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The Empire and the century/The Administration of the Crown Colonies

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THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE CROWN COLONIES

By SIR FRANK SWETTENHAM, K.C.M.G.


It has been said that comparatively few people think, really think, about subjects beyond the concerns of their daily life. That is possibly the principal reason why a nation which possesses the greatest Empire the world has ever known, an Empire with lands on every continent and islands in every sea, inhabited by four hundred millions of people of almost every race, colour, language, and religion, should never have provided any means for teaching the art of administration. We are said to be amateurs in everything except sport; but there we are counted professionals, and it is only people of the same origin who seriously dispute our claims to excel in what we regard as our national pastimes. True, we were once regarded as passably capable shopkeepers, but now we have serious rivals in all forms of trade, and we are assured, by those who ought to know, that England is losing, or has already lost, her business preeminence. Still, there are two callings into which destiny has forced Britons where we may congratulate ourselves that we are experts: we are sailors and we are administrators. The geographical conditions which drew the people of these islands to find a home on the sea; the spirit of adventure which is as the breath of life to the navigator; the experience and profit of successful voyages; the attractions of distant travel, of foreign lands, and the desire to go further, to know the unknown,—these circumstances made the English sailor. It is probable that the developed characteristics of the successful sailor, coupled with a long experience in the management of people of divers races, begot the aptitude for administration which is now so marked a feature in their character that, in the art of government, Englishmen have little to learn from other nations. England has always had rivals on the sea, and we only keep our position there by great national sacrifices, by a splendid organization, by the most perfect system of training that we can devise, and by the prestige of many hard-fought battles. Sea-power alone will not preserve the Empire, and, considering the enormous interests which depend upon the successful maintenance of our position, it does seem passing strange that we have, hitherto, trusted to the genius of the race to acquire by experience a knowledge which it has never been thought necessary to teach.

We speak of men being born administrators, but it only means that, of the many who are set to the work of government, without any special training, some pick up the threads quickly and, with experience, become really efficient. Still, it is hardly fair on the governed, especially in remote parts of the Empire, where the people can only make themselves heard with difficulty, that the experience should be gained at their expense, when a little preliminary teaching would save both parties from the painful results of even well-intentioned blunders. That course might be regarded as typical of English absence of method, if it were not that we have an object-lesson of a contrary kind in the British Navy. But it is certainly characteristic of American methods that, directly the Republic took over the Philippines, an American University sent a capable representative to visit the English, French, and Dutch Colonies in the immediate neighbourhood of the newly-acquired territories, with instructions to collect and record all possible information in regard to the government of those dependencies.

It may be said that there is now in London a school, founded in recent times, with the declared object 'to organize, promote, and supply liberal courses of education specially adapted to the needs of persons who are, or who intend to be, engaged in any kind of administration, including the service of any Government.' The object is admirable, but the Governors of the London School of Economics would hardly suggest that they are yet able to offer to students a liberal course of education in the art of administration, and no qualification in that subject is required by the Civil Service Commissioners in their examination of candidates for the Home, the Indian, or the Colonial services.

This is not the place to describe the constitution of the Crown Colonies, but everyone knows that a Governor, appointed by the Crown, is directly responsible for the administration of his charge. The Governor is subject to the authority of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, with whom he is in constant correspondence on every subject of importance, and sometimes on matters of apparently trifling detail The ultimate authority, the final court of appeal, in executive matters, is Downing Street. It may be questioned whether the British people realize how admirably the work of the Colonial Office is done, how efficient is the staff of that department of the public service, and how much of the efficiency is due to the great qualities and the businesslike methods of Mr. Chamberlain, who, during the eight years that he was Colonial Secretary, won for his office the admiration and respect of the Colonies to a degree never known before. The striking characteristics of the work done in Downing Street in its connection with the Crown Colonies are the patient care with which each question is examined and the anxiety to be just in every case, however great or however small the issue. Mr. Chamberlain introduced a readiness to encourage promising proposals, and to support distant workers in their efforts to advance British interests, even when those efforts met with opposition or complaint from foreigners. It is not surprising that an English department, working on these lines, has gained the confidence of the people of the Colonies, and there is equal cause for satisfaction in this country. It is not suggested that the Colonial Office has arrived at perfection. Those who are under the Office, but not in it, would like to see a good many changes, both as to general principles and the handling of details, and they could give excellent reasons in support of their views. To mention one point only, the Office is inclined to err on the side of lenience in dealing with incapable servants. Experience has proved again and again that a man who has failed in one administrative post is not likely to succeed in a higher and more responsible appointment. Without pretending to any attempt at exhaustive criticism, one other point may be mentioned. The machinery of Crown Colony government is based upon a set of cut-and-dried rules, called the Colonial Office Regulations, which cover a wide field and are applied impartially to all Crown Colonies. The rules deal with a variety of subjects, from the keeping of accounts and the conduct of correspondence to the wearing of uniforms and the firing of salutes. In the main they are excellent; but some of them may have been framed in the days of the Plantations, and if the whole code is too sacred for revision, it is at least probable that identical regulations cannot be applied, with perfect success, to Colonies like Cyprus and St Helena, on the one hand, and the Straits and Ceylon on the other. There are differences between Fiji and Trinidad, between Lagos and Malta, British Honduras and Hong-Kong, which cannot be removed by the application of one set of regulations, however great their authorship and antiquity.

If I now leave the methods of Crown Colony administration, and give a word to the results which are obtained by honest, capable, and zealous officers, it is not because the system is perfect, or that I have any desire to argue that some other form of government may not be infinitely preferable. When a Crown Colony develops into one with responsible government, it may be assumed that this is a process of evolution which insures a last state better than the first. If a Colony is able to pay its way handsomely, while ministering to its own needs, and yet imposes no duties on the produce of its own industries, or on imports from this country or any British possession, it possesses certain attractions, and courts the sympathy of manufacturers in all parts of the Empire. If, again, the Colony bears a fair share in the cost of Imperial defence, it deserves the thanks of the British taxpayer. If it takes, uses, and distributes annually many millions of pounds' worth of British products, it may be regarded as a valuable customer; and if, with all this, it has no debt whatever, it may fairly be looked upon as a credit to the system under which it is administered. There are Crown Colonies which fulfil all these conditions, and satisfactorily perform many other duties to their own advantage, to the advancement of Imperial interests, and to me benefit of the many people of divers races who seek, and find, freedom and justice under the protection of the British flag. It may seem strange to advocate a system which differs so widely from government by party and popular election; but the system is open to two tests, (1) the results obtained and (2) the opinions of those who have lived and worked in a prosperous Crown Colony, especially if they have also lived and worked in a Colony with responsible government. The striking difference between the systems is really this: that whereas, under party government, each party, when in power, considers that it is entitled to advance the interests of its own adherents, the Crown Colony system aims at securing, and usually secures, the general welfare of the whole community. With parties, the one in power can do no wrong, in the eyes of its supporters, so long as it ministers to their demands. It follows that it can do nothing right in the opinion of the Opposition. But in Crown government, by the class of men selected for that work, there are no parties, no selfish interests to be served. The interests of the administration and the community are one, and all who are not officials, and many who are, make it their business to criticise the policy of the Government and the conduct of its servants in every detail Should the local authorities prove deaf, extravagant, incompetent, the ear of the Secretary of State is open to complaints, on any subject from any source.

If any excuse were needed for drawing attention to these questions at this time, it is furnished by the fact that the Transvaal, and, later, the Orange River Colony, are about to receive some new form of constitution which will give them representative or responsible government The probationary period through which these Crown Colonies have passed seems, to many unbiassed minds, all too short. That view is not likely to receive much consideration, however, for it seems to be settled that it is expedient to accede to the demand of those who decline to be satisfied, until they have obtained absolute control of local affairs. It is some years since a Crown Colony was granted the privilege of local self-government, and in that time much has been said and written on two very important questions:

(a) National Defence.

(b) A new Fiscal Policy, which, by a system of Imperial preferences, is to tighten the bonds of Imperial union.

It seems to be admitted that all parts of the Empire are equally concerned in its defence, and that all are bound to share the cost of maintaining a Navy of sufficient strength, in the highest state of efficiency. It is probable that colonial statesmen would agree that, if any self-governing Colony were cut absolutely adrift from the Empire, it would not be allowed to work out its own salvation without interference from other nations. They would also agree that every British Colony would prefer its present position to the control of any foreign tower.

It may therefore be assumed that the defence of the Empire is not only the duty, but the first interest of every component part. Beyond the natural desire to preserve the many advantages of existing conditions, there is the sentiment of kinship, of nationality, and, perhaps, an appreciation of the Mother Country's generous treatment of her Colonies. Where a Colony has been won by conquest, England has paid for it with English lives and English money. Where it has grown as an English settlement, the initial expenses have been borne by England. In both cases the costs have often been heavy; but when success was assured, and the Colonists asked for emancipation, it has been given freely, without claim, either for the costs of administration before the Colony became self-supporting, or for the value of the permanent improvements.

It was perfectly natural that full advantage should be taken of a practically unlimited power of self-government; that nearly four hundred millions of English money should be borrowed; and that the self-governing Colonies should arrange their fiscal systems without regard to any but local interests. Now, however, the British taxpayer is beginning to feel the strain of bearing alone the ever-increasing burden of National Defence, and he also feels the inevitable result of foreign commercial rivalry. The position is difficult, but it would have been easier to-day if, when self-government was granted to the Colonies, the very reasonable condition had been laid down that, in the matter of tariff, the children should extend to the Mother Country the same consideration that was given to them.

England's position in the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony, is the result of operations—initiated by people in those territories—operations which have cost this country a very heavy price. It is unlikely that a self-governing Transvaal, or a self-governing South African Commonwealth, will exercise, in its dealings with these islands, a self-denial for which there is no precedent elsewhere; but now that the English people are alive to the situation will they not require that, in the grant of all future constitutions for colonial self-government, it shall be provided that the Colony, while profiting by every advantage of its Imperial connection, shall fulfil some of its Imperial responsibilities, and grant to British commerce identical tariff treatment to that extended by this country to the products of the Colony?

April, 1905.