every acre that he put down in grass, he was to receive ultimately £2 10s He was also to receive towards the cost of a house, which had to be certified to, the sum of £20. He had these regulations published before the session and placed on the table of the House. He explained to Parliament again and again, and his speeches on this subject were in Hansard, what the nature of these conditions was and showed everything to them. They were perfectly satisfied and gave him £5000 for expenditure within the year. They could see, that if a man was required to clear his land within five years and was only to be paid as he cleared it, that the expenditure incurred must necessarily extend over those five years; and further, if they spent £5000 within the year, that this expenditure implied other liabilities under the regulations, possibly some £50,000 or £60,000. As a matter of fact he had not expended last year the amount voted by the House, but had only spent some £3000. The House had expressed the utmost surprise at what had been done, and Major Atkinson, who knew the conditions under which the liability had been incurred, explained them to the House in his No-Confidence motion on Sir Julius Vogel's Public Revenues Bill. The whole thing had teen before them. They knew that compliance with these conditions en tailed a very large contingent liability; but it was the last session of Parliament, and the opportunity occurred to the Opposition to make a great cry, and a great question for the country. And if they could only talk sufficiently, and keep up a clamour and a clatter, so that the country would hear nothing except about this tremendous expenditure without the authority of Parliament, the country would come to the conclusion that he had been a most reckless Minister and had shown want of capacity. They kept the debate up for three days and talked about censuring him for his actions. He told them that he bad been given £5000 for expenditure within the year, and that he had incurred the other expenditure under the conditions laid down. He challenged them to pass a vote of censure, and said if they did he would appeal to the country and to the next House for a decision (applause). Did they pass a vote of censure? No; they did not, but they endorsed what he had done, and asked him what he was going to do in the future. He told them that he proposed to place upon the land within the next three months 150 families under these condition?, and that he would require some £7000 more. They said "Go on and do your work; we will give it to you." (Applause.) After a consultation between the leaders of the Opposition (Mr Rolleston and Major Atkinson), Mr Rolleston got up in the House and said "We agree to your proposal. and we will give you the money," So that not only did they refrain from passing the vote of censure, but they passed more money and told him to place more people on the land. He (Mr Ballance) challenged denial of these statements, from which, they would see that, on both the constitutional and political sides, he could amply justify the work he had done. (Applause.) He would ask them to look at this question from another point of view. What had been the position of this country with regard to land settlement. He had recognised that, although they had greatly liberalised the land laws, yet they lacked one great provision, and that was to place the working classes upon the land in large numbers. He recognised, too, that all the laws that had hitherto been mads in connection with this question had been made in the interests of capitalists, large and small, and not in the interests of the great masses of the people. (Applause) This was so, and he asked them to consider what provision existed, and what had been done by past Ministers in this work of the settlement of the land. It was all very well to say to a man who wanted to take up 300 acres of laud that he could pay, in ten instalments. But this took capita!, and no man could clear the waste lands they now had at their disposa page 6 and carve out a home for him self, unless he had capital to start with. Before going further he would allude to another aspect of this matter. It had been said of these people that they were all placed on the land north of Auckland. The first and most prosperous settlement of the kind was in the Wairarapa. There the work had continued for some 12 or 14 months; and, besides this, enormous relief had been given to the unemployed in the South, especially in Otago. It was true that a larger number had been placed at Auckland during the last twelve months than elsewhere, but that would not take place during the next twelve months. There would be an equal proportion placed on the land in other districts of the colony. Another objection raised to the scheme was that those placed on the land were all loafers. Mr Ormond, the great political purist, called them paupers; but he not only called the village settlers paupers, but he included under this designation all those who took up land under the deferred-payment or perpetual lease systems, and in fact all those who did not pay cash for their land came under this category. And this was Mr Ormond's idea of settlement: Coming back to the question of the class of people lately placed on the land he would say that they were not of the pauper class. It was true they had not a very large amount of capital but they were respectable people, mostly with families, and they were not loafers; they had been used to taking whatever work they had been able to command. In the good times in Canterbury, when wheat was high, they were all employed, but in bad times they were thrown out of work. It was the same in Auckland. In the times of prosperity those people were engaged in various trades, but when the re-action came they fell back. They were rapidly spending their little savings, and many had come perforce on the Charitable Aid vote. That was the position of affairs. If his hearers had gone among these people and seen the earnestness that they exhibited in getting into the country to earn some means of livelihood, they would condemn to eternal infamy the man who would call them either paupers or loafers. (Applause.) The Government knew what they were doing, and they agreed, on his recommendation, to place on the estimates for this year, for the purpose of carrying on this work, the sum of £50,000 per annum, which he assured them would be required so long as they continued the work. These settlers did not receive any money except for work that had actually been performed on the Crown estate. This was an important consideration. The lands of the colony were the property of the colony, and they, as electors, had an interest in them. When a settler improved the value of his land to a certain extent, advances were made to him for what he had done. He paid interest upon the value of the land, and upon the whole of the money that had been expended thereon, at the rate of 5 per cent per annum. Was this a pauper class? Was this a position that ought to be deprecated, which had for its object the improving of the public estate? They did not receive one penny for these improvements until they had been certified to. Looking at it from another point of view it was the duty of the colony to provide in some way for those people who would not otherwise have been provided for. How were they to deal with the unemployed difficulty? Month after month they saw that the emigration was greater than the immigration especially to Victoria and New South Wales, and was it not the duty of the Government, to stem that? The class of people who left this colony were those who had a little money, the poorer had to remain here. Those who were going away were the best settlers, and it was the duty of the Government to meet this difficulty fairly in the face, and try to grapple with it. He had endeavoured to grapple with it, and he would ask them to judge whether what he had done was right or wrong. He would point out that it was not done in a dark corner, but done openly. The whole position was placed before the colony, and the result had been that, within twelve months, they had placed upon the land no fewer than 1000 families. He had the testimony of most impartial judges, outside t he opinion of their officials which he had also, that these people were doing well, and that there would be few failures. After pointing out the details of the village settlement system, Mr Ballance went on to say, that it had been urged that they should give freehold tenure instead of leasehold He, however, did not agree with this idea. In the first place, there would be no security for the money advanced, and in the second place there would be consolidation at once, and this was the main objection., They wanted to prevent the selling out of small farms, for consolidation would lead to the destruction of the settlements. The worst landlords in Ireland were not the large holders, but the "gombeen" man who lends out money at up to 120 per cent per annum. He himself would not object to the freehold system if it were provided that consolidation should not be allowed, though he preferred the perpetual leasing system, and held that a man could not do better than take his land at a small rental from the State. It was better for the individual himself and the community at large. Sir George Grey had made the assertion that these settlers were page 7 slaves and he (Mr Ballance) had replied that they were willing slaves, for it was strange that 1000 families should continue in a state of slavery, when they could tomorrow emancipate themselves. Sir George Grey was in favour of the "quit rent" system which was in vogue at the Cane, under which a man could hold as much as 500 acres, and this was the system he held up to admiration. He (Mr Ballance) held that there was danger in that system, there was always danger in altering the land tenure, and he believed that the quit rent system would lead to the consolidation of estates. He hoped that whatever Government might come into office, whether the present Government were kept in office or not, this work would be continued. If they went on as they had commenced, he believed that in two or three years there would be no such thing known as the unemployed class. He was convinced that it had only to be continued and the balance of immigration would be restored in our favor; and, instead of losing our best settlers to Victoria and New South Wales, we should receive a large influx from these colonies. There must be provision for the congestion of labour in the towns, and this seemed one of the best means of making it. Taking the Special Settlements, he found that in two years they had placed upon the land 1000 families on about 100,000 acres. In Wanganui they had their own Special Settlement, the Pemberton. These settlements were exceedingly prosperous, the people taking up areas from about 100 to 150 acres each. They would see that the Government had endeavoured to carry out the work of land settlement, and he would ask their consideration of some figures as to the result of their efforts during the past two years. Comparing what they had done, with what had been performed by previous Governments, Mr Ballance said that they had come into office in 1884, and he had provided the Special Settlement regulations, after careful consideration. He found that the navvies working on the railways left their families in the towns, and came back themselves into town as soon as they were out of employment; and he thought it absolutely essential to provide some method for these people going on to the land. Unless they did so they would have these men coming back into the towns again and again, and the unemployed difficulty would be greater than ever. Taking the figures from 1880 of those settled on the land, they found them to be as follows:—
1880-81 1409
1881-82 810
1882-83 644
1883-84 841
1884-85 872
1885-86 1009
1886-87 2424
(Applause). The number of settlers placed on the land had been about three times those of previous years back to 1879, and he thought that to raise their standard of settlement three times in one year was a work that must stand to their credit, and have a great effect on the colony. These figures were on record, and could not be controverted. They showed that the work of settlement had been carried on in a way that no other Government had ever done, and the result was seen in the number of families, 2000, which meant about 10,000 individuals being placed on the land in one year. The work, too, had been carried on with great regard to economy. In the matter of surveying, to take the figures of their predecessors in comparison with their own, they found the expenditure as under:—
1880-81 £98,000
1881-82 £95,000
1882-83 £114,000
1883-84 £118,000
1884-85 £114,000
1885-86 £89,000
1886-87 £72,000

So that they would see that, not with standing the greater number of people placed on the land, they had considerably reduced the cost of survey. Then, in the matter of the cost of roads, there had been a reduction. In 1881 the expenditure was £49,000, in 1882 £33,000, in 1863 £80,000, in 1884 £84,000, in 1885 £49,000, in 1886 £61,000, and for 1886-87 £57,000. On the ground of economy, therefore, their figures would bear comparison favourably with their predecessors. In New South Wales the distress was becoming so great and intense among the unemployed class, that the Treasurer there had asked for no less a sum than £250,000 for the purpose of making roads, and so providing work for the unemployed. So that, looked upon from whatever point of view they chose, they would see that the work the government were carrying on was justifiable and would compare favourably with what was going on in other colonies. (Applause.)