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An Epitome of Official Documents Relative to Native Affairs and Land Purchases in the North Island of New Zealand

Memorandum by the Native Secretary on the Native Territorial Bill

Memorandum by the Native Secretary on the Native Territorial Bill.

In reference to some of the provisions of the Native Territorial Bill, I beg to submit the following observations:—

The change contemplated by this Bill would confuse the Native mind; disturb existing treaties with them, cause new complications in reference to title, and very much increase the difficulty of obtaining land in blocks of sufficient extent to promote systematic English settlement. Nothing will complicate or retard the purchase of land from the Natives so much as the existence of different modes for its acquisition. Land is now being acquired in large quantities; the Native title to the whole of the available land in the Wellington Province, except about 1,000,000 acres, is already extinguished; large blocks contiguous to each other are being acquired at a moderate cost in the Auckland Province; and it does not appear that a change, which would induce speculation and competition in acquiring only isolated spots of the best land, would tend to a peaceable settlement of the country. It is true that the Bill proposes certain restrictions and prohibitions; but when a spirit of speculation in land is once created and sanctioned, by legislation it would become a most difficult and invidious task for the Government in many cases to enforce such restrictions. The Natives themselves, who are much interested, do not desire any change, excepting, perhaps, a few who are deeply involved in debt, and who would make any sacrifice to be relieved from their creditors. It would not, therefore, be just to compromise the interests and wishes of the people generally for the sake of those few. It is well ascertained that the New Zealand tribes regard their land as national property, the cession of which, when decided on, they prefer making as a national act to Her Majesty, even while they are aware that the sums to be realized by such cessions are inconsiderable. Nor do they generally attach so much importance to the pecuniary, consideration received, for land held by them in common, as to the future consequences resulting from its alienation. The limits and restrictions imposed by this Bill, together with the charge of 10s. per acre on all land when transferred to, Europeans, would be regarded by the Natives as an unfair interference with their rights, and an unjust exaction of money for land to which they had established a valid title at their own expense.

For these and other reasons which might be adduced, I consider the Bill in its present shape open to serious objections, inasmuch as the first object proposed by it—that of accurately defining Native title—might be attained without attempting to modify such title in the manner therein contemplated; and the second object proposed by it—viz., that of facilitating the acquisition of land by persons settling in the colony—is one for which existing arrangements fully provide.

The foregoing are the objections I have to offer to the first Bill of which a draft has been referred to me I have now to offer some observations on the second Bill which is before the House of Representatives.

Much of what I have already stated with regard to the first Bill is also applicable to the second. The 8th clause provides that "The Native Districts Registration Act, 1858," may have jurisdiction over lands to which the Native title is extinguished.* I do not consider that jurisdiction should be given to a Court composed of a promiscuous Native jury to adjudicate on the conflicting questions of territorial rights that may be referred to it as it is evident that the New Zealand chiefs would not abide by the decision of Courts the members of which might in many instances be the slaves of the chiefs on whose rights they were called upon to pass judgment. The confidence with which the Natives refer to the Governor for the adjustment of such questions should not be in any way shaken or disturbed. The charge of 10s. per acre (vide 11th clause), on alienation to Europeans, is open to the objections I have pointed out in the previous Bill, and the proposal to expend the money within the district in which such alienation takes place is calculated to benefit not so much the Native seller as the European purchaser. The limitation in clause 12 would be destructive to the operation of an Act which, if found beneficial in its tendency, should not, I submit, be subject to such restrictions, inasmuch as only a fractional part of the Native population could then avail themselves of it; whereas all Acts having reference to the territorial rights of the Natives should be general, impartial, and admit of extended operation.

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Having thus stated my objections to the Bills referred to, I submit herewith some suggestions on which a Bill might be framed to meet the present requirements for issuing Crown titles to Natives.

Donald McLean.

Auckland, 25th June, 1858.

* No part of the Bill contains any such provision; the clauses referred to are contained in the Native Districts Regulation Act. But the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court can only arise under regulations approved of by the Governor in Council; it is therefore absolutely discretionary with the Executive whether such a jurisdiction shall ever be created.—C.W.R.

If found beneficial, the Act might of course be extended. It appears unreasonable to insist that the Colonial Degislature shall altogether abandon its control over a subject which on all hands is admitted to be one of great difficulty and magnitude. It is not questioned that the limit of area imposed by the Bill—viz., 50,000 acres per annum—amply suffices for all present requirements of the Native population.—C.W.R.