The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 57
"The movement which was inaugurated yesterday at the Conference held at the Westminster Palace Hotel, with a view to the Federation of Great Britain and her Colonies, is calculated to be followed by results the magnitude and importance of which cannot be exaggerated. Even the least observant must have noticed that of late years the relations between the mother country and the offspring she has called into existence in various parts of the globe have assumed a character which points at no distant period either to a much closer union than at present exists between the two or to a complete separation. The Colonies form, it is true, so many distinct portions of the British Empire, and those who inhabit them are, we are rejoiced to say, no less loyal to the, British Crown than the inhabitants of the United Kingdom. But in the necessity of things a conflict, or, perhaps, more correctly speaking, a want of unity of interests, occasionally arises, which imperceptibly raises the question whether it is worth while to maintain a connection which to a greater or less extent hampers the action of both. On the one hand it is urged that England does not gain so many material advantages from the Colonies as to justify her in accepting onerous engagements and liabilities on their account, whilst on the other the Colonies, finding their peculiar interests threatened by a state of things which, save in the most remote degree, does not affect the parent country, are naturally indignant if, in the vindication of their rights, they do not obtain the sympathy and support to which they consider themselves justly entitled. A case in point arose a short time since, and for that matter is still pending, when the Australian Colonies protested against the deportation of French criminals to islands in close proximity to their territories. Their protests met with but a half-hearted support from the Home Government, and, though their loyalty to the Crown and their desire to maintain the existing connection with the parent country are undiminished, they are by the mere force of circumstances compelled to consider whether, with a view to their own self-preservation, they ought not to take independent action.page 86
"At the Conference which was held yesterday it is especially gratifying that those who took part in it were statesmen entertaining the most diverse opinions on questions of domestic policy. The chair was taken by Mr. Forster, and the first resolution, which affirmed the necessity of adopting some form of federation between Great Britain and her Colonies in order to avert the disintegration of the Empire, was moved by Mr. W. H. Smith and seconded by the Earl of Rosebery. The important issue raised is in no sense a party one, because every British subject, whatever his special political predilections, must be equally interested in maintaining the integrity of the Empire in which he takes a pride. And it is impossible for any one to study attentively the relations which at present exist between the parent country and her dependencies without agreeing with Mr. Forster that sooner or later there must be disintegration or federation. The question is not, as the Member for Bradford put it, whether we shall keep our Colonies, but how we shall keep them; and, although it would be premature to ask in what manner this end is to be accomplished, it is none too soon to invite discussion as to the best way of solving this problem. It is, further, to be taken into consideration that the inventions of modem science have gone far to annihilate those difficulties of time and space which only a few years ago might have been supposed to raise insuperable obstacles to the realisation of such a scheme as is now advocated. It is not too much to say that our Canadian, South African, and Australian dependencies, not to speak of our Indian Empire, are now much closer to England than was Ireland at the commencement of the present century: and if it was then found not only possible, but expedient, to effect a union between the latter country and Great Britain, how much more so should it be now to establish a federation between the United Kingdom and her various Colonies, however scattered over the face of the globe, which would have the effect of creating such a community of interest as would enable all to present a solid front to the rest of the world. The first object should be, as Mr. Forster expressed it, to effect so close a combination that separation should be felt to be a most improbable result.page 87
"Taking for grunted—and we presume the proposition will not be disputed—that the unity of the British Empire is preferable to its disintegration, the question necessarily presents itself whether we should not take advantage of conditions which at present exist, but which may possibly soon disappear, to effect that combination by which all will equally benefit This was specially dwelt upon in the speeches of Mr. Smith and Lord Rosebery. We have now a strong feeling of loyalty and attachment subsisting between the Colonies and the United Kingdom, but no one can say how long it will last if the Home Government adopt the selfish policy of declining to allow the Imperial policy to be affected by the wants of the Colonies. Let us take for example our dependencies in the Australian Continent and the adjacent islands. They have assumed a magnitude and have acquired a power which unquestionably supply to them a temptation to refuse to confide their interests to the keeping of the particular statesman who for the time being happens to preside at the Colonial Office at Whitehall. This temptation should be removed by enabling them, as an integral portion of a great empire, to employ their due weight and influence in securing due protection for their interests. It is no little advantage, as Mr. Smith pointed out, that England should possess Colonies to which her surplus population should be sent, which, whilst founding new fields of industry, would still feel that they continued British subjects, with unabated interest in the maintenance of the British Empire. If the parent country manifests indifference, these Colonies must perforce take measures for their own protection, and disintegration must be the necessary result. The unjustifiable intervention of Great Britain a century ago brought about the revolt of the American Colonies, and her apathy may now lead to a practically identical result as regards dependencies which are only too anxious to maintain their allegiance to the British Crown. This point is apparent to many, both in this country and in the Colonies, but until now no attempt has been made to avert it. The Conference of yesterday very properly abstained from propounding any scheme of federation. That can only be the outcome of long and anxious deliberation, in which the representatives of the Colonies must take a part. What- page 88 ever form it assumed it would, as Lord Rosebery observed, necsssarily leave intact the existing Government and Constitution of the United Kingdom. But there certainly seems to be no insuperable obstacles to the creation of such a 'bond' or union between Great Britain and the Colonies as, whilst leaving the domestic institutions of each and all unaffected, would nevertheless, in respect to the external relations of the whole with foreign States, create a bond of union with a singleness of purpose and identity of interest as would conduce to the security of what under those conditions would be an undivided empire.