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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 57

The Macleay Chronicle — And Bellinger Advertiser. — Imperial Federation

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The Macleay Chronicle

And Bellinger Advertiser.

Imperial Federation.

The following article from the pen of the Hon. Robert Stout appeared in the 'Pall Mall Gazette.' It treats of Imperial Federation in an able manner, and deserves close study, as the author is not only the ablest statesman in the Colonies, with perhaps the exception of Sir George Grey and Mr. Dalley, but is also a philosopher capable beyond either, of taking a colonial view of Imperial relation. The article treats especially of a Colonial Board of advice, and hence perhaps he has not touched on the improbability of the House of Lords permitting an Imperial Parliament, unless they were allowed similar power to that which they enjoy at present; nor of the broader question: what would happen, when by the increase of population in the Colonies the British members were outvoted? Would England itself be willing to resign Imperial control? In either of these cases did the Lords or Commons of England demand control and merely be willing to take advice, we would have the old question of the American Revolution revived with increased force, as the power of the people has grown immensely within the past century. Yet federation in any form is impossible either between the Colonies themselves, or with Britain unless it takes, as in America, the form of Constitutional law; and we see the dislike felt in most of the Colonies to the very idea of being bound, except by a slip knot that any colony can unloose, by a council entirely elected by ourselves. All this is natural. In spite of enthusiasm we would not like to continue paying for a war, say between Canada and the States, about some New Foundland fishing rights and we might be called up to do many things as unprofitable.; Mr. Stout says—

"In dealing with what has been termed a 'Practical Suggestion' of Earl Grey's, being 'The First Step towards Federation,' I desire to ask, What is meant by Federation? From one point of view the British Empire is federated. There is a supreme Imperial Parliament which can over-ride the laws of the colonies, and which decides for the Empire all questions of foreign policy. Those who ask for Imperial Federation must mean that in their foreign relationships the colonies should be consulted, and their wishes regarded, if not given effect to. It seems to me that this necessarily implies the formation of a new Parliament an Assembly that would override both the House of Lords and the House of Commons, and have powers that might interfere with colonial autonomy. This new Legislature would have [unclear: to deal] with all questions of an Imperia character. The English Parliament would become a local Legislature, dealing thenceforth only with English affairs, and would have no greater powers than colonial Legislatures now possess Is the Empire ripe for this change? I do not think so, It may be asked, Why is there a demand at present for Imperial Federation? So far as one can gather; from English newspapers and magazines, &c., it is demanded for the purpose of binding the Empire more closely together. I believe that if Imperial? Federation were accomplished in the mode proposed by many in England—namely, giving the colonies representation in some new or remodelled English Parliament—the danger of dismemberment would be as great as, if not greater than, it is now. What is likely to cause dismemberment? The colonies do not desire any more legislative power than they now possess. They have the amplest power of dealing with their own local affairs. The English Government does not interfere with them. The only matter in which they are concerned, and in which they have no voice, is that of England's foreign policy; and unless that foreign policy leads to war, or prevents the natural development and growth of colonial trade, the colonies are not interested.

"Now, if there were an Imperial Parliament in existence, the colonies having representatives therein would be bound by the decision of this Parliament on all questions of foreign policy, and necessarily the colonies would have to be taxed to pay for the expenses of foreign wars. Were this to happen it would be likely to arouse feelings of irritation that might lead to the demand for the dismemberment of the Empire greater than any that would arise under the present circumstances. There is no doubt that, through the want of apparent interest in colonial affairs manifested by the Colonial Office in reference to New Guinea and the Pacific, many Australasian colonists have felt displeased with the action of the present English Executive. There has, however, been no diminution of loyalty to England, and not the slightest desire to see the Empire dismembered. On the contrary, the feeling has rather been one of drawing the bonds closer together. But who can predict what might have happened if, say during the past thirty years, the colonics had been called upon to pay their proportion of the expenses of the foreign wars in which England has been engaged? Regarding many of them, colonial public opinion would have been opposed to such war expenditure; and even now, notwithstanding the offers of assistance in the present Soudanese struggle, the majority of the colonists regret that England has been engaged in such a war in Egypt.

"To create, then, a new Parliament in order to bind the Empire closer together would be a mistake. We are not ripe for such a proposal, even if the English people are willing that their House of Commons should be a local Parliament. But it is said that Earl Grey's suggestion is a practical one, and it meets the difficulties which may be pointed out regarding Imperial federation. I must confess that I do not see much benefit to be derived from Earl Grey's proposal. The Council that is to be created is, I understand, to deal only with colonial affairs. Unfortunately, perhaps, for the colonies, all the questions that interest them outside of those which can be settled in their own legislatures have become questions of foreign policy. For example, the annexation of New Guinea becomes a question between Germany and England, the Recidivists question and the annexation of the New Hebrides are questions between France and England, and the demand of the Samoan King and people that they should be allowed to join England or New Zealand leads to parleying between Earl Granville and Prince Bismarck. And outside of these questions that directly affect the colonies, the wider questions that affect them are peace or war, or commercial treaties. These questions are all questions of foreign policy; therefore this council, if created, could only be a council to press upon the English Government the views of colonies regarding those questions of foreign policy which must be decided by English statesmen. It might, it is true, bring home to the English people this fact—that any European war will affect the colonies more than it will England.